Archive for February, 2012

Midwifing the immortal

People have said, on a number of occasions recently, that we (Dad, Mom, myself) are doing an admirable job of caring for Gary. And i am grateful that, due much more to their efforts than mine, the statement is pretty much true. But, in a spirit of full disclosure, and to prevent any mistaken sense that our days are somehow bucolic and agreeable all the time, i’ll share with you that we’re all suffering a bit of cabin fever. Tempers can be rather short; the house seems to have shrunk considerably since we all moved under one roof to best care for Gary; and agreement on the extent of his activities is rarely unanimous.

For example, he wants to go for a walk this morning, but it’s 28 degrees outside. It is something that he can’t do by himself given that he is unsteady on his feet and has a tendency to suddenly become deadweight, what we call “going jelly”.

i think the walk is a great idea; it will invigorate him and make him feel good.

The Momster is not so sure. (The word is not a play on “monster”. i promise)

The Dadster is somewhat silent on the matter but leans the Momward way since her wrath is considerably stronger than mine.

We’ll all express our totally contradictory but perfectly correct views on the matter and then, since Gary’s wish trumps all others, he and i will bundle up and go for a walk. If, in the course of doing so, he gets dizzy or goes jelly, so as to require a call for the wheelchair, i can fully expect a few hours of “i told you so” (either spoken or silently delivered).

Just another day in the life of a cancer patient caregiver.

Not to paint a wrong impression picture, though, i can say with grateful accuracy that, for the vast majority of the cancer season, we have been a picture of deference and working together. And i am amazed at the stamina, the kindness, the sheer goodness of my 82 and 83 year old parents.

Their judgment is usually correct.

But not this time …

The goodness of so many others, like you, has made and continue to make the season endurable as there are daily reminders that we are cared for, much so, by a small army of big-hearted souls. In just the past week or so, proof of that fact has come in the form of a book from Dicky and Betsy, a meal from Chris and Jenny, a drawing from Michele, a letter from Dr. Pat, a poem from Brady, a vase of flowers from Denise, a touch of humor from Anna and Bobby. And, knowing the givers as i do, i am confident that their generosity comes wrapped in prayer.

Sometimes kindness comes in the form of well-chosen words, well-timed, lIke those i received recently from a friend in Memphis. Her letter was appropos to where the Levi family is as we celebrate 6 months since Gary’s diagnosis. The friend, who herself cared for two terminal cancer patients (her husband and her mother), wrote knowingly of the emotional and physical fatigue, of the messiness and unpleasantness, of the questions and uncertainties that are part of tending to ones we love so deeply.

She suggested that caring for a terminally ill person is much like a childbirth,  “grossly messy, uncomfortable, and extremely painful.” But more significantly, she opined that the task affords onr like us the privilege of birthing our loved ones into heaven.

It takes considerable effort to keep that perspective in mind but i’m convinced that “death as birth canal” is a redemptive and accurate way to view end of life for a follower of Christ. Caregivers (a category which will probably describe all of us as some point in life) serve as midwives to make the delivery, from life here to life There, as comfortable, joyful, even as welcome as it can possibly be.

i recall reading a passage some years ago in an essay by CS Lewis (“The Weight of Glory”). His simple point, eloquently made, was that, everyday, we are helping people to one of two eternal destinations, toward Christ or away from Him, to heaven or to hell. The  momentousness of that possbility gives meaning to the smallest things that we do day to day. And somehow, whenever we help move a soul, by a word or deed or prayer, from despair to hope, from anger to forgiveness, from heaviness to gladness, from worry to trust, from emptiness to Christ, from self to God, we are, in some degree, moving them from away from death and toward life.

That said, Gary is blessedly well, all things considered. The last MRI showed, as the previous one, that his brain tumor is “stable”. The oncologist tells us that the beast is still very much alive and that, in all medical probability, it will wake up, resume its aggressive growth, and do what cancer does. Why it is stable (the result of chemo and radiation, or an answer to prayer, or both?) is not altogether certain. When it will “wake up” is anybody’s guess.

And at least for the present, Gary, after consulting with our oncologist, has made the decision to forego further chemotherapy. His thinking is essentially “leave well enough alone”.  (The doctor has told us that the tumor is not curable. Chemo would perhaps, or not, lengthen lifespan minimally at status quo. It is obvious that length of life is not Gary’s only concern.)

But for now, Gary has been remarkably well.

For three consecutive days this past week, he did not take a nap. On Thursday, he was able to wake up for our men’s study and take communion with us. That night, he attended an annual event that we do for widows in our community. He even walked on stage, with the help of friends with us to serenade the ladies at the end of the night. (He is the one in the picture with the red necktie.) And last night, he hosted a dinner/house concert that we did here with 10 couples who have been lifelong friends of his. His laughter has been plentiful, contagious, deep down.

And for every day, we are grateful.


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