In June of 2012, cancer came to call. Over the next six months, I watched my brave husband, Daniel, face surgery and then round after round of healing "poison," a witch's brew that would hopefully extend his life.
Earlier I wrote that I would invite his cancer to tea and see what I could learn. As it turns out, cancer was the easier guest next to chemotherapy, a brutal visitor, who arrived soon after. Still, I tried to remain open and curious. I have always believed that every situation holds life lessons -- now I had the chance to test this belief. What lessons might these visitors bring?
As the author of a book on grief (Transcending Loss, 1997), there were lessons that were already familiar to me. One was the lesson of facing mortality, teaching us to savor life even amidst the backdrop of death. The second was the discovery of how faith can grow in the face of uncertainty.
However, these uninvited visitors brought with them new lessons for me: First, that grace is possible even under dire circumstances. As Daniel descended over and over again into what seemed like "the valley of the shadow of death," he never complained. Even as his body changed, rebelled, and wasted away, Daniel was the essence of composure. His inner light shone through his sunken eyes without the tiniest shred of self-pity.
My visitors reminded me that people are essentially kind-hearted. From cards and letters, gifts, well wishes, and gentle support, we knew that we were not alone. Even in a world where tragedy occurs daily, beauty and kindness are tucked into every corner.
Through their lengthy visit, I also learned, at the deepest level, that love transcends the body. I watched my strapping husband shrink to a bag of bones, and I loved him still. His physical form, his shell, his story, were not his essential self. Happily, love can and does thrive and grow independent of youth, beauty and health.
Perhaps one day cancer and chemotherapy will visit our family again. But for now I am very happy to escort them from my home. Should my tea time visitors return one day, I'm certain that they'll be bearing the gifts of more life lessons.
For more by Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, click here.
For more on cancer, click here.