Sometimes life forces us to reconsider what makes a life.
I’ve been silent for some time in this space. I’ve operated this blog out of a call, not a career and I just don’t always feel obligated to process here. I have been writing. I have been processing the events of the last few months. I’ve just also been grieving in a way that I never have before, and chose to process, though outwardly, privately, through my counselor and close friends.
My mother-in-law died at the end of August. She valiantly lived in spite of stomach cancer. She was 53 and did not live a full year from the date of her diagnosis. I have a lot of feelings and thoughts on the terminology associated with “fighting cancer” that I don’t want to get into today. Mainly because as Julie and I talked toward the end of her life, we decided someone’s will to “fight” simply had nothing to do with the outcome of a disease. Sometimes, quite frankly, you are dealt a losing hand from the beginning, and no matter how well you play the man, as Harvey Spector says (Suits reference for those that partake), or the game itself, you still lose. I also have thoughts about life being diminished to nothing more than a pack of cards dealt and discarded, but again, another topic for another day.
Julie was on hospice for 45 days. I was with her the day she was told that chemotherapy was no longer an option. I knew as soon as I walked in the living room that morning to pick her up, the day would not go well. She was weaker, visibly in pain, and her face held a sadness I may never forget (as much as I want to). She made the brave decision to continue the time remaining this side of heaven with her family, at her home, surrounded by all of the things she loved. She lived 40+ days without nutrition-just water, and occasionally a Dum-Dum sucker. We marveled at her body’s ability to survive day after day. During the last week or so of her life, I stayed at her house a lot more, spending her final two nights earth-side alongside her. I watched “Friends” as I sat next to her and stroked her hair whenever I gave her medication. Though there was one moment, in the very early morning, I felt she was in fact passing and woke the others, I did not see her pass. I went to lie down at 4 AM after sitting at her bedside all night long. All of the family was present. She passed at 6:15 AM. I made it down the stairs, eyes barely open, at 6:18 AM exactly.
It was the first time I had witnessed death outside of the formality of a funeral home.
In my private writings, I have wrestled with a lot, but most notably the fact that there was no “sound” to death. No awareness that Jesus was present, other than feeling “at peace” despite the situation. There was no audible angel choir. There was noise-silent sobs among the family-the distant sound of the Keurig warming a cup of coffee-birds. But there was no “sound”. There was no moment that I knew that the Lord was present and that a life was leaving earth other than by the checklist of items the hospice nurse told us to look for, constantly changing and shifting with the clock. I remember anticipating it, thinking I would clearly know, even down to my bone marrow, when it happened because heaven would be near. And I didn’t.
Maybe it’s because I’m a “music person” but I argued with God, after the fact, that every song ends with a final note. It either crescendos to a divine finish, diminuendos to a soft whisper, or you simply hold and the staff ends. Songs end in either a resolved chord or in an “amen”, or even in that very high note at the end of the piano to signify the end, but songs do not just end with nothing. They end with some sort of “final” sound. And yet, here was a whole symphony of a life that left the earth, and not one single sound resounded anywhere in that room, or in my spirit. And in one crushing exhale, it felt as God simply slipped in and out without a word, and my soul, that has always felt so connected to Him throughout my entire life, even as I lay dying on an operating table, never even knew.
I heard a quote recently that when his wife died, C.S. Lewis was told that his faith must be of great comfort to him. Supposedly, he answered with “my faith is of no comfort to me right now”. In further research, I found that he wrote “A Grief Observed” which is on my list to read, but perhaps not at the moment when my grief is so strongly felt that I don’t think I could bear the weight of his words. But I do resonate with finding oneself at a crossroads of faith and former, tightly held beliefs, about life and love and the hell of it all. I’m in a better place at the moment, but I’ve wrestled. And I’ve come to no conclusion. Except that I have to believe God is good. I know He is good. And though I don’t know the proper theological timeline of events, I know somewhere deep in my soul that my sweet mother-in-law, and my sweet unborn baby, are cradled in the arms of Jesus. Safe. And fully aware of where they are.
Everyone has differing opinions on what happens when you die, how fast things happen, where we go, and all the things. I did not realize this until recently, as I began to research it, but every denomination differs slightly on what happens, when, and it is very overwhelming to think nobody has it for sure-totally-figured-out. General Christianity clearly always ends up with a soul being reunited with the Father through the salvation of the Son but when you’re navigating death itself, you begin to get anxious of what comes next. Perhaps, it’s only me that has thought through all of this but as someone who has had a very close brush with death herself, I would prefer to know the plan, ya know? And yet, I still don’t know.
There is certainty in processes. And all I have is a general outline. God has a way of only providing the general outline, asking us to believe He has the rest of it under control. And yet, every single day, we can argue with Him that it doesn’t really look like anyone has control, and every single day, He is still mysterious about some things. I’m not sure mysterious is one of his qualities that I particularly like at the moment. And yet, I decided I would just settle for feeling him hold me near…….but I couldn’t even feel Jesus remotely close. And it hurt me.
