I’ve been playing with the draft of this post for several days. At first it was humorous and had a funny meme about how completely exhaustingly long March seemed, but tonight I’m fired up and not feeling very funny.
It was two years ago today that Corey was admitted to the hospital. Here’s a quick recap for those of you who didn’t know us then or haven’t followed along.
After seeing his oncologist on a Friday for what was supposed to be the start of the next round of chemo, we elected to push it out a week because Corey had a bit of a cold. It was Easter weekend and we were taking the kids down to the Oregon coast for a couple days for spring break. His oncologist put him on antibiotics and said we’d start the next round of chemo when we got back.
Monday night, while we were in Oregon, he took a serious turn. He spent all day Tuesday in an urgent care walk-in clinic and, after running a slew of tests, the clinic released him saying they’d coordinated with his oncologist for us to meet with him first thing the following morning. We had an 8 a.m. appointment with the oncologist that Wednesday, and by 8:30 a.m., Corey was in a wheelchair being wheeled across the skybridge, where he was admitted to the hospital through the ER.
The kids and I saw him Thursday morning and prayed with him as he was being taken for more tests. The last thing he said to us that morning was, “Love you guys! See you later!” By 2:30 p.m., he was in the ICU and intubated (put on a ventilator) and in a medically induced coma. With the exception of about a 20 hour period where he was awake and able to communicate goodbyes with his family (he couldn’t speak because of the ventilator, so it was mostly hand motions and scribbled notes), he spent the next 15 days on a ventilator and in a coma. Corey took his last breath at sunrise on April 19, 2018.
SO. MUCH. of what is happening in our world today is so reminiscent of what that time was like for us. Ironically, the first confirmed U.S. case of COVID-19/Coronavirus back in January was a patient at Providence Medical Center in Everett, which is the hospital where Corey spent the last days of his life and I spent 23 hours a day, praying, waiting, hoping for him to wake up.
Seeing all this news about ventilators and respiratory failure, and the images of the nurses in their PPEs, it’s all been a gut punch for me, if I’m being honest. I remember the conversations with the nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors about what prolonged time on a ventilator does to a patient. I see the news footage of the hospital workers in PPEs and I remember them suiting up in that exact gear before coming into our room. I know the decisions I faced then and I know the decisions families are facing now and I know the all-consuming impossibility of it all.
I keep in touch with a handful of Corey’s medical team. Honestly, these people will forever have a huge chunk of my heart. One of them posted something from a nurse at their hospital this week who had to put the cell phones of two separate patients in bags and hold them up to their ears so they could share goodbyes with their families – right before having to go on ventilators. Knowing there was a very high probability they would never come off those ventilators and their families would never hear their voices again.
By nature I am generally a non-confrontational person, but I’ve walked away from two nasty exchanges in the past couple of days that have me pretty fired up tonight. They’re with the same group of people, on two different social media feeds, and have mostly taken place between people I have known and loved for 30-40 years or more. And dang it, I’ve backspaced over this portion of this post a million times because I am fired up and trying really hard not to say something that I will regret when I cool down. But here’s the truth. “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (I Corinthians 13, MSG translation).
To boil it down: If we don’t do EVERYTHING WE DO through the filter of the Holy Spirit’s leading and out of love, we are wrong. Period.
Whatever this is that we’re up against as a country, as a world really, is serious. It’s serious for the people getting sick and dying. It’s serious for the medical professionals busting their tails to keep their patients alive and trying to mitigate end-of-life scenarios with family members who are not able to be there with their loved ones as they take their last breaths.
It’s serious for the people who are out of work because of the social distancing guidelines being enacted around the country. It’s serious for the parents whose kids are out of school, whether it’s the stay-at-home mom who feels unequipped to navigate this new online learning thing, or the parents who are fortunate enough to work from home – while trying to manage kids who are now trying to do school online at the same time.
It’s serious for the ministry leaders who rely on donations to keep their at-risk people fed, housed, safe and healthy. And it’s serious for those of us with immune-compromised people in our lives who are at risk of getting sick.
We all have different opinions, thoughts, beliefs and convictions about what’s happening and what the best course of action is for minimizing its spread. But if we walk away from this time having treated people badly because they think differently than us, or if we assume to “know” that we “know” better when none of us really “know” anything at all, and most certainly if we walk away from this insanely unprecedented time in history without capitalizing on the opportunity to love to a greater degree, I can’t help but thinking what a monumentally wasted opportunity this will have been.
Our family did a Zoom call last weekend. Twelve of us from 3 different states spent an hour and a half catching up, laughing, telling funny stories of crowd sourcing toilet paper and heart warming stories of delivering food to people who have been affected worse than we have. There’s not one person on this screen who hasn’t been impacted to a pretty serious degree by what’s happening in our country. But, like we talked about together, we’ve suffered costlier losses. Out of my parents’ 7 grandchildren, only one has her father left. Six of their seven grandchildren have lost their fathers. And if we made it through that, we’ll make it through this. By looking for the helpers. By fixing our eyes on what’s ahead. By trusting in a God who is good, even when life is hard.
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” I have it written on my board upstairs and I say it to myself a hundred times a day. As long as I keep my mind and trust in the Lord, I won’t be overcome by fear and all the “what-ifs.” I won’t be overcome by anxiety as I remember with a knot in my throat what walking this road was like for us and is like for so many now. I will “fix my eyes” on Jesus (Hebrews 12) and allow Him to shower me with that irrational peace that I so deeply need in times like this.
During this time of cancelled sporting events, closed stores and limited choices for entertainment, I love that we’re having an opportunity to reassess what deserves to be celebrated in our society. The nurses who weep and carry the burden of loss and put their own lives at risk – they are heroes. The teachers who refashion lesson plans and connect with their students through Zoom calls and who read stories online – they are the heroes. The people staffing childcare centers for essential workers – they are the heroes.
Mister Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
So, for the love of all that is holy, be the helpers.
If you see a mom hauling her child(ren) into the grocery store, don’t give her the stink eye and comment under your breath (although just loud enough for her to hear), “how could you possibly?!?!” Offer to help her. How do you know that she’s not a single mom who is suddenly out of work and without childcare? Being a single mom these past two years has been the single hardest season of my life, and, trust me, I look for the helpers. A lot.
You don’t serve anyone from a high-horse. Look out for – and love – the people around you. None of what we’re going through right now is easy. For anyone. But for goodness’ sake, l-o-v-e. Love like Jesus. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
If you can, send lunch or cookies to your local hospital staff. Mow your neighbor’s lawn. Pick up an extra pack of sidewalk chalk for the kids next door and leave it on their porch. Donate to the ministries who are helping the at-risk people in our communities.
Read through Acts and find out how to be the church. The church is not a building; it’s us – you and me.
I Corinthians 13 ends with telling us that we have three things to do between now and the time we leave this earth for Heaven: “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”
So be the helpers. And l-o-v-e the people around you.