Things That Matter In the Face of Cancer: Part One

 

This is the third Scarred Joy post related to what I call “things that matter.” The first two titles are “Jerry: A Reflection On Things That Matter!” and “Scarred Christmas and Things That Matter!”

If you are a regular reader of Scarred Joy you know the blog is devoted to posts that are real and often not emotionally easy to read. If a reader wants to read warm and fuzzy content that puts a goofy grin on one’s face, you will probably not find it in Scarred Joy. It isn’t that I want to have readers walk through life seeing doom and gloom all around. It is, however, a goal of Scarred Joy to encourage readers to face up to the honest reality that pain and suffering are part of life. That is not easy to bear.

In this post I want to carry on with the theme of “things that matter” but with a more personal approach. This post captures the journey of my wife’s present experience with cancer. I am coming alongside her and assuring her she is not going through this alone. With this being an ongoing journey this is the first part of a series.

“There is never an easy way to give this news. The biopsy did reveal cancer.” That is news a gynecologist gave to my wife recently at a follow up visit from her biopsy. I was sitting with her at the time and heard the news. The news assailed my heart and mind.

I have had some intense emotional moments as I processed the reality of cancer violating my wife’s body. It is news I cannot run from. She can’t, therefore I can’t. Although the cancer that has shown in her body is a non-aggressive type the initial shock of the news left its scar.

With cancer, or I’m sure any similar health challenge, it is not just a physical threat to one’s personhood. Cancer can mess with one’s mind. Even a “non-aggressive” cancer may cause some fear. That is the “scar” I am talking about.

With fear there is also hope. That is what keeps us going. Hope is within us. Hope is essential to our faith in God and in moving forward. This hope stems from my wife’s specialist saying the surgery she will have “usually” has good results. Specifically it is often the only treatment needed to combat this non-aggressive type of cancer. It is still cancer, however.

Since we began to inform people of this news a number have said for us to contact them if there is anything they can do. What can anyone do? What does it mean when people, who are definitely well intentioned, say for us to contact them if there is anything they can do? We are heading into uncharted territory for us. What do I ask people to do? I just don’t know how to respond to them. On the other hand, I appreciate their concern and desire to support us.

Here is an alternative to the above. We would welcome it if someone offered something specific in his or her desire to support us. Something as simple as asking us out for coffee would help. It would encourage us that someone cared enough to offer to sit with us for a while. For instance, our daughter and son-in-law took Terry and I out for an evening. She had said, “if you don’t have plans on Friday evening we would like to take you out.” We were treated to dinner and a movie. What we had for dinner or what movie we saw didn’t matter. It was just being together for a few hours that mattered and is what we will remember.

You see, the companionship of caring people is a treasure. It is something that matters. Caring people are those who may check in on us regularly and who may pray for us. Caring people are also those who reach out to us through not only words but also deeds. The deeds may be as simple a phone call or email or Facebook message asking how we are doing. I guess it isn’t really the deed it is the care that motivates it.

Scarred Joy means that in the pain and suffering in life there is hope. It isn’t always easy to realize hope but it is there. Hope matters! Without hope we allow cancer to win and that is not an option.

I saw a post on Facebook recently. It said, “I wish cancer got cancer, and died.” I get that!

Until next time my friends. Hold your loved ones close.

Please do me the honour of leaving a comment after reading this post!

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Scarred Christmas and Things That Matter!

 

The people living in darkness have seen a great light; On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16; cf. Isaiah 9:2; NIV)

Scarred Joy posts do not tend to shy away from writing about the darker side of life. This post is no different. Please consider before you read further this post is not warm and fuzzy.

As I write this Scarred Joy blog post the Christmas season of 2017 has begun. Amidst the sounds of Christmas and wishes of good cheer are the ramblings of complaints and protests. One just has to take a brief glance at social media venues to see evidence of people using up energy vehemently expressing their opinions about things they cannot change. So what else is new? Our nature as humans is to complain and value our opinions.

The Christmas season has its dark side and always has. One may wonder if there is a more commercialized and secularized holiday season than Christmas. Since the birth of Jesus Christ the time we refer to as Christmas has included things one may feel uncomfortable talking about. This includes the murder of innocent children, the selfishness and abuse of power, the exploitation of people and the tiring journey of political refugees etc. These were all taking place during the time of the first Christmas. Such examples of the dark side of humanity are unfortunately alive and well today. Darkness does not stop because of “Christmas.” Christmas is still scarred!

