A year ago I received a phone call at work that ruined my day. It was suspected that my mom had cancer again. Fear and sorrow overcame me as I suspected that perhaps there was another great loss in store for my family.
Later on that week, my mom was flying to Montreal so that we could do a weekend trip to New York together. Instead of going to New York, we ended up hanging out in a Montreal hospital emergency room (pretty much the same thing) because of a blood clot in my mom's lung that had cropped up during the flight, almost killing her. Change in plans. It was the first glimpse of "weakness" in a woman that I have always known to be completely strong and able to handle anything. Yet we still had as much fun as we could have in the ER all weekend, playing Yahtzee (much to the jealousy and envy of everyone walking by us).
After being released from the hospital, we spent a few days in Quebec before being able to fly home. After ten years of annual mother-daughter trips, it was nice to just spend time together, despite the not great circumstances. The reality of the possibility of cancer dissipated as we simply enjoyed hanging out.
In June, the doctor told her she had less than a year to live, so do what you can while you can. I moved home in a whirlwind in July and she started radiation in August, which almost did her in. Each day was filled with intense grief and loss in the face of possible death. My heart was filled with questions toward God through which I wrestled and struggled. Just as our family had moved through a great season of loss and grieving, it seemed we were in a new season of grand-kids, travel and lots of dinner parties.
As my mom struggled for her life, my niece was born. Another grand-daughter for my mom. When my mom held her for the first time, it was such an amazing contrast of one nearing the end of their life and one just starting life. Yet it was a moment filled with life. In a time when death was a constant, daily reminder, this new little life brought such hope and joy. It was a moment of seeing a woman who has loved well. And here was another precious individual for her to love.
In the face of illness and death, and with all my questions about God and what was going on, I started praying for healing. It was difficult at first, because my belief was "God I know you can but I don't believe you will..." God has been changing this in my heart to be "God, I know you can heal and that you will, perhaps in different ways than I might imagine, but I can trust you."
When my mom was 17, she had stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma and was given six months to live. The doctors told her that even if in the highly unlikely chance that she survived, she would not be able to have children (4 children and 43 years later...) God healed her physically on earth at that time and the legacy that she has continued to leave with her life is phenomenal and inspirational.
After a few months of steady decline, in December my mom started doing a bit better. Just in time for one of her favourite times of year, Christmas. My mom loves to host people and to love them with amazing food and intentional time spent together. So, we decorated and we cooked and we hosted friends and then family. It was such a rich and beautiful time, full of life and love. For a time when death was anticipated and expected, it was full of life: people coming over, kids running around, kids crying, kids laughing, people eating and just being together.
In the last few months, I have found myself in a strange place of waiting. Death was so expected and anticipated, that it has been unexpected to have this extra time with my mom when she has been feeling a bit better. Which brings me back to my first point, that sometimes it is easy to be so focused on one thing that we miss out entirely on another. Over the past many months, I have been so focused on death, that at times I have missed out on life. Yes, there have been glimpses of life and efforts toward choosing life, but it has been under the umbrella of death. But what if death were viewed and embraced under the umbrella of life?
A few days ago, my second nephew was born, my mom's second grandson (different family from the other one, don't worry! :) ) And once again, I stood in awe at the moment where she first saw him, held him and marveled in awe and wonder at this new little life before her. What a treasure it was to watch her hold him. A baby that we were doubtful she would be around to meet. Yet once again, a moment filled with hope, joy and love.
Living life without a timeline has many difficulties. Yet, I am reminded that whether someone has a terminal illness or is completely healthy, none of us know our lifespan here on earth. I came across this quote today:
“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered...We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.” -Elizabeth Edwards
I am so thankful for new life and the amazing reminders it brings. I am thankful also for life that has been lived and enjoyed and embraced. Each day brings something different, some are harder than others, but we have life and therefore must live. And death, in a way that I cannot fully understand or wrap my mind around, is part of that life.
So in each moment of every day, live under the umbrella of life. Don't forget to play yahtzee in the emergency room, to snuggle babies, to hug loved ones, to enjoy others, to marvel at beauty and to laugh. These are some of those ingredients, that intermingled with sorrow, illness, death and sadness, create something beautiful and profound.