Lots of times in life we don’t realize we’re living a “moment in time” until after we’ve lived it. And then – every once in a great while – there are days like today, when you are fully aware of the “moment” you’re living.
This was the opening line of my journal entry from last week. The day before, I had gotten the dreaded phone call from Kellie. The one that said, “The doctors have told me it’s time to call hospice.”
No. No. NO!
Our minds (or maybe more appropriately, our hearts) are very weird. Even when we know, short of a miracle, something is coming, it’s still so very hard to hear. Or accept.
Feeling helpless and not knowing what else to do, I flew to Atlanta.
When I got to the cancer center in Newnan last week, I wasn’t ready to see Chris’ physical appearance. The last time I saw him was in November. He was thinner, but he still looked like “Chris.” Now, he looks like he has cancer. He’s frail, and very very thin. Well, all except his belly. This iron man/tri-athlete who has never had anything less than a six pack, now has this protruding belly, one that we all tease – Chris included – makes him look like he’s about to deliver. Because humor gets us through, and because we are all pretty irreverent, I said to Chris: “Are we in a cancer hospital or the maternity ward?” Of course he laughed as best he could. It didn’t take long for him to shoot one back at me… “You know I’m going on ahead as a diplomat, right? To make sure you and Kellie get in.” lololol. Tears. Laughs. Tears.
If I had to name someone in which to compare Chris, I would tell you “think Tony Dungy.” Chris has that same quiet strength. He’s not loud or flashy. He’s a man of integrity and character. He’s silly. He’s an instigator! He’s a good listener. He’s not judgmental. He’s always, always positive. He’s a good friend. And a good man. His family is everything to him. Other than worrying about his girls (all 3 of them), he is ready. He loves and trusts God with a blind faith that leaves me wanting to sit at his bedside and ask him to speak wisdom into my life.
We sat for a bit and talked about what kind of service and music he wants. His words: “I want a party!” I told him we wouldn’t be much in the partying mood. He did tell me the songs he would want played. He even pulled up a YouTube video of one of ‘em on his phone to show me. He did have one mandate: “No sad songs!” I asked him if he was at peace. He said “yes, God’s been preparing me for this, for a while.” I told him, “Chris, you are SO LOVED. I hope you know how much everybody loves you.” I think he does.
Pete flew up a day later and we were able to spend a few days together. It was a beautiful visit. We did such normal things. Pete & Chris watched the Gator basketball game in between naps (Pete napping too!). Kellie and I went for a walk. Pete treated me and Kel to pedis and manis. All so normal. Yet so abnormal. Chris is in his 40′s. It’s surreal knowing what you’re really doing is saying goodbye. On the positive side, we are so grateful for the gift of being able to leave nothing unsaid. Not everybody gets that. It’s a gift we are holding tightly.
My emotions are still all over the place. I’m tender. I’m raw. I’m disappointed. I’m sad. And I’m mad. All normal, I suppose. The scripture I keep repeating to myself…”even when we are faithless, You remain faithful.” Thank you, Lord; I’m clinging to this promise.
Today is hard, too…today is Chris & Kellie’s 29th wedding anniversary. I can’t stop thinking about them. It feels odd to call and say “Happy Anniversary!” I know she is grateful for the 29 years God has given her with Chris. But I also know she would eagerly sign up for 29 more. I simply can’t imagine there being a time when there’s a Kellie “without a Chris.” I think about the vows they took all those years ago. When you promise “in sickness and in health,” you really aren’t picturing this. But it’s life, and it’s what we enthusiastically promise. I can’t tell you what a wonderful caregiver she is being to her husband. She’s amazing. I know people go through this every day. And I know she isn’t exempt. We, as believers, aren’t exempt. I know we aren’t immune to pain. And I know God said, “In this world you WILL have trouble; not IF you have trouble.” I know God doesn’t owe us any explanations. I know His ways are higher. I know He loves us more than we can imagine. I know He has prepared a place for us. I know we are just passing through. I know this isn’t our home. I know, I know, I know….
Spending these last few days with Chris have left me feeling really dwarfed by the magnitude of God; we truly operate in nothing more than an “illusion of control.” But even though I’ve felt really small, I’ve also felt His nearness. I know He sees us. I know He hears us. And I know He catches every single tear. I watched a sermon by Britt Merrick the other day called “When Sparrows Fall.” Britt is a pastor who recently lost his daughter to cancer. He said this: In times like these, we ask the wrong question. The question isn’t “Why?” But rather, “Who?” It’s not, “God, why is this happening?” But rather, “Who will carry us through?”
I know God will carry Kellie, Hope, Caroline, Cynthia and the rest of Chris’ family through this. I also know their darkest days are still ahead of them. As family and friends, we’re transitioning from praying for a miracle to praying that he not suffer long. And of course, trying to figure out how to say goodbye.