Smashwords edition-free. From 03/04-03/31
by Dana Goodman
Publisher Xulon Press
Published in Nonfiction
Smashwords edition-free. From 03/04-03/31
Goodman's powerful debut memoir, In the Cleft Joy Comes in the Mourning journeys into the deepest places of the heart. It is an unforgettable story of how she found hope after her husband, son and mother-in-law died of cancer. Out of her pain comes a beautiful story that leaves the reader encouraged and inspired, knowing that joy can be gleaned even after the darkest of nights. In the Cleft Joy comes in the Mourning explains why some people are able to hold onto a hope that cannot be shaken.
“Grandy’s arms ached and she felt stone cold and empty. There were no words that could describe the pain she was feeling. What’s more, when she looked out the window it surprised her to see how the rest of the world was going on as usual while her world had stopped.”
--Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck Deklyen
Chronic heartache and disappointment filled our nightmarish week at Children’s Hospital. When we thought it could not get any worse, we received a phone call from Kamloops confirming Doug had a cancerous tumour on his neck called squamous cell carcinoma. Everything became a blur and the fog filling my head refused to clear. We had meetings and MRI’s, and spent late nights in fetal positions on the couch in Zach’s hospital room, trying to absorb our new reality. I had to handle this somehow. My husband and my son would be doing radiation and chemotherapy together, and Carter also needed my support and love to navigate through this horror. I shuffled down the hospital corridors willing one foot to step in front of the other. I had once read that sighing is a sign of grief. It felt like all I did during those hospital days was sigh. I had to command my body to move. Get out of bed. Get in the shower. Put soap in your hair. People talked to me, but I could not make sense of their words. I had to remind myself to blink because I knew my blank stare and hollow eyes must have been making people feel awkward. Sometimes, I would find myself laughing, conversing, and taking part in activities, but I was not present. I lived in my head, separated from the messiness of my heart. To keep from going insane I had to anesthetize my heart in order to function. Counselors call this denial. I called it survival. It was not a conscious decision, but I was aware I felt more like a block of cement than a human being.
In the middle of it all, though, traces of grace surfaced in my thoughts. I was reminded of a story a friend told Jay and I during our darkest times, a gentle reminder of how God covers us when life throws unrelenting blows. In this story, a fire rips through a farm and destroys everything in its path. The next morning the farmer walks across the yard and stops as he almost steps on the charred body of a hen. He moves it gently with his boot, and there underneath are her chicks, all of them still alive. She had gathered them under her wings and placed her body between them and the flames. God helped me connect this story to a verse Zach had underlined as his own special verse in the Bible: “When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God” (Isaiah 43:2). Even as cancer raged around us, Jesus gathered our family under his wings and buffered us. A pilot light of hope trickled in to my heart. An inkling of faith helped me keep breathing. Just when I thought I could not take one more step, God drew me in and sheltered me. I sensed his love. But, too soon after these moments I would buckle under grief again, pleading, kicking, and screaming at God, echoing David in the Psalms and Jesus on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
Six days after he was admitted, Zach was released to go home. We had hoped to get the pathology report before leaving the hospital, but the results had still not come in. A pathology report is a document that contains the diagnosis determined by examining cells and tissues under a microscope. Dr. Cochrane met with us and assured us the results would be in within the next few days. Being out of the hospital felt so good, but it also reminded me of the enormity of our trauma. Other people were carrying on with life, buying groceries, driving kids to soccer, going to work, and playing at the park. Meanwhile, our lives had come to a screeching halt. I realized other people’s joy actually brought me pain. Now, the waiting game at home would begin, where we would sit agonizingly by the phone for the call to come that would determine whether my son had a curable or terminal cancer. The days ahead terrified me. Fortunately, the thought of connecting again with Carter bolstered my spirits significantly. I knew his loving, funny ways would be so refreshing. I craved his laughter and light-heartedness, reminders that normal still existed. When we arrived home, I could see the past week had taken its toll on Carter. He evaded eye contact, trying to bypass what might be revealed if he were to look into our hearts. He did not ask a lot of questions about his brother, but rather talked incessantly about irrelevant topics, hoping to delay hearing news that would shatter his heart. He wanted to go back to the way things had been only one week before, but Zach was tired and dismissive. I tried to talk with Carter, but he would put up a wall of protection. He was not ready to hear the painful truth.
