Until this fall, I visit taught a dear sister in my ward named Ann. I loved visiting her for many reasons but especially because she reminds me of my grandmother.
Each visit was filled with her love for her children and grandchildren. It was obvious that they were the most important things in her life. We usually visited her on Sundays because she worked. Our visits would have to be early because every week her large family would come over for dinner. You could tell how much she loved this.
Last December she shared about how much fun they would have together on Christmas Eve. She really seemed to have the kind of weekly family contact that I have always dreamed of having. Why she even worked for her daughter in law, in an office, and for the past year as the nanny for her grandson.
Ann teaches the fourth Sunday lessons in Relief Society, and I always looked forward to her lesson each month. As I have stood nervously to teach gospel doctrine for the past few months, I found comfort and encouragement in Ann's sweet smile on the back row.
For all of these reasons and more, I was shocked and dismayed two weeks ago, when they announced that Ann was in the hospital. She was having trouble breathing and they were not sure what was wrong with her.
I made a mental note to go and visit her that afternoon. Life happened and I never made it down to the hospital. The next day I received the news that my mom's cancer was worse than we had hoped. They are classifying it as stage 3. My mom will undergo chemo and radiation. There are still more tests to be done.
Obviously this news was devastating to me. I found that I had to consciously choose to breathe in and out. Who says breathing is an involuntary body function? I pretty much laid in the fetal position for the next two days.
Several days later I called the RS president to ask about Ann. She told me that a test had shown that she had a rare form of lung cancer. They did not think there was anything they could do to help her. What the heck. Once again I was stunned by the news.
At the end of that week, I worked a couple of days at a Christmas store for a little extra money. As I walked through the large room with festive ornaments and decorations every where you looked, I wanted to throw up. I hoped that no one would notice the tears streaming down my face as I listened to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" playing on the radio. That part of "through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow" was too much to take.
And still, I never made it to the hospital to visit Ann. I thought about her and her family often. It was easy to imagine all that they were going through. They would be taking turns sitting by her bedside day and night. They would drive to the hospital on autopilot in a trance of shock and disbelief. They would become used to calling into the nurses station to be let in to see their loved one. Soon they would learn to read all the numbers on the machines attached to Ann and become accustomed to all the tubes running in and out of her. I could see it all and even though I thought my heart had already been smashed to a fine powder, somehow there was still a piece big enough to break again at the pain this family was experiencing this holiday season.
Perhaps it is more efficient to grieve for so many things at the same time. Multitasking at its very finest. I don't know.
That Sunday I taught Ether 12 in Gospel Doctrine. It was all about Faith and Hope and weakness. I read and reread Moroni's promise that because of the Saviour we could with surety hope for a better world. I also read Elder Uchdorfs talk about Hope from the last conference. I learned from him that we are commanded to hope. I had never really thought of it in that way before. He urges us to not give in to the temptation to be hopeless.
I vowed that I would repent of my super hopeless ways. But it was easier said than done. I feel as if I am Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, hanging by a thread six inches above the ground. Only I am hanging in the pit of despair. Lucky for me the Saviour is the anchor on this tug of war between despair and hope. Also pulling on my team are my family and friends. So I have no doubt who will win in the end. But for the record, all this tugging is tearing me apart.
The next week was Christmas week, and as of the 23rd, I had only purchased 3 gifts. I was voting for a Grinch Christmas without any presents or trimmings, but my daughter said that wouldn't do. The next two days I managed to do a minimally adequate job. We had Chinese take out for Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas morning was short and somewhat sweet. And still I just watched everything going on around me as if it were a dream.
And so last night, I found myself alone in my car and felt prompted to go to the hospital. I drove the all too familiar path that I had driven 25 times last summer. As I entered the hospital, there was a large family with small crying children. They were probably all tired and hungry after a long stressful day of uncertainty.
I went to the elevator and then realized that Ann would not be in the pediatric ICU. So I asked at the desk and managed to get a room number and some directions. I walked down the mile long hallway where I had accompanied Jared on his trips to the OR. It was also the hallway I would walk up and down in just to stretch my legs and try to get a little bit of exercise.
The hallway was scattered with people wearing tired care worn faces or those wearing scrubs.
I made my way to the third floor and found myself outside the Cardiovascular Unit. Just like the PICU, they keep it under lock down and I had to call in and ask to be admitted. For a minute I thought they might not let me in.
But soon I found myself walking past rooms filled with patients on machines. The hospital had done its best to convey the holiday spirit by painting the windows to the rooms. But no matter what you do to a hospital, it is no place to be for the holidays.
There were nurses sitting at the desk charting and perhaps chatting a little bit. Finally I found the room I was looking for and entered.
None of her family were there at that moment. Perhaps that is why I was prompted to come. I hardly recognized Ann. She was rather swollen from all the fluids they put in you. Jared was the same way. When I first came in and spoke to her, she seemed to open her eyes a little and maybe move her head a little.
I asked her how she was and asked about her family. Really I just made small talk with her, even though it was one sided on my part. I held her hand and rubbed her arm. The nurse came in and I asked if I could put some lotion on her. The nurse said OK, and so rubbed lotion on her arms and legs. I told Ann I didn't understand why it seems so much drier in the winter here. I told her how much our visits had meant to me and how I miss coming to her house each month. I looked at all the machines and numbers and was surprised that I have forgotten just what normal numbers should be. I rinsed out the cloth on her forehead and sponged her down a bit to help cool her fever.
Of course because I am not family, the nurse could not tell me how she is doing. But I sensed that it was not good. The nurse tried to get her to squeeze her hand, but Ann did not do it. Even when Jared was in a comma, he could squeeze pretty hard when you asked him to.
Finally, I told Ann how much I loved her and left wondering if my visit had made any difference.
Today I spoke to the Bishop's wife and was told that the family has decided to take Ann off the respirator on Monday and to plan for the funeral on Friday. I understand, the way she is now is no way to live. But still again, I was stunned.
And so I think that the visit did make a difference to me. If tomorrow they make this announcement in Relief Society, I am sure I would have regretted terribly not visiting. It was a chance for me to say good bye. It was a chance for me to step away from my grief and sorrow and see someone else suffering as much if not more than me.
My mom shared this comforting scripture with me:
"Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks;
"Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament--the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted.
"Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name's glory, saith the Lord." D&C 98:1-3.
I will continue to breathe in and out. I will seek for hope diligently. I will wait patiently upon the Lord. Although truth be told, I am much better at waiting impatiently. I must follow Elder Uchdorf's admonition to never give up.
But in the mean time, I just want you to know I'm having a hard time.