Death and Loss. I’d bet that these two words make you uncomfortable. I would bet, especially if you live in America, that because I started this blog off with those words you might be, at the very least, half-tempted to swipe to the next app, close your laptop, or start a new round of “AngryBirds” (is that even still a thing?) on your iPad.
Unfortunately, we all have some sort of relationship to death. Whether or not you want to believe it and whether or not you’ve experienced it yet, you will. I don’t mean to alarm you, but at some point someone you know… Or you, yourself, will stare death right in the face. In this world, death is a part of life. There is no physical act of breathing that does not eventually cease.
When you lose someone, you tend to hear specific sentiments on repeat. Nothing wrong with it. But, people tell you all sorts of things. They tell you that losing a spouse is probably the worst. That you’re lucky you have a baby. They tell you that time heals. They tell you that you shouldn’t go it alone and that they are there for you. They say that the holidays are the hardest.
Some of these things may be true. Some might simply be ramblings of people who are simply at a loss for words. Either way, I appreciate the attempts of encouragement and I really don’t blame them. Truly. I know people are just trying to fill an awkward silence when they find out I’m a 26-year-old widow. I normally feel bad for them as they try to form thoughts and jump in with a, “Don’t worry about me. I’m ok! Really!” Haha.
Anyway, if you could please excuse my ramblings, I’d like to focus this particular post on the aforementioned difficulties associated with any holiday after a loss. Easter was just last week and a few thoughts of mine on this topic have been begging to get on paper. Or should I say on “screen?” I mean, this is the 21st century, after all, isn’t it? Either way. Here goes…
The memories I have of the time around last years’ Easter include my husband, but he was in a very poor state. You see, in September Nick was approaching his 26th birthday and he had been almost a year cancer free. Plus, we had just found out that we were expecting our first child. (This was basically the best time. EVER.) In October, Nick started experiencing intense abdominal pains again and we found out that his cancer had returned at an alarming rate with a terrifying vengeance. We spent those fall and winter months combating the horrific and painful tumorous growth surrounding Nick’s vital organs. His peritoneal cavity was again filled with mucinous tumors. (Side note for those that are new the story: Specifically, Nick’s diagnosis was poorly differentiated Mucinous Adenocarcinoma with Signet Ring Cells. It is a form of Psuedomyoma Peritonea that typically originates in the Appendix. Cause unknown. And, no, it’s not genetic; thank God!)
We did chemo treatments. We did holistic regimens. We completely cut out all chemicals, all processed food and ate raw veggies for weeks. Nothing helped. Nick’s pain was horrible and his tumors continued to grow despite our best efforts and the efforts of our specialists around the country. Fall turned to Winter, Winter turned to Spring and as my belly continued to swell with new life, my thoughts turned to lobbying for another surgery. I knew it would be our last chance. As my due date approached, I was constantly researching and on the phone with surgeons from coast to coast. Then Austyn was born. And, my thinking was diverted from cancer, for the most part, for at least four days. What a wonderful four days those were. We were normal… if only for a moment.
Resurrection Day Last Year
Holidays mark an interval of time. Each year on any given holiday, like many other people I would presume, I think back to where I was at this time last year. Typically I investigate “where” my attitude and my heart were the year prior. I always hope that I find myself more thankful, more giving, and more humble than before. I also, of course, think about the silly stuff: the gifts I got or gave and the jokes made around the table. Of course, my memories always include the loved family and friends that I spent said holiday with.
The obvious memories of last year’s Easter should be of a wonderful church service, of having eaten too many Reeses eggs, and of opening Easter baskets with my days-old first born. However, this is entirely not the case.
On Easter last year, Austyn was five days old and Nick was scheduled for his 13th chemo treatment for the very next day. I was tired and sore, Nick was exhausted and sick and still hadn’t recovered from his last treatment ten days before. But, we were choosing joy every moment and living that day as best we could. When I wasn’t hurting from bending over to grab the baby and he wasn’t hurting from the tumors pressing against his stomach, we were joyful. We were so happy to be able to spend the holiday as a family and to be with our beautiful baby girl. I remember the feeling of intense love bursting from my heart as I held my sleeping baby girl in my lap with my other arm wrapped tightly around Nick as he napped. I remember being joyful for just that moment. For having them both. Right there. With me. I knew that I wouldn’t have many of these moments with both of them in this life. (Unfortunately, I was right.)
I remember silent tears falling as we lay in our bed. Those minutes (or hours, I’m not sure which) were the definition of bittersweet. I was so entirely thankful for the moment but I couldn’t help but think about what we would be facing the next day and in the months to come.
Easter Sunday, Chemo Monday
You think you have had a real case of the “Mondays?” Try again.
That chemo treatment (which turned out to be number 13 of the total 17 systemic chemo treatments that Nick faced) proved to be one of the worst. We had exhausted FOLFOX weeks prior (after 10 treatments) because the neuropathy (which is intense pain, numbness, and paralysis) in Nick’s hands and feet had gotten so bad. This chemo “cocktail” – if you will – was his third of what ended up being seven rounds of the chemo combination dubbed FOLFIRI. And, the side effects for Nick were debilitating. His stomach cramped so horribly that he could barely stand. (There’s an official word for this, where the side effect literally causes your intestines to twist into knots, but the term escapes me now… Wait… Something with an I… Ileus. That’s it! I know you really wanted to know. Ha!)
