What If and If Only

Caregiver burdens we must stop carrying

what if

What if we let God handle our doubts and fears

As I stood under the spray of my shower yesterday morning, the what if moments of our cancer journey replayed through my mind.

The remonstrating hospital staff telling me that I shouldn’t do that repeated in my head as well.  But my son bleeding in his tears haunts me and I’ve always wondered how I let him get that sick.  The bruises spreading like wildfire as I drove the hour to the hospital have sent their own bruises into my mind, leaving black holes of self-doubt.  The wondering voices of nurses who came back to see us our third and fourth week in the hospital, speaking in awe that Andrew was “still with us” as they hadn’t “thought he would survive the first few days” have sounded like a gong of “bad mother” through my head.

No matter how many times the doctors said not to, I always wondered, “What if…”

Andrew on his way to chemo

What if I had brought Andrew into the doctor earlier.  If only I had known the bruises wouldn’t make doctors think of abuse, but of cancer.  If only we hadn’t all caught that flu bug.  What if I had taken Andrew to the doctor when he first began throwing up?

Gianmarco

This week is a sad, confusing and rejoicing week for our family.  It was thirteen years ago this week that my four-year-old Andrew was diagnosed with leukemia – a terrible day, an awful week, a horrible month and a terrifying time.  Also, a friend (found through this website) had her oldest son (Gianmarco) diagnosed with leukemia this week two years ago.  Sadly, he didn’t survive the fight.  Another little girl (Julianna)  I’ve been praying for many times a day (click here to read a post), passed away on Friday, the valiant victim of DIPG.

Julianna

The difference for this caregiving mom is that my son is a survivor.  He didn’t survive because of anything I did or didn’t do, nor did those others pass away because of anything done or not done.  It’s the ugliness of cancer. Our battle wasn’t easy, and at times it still isn’t – but we’re out the other side of that cancer fight.  For the two moms mentioned above?  My heart aches for theirs as they mourn the loss of their beautiful children.

I couldn’t help myself this weekend, I’ve been thinking about the what if and if only thoughts that have plagued me.

I wondered about Gianmarco’s mom and Julianna’s mom and I know that these thoughts hound them too and I prayed for peace.

After thirteen years of beating on myself (logic says not to, but emotion often doesn’t agree), I heard something different yesterday.

Several doctors told me (all through the three and a half years of treatment) that if I had brought Andrew in earlier, they would have said the same thing I did.  “Oh, your family has had the flu?  Get this boy some juice and let’s deal with the anemia brought on by all the throwing up.  He’s a healthy kid, he’ll be fine.”

Suddenly I actually HEARD that.  As that memory popped into my head, so did the distinct realization that had I taken Andrew into the doctor earlier, that doctor would have told me the above lines.  After which, I would have gone home and proceeded to treat my boy as I was: juice, water, rest, anti-nausea medication and lots of cuddles.  I would not have gone in again very soon – not wanting to over-react to throwing up, paleness, and listlessness.

What if I had gone in earlier to a doctor, like I’ve been kicking myself for not doing?

I would be, right now, so ANGRY at that doctor for not catching the leukemia.  They all assured me it was acute and extremely fast and hard to predict until it was almost too late.

Immediately my what if and if only mantra that I’ve clung to for years changed tune.  First, catching leukemia early doesn’t mean you don’t have leukemia.  Second, What if my waiting saved his life because he was diagnosed and received help just barely in time.  Literally one day later and he might not have made it.

Oh.my.word.

If I had gone in earlier, I might have gone in the second time too late.

The Bible tells us that to EVERYTHING there is a season.  Not my timetable – His.  God says that He’s got the whole world in His hands.  Not mine – His.  Jesus said that He holds the keys to the grave.  Not my keys – His.

I know that.  Logically.  But I too often forget and try to place things on my own shoulders that are designed for Jesus to carry for me.

Caregivers, moms and dads, loved ones – let go of those what if and if only moments.  We can’t go back and change them anyway, and maybe things worked the way they were supposed to in spite of our limited understanding.  Our lives don’t always feel good (please keep Gianmarco and Julianna’s families in your prayers) but God ALWAYS has our best interest in His plans.

What if we let Him keep control?

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  • These are helpful thoughts for me, too, Carol. I’ve played the ‘what if” game a few times over my mum’s care and truly, my only winning move in that game is to believe in the sovereignty of God and to trust that He was leading me as we made decisions. Thanks for your good thoughts on this.

  • You made me tear up. I heard about Julianna’s passing yesterday, and read her beautiful story. I’ll definitely be praying for her family and for Gianmarco’s family.

    • I’m so glad we’re part of a praying family of God – thanks for adding yours.

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    The parents of Gianmarco and Julianna are in my prayers, Carol…and so are you. I could hear the anguish in your words.

    In a sense I think I’m lucky; I lost any tendency toward ‘if only’ when I was eighteen. On a sunny day in May, in Central California, I flew a small aeroplane through a set of 250,000 volt main transmission lines. The aeroplane was a bit damaged (and so was I; my throat had been cut by the imploding windscreen), but it remained in the air and I had to fly it to the nearest airfield, all the while considering the fact that it could come to bits at any moment from damage unseen. (It didn’t, but when I landed I had to be carried away, and those who helped me were rather distressed at the amount of blood in evidence. The FAA chap who came to talk to me declined to take action; he figured I had learned my lesson.)

    That let me put the past into a box, and the future was removed from concern. I’ve lived in the now ever since.

    https://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2017/08/your-dying-spouse-351-this-will-all-be.html

    • Wow Andrew! You are just full of amazing stories! Thank you for your prayers.

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  • Wow, talk about God’s timing! I can totally see that, that if you had taken him in earlier, they would have assumed it was the flu and you might have held off taking him in later on. I’ve wrestled with the what ifs and if onlys as well, and as Michele said, I can only rest in the sovereignty of God that He’s leading, and if I did make a mistake, trust Him to redeem it. I’m so sorry for the families whose children have passed on – praying for them.

    • Thank you for your prayers. God is so good!

  • Those “what-if’s” are so painful. I play with my own as well. I’m thankful your story turned out well with your son, and my prayers are with those families whose children are now gone on. 🙁 Such tragedies that we can never understand while we’re here.

    • Yes – limited understanding hurts, yet I’m thankful for God’s eternal plans that are unlimited!

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  • RuthAnn Moor Wyman

    Thanks for sharing about your very hard journey years ago with your son—what a continued GIFT that he lives!…Yes, it is so hard to understand “the whys” in life…& I do believe there’s a bigger picture & that God cares..but even knowing that, I still struggle with “life’s why’s & unfairness” as seen in so many lives around me..It’s good to know that ultimately “our earth’s story ends WELL & God wins”!

    • Thank you so much RuthAnn. Honestly, the world just seems sicker and sicker to me, but yes, I am so very thankful that God owns the end!

  • Susan

    Vain imaginations – don’t “go there” Carol…. xo

    • Exactly true! But don’t we all go there sometimes?