I am blogging my way through the Beatitudes over the next week or so as I meditate and reflect on my new role as caregiver as my wife and I journey together with her cancer treatments. My hope is that as I go through this list of joys and promises in my own personal journey that others will find the same hope I do.
Why am I reflecting on mourning when my wife is still alive and will certainly survive the treatments for the cancer? In fact, the way things are these days, I’ll have her around for a long time to come. This is a good thing, something to celebrate. She’s actually, technically, cancer free right now after the surgery. Shouldn’t I be partying and happy? What does mourning have to do with me?
Those of you who have relatives who are going through cancer treatments and are caregivers yourselves know that it’s not quite this easy. This is a hard journey with the need for a lot of strength, patience, and endurance. And during this time, you will end up losing some things that are precious to you, even if only for a time. The Message paraphrase of this Beatitude describes it as feeling “like you’ve lost what is most dear to you.” While my wife is still alive and the outlook is very positive, there are some things that I feel like I’ve lost or am going to lose.
1) My wife doesn’t have the energy necessarily to be my wife sometimes. Right now, things are well, but before surgery and immediately afterwards, there was fatigue and pain that were her focuses. I had to step back a bit and let her heal and regain her strength. When I love her so much, this is hard to do. And it won’t end there because there will be the fatigue and other effects of chemotherapy and radiation. I mourn losing this connection with my wife during this time.
2) Our lives have been turned upside down, backwards, inside out, sideways, and totally topsy-turvy over the last few months. We had a rhythm to our life with school, work, family, and so on. It was so comfortable to know what was coming up and to have some control over what we did and when we did it. Not so any more. It is like the cancer has taken over not just my wife’s body but our entire lives. Everything is now scheduled around doctor’s appointments, tests, treatment schedules, etc. We’re coming up on the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas and realize that those deeply treasured family times will now be impacted by cancer treatments and the effects thereof. I mourn the loss of our “normal” lives.
3) My daughters (ages 9 and 12 at this writing) have been wonderful during this time. They have an amazing understanding and compassion for their mother, doing whatever is asked of them with little complaint and with a glad heart as they pick up some of the slack and help out about the house. However, I know that this is affecting them as well. They lost some innocence 5 years ago when their beloved grandmother passed suddenly. They had to face the serious illness of a loved one at such a young age. And now their mother is also seriously ill. I wish that children did not have to be exposed to such things in their lives. I mourn the loss of childhood innocence.
4) Silly as it may seem, I love my wife’s hair. It was one of those little things when we were courting and during our marriage that has always been so much fun, to see the different ways, over the years that she’s worn her hair and the playfulness about her when it comes to hairstyles and the like (much as she may get frustrated with her hair, as I’m sure you ladies can understand). As much as we’re going to have fun with hats and such during the chemo treatments, I mourn the coming loss of my wife’s “crowning glory.”
5) My wife is sick. This is a stark truth. She is my other half, my better self. She completes me. Without her, I’m less than half what I could be. Before we married, I thought I was whole. But since we’ve been married, I realize how incomplete I was before. And now she is ill, or was ill, and will be ill some more before it’s over. This is not how I wanted things to be. I want my wife to be healthy, to be energetic, to have a whole body, and to not have to go through the stress and trouble and trial of radiation and chemotherapy. I mourn my wife’s health.
I’m sure as I go through my journey, that there will be more things to mourn. But this is a good starting list, don’t you think?
The Beatitudes tell us that those who mourn will be comforted, at least in the NIV translation. But, again, our modern language weakens that term a bit. It brings to mind people sending flowers, reciting platitudes, and even quoting the dreaded scripture “All things work for good…”. As true as that scripture may be, when you are in that period of deep mourning, it is rarely helpful. Again, I turn to the Message paraphrase to help me with finding that “pure joy”. The Message doesn’t say “comfort”, it talks about being able to be “embraced by the One most dear to you.”
This is the comfort that Jesus promises during mourning. Our life, where we are, quite frankly, sucks. As I described above, there is so much that, as a caregiver, I’m losing in my life. All those comfort points are being knocked away. There’s nothing to cling to of certainty any more in this world. It’s all gone. My comfort, then, comes from grabbing hold of Jesus and crying my tears of loss. And as I do so, the promise is that Jesus will return the favor and take me up in his arms and just hold me. There is a spiritual comfort that comes when we cry out to Jesus. When we pour out our grief to him, the promise is that he can take it and absorb it, and just hold us in his peace and love.
On a more practical side, we cannot forget that Jesus has a very real body today as well. Paul frequently refers to the followers of Jesus as his body. We, as Christians, are Jesus hands and feet and arms. With that in mind, when we think about being embraced by Jesus, we can find that same embrace among our brothers and sisters in God’s family. I know that sometimes we, as caregivers, need to show a strong self, a support, a sturdy presence to those that we care for. But at some point in time, we need to feel some sort of support and comfort ourselves. We can’t be afraid to be vulnerable. I’ve found immense comfort in crying on someone’s shoulder and just pouring out my grief and loss and simply having that person receive it. No words, no platitudes, just an embrace and a gentle presence. There is an intense contentment and joy to lean into someone’s arms with the depth and darkness of mourning and just feel it all melt away in love.
Blessed are those who mourn. Jesus is waiting with open arms to embrace and comfort you. And Jesus’ friends and followers add to that spiritual embrace with the beautiful gift of presence.
1) Take some time alone to go off somewhere and just cry to God. My wife doesn’t need me around 24/7, as much as I may feel like I need to be there. It’s okay to take a little time to go off and grieve and to lean on God’s love. Pour out your heart to him and, when it is all out, just lean and rest in the quiet for a time.
2) Psalm 23 is an amazing promise. In the valley of the shadow of death, in the presence of your enemies (illness, time schedules, etc), in the darkness of evil, Jesus is there as the good shepherd, giving his presence. Meditate on this daily to engrain it in your being so that, in the dark moments, these promises will always be right there.
3) Find a confidant other than the loved one you are caring for. Your loved one doesn’t need to be burdened with your own grief, they have enough of their own. Seek someone who will be there for you when all you need is the embrace of peace. Find someone a little thick-skinned that can take a beating. Mourning is a passionate thing and can get a little intense. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable to them and to just let it all out there. If God’s Spirit is with them, they will return nothing but grace and peace to you.