Author’s note: My children, I can’t see much of a point to you reading this, as you lived it. I love you all,
I came into the bedroom and noticed Chris looked a bit more fatigued than usual. He was stretched out on our king sized bed, staring up at the Amish quilt we had mounted there several years ago.
“What’s up sweetie? You don’t look so good.”
” I don’t know. This trip really took it out of me. It was so great to see all those colleges with Christopher. RPI was quite the place, but Troy is such a cesspool!”
“Ha! True! Good to visit Roberts, too, nice to actually get boots on the ground.”
“I think Hillsdale is the biggest contender. Everyone was so nice, and the girls were normal! And the professors took such an interest!”
“I think that’s so great. Now that those visits are over, we can really concentrate on the Colorado schools. But still, what’s going on? Do you feel ok?”
“I don’t know. We had a super rich meal with Mom last night. Goose pate and everything. That stuff is so gross, I can’t believe I ate it. Now my stomach is all upset and my right side hurts. ”
“Ewww, dear, ok, let’s look. Can I see?”
“No! You’re not a nurse! No!”
“Stop being such a baby! Geez! Let me see, you big dork!” I slapped him on the shoulder.
“Roll over and pull up your shirt. Now, big boy!”
Chris obediently pulled up his shirt to show me the painful area. I inspected it closely and compared it to the other side. It was a couple of inches above his beltline on the right side, and his otherwise trim waist was slightly distended.
“Well, gracious, honey, you need to see a doctor. That could be appendicitis, gallstones, anything, you just don’t know.”
“Oh, I’m fine. You worry too much. It was just a big trip.”
I fought to keep from grinding my teeth. Trust was a constant issue in our marriage. Chris was an abuse survivor, and constantly had to work on trusting the people who loved him the most.
“Look, trust me on this. No, of course I’m not a nurse, but I know a pretty fair amount about anatomy, and that’s not normal. You’re supposed to be symmetrical and you just aren’t.”
“Whatever, sweetie. Look, If I don’t feel better in a couple of days, I’ll go see Ted at Conifer Medical Center, and we’ll go from there. ”
The days went by, and Chris slowly went through the motions in his days. Several days later I confronted him.
“Now? Now? Can you please go NOW?”
“OK, ok. I’ll make the appointment.”
Chris came back from the doctor anxious. Ted Giavanni was our favorite physician at practice, and had laid all the cards out, as gently as possible. He had run some tests, and Chris’s liver enzymes were off. He had palpated the liver area, asked some other questions. We wouldn’t be able to know anything for sure until the results came back, but at least he could rule out appendicitis and gallstones.
I remember standing at the stove when Chris came home several days later.
“Sweetie. Ted thinks I have colon cancer.”
Standing. Swaying. Dizzying.
“He says there are things we can do.”
Gripping. Paling. Breathing Really Hard.
“Don’t be afraid. I need you now.”
So we got on the carousel of cancer. We joined the circle of death. We changed course, adjusted to life, gained the ‘new normal.’
Days later when Chris was waiting to have his operation to take out his primary tumor, I took Rachael skiing at Loveland with her class. There is a town not far away with a public library, and I rushed over there as soon as I dropped her off. I spent what would became one of many days devouring everything I could about colon cancer.
Survivability charts became my new Bible. 7 percent. 9 percent. This once says younger men have a 13 percent chance of living for five years! I read everything American Cancer Society had about colon cancer for laymen, and several professional papers I could barely decipher.
As the days went by, I learned a whole new vocabulary. One with alien sounding names like FOLFOX, or devilish ones like FOLFURI. I learned about side effects, gastric upsets, gluten problems for cancer patients, reflexology, nutrition and juicing. I learned what a ‘wasting disease’ looks like, I learned all about liver function and shutdown.
Legions of friends flocked to us. Christian ones set up prayer chains, brought dinners, took my children places and help me stay on track with bills and business matters.
Long lost friends,gay friends, old friends, international friends, and acquaintances showered us with things to help make our life easier. I would sit at the table with tears dripping down my face, writing one thank you note after another. Finally, I came to the shattering knowledge that I couldn’t possibly thank all these people, they would just have to take it for granted that I was grateful beyond words.
My best friend slowly grew weaker. I watched in frantic horror as he grew sicker and sicker as the disease progressed. I watched a stocky, powerfully built man get thinner and thinner. I watched as arms that could lift me could barely lift themselves. I helped him to the bathtub as he had helped me during pregnancy. I helped him find things he could eat during his illness as he helped me find things that I could eat during mine.
