Category Archives: Grief

Little Sister in The Big Crapple

I’m 10,999 days old today.

I know this because it is the last day I get to be a younger sister.

He won’t be older than me tomorrow.

He won’t have done life first so I can watch how he does it before I have to.

And there is no way around it; that sucks.

I continue to have no interest in being an only child, and I also have no interest in being an oldest child. But somehow, I am going to be both now.

Turns out I don’t get a choice in the matter.

So I’m spending the weekend New York City, probably the place Shane hated most in the world (he maturely referred to it as “The Big Crapple.”) with my best friend. And we’re spending the long weekend eating a lot of brunch plus going to musicals plus day-drinking plus buying all the Mood fabric plus doing essentially every other stereotypically white-privileged-cliche-girl-in-NYC thing we can think of.

Because we are big fans of said garbage-city (and admittedly, as we discovered today, smells much more like garbage when it’s warm out, wow). And because I have to be the first one to turn 11,001 days old. And because I have to do life without an older brother in every sense of the word now.

I might as well start doing that with a mimosa in-hand.

I don’t think it was worth it

I had a conversation tonight in which I was able to reflect on the past two years. The brother-with-cancer part. The loss part. The grief part. The horror part. But most of it was the part where God came through.

I have this story to tell now, a story where God came through despite the cancer and the loss and the grief and the horror. I wouldn’t have had this story otherwise. I wouldn’t have known this version of God otherwise. A version who inexplicably works all things together for good. All things. For good. Inexplicably.

I wouldn’t have gotten to know this version of my God if Shane had lived. I wouldn’t have had this story to tell if Shane had lived. And it’s an extraordinary story. An extraordinary God. I believe deeper now, am more sure now. Because Shane didn’t live.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

I’m seeing life turn out differently because he’s not here. I’m seeing good things happen despite Shane being gone. Every time I realize the good things that are falling into place are as a result of my brother’s death, I reasonably have mixed feelings.

I may or may not have made the career changes I made. I’m finding a deep fulfillment in this new job that I don’t think I could have ever found in the previous one. I’m being challenged and I’m growing and I’m learning and I feel alive.

But if it’s because Shane’s dead, it wasn’t worth it.

My sister-in-law wouldn’t have met Jeremiah, who makes her laugh and introduces her to new hobbies and loves my nephew fiercely and does all those things differently than Shane would have, but he’s the kind of person you feel thankful to know.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

I wouldn’t have thought to use my photography to serve others with cancer, and I wouldn’t have met some really wonderful people as a result.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

My mom wouldn’t be so diligent about taking her Betaseron shots, since she promised him right before he died that she wouldn’t miss any more. Maybe as a result, she’ll live many more years without her MS symptoms progressing. I’m really thankful that he had that stern talk with her right before he died.

But I don’t think it was worth it.

There are more, I’m sure. Stronger faith. Deeper relationships. Better perspective. But if I could change it all right now, I would choose Shane over any good God has done with these circumstances.

That’s the truth about God working all things together for good. I don’t think He expects us to think it’s worth it. I just think He works it together for good.

And that’s going to have to be good enough for now.

Pop goes the cancer!

It was one of those cringe-worthy conversations, the one I overheard today.

He asked where she had been the week before. She kind of avoided the question. He started listing reasons she might have been gone.

Were you sick? Were you traveling? Were you on vacation?

Red Alert! Danger! Back away, dude; it’s about to get scary.

And that’s when she said that a very close loved one died unexpectedly last week.

And the room’s hearts collectively twisted. Ouch.

I had heard it coming. I knew the tone too well. I could tell she was trying to avoid saying what went down last week, and I could tell he was just about to step in it by innocently continuing to ask.

Because it deflates a room, that whole “my brother died” thing. I know all too well the awkwardness that surrounds answering a seemingly harmless question (“Do you have any siblings?”) with a horrifying bombshell (“I used to but now I’m an only child because the brother I absolutely adored got cancer at 30 and died a month later, leaving a wife and a 15-month-old son behind!“*). People don’t know what to say, and why should they? I never did either, and I was the one going through it.

