I wish on the pages of that green notebook I would have thought to write what exact emotions were flowing through the car. There were no tears. It was time to go into warrior mode. Soldiers don’t cry. We clasped hands and quietly sat, each creating a new mental to-do list. Surgery would be in thirty-six hours. We needed to first talk to the children. What would we say to the children? We had few answers, but this ginormous piece of information that would steal their peace. Jonesy needed to call his employer. Our parents would need to know. We would have to say these words over and over. They were difficult to form.
“How are you doing?” Such a ridiculous question to ask, but the only thing I needed to know. Somehow I knew from the first moment the limitations of the us in this journey. We would be walking in the same direction but in very different lanes. I knew instinctively he would tend to a darker reality. Ever the realist, often a pessimist, I had jokingly called him “worst-case scenario boy” for two decades. I knew his mind would quietly move into the darkest spots of this diagnosis. His opposite, I could not allow room for anything but total victory. He quips that I have the unrealistic expectation that if I speak something out loud I think it will become reality. I had to verbalize victory over this situation. If ever I needed the power of words through the Word it was now. “How are you doing?” I understood his answer of silence. He returned “How are you doing?” I seconded his reply.
Once home, we divided and conquered. I knew the first time I said, “Nathan has cancer” could not be to our children. If it were true that if I spoke things aloud, they would happen, then the very idea of saying those words…I did not want to give them life.
I knew that as those words formed they would be followed by a wave of emotion that I needed to spare them. He went upstairs to call his boss and I sat on a milk crate on the floor of our kitchen and dialed my parents. I began to speak, but emotion poured from me. I had to repeat myself so they could understand. Offering support, love and prayer, I was relieved to not have to say it again for the first time.
The children all knew of the appointment that morning, so to speak to them really meant confirming what they had been prepared to know. We called Noah in Nashville and shared the news with him. He, ever a strong force of solution and resolve, received the information and began to plan his response. He would come home as soon as he was able to balance his work schedule. Macy and Molly were at work, they would be home later and we would share with them then. Emma and Jordon were at home playing with their cousin who was visiting with our sister in law. “Can you go for a walk with me?” I suggested to Lori. As we walked down the street, I said the words for the second time. They were no easier to say. I explained we would be taking the children upstairs to share with them, but felt we should offer an explanation to her. As we called the children upstairs, Lori began to stress clean the kitchen.
Telling Emma and Jordon proved to be difficult. We knew they would be burdened by the news, but at an age where the processing of it would prove a challenge. They have experienced such loss in their short lives. We needed to assure them that we were confident that this was all going to turn out fine, but we were struggling with that confidence. We did not know. We hoped. We claimed victory. Trying to share confidence with them went a long way in helping us to store it up within ourselves.
As we finished hugging the little ones, we heard the sound of solid shoes storming up the stairs. Molly was home. Of all the people I was most worried to tell, it was Molly. The moment she took breath, she turned her head and looked at her Daddy and claimed him as her own. She has never strayed from the devoted affection of him being her best guy. Her tender attention toward him, of course, impacted his devotion to her. Molly feels things deeper than any of the other children. Every happiness, every sadness felt to a degree that only empaths can feel. This combination of all that Molly is, made the reporting of the news much harder. She opened the door, looked at her dad, then looked at my crying face, and she knew. Jonesy spoke the words to her and she sat beside him as he held her and grieved the peace that this would strip from her. Anxiety born from a fear of illness made no place for anyone she loved to be ill. The three youngest children, on our bed processed this new addition to our lives and grieved. We sat with them attempting to share comfort as we ourselves joined them in the process.
Cancer, of any sort, does not allow your first reaction to be one of hopeful optimism. The very word so connotated with awful, that it is of little consequence the ratios of survivability. I am sure on the day of diagnosis, there are few who hear with as clear an understanding the follow up words, as they do the word cancer. If it were in writing, YOU HAVE CANCER would be the headlines and the probabilities would be the small writing written in legalese at the bottom of the page. The picture would be a split screen of everything you thought you knew and a dark cloud hovering over the unknown.
Cancer will steal body parts for most. But what it takes with such violence is peace. It rips it from your very soul with no concern. It is a shattered mirror of one’s mortality. It is the magnifying glass to your weaknesses. It is a reminder of the futility of feeling in control. In the first hours of this whole new reality, the death of peace was as much a part of our grieving as the disease. It was upsetting our home, impacting each of us in different waves of pressure.
The door to our bedroom opened and Macy entered wearing her Kroger apron. In our home, Macy embodies calm. As she opened the door, she assessed the room and she knew without anyone needing to tell her. She walked over to her Dad and she comforted him with a hug. I walked to her and held her. Her very presence restored a bit of the peace. As we awaited Noah’s arrival home, we were stronger in being together. Once he was home, we would be at our best to begin to face this intruder. In the meantime, we still needed to tell Jonesy’s parents. This would be the next hard task to complete.
The universality of motherhood understands that there will never be a time to hear your child is in harm. As a child, we run to our mothers, in trust, because we know this truth so implicitly. Mothers will do anything to keep their children from harm, so when in trouble she is the best source of safety and security. Somewhere along the growing up timeline, we, as children, begin to understand the depths of this truth. I believe it is then that we begin to hide from our mothers the activities we participate in, for fear she will step in and put an end to our perceived fun. Further in the timeline, we begin to fear telling our mothers of our painful experiences, because we know all too well the fact that our pain is multiplied in the burden she will carry in the knowing. So to call his mother and give her this burden was a difficulty for my precious, caring husband.
“Mom, hey it’s Nathan, are you with Dad? Can you put me on speaker phone?” hearing her cheerful voice as she chit-chatted as she found his dad and told him Nathan was on the phone. “I need to tell you something,” he started once his dad was present. And as he shared what we learned you could hear the dark cloud enter over their heads. “Ok…..ok…..ok…..” his mother repeated over and over. We could hear her trying to process what she heard; trying to make sense of what was being said. And just as we had done with the children, we tried to be both comforter to and co-griever with them. As he had done with the children, Jonesy spoke words of comfort and hope. I looked at his face as he offered these gifts to the ones he loved the most, but I knew he was reading from a script he was not fully believing. In that moment of watching him be sick, but ever the caregiver, I realized my place in all of this. He would, by nature, be attending to those around him. He would be my focus. As he comforted those around him, I would be his comfort. I realized like I never had before the very purpose of being a helpmeet to him. I would be for him what he would not allow him to be for himself. I needed to prepare myself for this.
I knew I needed to pray and recruit those of faith to pray. What joy and comfort to know that I had at my disposal these very people.
The next night, we stood on the porch of our home wrapped in the love and prayers of our community. We looked into the dark night to a sea of candles burning as our faith community prayed the four corners of our home. Each candle ignited in me the strength that could only come from a higher source and supported by a family of people who would lift our elbows when we grew weary. As cancer was attempting to steal our peace, the Prince of Peace opened His storehouses and revived us. The elders of our church anointed Jonesy with oil and prayed over him. In the midst of COVID, Jonesy stood on the porch and people came to him offering him love and prayers. We would sleep the night wrapped in that love, awaking the next morning to go to the hospital for surgery, staging and a plan.
To be continued….