There’s a scene in the second season of Downton Abbey, where William has just been brought in from the war front and we, the viewers, learn that he cannot recover. He is dying. His father rushes in, and just when the doctor is about to tell him that his son will not live, Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess steps in and cuts the doctor off smoothly.
“You see,” she goes on to explain to the doctor, “Sometimes, we must let the blow fall by degrees. Give him time to find the strength to face it.”
All through my trip in Singapore, I have been falling by degrees.
It’s not so much that the doctors have started using words like, “comfort” and “quality of life” to describe my mother’s options. It’s not even that Death waits patiently around a bend that is yet to be revealed. It’s watching the woman I love most suffer horribly. It’s sitting in front of her, but not even touching her because every hair on her body screams in agony when a wave hits hard. It is knowing that no other human can help her right now. That it is not in anyone’s power to stop this invisible, arduous torture of this woman I love so profoundly, so biologically.
I have told a couple of you that my faith is shaken by this. I still know there is a God, but I wonder about His compassion. I come back to the fact that His ways are not my ways, and I yell at myself to remember that God is good. Always. Even when it’s absolutely horrible, I remind myself, He is always good. They say.
Sometimes, I see the blessings he gives us. But lately, I struggle to feel Him near me. I have to beat back this crushing wave of cynicism that rises within me every time I think about that Footsteps In The Sand poem. Where are you now, Lord? Because if you’re carrying us through this nightmare, I’m really not feeling it. I’m not seeing it. My mother is suffering more each day. Are you actually carrying her, or is that just a pretty poem?
I’ve been told that my understanding of suffering is wrong, and that I have to adjust my relationship to it. That suffering isn’t something bad to be avoided, but is needed for teaching and learning. Sounds philosophically lofty. Probably even biblical. But if you give me a self-help book to read right now, I will boil it for soup and feed it to your dog.
Because I am not ready. And I feel betrayed. Because my mother hurts.
I lie most days now, without meaning to. Every time a check-out chick asks me how I’m doing, I say “good thanks” out of reflex because I don’t want to scare the poor woman with what I really think. I should be in Singapore right now, but it’s not so straightforward. We’re moving back with the aim to live in Singapore for 6 months, but 3 April doesn’t feel anywhere NEAR quick enough. I am listless every day. I need to be there, but my family needs me here and I have to be responsible and tie things up properly before I uproot everyone and everything. I want to leave tomorrow, but I can’t. I wanted to leave yesterday, but I couldn’t either. Every moment in Australia now feels like a choice between selfish desire and my mother’s mental health – even though intellectually, I know it’s not so black and white. But my every pore is screaming to get out of Australia now.
I want a lot of things. Most of the answers lately have been “no” or “not yet”.
It will get better. I am acting like a child now, I know.
Pray that my mother feels God’s protection, and not just know it.