Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Surely Death Has Lost its Sting"

We never really know what we have until it is gone and many times it takes a difficult trial to realize just how aware of us the Lord is and how active He is in our lives. Sometimes we don't realize we have a lesson to learn until it is forced upon us, in the same way that we don't always realize our strength until it is put to the test. We all experience a myriad of seemingly pointless yet excruciating trials in this life, but I bear witness and testify that each and every single one of them has a purpose, whether or not we can pin point it. We will all experience loss, heartbreak, regret, fear, hopelessness, anger, etc. at some point, but it is only through experiencing the lowest of lows that we have the capacity to fully enjoy our highest of highs. 

I’ve decided to start with the message since the rest of this post is going to be  the nitty gritty details; what everybody has been asking me for weeks, thought I’m of the opinion that the details don’t matter nearly as much as the message they portray. 

I haven’t posted since now because I could not find the appropriate words; I wasn’t even really sure what I was feeling, that is once I had finally stopped denying my feelings and decided they needed to be acknowledged.

Today I went to the temple and found some of the words I needed, and though they don’t nearly account for all the details, I’ve determined that they are good enough for now. 

On July 1st of 2017, my grandma passed away, about two weeks after having been diagnosed with skin cancer. It wasn’t so much that she passed away, but what preceded her death that has had me unable to communicate for the last month. 

When my grandma was diagnosed with cancer, she was living alone in her own apartment nearly an hour and a half’s drive from where I live. She had been perfectly fine; she had been driving that week, functioning normally; everything was fine, so when I was asked to stay with my grandma for the weekend since she had become nauseous and dizzy, I had no idea the gravity of the situation. 

It soon became very apparent. A formal doctor’s visit confirmed that she had Melanoma, but I didn’t need to know that to see that something was going awry. By the end of my second day with my grandma, she could no longer walk by herself, though she had had no previous problems whatsoever. I remember distinctly the moment I knew something was very wrong: I got up to get a glass of water and turned around to see my grandma walking towards me and then stumbling in her dizziness and nearly falling into a table. 

That was the last time she walked by herself.

From there it only worsened. A tumor in her brain stem was creating pressure which was rapidly paralyzing her body (though mostly the right side), manifesting first in her eyes, then her legs, her throat and lungs, and then her arms and hands. The decline was extremely rapid and despite immediate action to start radiation treatments, steroids, etc., I always had a nagging feeling at the back of mind that this battle was going to be over very soon. 

Despite this whisper, surely from the Spirit in order to prepare me, I continued caring for my grandmother 24/7, “sleeping” on the floor in front of her couch where she always slept so that I could be there as soon as she needed me at 3am or whatever time it may be, helping her get to and from the bathroom, making sure she ate something since she had lost her appetite, encouraging her when she couldn’t swallow all the pills, or even a sip of water, calming her down after random crying fits and long days of appointments, reading her texts to her when she lost the ability to do so herself, carrying her when her legs no longer functioned, helping her do her hair when she couldn’t reach up high enough to do it anymore, feeding her when her hands no longer worked, trying desperately not to show how scared I really was so that she wouldn’t have to feel that way either. 

It was the next Saturday morning when I was to be relieved from duty for a day by a friend of the family. As I left the apartment and told my grandma goodbye, it was apparent by our tears that we both knew we weren’t going to see each other in that apartment again. 

Sunday morning she was taken to the emergency room where we were informed that the tumor on her brain stem had something like quadrupled in size since it had first been scanned, a mere six days prior, and was inoperable because of its placement, though my grandma didn’t want surgery anyway. The respiratory doctor told us her lungs were filling with fluid and there was no solution (besides an extremely dangerous and painful operation that she so kindly described in great detail for us).

That was the last day I held conversation with my grandmother. 

Monday morning she was put in hospice and was mostly unresponsive until she passed on Saturday around noon. 

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not one to ask “why?”

But this experience has made me ask that exact question in excess, and though I believe there will always be a lingering “why?”, I have also been blessed to understand some of the reasons, and to be at peace not understanding. 

To echo what I stated in the beginning of this, sometimes we don’t realize our strength until it is put to the test, and I would add that we don’t realize the Lord’s strength until we put it to the test. 

