When I wrote about Easter Sunday, I didn’t intend to write about the second half of the day.
I can’t go so far as to say I see the goodness peeking out of the horror of this journey, but I can say if you’re in a wreck, get bashed in the head, and blood makes a seal over your eyes, you can be grateful later that one terrible thing protected your eyes from a more terrible thing: flying debris capable of blinding you. Also you were temporarily blind so you couldn’t see how awful it really was! This is how my grieving process feels.
So, as I graphically struggle to apply Romans 8:28 to my situation, I lower my standards of what I think it would mean for others to look at me and say, “She’s handling it well.”
As in, “Did you hear about that girl who got half her face ripped off in a freak accident?”
“Yea I did! She was singing praises in church the next week!”
“I know! She’s handling it so well!”
That’s not me exactly.
But I do recognize goodness when I see it. Currently it’s mostly goodness in spite of what happened to my dad, not because of what happened, but still there are shades of beauty in the shadows of this nightmare. One of these shades is the ability to run and having children who run and having a little running group to jaunt about with. Last Sunday after church, we booked it on down to Bay St. Louis knowing we were running behind our party of runners. Once we made it there we met up at the foot of the bridge where Brad brought out his fishing pole and took the boys down to the water. I followed after my girls and our running friends regretting that I had left my earbuds somewhere in the house.
Technically, I’m not supposed to run anymore. Just after Josiah was born I developed left hip pain I was sure was cancer, but it turned out to be bulging discs in my lumbar spine.
“Referred pain,” said Dr. Sawbones. “You’re going to have to stop running,” he added.
“I tried lexapro a few times before, and I like running better.” I didn’t say this word for word. In fact I just looked at him like he’d taken my last hope, and he got the idea.
“Well, take two years off. At least,” he said after a moment of silence. And as he turned back to the computer, “I used to be a runner too.”
I complied with that order mostly because I had three kids ages six and under, and then got pregnant again. Slowly I began running when the baby was about a year old, but I never became what I would consider an avid runner. Five to ten miles a week was about as many as I ever logged. When Sophia started her running, I tried to become more serious but having small children and tight schedules made this the ever rebuffed challenge.
In the first weeks of last December, I’d made up my mind to run the Rise and Shine half on April 7, 2018. Then my dad was diagnosed with cancer on December 15, and I spent several weeks in Montana where running conditions were strictly suitable for high winds and driving snow. I managed to get one run in when a kind nurse called the local gym, and the staff there offered me a free day pass. Ah glory!
Around late February when the storm of dad’s illness had culminated and crushed us all, I took up running again. Then I noticed my right hip was catching when I walked. It was much worse after a run. Now both hips were painful at rest and with walking. Running didn’t hurt, but like lying in the hot sun all day soaking up its goodness only to feel the burn later, I could hardly walk or sleep for the pain after a run.
Reluctantly I went back to Dr. Sawbones. He diagnosed labral tears and sent me for bilteral hip arthrograms to confirm his suspicion.
Needles, dye, copays, echoing halls, cold tables.
Meanwhile tapping on the computer keyboard he asked, “You’re running?”
“I was trying to train for a half.”
“You’re going to have to give that up,” he said. He looked up, “You still have the stationary bike and swimming.”
Sure, sure I thought. Tell a child she can have a nice carrot to replace her ice cream cone, and you’ll know how joyful I feel at the thought of the stationary bike.
Later, sitting on the sidewalk after school and before practice, Sophia asked me, “Are you going to listen to him?”
“Of course not. There will be ways around this.” Her eyes popped a little.
So, last Sunday having made it through church, we were on the coast receiving the beauty of the ocean and bay upon our eyes, skin, and thought processes. And I knew I would run it. There had been a race on this bridge while I was in Montana. Sophia got to run it with her coach and friends. Prior to that, I’d tried to plan a run here with a friend who lives in the area, but with our conflicting schedules we never made it happen.
Today was my day to throw the cartilage tear diagnosis back at despair, work out a little pent up grief, and say, “Look Dad! I can still run and breathe at the same time!” And as I jogged back across the bridge keeping a nice, slow pace–the only pace I can keep–I called out a couple questions for my dad, after checking to see that no one was within sight behind or before me. It was the same question repeated twice, and a little remonstrance, but I rarely chide Dad. He’s Dad. And anyway, he didn’t hear me. I know because I looked down at the Bay as I ran and a million tiny choreographed mirrors reflected my question back to me. “No answer, no answer, no easy answer,” they flashed beautifully in the perfect sun. I watched for a while between the bars, but kept moving. “No answer, no easy answer. No dad, no more dad.”
And yesterday I went for the right hip arthrogram having cancelled the left one last week. It’s the same pain on both sides, right greater than left. Why suffer through two of these tests when one will tell me all I need to know? Once I get the MRI impression, I’ll decide what to do next. An hour and a half after the war zone sounds stopped, I got off the table like a 90-yr-old and limped into the elevator. A middle age-ish man followed me.
“What did they do to you?!” he asked punching button four.
Stomping down my fear of strange men, I took note of his genuine question and said, “I had an arthrogram,” and hoped I wouldn’t have stutter my way through a deeper explanation.
“Soccer or running?” he asked.
“I run, some,” I said admittedly proud that it was apparently obvious, but then maybe all arthrograms are for soccer or running.
“I ran for forty years. Now I have two new knees!” he answered. My heart sank a little more.
“Hope you feel better!” he called as I exited the elevator.
