Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Darling

Today marks nine years, three months, and twenty-three days since doctors diagnosed my darling with ovarian cancer. She has undergone four major surgeries, four hair losses, over fifty chemotherapy treatments, countless radiation treatments, autologous stem-cell transplant, hundreds of needle punctures, thousands of pills and elixirs, scores of doctor visits, and those are the easy parts—the really hard parts are the side-effects from the treatment (especially the two dozen or so chemo treatments before they could get her nausea under control) and the disease itself. Upon discovery, the cancer had metastasized to both ovaries and the lining of her colon; eventually it metastasized to the kidneys and liver; now it’s in the lungs and brain.

Over those nine years, I have stood and watched. Some “experts” say that catastrophic illness is more difficult for “the caregiver” than the patient, but I don’t think so, at least not when Love exists between the darling and the observer; by some mystery, Love fortifies the soul to withstand the shock of a beloved’s suffering; Love transcends pain and sorrow. That doesn’t mean one does not hurt internally and emotionally while his beloved hurts externally and physically; you certainly do, and it’s a helpless feeling; you can fetch a cool rag, find a pill, adjust a pillow, raise a curtain, pull a sheet, dim a light, hold a hand, stand over her and watch for breath while she sleeps, whisper a prayer, and say, “My Darling,” but that’s about the extent of it; otherwise, you helplessly watch and hopefully wait.

Today I will have to watch and wait at least three more hours as my darling undergoes her most radical treatment yet—stereotactic radiosurgery of the brain. Judy’s original oncologist, now retired, once told us, “In a few years doctors we'll look back on chemotherapy as cruel and barbaric.” Once I toured the Smithsonian and marveled with repulsion at the grotesque primitivity of antiquated dental and medical contraptions designed to cut bone and flesh, scientific counterparts of what under different circumstances would be called instruments of torture. Also indelibly impressed upon my visual and auditory imagination are the images and sounds of surgery without anesthesia, perhaps most graphically portrayed upon the battlefields of Waterloo and Gettysburg. I am thankful for morphine. I am also thankful for radiosurgery. Admittedly, they’re not putting the scalpel to my darling’s skull because the tumors are inoperable (She said, “I wouldn’t have done that”), but at least radiosurgery is “non-invasive” in the traditional sense of that phrase.

However, I’ll still have to watch and wait as my darling undergoes another macabre treatment.

I find solace today in the story of Abraham. He too had to watch and wait as his darling underwent the knife. If you can imagine his angst, you will get a glimpse of how my mind reels and my heart feels. Better than any other writer, Soren Kierkegaard understood Abraham’s emotional and spiritual distress. Bad enough, Kierkegaard observes, that one must see his darling suffer, worse yet to be a willing participant in the darling’s suffering. This feeling of “caughtness” involves a double crucifixion as the soul is hammered between what it hates to do but what it must do, nailed between what is wrong upon earth but right in heaven. Such a dire crucible, Kierkegaard observes, is the only place a soul can truly be saved. Crucified horizontally and vertically between earth and heaven, the suspended soul must either be damned in rebellion or take “a leap of faith” and become “a knight of infinite resignation.” Today, I am a knight of infinite resignation, infinitely resigned to earthly brutality and heavenly necessity.

Abraham’s faith, difficult and profound as it is, is but a sunbeam that may be traced heavenward to a greater glory. God is the ultimate “knight of infinite resignation.” He, too, watched as His darling was hammered and nailed between heaven and earth. Through David’s pen, we hear His mournful words,
“Deliver my soul from death, my darling from the power of the dog.”
Touching Abraham, we touch God; loving our darling, we love His; finding His suffering soul, we save our own.


The Militant Pacifist said...

May the peace of God (which passes understanding) keep your heart and mind (through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace).

By God's grace, you are the strongest man I know...

Hal Brunson said...


I started not to post your comment because of the second sentence, but you know as well as I that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness, and that He chosen the weak, unwise, and ignoble of this world that no flesh should glory in His presence. I'm thankful for Paul's words, "When I am weak, then am I strong, for His strength is made perfect in my weakness." I am also thankful for those "Christians on the edge" - Kierkegaard, Kant, Barth, Lewis, Williams, Eliot, Tillich, Blake, Tennyson - who, for me, are closer to heaven than those in the middle of mediocrity (except for Mr. Spurgeon, of course!).

I once shared with you a quote from Charles Williams that explained his faith as "a holy skepticism rooted in God." You said, "What does that mean?" I could not answer that then, nor can I now, but I still find consolation in his mysterious words.

Hal Brunson said...

not "He chosen" but "He has chosen"