Today is Labour Day in Canada. The first Monday of September and a long weekend holiday. As I sit in my library early this morning I am overwhelmed with joy at the thought that this is day 243 since Brenda’s cancer diagnosis.
Why joy you ask? Simple, Brenda is still with us and very much alive. We are enjoying life together and with our family. In a seemingly irrational manner, there is a new sweetness and depth to our relationship that we understand is perhaps counter intuitive given the circumstances.
We have had a series of good news reports from the oncologist of late. Word that five of the six lesions in her brain are gone and the sixth is in retreat. The mass in her lung has also shrunk and the cancer in her backbone remains in check. The latest scans show no further metastases – no further spreading of the cancer. So we rejoice in this news yet we are still living with cancer.
I can sure understand how the cancer journey causes so many patients and caregivers to suffer depression. It begins with a cumulative crisis of loss and anticipated loss. It is not just the fear of losing a loved one, but there are many other losses experienced along the way. Your life is changed. Things you used to do together, you no longer do. Patterns and responsibilities change. Your diet, sleep patterns, ability to travel, even your financial status all change with a cancer diagnosis.
As new medical appointments begin to fill your calendar it leaves little time for old relationships. People you find life giving are now inhibited from visiting with you because of your physical and emotional ability. Your ability to plan is thrown out the window as your physical stamina and the medical system now have a high degree of control over your schedule. These are all losses and we grieve these.
I have some moments when I catch myself getting caught up with the thought of being without Brenda. Theologically I understand that loss is not the central issue in my feeling sad and depressed, it is my unwillingness to let go. I am attached to Brenda. I love her and desire to be with her. I do not ever want her to leave me but a cancer diagnosis actually forces you to have to talk about ‘what if’ scenarios.
For friends who are not Christians and are in this kind of circumstance, I could see this being a very dark time. What seems like a completely empty life today morphs into an equally meaningless eternity. There is nothing to hope for and so the tendency would be to hold onto the memories and objects of the past.
But as Christians we are called on to let go of everything that gives us security and cling to Jesus our Lord. Brenda and I know this in our heads, but we have moments when we get as frightened as anyone else at the thought of letting go.
We become attached to our spouse, our family, our hobbies, our reputation, our ideas, our position, and our dreams. It is painful to think about giving them up ourselves, let alone them being taken away.
The thought of loss can cause one to become hardened, and rather callous, towards the things we hold dear. It is our way of protecting ourselves from feeling hurt. It would be like me saying, “Oh I didn’t like sailing anyway, and we can sell the boat. I don’t care.” That would not be true. I’m fooling myself. I have great memories from our boat and I will miss her.
Yet central to the gospel is our willingness to let go of everything we cling to that we gain security from and to fully place our trust in Jesus. The closer we draw to God, the less prone to depression we are because fewer things can be taken away from us.
We are studying the book of Philippians right now at our church and in it Paul shares he has learned that in whatever state he finds himself, he will be content. How did he accomplish this? He shares that the things he used to count as ‘gain’ – the things he used to cling to for security – he is willing to let go of. All things were considered lost but for his clinging to God.
Early on in this journey I was praying and God called me by name and asked me to trust him – regardless of the outcome. Since then I have realized that I can trust Him and that life does not stop for our circumstance. I also have learned that there is a healthy sense of letting go of Brenda that I can embrace. It is in this process of letting go of Brenda and all the other ‘losses’ both perceived and real, that I am actually able to free myself to be fully God’s.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, after 243 days, I am coming to grips with the many losses we have already experienced. I am feeling free and trying to be content in our circumstances. But I still cry at the oddest times and without over spiritualizing receive this as part of the body’s natural recovery system.
I listen again for those words, “Carson, Trust me.”