At this time of year, practically everyone talks about thankfulness, asks what you are thankful for, and speaks of thankfulness in a Believer’s life. Generally, the answers are pretty much the same. I am not making light of thankfulness. With the incomparable gift we have received, our thankfulness (or is it gratefulness) should be paramount.
But, sometimes it’s difficult to remain blissfully thankful when your world is turned upside down.
After nine years of a series of constant tribulations, it has been difficult to remain thankful for all the pain and turmoil that has been thrust into what I thought was a previously fruitful, hardworking walk. I studied the Scriptures diligently, led Bible study groups, shared the gospel of the Kingdom, and performed many ‘good works’.
Then everything changed.
My mother had emergency surgery to save her life the evening of January 10, 2010. I rushed to Florida from the Midwest the following day. I had never been in a position to be a medical advocate for anyone except my children’s injuries which were pretty minor. There were more than a few “God-moments”: like when the surgeon came storming in mom’s hospital room four days after the surgery, complaining that we had him pulled out of surgery and proclaiming what a great surgeon he was, etc. I prayed the Lord would hold my tongue so I didn’t say what I was thinking about this arrogant man, but when he started yelling at my 80-year-old father, it spilled out. “You might be the best surgeon in the world, but you are a poor excuse for a human being!”, I firmly said, trying not to yell. “It has been four days and we don’t even know why she needed surgery or what the prognosis is! And, who do you think you are yelling at your elder like that!” I then left the room, fearing I had made an enemy. I went to the end of the hall, crouched down and bowed my head, repenting for my harsh words. My father’s voice interrupted me, asking me to come back in the room where the surgeon calmly explained that my mother’s gallbladder had essentially exploded and a large stone had lodged in her small intestine but all would be okay. Wow!
The following day, my father and I were leaving the hospital room for food. The surgeon was standing at the nurse’s station, back toward us seemingly engrossed in paperwork, but we would have to pass by him to leave the floor. Gingerly, we started to pass when the surgeon wheeled around and wholeheartedly greeted us as if we were long lost friends. He discussed how well my mother was doing, how great this was going to turn out and if we had any questions, just ask. All with a beaming smile on his face. Dad and I thanked him and started walking arm-in-arm toward the elevators when, very quietly, Dad said, “I don’t know what you said to him but it sure worked!” I chuckled. “It wasn’t me Dad.” I knew that the words which came, uncontrollably, from my mouth had been the Holy Spirit.
Mom got well but it was a slow recovery. I won’t go through what I had to do to make sure everything was set up for mom’s return home before I could go back to my home. This was all new to me and I made lots of mistakes. My parents had been pretty healthy. Then came July, 2010. My mother called to tell me she had cancer. My oldest sister who lived in the northeast helped with care after the surgery. I was to take the chemo treatments. My middle sister was backup because she was the only child who lived nearby.
I travelled back and forth every few weeks for the treatments and stayed for a week. Then went home and repeated the process until we were assured mom wasn’t going to get terribly sick. There were issues, but generally she held up remarkably well.
In May, 2011, my mother called to say something was wrong with my father. They had just been out for a walk and he was fine, but she thought he’d had a stroke. I didn’t go to Florida immediately at her request. There were many tests to be done. The diagnosis came in June: Lewey’s Body Dementia. This is where the brain is functioning fine but the signals can’t get to the rest of the body. The odd thing is that my father’s ‘disease’ didn’t match how LBD usually progresses. It’s usually a slow steady decline but it was like Dad was fine and went off a cliff. The neurologist thought dad would remain in a nursing home for about seven years! Dad’s worst fear and there was nothing I could do!
My father died August 6, 2011. I was grateful he didn’t suffer long, but the loss was shocking. I hadn’t suffered the loss of anyone close to me besides my grandparents, and that’s not the same. Since coming to faith nine years earlier, my relationship with my parents was very close. We even vacationed together. It’s amazing what happens when you follow God’s Commands: relationships do heal. I am grateful for the times dad and I spent together, especially when mom was sick (yes, it is odd to think of it that way): the deep conversations about faith and God. I understand why God gave us parents – to show us our relationship to Him and what that kind of ‘intimacy’ looks like. I got to experienced it firsthand.