How could this be? How could a relatively young man be felled by such a hideous disease?
“Asymptomatic” became my new curse word. He was Asymptomatic, damn it! No symptoms! None! How? Why? And most to the point,
Why us, God? Why do you hate us so much? Why, after 25 years of devoted service? Why? Did I do something to offend you? Why not just send us to hell right now? It can’t be any worse than this!
I kept really great notes. Cancer will do that to you, especially in the later stages. Things get out of control, and I floundered to control the few things I could. I watched his diet, monitored his medicines, rubbed his feet after treatments so his stomach could settle.
His last week was so painful, I can’t even bring myself to write about it.
Becky, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for cleaning the bedroom.
Caleb, if I could cost you your job on the fire department, I would. You had no right to tell your daughter what was going on before I could tell mine.
We buried Chris about a year ago today, absent his family of origin. When we sat around the gravesite, my brother sang Amazing Grace in his beautiful tenor. My dear sister in law joined in, and it was as if the angels were surrounding us. My dear mother, as frail as can be, was wheeled by my dear father to the grassy gravesite.
My pastor led us through the preparations and service like a stealth warrior. Quiet and surreptitious, getting the job done with surprising ease. Drew displayed the most powerful strength a soldier of God can have-kindness.
The church where we held the service was built for 500. People had to stand in the foyer, we estimated there were over 650. The children zombied through the reception, and through the haze I could see people I hadn’t seen in years. My sturdiest friend Liz let me have a vulture grip on her shoulder, without it I most certainly would have fallen down.
Surprising people came from all around. Our high school principal. My children’s English teacher. A dear friend, my girls’ ski coach, all the way from Monument. Old clients, all to tell me how much Chris had impacted them. Over and over and over.
I don’t remember much of the weeks that ensued, and I don’t much see the point of it. People would often ask me how I was doing, and I would say
“Putting one foot in front of the other.” That pretty much summed it up.
Several weeks after that, one of my heroes asked me out to lunch. I am very protective of her, because she is high profile, and I don’t like to name drop.
Sharna Coors made time in her busy schedule to reach down to me. Sharna has ten children, and four of them she gave birth to. All of them are equally important, and she is very busy.
“Victoria,” she asked me over soup, “Is there any part of the scripture you still believe to be true?”
I thought about it. I take Sharna very seriously, and have the greatest respect for her.
“No.” I had to be truthful.
We had done everything. We had laid hands, anointed with oil, had prayer services, hundreds and hundreds of people praying all over the world. We had knocked, asked, pleaded, begged, done everything the Bible had outlined for us to do. And my best friend had sickened and died.
“Anything? Think now. You know a lot about the Bible.”
I thought. And as if in a dream, something came to me.
One of Jesus’ best friends was named John. In his account, he details how Jesus received news that a friend of his named Lazarus had died. Lazarus had two sisters, and the three of them lived in a village where Jesus would often stay.
When one of the sisters came to Jesus, she was devastated that her brother had died, and that Jesus could have stopped it.
Jesus could have scolded her. He could have brought her up short on account of her unbelief. He could have used her as a teaching object, as an objective tool for instruction.
Instead, Jesus wept.
Jesus wept. He wept for her. He weeps for me. He weeps for my children. He weeps for all the lost and sick in my state and country. He weeps for the other 51,000 colon cancer patients who have been diagnosed since Chris died. He weeps with the mothers of sick and stillborn children. He weeps with the parents of traumatized and dead soldiers. He weeps with the parents of car wreck victims and suicides. He weeps for dead skydivers. He weeps for dead old people, and victims of all sorts. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
He weeps for the lost, the broken, and the sick at heart.
He weeps for me. Somehow, I know this to be true.
The body of Christ has buoyed me over this past year. This is impossible to ignore. I can see how the prodigal would want to leave home after an experience like this, I can also see how the Father will do just about anything to get her attention.
I go along now, and slowly, gifts penetrate my awareness. We just came back from Lake George, and were enveloped in love from the family of one of the first friends we made as a couple. The Rosens are New York Jews, far and away the best kind. Carol is my other Jewish mother, and a tremendous gift.
My children stagger along. Everyone kept telling me to expect them to crater, and perhaps that is to be. But we keep putting one foot in front of the other, and talk about Daddy when it naturally flows around us. In the mean time, they grow, develop, and only rarely get stuck in their grief.
I make new friends, and old ones keep popping up, much to my delight. All of these things truly are gifts, and make me wonder if the Father would truly rather see me at home, instead of somewhere else.
I think so.
I truly love you all,