Blinking red lights.
Machines tracking heart beats, pulse rates, and brain activity.
The occasional beep indicating it’s time for a nurse to change out the bag of fluids or give more meds.
A hospital bed where my husband is lying with electrodes attached to every square inch of his head.
Rails keeping him in the bed. Straps typing his arms down.
These are the sights and the sounds in the ICU where my husband lays after a Grand Mal seizure.
He is resting. I am not. I’m trying to sleep in a recliner in this cold, sterile room, but the scene from hours earlier keeps replaying in my mind.
Kevin seizing in the bathroom and falling on the floor with a Grand Mal seizure. I’d never seen one before. Pressing the call button. Nurses rushing in. Code blue to Room 2143 blaring on the hospital intercom. Doctors appearing. Kevin on the bed still seizing while they worked to calm his body and stop the seizures. A nurse asking me if we had a DNR. What did I want them to do? I wasn’t ready for this!
I said bring him back.
And now, I begin to cry. Gut-wrenching, hard-to-catch-your-breath sobs. I’m trying to keep my crying subdued, and that makes me cry even harder. Reality is staring me in the face. This is the beginning of the end. We knew it was terminal, but we kept praying for healing, a miraculous intervention. Glioblastomas were always fatal, we were told. The surgery, chemo, and radiation all gave us a little more time. But in spite of it all, the tumor continued to grow. And now it was taking over and short-circuiting his brain.
The pain of losing my first and only love is so intense, I don’t know if I will ever stop crying. How do you let go of your best friend, lover, father of your children, the man who knows you better than anyone, your biggest cheerleader?
My life will never be the same. I’m starting the painful process of letting go. Of accepting pain. Embracing the pain. Feeling the depth of it. I cannot truly let go without acknowledging reality and the pain that goes with it.
For hours I cry, grieving this tremendous loss. This is not the first cry, nor the last, but definitely the most intense.
I will always remember that night and the immense emotional pain I experienced. It was just the beginning of a painful season of grieving.
I’ve tried to make sense of pain. Why did my mom end up with pancreatic cancer and die at the age of 59? It made no sense. Why, out of the blue, did my husband have brain cancer, at the age of 51, and die 5 1/2 months later? Why did my new friend suffer repeated emotional, physical and sexual abuse as a child? Why did my college friend, Janelle, die instantly in a car accident after years of faithful missionary service? Why did my best friend’s husband suffer multiple injuries in a car accident that left him with chronic pain? Why did my son choose to experiment with drugs, and ultimately become addicted?
I could keep going. There are so many “why’s.” The main answer I have come up with is….God has given us free will. We live in a broken world. And some of that brokenness is because of our free will. That’s it.
Does that mean God steps back, takes His hands off and let’s evil run amuck? I certainly hope not! In Ephesians 6, Paul says a war is waging in the spiritual realms. A battle of good versus evil. God’s power against Satan’s power. God is fighting for us!
There are other reasons we might experience pain. Our pain might be the result of our own poor choices. Let’s admit it. We want to blame God. But sometimes, upon examination, we have to conclude we had a part in our pain. Does this mean God abandons us and enjoys watching us writhe in pain? NO!! He suffers with us, and if we let Him, He redeems our pain and brings beauty out of the ashes.
The plain and simple truth is we don’t know why God allows these painful things to happen. We can guess. Surmise. But at the end of the day, we have to trust and believe in God’s sovereignty. That He has a plan. That He can take what was meant for evil and redeem it. Re-purpose it. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And Jeremiah 29:11 promises, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Continuing to ask “why” doesn’t bring redemption, healing or restoration. Note I said “continuing.” It is part of the grieving process to ask “why?,” to question “why me?” But if we stay there, we will never find healing.
So, if I have no answers for why this happened, then I must choose to focus on my response to the pain. After all, that is the only thing I can control. My response. I’m not going to let the pain embitter me. I’m going to let it change me for the better. Better, not bitter!
Now, five years after that traumatic night in the ICU with Kevin, I have a different perspective on pain. I’ve learned that life is full of “opportunities” for pain. The question is not “Will I experience pain?” Or “How can I avoid pain?” (We all experience pain in some form; either physical, emotional or both. And I will again.) The most helpful question is: What will I do with the pain?
So, now I am re-purposing my pain. (Or should I say, “God is re-purposing my pain.”) Now I’m focusing on what God wants to teach me in my pain and through my pain. And He has taught me a whole bunch! (How’s that for fancy words?!)
- I can TOTALLY depend on God. He’s the only one who will always be beside me, holding me, crying with me. I have felt His presence closer in my times of pain than any other time!
- His Word comforts me and gives me hope. “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” Psalm 62:5-6. “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.” Psalm 119:114. “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.
- There are blessings in the midst of the pain. Look for them! Name them. Thank God for them. During Kevin’s illness, I saw many blessings in the midst of the dark road we traveled. I saw them in the friends and co-workers caring for us. In financial provision. In the time God gave me to care for him. In caring, compassionate caregivers. In laughter. In visits. In cards. In thoughtful gifts…….. There were so many ways God blessed us in our pain! We just had to look for them:-).
- Through my own pain, He has taught me to be more compassionate. And this is because I see things differently due to my own experience with pain. I see a homeless man and remember that my own son could have been there. I give him the apple and snack bar I happen to have in my car, because I don’t have any cash. He thanks me and walks away. Then I realize I have $3 in my wallet, and I try to find him again. When I do, he is shocked I followed him. It wasn’t much, but I gave him all I had.
- I can empathize with people who have suffered loss. I can feel their pain as if it were my own. I know the pain of dealing with a depressed child who tried to numb his pain with drugs. And I know the pain of losing those closest to me in death. And the pain of a troubled marriage. And these experiences give me a voice to speak. I have had the privilege of listening to hurting people and speaking hope into their very painful places. And I’ve had opportunities to speak comfort into broken lives.
- Finally, He has taught me to put my hope in the eternal, that which will last beyond this life. God has promised me an eternal home with Him…..pain free! I would not have had this eternal perspective without the pain. Life can get too comfortable. Pain taught me what was important and where my source of hope and joy is.
Guess what? Not only has God helped me re-purpose my pain, but He has been restoring and redeeming those painful years and experiences! I’m happily remarried to a totally awesome man of God. Our story is a beautiful reminder of God’s power to turn ashes into beauty and restore the years the locusts have eaten. (See Joel 2:25-26.) If He can do that for me, He can do that for you! I’ll tell you the whole story. Later…….
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” I Peter 5:10-11