Being able to put on a smile each day, muster encouraging words, even the physical act of lifting Grandma, are on a list of things for which I will forever thank the Lord I could do. I know with every fiber of my being that I was not alone with Grandma for even a second during that week. I testify that angels exist and that God answers prayers. 

The Lord’s strength is unfathomable; His reach is infinite; His love is all-encompassing. Just when I thought my body couldn’t handle it, in the moment when I didn’t know if I would be able to take Grandma to the bathroom one more time, in the final moments before I knew I couldn’t do it anymore, He was there. He was there for me and He was there for her, and He will be there for you, too. There is no task we cannot accomplish with the Lord’s help; no burden we cannot carry when He is by our side; no battle we cannot finish. I know this to be true. 

The Lord loves us and he listens to our prayers; He will provide us with what we need (though not always what we want). He hears our pleas and cries for help, and though He does not always remove our difficulties entirely, He will lighten our load so that we might carry it a bit easier. I was witness to that in the small things: I told my mom one day after church that I was really craving oatmeal cream pies and when I got back to Grandma’s house, there were oatmeal cream pies on the table. As I waited for my grandma to return from a radiation appointment, I ran across one of my favorite TV shows that I never get to watch. As the fear and panic started to sink in that last Friday night and Grandma became significantly less cognizant, my uncle stayed the entire night with us, refusing to leave because he “had a date with Candy Crush.” 

The Lord is in the little things; He is in the big things; He is in everything. 

And despite experiencing something as, for lack of a better word, traumatic as I did, I cannot deny the immeasurable gratitude I have to have been able to be with my grandma and show her every ounce of love I had left for those last two weeks. 

As I drove to the temple today and tried to think of some of the words I was going to say, a pair of songs helped me determine what they would be.

One song, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” as sung by the BYU Men’s Chorus, struck me with a new meaning. I have had a very hard time adjusting from my mission; I feel like I’m not doing anything of worth here as I was there and it has motivated me to change some of my previous plans in order to be on the path to a career that allows me to travel and help others as much as possible. Many of my plans have been foiled and I have been very much stuck in a rut, but as I heard the words to this song (for perhaps the billionth time), they took on a whole new meaning. 

It may not be on the mountain height
Or over the stormy sea,
It may not be at the battle’s front
My Lord will have need of me.
Perhaps today there are loving words
Which Jesus would have me speak
So trusting my all to thy tender car,
And knowing thou lovest me,
I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere:
I’ll be what you want me to be.

I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,
Over mountain or plain or sea;
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what you want me to be.
Especially in this day and age, with the society we live in, there is a great need and desire to help and to make a difference, but sometimes the biggest difference we can make is hiding right under our noses; sometimes it’s right across the fence, down the road, in your own kitchen even. Don’t let Satan fool you into thinking you’re not doing anything just because you’re not doing what the world considers to be great. True greatness hides in the shadows; true greatness is manifested through charity and integrity; true greatness will show when standing at the judgement bar on the last day being told, “well done.” 

The Lord has been foiling my plans with a purpose, I am sure of it (sometimes more sure than others), but I know that there is no place I would have rather been, nor that the Lord would rather I had been, than with Grandma for that week.

The other song, “The Dying Soldier” (I listened to it as sung by the BYU Men’s and Women’s Chorus and Philharmonic) struck me a bit harder. It is written from the point of view of a soldier who is dying on the battlefield. He speaks briefly of his suffering, the fact that he will never see his wife or children again, he asks that a letter be written to his wife, and then comes the part that hit me so hard today.

Oh brother, I am dying now,
Oh, I do die so easy.
Surely Death has lost its sting
Because I love my Jesus.

I can think of no better expression of my feelings than that. 

This has not been a pleasant journey, but after all is said and done, I can say with confidence that “Death has lost its sting because I love my Jesus.” I know where Grandma is. I know the plan of salvation. I know that this is but another journey, another chapter in her eternity. 

I do not know the underlying “why?” this had to happen, especially in the manner that it did, but I am at peace. 

And with that I am satisfied.

I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for us. I know that families can be together forever. I know without so much as a shred of doubt, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and beautiful and I testify that it is a source of light in what is becoming a very dark world. I know that we are all instruments in God’s hands for doing good and spreading love. I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us infinitely and without conditions. Of these things I bear solemn witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.