One year ago today, we brought my mother-in-law home from the hospital to take care of her during her last days on earth. One year ago, I was forever changed. There’s something about looking death right in the face that changes a person. The image of her dying haunted me for weeks after her death. It has taken me a very long time to remember her as the healthy, loving person she was and not the sickly person I saw lying on that hospital bed.
Before this time, I would have told you I’m very strong in my faith. I would have told you I was physically and mentally weak but my faith?’….yeah, I got that down, no problem.
I learned that I am way stronger physically and mentally than I ever thought possible. Going three weeks straight with less than three hours of sleep a night was exhausting. It was like having a newborn baby without any of the joy.
I was recalling the other being at her house and taking care of her during her last days. I thought to myself, “How on earth did I do that?” Really, how did I do it? How did my sister-in-law and I do it? My sister-in-law was so patient and gentle with her mother. I have a new found respect for that woman and all she did for her mother.
For those who were not there, or have never done anything like that, you really cannot fully understand it unless you go through it. You cannot understand how when feeling totally drained emotionally, and beyond exhausted physically, you can have a giggling fit with your husband, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law that last for ten minutes, or how texting random things to each other while sitting in the same room can crack you up.
Even though she was dying…we were still living.
We still have to live… live with all the “Whys?” and the “I can’t believe this really happened and she’s really gone from us.”
Understanding death and how it would affect me was not something I was not prepared for.
This Jesus loving, God fearing, bible studying girl stood there in that living room watched her mother-in-law take her last breath and began to question everything she ever believed.
Questions arose in my head like “What if there isn’t a God?” “What if this is just some man-made thing that we have made up to comfort us when people die?” “What if I really never see her again?”
What if when you die that’s it. Lights out. No more. The end.
Frankly, the whole thing scared the hell out of me.
You need to understand that I have felt God’s presence so clearly before that it’s indescribable. I have had that overwhelming feeling take over my body, soul, and spirit. The feeling of being completely enveloped by Him. When my mother-in-law died I felt abandoned and empty. As much as I tried to feel Him, I just couldn’t.
There were so many things He tried to show me that I couldn’t see through my grief. On the day of her funeral, a bald eagle came and perched right outside the window where she had died…even then I felt no comfort.
I began to question everything. I began to think about how life works and how people will die and be separated. I began to look at my husband and child with the understanding that someday they would die. Someday I would die. It’s not like I didn’t already know this but I was in denial.
Isn’t it easy to pretend that death isn’t going to happen you or to those you love? Of course, it will happen to OTHER people but not to me or my loved ones. Isn’t is easy to pretend that life goes on forever? Other people’s family members get cancer and die, but not mine…
Then, one day, your loved one isn’t there anymore. Gone are the phone calls, birthday celebrations, Mother’s Day gifts, counseling sessions, lunch dates, and “One McDonald’s coffee with 3 creams and one ‘old lady’ coffee, please,” ordered at the McDonald’s drive-thru. What about that potato salad she made that was so yummy and all the lunch dates you took together to your favorite restaurants? What about how when you talked, she really, truly listened.
She left me though…she took her last breath and she was gone.
These are some paragraphs from a book by C.S. Lewis that I would like to share with you. They explain perfectly my thoughts and feelings during this time. He wrote this book after losing his wife who he refers to has ‘H.’
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be–or so it feels–welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more empathic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in our time of trouble?
I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon. He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: “Why has thou forsaken me?” I know. Does that make it easier to understand?
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such a dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not “So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.'” C.S. Lewis
From a different section of the book called ‘A Greif Observed.’
“Or as H. is. Can I honestly say that I believe she is not anything? The vast majority of the people I meet, say, at work, would certainly think she is not. Though naturally they wouldn’t press the point on me. Not just now anyway. What do I really think? I have always been able to pray for the other dead, and I still do, with some confidence. But when I try to pray for H., I halt. Bewilderment and amazement come over me. I have a ghastly sense of unreality, of speaking into a vacuum about nonentity.
The reason for the difference is only too plain. You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? The same with people. For years I would have said that I had perfect confidence in B.R. Then came the moment when I had to decide whether I would or would not trust him with a really important secret. That threw quite a new light on what I called my ‘confidence’ in him. I discovered that there was no such thing. Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief. Apparently the faith–I thought it faith–which enables me to pray for other dead has seemed strong only because I have never really cared, not desperately, whether they existed or not. Yet, I thought did.” – C.S. Lewis
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”
“Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.”
Do you understand this? Only when what you believe is actually put to the test will you discover whether or not you truly believe in it.
Fascinating, and so obvious.
You may be wondering where I am today with it all that I have experienced.
Most of my days are good days now. I can’t say that I have completely worked it all out in my head because I still have questions. I have come to believe that without faith in God we are nothing and there is no point to life. I still believe in Him and love Him. I feel He is big enough for my doubts, fears, and trust issues.
I know that life without a relationship with Him is not something I want to experience. Can you truly, in your heart, believe that there is not more to life or more to all this pain, struggle, and death we face?
I believe God has used this whole situation to bring us closer as a family and to help us realize what really matters in life. Edna would be so proud of who we have become in the last year and that means that her death, pain, and struggle with cancer was not in vain.
I love you Edna, and I miss you.