Contrary to popular opinion Christmas is not just for children and never has been. The peace often sung about and spoken of at Christmas time is offered to anyone who will receive it. There are tyrants even today who would like to destroy children and break up families. They have no idea of the truth of Christmas. Christmas is scarred by anyone and anything that upsets and causes misery for people.

There is disillusionment common in contemporary Western culture that also scars Christmas. It exhibits the disappointment and mistrust many have in people of authority. This disillusionment has scarred Christmas for it does not take a break.

Hope is alive my friends, in spite of the darkness or marks of our scarred Christmas. Amidst the commercialized trappings of the typical secularized practices of Christmas there still exists what really matters. There is still the eternal truth that Immanuel, God with us, came to offer us a life not dictated to by the whims of others. He came to bless people not to destroy them like a cold and brutal tyrant or misdirect them like a commercialized celebration of Christmas.

There is still light today and light ahead. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…” (John 1:5) Disillusionment, fear, anxiety, angry protest etc. dissipates when one gives way to the light. The dark side of life, that which causes even Christmas to be scarred, cannot overcome the light.

We can certainly enjoy family, fun and food at Christmas. We can sing and be merry and welcome the season. We can draw near to those we love and allow life to slow down. If, however, we take some time to recognize that Christmas also has scars and a dark side, we may be even more thankful for peace and goodwill. The light is still offered to show us the way out of darkness.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

 

 

Jerry: A Reflection On Things That Matter

     

“A friend is more to be longed for than the light; I speak of a genuine one. And wonder not: for it were better for us that the sun should be extinguished, than that we should be deprived of friends; better to live in darkness, than to be without friends” –Saint John Chrysostom

My wife is also my best friend. As you see us in the photo we do a lot of things together. We have a family including grandchildren. We go on vacations together. We have known each other for more than forty years.

There are other people I have known over the decades, however, who have also been dear to me. This blog highlights one of these people.

Every so often I think of a friend of mine from many years ago. His name was Jerry. He was a friendly guy with a great sense of humour. I remember he had reddish hair and freckles. As I look back on the years I remember Jerry made a lasting impact on my life. Although he was my age he was one of my teachers in life. It’s kind of funny what one may remember from years ago. I guess it is because some people may bless one’s life like a priceless treasure. For a brief period in time Jerry was one of those treasures.

Jerry was ill. When he told me he had leukemia I didn’t know what it was. I can’t remember hearing of leukemia before Jerry told me. He informed me it was a disease of the blood. Jerry missed a lot of school. When he made it to class I remember he was always happy. He liked to make people laugh. It was like a calling of his and he was good at it. Even after fifty years I can recall him laughing about something we saw as funny. For some reason I remember him on one particular time laughing hard with his mouth wide open. It was as if he wanted the world to hear his laugh. When Jerry laughed you just had to laugh too. He was a beautiful soul.

One day a friend and I had heard Jerry was sick. We missed him at school and so did other kids. My friend and I decided to go and visit Jerry at his home. We knocked on the front door of his house and his dad answered. We told him we came to see Jerry. His dad looked at us and told us Jerry was in the hospital and didn’t know when he would be home.

Something that happened is etched in my mind forever. It was a school day. Shortly after the bell rang for class the teacher asked we students to give him our attention. He then informed us Jerry had died on the weekend. He never made it home from the hospital. I remember our teacher looked sad. It must have been hard for him to make the announcement. The class was quiet. None of us knew what to say. My mind couldn’t grasp what the teacher said at first. When the news sunk in I realized I would never see Jerry again. That loud laugh we enjoyed together at school was the last one I would ever hear from him.

After Jerry’s death even as a boy of twelve I thought of how empty life can seem. Memories of people like Jerry remind me of what matters. I mean, what would life be without laughter or people like Jerry? Death can come so suddenly. I’m sure his parents and sister knew Jerry was going to die. I didn’t. Lots of children get sick but I never thought Jerry would die. I mean he was just a kid! He made people laugh. Along with other people in our class I liked being around Jerry. To me he died much too soon.

 It is so easy to take for granted people we love and care deeply about. We can act like they will always be with us. Life, however, shows us a different slant on things. I’m not naïve. I know people get sick or become older and some sadly die. I am aware of my own mortality as well. That sobering reminder helps me to embrace with immense passion what really matters in life.

 

Pregnancy Loss—A Mom’s Story

 

In keeping with the vision of Scarred Joy this second post for the month of October 2017 does not shy away from painful experiences in life. Pregnancy loss is one of those experiences that try one’s soul. Pregnancy loss means a baby died before he or she was born. That in itself is painful.

