Yesterday, as my dear mother-in-law, Barbara, and I worked in the kitchen while most of the men and the children (yea, even the adult children) caravanned on the traditional drive through the mountains of the Uintah Basin to count deer and elk, I recalled the Thanksgiving before. Some forty of us had gathered last year to break bread and give thanks together in the hogan family room my father-in-law built on to their home long before I joined the family.
I looked at Barbara, who is still dealing with the ill effects of breast cancer treatment from last year (no one tells you of the way lymphedema will affect the rest of your life, because they are just trying to get you to survive the chemo and radiation required to beat back the cancer). I thought, “What were we thinking, descending upon her last year like that while she was still trying to regain her strength and regrow her hair and reclaim her life?” We came because she wanted us there, I recalled. And we brought the food and tried to make the event as easy as possible on her.
My heart stuck in my throat for a moment as I remembered how choked up many of us were as we went around the room naming out loud something for which we were thankful. We started with my mother and father in law and the adult children. Words were inadequate to express the feelings of love and gratitude in our collective hearts and words gave way to emotion as we celebrated the courageous fight with death we’d witnessed Barbara wage over that past year. Words still fail…
This year we celebrated having all of the immediate adult children here for the first time in years. And some fifty of us would be gathering in the family hogan.
As I was seated at the table some moments before dinner, I noticed a friend’s post in my Facebook feed. She expressed gratitude for her mother, also my friend, who had just undergone breast cancer surgery the day before. As I messaged my friend to find out how her mother’s surgery had gone (it went well and her lymph nodes were clear–HOORAY!), I recalled my conversation with her mother just last Sunday as I hugged her and struggled to find words to encourage and give her hope. I had asked how her children were doing, remembering that in some ways the breaking of bad news to your children can be one of the most difficult parts, at least at the beginning. I asked particularly about her missionary son, who is currently serving in England, where both my older sons had served.
“I thought of you as we made that call,” she said.
I wondered if–and hoped–knowing someone else had been through this before had somehow made making that phone call just a tiny bit easier. I pondered the value of knowing you’re not alone in whatever trial you’re facing, of how having witnessed someone else as they traveled down that path and found their way through it might possibly help you make your own way through a particular trial.
Last night as I returned home from Thanksgiving and gathered some photos together I’d taken of the massive crowd cozied up in the family hogan, I thought about how last year my mother-in-law’s battle with cancer had come just about six weeks ahead of my mother’s. I remembered being thankful that as I sat with my mother, who’d just buried her own mother a few weeks before, in the stark examination room of her internist and heard the dreaded words, “You have breast cancer,” I knew immediately what to do. We didn’t have to waste precious time researching doctors or treatments. We already knew the best breast cancer surgeon in the county and were able to schedule my mother’s surgery immediately, without delay. We knew at least some of what lay ahead for my mother. We knew it wasn’t pretty, but at least we knew we were not alone. Someone had been down that path before…
I composed a thank-you note in my head to Barbara. I need to thank her again for her courage. Because last night, I realized for the first time how witnessing her courage had given me the courage I needed to help my mother, who needed me to be the strong one and to appear fearless and full of hope.
How have you found courage, strength or wisdom through others as they go though hard things? How can we feel less alone during our trials? Have you found purpose and meaning in your own difficult experiences by reaching out to others?