I started to blog about how much cancer sucks but I don't want to be depressing or redundant.
And then I decided that it's my blog so I can choose to write about what's on my heart if I choose to.
There is this girl in one of my classes who is recently married and works in children's ministry for her church. But bless her heart, she is also taking care of her father who is in his dying days of melanoma skin cancer. We have class once a week and open each class with prayer and I have been intentional about really asking her how she is and how her family is.
Yesterday she explained that her father is back in the hospital and that she and her mother alternate nights staying with him to care for him and to be with him. She and her husband have moved into her parents' home to help with things- things as of now like making funeral arrangements. Her father's cancer has spread to his spine so that he is paralyzed, he has a tumor on his lip that is so large that he bites into it when he eats (so he uses a feeding tube), and he is in great pain. The kind of pain that the greatest of morphine cannot take away. To watch him suffer is hard enough. To basically live a)in her parents' home with her new husband and to b)basically live in the hospital is unimaginable.
But what moves me most about her story is that right now, as her father will not last many more weeks, many people are visiting her father and many of them have not seen him as sick as he is. She told us in class about how frustrating it is, that they essentially break down when they visit him because of the shock of watching a dear friend and a good man die. And so she feels that she is not only watching after her father but comforting his visitors.
It is a good reminder of how people with the best of intentions are often "in the way". People want to help and they want to be comforted etc. but sometimes the best way to help is by being present but silent or even leaving. I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't visit someone who is dying but I am suggesting (in light of reading "the Living Reminder" by Henri Nouwen) that there is a time for people to leave so that the family has peace. It reminds me of who and what was most helpful for me when my mom and sister died- it was helpful to have people bring meals and help me organize finances. But then when people started planning the funeral for me, ignoring my input, I felt hurt. And later, even now, there are people who are still grieving their deaths and they want to cry with me and mourn with me. There is one woman who was so upset by the deaths of my mom and sister that 3 and a half years later, she still wants to have memorial services (which is fine but she wants to include me). It is as if she is seeking comfort in me, as if there is something I can say to make her sadness go away.
I pray that my classmate has time for relief and silence and quiet, to be with her father and her family, and that she is supported by her friends and everyone but also allowed to let her father rest in peace. She said that she and her family had all dealt with her father's dying but that his visitors haven't. This is how I felt with my mother. I felt relief, which is hard for many to understand.
and all of this has turned into a kind of mental vomiting. Be present but give the person who is losing his/her loved one space. Don't stay too long, don't try to replace the parent who has died, listen to the wishes of the family in memorial service/funeral planning, allow them to grieve as they know how as there are no rules. Cards, letters, meals, books- all of this is great and helpful.
Hugs are also helpful but really they are most helpful when they are given as comfort to the person who has lost someone, not when they are given because you yourself need to be comforted. (Does any of this make sense?)
I guess it's all appropriate for me to remember with Dennis's brother, who will need more chemotherapy. He has still decided to not continue with treatment but Dennis is hopeful that he will change his mind. I wonder, if the worst case scenario happens, will I be a source of comfort for Dennis as he was for me when my family members died? Or will I be a source of frustration...