A Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow, Part Three

Travel Orders
In two previous posts, (here and here), I have shared the story of my mother’s struggle with cancer and my awareness of God’s guidance through her illness. This time, God worked through my husband, Rich, to show me the right path to take.

After my quick trip to Reno in late July, three weeks passed before I returned. Rich and I drove to Fallon to spend a long weekend with my parents in late August to celebrate Mom’s birthday. My siblings had been there with their children two weekends earlier and Mom had been well enough for them to go out for pizza one evening.

So I was hopeful that during our birthday visit we could go to Virginia City, about an hour away, to take Mom on a driving tour of that historic town. It was a trip Mom and I had discussed during the long wakeful nights when she was hospitalized in June.

She was not well enough to make that trip. In fact, she slept most of the time we were in Fallon. I decided that her energy during my siblings’ trip had been the result of pure will on her part: After all, her only comment to me when she was diagnosed had been, “I just hate to think of the kids having a sick grandma.”

We spent the weekend visiting with Dad, I cooked, I baked a birthday cake. Dad mentioned that he had postponed his cataract surgery “until your mother is well enough to drive me home from the appointment.”

Rich and I exchanged glances. As certain as I was that my mother was dying, my father was equally convinced that she would recover. I admired his hope and felt sorry for him at the same time.

When it was time to leave I promised them I would return soon.

In September, I was to attend a business conference in San Diego from Wednesday, the 17th, through Friday, the 19th. I had told my former husband Jim, my daughter’s dad, that if he wanted to see Mom he probably shouldn’t wait too long. He, my daughter Elaine, and my grandson Cadence had planned to leave San Diego the evening of September 18 to drive to Fallon for the weekend. My boss readily agreed that I could skip the final session of the conference on Friday morning and hitch a ride to Fallon with them. So they collected me from the conference hotel that evening and we drove through the night, arriving in Fallon in the wee small hours.

They dropped me off at my parents’ house about 5 A.M. and went on to their hotel. By this time Mom was sleeping on a hospital bed in the living room; I would sleep on the sofa to be close to her. Despite my efforts to be quiet, she heard me enter and called out, “Hi, Honey!” I went to her side and kissed her forehead. We spoke for a moment, quietly, in the early morning darkness. Then she returned to sleep.

My plan was to stay through her doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, September 23, and then fly home from Reno. I should add that my brother, sister and daughter (the only adult among the grandchildren) were making frequent trips to Nevada. We coordinated our visits to provide as much support to our parents as we could. My brother had driven to Fallon on September 8. My sister arrived the day after he departed and had just left Fallon the day before I arrived. Mom had been hospitalized with another infection during her stay.

Mom was weak, but she enjoyed her visit with her former son-in-law, granddaughter, and only great-grandchild. She and Cadence watched Muppets DVDs together and shared Cheez-it crackers, her favorite snack. I cooked. Dad’s birthday had been on September 18, so we celebrated that occasion. One evening, she came to the table and seemed to enjoy her meal. The next night, the trip to the table exhausted her so that she had no energy left to eat. My heart broke.

On Monday I drove to the local Seniors’ Center and borrowed a wheelchair. Tuesday we drove Mom to Reno for her doctor’s appointment; riding in the car exhausted her and I was grateful we had the wheelchair.

Dr. Lim met us in a conference room. “Our backs are against the wall,” he told us. “If we’re going to fight this, we must start the chemo now. But I have grave reservations about your ability to withstand the chemotherapy.” Mom had struggled with a series of setbacks since her surgery three months earlier; instead of growing stronger, she grew weaker. Meanwhile the cancer spread.

Mom thought for a moment. “Well, we’ve got to do something,” she finally said. My father leapt from his chair. “That’s my girl! We’re going to beat this!” Plans were made to admit Mom to the hospital in Reno the following Monday. Due to her fragile state she would receive the chemotherapy as an inpatient. If all went well, she would be discharged the following day.

My parents dropped me off at the airport following Mom’s appointment. Since I had some time before my flight, I called my husband, my daughter, and my siblings with the medical update. I ate something that tasted of cardboard in the departure lounge.

My flight was scheduled to arrive in Orange County sometime after 10 P.M. Rich was waiting for me. I remember feeling a flood of gratitude for his unwavering support.

By the time we were home it was after 11 P.M. and I fell quickly into an exhausted sleep. The next morning I returned to work and focused on catching up from yet another week’s absence from my job. That evening, Rich and I followed our normal routine.

But when bedtime came, I could not sleep and I could not stop crying. While I had cried on many occasions through my mother’s illness, these tears were different. I simply could not staunch their flow. Rich held me and comforted me, but the tears kept coming.

Finally we rose and went downstairs. We sat in the moonlight on our deck, listening to the owls. My husband asked me, gently, if I knew specifically why I was so tearful. I could not answer him.

He looked at me and firmly said, “You need to go back.” His words startled me. Previously I had been visiting at intervals of three weeks or so; now he was telling me to return to Nevada almost immediately. Further, throughout my mother’s illness, Rich had provided support; now he was offering direction. He had always been a gentle head of our household. Not given to bossiness, the only times I could recall him telling me what to do previously had been when we were our cruising on our boat and he needed me to tend a line or take the helm.

Another trip also seemed logistically impossible. “But Ayden is coming to spend the weekend! Cadence’s birthday party is Sunday!” I wailed. Rich assured me that he could manage our four-year-old grandson’s visit without my assistance and that he would take him to our younger grandson’s second birthday party. “I just know you need to be there,” he told me.

I called my daughter. “You go ahead, Mom. Cadence is going to have lots and lots of birthday parties. You’re allowed to miss one.”

As I thought of the prospect of returning to my parents’ side, my tears abated and I felt that comforting, peaceful confirmation that I was on the right course. We planned that I would leave work Friday afternoon, fly to Reno, stay with Mom for her chemo treatment on Monday, and return to Orange County on Tuesday, September 30. I sent my boss an email outlining my plans; if she agreed to yet another absence, I could book my flight before heading to work the following morning.

With our plans laid, we returned to bed and I slept. As events unfolded over the course of the following week, it became clear that Rich was right: I did need to be there.

24 The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything
along the way?
Proverbs 20:24 (NLT)