Anytime I sit and talk with my sister in law Denise, our conversation is more than just idle chit chat. We always speak of deep and sometimes painful thoughts. Tonight was no exception, but tonight was one of our toughest because we sat together in the hospital surgery waiting room waiting on word that her husband was ready to be moved from recovery to a regular room. He’d had surgery earlier in the day to remove tumors found on his liver. The surgeon had already let Denise know that both tumors were cancer, the largest was about the size of a tangerine and was growing dangerously over the blood vessels that brought lifes blood into the liver, making it impossible to remove. Fortunately he was able to cauterize the large tumor. He told Denise that he believed he’d eradicated 99 if not 100 percent of the cancer.
It was hard to believe that just five short days earlier we’d all sat around my dining room table having what I thought to be one of the best Thanksgiving gatherings I’d had. We, Craig, myself, Doug, Liz, Rusty and his girlfriend Rae, my brother Tom, my friend Jackie, Denise, Dana, and Danielle ate, laughed, played board games, sang and played guitars well into the evening, and ended the night warming our hands over a nice fire in the backyard fire pit. Now Dana lay in recovery from major surgery and his sweet wife, Denise and I are discussing God.
“You just have to wonder sometimes, what God is thinking.” Denise said. “I mean, I have an Aunt who is the kindest woman. Not a mean bone in her body. Christian, church going, good, good person, stricken with MS. And then there is Doug, schizophrenia. Why? He didn’t deserve this? And now, Dana with liver cancer?”
I recalled my feelings about God and why bad things happen to good people and how I dealt with that very question more than 20 years ago when my youngest sister, Beth was killed by a drunk driver. I watched my parents fall apart after losing Beth and ached for them as much as I did for myself. And I asked God so many times “WHY?”
I attempted to join Dad several Sundays for church service the weeks following Beth’s death, but would get so angry while listening to the preacher that I’d end up leaving during the service and waiting in the car for Dad. One such Sunday the minister came out to car and spoke to me. I cried as I told him that the God that I thought I believed in would not inflict this kind of pain on good people like my mom and my dad.
“Karen,” he gently spoke, “don’t you know that God is crying over this as well? He’s grieving right along with you and all of your family.”
As Denise and I talked tonight, thoughts and memories of past tragedies and deaths flooded through my mind and I found myself thinking how differently I feel about God now than I did when Beth died.
It’s natural for one to question their faith, or at least shake a fist and ask God “why?” when faced with horrible events. But one must realize that it is not God that causes tragedy or illness, it is mankind. It is not God that created cigarettes, or alcohol. God did not come up with the fast food concept that poisons our bodies. God did not ask us to pollute his good Earth and cause changes in the atmosphere to create deadly superstorms that kill hundreds of people. Mankind has done this. We are causing our own tragedies. God gave us free will. He did not know that we would abuse that free will. God grieves right along with us.
Finally, Denise and I are allowed back to the recovery area for five minutes to see Dana. He’s sleeping soundly. The nurse tells Denise it’s alright to wake him. He stirs a bit. Full of anesthesia, he tries hard to focus on our faces and figure out where he is and who we are. A broad smile comes over his face as he recognizes his wife. He takes her hand and pulls it lovingly to his face and kisses it. “I love you.” He whispers. Don’t cry Karen, I think to myself. He looks over at me and, even though heavily sedated, he asks about Doug. “I worry about that kid” he says. What a good man. Here he lay, just out of surgery, and he tells me he’s worried about Doug. Wow. What a good uncle.
Doug was home for a week long Thanksgiving visit. This visit seemed much more stressful than I remember his other visits being. I don’t know if he’s getting sicker, or if I just forget between visits just how ill he really is. This time, his detachment from reality seemed a lot more apparent. Everyday for a week prior to my gong to get him, we spoke on the phone about how excited we were to see each other again. As I pulled into the parking area of the facility he recently moved to I saw him standing out front of the building waiting for me. I expected him to come running to the car and offer me a big bear hug, but instead, he stood back and waited with an almost angry look on his face. His clothes were filthy and stained, his hair and overgrown mustache and beard unkempt. He looked awful. I gave him a hug and held tight, hoping to soften his rigid demeanor. “What’s wrong Doug? I thought you’d be happy to see me.” I asked.
“I am. I just think you really don’t want me to come home with you.”
“Are you crazy? I’ve been looking forward to this forever. Of course you’re coming home with me.”
He showed me his room. Piles of clothes were everywhere. I began looking through them to find something suitable to pack. Everything was dirty and nothing was his. After finding a few items I recognized I took the rest of the clothes to the office and let them know that they belonged to someone else. I’d learned long ago to write Doug’s name with an indelible marker somewhere on each piece of his clothing. I showed the nurse all of the clothes that were in his room marked with someone name other than Dougs. She said they would be more careful in going through and separating laundry. It made me wonder who might be wearing Doug’s clothes.
The week was filled with the usual Dougnesses. He apologized a thousand times for nothing he’d done wrong. He asked for soft drink after soft drink. He visited the refrigerator a dozen times an hour, and the house was filled with Meatloaf music from sun up to sundown. As tired as I was by the end of his visit, the long drive taking him back was painful, and I cried much of the way home after leaving him. I promised him a T.V. and a cell phone (they don’t allow him to use the phone to call home at this facility) for Christmas. I called to tell him good night when I got home.
“Pray for me mom.”
“I do baby, every night.”
Last night, as I prayed I asked God to help me help Doug. I thought to myself that I’d get on Facebook and post a request to my FB friends. It felt funny at first and then I thought to hell with my pride, I need help. So this morning I posted two ‘status updates’ …or whatever they’re called on facebook these days. One was a request for prayer for Dana with his surgery and the other was a shameful plea for help finding a T.V. for Doug’s room. Tonight when I got home from the hospital, had a bit of dinner and family time, and signed into Facebook I was completely overwhelmed by a message from an old high school friend who’d rallied other high school friends together to take up a collection to buy Doug a television. I was moved to the point of tears, which are flowing again as I type this.
Yes, there is tragedy. There is unexpected illness and death. There is sadness. But oh, there is such goodness. God is good. People are good. I am blessed to know some wonderful, beautiful people.
This entry is dedicated with love and gratitude to David Cameron and all the Greenwave Facebook friends who have filled my night tonight with deep feelings of warmth and hope. I’m humbled. I’m truly verklempt. I love you all. Thank you.