It began when we were singing praise songs and I found myself missing Andrea. Kathy had invited Andrea and me to their church a couple of months back and my mind went back to that day as I stood alone next to Kathy. I looked at the chair Andrea sat in, I by her side, her oxygen at my feet. It was cancers way of letting me know it was still there as we came to worship our God. I thought of her and her strength and I missed her. My thoughts of Andrea were a sick woman in the grips of death. I thought I hate that my memories always seem to be of her in that condition. It had just been so long of a fight I hardly remember life before cancer. What did we do with our time before cancer wrapped our days in sleeping on the sofa, when victories became defined by a walk to the kitchen or the greatest of days when she could come with me to the grocery store? I think of all the events that occurred in all your lives over those years. While everyone else’s lives went on, ours were suspended in suffering. Days defined by endless doctor appointments, scans, fears. Our victories ever shrinking, countless prescriptions bottles lining our bathroom counter, bags of them in reserve in the cabinet were all daily reminders of a battle I never needed to be remind of. I was reminded of the fight when I looked at my wife in a scarf, her face aging far faster than it should. Cancer and chemo were taking their toll on a woman once full of life. Exhaustion was gaining on her and she was given no time to rest. Cancer had a firm grip on her petite body, an easy kill I’m sure. The smallest of the pack chosen, she ran until she had no other choice but to stop and submit to her pursuer. If running is all you have to live for it is only a matter of time until death does not seem so bad an option. It calls to you to accept its form of relief from the exhausting pace of living. And in your exhaustion you begin to listen to deaths arguments, its offer what you desire, rest, just to simply take a break, if for nothing more than a moment. But death’s offer is wrapped in finality.
And that is how I remember the last 4 years. I had no life other than to run with Andrea trying to encourage her to keep running being her cheerleader telling her rest awaits her just over the next hill. Only to find the enemy awaited us even there. So as I sat at church I remembered my brave wife who waited for a healing that was not going to come. My wife who sat down and allowed death to catch her, looking me in the eye telling me it is okay. To be strong
Soon the pastor began to pray I instinctively bowed my head and reached my hand to the chair next to me to hold Andrea’s hand. We never prayed without touching. But my hand found no one beside me, under my hand was my Bible. I had reached for Andrea and found what I now needed, my faith. After the prayer we sang a song I had not heard but the words were basically this, Jesus this is not about me or what I want, this is about you and I surrender to your way. The phrase “Your way” hit me because this is not the way I thought our life would be nor was this the way I wanted my life to be. God spoke to me in that moment and said, “Jim this is my way. Andrea is not there, she is no longer with you. You are touching what you need right now. I have called Andrea home, she served her purpose in your life; she showed you faith. It was as if she was my booster engine to place me into this orbit. As I begin to gasp at the view from space I turn to share it with her only to she her tumbling back towards earth, flames consuming her as she falls back to earth. I would not feel the weightlessness of space without her yet she was only there for a moment only to fall victim to the very gravity she helped me escape. Now it is my turn to stand alone as a man of faith, to take what she taught me and step into a life God is calling me.”
I looked down at my hand on the Bible. My left hand, and my wedding ring suddenly looked out of place. And for the first time since April 30th 1983 I took off my wedding ring Andrea put on my finger and placed it in the pocket of my Bible. It was the first time I even thought about taking my ring off; it had not entered my mind until that moment but I knew the time was right. It was an appointment I had that day.
Since Andrea has passed I have reflected on the past four years and five months of my life and I can tell you I was exhausted thinking about our life. Seeing the conclusion, I know see what many of you must have thought of us. I know some thought we were living in denial. Of course it looks that way knowing the outcome but during the fight it was not so obvious. And I’m glad we lived that way even it was in denial because it allowed us to live. And I would not trade one day of the life I had with Andrea. And I wish God had given me a thousand more but He did not. I’m okay with that. I okay with God’s decision to take her, it can be nothing but for the best. I did not say it was the easiest just the best. That is my faith in a loving God.
