We returned from vacation last week to news that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. At 90, the decision has been made to not pursue treatment.
This is not my children's first experience with loss. A close family friend succumbed to cancer when they were in PreK and they lost their other Great Grandmother in 2nd grade. Regardless of previous experience, walking through this at 11 feels different. I am trying to be as compassionately forthright as possible with my bio kids--but mindful of shielding our foster daughters from any additional feelings of loss.
The triplets know she is terminal. My little girls only know she is 90 and feeling ill.
Despite her diagnosis, she still looks well. So, yesterday while our little girls were in school I took the trio on the 5 hour round trip down to visit her. I attempted to prepare K, R & P as best I could, but some parts of life are just hard regardless of your preparation.
Everything was smooth, normal even, until it was time to tell her goodbye. As we were all walking out together, my trio rushed back to give her big hugs. With their tan, skinny arms braided around her waist, tears welled up in her eyes. Releasing their grips, K, P & R scampered away. Grandmama took two more steps before she stopped shuffling halfway to the door and leaned against a chair.
Suddenly this woman who has always seemed strong--spiritually, emotionally & mentally looked weak and frail. She stood in the middle of Johnny's Pizza with her face crestfallen, eyes red, mouth trembling--and there was nothing I could do to ease her pain, fear or concern. My heart hurt--and I wanted to shield my children and fix her broken heart.
But I couldn't.
I scanned the room quickly to see what my children noticed. R was frozen in his tracks, analyzing the situation. When he saw me notice, he quickly glanced away. He will remember this.
All I could do was take steps towards Grandmama and grab her hand like she has done to me so many times before and squeeze. She is extremely hard of hearing and there was a great deal of background noise in the pizza place, making words a challenge. I leaned into her right ear and shouted, "This is not goodbye. We will come see you again soon." I led her out the side door where I squeezed her again as she exhaled and her shoulders dropped.
She is a believer on her way to a better place--but she has some business to attend to here first. My Grandmama has 5 living children (plus spouses), 13 grandchildren (plus spouses) and 17 great grandchildren--and she has to tell them all goodbye.
Life can be so brutal.
We cannot shield and shelter the people we love from the realities of love and loss. Everything living will pass away. For those of who believe we have great hope that this is not the end. But, today, I am feeling the weight of walking my children through the dying process and managing grief--while experiencing it authentically myself.
One step at a time.
I am not predisposed to worry, but I confess our emotional day, plus monthly hormones led my heart and mind into an anxious spiral. Suddenly it wasn't just about the loss of my Grandmama, but the eventual loss of the little girls we are fostering and even our 12 year old lab whose predicted lifespan is ticking to a close. (Our minds and hearts can haunt us so cruelly sometimes, can't they?)
As I asked the Lord for perspective and comfort the lyrics of a recent favorite Casting Crowns song came to mind:
"He's already there."
I don't know the day or the hour or the circumstances. I don't know how my children's hearts will process these events--I can worry, but I cannot know. The certainty I can cling to, though, is this...He does.
"From where I'm standing, Lord, it's so hard for me to see where this is going and where You're leading me.
I wish I knew how all my fears and all my questions are gonna play out in a world I can't control...
Oh, when I'm lost in the mystery, to You my future is a memory 'cause You're already there.
You're already there.
Standing at the end of my life, waiting on the other side and You're already there.
You're already there.
From where You're standing, Lord, You see a grand design that You imagined when You breathed me into life.
And all the chaos comes together in Your hands like a masterpiece of Your picture perfect plan.
One day I'll stand before You and look back on the life I've lived.
I can't wait to enjoy the view and see how all the pieces fit."
-Casting Crowns, Already There