Saturday, May 12, 2007

Edge of the Cave

Wednesday of this week I was home working on meeting several writing deadlines so I could move on to everything else I needed to do before leaving on a two week family road-trip including stops in San Francisco, Legoland (Carlsbad), Anaheim and finally Folsom Lake, California for my friend Heidi's son Josh's wedding.

Then Glenn called.

"You know how Labri's been sick for the past couple weeks?" Labri is Heidi's just-turned twelve year-old daughter.

I've known Heidi for over 20 years, though Glenn sees her nearly everyday since he works with her.

"No, I didn't know." He probably thought he'd told me, but in typical guy fashion, he hadn't.

"Well, Heidi took Labri to the doctor and they admitted her to Doernbecher for some tests." I knew by the tone in his voice that something horrible was dangling at the end of his words.


"She has a tumor. On her brain stem."

After I hung up and my heart stopped pounding in my ears, I got up from my chair and took a shower. I prayed for wisdom. I begged God to help us know what to do, what to say, where to be.

Eli got off the bus. I fixed him a snack and felt thankful he doesn't quite understand yet how unsafe life can be. Then I disappeared into my office to email and call everyone I knew who also knew Heidi and ask for their prayers. And I stayed close to Eli while I waited for Glenn to come home.

When he did, I went into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed to pray, but I couldn't help recalling the period of time ten years ago when we'd gotten the news that our daughter might not survive to birth, or if she did, would be born with severe disabilities.

I remembered what it felt like to have the world crash down around you without warning. To feel as if time is moving ahead and leaving you stuck in the mire of fear, terror, dread.

I dropped my head in my hands and sobbed a mother's tears for my friend.

That's when I realized that so far, none of my thoughts or prayers had been for Labri. They'd all been for and about Heidi. About the reality of what the next several months will bring for her.

"How does a mother do this?" I asked Glenn when he came into the room to find me.

He replied through his own tears, as if I'd really expected him to have the answer, "I don't know."

"Have you thought maybe we should cancel our trip so you can stay on top of things at the office?"

"I'm thinking about it," Glenn said.

"I don't know what to do. Should I call her? When you talked to her did she say she'd call? Do you think it would be best to be there, or to give them space?"

"Yeah, probably."

Space, we agreed. Time for their family to learn how to process the news, to learn how to balance on their new, stuck feet. That's the right thing to do, we resolved.

So we went to Costco instead.

We picked up a few ready made meals and took them to the house where Ted--Labri's uncle -- was staying with Heidi and Rick's three other pre-teens. We listened to him tell us how he punched the dashboard of his car when he heard the news.

I attempted to make order of the pile of laundry on the dining room table, and we told Ted to call us if he needed relief.

Then we went home and tucked Eli in, together. We prayed with Eli who asked Jesus to make the tumor go away. To make it not be the bad kind.

After tucking Eli in we looked (against our better judgement) on the internet, searching with the little information we had, for what the prognosis might be.

If you Google brain stem tumor you'll discover the news is not good. At all. But there are some levels of "bad" that allow you to hold out hope. At least for a little while.

Thursday Morning.

Ted called and told us tests showed it was the baddest of the bad kind. And that they were starting treatment right away.

Glenn went to the office. Their employees needed to know.

I tried to write, but had a hard time concentrating.

By mid morning I gave up and went outside. The sun felt good on my face, but made me mad.
It occured to me that my other friends were probably looking forward to the promise of a few days of sunshine, running errands, shopping for Mother's day cards and wondering where they were going for brunch on Sunday.

And that my friend Heidi was holding herself, and probably the rest of her family, together while they reeled and dodged and tried to make sense of the words coming from the mouths of of doctors.

I felt compelled to find her, to stand next to her and let her know I would tarry in the darkness with her. But, better sense convinced me to give her space. Reason told me she would call when and if she needed me.

I sent her a text message to let her know we are here when she needs us. It didn't seem like enough. Like anything.

I returned to my tasks, and tried to work, but was paralyzed by the notion that I was being dis-loyal. That I had no right to try and keep moving forward.

So I went back outside, grabbing my latest read, Traveling Mercies and scooted my chair into the shade. I flipped to my bookmark and began the next chapter, titled Hearthcake.

Just as I was wondering what to do for my friend, how to help her, where to be, I stumbled over Lamott's words and fell into the realization that I'd also been wondering if God knew what was going on down here.

I dare you to read it and tell me He isn't present during times like this...

An ache of homesickness came over me, for our old life before Sam's blood got funky, for the sweet funcional surface of that life, for all the stuff and routine that hold me together, or at least that I believe hold me together. That's the place I like to think of as reality. Maybe it's full of lusts and hormones and yearnings for more, more, more, and maybe it is all about clutching and holding and tightness, but I just love it to pieces and it was where I wanted to be.

Instead, everything felt so ominous, dark and frightening, as if we were hiding from someone in a cave. I suddenly remembered the cave where the prophet Elijah hung out while waiting to be either killed by Ahab or saved by God. An angel had come to him earlier as he sat in the desert under a broom tree, and the angel had given him a message. First the angel told him he should eat. This is one of my favorite moments in the Bible, God as Jesish mother: Elijah, eat something! The angel said he should eat, and then rest, and then retire to the cave and wait for further instructions. The angel promised that the Lord would be passing by there soon.

So this is what Elihah did. He ate hearthcakes and drank a jug of water and then went to wait in the cave for the word of the Lord. First he heard a howling gale, but he didn't go to the mouth of the cave because he knew that such loudness wasn't God, "and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantel and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him." The voice told him God's will for him, what he must do to save himself and God's people, and this of course is exactly what Elijah proceeded to do.

A paragraph later, Anne continues ...

I remembered then that the people I know with sick children have had most of [their] bulwarks stripped away, and when this happens, they were left with a lot of spirit, when they were lucky, or suicidal depression. Often both: I've been watching our friends pass through the latter and survive with spirit and mostly enormous dignity. These friends had been pushed down into the depths so entirely that it left them wide open and hopeless. Then their best friends would come by, and that would help them hook into something besides their own terror. Their friend's love turned out to be the sound of God at the mouth of the cave, a breeze to sustain and help guide them.

I called Glenn and told him he needed to come home, that I was going to be with Heidi.

He told me he'd just gotten off the phone with Holly (Heidi's twin sister) and Heidi wanted us to come, but there were so many people there it would be better to wait.

So many people? What were all those people doing there?

I went to sleep that night thinking of howling winds.

~ ~ ~

Holly called Friday afternoon and left a message saying it would be good time for us to go to the hospital. That Labri wanted to see us. That they were now only letting family come. And we were family.

We dropped Eli off at a friend's house and drove up the windy hillside road to Doernbecher behind a stretch Hummer limo. It pulled into the parking lot of the Chart House.

"Prom night," I told Glenn.

He choked back a sob.

"What?" I asked.

"Labri will probably never go to the prom..."

Again, I realized all my thoughts were with Heidi. That I still hadn't considered Labri's losses, really.

But that all changed when we walked into her room and I looked into the pale face and wobbly eyes of the beautiful little girl who'd been born on May day a dozen years ago...

~ ~ ~

Our visit with Labri was precious. When I can, I'll return and continue in an additional post...

Monday, May 07, 2007


My husband isn't much of a reader.

At times I find this appalling. At others, a great relief. For what if he knew what I was attempting by placing my own silly strings of words together? What if he understood the pointless difficulty of the hours I spend whittling at a mountain with a spoon when I could be doing something useful like learning to boil eggs.

His ignorance, my bliss.