"Putting Up Her Hair"
ďMark, Glenda is going to die.Ē
Our good friend and home health care nurse Jeri Kraus delivered those painful words to me 24 hours before my wifeís death. Jeri realized how convinced we were that Godís miracle of healing was immanent. Glenda and I felt that real faith would not tolerate fear or doubt, and we would so live in spite of cancerís worst fury, as though it would be vanquished at Godís appointed time.
Glenda was young, only 34, when her breast cancer was first discovered. She was still nursing our third child. Although the time after her diagnosis was a nightmare of tears and sleeplessness, she believed with the Lordís help we could beat the disease. We didnít have to talk about it much, because I shared that belief 100%.
Her treatment began ó the usual mastectomy, reconstruction, chemo and radiation. Much about those days is a blur of impressions: a forest of pill bottles sprouting on the counter, endless laundry and child-care arrangements, a succession of doctors with their stethoscopes and monogrammed pockets, speaking what seemed like a foreign language. The one thing that wasnít a blur was Glenda herself, who worked hard to recover, to put it all quickly behind her and get back to her children, her home, and to me.
After a year of treatment, her returning strength encouraged me and our life resumed the familiar comfort of its old routines, the basketball games, church activities, family dinners, and holidays. I loved Glenda before cancer, but this threat gave my love a new dimension, a new understanding of the precious, fragile gift we had in each other.
But it wasnít to last. The reprieve ended just 18 months later when the cancer returned in her spine. ďI wonít do all that again,Ē she said. And I agreed. The memory of the debilitating nausea, hair and weight loss, the mouth sores and deep fatigue was too fresh. The top cancer hospital in the world had trained its ďbig gunsĒ on the disease, but it survived. So we accelerated our use of alternative therapies, juiced pounds of carrots, beets and apples, drank green tea and prayed non-stop, certain that God had given us a rare opportunity to trust Him completely with an actual life and death issue.
Even through increasing, debilitating pain, Glenda believed she would get well and she conducted her life as normally as possible. She didnít talk much about the relapse to anybody because she didnít even want it invading her relationships and conversations. But she wasnít getting better.
I know Iíve probably blocked out a lot of the fear and desperation of that last summer. Either that, or Glenda herself eased the atmosphere with her determination, her fighter spirit. We both believed she would recover up to the very end. A few days before she died, I was adjusting her pillows and she whispered, ďDonít give up on me.Ē Weeks later, I realized that was the last thing she said to me.
Her last day with us came on a Monday. Friends and loved ones came through the house in waves to say goodbye. They stood around her bed, circling us with their hearts and hands, praying, singing, flowing with tears. The depth of my agony had been mercifully replaced with a kind of numbness which enabled me to think. My wife and our children were going to be deprived of each other and I wanted to create some kind of memorial for the void. So I gathered heavy paper and tempera paint, collected the children and brought them to her bedside for the last time. I made a print of Glendaís hand for each of the children, and then dipped her finger in the paint to write, Remember Wes, Mom loves you. Remember Colby, Mom loves you, Remember Kayla, Mom loves you.
By evening, most everyone had left except Glendaís Mom and sister who prepared dinner for the kids. I sat with Glenda til after midnight, knowing each shallow breath was numbered. Earlier, Jeri told me that sometimes even the comatose need permission from their loved ones to go Ė permission to quit fighting and rest. So I spoke to my wife for the last time.
ďGlenda, I love you and I always will. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I know you are fighter and as long as you want to, I will fight with you. Youíre very sick and it may be too tough. If you want to stop and be with the Lord, itís ok with me. I will miss you very much and the kids will miss you too, but as we have talked before, Iíll be right behind you, by just a few minutes, and Iíll look forward to holding you again. Iíll miss you terribly, but if you decide to go, the kids and I will understand and be ok.
Iíll always love you. . .Ē
"Slant of Light" "Quiet Time"