When my mother was dying, she thought God was going to heal her. It was a crazy little thing called hope. She thought it because He’d promised her that in the scriptures that she’d religiously memorised and spoke aloud every day. She was a woman of faith, and that meant that even though it didn’t seem like she was being healed, she believed it with every fibre of her being. Her faith was so strong that on the day she was admitted to hospice, she asked me to take a ‘before’ shot.
“What do you mean?” I asked, already concerned.
“A picture of me with this tumour, before God heals me and it is gone. It will be important evidence for when I am telling people all about it”, she asserted. Then she stood for the photograph, beside her last bed, her tiny frame almost overwhelmed by a giant tumour in her abdomen. She maintained this kind of denial (it was the only way I could understand it, to call it that) for as long as she could. She held on to it valiantly. I was so horrified by it, and by the visitors who came in and prayed healing prayers. I was afraid that she would miss the opportunity to say the things she might want to say, and to hear the things we wanted to tell her, about how much we loved her, about our need for her. In growing desperation, I spoke to the hospice counsellor.
“We’re not built for mortality,” she explained. “Everything about the human condition is built around the need to survive. It is our strongest instinct, our greatest drive. How can one face one’s own death? There isn’t a right way. There is only the way that works for each individual.”
I went back into my Mum’s room and sat quietly beside her. Memorising her hands, her fingernails, the colouration of her skin. She seemed to be asleep. I listened to each breath, each one painfully bought. Something broke inside me. I think it was my heart. I thought about her beautiful self, struggling against a reality she didn’t want. I thought about how tired she must be, fighting for air, clinging to hope. I didn’t want to wake her, so I cried my silent screams into the sheets of her bed and drowned my despair in tears that ran all the way to the sea. My Mummy was leaving me.
And where was her God? When she needed comfort, of all the times that her faithfulness should have been repaid with peace, where was hers? My heart welled up with compassion for her, as she gripped on to her last vestiges of hope. So I stopped trying to have the conversations of dying. I let Mum say what she needed to say, when she could; so she said what she felt to say, not what I thought she should. I read her Psalms when she cried out. I held her hand and I slept beside her. I did all the things a good girl should, and then: she was just gone from my world. Her hand no longer soft in mine. Her heart no longer loving mine. Just gone.
And now, my friend Kellie; also, gone. So recently that our hearts and heads can’t take it in. She wrote to me about hope many times in the months before her treatment. She considered calling her blog about stem cell therapy “A Crazy Little Thing called Hope”. These are her words about hope:
“…the whole hope thing is pretty integral to me as I was seriously losing hope. Maybe I’d even lost hope – don’t tell anyone!! But just having an inkling of hope made such a difference and it was so surprising how quickly the hope gathered momentum and how it then sort of manifested its own good luck”.
Then I found this little meme and sent it to her, but now I look at it and I wonder again, where was her God? Kellie has gone too. And she had so much hope. But it didn’t keep her alive.
And then, in this dark place of loss, deep in my remembrances of these two extraordinary women, I wonder, where has my own hope gone? Has it evaporated? I don’t feel hopeful. Will it return? What tricks of my mind will I find to keep me pushing forward, seeking help, searching for answers? Is there something I can do to find it, or do I have to look for it, like a tiny dandelion seed floating on the breeze, passing by right in front of me at the perfect time. Is hope that ephemeral? My tired brain is weary of the measured and sane approach.
Kellie was right, it is a crazy little thing, hope.
But maybe it is all we can do.
Maybe it is all we really have.
Do you have hope?