“The scan indicates that the melanoma has spread to Dad’s brain and lungs. He has been given months to live.” This was the news I received on 24th August. 7 days later Rebecca and I were on a plane to spend Father’s day with Mum and Dad. We arrived at the family home at 6pm for dinner, wide and varied conversation, and beginning to understand what exactly was going on with Dad’s health. Dad was already talking about his funeral.
We were headed for bed around 10pm when Mum collapsed with a heart attack. As hard as we tried, and then the ambulance crews, she could not be revived.
My sister was on a plane from the Netherlands within hours, and our daughters flew from Melbourne the next day. We were, and still are, in shock.
Comfort and support came to us in many ways … family who turned up with food and made coffee while we made phone calls and funeral plans; friends who phoned; many gifts of food; visits to offer comfort; cards, flowers, emails, Facebook messages … and the faithful prayers of God’s people around the world.
On Sunday we attended the Anglican church where Mum and Dad had found a church home for the past few years. Through tears we sang words penned by faithful people – and when we could not sing for the sobs, the voices of God’s people carried faith to our hearts. Church is one of those rare places where the raw emotions of life are (or should be) allowed to be brought with honesty and without judgement. The liturgy reminded us that our faith is wider, bigger, older and deeper than this moment in our lives. In that moment and place, we felt like we were held securely and gently by this congregation, our HUC family, and our praying friends around the world.
A Celebration of God’s Faithfulness in Mum’s life was held on Wednesday 6th September. Dad had estimated 50-60 people, and my sister and I had planned for 150. In the end 240 people were there to celebrate a woman who had touched many lives with her love and faith. Once again “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “When Peace like a River” gave a space to allow our grief and lament, sobs and deep sighs to be expressed in the company of friends, family and faith.
Over the next 7 days we had a whirlwind of dealing with oncologists, hospice, doctors and Dad’s first immunotherapy. Dad still has stage 4 melanoma, and we expect that the treatments and multiple painkillers will only make his last months (how many?) more comfortable.
Back in Melbourne I can catch my breath for a short while. 3 weeks ago we went to NZ to be with Dad for Father’s day and to say goodbye to him. We came back with deeper grief and greater gifts of love and support than I’ve known before.
It’s strange to say that we were in the right place at the right time – but we know we were. It’s odd to express lament and grief while the faith of the church is sung with gusto – but it was. It’s puzzling to experience comfort through “I don’t know what to say …” or “I don’t have the words for this …”, but we did. And I’m coming to realise that Dad’s bold pronouncements of God’s faithfulness and contentedness that Mum is with the Lord and didn’t need to see Dad suffer, … all that can sit in the same lounge as my struggling lament and confusion; that doesn’t make his faith untrue or my expression invalid.
At the moment everything takes longer – getting up in the morning, writing, listening. One moment I’m happy and patient, the next I’m anxious or easily upset – or just plain exhausted. I still sometimes wake in the night in tears or with images in my mind of that night, while at other times I’m deeply caught by the joy of a new baby or running or the love of friends and family.
All this may be a paradox of grief, or it may simply be the diverse and rich reality of human experience.