Included in a book I co-authored earlier this year called Good Grief People was a story I wrote called “Skipped Heart Beats.” It was written as an expression of the promise I made to my five grandchildren who never made it to birth due to pregnancy losses. I promised these babies they would never be forgotten. In my way of thinking if they are remembered and loved they are never really “lost.”

After talking with mothers who experienced pregnancy loss as well as communicating through email etc. from others, it is obvious that it hurts. Pregnancy loss leaves scars. Some of the things people say only add to the pain. Things like, “don’t worry you can have other babies” or the ever popular religious spin, “God must have needed your baby.” I mean, come on! Sensitive and meaningful words are in order not empty clichés!

The significance of pregnancy loss is underrated in our culture. To the moms and dads, siblings and grandparents, etc. who experience this loss it is a stark reality in life. Joy turns to deep sorrow. Anticipation becomes disappointment. Dreams turn to earth-shattering finality. Grief may become chronic.

Perhaps more than anyone else it is the baby’s mother who feels the depth of this painful loss. The following words are from my daughter. She is a mom who has experienced pregnancy loss multiple times. She agreed to contribute a few statements regarding her experience for readers to reflect on.

“… I don’t think most people realize this, when the mother “loses” the baby the stages of labour are the same but on a smaller scale depending on how far along they are. Their body contracts, and labours as it does with “term births”. That’s just something I’ve never ever seen mentioned in any form of pregnancy loss posts anywhere. And one of the reasons the mothers often carry that pain, is because they remember the “births” of all their children…

… It is just like a “D&C.” A D&C is performed when the “tissue” (meaning baby) doesn’t pass through the mother on its own. It is the same procedure as an abortion/termination. It’s hard for the mother to grasp she is going through that same procedure and she wonders how could anyone do this voluntarily with a beating heart?” The doctors refer to it as an “accidental abortion”. That’s an actual technical term in my obstetricians chart for me.

… I remember my first pregnancy very well, but …I had nothing to compare it to. Sometime after I had my son is when I experienced my second loss, I remember the pain and remembered it from when I was labouring with my son. I had to hold my husband’s hand because I needed his strength or something, and I squeezed it as I did during every contraction like I did while labouring with our son. Each one that followed was the same…there was no mistaking what was happening. The only difference is, the doctors just say “let it run its course” and they check your levels every couple of days to make sure they drop and if they don’t they proceed with a d&c. The care is nothing like they give you after a term baby (yet your body recovers the same) in my experience anyway.”

I appreciate the honesty in my daughter’s words. If her experience is a typical one in the context of pregnancy loss then it is certainly a sad and memorable one. Doctors may consider this loss an “accidental abortion” yet it is also the death of a baby.

Perhaps babies who were conceived yet never made it to birth don’t matter to most people. The world carries on with no regard or regret for those little ones. To mom’s like my daughter and dads like my son-in-law, however, these “lost” babies indeed matter. Their lives were brief but they have not been forgotten.

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Never Born Forever Loved

  

Scarred Joy respects and honors that October is recognized as Pregnancy Loss Month. As a way to highlight and remember those who have experienced pregnancy loss I present this original Scarred Joy short story.

Her Name Is Gabrielle!

Upon learning she was pregnant the young wife was elated. She told everyone meaningful to her that she would be a mother in a few months. She and her husband shared in the joy that came about as a result of their happy news. Both decided when they planned to marry they wanted a family. Now that it was coming true they would now make plans to welcome the baby. One of the bedrooms in their house was designated for the baby. It would have to be painted with a baby in mind. They gushed over how exciting it was to anticipate what the little one would look like. Would it be a boy or girl? What color eyes would he or she have? All sorts of exciting things went through their minds as the thought of their child.

The young woman had dreamed of becoming a mother someday. Her imagination ran wild with ideas. She and her husband would do the best they could to give this child a wonderful life. This child will be part of their lives forever! Perhaps one day she and her husband would welcome being grandparents. For now her dreams were to have a healthy baby they would both love and care for. Through her vivid imagination she beamed with happiness at the stages her child would experience through life.

Her dreams saw the baby grow to infancy then school years and even graduation. She realized in her excitement she had to take things as they came. She had to admit she was partial to having a girl. Although she hadn’t as yet discussed names for the baby with her husband she had a name for her girl in mind. Her name would be Gabrielle!

Gabrielle’s birth went without incident and her parents loved her from the first second. Her grandparents were at the hospital in hopes of seeing and holding the baby as soon as possible. It comforted the mom and dad to have their parents present for the birth. They enjoyed a close relationship with each of their parents. The birth of the baby brought joy to all of them.

