So far, 2013 kinda blows.
We’ve pranged our new car twice… okay, I pranged our new car twice… got handed a very rude quote for some dental work that needs to be done, and have been patiently waiting for my employment situation to unfold.
But that’s just money and inconvenience.
For most of you who know me and some of you who have been following my blog, you’ve been made aware of my mother’s cancer. She had a lot of chemo last year, and that finished up in October.
In the first week of January, my mother had her routine check up with her surgeon and oncologist, and we found out that the cancer’s metastasized to her sternum and it’s inoperable. And so it’s more tests, and more treatment, and more fear and trembling. A quick scheduled reunion got cancelled because of other unforeseen health issues that popped up, and so now we wait and worry.
And then friends suffer sudden and devastating loss at the turn of the month. The kind that makes you cry until you’re soundless, and your chest hurts like the dickens.
I walked into a bookshop today looking to find words to comfort others, because I lack. And after explaining to the store manager what I was trying to achieve, he handed me a small stack of books and I started tasting the wares to see if they were appropriate enough to pass on.
I ended up getting quite attached to one of the books. It wasn’t a preachy one expounding how to overcome grief, or what the stages are. Just simple verses, reflections and prayer that might articulate grief in its variety and complexity. But until I read that book, I had forgotten that grief visits us even when there isn’t a body count and a coffin. Grief is ultimately about loss, and it comes when trust is broken, when health is irrecoverable, when “big sin” separates us from God and we feel like we can no longer have His fellowship.
I had intended the book to be a balm for others but in reading it, I learnt that I’ve been grieving for a while.
I wish I can tell you that I’m good with grief, but I’m not. Someone at my writing group on Saturday talked about Fight or Flight – and my immediate reaction to tremendous loss has never been flight to the safety of God’s arms, but the overpowering desire to put on armour and go into battle. Greatest defence is offence, they say. However, my version of “coping” usually involves standing alone and yelling at something, or hitting out till someone else hurts just as much as I do. It isn’t healthy. I wish my instinct is to run to God first, and maybe one day – when I finally grow up enough to have a child-like faith – all I’ll want to do is run into the arms of the Saviour. Besides, running to God is, by far, the more intelligent and sensible thing to do than standing there, defenceless but seething like a mad woman.
My friends have just lost their children. I cannot imagine losing my child, much less two of them at one go. And yet I am deeply edified by them and their unwavering faith. I have always had the sense that their relationship with Jesus is one that is far more intimate than mine has ever been. They are His kin, whereas I feel sometimes I’m like His distant cousin twice removed – the one you might meet during Christmas, Chinese New Year, weddings and funerals. And again, I ache with them but I marvel even more at how they lean on Christ because He’s really family.
I found a post I had written last year, when we first found out that my mother has cancer. I didn’t publish it, because it was very raw and because I didn’t want to distract from the true sufferer and victim – my mother. I’ve always found my own grief a bit of a time-suck, the idea of wallowing just self-absorbed and futile. It irritates me. Crying has always irritated me, even though I can do it well and do it often.
But after reading that book today, and then finding this old post, I realise that some of the emotions are still there because they have not been dealt with, but swept aside repeatedly. And even though I’m not angry anymore, I am still mixed up. Because the fear is still there, along with the longing, and the fight not to despair. It’s still relevant, and the scab’s raw and bleeding again.
So here’s what I wrote. And be warned – it’s not pretty. But I thought I’d put it out there because if you happen to be like me in the anger department, I hope this gives you an outlet and a prayer… and evidence that comfort can come – even when you’re standing there alone and screaming.
By now, you might have heard. Both churches on each of our continents have been told. This morning, I wrote an email and this afternoon, the elders at PP will be praying over my mother. I’ve embargoed this post, and I’ve written so many private posts both in this blog and on my heart.
Because it’s official. Two and a half days ago, my family found out that my mother has The Big C. And not the good kind, if there ever is such a thing. And our world fell apart. Walls of hope shattered like thin, brittle glass and you cannot see anything clearly – most of all the way forward. And my reaction was shock and horror… and unimaginable anger. I was so angry, it was unholy.
I spent the next ensuing hours alternately blaspheming and begging in my heart. I couldn’t pray, couldn’t look at the bible, and threw the “I love Jesus” hand towel in the wash although a part of me wanted to burn it like an effigy. I was so mad. Pain and suffering inflicted on me is one thing. But to torture my mother who has loved and served passionately, touched so many lives and still carries with her the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Who didn’t ever have it easy. Couldn’t He cut her some slack? Couldn’t she catch a break?
Lots of verses flew through the mind, like the futility of building barns for tomorrow, and the whole damn book of Job. When God allows suffering, when you know on the one hand that He allows it because He is GOD and He has the big picture… such knowledge can be both a sweet comfort and a mockery of the pain you currently feel. And for the first six hours anyway, understandably or wrongly, I was really, really mad with my Maker.
And the other head voices chime in. You know this isn’t about you, but you wonder anyway if this is a sick chess game between God and the Devil to test your faith or punish you for all your sins. Your heated words, your stupid, thoughtless actions. You wonder, wildly, if you had brought this down on your mother. Only because it strikes so close and if she didn’t deserve it, maybe she was collateral damage because of you.
It’s crazy talk, but that’s what grief brings. Your head knows better that God is compassion and love, long suffering and infinitely patient, far from vindictive. But the heart is wild, angry, hurt, irrational.
And yet today is Sunday. A day, like any other day, that the Lord has made. And knowing that flawed and loving people are bear-hugging my mother with words and prayer and deeds is comfort immeasurable. Channeling God always brings beautiful, brutiful stuff. And from the bottom of my heart, I ask for forgiveness and again entreat Him for all my heart’s desire.
My mother – ever brave, ever strong, ever faithful – is also human and scared silly. Her fear isn’t unbelief – it’s understanding. There’s something about sickness that silences the masses. It’s not like death, which brings out grief that’s hot, searing, immediate, total. Tangible. Sickness becomes the white elephant in the room, and everyday life feels clumsy, false and suspended. And my mother, she’s practical and smart and incredibly brave. She has chosen not to hide her illness from those who care enough to ask. So please honour her bravery and don’t act all stiff and funny around her. Just hold her and laugh with her and scream with her and cry with her, will you?
For her. For me.