A Cursory Anniversary

I’d intended to chronicle all of March 27th and March 28th on my blog. In fact, I’d planned a lengthy and dramatic posting to go along with those milestone dates: Wednesday, the first anniversary of my husband’s death, and Thursday, his birthday. I’d hoped for, perhaps even anticipated, some momentous event to report each day; the light below the kitchen cabinet that has been on every day for a year would have mysteriously been extinguished, or a flock of dark butterflies with blue markings on their wings could have fortuitously made an appearance in the side yard. I wanted the fanfare, the lightning bolt in the sky, and a clear and unmistakable message from David.

Instead, the message came from God.

I thought those two days would be all about this;

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And they were, a little. I certainly thought about David all day, but then I usually do, anyway. I planned a pedicure and lunch with sisters to help me get through the first anniversary of his death. Flowers and cards arrived. I intended to post the photo of my toes, complete with small white butterfly on the big toe. I had the waitress take a picture of our table at a sister luncheon that included my very pregnant daughter. I snapped a photo of the lovely flowers from my niece Christina and my daughter Elizabeth, flowers that were joined by a beautiful bouquet the next day from someone who loves me anonymously.3-27 010

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But somehow, all those things seemed very insignificant in light of this; the little boy who built an entire block city at my house one day this week.

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This is my grandson, Jacob. Jacob has been fighting cancer for more than 2 1/2 years. In the nearly 33 years I lived and loved David I’d only seen him cry maybe three times. One of those times was when I informed him Jacob had cancer. Having gone through cancer treatment himself, he couldn’t bear the thought of the little boy he loved going through the same. Last March, when I informed David that Jacob’s cancer had returned, I saw anguish in his eyes, but I did not see him cry. Instead, he wrapped his arms around me and held me close while I sobbed into his chest. And then my dear husband walked around to the back of the house and raked in the yard all afternoon, his shoulder aching painfully by nightfall. I am convinced that was the beginning of the end for him as we discovered a week later he’d likely had a series of small heart attacks.

I was not willing to accept the latest news from doctors at both Mayo and St. Jude’s;that there was no cure, no reliable studies open for Jacob’s type of recurrent cancer and now chemo would be given simply to slow the progression of the disease. I’m afraid I added to Elizabeth’s stress as I methodically perused the Internet for answers. “Just take another look at this one,” I’d urge when I forwarded yet another dubious Phase I trial study to her inbox. “Surely this one has promise.

“You do realize that Phase I means they have no idea what the medication will do and they are simply experimenting with the dosages, don’t you?” Elizabeth would gently point out, and of course I knew that, have known it ever since the summer of 2006, when I’d frantically searched for hope with David’s cancer treatment. I’d prayed for an answer back then, and it had been an easy one to discern; David qualified for a Phase III trial of a drug that showed promise in preventing the cancer’s return. Surely I could unearth the answer for Jacob, I rationalized as I scoured the Internet for the “magic pill,” the “secret potion,” the one thing that would save our Jacob.

During that sister luncheon on Wednesday, a luncheon planned in gratitude to the sisters who had surrounded me with love and care a year before, I was especially grateful for the presence of the daughter next to me. Elizabeth has not attended very many family activities since Jacob’s diagnosis. Childhood cancer thrusts the parents into a foreign land where very few people can understand their new world; a world of cancer that is lonely indeed. When Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant with their fourth, during a period when they were hopeful that a stem cell transplant would eradicate Jacob’s cancer forever, we took the due date as a hopeful sign; Elizabeth’s March 28th due date was her father’s birthday. Now, she faces the dismal prognosis of her son’s cancer at the same time as the blessed event of her baby’s arrival. What grandmother wouldn’t strive to find the cure the doctors surely had missed in the face of that? I have so boldly prayed for Jacob’s healing. Surely, I would discover the answer to my prayer.

Two of my sisters made a comment during Wednesday’s luncheon, something along the lines of “If God was going to perform a miracle with Jacob, at this point he could do so with whatever treatment is chosen.” I heard them, but I did not listen, still intent on my Internet research and the certainty that God would lead me to the answer. My poor daughter. That afternoon I e-mailed her the phone number of a doctor in Maryland who was conducting a Phase I trial of a chemo drug encapsulated in a lipisome bubble, despite the fact that both the Mayo and St. Jude’s doctors had discouraged them from pursuing any Phase I studies.

