Occasionally my kids like to walk quietly into my room while I am still asleep and stand next to my bed until by some sixth-motherly sense, I realize they are there and wake up in a hot sweat. Whether they have said anything or not, I’m never quite sure. I just know that one minute I am peaceful in my dreams and next there is a tiny person standing over me.
Last week there was an occasion like this. It was Owen this time. When I startled awake and saw him there, he was sniffling and getting ready to crawl into bed next to me. He said he’d had a bad dream and in his dream he was crying and then when he woke up, he was actually crying. I was prepared to hear him describe in detail the sea creature that was after him or the dinosaur/dragon monster with four heads that was chasing him down or maybe about him playing Super Mario Bros and Bowser came to life and jumped out of the TV at him. But, no. It was none of these fanciful scenarios. It was much worse.
He said “I dreamed that you died of cancer in one day.” Then my big 8-year-old boy, with feet almost the size of mine and an independence that I’m still adjusting to, snuggled in as close as he could to me.
Even when Owen and Myra were old enough for us to start talking to them about cancer, they had no frame of reference for what cancer is or why when people around them talked about it, it was in hushed, somber tones that were frequently accompanied by tears. Myra will boldly proclaim to any new person she meets that her mommy has cancer, not understanding why that new person has suddenly become very uncomfortable.
But this, Owen’s dream and his tears, this told me that he understands now. He realizes that his mommy not eating sugar and taking handfuls of pills morning and night and making frequent trips to the hospital, it is all part of the monster named cancer. The monster that takes too many people from their families – children and parents and siblings and grandparents. The monster that robs vibrant active people of their zest and energy. The monster that we all fear will come for us one day through the words of a doctor in a white coat.
I have realized it all along. Before they even told me for sure that it was cancer, I was preparing in my heart to face death. It is a reality that I almost never speak of, but almost always think of. Most people only want to talk about healing and moving forward and treatment and life after cancer. It feels as though that is the only way to find hope in a dark diagnosis. But for the cancer patient…nope, that is too general, I do not and cannot speak for all cancer patients…for me, having the freedom to talk occasionally about death and how my family will move on without me, is necessary and cathartic. Not many people can handle that kind of conversation though. That is the reason why I am writing this blog post, but not sharing it.
I want my friends and family and most of all, my children, to know that I will probably die of cancer someday. It may be in months or years or I may live to be 102 until it takes me. But talking about the reality of my death is not to speak without hope.
I serve a God who stepped out of the majesty of heaven and walked a dusty, broken earth full of cancer and sin so that we would have hope in our suffering. He humbly suffered and gave his life, so that when my life on this earth ends, it is really only just beginning. He conquered the grave. The symbol of the ultimate loss for humanity, became His show of ultimate hope.
Death feels lonely. We only go one at a time after all. But in our time of greatest suffering and need, there is an even greater hope.
I snuggled Owen back and reassured him that today I am ok. It was just a bad dream. And if someday that bad dream becomes a reality for him, I pray that he will know and seek after the God of all peace and comfort.