Eating was becoming increasingly painful because of the cramps that the chemo caused in his intestines and furthermore because of the pressure that the tumors were putting on his digestive track. Then there was also the constant nausea, the never-ending metal taste in his mouth, and the fact that he could hardly sit straight. Just in case it isn’t obvious after those two sentences, the gist of it is that at this time last year my husband could barely eat. In fact, he could barely drink, and his energy was completely drained.
Chemo lasted for about six hours or so at the oncologist’s office where they would shoot you up with enough steroids to make a horse fly and anti-nauseas powerful enough for astronauts facing zero gravity. All this, along with the high doses of poison, pretty much make for a nonparty. (Chemo isn’t poison though, right? Actually it is. They basically tell it to you like this. “We are going to give you enough poison to kill your cancer cells. It will kill your healthy cells too, yes. We basically all just have to pray that you have enough healthy cells left at the end of this to live… MmmKay, Pumpkin?” Well, all of that except for the pumpkin bit… that was just me.) Then, after those wonderfully amazing hours in the chair from hell, they would send us home with a pump that hooked up to Nick’s port and dumped more chemo for the next 48 hours.
(Disclaimer: Everyone reacts to chemo differently and, thank goodness, not everyone has as tough of a time as Nick did with it. He was very healthy and very young, but that has nothing to do with it. It’s just your chemistry and your body and how it, specifically, reacts to difference combinations. And, believe me when I say that there are SO many different chemotherapy combinations, treatments and concentrations.)
When Austyn was 8 days old and we were nearing the end of this 48 hour chemo sesh, I had to take Nick into the hospital for emergency fluids. He was doing horribly. He was dehydrated, in tons of pain, and even his favorite calm tummy foods didn’t sound appetizing. Getting him to even drink water was impossible. I knew that we had to get him in fast. I remembering sitter, on that day just three days after Easter, in the little hospital room, right off the side of the infusion center at Overlake Cancer Care. I was still learning how to nurse and was awkwardly sitting in a fold out metal chair while simultaneously trying to keep myself covered and keeping a keen eye on my husband as the life saving saline made it’s way into his body. My prayers were incessant and unending.
Resurrection Day This Year
This year, on Easter, I found myself contemplating two very poignant and intense truths. Both of these truths seem simple enough. But, if you really think about it, they are piercing. They are mind blowing. They are heart wrenching. And, they are wonderful. What are these truths, you might ask? (And, if you weren’t going to ask, let’s just pretend you were. For me.)
I will see my husband again.
And, Jesus made that possible.
Jesus died for us. Right. I know this. I’ve been taught this since I was a child. I understood that He shouldered my sins, and despite who and what I would be, He decided to die for me, so that I could have the choice to follow Him and live by His side forever.
I thought I understood the pain he went through, the anguish. I mean, I have seen “The Passion.” Joking… But, in all serious now, I knew that He took on each of our sins, that He was blameless, and that He didn’t HAVE to be ridiculed for me.
But, I never really understood the immense implications here. Not until this year. Not until I watched my husband die. I watched him go through the intense physical and emotional pain that accompanies a life slowly sputtering out, a resistant flame fading to smoke.
The cross has taken on a whole new meaning for me. Without Jesus’ choice to lay down His power… Without His decision to overcome death…. Without His redeeming and relentless love… None of us would have the chance to live forever. Do you understand what I’m saying here?
Some people say that they don’t believe in Jesus or in God. They think that “religion” was built to quell the curiosities of man. That believing in God is a last ditch effort to make sure we have something to hold onto when life gets too hard
I get that living forever sounds easy, but honestly, if Jesus were all made up, why would the story be so hard to hear and His love be so hard to accept? This isn’t easy. A grace like His is hard to receive. To know that no matter what you’ve done, what you’ve thought, no matter who you are, that Jesus loves you and wants you and pursuits you. That He died for YOU. If you really think about it that is a very, very uncomfortable thought. (And, it’s not just uncomfortable because we are talking about “death” again.) It’s uncomfortable because He CHOSE to die for YOU. To give YOU a gift that you could never ever hope to repay.
Many people have asked how I get up in the morning. How I could put on makeup or make it to the gym or write a blog post. How am I “moving on” so quickly… or at all? To give you an honest answer; I am not moving on. And, I never will.
But, I AM choosing to move FORWARD with Nick’s memory always in my heart. He has taught me many lessons. One of them was that we CAN NOT waste time. That every moment and every single breath, counts. I know that I WILL NOT waste it.
I’m trying to use any moments I have left to not only make Nick proud, but mainly honor the gift God gave me; His gifts of life, mercy, and of love. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to express the immense closeness that I have felt from Jesus through this time. I don’t know how to tell you about it in a blog post. I don’t know if there will ever be words adequate enough. But, I do know that I can try. And, so I shall try.
Jesus is real. He is NOT a religion. He is a personal friend, a real father, and a true savior. I hope that, if you haven’t already, someday you will take the time to look into Him for yourself. Don’t look at others. Don’t even look at me. Seek Him and know Him for who He is. I promise you won’t be disappointed when you find Him. And, I sincerely hope that you do so before your experience with death becomes all too personal.
Really appreciate your time. Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post and your comments if this has touched you in some way. I may not always be able to get back to you but I do see and appreciate each and every one.
If you’re the reading type and want more… Send me an email at Alyssa.Magnotti (at) gmail.com if you would like a few book recommendations on Grief, Loss, Death, why bad things happen to good people, or on Jesus in general. I’ve been running across some truly great ones.
If you are more of a visual person… Here’s a great video by my friend Jefferson Bethke that I shared on Facebook a while back that expresses fairly clearly who Jesus is. It’s not about what you DO. It’s about what He’s DONE. Take a look.