Thursday, April 13, 2006

The ache of a mother's heart

Lemony Snicket often warns his (or her??) readers to stop reading The Series of Unfortunate Events. In fact, even the website rewords the warning: “If I were you, I would immediately turn your computer off rather than view any of the dreadful images, read any of the wretched information … within this website.” I love that! The first time my daughter read me the warning in the book, I found it immediately creative, and refreshingly so.

I am feeling – well, a little Snicket-y today. If I were you…

In truth, I am numb. A friend has described a heartbreak that is so unfortunate, so disappointing, so beyond words or understanding. Her daughter, 20, was diagnosed with an advanced stage of Liver Disease (Cirrhosis) some years ago. She knew then that the disease would eventually take her life.

She said she remembers the family gathering together, the tears, the prayers – the unfathomable fear – upon learning of the diagnosis. As Christians who grew up praying for miracles and healings and all kinds of signs and wonders, she was surprisingly unsure of God’s plans for her recovery.

And, of course, why her, after all those years of serving Him?

Joanne spent little time questioning and a great deal of time trying to understand everything she could of the disease. She dropped most of her personal interests while picking up the weight of watching someone she loved so dearly die. So often, in the middle of the night, she would wake in tears knowing that her time with her daughter was short.

Her daughter, to the marvel of many, proceeded to live life seemingly unaffected by the diagnosis. While her body underwent tremendous change, she quietly dealt with the necessary adjustments. When she was tired, she would sleep. When she was too sick to attend a service, she would miss. Everyone who knew her understood.

Joanne ached inside. She began to yearn for more meaningful moments with her daughter. She often cleared her schedule to visit, to cook, to sit with her in quiet moments. She learned to ask more meaningful questions, hoping her daughter would trust her enough to share her thoughts, to be honest enough to admit her fears. Most nights, her daughter said nothing. On rare occasions, she found her daughter crying, but when prodded by her mother to open up about what’s on her heart, her daughter gave her nothing.

Joanne could not help but wonder why her daughter, while facing death, refused to speak to her, to talk with her. Despite her best efforts, she began feeling hurt and confused, especially when her daughter would readily and warmly respond to the questions and concerns of others. When people would drop by to see her, she would quickly tell the details of her plight, respond to their questions, be kind in return of their kindness. Joanne could painfully see that her daughter was not incapable of sharing her heart; her daughter simply did not want to share it with her.

Joanne’s pain of losing her daughter to death was compounded with the realization that any meaningful time with her daughter ended when she was diagnosed. And those times were far too few. In truth, Joanne wondered if her daughter ever really did like her - or share her heart or her thoughts in a warm and meaningful way. She recalled many failed attempts, meals where her daughter would come alive with other adult guests, ask interested questions while giving detailed, interesting responses to their queries - the same unanswered queries posed by her earlier in the day.

Joanne and her daughter recently attended a retreat together. During one of the sessions, not surprisingly, her daughter became the focus. Her daughter triumphantly shared her testimony of what God was doing her heart and in her life. Her daughter smiled as she talked of the outpouring of love and support of others. She shed a tear as she touched upon her fears.

Her daughter never really looked towards her that morning. In truth, Joanne said it seemed as if she wasn’t even there.

Afterward, many of the people approached Joanne and spoke of her daughter’s courage, of her obvious love for God. "You must be so proud."

Joanne overwhelming pain prevented her from saying anything. Instead, she went to her car in the parking lot and cried.

What Joanne is experiencing is anything but Tuesdays with Morrie.

I can’t help but wonder about Joanne's daughter, someone I have met and heard speak on numerous ocassions about the critical importance of family values. I have observed her warmly embrace near strangers all the while ignoring the presence of the very one who gave her life and would surely take her death in her place if only given the chance. How tragic to know, to see, others get her best, and she who loves her most get so little.

I am reminded of the saying, "It is not flesh and blood, but the heart which makes us fathers and sons." Sadly, in this case it proves not to be so. A social worker once told me that contrary to what Mitch Albom or Hollywood portrays, people die the way they live.

In this heartrending series of unfortuate events, perhaps that is the most wretched truth of all...