I would try to tell you what the day to day life was like for those four years and five months. It was a life in constant battle with what you saw and what you believed. There was so little relief and the near constant battle exhausted us both. God provided the strength we needed for I can attest we did not posses the ability to fight like that on our own. I remember praying every day every night for God to heal Andrea. I remember praying so hard and when I would open my eyes I would wait to see if Andrea “felt” something, hoping she would say something had happened, she felt different, warm or something, I just wanted to know at that moment she was healed. It never came of course. No matter how much I cried out for her, everyday for over 2 ½ years my prayer went unanswered. Scan after scan, tumor maker after tumor marker, drug after drug and nothing, no result other then the cancer has slowed, never gone just pushed back a little. That was our greatest victory, never enough for us to rest and catch our breath, for if we ever relaxed and Andrea was allowed to slow her chemo, it was only 1-3 months until we found the cancer had run rampant and we were behind the eight ball as they say, struggling to gain a footing to get back to where we were before. Relentless that is the best word I can think of right now to describe the cancer. Our victories became smaller but we celebrated them as if they were huge. Once we were happy to stop three of Andrea’s chemo drugs. We had one tumor marker that was only double the normal number instead of the usual 10 times what it should be. When she needed oxygen, which was one of the worst days, then our victory was being able to walk to the car without oxygen, or maybe to just walk around the house. I saw our victories getting smaller and smaller and I new the trend we were on. In fact it was no surprise to either of us. We both knew we needed to gain some separation from the cancer to have any chance at all and we were not getting it. Since we left Goldsboro and moved to San Antonio we were on a steady decline. Andrea was unable to leave the house much at all in the last months and we both knew life was drawing to a close; our time for the miracle we hoped for was slipping away. Not that God needed much time, it was just becoming less likely with each passing day. Soon our only hope was the “Hail Mary” pass. In that moment you realize there is so little chance but then again this is all you have, so you hope for a Doug Flutie moment. We used to kid each other with the line form the movie “Dumb and Dumber” when Jim Carey is talking to the beautiful woman and asks her, “What are the odds of a woman like you and a man like me getting together?” She says, “About one in a million.” Jim Carey looks sad for a moment and then breaks out in a huge smile and says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”
That pretty much sums up the last couple of years after the cancer returned. We had a chance and we clung to it and we took that “one in million chance” and it became our lifeline to hope because the source of that one chance was God and God alone. Through this hope we “lived” those years vice waiting the inevitable. And you know what; I would not change one thing. I know many of you thought we were crazy, that is okay. If, God forbid, you have to face this in your life I will pray for you, for discernment in making the difficult choices that lay ahead. For you will find few choices you want, yet you will still have to decided how you want to live what life you have left. Sometimes “None of the above” is not an answer you can choose from. Our choice was to live life knowing we served a God who loved to work in the one in a million chances. He is the God of miracles and in was in Him we placed our hope, our faith and our trust I’m glad we lived life even if we looked like two kids who could not accept the obvious. That was our choice, right up to Monday 17 Dec when I walked into the ICU and saw Andrea unresponsive and her breathing weakening. I saw our Hail Mary pass fall incomplete and I knew it was time to accept we were not going to receive the miracle we were hoping for. It was then that I had to decide Andrea’s fight was over. I prayed God would make it clear if and when that decision had to be made and He did just that. I will not share the moments and events that made this decision clear all I will say is I had a peace that this was the right thing to do. To describe the appalling moment to tell the doctor it is over is beyond me, watching the nurse hang the morphine drip. In her compassion she hangs it behind the other IVs hoping it remains unseen, but its distinctive glass bottle stands out against all the plastic IV bags. It brings “comfort” to my wife, yet strangely it does just the opposite to me and the boys. Where is our morphine? What eases our pain as we say goodbye? How does the same God offer Andrea unlimited joy and leaves those left behind in tortuous grief and emptiness? It is a moment I wish I could wipe from my memory, but of all I remember of Andrea those moments are burned in my eyes. Why can’t I remember happier days? Why does our joy fade and this remain? I wish I could tell you the answer to these questions but I have nothing to offer you, other than the same God who gave me Andrea took her from me and somehow that must all fit together. Somehow it does, even if I cannot begin to understand it all. I can’t understand salvation yet I accept its blessings, then I must use the same faith to accept this pain.
This is a quote from a book I’m reading called “A Grief Observed” by CS Lewis. I’ve only just started the book but it is tearing at me with its words. So CS Lewis wrote the book after losing his wife to cancer, and it is far it is darker then it is uplifting, but in some strange way it is comforting me.
