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.