I cannot even begin to guess how many tears my sister has shed over the last 3 months during her husband’s sickness. I do know that there have been plenty. Even for me, going through this process as a sister and a sister-in-law, I can honestly say that it has been a long, long time since I have cried this much over a period of time. But not all tears have been equal.
Beginning with my sister’s first broken-hearted call to say that the doctors had found a mass in her husband’s abdomen, sadness and fear started to creep into our daily lives. The abject desolation in her voice tied my stomach in knots and wrung my heart.
Even the mere thought of her, my baby girl, losing her fairytale-worthy love, was mind boggling. And scary. Our blood family is a tribe of women, we have lost many -most- of our men. Our mom was widowed from her second husband before she was forty. My daughter’s father passed away before I was thirty. My bio father died when I was in my early twenties. We intimately know the pain, the uncertainty, and the terror that comes from loss.
The tears shed were distilled from pure fear.
Then came the diagnosis: Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer; the monster of all cancers. Late night calls: The prognosis is dire. The treatment so brutal that it had the potential to kill him by itself and did not even promise a cure, just life extension. Is he opting for treatment or not? How is this even happening? How are we going to afford it?
The questions were endless. And without clear answer. Or any answer for that matter. All of our fears had come true.
It was a time for tears of despair at both ends of the phone line.
But this guy was a born fighter and a resolute optimist. Of course he made the decision to pursue the treatment option. He was convinced that a miracle would eventually show up if he just held on long enough. My sister went into full Warrior Mode: Let’s get this done. ‘We will fight and we will win’ was the mantra.
Our conversations were still filled with tears of sadness for everything, but they were also sprinkled with tears of hope.
And then, unexpectedly and inexplicably, when everything was looking great and the disease seemed to be held at bay, his lungs gave out. Treatment was suddenly no longer an option. My sister cried for him: for the excruciating physical pain her husband was suffering as well as for the emotional pain coming from his disappointment at not winning the fight and everything that comes with that.
She also, naturally, cried over her own, gut wrenching pain. The man she loved, her soulmate, her best friend, her business partner, her artist, would soon be physically gone.
A river of tears of grief sprang from her eyes.
There was nothing we could say or do to help in any way. As with most modern families, we are physically scattered across the globe, most of us did not have the option of giving a comforting hug or doing a coffee run for everyone at the hospital.
Tears of helplessness flooded our world.
But everywhere we looked, miracles were happening. Perhaps not the ones we wanted, but there was no way to deny that blessings were being showered upon my sister and her husband and that angels in the form of people met them unfailingly at every crossroad along the way.
For me, the first moment of grace within this process came seconds after she asked me to come and be with her. I hung up and immediately purchased from my phone a one-way ticket on the first flight that would take me to her the soonest. This might seem like a simple action but there was so, so, so very much more in it.
You see, though he was sitting right next to me, I did not even consult my husband about buying the ticket. I knew, without a flicker of doubt, that he would support me in doing whatever needed to be done. He would take care of the house, he would feed the cats, and he would feed himself. And he would do so, without complaint, for as long as it took me to come back.
I also realized that since it will soon be two years since I quit my job, I did not have a boss I needed to plead and cajole with to approve a week of vacation or a wrestle to be granted a leave of absence. I could just go and stay as long as I was needed.
Awareness of the health I have which allows me to move unaided swept over me. I have no concerns about traveling on my own…. The list was just endless. I physically felt my knees weaken by the magnitude of these realizations and my heart was filled with the comforting warmth of Grace.
Tears of thankfulness sprang from my eyes.
I cannot deny that the days that followed were filled with sadness, grief and heartbreak. But there were also many moments of great tenderness and even laughter as family and visitors reminisced about my brother in law’s life. And what a life it was! Filled with adventures and misadventures, travels, failures and disappointments that ultimately led to success. Everyone that came to visit had a story of kindness, compassion, loyalty, and friendship to share.
The tears that flowed were tears of love.
The instant my sister saw her husband take his last breath, when we saw the pulse on his neck cease, everything shifted. All the sadness was lifted and a wave of gratefulness swept into the hospice room and took us in its tow. ‘Thank You Lord! Thank You, thank You, thank You!’ were the only words uttered by either of us.
It was a moment of absolute Grace.
He was free. He was healed. We were comforted. Yes, there were tears, but they were tears of complete gratitude for a life well lived and release from a failing body.
I cannot speak for the many tears that my sister has shed in the week since his passing. But I will speak of mine: they have been tears of pride at her strength, honesty, and integrity.
We have been overwhelmed, deeply comforted and many times moved to tears by the acts of friendship shown towards her. The thoughtful gifts. The kind words. The messages of support. The heartfelt and honest offers to help. The loyalty of friends maneuvering things around so that she can carry on with their bucket list and her husband’s legacy.
So for me, right now, though my heart is broken for my sister’s loss, my own eyes are only filled with tears of Gratefulness.