*I try to answer that question less insanely now. But I’m still not the best at it. I’m an awkward mess, really. I’m the Jack-In-The-Box of terrible news.

POP GOES THE CANCER!

I keep seeing articles about “what not to say to a person who is grieving!” and “What to definitely say to a person who is grieving!” and “Ten simple moves you can try tonight that will blow your man’s mind!”**

**That might have been Cosmo. Which I was never allowed to read. So after I got married, I bought and read one. BECAUSE I WAS A GROWN UP. Unfortunately, that magazine is indeed complete (sexist) crap. I hate it when my mom is right.

Anyway. The problem with these articles is that they don’t take into account that oh hey, we are all different people who grieve in different ways and somebody might want to cry in your arms and somebody else might want to make wildly inappropriate and morbid jokes about it with you.

(Guess which category I’m in?)

But you can count on the fact that at some point you’ll cause an incredibly awkward moment in a room, and you will definitely say “THE WRONG THING!” to somebody going through A BAD THING.

Because, say it with me: people! are! DIFFERENT!***

***(Did you read that in the “Wheel of Fortune” crowd voice? If not, please kindly leave. You do not belong here.)

So yeah, it will happen to you. But don’t worry.

I’m sure there’s an Internet article out there somewhere of ten things to say that always make things less awkward no matter who you just said the wrong thing to.

Unpathy

When I hear about people who have cancer who I don’t know personally – maybe a friend of a friend – I don’t feel much.

Maybe I should. Maybe I am not doing all that well with my word. Maybe someday I will? Maybe this is a phase, like the bad-sleep thing (and can somebody let me know when THAT phase will be over? IT DOES END, RIGHT?)

But I just… don’t feel much when I hear diagnosis news.

And I don’t think much, except one thought that consistently enters my head.

Either they will die, or they won’t.

Cancer treatments are improving. Tests for catching things earlier are improving. Awareness of the need to check for things are improving. And some people just get damn lucky.*

So I kind of assume people will end up okay. Because most people do these days, it seems.

Or they won’t. And they will die.

And for me, either way, I don’t have much to feel about it.

If they end up okay, it’s a wonderful outcome to which I cannot relate.

They don’t need me to get excited about it. They will feel enough of that on their own.

And if they die, I know all too well that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stifle the pain for whoever cared about them.

They don’t need me to be heartbroken over it. They will feel enough of it on their own.

*(Which is really what it comes down to. Luck. Dumb, dumb luck. Despite many ignorant (non-doctor!) people who think they have all the answers about how really to cure cancer. Chemicals this! Oils that! There’s a doctor in Germany that my cousin’s roommate knows who is developing a new chemo! Nutrition all the things! JUST HAVE ENOUGH FAITH AND CUT THE GLUTEN AND DAIRY!

I DO feel things during those conversations; believe me. And I get a little surprised about how often people tell me stuff like this, considering I don’t think anybody can claim that their natural cancer remedy brings people back from the dead. Hey guys? The ship has sailed for my family. Lecture somebody else about your witch doctor cures. Kthanks.)**

**I feel like I should end with something good and not so ALWAYS-DEPRESSING-MANDY, so I will tell you that Jack and I get to take Devin to Disney World this month and I am PEE MY PANTS EXCITED about that.

Let’s all think about that instead of cancer now.

(Well. Let’s think about Disney with Devin. Not me peeing my pants.)

I still wonder that

A year ago he was here. Except he wasn’t really.

A year ago I was there. Except I didn’t want to need to be.

A year ago they moved him down a few floors, to That Floor, where everybody who gets on the elevator with you or passes you in the hallway also has red eyes. And you’ve never seen or spoken to one another before in your lives but you immediately know one another intimately, without a word, as you pass in the hall.

A year ago I learned that they tape a flower to the patient’s door after they die. It seems like a sweet gesture but the first thing I thought was “oh, that’s how they let the nurses know when there is a dead body in the room.”

A year ago I watched him struggle and wondered how people do it for longer than the few weeks we did. A year ago we made morbid-but-fitting jokes to the slightly-horrified hospice nurse just a few minutes after his last breaths. A year ago we saw him for the last time as they wheeled his body away.

A year ago the nightmares started.

