My parents do everything with care. Mom keeps a tidy house and Dad keeps the whole machine running smoothly. The glorious thing about it is that it has never been at the expense of hospitality or graceful living. Neither of them has ever answered the door to unexpected guests only to exclaim, “Forgive the messy house!” Instead, doors are thrown open, arms are outstretched and visitors are ushered in with squeals of delight.
Such has been their dance throughout 59 years of marriage. My parents are curators of a welcoming life.
You can imagine the difficulty, then, when illness enters the room and, though the heart is willing, the body can’t always comply. The tenuous line is drawn and etches itself across the floor, like a crack in plaster.
My mom is in the thick of chemotherapy treatments, attempting, with all that science and positive energy can offer, to fight a disease that alters the makeup of her blood. Rather than work for her, her cells have declared anarchy. And she is tired.
We are all tired.
But over and over, I watch my parents, my mother, especially, tilt towards life.
I always thought that if faced with a severe illness, I would take up arms and run into battle. I would not go down with the ship. I would rise above, stand defiant, go out kicking and screaming.
After witnessing the horrors of chemotherapy, however, I’m not so sure. The idea of fighting death with destruction doesn’t settle well in my deepest places. Neither does quietly walking away from a life that I love. I don’t know how to keep company with those who sing songs for Jesus’ speedy return in order to save us from this swirling orb of humanity.
I want to live.
I want to wake up every day and gaze upon those I love. I want to plant zinnias every summer and smell wood smoke trailing from stone chimneys. I want to eat gooey butter cake and lift weights at the Y and take road trips to the Rocky Mountains and cook bacon on Saturdays. I want to laugh at silly jokes and hear, once again, the stories that make our family its own brand of crazy. I want to hold fast to the hands clinging hard to mine.
I don’t want any of this to ever stop.
I’m learning that the way to embrace a death sentence while simultaneously allowing life to rise in me is to run hard after love. In all circumstances—whether I do the exact right thing or screw things up—I need love to be standing between me and everyone else.
When love is what I choose to weave in among each day’s fibers and snags, when love gilds the tired edges of joy, when love stretches across the chasm of unspoken fears—then life’s cloudy mirror is rubbed a little cleaner. Love lived on purpose breathes life, and one can catch glimpses of glory come down.
I saw it most keenly the night I lay in bed alongside my mom. She was three days into chemo and all of her body’s systems were in revolt. In that darkened room I quietly held hands with my mom and hung in that lavish place of holding and being held. Our bodies formed a circle, and I longed harder than ever that it remain unbroken. And then she whispered her thanksgiving, for me and my boys and my simply being there. Her words, her naming the gifts, breathed life into my weary soul. Love floated between our souls in that moment, clearer than ever.
I seldom saw it while I was a child in their house. I was too busy living wildly off the fruits of their diligence and gracious caretaking. It has only been in returning as an adult, in a strange juxtaposition of caregiver and care receiver, that my eyes have been opened. It is only now, when the days seem numbered, that I see the ring of light circling the dark.
This post is a modified reprint that first appeared at A Lifetime of Days. Holly’s mother passed away April 6, 2014.
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