Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's the little things.....

This is a time of slow and careful reflection, as you can well imagine. Despite the busyness of work and family, I still have a lot of time to think. I think about the past year and a half and what we’ve been through. I think about the shock of Walter’s diagnosis and as this news sank in, the journey toward building faith, trust and acceptance that God is in control no matter what happens. Even beyond this, the realization that God chooses things to work perfectly and I have no doubt he will continue to do this in my life.

I think about the little things God has taught me through this experience, the little lessons in character building.


I always thought that when God was handing out gifts, he had given me an extra share of patience. Nevertheless, he made sure to give me an extra helping with Walter’s illness. There was so much waiting: waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting for lab and diagnostic results, waiting during chemo treatments, waiting to speak to the doctors during the eight hospitalizations Walter experienced, waiting for the morning to come to report a concern, waiting at home to care for him. Although these periods had the potential for causing extreme anxiety, God also gave me a means of calming my heart and hands and listening to him….my knitting. I made Walter arm warmers, hats and mittens to keep him warm. At other times I made socks and hats for others. It was very comforting and productive and each finished object rewarded me for my patience.


When one hears the diagnosis of cancer, there is a natural reaction to ask God, “Why? Why us? Why now?” When you can get through the shock and disbelief and accept it, one moves through to, “Ok, God. It is there, so will you help us get through this?” There is just no other alternative but to trust that He knows all, He will be in control, and He has a plan.

Compassion and kindness

This is very different from pity and sympathy. Compassion is having a deep heartfelt understanding of another’s plight and imagining what it is like for the other in pain and discomfort. Anyone can “ pity” and have sympathy for another, but compassion goes a step further and does something to make another feel better. I have had a measure of compassion for others, being a nurse as my profession. It’s not always easy to feel the same for a family member, or a person you live with day in and day out. I had to dig deep to show that compassion and caring when Walter was stubborn and I felt he wasn’t doing his part to get better and follow doctor’s recommendations. Despite my fatigue from my 8-9 hr job, I was able to come home to make him comfortable and respond to his needs at a very intimate level. I think he recognized that this was truly from a “Love” for him, no matter how difficult he was. He would frequently say, “How will I ever make it up to you?” His acknowledgement was all I needed.

Courage and inner strength

I suppose it could have been easier to fall apart and let others take over. However, this was never acceptable for me. I have always felt better to have a small measure of control in my life. Looking ahead at the realization of the impact that cancer can do to a person and their future was frequently frightening. There were several times I was so overwhelmed I struggled with depression myself. Yet, there was a realization that a lot of people were counting on me; my workmates and the families and children I serve, my family who looked to me as an anchor in keeping the family home going, and my dear husband who learned to be totally dependent on me, when he could not advocate for himself among the medical professionals caring for him. It took tremendous courage and strength to keep my emotions under control and not break down in a helpless heap of tears. When things seemed overwhelming, I turned it over to God and let him take care of us, which he did in everyway. He lead us to compassionate medical staff at the City of Hope, and he sent people to help us apply for benefits to keep our finances and bills taken care of. He brought generous friends and family who gave us respite and gifts of encouragement. This all helped me have strength and courage to keep functioning, making decisions to get through each day.

Even now, as Walter has passed and I miss him terribly, I keep that courage and strength going as I now have to find a new future without him and a new life. I feel I have become a better person from this experience and hope in some small way I can pass on some of this to those I come in contact with.

“I believe…..Help Thou my unbelief

I walk into the unknown trusting like a child….”

From a Bill Gaither Song

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Redefining My Purpose

It is hard to believe it is almost a month since Walter passed. I still feel like I’m living in a dream that I will wake up from and he will be coming home from the hospital soon.

The Memorial Service and reception was perfect in everyway. We had a beautiful California day in the 80s which is unusual for August. About 150 people attended and most stayed for the reception after. There was good food, good sharing all around and so many generous donations of deserts by the attendees. Everyone had wonderful things to say about Walter. I especially liked the funny things they said which were heartwarming and reflected the Walter I knew who made me laugh. I had a chance to greet most from different groups of people; family, friends, co-workers: mine and his, neighbors and church friends. I really felt we were one big family, which is what I hoped for in this gathering. It felt like a homecoming, meeting in the church Walter and I met, grew in the Lord and married.

As my family and I deal with our grief, we are blessed to have our work to distract us. My sons and I are back to work, trying to live our lives with a special memory of Walter kept in our hearts and with some peace that he is having some interesting conversations with the Lord in Heaven. This gives my heart a great sense of peace and comfort….one that surprised me. As our pastor put it “How can we live in this world without knowing the Lord?” For some reason I don’t have the gut-renching emptiness I had expected. I am at peace, assured where Walter is and that I will someday join him. I have no regrets or guilt to carry. Walter and I were at peace with whatever the outcome was to be. Of course, I will miss him greatly and wholeheartedly….but God is not done with me yet. I feel my purpose goes beyond serving my husband as a wife. I feel I still have a purpose to fulfill.

So as I try to piece my life back together and figure out what direction the Lord will guide me, I have slowly picked up my knitting again. I am working on simple baby socks. I need small projects right now as my attention span is short and there is much I have to figure out with paperwork and maintaining the house, which is now my sole responsibility. I am thankful for a home base my family can come to for respite and relaxation.

Friday, August 6, 2010

This year ---No Fireworks!

How does one account for the worst month in one’s life?

July 4th was W’s birthday! In the past, our family celebrated it together with a barbeque followed by fireworks in the front yard. This year- no fireworks! We didn’t have the heart to have them without “DAD”. W was still in the hospital and fortunately was moved from ICU to a room facing a west window on the 6th floor which was the Bone Marrow Floor. He was still having some breathing issues but not serous enough to stay in ICU.

After our family barbeque at home, we visited W, bringing him balloons and gifts. The nurses had earlier given him a small birthday cake but he was unable to eat it due to nausea. We spent an hour celebrating with him. He was getting concentrated oxygen but I think he enjoyed it. We were unable to stay to see fireworks with him but he told us the nurses turned his bed facing the window so he could see the aerial fireworks over Monrovia.

A week after, he had pneumonia and a virus in the blood which was treated aggressively with antibiotics. W tried hard to get better, wanting to do everything possible to return home. He tried to keep up his strength up with physical therapy but constantly battled drops in his blood pressure. He shared with me that on a good day, the nurses talked him into getting masked and covered to be allowed to walk outside his room in the hall. This was the first time he was able to leave his room in 3 months. It helped him feel like he was just a little closer to going home.

Over the next few weeks his condition worsened to the point of returning to ICU. After another bronchoscopy, the doctors informed us that the bacteria in his lungs was resistant to all the antibiotics and his new stem cells were not strong enough to fight the infection-there was nothing else that could be done. Walter passed into his heavenly home with his family surrounding him July 27, 2010 at sunset. I now have the memories of 33 years of a loving marriage to cherish. .