That night, after the boys were tucked into bed, I went down to the computer to research childhood brain tumours. I felt peace wash over me because, for the most part, children Zach’s age typically had good outcomes. I breathed a sigh of relief. Most likely surgeons would be able to operate and remove the tumour. Then we could go back to living our lives. I talked myself into believing the results of the biopsy would be good news and went to bed and slept in peace.
The day the phone call came in from BC Children’s Hospital, Carter and Doug were not home. I had been burdened with worry for Carter, so Doug had taken him for a little getaway to Vancouver to see Ryan and Darcie. I could tell Carter needed a break from all the sudden changes. He had become saturated with fear about what was going to happen next. He did not verbalize his fear, but his pain showed in his body language. He needed a break from the complex, confusing emotions swirling around him. He could escape the heaviness of our home for a little while. I watched Zach tinker with his Legos, oblivious, for the moment, of all he had endured over the past week. The phone rang, and when I picked up, I recognized Dr. Cochrane’s voice instantly. My heart went into an irregular rhythm as I went out into the garden to talk with him. He told me the results had come in and Zach had a very rare and aggressive tumour called glioblastoma multiforme. He thought the most time Zach had left was one year. One year! I was beyond tears. My heart hurt and my head throbbed. I wanted to scream, but words did not come. Instead, I sat in stunned silence. Slowly, after putting down the phone, the nauseating realization that I had to go back in the house to share this news with my son dawned on me. How does a mom break such horrific news to her child? I felt light headed and sick. Instinctively, I wanted to buffer Zach, but he needed to know the truth. I could not hide and act as though this dreadful reality did not exist. I knew the silence would scare him even more than my words. I braced myself for the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.
I went into the house and just stared at him while he played with his Legos, aware that he was still excited to be missing school and thrilled to have endless hours to make his creations. I realized it was the last time I would see him play this freely, without the fear of cancer looming over him. He looked up at me with his innocent eyes and asked, “Who was on the phone, Mom?”
“It was Dr. Cochrane, Zach.”
“What does he want?”
“He wanted to share the results of the tests that came back about why you have been having such severe headaches.”
“What did he say?”
I lowered myself to the floor, and then the tears came.
“Honey, you have a brain tumour.”
“Is it cancer?”
“Yes it is.”
“Am I going to die?”
“The doctors are doing everything they can to find a way to treat this, but yes, there is a possibility you may die.”
He looked up at me in terror and all I could do was hold him. “Zach, let’s pray that God will give you the courage to face this and that he will take away your fear.” We prayed together, cried together, and just sat together in silence. He called his Grandma Laird and wailed into the phone, “Grandma, I have cancer!” She soothed him with her love and gentleness, and he got off the phone a lot calmer.
“Mom, when am I going to die?” Time stood still as I choked the words out.
“The doctor said you have one year, maybe more.”
He was quiet for a minute and then looked up at me with pain, but also hope. “Oh, so I have a whole year?” His comment baffled me. To him, a year was a lifetime. He went back to playing with his Legos, thankful he had an entire year. I was astonished. Only God could have given him such supernatural peace.
Unlike Zach, I had no peace. A cesspool of anger churned inside of me. I silently scream at God, I am not planning this child’s funeral! He is only twelve years old. He has his whole life ahead of him. Surely this is not OK with you! I felt immobilized, stuck in quicksand and unable to stop the train wreck that loomed around the corner.
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Speaker, author and grief counsellor Dana Goodman lives in Kamloops British Columbia.