You know how Facebook has that thing where it shows you your memories from a year ago on that day? Mine have been very bittersweet lately.
This time last year, Mom, my sister Sam and I drove down to Orlando to attend The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. I will never forget sitting down at our first pre-conference seminar and seeing Tim and Kathy Keller, John and Noel Piper, Don Carson and Kathleen Neilsen on stage. These were some of the most influential people in my Christian walk for years and years, and here they were, right in front of me! It was all I could do not to rush the stage.
The conference was three days of Bible-saturated goodness, and we soaked it up.
On Sunday, after the conference ended and we were headed back to Mom and Dad’s house, my brother-in-law called to tell us that they had taken Dad to the E.R. Do you know how, when you get life-changing news, often you can picture where you were at the time? I will always see the buildings of Orlando from the interstate and the overcast morning sky as we heard that Dad had fallen and couldn’t walk, that Trevor (my brother in law) and a neighbor had together picked him up and managed to get him in the car to take him to the hospital.
Dad had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer twenty months earlier, and the cancer was on the move again. He had endured chemo and initially it had worked so well, there was a small, hopeful part of me that had thought, Maybe they were wrong. Maybe he’s going to beat this thing. You hear of crazy miracles like that from time to time.
In his initial diagnosis, the oncologist had given him 6-9 months to live, and here we were, a precious year and half later. Other than chemo-induced persistent neuropathy, he was doing pretty darn good. But now we were hearing that things had changed.
Looking back on that time, I am so thankful that we were able to attend that Bible conference. It was as if God was filling up our spiritual tanks with fuel for a long, hard journey, though of course we didn’t know that at the time. Mom had cared for Dad so faithfully and we had been concerned at times that she wouldn’t even be able to attend, but God knew she needed it, that Sabbath rest before the last push began.
I remember being in the car and trying to help Mom decide whether to call our other two siblings while we were on our way home or wait until we had gotten to the hospital and received more information on Dad’s condition. I can tell you this now,though it is hard to receive bad news, I think it is vastly more difficult to give bad news. You know that what you are about to say is going to break somone’s heart, and sometimes you think that if you just left the words unsaid, the truth would not be true.
I honestly can’t remember what we decided; I’m almost positive Mom went ahead and called them in the car, but it is a bit of a fog. We got back to Mom and Dad’s house, dropped Sam off to take care of her kids, and Mom and I went on to the hospital. By that time they had admitted him and he had a room, and Dad’s face lit up when he heard Mom’s voice and saw her face. It is a sweet thing to witness the faithfulness of a fifty-year-old marriage.
Dad’s cancer began in his lungs, but it had metastasized to his brain, and that tumor in his brain was the one causing him to lose his balance. Though he fought determinedly until the end, he passed away in October 2014.
So this time last year was hard, because we knew the end was coming, but we didn’t know when. And this summer is hard, because it’s the one-year anniversary of so many hard milestones in our family’s dealings with Dad’s cancer.
But even a hard road like the one we’ve traveled is not without its goodness. It was a joy to see the love that my mom and dad shared and how much they hugged and loved each other with words and looks all through Dad’s sickness. Their marriage had had its hard times, but they stuck it out, and they both said the last 10 years were the sweetest of all their time together. It is good to know that as much as I love my husband now, the best may be yet to come.
I also loved reconnecting with my siblings and witnessing how we each brought a different set of strengths to the table in supporting our parents. I am one of four children, and we all have families of our own now and live in different cities up and down the Eastern U.S. Our interactions are limited to the occasional phone call and seeing each other once or twice a year at family gatherings. But during Dad’s sickness, we had conference calls and Skype sessions, and I remembered that before the spouses and the kids, we were a family. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for spouses and kids, but your siblings know you in a way that no one else can, and it’s a special bond. We are blessed in that way.
So this holiday weekend as you celebrate with family and friends, hug everyone close and love them well. Make the most of every opportunity to tell them how much they mean to you. And look for the good, even when life is hard.