Worse than Having Cancer

I always thought having cancer or some life-threatening disease would be about the worst thing that could happen to a person. To face surgery, the pain of recovery, the danger of complications, the fear that they couldn’t get it all—it’s a scary situation. And it can definitely be an ordeal. I was fortunate in that my cancer did not have complications and did not put me in much pain. Others are not so lucky.

 However, in recent months I have come to believe that there may be one thing worse than going through cancer or some such disease: watching a loved one go through it. In my dear aunt’s case, cancer was not the culprit. Several months ago she suffered a stroke. After almost three months of hospital, nursing home, and assisted living, she finally made it back home. Gradually she regained strength and mobility. She proudly informed me that she had walked to the end of her street and back, several blocks total.

 Then, the day after that walk, illness struck again, this time in the form of an intestinal blockage. Back to the hospital, where they first tried non-surgical methods, then operated. The surgery went well; the recovery did not. Her heartbeat was irregular, and they couldn’t seem to get it stabilized. Then pneumonia moved in. I watched my sweet aunt struggle for breath, saw the pain in her face as the breathing machine pushed air into her lungs. I heard her say, beneath the breathing mask, “I just want to die.”

 We agreed to let them remove all the tubes and needles, waited for her to go. Instead she started growing stronger. We began to hope that she would recover yet again. She moved to an assisted living home, where she oh-so-slowly worked on rebuilding her strength. But it was not to be. One day, after her caretaker helped her walk down the hall and back, her body suddenly gave out. She left this world as I was telling her, over the phone, that I loved her.

 Now I sort through her things—boxes of paperwork, family pictures, records of a life—and tears come from time to time. I used to talk with her frequently, sharing family news, hearing about her neighbors, commiserating over politics. I miss those talks. Yet I had a vision of sorts the other day, a picture in my mind that reassured. For those who have seen “Return of the Jedi,” remember the scene at the end where Luke looks up to see a ghostly image of his Jedi teachers, Yoda and Obi Wan? And there, too, is his father, smiling and at peace. I saw a similar picture of my aunt having a joyous reunion in heaven with my mother (her sister) and their parents. Someday I believe I will see them again, all of them. It will be a wonderful day!

About susanmaas

I grew up in the green state of Oregon, coming to love the birds, flowers, and other wild things of the woods. Our family homeschooled for sixteen years, spending wonderful vacations at the beach or camping in the western United States and British Columbia. For most of my adult life, I have been a part-time writer, creating personal experience stories, homeschooling articles, devotionals, Sunday school curriculum, and children's stories and books. I enjoy looking for signs of the eternal in nature and the small, everything events in our lives.
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2 Responses to Worse than Having Cancer

  1. Diane Smith says:

    Hi, Susan: I was saddened reading about the death of your dear Aunt. I’m so sorry for you loss. Oh how difficult it is to lose a loved one, especially someone you interacted with frequently. It leaves a hole in your life. I was happy to hear though, that you believe you will see your Aunt and parents and grandparents again. This, too, I believe most certainly. I had a similar experience when I lost my Dad in 2002. I felt very depressed and distraught over his death and one night dreamed of him…He was no longer ill, but filled with joy it seemed as he sat and talked with his Dad, my Grandpa. It felt so real to me and I feel sure that it was really the way it is after a person passes on to the next life. This gives me comfort and joy to know that our loved ones will be a part of the next phase in our existence.
    I hope all is well with you otherwise. My sincere condolences of your loss.

  2. susanmaas says:

    Good to hear from you, Diane! and thanks for your concern. I am very glad I have my faith to give me hope. I do believe dreams can be sent by God. Not long after my mother died, I had a dream that she and I were out jogging (something neither of us ever did). She was just speeding along, up hills and down hills, while I puffed and panted behind. When we stopped to rest, I complained to her that it wasn’t fair jogging with her because she was dead (and thus didn’t have bodily limitations any more). I laughed at that dream when I awoke, but I really feel it was a message to remind me that my mother was doing just fine now. And I know my aunt is, too.
    And, yes, I am doing just fine otherwise. I hope you are, too!

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