At birth Gabrielle weighed a healthy seven pounds eight ounces. She was perfect! As she grew into infancy Gabrielle was a happy child. She couldn’t hide her happiness for her eyes and nose would crinkle into small lines. Her smile was impossible to ignore. One of the games she enjoyed playing was standing on her tippy toes and reaching her arms up as far s she could. When her mother asked her what she was doing Gabrielle said she was trying to reach up to heaven.

One day Gabrielle complained to her mother that she didn’t feel well. She said she felt warm and had a tummy ache. She seemed to become weakened as her mother helped her to bed. She began to cry and asked her mommy not to leave her. Mother said that if Gabrielle didn’t feel well in the morning she would take her to the doctor. When the child’s father arrived home from work Gabrielle was feeling worse. He decided they weren’t going to wait until morning. Mom and dad drove Gabrielle to the hospital. Fortunately Gabrielle was attended to by a doctor only a few minutes after they arrived. She was crying and noticeably uncomfortable and in pain. Through her tears she begged her parents not to leave her. They assured her they would be with her to care for her and she would go home with them soon. They were so sure!

Once the young wife regained consciousness and was stabilized she realized she was lying in a hospital room. She wondered what was going on. Her husband broke the news to her. As tenderly as he could he informed her she had “lost” their baby. After telling her the news his heart skipped a beat. He held his wife while she wept. Her mind swirled. “What are you talking about?” she said. “She is going to be fine! We told her we would take her home with us!” The woman then realized that something was indeed wrong. The news made its way into her thoughts that losing the baby was true.

There would be no Gabrielle! The young wife now remembered she had been taken to the hospital because something just wasn’t right. She knew that the pain she had been feeling meant more than indigestion or something else. It struck her she was going to lose the baby. Now the news assaulted her mind and struck her heart. There would be no Gabrielle!

The end!

The significance of pregnancy loss is underrated in our culture. It is something not discussed often. To the moms, dads, siblings and grandparents, who experience this family loss it is a stark reality in life. To recognize such a loss is to acknowledge a baby died. A baby never born yet forever loved!

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Lay Hold on the Lovely!

 

This has been a challenging ScarredJoy post to write yet one that has been on my heart and waiting to get out of my head and on to the page. I decided to begin this post with a verse from the Bible. If nothing else it gives some foundation to the words that follow.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –(Philippians chapter four and verse eight, New International Version of the Holy Bible)

If social media venues like Facebook are reflective of real life in modern Canadian society or North America in general, we are in a struggle. It seems foundations that have shaped society are being bombarded on a regular basis. So many posts on Facebook these days, for instance, are highly critical and intolerant of opposing views. Such terms as bigot, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic (whatever that really means in a Canadian context) and other negative terms, have become commonplace. The sad thing is often it is those in leadership using terms like these to show their disagreement with someone else. It is no surprise that followers then jump on the bandwagon.

With all this clamor often times the “lovely” is missing! This means concentrating or highlighting those parts of life that are amiable, those stories of real life heroes we admire etc. It includes whatever may attract people to be more loving to each other. Perhaps laying hold on the things that may inspire people to come alongside each other in love and peace. It is time to lay hold of the lovely. It is time for those tired of the noisy voices of social media and the like, to drown out the hate and infantile disagreements with that, which is lovely, noble and pure.

I find myself hesitating as I write with a sense of melancholy. I’m wondering now if such things as purity, mutual love and even peace, are a thing of the past in our modern day culture. With such a thought I feel compelled to persevere at least in a search for the lovely!

I read somewhere that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I wonder how much inner energy we use to be angry, cynical, bigoted and evil to each other? How do these unflattering and destructive components of behavior and attitude make us feel inside? Perhaps we don’t realize the damage such things have done to our souls.

I speak to myself as well as my readers when I ask for instance, why is it so easy to criticize people in government leadership positions than to praise them? Bosses also are often criticized for changes they seek to bring to an organization. Perhaps it is that they see things that can be improved more than the rest of us can. Perhaps also, they may be surprised if we ever give them credit for what they are trying to do. It may be that with change comes fear or apprehension and we are really lashing out at something within ourselves rather than the change.

I trust what I am saying doesn’t sound beyond our capabilities or potential. Please understand too that I am aware of the political and societal climate of today. I am personally aware that I am but a man with no influence on the world at large. Dear readers, it is not beyond our capability to lay hold on that, which is lovely.

