Written on May 15, 2012
My beloved niece Seana passed from this life to the next on May 19, 2012. Ovarian Cancer took her life. She was only 31 years old. Over the next while I will share the thoughts that I recorded during the time before and after Seana’s death. I invite you to join me as I share what was on my heart, and also pay tribute to my niece, and to her family.
I cannot help but note the incongruity of the radiant sunshine, the cerulean blue skies, the freshly dressed ladies – those clover green trees a leaf again. And there are blossoms all around – white, pink, and purple, so beautiful. The earth renewed with life spilling everywhere.
Valley of the shadow
Yet miles away, tucked in a downtown hospital in palliative care, is my beloved niece. Here the valley of the shadow of death hovers – cold, dark and bleak. The sting of pending death, the sharpest of razors cuts through the days spent in constant care, in deeply spoken and unspoken yearning. The suffering of her intimate family – her husband, mother, father, sisters- and brothers-in-law, their suffering is as deep as the abyss. The moans Seana breathes out are echoed in their hearts.
I have watched these dear ones in action before; pouring out tenderness, nurturing, lovingkindness and the most heartfelt kind of caring. Their ministrations indefatigable, yet they are weary to the bone. Love orders their days. Days of tender words, gentle touch, watchful vigilance should Seana need something she no longer has the words to ask for herself. They spend nights on guard, hands reach across beds to soothe and comfort. Crawl out of bed find the nurses get the medications adjusted – ease her, ease her pain.
They drink from the cup of suffering and death, and the dregs are bitter to the tongue.
Amid all of this I think of Gethsemane’s garden. Of Jesus stretched out on His face before God crying with loud moans and tears, His internal agony so great He sweat great drops of blood. Take this cup, take this cup, He plead. Yet God had him drink that cup, as now we, this family, in great agony of spirit – laid out – faces on the floor, have plead, have plead, take this cup, yet now we drink it…
In Luke’s account of this garden an angel appears to Jesus to strengthen him, yet we read in the very next verse, it says and “being in anguish“ He prayed more earnestly. (Luke 22: 39-44) So the angel comes ministers strength to Him but does not remove His anguish and yet, Jesus still carried on to the cross, and endured a brutal, gory, ugly death. God did not release Him from His excruciating anguish till Jesus cried out “it is finished.“
I find in this strange comfort, God sends His angels to strengthen and comfort us so that whatever journey we are on, as brutal as it may be, we can carry on. Our immediate end in this life is this once to die, and after that only glory beyond description.
So this is what I believe. I believe angels surround Seana. That they are ministering strength to her as she makes this final journey. As her spirit groans from all this pain and agony; before, very soon she can “fly to Jesus and live.” I believe Jesus Himself is cradling her in His arms. I believe He is crooning love songs gentle and sweet into her ears. And that He is sustaining her on a level that we have no earthly imagination to conceive.
What purpose this prolonged and slow dying? For there has to be a purpose. Is it so that when her journey ends, and her cry joins with Jesus “it is finished“ – an“earthquake“ will shake the earth? That it will waken those who are sleepwalking through this life? Those that are not living each day as Seana has – full and intentional; that they will see each day as a gift? Will it tear the veil in two from top to bottom? So that it may reveal truths to those who could not see? Enable some who could not make their way to approach the Holy of Holies. So they find forgiveness, wholeness and a second chance.
I believe nothing is ever wasted. So maybe these long and dark days, these waiting days, work some kind of redemption in us? In the most secret places of our being, as we press in – hearts on fire with prayers burning bright. We plead in great sorrow, Lord Jesus Christ, son of David have mercy, have mercy, have mercy.
There is so much we cannot not understand, so much we cannot fathom. We only know the pain is carving itself deeper and deeper on our psyches. This loss will mark us, define a part of our lives and change us. Let it make us kinder, more compassionate people. May we be quick to hear the unspoken pain in someone’s voice, quick to reach out to those in need.
Still, there are many days when I want to lie on the floor and fling a fit. The anger and fear and grief pulse through my bloodstream, it beats a drum in my head.
Ask any question
I know I can lay my whole heart out to God, ask any question, scream, yell and cry. And He is there, just as I was when my children gave vent to their heart-felt cries. He receives me with great tenderness, acceptance and unending love.
I circle back to the Ever-Present God of my father and my mother. I remember His faithfulness to me in days gone by. And how He has been with me in the darkest of days.
Rock and Refuge
And so He continues to be, my Alpha and Omega, my Comforter, my Rock and my Refuge.
So on this bright-blue sun-kissed day, black and dark as it is to our family; I lean back, heavy into those Everlasting Arms. Arms that are there no matter how deeply I fall into a pit sorrow or despair. Underneath are those Everlasting Arms, and they will never, ever let me go.
Part one in this series: