Paul walked slowly down the hallway, heading towards his bedroom. It seemed to grow longer with each passing day.
He entered his room and ambled over to the leather rocker in the corner. He sat down, the soft leather cradling him, thankful for the blessed relief it brought to his weary body. He smiled as he remembered finding it here earlier, with a sign saying “Merry Christmas, Dad—Love the Kids.” He wasn’t one for crying, but tears had quickly come to his eyes.
He heard the voices of his children and grandchildren in the living room, gathered together to celebrate Christmas as they had done every year. He longed to be out there with them, celebrating the joys of the season, but he had stayed as long as he was physically able. They all understood; they knew the cancer was weakening him. He could see it in all of their eyes--the realization that this was likely the last Christmas they would all share together with him there.
Pain welled up in his heart, thinking of everything he’d miss, thinking of the suffering that was to come…
I’m trying…trying to be strong.
He dashed away the unwanted tears with his handkerchief, depressed in his moment of weakness. He reached for the TV remote, trying to drown out the sorrow.
The TV was already on the channel he wanted; it was a Mass from a church somewhere in the United States. Lately, he’d taken comfort in this channel, a welcoming presence after all the years he’d been absent from community worship. He’d left years ago, tired of the hypocrisy that his church had contained. But tonight, the first time in many years, he’d gone to Mass with his family. Physically it was hard—he had to stop and catch his breath a few times from the car to the pew—but God had given him strength throughout the service. He’d even taken Communion, feeling the presence of God with the wafer and the wine, feeling his sins being cleansed away. In that brief moment, he’d felt stronger than he had in years.
“Paul. Paul, would you like something to eat?” His thoughts were interrupted by his wife. She’d come into the room without him noticing. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked at him. “You over-exerted yourself, Paul.”
“I’m alright, June. Just a little tired.”
“Let me get you something to eat.”
“June, I’m not hungry. I’m just going to rest here. I’ll be fine.”
She nodded. She knew she couldn’t force him to eat no matter how hard she tried. She turned around and walked out of the room.
Paul watched his wife leave. Her health had been failing too; her arthritis in her knees was affecting her walk. He knew she had to be tired too. How many times had he worried that she would go before him? Now, here she was, still attending to his ever increasing needs, despite the pain he knew she had to be going through.
He dreaded what would happen in the coming months and how she would be affected.
How can I leave her here when she needs me?
Questions and worries assailed his mind. Would she be ok on her own? Would his children help her in the time after his death? Would there be enough money to support her?
All the worries disturbed him, but he could never seem to be rid of them.
There were times he just wanted to give up. Escape from the pain and the reality of death. Times where he just wished he could let go of this life. Times like now.
I’m so tired…so tired, God…
A still small voice from within came to him. You can’t give up P. Not yet.
He opened his eyes, recognizing the voice that always brought him back from the brink of despair. Other thoughts came, replacing the fatalistic ones. He thought of his wife and children, and all his grandchildren, nearly grown. One would be graduating high school this year. Another, who was in the Navy, would soon be coming back from San Diego on leave. Images of the rest of his grandchildren filled his mind. He smiled, satisfied in all of their many accomplishments.
I am with you always, Paul. I will be your strength.
His mind eased and he fell asleep, grateful for the moment of strength he’d received, the words echoing in his heart.
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