Last year, I visited with my cousin Janet as she neared the end of her battle with cancer. In spite of the difficult regimen of treatment she endured, Janet maintained an extremely positive outlook. Perhaps this was in response to the love that surrounded her. As I accompany my sister on an equally difficult journey, thoughts of Janet return and fill me with inspiration…
I remember that when I arrived my cousin lay with her eyes closed, seemingly searching for a bit of comfort in sleep. Since she seemed to be awake behind her closed eyelids, I announced my presence. “Hey!” she said with as much of a smile as she could muster. She added an “oooh” and then another in response to her discomfort. I noted her grandsons’ artwork which decorated the wall in front of her. Janet couldn’t help smiling when I mentioned their names. I went on to fill her in on a recent family gathering and all of the prayers and good wishes that were sent her way. Again, she smiled.
Two nursing assistants interrupted our conversation. They’d been sent to move Janet from her bed to her chair. Though Janet seemed to anticipate the discomfort of this move, she responded, “Okey dokey.” The move wasn’t easy as Janet had been bedridden for weeks. Still, when she settled into her new position, she remarked, “I got it all.” Though Janet’s tumor played havoc with her speech, I understood this expression of pride at having made it from bed to chair.
A few minutes later, Janet’s fiancé Bob arrived. When I’d mentioned Bob earlier, saying that he is a good man, Janet replied with a smile, “Oh, he’s –yeah, he is.” Bob’s “hello” kiss netted only a half smile as Janet was still adjusting to the chair. Janet continued to settle in as Bob gently massaged her neck and shoulders. Though she didn’t speak, Janet seemed to become more comfortable and more peaceful. When Bob moved on to Janet’s head, I shared that I’d bring my husband next time for massage lessons. Once again, Janet offered that half smile that assured us that she was indeed attending to our presence.
This conversation was interrupted by the physical therapist. After introducing herself, she assisted Janet in moving her extremities. Poor Janet’s weeks in bed had taken their toll. Still, in spite of the difficulty and the pain, Janet cooperated as best she could. Janet reacted to the pain by singing an “oooh” here and an “aaah” there. When I complimented my cousin for singing rather than saying “bad” words, that smile appeared once again. When the therapist left, Bob congratulated Janet for her effort and returned to his massage, carefully and gently working each of the areas the therapist had exercised. Again, the peace returned to Janet’s face.
After offering good-bye hugs, I considered this loving couple as I walked to my car. If Bob had rented a billboard on Interstate 294 to profess his love for Janet to the world, it wouldn’t have been as powerful as what I witnessed in his care for her. If Janet had commandeered a hot air balloon that sported an “I love Bob” banner and flown it over Wrigley Field, it wouldn’t have been as powerful as the smile she offered in response to Bob’s name. Indeed, words weren’t necessary between these two because the way they cared for one another said it all.
Bob and the rest of Janet’s loved ones experienced a good deal of sadness over the eventual outcome of Janet’s battle. Still, the enduring love that surrounded her into her last days was far more tangible. All of Janet’s family joined Bob in loving her. They watched over her and cared for her because their love is authentic. Indeed, Janet’s life remains a priceless treasure that her loved ones will treasure until they meet Janet again in a far better place than this.
Today’s gospel (Mark 1:21-28) and many other gospel passages indicate that adults and children alike were drawn to Jesus. Jesus offered something very different from the repeated lectures of the scribes and Pharisees. When Jesus taught, he spoke with his words and his actions. This is an important aspect of what convinced those who listened that Jesus taught with authority. More importantly, the subject matter of much of Jesus’ teaching was love. Jesus loved more deeply and more inclusively than anyone who had come before him. Jesus offered this love to reveal God’s affection for each of us. It is this selfless love that Bob and Janet’s family extended to her. It is this love that Jesus asks you and me to extend to one another.
Adapted from Something to Think About… For Christmastime and Winter Days
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved