Amanda* is dying from breast cancer. In her early 40s with several young children, she recently told her husband that after she’s gone, she’d like him to remarry. Cancer drugs have sustained her life but stolen her hair. She takes them now to prevent her softening bones from snapping. Hope floated after her cancer dived into remission. But the big C climbed back into her brain, her vital organs, and her bones. Cancer has an uncanny way of swallowing your hope along with your body.
I’ve never met Amanda. I learned of her story just today, from my friend Mary, who happens to be good friends with Amanda. But I feel like I know her. My mom lived a similar story. Her last days were a battle. Her body sparred with cancer. He mind wrangled with the devilish thoughts of what would happen to her children after she was gone.
What if I’m called to this battle? Cruel is the notion of my motherless history repeating itself. My babies don’t deserve to navigate the mean world without a maternal advantage. My husband is a fabulous father. But he could not restore for my children a full sense of who their mother was–nor do I expect him to try. Like Amanda, I would want my husband to remarry. For his sake. And so Noah and Syma wouldn’t be motherless.
Selfishly I’d like to live long enough to celebrate my children’s milestones like higher education, career adventures, marriages and children of their own. More importantly, I want my children to experience what I didn’t: life with a mom. The American Dream hinges partly on one generation’s desire to improve things for the next. A motherless woman’s dream is no different.
I hold onto that dream, the one where I outlive my mom by at least 20 years. But the shredded innocence of my youth keeps me honest: bad things can, do and will happen. Dreams vanish. Moms and dads die young. Hearing Amanda’s story reminded me of that.
Only the (Really) Good Die Young
Trauma and tragedy are senseless. They bother me. I have no control over when they’ll strike me and my little family. Yet as Madeleine L’Engle points out:
I look back at my mother’s life and I see suffering deepening and strengthening it. In some people I have also seen it destroy. Pain is not always creative; received wrongly, it can lead to alcoholism and madness and suicide. Nevertheless, without it we do not grow.
Reflecting on suffering as a creative element that can help me grow–this is a balm.
Tonight I found more encouragement, in the closing lines of Under the Sea, a picture book I read to Syma:
You could spend forever and a day exploring the deep, blue sea. But sail far enough across the waves and you’ll always come to shore.
I likened this to my perpetual struggle with grief and loss. I could spend forever writing and thinking about them. At day’s end, my thoughts come to rest in Christ.
Philip Yancey, in his recent Christianity Today story on Easter and the Newtown, Conn., tragedies, helps me remember this haven of rest:
Holy Week offers the template. On Good Friday Jesus absorbed the worst of what Earth has to offer, a convergence of evil and death in an event of profound injustice. Easter Sunday gave a sure and certain sign of contradiction, demonstrating that nothing can withstand the healing force of a loving God. We live out our days, though, on Holy Saturday, aware of the redemptive power of suffering while awaiting the restoration power of creation made new.
Love trumps tragedy and suffering. In Jeremiah 29:11 (and elsewhere), God promised:
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
For my part, I’ll add Amanda’s name to the race bib I’ll be wearing this June, as I walk 40 miles against the beast called breast cancer.
*With the exception of Noah and Syma, the names in this post have been changed to protect identities.