Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Love is as Strong as Death


My parents have become my teenagers.  They are independent, but not.  They are discovering more and more that they are becoming more dependent than capable of being on their own. They are facing a stage in life that they don’t know much, if anything, about and they are scared. Interspersed in the bravado are intimations and hints of asking for help, advice and permission. 

They are in their mid-80’s.  After several bypass operations, aneurisms  and various illnesses, they have squarely faced their mortality several times over.  They know their days, as the Psalm says, are as the grass of the field, their flowers have flourished, the wind has passed over them, they are withered and dry and waiting to be plucked up and be pressed into memories.  They will soon become a picture hung in the hallway, the remembrances of better, more beautiful days will eventually be less and less frequently invoked at family gatherings. Eventually there will be a generation that knew them not.

I think it because she has no illusions of immortality that my Mom has decided to quit chemo.  The first week she spent nauseous and exhausted. The second week they adjusted the dosage. She spent an early morning in the ER dizzy and unable to remember how she got there.  When they got home in the light of dawn she barely made it up the flight of stairs. Dad had to carry her to their bed where she slept for the rest of the day.  They talked it over and they decided neither of them were able to endure their mutual and individual pain due to chemo for another three months.  I am sure it was a hard conversation between them.  My Mom is probably more concerned about the toll it is taking on my Dad as the toll it is taking on her. I think he reluctantly has to admit he is probably not capable of dealing with it either physically or emotionally.

“At my age, what is the point? I’ve had a full life,” my Mom said to me, a thinly veiled request for permission from her children.  “I might live a year or ten years with or without the chemo.”  Of course my sister and I gave her permission to make her own decision about her own future.  We agreed the crap shoot odds weren’t compelling enough to us either.  She will continue with a mild "maintenance" type of chemo if she can tolerate it that may keep the cancer at bay. But the doctor says either way there are no guarantees.

Indeed, what is the real point? In one way it is not only about life and death, it is about letting go, something we have to learn to do both for the living and the dying whether we are parents or children. For now it is letting my parents make decisions that I might not want them to make. Stopping chemo addresses the short term pain but may result in something worse later, a slow lingering death in Hospice that I have seen before. 

But the reality is that The Psalmist is correct, “if we be in strength our years may be fourscore years, but what is more than these but toil and travail?”  It really does come down to enduring three months of chemical poisoning now or three months of making her as comfortable as we can while we gather and wait for her last breath later.  The reality is at her age we will wait for that last breath with or without chemo sooner or later.

It is not so much the pain or avoidance of pain nor the length of years added or subtracted but it is the waiting that is important at this point.  It is that Mom is surrounded by her husband, children and grandchildren who wait on her.  Death is inevitable.  Having people who love you and wait with you is not.  Death is the curse.  Being “gathered to your people” who are waiting is the blessing. 

So for we who wait there is the pain of being involved in the decision to die and there is the comfort of being involved in the decision to die.  To be invited into such a private and sobering decision is a weight of blessing I suppose some cannot bear.  But “love is as strong as death” and it bears the burden gracefully.

And so, we begin keeping an indeterminate vigil that is more real now, more intensely focused on the final benediction while attempting to attend to the present moment of blessedness. 

“Love is as strong as death”, and indeed, in death love is perfected and like the flower of the field that withers and returns to the earth, love will blossom forth life anew in the Eternal Spring.

14 comments:

Victoria said...

I am so humbled by your sharing of this. Your mother. What a woman. I have no words. But you make me feel it deeply.
thanks for this.
my husband and I often talk about what those days are going to be like for us. it's very sobering. maybe a little more sorrowful when your parents (like ours) are not people of any particular faith. hm.
anyway, thank you again for these words and thoughts. it's so generous and trusting to let the rest of us in on what is so intimate.

Renée said...

There are no words. Only respect. Thank you for writing this.

Larry Anderson said...

In a world that worships the false god of eternal youth and chases the deception of immortality, this is the sanest and most clear-headed thing I have read all year.

Anam Cara said...

Thank you. Your mother is a wonderful role model. Oh, that I should have such grace when my time comes.

You said, "They know ... They will soon become a picture hung in the hallway, the remembrances of better, more beautiful days will eventually be less and less frequently invoked at family gatherings. Eventually there will be a generation that knew them not. "

I have sometimes wondered how my grandchildren will remember me. I only knew one of my grandparents - and she never really interacted with me. Your comments make me want to make the very most of the time we have together.

May God provide for your parents everything they need for healing of soul and salvation!

elizabeth said...

Makes the understanding of God remembering them in His Kingdom more real. Lord have mercy, help, comfort and protect.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you, thank you.

Jason Z. said...

Thank you for this very moving and intimate post. My wife and I are now at a point where our children are quickly moving into adulthood and our parents are moving into their golden years. Your words bring a pin-sharp clarity to life. Thank you!

David Dickens said...

There is no other day in my life than the day my wife and I told my son Isaac that he was going to die. Other days come and go on the wind and that day remains. Other memories fade, but that stubborn, blackened and naked rock remains.

There are decisions in life for which all the scripts, values, ideals and wisdom of many seers serve as nothing but ash in the mouth. But I pity those who live their lives never realizing the vanity of their proclamations.

When we say something is a "hard" thing, what do we mean? How can such a word apply to a mother and father faced with torturing their son with no hope of success or letting him pass first before them beyond the grey rain-curtain of this world.

Nature has been made unnatural. If the Maker does not save us, we will not be saved.

Ian Climacus said...

My humble prayers, and my thanks for your sharing with us.

Anonymous said...

Brave woman. Brave son.

You know, I'm sure, that hospice folks are great at providing support and advice on how to live as comfortably as possible at home while dealing with illness. They're not just the long, lingering death folks. They may be able to help both your parents live on their own terms through what lies ahead.

-- Rebecca M.

(third attempt -- your comment system hates me)

Margaret said...

God bless you for being so kind as to share this time with us here. God is with you and your parents, as you have reminded us, thank you!

Anonymous said...

Steve...I have been in your place many times the last five years, with my father, fil, mil and sil. Please know you can talk to me at any time. I understand what you have shared, very much so.

B. Joanna

ofgrace said...

God be with you all, Steve! (And with you and your wife, too, David, as you remember Isaac. There are no words, . . . but you said it best.)

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

S-P,
My heart goes out to you and to your dear parents. Difficult decisions to make, but important ones.
My prayers for you all.

The way in which we choose to face our death is as vitally important to our spiritual well-being as the way in which we choose to live our lives.

I recently read this article about how medical professionals approach these situations for themselves:
http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2011/11/30/how-doctors-die/read/nexus/

and it really made me stop and think.