I shifted in the hospital recliner another time as we waited for the social worker to come in. They had called saying that they wanted to stop by to suggest some paperwork to consider completing. The recliner that I had been sleeping in had been my bed for the last few days as I had been with Nicole.
We had recently gotten the news that Nicole had developed a blood clot in her right jugular vein. Not only was my sweet Nik going through chemotherapy treatments to battle the sarcoma tumor on her pancreas, but now she had a very serious blood clot. But that was not even why we were in the hospital. She was now on isolation protocols with more life-threatening ailments that she just developed. She had been going through so much in this season. This broke my heart to watch.
“How am I going to encourage Nicole through this?” I wondered to myself.
“LORD, thank you for loving us and hearing my prayers. It seems I need you now more than ever. Nicole has a clot. Nicole has so many other things going on in her body. I am not sure how much more her fragile body can take. Help us, O LORD. Amen.”
The door opened, and the social worker came in.
“Mr. and Mrs. Body, Here are the items that I shared with you earlier. Please take your time looking over them.”
I took the spiral notebook and papers from the kind person, and they left the room. I looked down at the notebook and in bold letters it read, “Leave a Legacy.” The booklet contained detailed steps on how to plan a funeral and prompts that would help with recalling and writing down memories of your dying loved ones. The loose papers were Power of Attorney and Living Will documents.
It was this moment for me in Nicole’s cancer journey when I thought, very seriously, that I may indeed watch her succumb to this disease.
I held the notebook and papers in my hands. Memories flashed through my head: seeing her beautiful green eyes for the first time, trying to choke back tears as she walked towards me in a sparkly, white gown on our wedding day, squeezing her tightly as I stood behind her looking between her mouse ears as we watched fireworks together at Disney World, dancing around the kitchen singing duets with utensils as microphones, and feeling her heartbeat as she would fall asleep on my chest.
Would this story with my love be coming to an end? I shuddered at the thought.
All that I could do to not break down completely was to continually cry out to God, “Oh LORD, help me!” My prayers were short during that time. They were often a sentence, or sometimes just a word, “Please!” or, “Jesus!”
I remember thinking that the answer from God may be that healing will not come for Nicole.
Then what? Is God not God? Is God no longer good?
I immediately answered: Of course, He is. God is still good should the worst happen.
I began adding something to the end of my prayers.
“But even if that healing does not come, LORD, I will trust in You.”
The song “Even If” by MercyMe was a pivotal song for me during this time. The pain would be excruciating if the day came. It’s hard to even think about it as I write this. But I knew it was a real possibility. And at the end of it all, there was God. And I believed He would care for my sweet wife in heaven more than I ever could here.
I know there are caregivers out there who have had to endure that loss. I am so saddened to know that some of you have indeed had to walk through that. I hope that these words of encouragement bring you hope in knowing that through Christ, that loss is not the end of your loved one’s story. And there is a great hope of seeing them again.
This brought me to my first realization about this season of life:
1) Just be held
I remember my emotions in this season and they were all over the place. I thought of what Christmas and birthdays would be like without her there. I thought about her funeral service. Crushing thoughts like that are so hard to process. The thought of loss is oftentimes an overwhelming feeling. I asked God if He could relent in this storm; if He could let us pass by on smoother waters. We had just begun our journey and we still had so much more time that we wanted to spend with one another.
Job knew what it was like to have much, and then to lose much. I felt like Job in this season, feeling like I was losing Nicole. God revealed to Job that He holds the whole universe in His hands, and that included Job himself. I had to cling to that truth that He was holding on to me as well.
When you have nothing left to give, find rest in God. He is capable of bringing storms to a halt, reducing the waves to a standstill, and giving you a place to rest in Him.
It was too much to try and process on my own. This brought me to the second realization of what I needed to do.
2) Talk with a trusted family member or friend to help process it all
Nicole looked at me and asked, “How do we fill these papers out, Wes?”
How was I supposed to answer that question? There were so many thoughts running through my head. I do not think I would have been able to be present and helpful during that time if I had not talked to others about my emotions and thoughts.
As caregivers, our journey through cancer looks different than our loved ones who have been diagnosed. While our fighters take on the cancer itself, we are on the sidelines, watching the action unfold, and it is sometimes scary to watch.
To use a football analogy: sometimes it feels like the 4thquarter, 4thdown, and we might lose on the next play. In order to face the challenges that come with encouraging your fighter, we have to be real with people and communicate what is going on. Keeping it inside will only let doubt, anger, and fear set in. So caregivers, I encourage us to talk to family, friends, and one another, be honest about our emotions, and pray and build each other up fostering strength for the days ahead. We need one another.
The final realization that I had was that in order to help Nicole through this, I needed to be honest with my feelings with her and truly hear her thoughts in return.
3) Be authentic and loving
In order to answer her question, I walked Nicole through my thinking, the difficult thoughts in my head, and the prayers that I had shared with God. I noticed for me that being authentic with Nicole was important. No one takes comfort from trivializing and sugar-coated truths. She opened up even more to me and we realized that we felt the same way. We didn’t feel alone or scared, but held and understood. We also grew closer to God together, as we accepted whatever He had for us. Suddenly, I was praying less for things to change, and more for my heart to change to more be like Jesus through my circumstances. That was a really tough change, but God worked on my heart daily to make it happen.
Maybe you are in the midst of this battle right now. Or maybe you have faced something similar in the past. I want to encourage you today, so that you may be able to encourage your cancer fighter. Be held by God. Share your journey with those you trust. Uplift one another. Be authentic and honest with God and each other as you continue to be present and encouraging to your loved ones.
I am praying for caregivers everywhere. God bless you.
Have you or are you facing a similar experience where you are not sure if your loved one is/was going to make it another day? I know very well what that feeling is like. It is a time of uncertainty, sadness, and turmoil. As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments.
All photographs in this post were taken in March 2017 and organized and sponsored by Jamie’s Hope through their Bald is Beautiful program. Quy Tran with Quy Tran Photography took these photos and Wendy Martin with Makeup by Wendy did Nicole’s makeup. Jewelry worn was lent to Wes and Nicole by Thomas Markle Jewelers.