I was losing Hope.
She lay under crinkled hospital linens, eyes hollow and closed, slipping into another realm. Drops inside IV tubes seemed to count down her remaining moments, sand in some sort of obscene hourglass.
Nothing more could be done. My wife was leaving me, leaving us, and the impending loss became a palpable weight across my chest.
I sat on the bed, in the curve of her waist, the bones of her hip protruding, and held the hand which once caressed away my anger as I struggled against fitful sleep. I wrestled with the God who’d afflict my soul-mate and leave our children motherless. I wanted nothing to do with him.
She’d seen me through the turmoil that battered my faith. She prayed without ceasing, for me, the girls, and our futures.
I stroked her cheek, sunken and prematurely cold. The corner of her mouth flickered, perhaps a final throb of pain surfacing despite the medication. Or the last vestige of a smile from some distant shore.
Where are you now? Come back. Don’t go.
A tear coursed hot from beneath my sodden lashes becoming lost in unshaven whiskers.
I’d promised God to move mountains for him if he’d bring a cure … asked him to take me instead … explained that a father is an income, while a mother is life.
When my prayers dissolved into barter sessions, she’d hold me and we’d cry together. The healing power of her love bathed me.
I’d rather you healed yourself.
Twenty years of marriage laid waste by a shattering malignancy. It was over, cut short. Hopeless.
The door of the room inched open in a slow, faltering arc. Juvenile fingers gripped the frame, ushered forward by a nurse with trembling hands. Charity and Peg edged past wilting flowers, eyes pulled wide and steeped in moisture. At 12 and 8 they were old enough to understand but still young enough to scar.
I reached for them. “Time to say goodbye. Mommy will be leaving us soon.”
Peg wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Is she … does it hurt, Daddy?”
I stroked the tangles of her un-brushed hair. “No, princess. The doctors gave her medicine.” I nodded to the dripping tubes. “She’ll never have to feel pain again.”
She sat on my lap, leaning back against my chest. “Can I touch her?”
“That would be good.” I said. “You both can.”
Charity smoothed the blanket. “Dad, we need to pray.” Her voice was even and calm. The tilt of her head, the angle of her chin, the cadence of her voice … all so much like her mother. For an instant I was lost in a memory … our wedding day, laughter and dreams.
I swallowed, trying not to choke. “I think she’d like it.”
“Not to make Mom happy.” She blinked and looked at me. “To keep us strong. There’s a promise beyond, Mom showed me in the Bible.”
Peg stared at the machines and monitors as they flashed and beeped in an ever decreasing rhythm. “We get to see Mom again after this.” In her voice a peaceful certainty.
I shuddered, my lungs involuntarily gasping. A simple realization dawned behind the curtains of grief encircling me. I wasn’t losing Hope at all. Instead, I was trusting her to the assurance of death and resurrection.
We held hands, a circle of four, and renewed our acceptance of Divine grace.
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