She’s trying so hard to be strong.
She says she knows it’s sinful to be so selfish, and that she needs to buck up and not complain.
She’s dying of cancer.
She’s fought this terrible sarcoma so very hard for two years, but it is winning.
It’s in her arm, her leg, and her lungs.
Up until this time she’s believed that somehow God was going to bring about a miracle and heal her from this terrible disease.
She’s been through radiation, two rounds of chemo, experimental drugs and even a couple of healing services.
But despite all her hopes of being healed and going back home, my mother-in-law has been given two weeks to two months to live.
She’s been working word puzzles for the past couple of years to help her get through the long days. Her mind is so sharp. She keeps up with when she’s been given her pain meds and writes it in the front of one of her puzzle books. She doesn’t like to take her pain medications unless it’s absolutely necessary. She wants to stay alert for as long as she can.
A few days ago, for the first time since this whole battle for her life began, she acknowledged to me that she couldn’t stand what she was going through any longer. She admitted she was weak, and told me how much she wanted to die. She’s so tired of the struggle.
Then she apologized for complaining.
And it broke my heart.
I hated that she believed it wasn’t ok to voice her own terrible suffering and admit that she was weak. It especially disturbed me that she was calling it sinful. She believed not complaining and “bucking up” was what God had called her to do.
The words of my counselor come to my mind. People die like they live.
My dear mother-in-law has been “bucking up” for as long as I’ve known her. I’m not quite sure when she believed the lie that she had to be strong for everyone else. Maybe it was the first time her ex husband gave her a black eye, and she had to go to work pretending everything was fine. Even after she divorced him for the third and final time, she was still trying to be strong for everyone else.
People at the nursing home where she’s lived for almost a month say she is one of the most pleasant people they’ve been around. She’s always thinking about others they say. And even I have to admit it makes it much easier for us to go see her when she’s covering up how much she really is suffering. But it also means she’s doing an awful lot of suffering alone. I know because we are a lot alike.
I grew up in a home where I believed I had to be strong for everyone else, because if I lost control, and said the wrong things my adopted father would get upset and take it out on my mother and me. I came to believe that it wasn’t ok to voice my pain. That the only good I could do was try to keep him happy. This pattern carried over into all my other relationships. Even when I try to pray I find myself at times saying what I think God wants to hear.
In the book,The Last Addiction, the author, my counselor, Sharon Hersh, talks about people stuck in self-destructive behaviors and how shame is often the culprit that keeps them trapped. She says:
Shame must be dismantled before we can make different kinds of choices in response to our cravings for love. The only way I know to dismantle shame is to accept, to inhabit, our brokenness. Brokenness acknowledges the truth about my life and speaks the truth in love to others. Brokenness does not fear messiness or demand that the mess be quickly cleaned up. Brokenness embraces forgiveness as the only glue to put the pieces back together.
Our struggles reveal our needs. Needs that God wants us to not be afraid to come to Him with. Needs that are nothing to be ashamed of. He tells us over and over again in the scriptures how much He loves us and wants us to come to Him with all of our pain. In our willingness to admit that we are weak, we discover His strength is made perfect. Brokenness is the prerequisite to a relationship with Him. Yet, I still find myself struggling to admit that I cannot do it on my own. Why in the world is it so hard? Because I hate being weak. When I was a weak and powerless little girl I was taken advantage of by abusive and evil men. As an adult my vulnerability with a pastor caused me to be abused again. Weakness has led to abuse and that scares me to death.
But lately I’ve come to realize that showing my weakness hasn’t been my real problem. Rather it’s been in being self-reliant and looking for ways to be strong on my own. Ways that have ironically led me down the very same self destructive and shameful paths that I was trying so hard to avoid.
My mother-in-law has struggled so hard to be strong, but despite her best efforts her body has failed her. According to her nurses, the best thing for her to do is just to let go and rest…
A couple of days ago I sat by her bed. She told me she’d had a dream that she’d been somewhere else. Somewhere that was so real. Somewhere that was peaceful. She’d been saying for several days she’s ready to meet Jesus. I asked her if she’d have a room ready for us when it was our
time to come and she assured me she would.
Finally, I think she’s letting go and clinging to her unseen hope.
I’m praying that I will continue to learn to do the same.