It is moments like this I miss David the most, I thought on Thursday, moments that we should not face alone in dealing with issues affecting our children and grandchildren. I never imagined being a single parent, or facing impending grandparenthood without my partner. Yet at the same time, I was glad for David’s absence, for it spared him the news of Jacob’s grim prognosis. I thought back to the Sunday after David came home from the hospital after heart surgery, and a visit from Jacob. Uncharacteristically, he had come to the door alone. From his recliner, David spotted Jacob’s thin arm knocking. While I meant to discourage small visitors from tiring David out, he insisted I allow Jacob inside. Jacob entered shyly, and stood there, arms akimbo, little bald head covered by an Army hat, just staring at David. Thinking he was fearful, I tried to break the ice by mentioning that they’d both been in the hospital at the same time. I may as well have been talking to the wall. They didn’t pay any attention to me; they only had eyes for each other. At the time I thought how odd that was; it was as if my grandson and husband were in the room alone and some unspoken message was being transferred between them through their matching brown eyes. Neither looked away from the other, and even as Jacob moved to the couch, he held David’s gaze.  I didn’t think it then, but I have since David’s death; Did they know something? Did Jacob, closer to God than anyone else I know, somehow sense this was the last time he would see his Grandpa? Was there a message to the little boy in David’s long-held gaze? Did these two people; the 6-year-old boy and the 60-year-old man realize something the rest of us don’t?

I have learned a lot about prayer and praying in the year since David died. I know Christians who have insisted if we ask and believe, then Jacob will be healed. I do not agree that is the promise we are given in the Bible. God’s answer might not be healing for Jacob. I also know atheists who scoff at the very idea of praying for anything at all.  I have personally seen and experienced the power of prayer too often to dismiss it. Prayer and Bible verses got me through this past year.

Yesterday it hit me like the proverbial thunderbolt I’d yearned for on the 27th and the 28th~ I’d unconsciously reverted back to my old method of prayer, a method that proceeded a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’d been fervently praying, and then telling God what the answer should be; the answer should come in a miracle drug that I, personally, would discover on the Internet. Had I learned nothing in the year since David’s death?

Someone told me “Prayer doesn’t do anything” after David died. They’d prayed for David during his cancer, prayed as they watched his health deteriorate after the treatment, and then prayed again after his heart attack, and still, he had died. I answered then that while my husband lay in a hospital bed recuperating from stent surgery, I had leaned over to kiss him. Because I couldn’t reach his face, I ended up kissing his arms and hands. When I told him that I loved him, he responded with a simple and heart-felt “Thank you.”

THAT was an answer to a prayer,” I told this person. “Having that kind of relationship was an answer to a prayer both David and I had prayed for years; that our marriage would improve.When David said that simple thank you, he showed me how grateful and sure he was of the love I could freely give him, a love that had grown and blossomed during his cancer treatment. The cancer was an unexpected answer to a prayer, and the relationship we savored for more than five years afterwards was a gift I will cherish forever.”

I will continue to boldly pray for Jacob’s healing, continue to ask for prayers from others, but I will also trust in God’s plan for Jacob and our family. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

3 thoughts on “A Cursory Anniversary

  1. Cathy McCollom says:

    Mary, thank you for reminding me not to take things that God gives for granted. To pray without ceasing and to thank Him for what He gives. You place me within your posts as if the Lord is speaking directly to me. Thank you again. I am praying for you and your family for God’s will in Jacob’s care. He has done much through Jacob’s short little life, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t have much more to do! Children are such great messengers for Christ!

    I am just sorry I didn’t know you both better when David was here. I do hope to get to know you better through some of the of the writing seminars you put on. Til then. I will continue to pray for God’s will.


  2. Kim Harms says:

    Thinking about you and praying for you today Mary. So glad I had the opportunity to meet you last year. Jacob has a wonderful grandma and your daughter a wonderful mom.

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