Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Part III

From my blog posting of 3-8-2012:

Yesterday my daughter Elizabeth called her house shortly before noon to inform us that the surgeon had, indeed, found cancer in Jacob’s lung. No bigger than a lima bean, the cancerous growth meant that, just six months after his treatment, Jacob’s Wilms’ tumor had returned. He will now be facing additional treatment that likely involves a stem cell transplant and stronger chemotherapy drugs that will be administered through a Hickman line that was inserted during surgery.

Time stopped as I stood there holding the phone, long after Elizabeth had hung up.  I was startled out of my revere by a slight movement from the couch. I looked down at the little boy staring up at me; my three-year-old grandson, Jo-Jo, bleary-eyed from having abruptly woken from a nap by the ringing phone. As if in slow motion, I sat down beside him, pulled him close and sobbed quietly into his back. He struggled a little against my tight embrace, and I loosened my grip, kissing the top of his head. “I love you,” I whispered hoarsely, and a little voice whispered back, “I love you, too.”  Then he pulled back to look at my face, and I forced a gentle smile, lightening my tone, “So, how about those corn dogs Grandma promised? Should we go get them?”  He nodded his head, jumped from my lap, and ran to get his shoes. Thick with grief, my fingers struggled with the small socks. “Owww,” whimpered Jo-Jo softly when the second shoe refused to go on, so I left them off. As I buckled my grandson in the backseat, (Shoeless Joe, my writer’s mind observed) I thought of Jacob again. And my daughter, Elizabeth. My heart ached for her and my son-in-law Ben. How were they going to do this again? Elizabeth had spent every minute with Jacob in the hospital during his last treatments.

Yesterday the phone at my daughter’s house rang again. I was not alone with my grandson, Joe. My oldest son, Daniel, had come to the house to be with me when the news came. Seven-year-old Jacob’s cancer had returned. A surgical biopsy on Friday will confirm this dreaded news. The biopsy itself can be so invasive it might involve opening up his little chest. And if the cancer has returned, this time the doctors tell my daughter and son-in-law “There is no cure.” My beautiful daughter, Elizabeth, who carries her fourth child, the baby due on what would have been her Dad’s birthday, says these words on the phone, and my wounded heart bleeds with the words. 

Somehow, I end up at the library with my youngest child, grand-daughter and little Joe, just as I had in March:

The library was our next stop. Joe still clung to me, uncharacteristically quiet. The stairway down to the children’s room seemed longer than usual, and I prayed my sister had returned from her lunch. Angie, who had become Angela and my best friend after our mother’s death, came around the corner from her office area. She knew as soon as she saw my face. We hugged, and again I began sobbing; poor Jacob. Poor Elizabeth. Poor Ben. Poor little Joe, who silently observed the adults around him crumple one by one.

But this time, when I finally head home, there is no husband to greet me on the porch. 

Joe ran ahead of me into the house and I faced my husband on the porch. He held his arms out to me, and we clung to each other for a few moments.  David~who had been through his own private hell and back, has a special bond with his grandson, Jacob. It is as if they belong to a secret club, are comrades in a war that only those who have experienced cancer have fought.

After that hug, David disappeared to the back yard and spent the rest of the afternoon raking leaves, while I stayed in the house, trying desperately to quiet my racing thoughts. That evening, David and I would toss and turn, reaching out for each other’s hands throughout the night, and David would occasionally moan in pain from his aching shoulder. That shoulder pain would wax and wane in intensity, becoming so severe one night David would wake me up to wryly inform me “he was dying.” Because of the cancer treatment that often resulted in shoulder pain, neither of us took this similar pain seriously, until it had traveled to his chest. “It’s a serious heart attack. He had a big heart attack, or a series of several small heart attacks,” the surgeon would say on that mid-March day, the day it dawned on me that David had likely had a heart attack nine days before. 

I just went through the motions the rest of the day, unable to stop thinking of Jacob, Elizabeth and Ben. Katie, at 12, seemed to intuitively know what I needed; she made Joe his corn dogs, and pizza rolls for the girls. Emily kept hugging me. Even Matt, 18, after he heard, hugged me several times. The girls played as usual, and Joe joined them. Several times throughout that afternoon, I picked up a pen and pad of paper to write, but to no avail. The words wouldn’t come. Instead, I began reading Debbie Macomber’s One Perfect Word, recommended to me just that morning by a friend, and coincidentally next on my “to read” pile. The book pulled me in, despite, or maybe because of, the anguish I was experiencing. In it, Macomber discusses how concentrating on one single word each year has become a tool for God to work in her life, and in the lives of others. In 1999, her word was BELIEVE. She uses examples to show how belief can become a lifeline when grief or tragedy strikes. I read those passages several times. Macomber uses the writing of C. S. Lewis as an example. While grieving the death of his wife, Lewis wrote about belief in the face of fear in his book, A Grief Observed;

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it…Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.”

I had to ponder this for a while. If I believe, truly believe, that God has a purpose and a plan for everything, then this trial has to be for a reason. My marriage has never been as good as it has been since David’s cancer, my faith never as strong as it has been since my mother’s death.

But to know a child, an innocent child, is facing something that knocks grown men to their knees! What purpose could there be in that?

I continued reading her book, searching for answers.