I was the only child willing to watch over our mother after dad died. In January, 2012, mom was having trouble walking. The tests showed holes in her upper femur, possibly bone cancer. I was responsible for her care again. I was angry: not at mom or God, but my sisters who did absolutely nothing. They didn’t even call. Thankfully, it wasn’t bone cancer but required a hip replacement. Again, I was the child who took care of her then and the succeeding surgeries. My sisters totally ignored me and didn’t call mom when I was around.
Over the years, there were so many airline flights that the NSA was getting more intrusive in their searches. When my shirt was lifted way too high in public and I was tested for explosives, I decided the 18-hour road trip couldn’t be as bad. So, I drove two or three times a year to check on how mom was doing, perform small tasks around the house, and make sure she could still drive safely and live on her own. She was doing great!
My oldest sister died unexpectedly the week of Thanksgiving, 2014. When I found out, I was in the emergency room with my husband for a mysterious breathing problem that began out of the blue the previous August. We spent the next two years and every extra penny (we still had one daughter in nursing school, too) trying to find out why. After many doctors who were baffled or gave untenable, possible diagnoses, we traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Florida and finally got a diagnosis and a road to recovery. Then, in October, 2016, my husband almost died and spent 10 days in the ICU from a pseudomonas infection caused by a compromised immune system due to the steroids he had been given for the previous two years. Thankfully, he survive due to one nurse who thought tests should be done on the gook he suctioned from my husband’s lungs. The doctor, one of many who had given incorrect diagnoses of asthma or eosinophilic pneumonia, had told me my husband was dying of acute asthma – his lungs were shutting down. He was wrong again! Months of rehab. I elected to do it at home, myself. By now, I had a lot of experience!
When my husband was well enough, I went to Florida for mom’s 85th birthday in March, 2017. My younger daughter went, as well. There had been several reconstructions and other surgeries and issues since 2010, but mom seemed to be doing well!
My mother called me in late April, 2017. The cancer had returned. Stage 4. No tumors. Cancer cells just roamed her body – everywhere. My mother passed away in July, 2017. I am still heartbroken but grateful for all the time we had together, just the two of us. We spoke every day like best friends. We fought like sisters as times. She wanted her house ‘warm’ (78 degrees). I wanted some air! We talked about everything and nothing. It was priceless!
Mom had left me, the youngest, as her Trustee. My remaining sister became my nemesis, trying to prevent me from settling the estate, refusing to accept what mom left her, getting an attorney, and lying about my doing things that were illegal. Her daughter joined with her and it has been quite a nightmare to accomplish what my mother wanted. It is not over yet, after a year and a half, but I hope it will be soon.
Then, my most beloved dog of nine plus years (literally by my side every day I wasn’t in Florida) died from an infection that took his life last Spring, 2018. I learned too late that the antibiotic-resistant infection came from the raw food my vet belittled me into feeding. Then it was compounded by my vet’s incompetence and inaction. I am still mourning the loss of my most precious boy. He understood my moods, my words, and licked my many tears away. He would even stand in front of me then move toward the stairs when I stayed up ‘too late’ as if to say, ‘It’s time for bed’. I will miss him the rest of my life!
Losing him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. What is the purpose in all this loss and turmoil in such a short period of time? What am I supposed to learn from losing my entire birth family? My history. How many times can a heart love completely and bear being broken repeatedly? I admit, there were times, I asked God what He want from me? No, I’m not a perfect daughter, wife, mother, or caregiver. But, I did all I could out of love.
In the end, I think it’s all about perseverance and not holding onto this life so tightly. It’s about my weakness and His strength. It’s about dependence upon the only One who will never leave you alone, even at 10:30 at night, standing in a hospital hallway after the surgical department closed with no one to ask where they took your mother or was she even out of surgery yet after eight hours when it was supposed to take two or was she (gulp) – dead! Or, the endless hours waiting by your husband’s bedside for him to ‘turn the corner’. It’s the hours of prayer – on your face prayer- when all you can croak out is ‘Mercy’!
After all this, I believe I understand what it means to carry my cross. I have felt the heart wrenching pain of a Believer’s walk in this fallen world and persevered without losing my mind or faith. And, none of this was alone! Isaiah 41.
Thankful? Not really. Grateful? Most definitely!!