My kids are playing video games in the next room. They’ve been at it for at least 4 hours now and I can’t seem to muster enough energy to care. I lay here in bed frustrated. I think I have the flu, it feels like I’ve been smooshed between a brick wall and a freight train for days … no weeks, now. It is par for the course at the end of this traumatic year. I hear that it has been that way for everyone, or at least, so it would seem. I guess 2016 has been one for the books on a global scale. I know I’m not alone in my sentiments or suffering. I suppose I can take whatever comfort comes with being in the company of fellow sufferers. Misery does love company, so they say.
I really tried to find gratitude in every day this year. My last few posts (or lack of posts) might suggest otherwise. This is only because most days were emotionally exhausting such that the only gratitude left to find was for my bed at the end of the day where I usually retreat, too tired to lift a finger. At least after Netflix has been started.
I sit here pondering what to say to close this chapter in my blogging history and I feel at a loss. How to sum up such a strange “year of gratitude” eludes me. My heart hurts. Since my last posting, where I think I may have mentioned that my sweet aunt lost her battle with cancer, my mom has been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic colon cancer.
Those words ring with a finality that I can’t escape. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy which has been traumatic in its own right. I’ve seen this before where chemo sneaks up on people I love and takes them for a loop they never imagined. The chemo is meant to extend her life although, for how long, we still do not know. As with anything medical, no promises can be made, nor should they be. She may live many years to come, or it may be only months. We have no way of knowing the answer until this first several treatments are complete and her body allows us a sneak peek into the chapters that follow.
I wish I could say that I have been selfless and brave through all of this. I have not. I have been frustrated and selfish in my fears. Of course I have mourned for her suffering. Of course I have longed to carry her burden. In my deepest, darkest, most selfish place, though, I will admit that I have worried over my own fate and how I will ever move forward without her here to help me. The fact that there is a life-after-death where we will surely meet again has become completely beside the point in the here and now. I have been left to fend for myself and my own struggles with health and well-being and, at the risk of sounding like a toddler, I don’t like it. Not one bit.
There, I said it. Now you know that I am ultimately selfish and human. I cannot escape my humanity. Trust me, I would truly love to. More than you know.
The grief hits in tidal waves that threaten to drown out my voice of reason. That logical voice that is always attempting to convince and console my heart with faith and wisdom. I wish I could hear that voice more clearly, but fear is loud and obnoxious. Fear drives all thoughts of reason away inviting yet more panic and distress.
I know, I get it. The obvious answer is faith. Faith is the antithesis of fear. Whelp … easier said then done, folks. Easier said than done.
In spite of all that has been happening, I will bring my daily gratitude challenge to a close for 2016 with the following:
A single mother celebrates Christmas Eve a day early because her children will be elsewhere this year for that special night and the morning that follows. She sits next to her tree, in her warm house, opening the traditional Christmas PJ’s with her boys. Looking into their chocolate smeared smiles, she sees hope. Hope in their future, hope in hers. Hope that carries the weight of the hard work that brought them here, to the end of this year of all of years. I am still wrapping my head around the fact that this is me. This is my life which I certainly never imagined. But … This! I am grateful for moments where I feel “this.” When I am totally present and basking in what it feels like to know that I have been blessed with the lives of these two angels (sometimes devils) who capture my heart and expand my soul.
A family meeting with two parents, aging yet still so young, and three adult children. A meeting born of necessity and sorrow as this family faces the loss of a mother, a wife, a grandmother… The discussions based around how we grow closer, how we manage the coming onslaught of stress, how we can best care for one another. How do we face the impossible? Cancer is such a bad way to bring a family together, but it did and it does. It forces us to face each other, to say what we want, ask for what we need, and step outside of ourselves to help one another. Searching for a new perspective together makes the search much more manageable. Navigating the unknown is a little less frightening with family by your side. This, too, brings gratitude to my heart.