I stayed quiet for a long time. I’m supposed to write a blog post for Julie’s blog to close it out and quite frankly, I just haven’t been able to do it. I just recently “unpinned” her contact from my phone Favorites. I’ve opened up about how I’m feeling-obviously. I’ve talked with my counselor. I’ve talked to wise friends. I’ve gone to the doctor. I’ve cried. I’ve sobbed. I’ve gone back to church. I’ve opened my Bible. I’ve done the things one does upon a difficult death of a loved one.
However, I’ve also been very intentional on guarding my heart. After numbness, in my case, came an acute awareness that I was not okay. And not just anyone, or anything, needed access to me at the moment. I deleted social media from my phone, only logging on to post a picture here and there. I went and had body work done with Angie (you can read about her influence and part of my healing journey here) and I went to a voice “therapy” session. It might have helped me the most. Maybe I’ll write on it one day too, but for now, I’m simply thankful for the experience and wanted to note that. I’ve drank absurd amounts of water. And ate like total crap. And nobody knows about it.
I’ve thanked Jon profusely for what he does for me. For our family. For the man that He is. And I’ll probably annoyingly continue to because honestly, as attracted as I have always been to his ambition, I am far more attracted to his attention to what matters. I’ve cleaned a lot. And I’ve made a lot of lists of things I want to do. Nobody has seen them. They’re not a group effort. They’re mine to have and to check off and be happy with when I complete something. I’ve looked up a lot. I’ve looked at where I live. The trees. I’ve taken a lot of deep breaths. And I have enjoyed-deeply-being a mama again.
There was a long stretch for about a year, I haven’t really.
I’ve always just been conflicted, I guess. It is not lost on me the massive privilege that it is to mother. To bear the title. To work the job, actively, in the day to day. It is also not lost on me the massive “potential” it probably seems like I give up in choosing the “lesser” of the roles. I am not the breadwinner. I am not a boss babe. I am not a SAHM Influencer or some other combination of the sorts. I plan my days around the 2 year old’s nap, and the 5 year olds’ pickup time. Contrary to popular belief, I do not spend my days working out, getting my hair done, doing facials and shopping at Target. I clean a lot of toilets. Many times over. I cook. I do laundry. I feed the dogs. I practice sight words. My life is currently set to the soundtrack of “Peppa Pig”. I guess in a lot of ways, to many people, those things could seem really insignificant. And yet its the rhythm of my life right now; one that recently, I’ve discovered, is one to be so proud of and so content in.
Julie never made it to her goal retirement. She worked in education in the same school district her entire career. She has an overwhelming number of accolades noting how incredibly passionate she was about helping children succeed. She served in every aspect of her life. And yet when the oncologist told her chemo was no longer effective, she looked at me tearfully and wanted to go home. Because that’s truly where our life is made, if we take the time to notice. The love. The laundry. The cleaning and cooking and losing of tempers and glorious mornings of sleeping in and little kisses. The car rider line. The many prayers. The board games and rocking chairs and Netflix shows and casseroles. Church on Sunday and hot tub talks and beach trips and laughs. The remarkable, wonderful laughs. The little ordinary “homemade” moments are the moments that create a symphony of a life that can’t help but resemble something as magical as a song. And I realize, writing this, that she didn’t have a final note, but simply a rest, as the measure marched on with a glorious song simply continuing in heaven, now part of a much larger chorus. Her spirit didn’t quietly leave as I thought that morning, it soared.
I used to be wildly ambitious (I still am, just in different ways now). I always assumed I would be singing with large orchestras on large stages. And yet, I am but a wife and a mother, who lives on a farm, and loves everything, and everybody in her life, way too much. I miss my Jules. And for a month or so, maybe longer, I sat in numbness until people I loved, loved me enough to sit in it with me for a while, then gently pull me out. Now, though still in this season of great grief, I also find myself wanting to do projects around the house. Make memory books for each of the boys. Plant flowers. Decorate for each season. Slow down. Read books. Enjoy folding the laundry. I still want to be significant. But maybe the truth is, I already am. Maybe the truth is, there is a beauty and a fulfillment that can only be found when we sit with who we’re made to be, and really be that person no matter what our occupation or title looks like. Because at the end of the day, though I marvel at her successes, I miss the heck out of Jules’ heart. I’d give anything to have one more family night in the living room, my babies snuggled in her lap, followed by a hot tub soak and girl talk on the couch.
Last year around this time, I was in a little play called “Into the Woods”. It’s not famous or anything…joking. Watch it. Will change your life. It was the last time Jules watched me perform. There was a song in the show where the Baker’s Wife sings “Oh if life were made of moments, even now and then a bad one, But if life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one.” Maybe the moments that matter aren’t really the “big” ones. Maybe they’re all the little things in between. And when life forces us to reconsider what makes a life, we have to decide what life is to be made of, and delight in what it is-every day, beautiful, magical, terrible, overwhelming, awful, wonderful tiny little moments.
PS- I realize it can be tempting, and in some cases healing, to share your own grief experience in this space, but please carefully and prayerfully consider your words before doing so on this page (or in my inbox 😊 ). Many people from many walks of life find themselves on this blog and in horribly grief-stricken pain for a variety of reasons. Be kind.