What’s going to happen with this old hip? I take supplements, and stretch tortuously, and take advantage of Epsom salt and essential oils in hot, hot water. Next week at my appointment, Dr. Sawbones will tell me what he sees on the MRI. I’m counting it a blessing his office didn’t call today and say, “You need to come in Mrs. Stockstill so the doctor can give you the results. You may wish to bring your husband or a friend.”
Every day, multiple times a day, I’m trying to make sense of what has happened to my dad, to us as a family. I don’t count the weeks wondering why I wasn’t worth it like I did that one time in high school when my sweetheart dumped me. It’s not the blackness of darkness of depression. It’s not the difficult relationship problems I experience when I expect too much or can’t give enough, when no one is exactly wrong, but it isn’t exactly right either. These problems that have a solvable end, a rational way to reason through. It’s a different kind of sorrow.
For all the pat answers we’ve received, this problem can’t be fixed or reasoned through to a logical end. It’s running on painful hips, crunch, pop, grind. It’s knowing the doctor said, “You’re looking at surgery for this,” but intending never to go under the knife. It’s breathing water and coming crashing through the surface for air, “Ahhh, Dad you almost —! Oh you did! You did! I don’t understand…” It’s the nausea of knowing I’m strapped into the tilt-a-whirl and have no control over the brakes. “When will this ride end?! Never.” It’s not being able to look at the sky because he is up there, somewhere, light years away.
About a week after we buried him, people started telling me, “You looked really bad for awhile.” Or they would say, “You have this look about you. I’m worried about you.” What look? I asked myself or them if I felt like they might tell me. Even my mom told me this, when I asked her what they meant, which seemed odd to me. How exactly is one to look when the earth has dropped out from under her feet? I wondered if I should do the right things, feel the right things, have the right look. Of course, there isn’t any right look. There are the commands to have joy, to take courage, to praise God in all things. There are the promises that He never leaves me or forsakes me; there is Romans 8:28. There is not deciding now would be the appropriate time to indulge in alcohol, run away from home, or quit my job without another source of income.
I get up to take care of the kids. I look into Josiah’s perfect little face, studying his expressions. He is telling me with great animation, “Dragonflies are dangerous! If you put their face on your finger, they will bite you!” as he holds the creature up for me to see its viciousness. Ah my precious boy, you are far more dangerous to the dragonfly than he is to you.
I go to work fighting the wrongness of having to care for the sick and dying just after taking care of my sick and dying. They need me; I try to be fully present with them. I eat. Put on three shades of eye shadow because now, I’m reckless like that. Run on the injury. Text. Smile. Go to lunch. Watch a silly movie instead of contemplating what I would do in Heaven. I hope for the future.
Mostly, I know God is with me. More than ever before in my life I know God is with me!
He did not kill my dad to punish me or because He needs him more than I do; He weeps with me, collects my tears in a bottle the size of one of His galaxies. And while I can’t swallow easy sentences like, “God brought your dad home in His time,” I know God is good. Knowing this is my one constant, my one warm, safe place. He is never too busy, too human, too distant. God Is, for me. I fought for every single shred of this comfort, and though I weep, I will not be moved.
It reminds me of the time my dad was talking to me about Peter. Peter the brash, the gallant, the fighter. Peter the coward, the betrayer, the liar. Peter cringing in the shadows after Jesus was dead. Who was Peter now? What should Peter do? What a failure, a fool, a loser. His heart was broken. He’d lost his best, best friend. He probably had a look about his eyes. His wife was probably worried about him.
“What did Peter do next, Gina?” says Dad.
“Um, he was in the room with the others…” Images of the strong man dragging in loads of fish, healing the crippled, preaching to thousands, tongues of fire, upside down crucifixion. Peter with the amazing comeback!
“He went fishing,” Dad said. “And, he didn’t catch anything.”
My dad, humble as dirt. Wanting no glory, only wanting to help, wanting to know his family appreciated him, wanting his life to count for eternity. Pieces of paper all over the house with verses and references, thoughts jotted down. Dad knew Jesus knew humans and loved them anyway. He was always a little awed when the learn-ed ones took notice of what he, Dan Naldrett, had to say.
“Yep, after slashing the soldier’s ear off, making declarations of undying loyalty, denying Christ three times, watching Christ die….Peter went back to what he knew. He went fishing. Just do the next thing, Gina.”
That’s what he would tell me, right now during these awful days. Just like when I’m laying on the radiology table, nervous as a child, waiting for the anesthesiologist’s needle, and the tears slip down, lips quivering funnily against my will. The nurse offers her hand and I whisper, feeling foolish, “My dad just passed…it makes, everything worse…I’m sorry.” And I imagine I’ll be saying this in 10, 20, 30 years.
Just go through the test Gina, do the next thing.
If this agony is to have any meaning, I hope God will use me to help others, as I’ve been told He has already.
But right now I can admit, I’m sort of blindly pressing forward, taking one moment at a time, hoping the Sadness Look isn’t pushing too many people away. And then trying not to care because many will still be here when, theoretically, I come out stronger on the other side. And because God, I AM, is for me, always, tenderly, gently. Even though it feels like gross negligence to think of my dad in the past tense–wrong, horrible, unthinkable–I know he must be glad I’m making it so far, if God lets him look down from his spot in the Great Cloud of Witnesses.
One step forward.
Do the next thing.
Never give up.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” (this one I can’t dwell on too much…)
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience, and the race that is set before us,” (a great encouragement, a favorite verse of Dad’s along with 12:2)