Whoah, we’re halfway there, livin’ on a prayer… My phone belts out Bon Jovi’s best.
“Hi, Mom,” I answer, my weariness showing through my voice.
“How is he, today, Jenn?”
I glance over at my sleeping husband. If it weren’t for the oxygen tank beside his bed and the IV pushing fluids into his veins, one might be hard pressed to even realize he was sick. Well, they’d have to overlook the sunken eyes and yellowed skin, too. I sigh.
“About the same, I guess.”
“And how are you?”
I pause before answering.
“I don’t know, Mom. I don’t know how I’m supposed to be. I’m tired, I guess. Tired of it all. Scared…sad, too…” My voice trails off. How am I supposed to feel? I’m thirty years old and soon I’ll be a widow. Is there a right way to feel about that?
“Jenn,” my mother says, “I want you to dig out Grandma Etta’s book. I know you’ve read it before, but read the last page again. I think it will help.”
Grandma Etta’s book…wow…I haven’t thought about that in years. But instantly my mind flashes to a pile of books I stashed on the bookcase when we moved in. I’m pretty sure the book is with that pile.
I agree to Mom’s suggestion. We talk a little bit more and then hang up. I glance at my watch and realize that the hospice nurse should be arriving momentarily. I leave the bedroom to wait for her.
Later, I find myself wandering around the house. With the nurse’s arrival, this is supposed to be “time off” for me. But when your husband is dying, do you escape -- really?
I grab a bottle of water and then wander out to the bookcase, Mom’s admonition in mind. Sure enough, Grandma Etta’s book is wedged in there, right on the bottom shelf. I dust it off and settle myself onto the couch. As I do, my eyes wander around the room. I can’t believe we’ve lived here for two years and still haven’t finished unpacking. But then, it’s kind of hard to fit that in between chemotherapy treatments. Maybe I’ll get to it later, after -- you know.
Grandma Etta’s story is one that she wrote in her latter years. After her death, my aunt typed it up and distributed copies to family members. My great-grandmother was an amazing woman. She detailed in her book the many struggles of her life. Great-Grandma Etta lived an entire century before me. When she was younger than I am now, she buried both her small children when they died in the flu epidemic of 1918 while her husband was away at war. He never returned.
Etta remarried a few years later and gave birth to a girl, who became my grandmother, and then a developmentally disabled son. She refused to institutionalize him, as was common then, insisting on raising him herself in an era when there was very little help for the handicapped. She was widowed again. Later, my great-uncle was accidentally killed as a young man. My great-grandma remarried one more time, but after twenty years suffered the humiliation of having her husband exposed for embezzlement. He later committed suicide.
The thing that used to amaze me when I would read Grandma Etta’s book was that, despite the many, many tragedies she endured, her faith was solid and she was not destroyed.
I flip to the back page, as my mom had suggested. There I re-read my great grandmother’s words.
As I look back on the years God has given me, I am struck again, not by the terrible things that have happened, but by God’s faithfulness to me. One my favorite verses that I have clung to over and over is the one found in John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” The awful things are temporary. In the end, Christ is the victor. And this is the hope that I still cling to today. This is what makes me smile.
I close my eyes and let the message wash over my soul, lifting and renewing me. The words were penned from a different century, but just as healing and hope-giving as they had been then. Indeed, the words of Jesus came from centuries even before that, but the hope and promise He gave then rings just as true now.
And for the first time today, I smile.
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