Most of us have heard of Aunt Annie’s Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels. What I did not know was that the founder of the company, Annie Beiler, had tragically lost her nineteen-month-old daughter in a farming accident when her sister backed a Bobcat over the child. Anne coped with the loss of her beloved daughter as best she could, but inside, something cold had begun to grow. Depression set in, and with it, a crisis of faith. In an article she wrote,

“Had it not been for God’s grace and mercy, and the wonderful godly husband who loved me as Christ loves him, I never would have climbed out of depression. I believe Angela was sent to me and my family for many reasons, but a key purpose was for me to become the kind of person that Christ wants me to be. I experienced emotional pain, anguish of soul and deep depression as a result of her death.” (from the Pentecostal Evangel)

“I’ve experienced plenty of pain and things in my life that have been unpleasant and I know that God is my Source. I stay focused on Him and He keeps taking me places where I’m forced to depend on Him for my every need-emotionally, spiritually and for wisdom. God has a plan for our lives. We can have confidence in Him that He will take us where He wants us to go. We don’t have to become fearful and wonder what God’s will is. It will come to us and unfold over time. We need to trust Him for our futures. Each day we must do what is at hand and be faithful in the little things.” (Annie Beiler,Pentecostal Evangel)

“What can I do?” The e-mails are already arriving in my inbox, and I think of that rope that C.S. Lewis mentions, the one that Elizabeth and Ben must hang onto through the coming days. I think of the friends, the loved ones and even the strangers who care about this little boy and his family. I think of the little boy himself, who wakes from surgery, pulls out the IV lines, and even amid his pain, asks when he can buy his sister a toy from the gift shop. This little boy who trusts with a childlike faith, whose life is the epitome of the goodness we all search for. I look to my family for assurance that they will be there, and they protectively circle around me, embracing. I turn to friends, and their answering prayers are lifted to the heavens. In the darkness of these days, I reach out and feel the rope. It feels thick and strong. I tug tentatively. Why, Lord? Why this little boy? Why?

I step our in faith. And the rope holds.

The rope held. The rope held as Jacob went through cancer treatment. It held when David died. Will the rope continue to hold?

In the library, my sister Angela pulls a chair up next to mine as we watch the children play on the computer. Joe and I head to the loft where I read him books as his eyes grow glassy with tiredness. A young woman who works at the library and has been a friend to our family through all this, comes downstairs and walks over to me. Does she see it in my eyes? She reaches over to hug me and I sob within her embrace. She may never know what it meant to have her shed her own tears over the little boy that everyone loves. The girls play at my house under the care of their two aunts, my teen girls who seem to have aged before my eyes with the death of their father, and now, the reality of this. Joe and I return to his house, where I pop in a movie and collapse on the couch. He admonishes me to remove my shoes before he covers both of us with a blanket. I will just close my eyes for a minute, I think, shut out the world for just a moment. Underneath the blanket, I feel a small hand searching for mine. I fall asleep holding Joe’s hand.

Ben, Elizabeth and Jacob return home at 5:00 and Ben busies himself with setting up a used Playstation game system he’d bought for Jacob. Elizabeth won’t meet my eyes at first. When she does, I see her agonizing pain, and I have to look away. Jacob shows me the games his Daddy bought for him; Star Wars, Scooby-Doo. I smile indulgently, pushing away thoughts of his upcoming surgery. Dan knocks on the door and enters the room that is crowded with the elephant that has planted himself smack dab in the middle of it. Joe wakes up, rubbing his eyes and searching the faces of the adults. “Can Grandma go home now?” he asks, and I know he just wants things to be normal, has heard snippets of conversations and knows there has been talk of hospitals and surgeries and things that take his mother and his brother away. Dan and I carefully skirt around the topic, asking pointed questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no from Elizabeth, similar to the way the doctors had talked to my daughter and son-in-law with the little boy in the room. Jacob still doesn’t know his cancer has returned.

Back home, my children surround me. Dan won’t leave my side until nearly 10:30 at night. Rachel arrives after work. My sister Angela visits, bringing coffee and the white “fuzzy donuts” my mother had loved. Another sister calls. By 10:30, I am looking longingly at the pills my doctor prescribed after David’s death, pills I have yet to take. I walk back and forth from the kitchen cupboard where the they are stored, to the couch.  I need David, I think with impending panic. I need medicine before I have a full-blown panic attack, and then in the next instant, I need God. Somehow, having hit the bottom with my spouse’s death, and surviving these last nine months, I am looking at this (will the situation always be “this?” Can I admit to myself even what “this” is?) differently. 

I tug at the rope. I kneel down. I pray these words; 

“Dear Lord, please hold my daughter Elizabeth, and the son-of-my-heart Ben, close to you tonight. Let them feel the prayers of others lifting them as the words the doctors said today pierce their very hearts. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of an angel in our midst, their son, my grandson Jacob. He touches so many hearts and lives, Lord. My grandmother heart dares to ask for healing even while I accept thy will be done. In the midst of our pain and sorrow, let us always remember our comfort comes in you. For you will not forsake us. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Dear Lord, how do we do this? I cry out to you in despair. I come to you today for rest from these burdens. I cast all my cares upon you. Give us strength that we might endure.”

I jerk the rope harder, testing. I step off the cliff, holding on. 

And the rope holds.


2 thoughts on “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, Part III

  1. HappyMomof5 says:

    My heart is hurting for Jacob and for your whole family, Mary! I was praying yesterday and wondering how things went; this is not what I wanted to hear. I know that the rope will hold for you for there is no other who has control of the future than the One who holds that rope. I am clinging to it as well. My prayers will continue for you all.

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