What chokes every prayer and every hope is the memories of all the prayers H. (His wife) and I offered and all the false hopes we had. Not hopes raised merely by our own wishful thinking; hopes encouraged, even forced upon us, by false diagnoses, by X-ray photographs, by strange remissions, by one temporary recovery that might have ranked as a miracle. Step by step we were “led up the garden path.” Time after time, when He seemed most gracious He was really preparing the next torture. I wrote that last night. It was a yell rather then a thought. Let me try to over again. Is it rational to believe in a bad God? Anyway, in a God so bad as all that? The cosmic Sadist, the spiteful imbecile?”
Those are harsh words written by a man who was suffering a great loss. I share them because they express the confusion that follows an event that has no explanation. In many ways I can relate to the pain in his words and the clarity he sees from looking back from his wife’s death at the hope they shared. But I cannot relate to the hopelessness in the thought that God was somehow out to hurt us. I respect CS Lewis and I love his writings so I await the next chapters with great anticipation.
So were we crazy? If you think it was because we could not accept what was happening I have failed to express myself clearly. Were we crazy to even hope at the odds we faced? I might agree with that assessment of us. But I would have to ask you what was our other option? What do you do with faith? What purpose does it serve but to allow us to believe in the impossible? It is the evidence of things unseen. I will use a sentence from an old Waylon Jennings song that sums up how I feel, “We may have been crazy but it kept us from going insane.”
We never hid from the reality of cancer; we just chose to live life based on our best chance, even though that chance was one in a million. All I can say is how you handle this is a personal decision, one between you your spouse and your God. There is no right or wrong. The way we lived was our way it may not be yours. It did allow us to live life with a lot of joy despite all the pain I have described in this entry and I would not trade one moment of our time. When we first began treatment I always wondered why people would endure chemo for a few months of life. I thought about the monetary costs of treating a “lost” cause. Was it ethical when it was costing over 5,000/month to treat Andrea? Again that is a personal decision based on many factors like quality of life, and one’s own faith. I will tell you when that became a reality in Andrea’s treatment it was clear how we decided. There is no price I would put on a day I spent with Andrea. Partly because she always lived the days she was given, no matter how weak or sick Andrea was able to impact those around her.
Cancer treatment is an exhausting fight, I’m still exhausted and I need rest. I’m tired of being beaten up. I want to live again, if only for a moment. I want to live one day of your life, with all its problems and joys. I just want a “normal” day, week and year. I want to worry about things that don’t involve death, or loss, or the pit of grief I have found myself in. I want my life back but it will not happen. I look everywhere and Andrea is gone. If I looked into the night sky, I would not find her. So many people say, “She is still with you.” She is not. That could not be further from the truth. She is gone and I cannot find her. I know she is part of who I am having known her but I cannot talk to her, I cannot hear her voice, or touch she face, feel her hair. She is not in my bed, I do not see her when I look to her in the car, and she does not answer me when I call out. She is not here. That is my life now.
I know that I will shed this grief and live again. The ache I feel in my head and my stomach will leave me. It is the good part about moving on. You leave a life you once knew but you also leave behind the raw pain of losing someone. At times I find myself wanting to run from here, even though that means leaving the closeness of Andrea’s memory. In my own way I want to stop running and lay down and allow grief to take me, to give in to my pursuer, to let it take me knowing that is the only way I can escape it. Yesterday I think I did that. I allowed grief to consume me, I allowed myself to relive every moment I could of Andrea’s treatment. I allowed myself to call out to God and ask every question that had been suppressed in my mind. It was a time of unfiltered thought a time of openness with my God. It was a time of deep pain. I allowed grief to overtake me as if I was the one singled out of the pack now weak from running I laid down. Today I awake to my life hoping I am some how immune to the depth of pain I felt yesterday. I need that as I head to North Carolina for Andrea’s memorial service. I need that to get back to life, a life where Andrea’s memory is just a thought that brings a smile or a sigh of a moment lived, but a memory that will no long drop me to my knees in pain.
Today I awoke to an email from Gina. She knew the pain I was in last night and she sent me these verses:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” Romans 8:28-30
She reminded me of the truth. I needed that for when I’m in the pit I noticed I had forsaken my reading of the Bible. guess that is part of being in the pit in the darkness where any light of truth is suffocated and darkness gives way to even greater darkness. It can be frightening how dark it can be. I needed to be reminded of the truth. Gina shown a little light down on me this morning and it helped me see clearly.