Back in the years when I was in seminary, I heard a story about a colleague of one of the large churches. He had been a successful minister, but knew a lot of grief and loss in his life. One teenaged child had drown when the family was on vacation some years before. At the time I heard this story, his son, a young adult, had been violently attacked. Stabbed, if memory serves, so badly that the clung to the edge of life and the minister had taken leave and gone to sit by his son’s bedside. Weeks went by.
His congregation didn’t know what to do, so they did the things they thought might help. They sent cards and messages of care, they sent flowers to be with the minister and his son through the hard hours of waiting and wondering. They felt helpless in the face of the unutterable sorrow that the minister must have been living with.
The son survived, and the minister returned to his congregation, gently and slowly getting back to his work. The people said to him, “We didn’t know what to do so we sent cards and flowers and our love. Did any of it help?”
After a moment, the minister replied, “You know, nothing really helps in those moments. But of everything that doesn’t help, your cards and the flowers and your love was the best.”
As I move through this journey with breast cancer, I’ve thought about this story and minister and the wisdom of his words. The truth is that our lives are turned upside-down by death, loss, grief, or disease and it’s mostly not possible to put everything right again or even “help” in the ways we usually use the word. Deep grief and lives that are forever changed and sadder aren’t made better by casseroles.
But, it’s also true, as my colleague remarked, that though nothing may help to soothe that deep grief or loss or disease or whatever it is that life has spilled out, the connections of love and care in our lives that are revealed are the very best.
My chemo is hard. And I am held in love by more people than I remembered loved me. The scars my body bears after surgery and the poisons that help treat the cancer will never go away, nor will they be healed. And there is a web of connection and care that is wrapped around my changed body that murmurs “we love your heart and soul and even your scars.”
Thank you to all of you who have been with me on this journey. It matters more than I can say.