Friday, December 3, 2010

On sickness

Nobody likes being sick. And for those of us who are healthy, it can be a point of pride: "He was never sick a day in his life." It's nice to know your body is working well.

Most of us who live to old age, though, will die of sickness. Nowadays, it's probably cancer, though it could be heart disease or Alzheimer's. Though my dream is to die peacefully in my sleep at the age of about a hundred, after a long day of baking cookies and telling stories to children, I will probably end up dying of some sickness like most people do.

Terminal illness can do a lot of things. It can warn the person that death is near, help them get their affairs in order and ready their minds. Or it can terrify them, as they know their time is running out.

It can give some people a chance to show their courage, as they look death, sickness, and pain in the face without quailing. Or, especially in the case of a long illness, it can break the people we thought were strongest and bring them near to despair.

It can give the person's spouse a chance to show their love in a final time of service, where they care tenderly for the sick person's needs. Or it can burn out the healthy spouse until they're too stressed to make the love in their actions apparent.

Sickness can make you or break you.

It's hard to visit the sick. You want to bring comfort, yet you're afraid to see the person. Afraid they will be something different from what you've always known. You don't want to be left with the memory of a weak person, in bed, surrounded with tubes and wires; you want to remember the strong, healthy, happy person you knew. You don't want to ruin the image you have of someone you've always looked up to.

I've been thinking about this a lot, as my Grandma J- fought a brave battle with her illness, and my Grandpa C- is fighting his. It's just hard on everyone to know a family member is suffering so much. Suffering can ennoble the soul, but it can also push the soul past its limits. And for those of us who are not suffering, there is nothing we can do to lift the pain for the sufferer.

I haven't got any real conclusions about this, because there isn't anything I know that can make this any better. All I can think right now is that I got the news today that my grandpa can sit up in bed and ate breakfast this morning, and though I am very happy to hear it, I still feel sad. A couple years ago, good news from Grandpa was that he was climbing Mt. Rainier or taking aerial photos of the Columbia River or had picked a bushel of cherries ... I wish I could hear he was doing those things again.

I think heaven for my grandpa will involve a lot of flying. The wind will be full in his face -- no plane needed -- and he will be able to see to the horizon and beyond. God made an eagle when he made my grandpa, and He'll give him an eagle's reward.

Right now his body is in bed, but he still has the soul of an eagle. I love him so much.

(Grandpa is second from left, in the back.)

1 comment:

Heather said...

Powerful and loving words for a strong and loving man.

Btw, somehow, knowing that my ideal passing pretty much matches your ideal passing is kind of comforting... as if people's shared dreams means their memory won't leave the world with them.

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