I have a letter swirling around in my mind. I want to write it so badly that I have spent hours dreaming of the opportunity and reason to arise where I actually could. It has been dangling right there in front of me ... and yet, never within reach. I feel like I am on my tiptoes with an arm outstretched, straining and waving it around frantically, in the hopes that IF I could just graze the bottom of the paper with my fingertips, it would fall into my hands. That’s the dream at least. The reality? I’m reaching for a letter tied to the end of a ballon that is floating further away with each passing moment.
This letter was a thank you note to the man or woman who saved my father’s life.
You see, for the past few months my family has been gearing up for my dad to have a -potentially- life saving bone marrow transplant. It has been the only time in the last two years where a doctor has given us ANY prognosis other than “terminal.” Short of God’s hand, it was the first time we were given a thread of hope. It was thin and delicate, but it was there nonetheless. As a family we have studied, prepared, attended classes and appointments. My parents have actually gone to more appointments and seen more doctors in a few weeks than most should encounter in an entire lifetime. My dad has been poked and prodded ... and then poked some more. He has subjected himself to so much pain, bravely fighting for something so valuable that it can’t be measured by coin or dollar.
We desperately need more of it. We have been on our knees, hearts exposed, arms lifted high and pleading with God because … HE is the Author of Life and the ONLY one time answers to. The relentless ticking of a clock and the finality of the grave, take a knee to Him and Him alone.
Today my dad would have been in the infant stages of a long, very painful, life saving BUT also life threatening process. He was supposed to be in a hospital room. A massive catheter would have been surgically implanted into his upper chest and he would have received several days of total body radiation and chemo. He would have been sick. I mean ... REALLY SICK. The chemo and radiation dance would have gone on for days, till it had wiped out almost every ounce of the life surging through him. He then would have been given a new chance to fight cancer, as healthy stem cells were infused into his weak and frail body.
This process is not for the faint of heart. It is downright horrific and some of the comments I have heard regarding it, made me seriously question what my dad was about to walk into. Yes, it had the potential to save him, but at what cost?
Have you ever seen someone you love suffer? And I’m not talking a broken arm … I mean truly suffer. I have. Several times. And it is more heart wrenching than you could ever imagine, if you have never seen it firsthand. I assure you in the past couple years I have seen my dad -and my mom- SUFFER. I have seen my dad in such pain that he has cried out for God to take him. I have watched my mom hold on to my dad in that pain, as helpless and agony-filled tears fell off her cheeks and on to his gown. I have had to excuse myself from such hospital rooms so I could go outside and allow myself to fully break down. So ... even IF this process COULD save my dad, what price would he have to pay in order for it to do so?
Add to that the elephant in the room we didn’t like to acknowledge often. This transplant also had the potential to kill my father. He very well could have walked into that hospital and never left. This process could have stolen precious TIME from our family. My dad was left with an impossible decision. To be honest, I was glad the weight of it was not in my hands.
For the past few weeks we have all been a volatile mixture of nerves, fear, exhaustion, heartache, anxiety …. but also hope. I tried really hard to believe all would be ok … that my dad would have his transplant, and maybe, would get to see my children grow. Was I fully at peace with the road we were all walking down hand in hand? Not really, no. I was sick to my stomach.
“I’ve decided not to go through with it.”
The remark caught me off guard. I felt both relief and despair cover me from head to toe in an instant. It left me in a numb state of mind - one I seem to be stuck in more often than not these last couple days. Many layers underneath the surface of what I outwardly exhibit, I am panicked, heartbroken and afraid. And yet, somehow by the mercy of God and God alone, dig several layers deeper and there is a shred of peace. As much as it aches and hurts my heart, I do believe my dad made the right decision.
A world absent of my beloved father does not compute. It is not “easier” because we know he is in his final season and have had time to “prepare.” There is absolutely no preparing for the death of someone you cherish. There is no preparing to tell my kids their Papa, the keeper of all things sweet and the greatest lap to sit on in the house … is gone. There is no preparing myself for the inability to call him and hear his normal, “Hi hun,” on the other end of the line. There is no preparing for my mom to be without her other half. I wish people would stop insinuating it’s easier because we know. It’s well meaning, and there is grace in that, but it’s simply not true.
Loving someone and then losing that someone, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the timing, is life shattering and tragic. End of discussion.
I do still wish I could meet my dad’s donor, give them a big hug and thank them for being willing to save a stranger’s life. There were four people in the entire world who potentially matched my dad. Two said yes and one of those two was a full match. So to this person … thank you. For a moment you were able to lift a weight off of my family and give us all a chance to take in a deep breath, smile at each other and dream of all the time we could still have together. I will forever have nothing but love in my heart for you, even though I will never know your name. I hope somehow I find a way to get you a proper thank you, but if not, I pray this somehow finds your hands.
I realized in the process of mourning the ability to write this person and tell them they had saved my dad’s life, that there was a much more important thank you letter I needed to and actually COULD write. My right hand was outstretched as I watched that balloon drift away and my focus was so misplaced that I didn’t realize there was another -much more important- letter sitting in my left. It was not attached to a balloon. I did not need to chase it or jump up and down in a futile attempt to grasp it. I just needed to write it …
I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for all you have endured just to give us … more time. I can’t even imagine what all you are feeling right now. You have so much to carry and I wish more than anything I could take the weight for you. I know you feel like you have let us down, like this is your fault. Seeing you breakdown and apologize for disappointing us, tore my heart in two. It is simply not true. You could NEVER disappoint us and we are not angry. We have nothing but love for you. We told you from the start we would support your every decision and that holds true today. There was no right or wrong decision here and the one you made was the bravest thing I have ever seen. I honestly couldn’t be prouder of you. This is not you giving up. This is not you throwing in the towel. God is in control and has the final say. You will NEVER lose the battle to cancer. One day God will simply call you home …
The rest of the MANY things I need to tell my dad are not for your eyes … and I mean that in the nicest way. But I do encourage you not to take time for granted. No amount of money or power or status can overthrow it’s relentless ticking. Stop chasing the things in this life or the balloons that will always be out of reach. Rather, chase and pursue and lean into the people in this life who make it worth living. Tell those you love what they mean to you … tell them THANK YOU … when you STILL have the opportunity to do so. Life is fleeting. Thank goodness Heaven is not.
Gotta go … my dad just got walked in the door and I’m not going to take any of our time for granted.