I didn’t want to go. Truthfully, I wanted to get out of it, not because I didn’t want to see my mother-in-law or spend valuable time with her, but because I was afraid.
I’ve never been good with illness. My scalp tingles and my feet sweat every time I get an immunization. I can’t look at the needle as it plunges into my bicep. When one of my kids throws up, I freak – my hands shake and my breathing gets fast and shallow and I lay awake all night, dreading when the next wave will hit.
I knew this situation would be far more difficult than dealing with a routine virus.
My mother-in-law was dying. I knew this would be the last time I would see her on Earth. I knew I would have to say goodbye. I knew I would have to help my children cope with seeing their grandmother bed-ridden and frail. And I didn’t know if I could cope with any of it.
I’ve always had a grave fear of death [read my post on vampires if you want to know just how grave]. It was worse as a non-believer – finding faith and God has helped enormously – but still, who actually welcomes death? Who isn’t just a little bit – or a lot – afraid of it?
I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to say goodbye. I was afraid I’d bawl, or worse, that I wouldn’t cry at all, that I would freeze cold inside. I was afraid to see what a dying person looked like. I was afraid to see someone I loved look like that. And of course, deep down I was also afraid of facing my own mortality.
I felt it in my gut as we drove north to Minnesota: the flight instinct. I wanted to run away.
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." (Jonah 1:3)I felt like Jonah on that drive north. Minnesota was my Nineveh. And I was desperate for a Tarshish, a place to escape my fear.
As we exited the interstate and wound through the city, I turned to Brad. “I’m afraid,” I told him quietly, glancing over my shoulder to make sure the kids didn’t hear. Brad rested his hand on the back of my neck as he drove, eyes still on the road. “It will be okay,” he soothed. “It’s still my mom; she’s still the same person. It’ll be okay.”
My husband, consoling and comforting me through his own grief, was right. It was okay.
As I sat on the edge of Janice’s bed and held her hand, God held mine. As I clasped her frail body, God clasped me in tight embrace.
Though the hole in my heart yawned aching and wide, I felt God’s presence that weekend in Minnesota. I saw him in the neighbor’s faces as they rang the doorbell bearing pans of lasagna, platters of homemade cookies and sliced fresh fruit. I saw him in my children as they ran up to Haukebo’s bedside for a squeeze before dashing off to resume games with their cousins. I saw him in my husband and his brother as they so tenderly cared for their mother. I saw him in cards and flowers lining the mantel, heard him in the sound of the telephone ringing non-stop. And most of all, I saw him in Janice herself, in the way she so selflessly cared for, accommodated and served all of us through her steady faith and unwavering love, even in the midst of her suffering.
My husband stayed in Minnesota to help care for his mom. I drove the boys back to Nebraska on Monday morning. I cried quietly while they watched a Scooby Doo movie in the backseat, tears streaming down my cheeks and neck as we sped by rustling corn stalks and cartwheeling windmills. But through empty gnaw and howling protest, I also felt the beginning of something unexpected: an incomprehensible peace. A peace that passed all understanding.
A little head's up: Next Monday I'll launch a brand-new weekly link-up community here called Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday. [I made a button – see the sidebar...now I just have to figure out how to get the Linky up and running!]. Feel free to come by Monday, or even later in the week, and link up a post about what you're mulling, either related to a scripture reading, sermon or hymn from a Sunday service or a verse or passage you've read or pondered during the week. Let's share what God is teaching us through his word...I can't wait to read what you have to say!