In my last post in this series, The Fight, I described how it was for us during the fight against pancreatic cancer. My lovely wife Fiona went to be with her Father in October 2016 after fighting this dreadful illness for over two and a half years. In that last post, I described how we found the strength to carry on, and how we lived life to the full despite the illness.
Now, I have just recently finished a series of sessions with my volunteer bereavement counsellor. In our final session together, she used a phrase I hadn’t thought of; she said,
“And you did so well!”
It was interesting that she should say that. I had to think about it a little, but she was right, you know. Y’see, when you’re actually going through these shattering events, you don’t notice how well you are doing; it’s only when someone tells you – maybe how ‘brave’ you are – that you take notice and think, ‘Oh yes! I hadn’t noticed that!’.
Not long after Fiona was diagnosed with the cancer, I remember chatting to someone about our approach to the illness. I said that if Fiona was supernaturally healed, or cured medically, great – and we’d all celebrate and have a well-woman party and say “well done, everyone!” because it would have been a team effort. Everyone would have done their very best and we would express our gratitude for that, and for its fruits – Fiona being well once again.
And the other scenario was that we would lose her to the illness, and we would of course mourn her, but the underlying principle would be the same: We could reassure ourselves in the knowledge that we did our best; we tried our hardest. And that is indeed what happened. Virtually everyone who knew and loved Fiona rallied round us in some way. They provided meals; they sent flowers; they came round for a chat; they shopped for us; they abided by our house’s infection control policy*. Some of Fiona’s close friends set up a charity to raise money for a special medical procedure which I consider gave Fiona an extra year of life; moreover, it was a year free of pain and other symptoms of the cancer. It cost £14,000 to do that, and they raised the money for it. We will always be grateful to these amazing ladies for doing their best too, and working so hard for Fiona. Wow!
And then there’s the courage, the hope, the lessons learned, the bearing up under pressure. How we respond to our tribulations is just as important as the tribulations themselves. Gaining these benefits and life-skills means that the suffering was not all wasted; it was not all in vain. And the same can be said for members of my family: in going through this furnace, this crucible, they have all emerged as better people for it. And our friends were with us on this walk, in that furnace, and on this learning curve, too. All of those who walk through the fire in this way are changed by the experience, and it’s our choice, as we walk through that fire, whether to let it change us for the better, or for the worse.
As you will have read in the other posts in this series, I have learned so much, been so much closer to God, had so much insight (which has already been a tremendous help to others in similar situations), that I would not have had if I hadn’t gone through the dark times. So, rather than moping about and complaining, we just got on with the everyday business of living life to the full. And that meant that all the darkness, all the pain, all the loss, it all had a benefit in the end. We packed so much fun and life into that time, in the midst of the horror and despair. And then we carried on with that attitude once we had lost her. In this way, the life-lessons learned and the insight and wisdom gained have not been lost; this means that Fiona’s loss does in many ways still carry meaning. And that these lessons have not been wasted would have been just what Fiona would have wanted for us. Of course, I’d still rather not have lost her, but making the best of the situation is a great way of not letting it defeat you.
Not that I believe God throws these things at us; not for one minute. He’s fully aware that terrible things happen in life; shit happens, and it’s how we cope with it that counts. Nobody is exempt from having tribulation in their lives at some point; its how we cope with it that counts, and God promises to be there for us in those hard times. Never will I leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5, Dt 31:6) says God, and He means it. The most famous of the Psalms, the 23rd Psalm, says this:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” (Ps 23:4 KJV).
David, the guy who wrote that Psalm, went through some pretty horrific stuff in his life, yet still he wrote that verse and likely meant what he wrote, and it was evidently true from his words that he’d had the same experience as I and many others who pass through the valley of the shadow of death. God is with us in that valley. He’s had personal experience there Himself. He knows His stuff, and He leads us too into knowing that stuff. Indeed, we walk through the valley, but He is with us.
So, yes. We did so well! Thanks to the Grace of God, His unearned favour, we are coming through that valley, and we are reaping the rewards of our faith. We did our best – for Fiona – and we are still doing our best. It doesn’t stop once the mourning and the grief are lessening. There is no other person’s hand I’d rather be holding than that of Jesus, because He holds on tight, and healing flows through that Hand just like it did two thousand years ago.
*Because, as I described in The Fight, chemotherapy patients are usually immunosuppressed as a side-effect of the treatment, and are therefore highly susceptible to infections – and these can easily be fatal. Because of this, I put in place an ‘infection control’ system in our house where anyone who had an infection – a cold or whatever – was respectfully asked not to come in to the house. In addition, we had a hand disinfectant bottle just inside the door, and anyone who did come in was asked to sanitise their hands as they came in, thus minimising the risk of Fiona getting a potentially lethal infection.
Header picture shows me, Fiona and Ellie at breakfast on our ‘House of Anubis Road Trip’; a week-long tour that we did in September 2014, in between doses of Fiona’s chemotherapy. (We called it that because one of the purposes of the trip was to visit the filming locations for the teen mystery drama series ‘House of Anubis‘). We did not let the illness defeat us; we took it on the nose and carried on enjoying life to the full. Look how radiant Fiona is!
The bandage on Fiona’s arm is the covering for the PICC line, which is described in the article The Fight.