Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chasing Hope

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.


Eliza said...

I wasn't sure what to say that might help you. So I looked up hope on wikipedia. I thought this was interesting.

Hope was personified in Greek mythology as Elpis. When Pandora opened Pandora's Box, she let out all the evils except one: hope. Apparently, the Greeks considered hope to be as dangerous as all the world's evils. But without hope to accompany all their troubles, humanity was filled with despair. It was a great relief when Pandora revisited her box and let out hope as well. It may be worthy to note that in the story, hope is represented as weakly leaving the box but is in effect far more potent than any of the major evils.

In some faiths and religions of the world, hope plays a very important role. Hope can be passive in the sense of a wish, or active as a plan or idea, often against popular belief, with persistent, personal action to execute the plan or prove the idea.

I love you. I know that you will be able to work through this in your own time and in your own way. Just know that I will be thinking of you and praying for you.

April said...

Thank you for sharing your heart and your hope. It has helped me tremendously today. We all have trials to go through and it means so much to be there to support each other.

I wept as I read how you put lotion on your dear friend's arms and legs. What an act of service. You are a great example to me! Hope is what has kept me going through my trials.

I am sorry to hear about your mother. We went through something similar with my MIL. It was hard. She was an amazing woman and a wonderful grandmother.

I am sorry that you have had to deal with the health problems with your son. Dealing with one thing can drain a person, but dealing with all of the things that you are facing can be overwhelming.

Hope for better times and knowing that we are not alone in the present time can do so much to aid us and help us just to cope.

I am sorry that you are having a hard time. Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone.

Jen said...

I'm so sorry you've been through so much in such a short time! We just found out my mom has breast cancer and are awaiting the details. I think I'm saving my freak out for the full verdict, and feel like I'm hanging out with denial at the moment.

Thank you for sharing, and best wishes and prayers to you and your family!

Nutty Hamster Chick said...

Eliza, Thanks for you love and compassion.

April, I am glad this helped you, I really debated about posting it. It is amazing how knowing others understand can help us.

Jen, Oh I am so so sorry to hear about you own mother. Denial is my very most favoritest part of grieving. Linger there as long as you possibly can.

Kris said...

Oh Nutty Chick - I feel your pain!! Maybe you are the one in the family that will keep a record of this trail and all our amazing growth.

I cried and cried for Ann and her family and you. I don't know how I could face the death of someone I love right now. I am sending an e-mail to the ward telling them that my mom is sick and that they had better stay healthy!!

I hope that you will be filled with the comfort of the Holy Ghost as you greve.

SEBishop said...

I love You Pat. Hope springs eternal with you. I never know what to write when I read your posts. Words seem small compared to your current trials. You write so eloquently and thoughtful. Many are fighting for you and hoping next year will bring some joy. I am glad you followed the promptings to visit Ann. She needed that.
Chinese on Christmas Eve is wonderful and VERY tasty. I'm sure Mary and Joseph would have loved some take-out!

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...


I really loved reading this post. Even though my heart was and is hurting for had such good things to remember in it.

I don't know how many times I have thought, "I should go visit them" and then never do...always regretting it.

I am glad that you have that.

Hope and Faith such had things to do...but yet tangible in a sense right?

Nutty Hamster Chick said...

Kris, good point, maybe I will be the one to document.

Stephanie, I understand what you mean. But really just telling me that I make a difference to you is huge. I re read your comment about how much we helped you when you first moved in. And it means more than you will ever know to know that I make a difference.

Shelle, I agree that the point that we should follow through on promptings is huge. What if I had said I was too tired to go?

Ann passed away this morning. I shared this experience with the Releif Society yesterday and the whole room cried together. We all loved her and we have all lost her. To think that she taught her lesson just 4 weeks ago is crazy. You never know when it will be your turn to go. Cheerish each day.

The Crash Test Dummy said...

Oh Pat. I'm so sorry. I knew you were struggling, but you really have been deeply depressed, haven't you. I will keep you in my prayers. I really loved this post. I'm glad you are able to share your struggles. It helps all of the rest of us.

I LOVE HOPE. I think HOPE is the one neglected simple truth. I mean, we don't hear about it as much as faith and charity and yet it's just as essential. I'm so glad you went to the hospital and followed that prompting. Regret is awful.

Worse than grief.

You are a beautiful person and I have grown to love you. Thank you for all you have taught me and made me think about.

How is your mom doing? I talked to my friend who is now in remission from her breast cancer about your mom. She was also in stage 3 and she is better than ever now. Not that it's not a long road, but she will need you to have HOPE so you can share it with her. She will need a lot of support. My friend said to give her a lot of bath gels. hee hee. She said hot baths helped her let go of her fear.