Three Things You Need To Say When You’re Dying (and all the rest of the times)

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I had a PTSD flashback the other day as I put Nell into the same onesie Lucy is wearing under this star hoodie (pictured).  They’re about the same age, the Luce in this image and the Nell currently asleep upstairs.  Each fastening snap wound me a little tighter until my throat and heart closed up completely.

I knew I had to look at this photo, this altar to and evidence of God’s Wild Love.  I knew I needed to go back and hold this version of Claire, because she still needs holding.

My mom took it in the waiting room of the infusion center a week or two after my bone marrow transplant.  At my second session with my therapist she asked me to describe the scene, which I did—suspiciously dry-eyed.  Not a tear in sight.

“What didn’t you get to say?”  She pried.

“Huh?”  I replied.

“Look, you’re wearing a mask over your mouth.  What didn’t you get to say?”

And then I melted away and all of me landed on the floor in a silvery, teary puddle.

So here they are, the three things I didn’t say that I wish I had:

“I’m afraid.”  We all are.  Let’s just tell someone about it, please.

I’m afraid of driving home and telling everyone that I have cancer again.  I’m afraid to bond with Lucy anymore than I already have, I need to protect her from my loss if I end up dying.  I remember how sick I was the first time I got cancer and did chemo, how will I manage gnarlier treatment WITH A BABY?  Who will take care of Lucy while I’m away during the transplant?  Could David’s caliber handle a destruction of this magnitude?  What if he leaves me?  What if I leave him alone with a baby?  Will I lose my hair?  My eyelashes?  Please Lord not my eyebrows.  I’m afraid of dying.

Why didn’t I honor those fears?  Why didn’t I confess, “I’M AFRAID OF DYING AND LEAVING MY NEWBORN BEHIND.”  If you are afraid and you don’t write or speak the words, “I am afraid of ____” then it will not go away.  It will burrow deeper into your brain and spirit until you believe the fears to be Truth, creating anxiety and shame.

I shooed away my worries instead of honoring them.  Unhonored fears start tasting bitter after awhile, like something forgotten, scorched, and blackened in the oven.  Enter anger.

“I’m angry.”  Or, since I’m an honest woman, “I’m so fucking mad!”

Does God not see what’s going on in the world?  How is this good?  Didn’t He see my fourteen-year-old sister dying?  Didn’t God see me dying?  Do suicide bombers and corrupt cops get a free pass?  How did Love win in the bloody streets of downtown Dallas?  What about the babies inhaling the Mediterranean Sea after their boats capsize?  Be angry but to not sin, every major religion reminds us.  BE ANGRY.  (I actually do believe that everything I listed above will be made Good and new, because I know that God is Good.  I just had to grieve and die before I could accept and Live.)

Anger is an energetic response to an injustice, abuse, or threat.  If we do not have a response to injustice, abuse, or threats then WE ARE NOT HUMAN.  That bitterness and heat deep within always combusts, fueling either passive aggression (sighing, tardiness, obsessiveness, secrets, gossiping, manipulating) or aggression (bullying, blaming, threats, throwing, self-mutilation).  The world needs less of all of that, and lots more Love.

What gets you angry?  Who gets you angry?  Speak it, “I am angry at _____” (hint: it’s often God we resent, don’t worry, God can handle it) and then rest in it, figure out why (hint:  you’re afraid of something, because anger is just fear with armor on), and then focus that energy into making it right, into bringing the Kingdom closer.

“I need help.”  

Yes, I sort of asked for help from friends and family when I was diagnosed again.  But I didn’t ask my Helper in Heaven.  How could my humanity be an asset?  How could I benefit from fragile vulnerability?

We asked for help with housecleaning because compromised immune system and germs don’t belong in the same sentence.  Family helped out with Lucy and with my physical recovery.  For our month-long stay in the hospital our friends gave David gift cards to near-by restaurants so he wasn’t stuck eating hospital food.

Please pray for me.  God, heal me.  But unlike the bleeding woman who reached out for Jesus’ cloak hoping with all her heart that He was the Healer everyone said He was, I kept my distance.  “Lord, help.  I think?” I whispered from the back of the crowd. I didn’t believe I was worth helping.

So I looked at the photo and I spoke the three things I didn’t allow myself to say all those years, giving a voice to the feelings whose existence I denied.  Then I spoke Truth, which I will also pray over all of us:

You are worth helping.  You are worth helping.  You are worth helping.

You are allowed to be afraid, but try not to stay fearful.  Remember that unhonored worry sidetracks us from our pursuit of courage and love on this long journey home.

And please, if you want the world to be a better place, get angry (but please don’t be an asshole), figure out why you’re angry, and then get moving.  May it fuel your every passion as we move toward wholeness, healing, and unity.

AMEN.

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