For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.
Just wanted to give a quick update on Alice. And by quick, I mean a thousand words. I am a pastor, after all.
Sunday night Alice suddenly started making seal noises, her breath came in short fits, and because it came on instantly, it scared the living daylights out of us. A call to hospice led to an ambulance ride, and by about midnight the episode had cleared, and we returned home about 1AM.
It’s interesting to sit in the ER chatting with a doctor about treating a child who is so near death’s door. Typically the unsaid strategy is “let’s fix her up again like new!” But for Alice these days it’s more like, “Let’s try to make this easier.” Her almost complete inability to swallow leads to predictable, but really difficult, results.
Monday night marked the beginning of a terrible period for Alice, and for us. I’ll draw the curtain of modesty around most of those 36 excruciating hours as she gasped for breath, our medical options exhausted, while we were simply left feeling entirely helpless while our daughter was at the mercy of her cruel, cancerous tyrant. Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, but in the moment, that’s how it felt. Suffice to say, you wouldn’t want to see it in your mind’s eye, and I don’t want it replayed in mine.
Jesus cried on the cross “Why have you forsaken Me?” Theological implications aside for the moment, it occurred to me that when we tell God we’re okay with death, there’s this expectation that He’s going to reward our submission to His will by making the process as easy as possible. Surely, even in death He wouldn’t allow His loved ones to go through hours of seemingly unnecessary suffering? It really does feel like abandonment. We’ve long since made our peace with the reality of having to say goodbye to Alice; we weren’t quite prepared for the process leading up to the hand-off to be so difficult, and it felt like God wasn’t showing up.
I wrestled hard with God in those hours. I watched my wife’s heart be torn to pieces before my very eyes. For months we begged him to heal Alice; he chose not to. Then as she struggled hour after hour, unable or unwilling to sleep, while we exhausted all the medical options we had available and were simply left to try to hold and comfort her, we begged him to take her. He wouldn’t do that either.
Thankfully that dark period has passed, and a new day has come, just like we were promised. Alice has been resting quite peacefully for the last day and a half. If she’s peaceful, we’re peaceful. If you know where to look, you can still see her under the cover of crippling cancer and medication. Though far too weak to set on the potty, she’s still too proud to wear a pull-up, and summons every ounce of strength left to tell us she’ll have none of it. Nobody is going to put a cup of juice to her lips – if she can’t hold it, she don’t want it.
We’ve had a steady trickle of family around for the last couple of weeks, and so thankful for them and for our parents willingness to traverse the many miles required to be at our beck and call. Tuesday evening at my request, my family came en masse to say goodbye. She was happy to see them, especially her favorite cousins and Uncle Keith, the only other person with the same profound appreciation for sitting down to a bag of M&M’s and the funny guys as she does. Lots of sorrowing, but not as those who have no hope. Pastor Bob came and ministered deeply and sweetly to our hearts in a way we really needed after those hard couple of days.
I don’t know how much longer Alice will be with us. Truth be told, I expected her to be gone Monday night. The well of life in her is very deep, and until she’s ready to do a thing, it probably won’t be done. That’s just her way. She’s probably rather weary of being kissed on the cheek – how well do I remember some months ago when she would demand, “No more kisses!”
I don’t think she can see much anymore, but she sure likes when I lay my phone next to her and play the funny guys. And she loves having her siblings around. As I write, Emily is lying beside her discussing some of the finer points of playing dolls. For Alice, it’s a little piece of pre-heaven. I’ve admired my kids throughout this journey, but they have shone particularly bright these last few days. We are experiencing grace, it just pops up where we’re not always looking.
Thank you for your prayers. In the darkest hours of this storm, when we most felt like our Father had abandoned us, knowing and hearing that He has moved so many of you to pray for us was perhaps the only balm for our weary, troubled souls. Thank you for praying for us when we’ve felt unable to pray. We have been greatly shaken, and the fires of this trial have burned away some of our more romantic ideals of how God relates to His children in hard times, but the foundation of God’s Fatherhood is firm. We wonder for Alice and for us, “if this is light, momentary affliction, what must the eternal weight of glory look like?” I’m not sure entirely, but it’ll be awesome. I expect Alice will know a little more than I do real soon.