Have you heard of what is called The Golden Rule? To paraphrase it is to do to others in the way you would have them do to you. My friends, how do you like to be treated by others? How do you treat other people?

I’m not trying to act like some guru type who offers words to people to follow. We are in this world together. I’m saying let us try to resist the temptation to speak evil of those we have no control over. Lay aside our negative attitudes about world leaders or other people we will probably never know. We really don’t have to spout off about things just because we disagree. We also don’t have to treat people as the enemy if they don’t hold to our view on things. There are enough people doing that these days.

Let us at least try to lay hold on that which is lovely and stand out from the crowd. Perhaps we can begin to be a peaceful influence close to home before. Perhaps we may lay hold on the lovely in your neighbourhood or workplace. That is what I will work at.

I end this post with some words I came across recently. Perhaps you can take a break in your routine as you ponder the following.

“I have never seen anyone corrected through anger, but always through love; and then, he will even make sacrifices. Therefore, this is how you should act. Take yourself for example: how are you pacified — with curses or love?
Elder Joseph the Hesychast
Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast

As with all ScarredJoy posts your comments are welcome. Please comment and not just “like” okay? Thank you!

Sometimes It Hurts Always!

The following post may not be the most popular one ever written. It may even be distasteful to some readers. Some of you may not read it to the end. Please understand ScarredJoy is not all about things that are warm and fuzzy. There are other people’s Blogs to turn to for this. ScarredJoy’s whole purpose for being is to be honest about the experiences and emotions people may be touched by in their grief. Not everything in life can be tied up in a nice bow as a final touch of beauty. Grief is sad, heart crushing and often just plain nasty and ugly. At times, even God may seem silent. Add the dying of a person into the mix and you have a perfect storm of pain!

Are you still with me? Here we go!

“Sometimes it hurts always” may seem like an odd thing to say but I am still saying it. When I’m listening to people talking about their grief as the response to a  recent heartache the pain can be absolutely overwhelming. At this juncture in their lives the grief hurts always. The days may seem long and the evenings even longer. Evenings hurt more because the darkenss of the night creeps in with its own silent embrace. As some people have told me, it is here, in the embrace of silent darkness that they scream. Sometimes it hurts always.

This drives home the sadness of grief. It can be relentless. It can be seemingly never ending. Sometimes it hurts always. It hurts so much. In the prospect of one dying from a terminal illness grief may be one’s only constant companion. This blows apart the romanticized view some people have of the work I am involved in. Even some colleagues may shy away from this emotionally dark component of death and dying. Although the following may not be common, it does happen. I wish it didn’t.

I remember a number of years ago when I was involved in work as a pastor of the “evangelical” persuasion. Part of my work included coming alongside people who were hurting emotionally and spiritually. It was not uncommon for me to visit with people who were dying. Believe it or not, many of my pastor colleagues shy away from such rich opportunities. Yeah, go figure! Anyway, I digress.

I was asked to go to the local hospital and visit with an older woman from the congregation who was dying. I had sat with her a number of times when she was still living in her own home. She was lonely and received few visits even from her church. When I saw her in her hospital bed she was nearing the end.  I will never forget her fear and her crying. She kept saying how afraid she was to die. As she gripped my hand she told me she didn’t want to die. She was afraid God had forgotten her. I held her hand. I hoped by listening to her words and fear as well as sensing the stress in her body she might begin to calm herself. I assured her God does not forget or leave His children.

Something this lady said as she tried to hang on to life has stayed with me. I cannot shake it out of my head. She informed me that she was afraid God did not hear her prayers. It terrified her. It caused her to cry and her body to shake. Her experience caused me to reflect on when we might think God is silent giving the impression that heaven too is silent. This in turn had me reflect on a statement by the writer C.S. lewis.

“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”*

Perhaps you have experienced what C.S. Lewis states above. It is a time when sometimes it hurts always. Some people might be eager to judge the thoughts and words of the woman I refer to. It is certainly not an experience pleasing to our minds. Some may not believe what I related to you. The fact is this lady died in fear. There is more to the story of the lady I mention in this post. Suffice it to say, for all intents and purposes, loneliness like she experienced makes one’s process of dying all the more miserable.

“Sometimes it hurts always” may not draw scores of people to the bedsides of those who are dying. Whether people agree with what I write here does not change the reality of sometimes it hurts always. Perhaps it speaks to the fact of how much we need each other. This is a reason I suggest to people to nurture relationships you may have with others. Nurture and cherish them to the end of your days.

 

*C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (Harper One, 2008), p. 658.