Bearing the Unbearable

Most of us have grand plans for the way our lives will unfold. We have the highest hopes for ourselves and our children. But that’s not the way life works sometimes. All of Nora’s grand plans will never be a reality. She never expected to outlive her daughter.

Nora was using her long grey braids to wipe her tears that just wouldn’t stop coming. The floor around her feet was littered with a blanket of hundreds of wadded tissues. She had just spent the previous two weeks holding vigil at the bedside of her forty-seven year old daughter, Jennifer, who was dying from brain cancer. With a resolute voice, Nora said, “She needs the comfort of my touch around the clock.” Nora had several pillows arranged between her high back dining chair and Jennifer’s right arm so she could occasionally sleep while still holding her hand. Jennifer was in a deep coma, dying in her mother’s living room.

It was clear to me that Nora was about to collapse from fatigue and grief. Her blouse had a variety of stains all over the front from the few meals she had attempted to eat during her exhausting vigil. The dark circles under her bloodshot eyes were tear-stained from the heartbreak of a mother losing her child. I offered to sit with Jennifer so Nora could take a shower and change into fresh clothes. Nora adamantly declined. I offered to fix her something to eat. She snapped, “There isn’t any food in the house!”

I asked Nora to tell me who her in her life she could turn to for support. She slowly moaned, “They are all dead. My husband and our two other daughters died of cancer too, all within the last five years.”

I expressed my deepest condolences. Then, she floored me and rendered me speechless when she said, “I guess there are people who have it worse than me.”

I found myself in her tormented shoes for a brief moment. I imagined what it would be like to lose my family, one beloved at a time, over a five-year period. I could barely contain my emotion for this dear woman as I tried to fathom the intensity of what she had been going through.

I managed to put my feelings aside until I got into my car and drove down her bumpy country road about 500 yards. I had to pull over. I cried for her and the potential of this to happen to anyone of us.

How do we bear the unbearable?


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