Monday, January 21, 2013

Re-Living This Week Every Year

It was MLK Day 2010 and I found myself in our bathroom with an at home pregnancy test barely able to believe what I was seeing. I mean, really, we had JUST started trying. Apparently, you might as well just change my name to Fertile Myrtle. I just wasn't expecting it to happen so quickly and I knew Joe wasn't either. For about a minute I contemplated telling him in some cutesy way, but instead went right into the bedroom where he was and let him know that in about 9 months he was going to be a dad. His reaction was pretty much the same as mine. Not quite sure what to make of it all, we decided to go out for lunch. We went to a favorite spot of ours, Lisco's Country Cafe (which is now sadly closed) and didn't talk much about our big news. Had we known what the rest of the week had in store for us, I'm sure we would have appreciated the news for the miracle it was, but on that Monday, it was scary and big and we were second guessing whether we were really ready.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. It was January 20th. I was out of the house early because we had a big meeting in Trenton and I had to be there to assist with signing in attendees. A month earlier I had left my position working at the Local and started working for the National Union. This was the first big meeting I had been a part of since joining the National Staff and I was trying to be as helpful as possible. My cell phone was in my purse which I left under a table because we were busy signing in and distributing materials to hundreds of attendees. After about an hour and a half or so I checked my phone. There were many missed calls from Joe. I listened to the first of the voicemails and it was enough to send me into a panic (this, by the way, is why I now always keep my cell phone with me). Thankfully, I was able to get him on the phone relatively quickly. He was in the ER. He needed the health insurance information since he had just been added to my plan and we didn't even have the insurance cards yet. They didn't know what was wrong with him, but anything serious enough for my husband to call an ambulance raised an immediate red flag for me.

The next 24 hours were a flurry of doctors and nurses, hospital rooms and waiting rooms, coffee and vending machine food, and very little sleep. After initially thinking in the ER that Joe was suffering from diverticulitis, by the end of Wednesday night he was recovering from emergency colon surgery and we had nothing to do but anxiously await the results of pathology tests. Some parts of that Wednesday are still as clear in my mind as if they had happened yesterday. I remember sitting in the hallway of the ER with Joe waiting for him to be admitted (unfortunately, this would not be our last time sitting in an ER hallway waiting for admission). I remember being in the hospital room with Joe just before he was wheeled off for his surgery. I remember lots of things about the waiting room while Joe was having his surgery - I ate dinner from Mexican Village there and we prayed with Eric, the Pastoral Assistant from my church who came by to be with us. I also spoke with my friend Karen who had lost her son to colon cancer just a few months before. Her son's diagnosis story was similar to what had happened with Joe and it was a blessing that she was available to talk to me while I was waiting for him to be done in surgery.

The next two days were rough. I spent one of the nights curled up in the chair in Joe's hospital room because I couldn't bear to sleep away from him. Since that resulted in me not actually sleeping, I didn't do it again, but the frustrating dance of trying to be there at just the right time to see the doctors when they came by was exhausting. Finally, at the end of the day on Friday, we got a visit from the doctor who did his surgery. She explained that Joe had colon cancer and that it had already spread to his lymph nodes and liver. The only other thing I clearly remember her saying (if you've seen the movie 50/50 it felt much like the scene where Joseph Gordon Levitt's character gets his diagnosis) was NOT to go searching online for survival rates because there are amazing things that are being done and Joe is young and strong. I searched anyway. Almost instantly I wished I had listened to her. The statistics for metastatic colon cancer are not good. So there we were -  five days into knowing we were pregnant with our first child and hours into knowing Joe had stage 4 colon cancer. I found myself thanking God that I was a Fertile Myrtle and telling Joe again and again that I needed him to recover from his surgery and be with me through the pregnancy and birth.

What was big and scary on Monday was a blessing beyond words by Friday. Funny how that can happen.

It all happened this week 3 years ago and the events of that week have completely changed my life.  I guess it's not surprising then that as Monday comes and then Wednesday and then Friday, I will notice. And in my own way I will re-live this week. And I will embrace this quote from Anne Lamott that I posted on my Facebook page that following Sunday:

"This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we're most sure that love can't conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds."

I can't tell you how many times over the last 3 years I have felt like I was in the rattiest rat hole of them all. Every time and I mean every damn time there has been some thing or some person or some sign or some act of love that has swelled and comforted. It wasn't always instantaneous. It wasn't always obvious. It wasn't always what I would have chosen. But it always gave me another wind. 

So, if you are in need of that today, open yourself up to it. And if you are feeling led to do it for someone else, please don't delay.


  1. When I heard your voice on the phone that day, Jan. 20th three years ago, somehow I knew. I play that day over and over again in my mind imagining the end of the story to be different.
    When I think about Joe and the way he was, I realize this was so typical of him, right? You were both surprised by this pregnancy, so soon. But Joe wouldn't go without leaving the most special love song for the both of you to share for always and forever, now would he? Domani Joseph, tomorrow, we will always have Tomorrow Joseph.
    Love you.

  2. You are an amazingly, unbelievably awesome strong woman and Mama. Lots of power, energy and strength to you this week and every week. xoxox, haelin

  3. Amazing story of human endurance and persistence in the face of the worse that life that throw at you. Thank you for sharing this .... it gives strength to all of us who read it.

  4. Whenever I hear of a young man dying too soon... I think of a letter my grandfather read to me when I was 4 years old. He read it from a book and marked the passage so that I could re-read it later when I was old enough to understand it. At the time of his reading, he knew he was dying of cancer and would not be able to teach it to me later. He died in 1955.
    It is a letter of condolence written over 300 years ago. The letter was addressed to a father (Valentine Walton) who had lost his young son (also named Valentine) in the battle of Marston Moor (July 1644). The author was the great commander Oliver Cromwell. The language of this letter (at least to me) gets to the heart of the pain that is felt when the young are taken from us too soon. I found tremendous comfort in these words when my father died (pancreatic cancer).
    Let me allow Antonia Fraser, the author of "Cromwell: The Lord Protector" to introduce the letter:
    "But Cromwell, already a tender man to his own children, and sisters, retained thereafter a special affection towards those who had, like him, seen their children snatched from them: his famous letter to his brother-in-law Valentine Walton breaking the news of the death of his son after Marston Moor still stirs the emotions with its directness and its understanding." (p.60)
    And now, excerpts from the letter itself, written by Oliver Cromwell two days after the battle:
    "Sir, God hath taken away your eldest son by a cannonshot. It brake his leg. Sir, you know my trials this way [the deaths of his sons Robert and young Oliver]; but the Lord supported me with this: that the Lord took him into the happiness we all pant after and live for.
    There is your precious child full of glory, to know sin nor sorrow any more. He was a gallant young man, exceeding gracious. God gave you His comfort. Before his death he was so full of comfort that to Frank Russel and myself he could not express it, it was so great above his pain. This he said to us. Indeed it was admirable.
    Truly he was exceedingly beloved in the Army, of all that knew him. But few knew him, for he was a precious young man, fit for God.
    You have cause to bless the Lord. He is a glorious saint in Heaven, wherein you ought exceedingly to rejoice.
    Let this drink up your sorrow; seeing these are not feigned words to comfort you, but the thing is so real and undoubted a truth.
    You may do all things by the strength of Christ ...
    --- Oliver Cromwell, July 6, 1644

    Anne, I never met Joe. But knowing the kind of person you are, I know that Joe, like young Valentine who fell 370 years ago, must have been "... a gallant young man, exceeding gracious."