A year ago I wondered if it would ever be okay again before I am finally, mercifully home with him.

I still wonder that.

Brace

I’m starting to get spam comments on this blog because it has been so long since I have written.

I haven’t had a lot to say.

Life has been going on. There have been photo shoots and black belt testings and trips to see friends weariness and contentment and life. We committed to a church. We laughed over pizza. We had hard conversations.

Life has been going on.

Shane’s birthday has come and gone, and yesterday the year mark from that day he got back from Brazil came and went as well. On Monday the year mark from his diagnosis will come and go, and I know what came after that.

And I am bracing myself.

I already feel it sneaking into my thoughts. I feel myself reliving it even though logically I don’t make much of anniversaries and he’s not any more or less dead now because it’s been exactly 365 days since something.

It shouldn’t matter. June shouldn’t matter. July shouldn’t matter. It’s the same. He’s gone anyway.

But it’s there. Sneaking in. And I am bracing myself.

That makes me think of Shane in the ICU, bracing himself on a walker as he struggled down the hall, looking much older than his short 30 years. He had to walk! We said! He wouldn’t recover without walking!

It was a struggle but with Nurse Jen by his side and his walker in front, he braced himself.

And they held him up.

I have that too. I have that in friends and family and my Godsend of a sister-in-law. I have that in my little dog and my church family and oh how I have that in my Jesus.

I am not happy about feeling a need to brace myself for this month.

But I am so, so thankful in all the things God has given me to brace myself on.

Load More

I am coming to terms with the fact that scrapbooking is not something I am able to regularly make time for anymore. I will never be a Jenni Hufford, and that’s okay because she doesn’t make beautiful things to make others feel inadequate about not doing the same.

Instead, I use social media to document life. I download backups of Tweets and Facebook activity with grand intentions of someday making a book (although maybe Cassandra will make me one instead). Instagram has become my new digital scrapbook.

And so I look back at my scrapbook sometimes.

For a while it didn’t take long to get back to The Time When Everything Was Okay.

Now I have to hit the “Load More” button so many times, just to get back to that time before the sunset, when he was still around.

Load more.

Before the night I was rocking Devin to sleep, when there was no diagnosis. Everything could still be okay.

Load more.

Before he was smiling in his hospital bed, when he was going to be out in just a few days.

Load more.

Before he reunited with Cassandra and Devin at the airport, when his chest pain was probably anxiety and pleurisy.

Load more.

And before that, it was just life. Everything Is Okay life when we were separated by miles instead of time, when he would always ask me to stay longer when I visited.

Load more.

Load more. Load more. Load more.

He is moving further away every moment. Further than Colorado, further than Boston.

But the further I get from that sunset, the closer I get to my own sunset, to home, and to him.

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Keep loading more.

Still good

We went to a church service this morning that featured a guest band, The Moment, and the lead singer, Dave Bell, told his story about getting a rare eye cancer at 16 and living through it. He told the congregation all the ways his family had faith and all the ways God had been good to him, because He had performed miracles in their lives.

(His story starts at 6:50 on this video if you’d like to see it)

And it’s a lovely story, it really is. Encouraging, even. He tells it very nicely and it’s good to hear the way things work out for some people who have faith.

Some people who have faith, though, it just doesn’t work out for.

I know the intent behind this kind of storytelling is good. You don’t have to tell me that; I get it.

But the thing is, God didn’t choose to heal Shane that way. God didn’t choose to reveal his cancer to us in a low-numbered stage, and God didn’t choose to stop the cancer from spreading quickly. God didn’t choose to clean up the infection and God didn’t choose to make his liver start functioning again.

For whatever reason, God chose to take him Home.

And if you’re hearing these “yay miracles!” stories after hearing God’s unthinkable “no” to your prayers of healing, it can get a little frustrating.

Because God is still good.

God is still good even though he didn’t choose to heal Shane on Earth. God is still good even though a big part of life is terribly empty now. God is still good even though my nephew has only pictures to point to to identify his dad. God is still good even though my sister-in-law is suddenly raising a toddler without her husband. God is still good even though I can’t talk to my buddy every day anymore. God is still good even though nobody is using the golf simulator in the garage.