I search the faces of each family member present. My father, showing strength and wisdom despite the fact that I know he is hurting. My mother, her struggle to accept the unacceptable. Worried all the while what will become of her children, and their children. My little sister, who is facing the trauma of the past year. Widowed by a husband who felt that this life had become too much to bear. Finding her way, yet again on her own. This picture was taken just hours after we found out about Byron’s suicide. Although we smile, you can see the lines of distress in all of our faces. And finally, my compassionate little brother, working hard to bring his family together. His sweet wife by his side, both willing to do whatever it takes to carry the rest of us through the journey ahead. Them! My family, I am thankful for them.
My oldest son rubs my back in small circles, my youngest holding my hand. I lay in bed crying, completely undone by stress, worry, and loneliness. In the back of my mind I feel guilt. What am I thinking allowing my children to see me in this way? They are growing up so quickly and my suffering only causes their growth to increase. I can’t decide if it is good or bad, but in the end I let them stay because it is real. This life is excruciating at times, how do I even begin to prepare them for it? They are my strength when I should be theirs. These mother moments bring me gratitude. Knowing, first hand, the compassion of my boys. They will be kind-hearted men who understand the importance of patience and hard work. Allowing them to see me like this and comfort me in their way is a tough teaching moment. One that I wish I could spare them but one that they will be better off having learned.
News of my mother’s illness has been a gift in its own way. That probably sounds strange to you, but some people aren’t given the time to absorb and absolve the way we have. We all experienced that earlier this year when my brother-in-law took his life. It was so sudden and traumatic we are all still reeling from the shock of it. So, while it may sound absurd, I am grateful for the gift of foreknowledge we have with my momma. Knowing that our time is more limited than we would have liked gives us the opportunity as a family to pull together; “no regrets” our mantra these days. I am so thankful that there is time to say and do what needs to be said and done.
This Christmas season has been an interesting one. I wasn’t in the mood. First, I was focused on finishing out the semester at school. Next came the shopping, which I hate. Then came the scheduling which has become increasingly difficult to manage as my health continues to decline. I just can’t be everywhere I want to be. I missed recitals. I had to cancel on gatherings with friends. The spirit of Christmas played a frustrating game of hide and seek with me this year. I am the choir director for my local congregation. My choir worked so hard this year to prepare. Christmas morning came and we sang. The program had its flaws, some of my choir members were unhappy with their performance.
This is when I finally caught the Christmas spirit!
Looking into the faces of my sweet neighbors as they sang with all their hearts filled me with love and respect for them. They sacrificed time with their families, two families even sacrificed their homes inviting us in for rehearsals. Feeling that love for them brought Christmas around for me in an unexpected way. Was it perfect? Was it our best performance? No. However, I haven’t felt the Holy Spirit like that in a long time. They bore testimony of Christ and I heard from many in our congregation that the Spirit was felt. To close the meeting I was to lead the congregation in a closing hymn, Silent Night. As I was preparing to begin, a voice whispered to my soul, “have the congregation stand.” So I did. Tears were abundant as we sang that simple, yet powerful, hymn. Standing together with our friends and neighbors, united by our faith in Christ. It was powerful and I am grateful.
This brings me to what I am most grateful for. I have felt this one everyday as I learn to rely more and more on the atonement of the Savior.
The Savior of the world.
Those words hardly brush the surface of their true meaning. Without him I’m just a little pile of dust inhabited by a spirit. Through his help, this pile of dust will be raised again and resurrected to perfection. With his help, one day I will shed this broken and hurting body. I will walk free of the anguish of living inside this prison and my body will be renewed. Because of his atonement I can be perfected and stand again before my maker ready to be received into his kingdom. His atonement is everything. I am learning more and more how to use it in my life. How to allow Him to carry my burdens and release me from sorrow. Even in the midst of great suffering, I can be happy through Christ, my Savior. Him! I am grateful for him and for a loving Father in Heaven who would freely offer his only begotten.
May you all find the tender mercies that bring you gratitude, joy, and hope even when life hurts. May you find your own joy and peace in the new year. As always, thank you for reading.
The Lord bless you and keep you,