My cell phone rang in the middle of a team parent’s meeting at Laura’s gymnastics class. Pedro’s voice sounded worse, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of his facial paralysis or because he really was worse.
“I’m back in the hospital.” I breathed deeply, and gripped the phone. “Why?” I asked as I jumped up and hurried to the lobby. I knew he’d been feeling dizzy lately, and his back was bothering him.
“Doctor says we haven’t killed it. Dizziness from the cancer.”
“What are our choices?”
“More chemo.” Pedro’s voice sounded so discouraged. “Might not work.”
“More radiation.” This time, his voice broke.
“What happens if you get more radiation?” I struggled to sound strong, to not break down and let him know how scared I was.
“Doctor says I’d have Alzheimer’s memory.”
Alzheimer’s at thirty-four?! Impossible! My mind balked at the thought. I’d think about it later; or just erase THAT option from my mind.
“I’ll be there by three o’clock tomorrow,” I assured him. “We don’t have to decide right now, do we?”
“No. Be here soon.”
Somehow, I made it through the rest of the parent’s meeting, tucking our girls into bed, explaining that I had to go help Daddy in San Francisco the next day, and then going over to my school to hold auditions for the senior play. A week of prayer meeting was just ending, and I was fortunate enough to find the principal and our pastor in the lobby of the chapel. When I explained what was going on, I finally broke down. The enormity of the decision seemed too much to bear. How could Pedro teach if he had the memory of an Alzheimer’s patient? How could he continue being a daddy to our girls if he might not even remember their names from day to day?
We stepped into the copy room, and the pastor and principal prayed for me and for Pedro and for the decision we had to make. It was in God’s hands. I mopped up my face as much as I could, and went out to hold auditions—grateful that the auditorium was dark. Afterwards, I explained to my students what was going on, and they promised to pray for Pedro. I kept busy until late into the night, preparing lesson plans for who knew how many days and hunting down clean laundry to carry with me. I refused to think about the future. I would live in the present.
Early the next morning I found myself on the plane; the seat next to me was empty, and I had time to think. And so I found a way to avoid thinking. Someone had left a copy of Catherine Marshall’s book, Adventures in Prayer in the patient library at UCSF, and during my last stay there I’d picked it up and started to read it. I pulled the book out of my backpack and opened it to the place where I’d left off.
The chapter title seemed to mock me. “The Prayer of Relinquishment.” Oh, I’d given up so much for this cancer. I’d given up my normal life and lived like a nomad. Never in one spot for more than a week or two. I camped out in the office at home so my parents had a nice bed and I camped out in Pedro’s hospital room—and that managed to change all the time, too. Even his doctors and interns changed every two weeks. I often found myself on an airplane with nothing more than my computer and a few pairs of clean underwear and no idea as to where I’d spend the night.
I’d learned to shift for myself in the big city and in the big hospital. I’d given up being shy about asking for help and I’d given up taking a shower at the same time every day. I’d given up time with our girls and time with my students. I’d given up regular meals, regular exercise and regular sleep.
What more was there to relinquish? I gave myself a mental shake and settled down to read the chapter. It would take my mind off of the decision that waited like a dark abyss. Intellectually, I knew and acknowledged that God was with us, that He was in control. But as I read, I realized that while I may have given Him control of the situation, I’d never relinquished the desires of my heart.
More than anything, I wanted Pedro back the way he was before he got sick. I wanted my partner, my best friend, and the father of our children. I didn’t want to make all of the decisions on my own, I wanted Pedro to help me and grow old with me. It was easy to pray for healing, it was easy to see how God had answered prayers and continued to help, but it wasn’t easy admitting to God that I hadn’t let go of my deepest desire.
It was time. I bowed my head and started writing furiously in my prayer journal. I confessed that I’d been holding on to my dreams rather than holding on to God. I gave God my dreams of normalcy, of a healthy husband and a happy, whole family. Tears wet the page, but I kept on writing. When I finished pouring out my heart to God, I felt completely drained. I wasn’t used to giving up everything to anyone else. I closed my eyes and slumped back in the seat, hearing the roar of the plane’s engines for the first time.
I’d taken a leap of faith as surely as if I’d jumped out of the airplane without a parachute. Like an uncertain child, the first thing that came to my mind was, “Will everything be o.k.?” This time I wasn’t telling God what everything should be.
I opened my eyes and looked out of the window. There, below me, two rivers met and joined, forming a giant ‘Y.’ Coincidence? Probably.
I turned to smile at the flight attendant as she handed me a snack. She looked at me with concern. On a small airplane with lots of empty seats, a sniffling, snuffling passenger can’t go unnoticed. I must look awful. I turned to the window again, hoping to catch my reflection and assess the damage. Instead, the view outside caught my eye. A long, country road stretched across the flat terrain. At three even intervals, smaller roads joined the larger road, forming a perfect ‘E.’ Coincidence? Maybe.
The pilot announced our position and informed us that Mount Rainer loomed off in the distance. I looked out the window again, but the mountain didn’t catch my eye. A large river flowed through an incredibly green valley. The trees growing alongside of the river framed the perfect ‘S’ the river made before it disappeared into a darker forest of evergreens. Coincidence? Most certainly not.
Sometimes, God has to spell things out. This time, I got the message. YES, everything would be o.k.. And this time, I knew that whatever ‘everything’ was, God would be there with me.
What important lessons have you learned in your caregiver journey? Has God spelled things out for you?