I’m sure it’s tempting to think that people who get “yeses” have more faith, or that God favors some prayers over others because He is unfair and unloving.

I don’t believe it for a second. My God is a God of healing, regardless of how He does it. My God is a good God. My God is a loving and just God.

So tell the world how God healed your cancer. Tell the world how God delivered you from your bad situation. Tell the world how God showed his love for you in many different ways.

But please don’t forget that the same faith that moved your mountain didn’t move somebody else’s.

And God is still good.

OneWord 365: Care

I have been mulling over my OneWord post for a little while now. The truth is, I knew what my word should be right away (I know when God talks to me because I usually don’t like what He’s saying), but I haven’t quite figured out what to say about it. I guess maybe I should just start writing.

This year, I chose the word Care.

For me, grieving has mostly been waves of pain and numbness, pain and numbness. There are other feelings in there, like sadness, contentment, anxiety and even joy, but I feel like “pain” describes the negative portions of the grief and “numbness” describes most of the rest of my time.

If you want the ugly truth, it’s hard to care about anybody else’s stuff when your stuff is always worse.

These last six months, “studying” the reactions of others who are grieving has taught me that comparing the good or bad situations in life is absolutely worthless, and will just lead to bitterness. I have yet to read a blog post or have a conversation with someone who is content with their life and also comparing it to someone else’s.

So, I try my best not to do that. But sometimes, when a friend is complaining about every little thing or things at work are in upheaval when they need not be, I look around at the drama others are creating and have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming the word “CANCER!”

How can they be complaining about this when their brother didn’t just die? How can they be worried about this when there are realities that are so much scarier?

So, I have to shut down a little. Stop comparing. Stop caring.

Which works for me. I can be apathetic. It keeps me from being angry. It keeps me from being bitter that my “bad” is so much worse than somebody else’s “bad.” And to be honest, caring takes energy I simply don’t have sometimes.

Except for the fact that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The least of these are talking about their inconsequential ailments, or wasting my time with busywork projects, or vaguebooking, or always finding the negative in things. The least of these need a favor when I’m exhausted, and the least of these are just plain BUGGING ME.

So, this year I will focus on caring.

Break my heart for what breaks yours.

I will listen and empathize when I don’t feel like it.

I will care enough about people to put them above myself when I want to roll my eyes.

I will put effort into projects that I believe don’t deserve the energy.

I will do for the least of these what I would do in a second for the One who created a place for my brother.

Glorious

I have not felt like being new-years-resolution-y lately. Or last-year-reflective either.

I keep reading summaries of peoples’ year, and their goals for the new one. From shouting the previous year’s joy from the rooftops to everything is negative negative negative negative (there are vastly more of the latter, unfortunately) to predicting just how much better the next year will be. I’m not really interested in any of that.

Because, you know, it doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will anyway.

Dad

It’s funny that my dad used that word, “glorious.” Because while he reflected upon that proclamation later with a “boy was I wrong,” that word-choice made me think about something else glorious.

The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25)

John uses that word over and over when describing heaven – “glory,” as do many other authors in describing God. It is almost a foreign concept to me, and maybe it’s supposed to be something just on the other side of imaginable. God’s glory being so great that it literally lights all of heaven. It’s described that way in Exodus too (13:21 and 24:17). That’s kind of a big deal.

I spend a good amount of time trying to picture what heaven is like, especially now. I eat an incredible piece of crab at my favorite restaurant on the San Francisco warf and as it melts in my mouth, I think “Oh my goodness. The food in heaven can’t be better than this.” I see an unbelievable sunset, with all its colors intertwining and setting the sky on fire, and I think “Oh my goodness. The colors in heaven can’t be better than this.” My nephew rolls between Jack and me in our big bed in the morning and as he lays his head on my chest to give me a cuddle, I think “Oh my goodness. Heaven itself can’t be better than this.”

And every time I think that, I know better.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I, as they say, “ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

So, 2013 was glorious, for Shane. And knowing that makes it kind of glorious for me too, even though I will ache for him until the moment I finally get to join him in heaven one day. And the fact that I will be able to is pretty glorious in itself.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever.

Amen.