The words from the doctors fell hard on my heart, “We suggest you take your son off of the ventilator by Saturday. The tests show there is nothing more we can do.” William’s cancer had filled the sac around his heart and was infiltrating his lungs with fluid. The ventilator had relieved the agony of his struggle to breathe. He was sleeping peacefully connected to more tubes and monitors than I could imagine, even after watching his 10 year old body go through the rigors of the last 5 and a half months of leukemia treatment.
The call of my life was to bring this boy and our two girls into this world and keep them safe, nurturing them until they were on their own. They trusted me. William trusted me and I could not stop his pain and suffering and death. On that Saturday we held our only son as the life slowly, undramatically ebbed away. He had aged before us in the past 5 months, from a lively, hilarious, intelligent, and handsome 9 year old to an elderly like, bald, weak little man. So tragically counter to the early morning of his birth when he was new, warm and precious in my arms. “William, your name means “resolute protector””, I reminded him from time to time in his life. I had pictured a strong young husband, a strapping brilliant caregiver and loving father. The brutality of what God was allowing did not fit any preconceived notion for my child, my life, or my God. There would be no miracle. What would happen to us as a family? To our marriage? To my identity?
Now eleven years later, to write about God’s serenity is more about describing His severe mercy. I railed at Him in the beginning and sometimes wandered the house when I was alone, crying aloud, “I’m so lost.” God seemed silent at times, but somehow never shocked about my confusion and deep emotions. I was surrounded by a church family, neighbors, and friends that creatively and tirelessly cared for me. TheCenter counseled us and counseled again. Our daughters went back to school. My husband went back to work.
Serenity meant acknowledging a “new normal”. Before William’s death, life had been understandable and stable, now reality left me with a different framework of what life entailed. Our family dynamic was forever changed. I was no longer the mother of three, but a mother of two. My husband and I grieved differently and at different times. Our girls faced their own pain and loss without William. And God’s Person-hood was now outside the formula and predictability I had placed on him. It was more appealing force life into some miserable track in which I could still exhibit control rather than reconfigure the whole system. Several choices pulled at my soul. The thought of getting uber busy with a good cause or church work played on my mind. It was a pleasant, pain–deadening (yet tiresome) place of being productive and looking noble and healthy. Everyone would then happily agree that I had “gotten over it”. On the other hand, I craved the sheer pleasure of being sequestered away from everyone. There would be no uncomfortable conversations about William, no telling the story over and over, no explaining how we were getting along, no watching his playmates grow up. And lastly, there was the very attractive option of becoming bitter and resentful, hard-hearted – numbly living from one day to the next.
Serenity could not possibly mean looking squarely at the pain, finding it unbearable, and accepting my inadequacy for the task of life ahead. There had to be another way. Dealing with the inner and outer adjustment was terrifying. I could relate to C.S. Lewis as he says in A Grief Observed, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” The greatest fear was the question of God’s involvement. There had been suffering in my life before, perhaps not on this scale, of course, and control had earned my survival. Certainly, when I could not be in control at those times, I knew God had been. Now I feared He was impotent to act. He was the God of the universe, for goodness sakes! He could’ve cured William with a word, a breath, a thought. He had not.
I felt at risk of losing more than a child. Somehow in God’s providence, even in all of the above sidetracks, the truth of the Garden of Gethsemane and crucifixion presented itself. Other glimpses of God’s love broke through, as well. The desperation of Jesus in the garden shouted validation at my own questions and longing for some other way to God’s glory. He had asked the Father, too, for a plan B. Yet He was reminded that there would be no authenticity to his life if the Father agreed. I did not want to muddle through life, half alive, half dead, dishonest with myself, running. As Jesus submitted, the Father sent gracious care to Jesus in the garden and shored him up for what lay ahead. He was doing that for me each day after William’s death and would continue to do that forever, if I kept my heart open to receive it. I was beginning to believe he cared for the heart of a mother. On the cross, rationing each word between gasps, Jesus gave his friend, John, the care for his mother, Mary. This scripture spoke clearly to me, the Savior who knew the suffering of his own mother knew my suffering too, and would stop at nothing to care for me. God revealed his serenity by offering freedom from the tight control over life that I had once held (My family will argue I am still holding on to that one!). When an instant of joy and laughter would come after so many dark hours, I was able to embrace it –hungrily. The profound draw I have to be a people pleaser and always appear spiritually “together” began to lose its power. I lost the energy to live that way as God blessedly stripped the futility and superficiality of it away.
Serenity came slowly and painstakingly for me. Accepting the fact that I could not change or control the fallen world involved a fair amount of kicking and screaming. (As William would say, a time of putting on sack cloth and ashes!) There is a great deal of lovely Scripture about beauty out of ashes, doing a new thing, life after death, heaven. One of the most potent for me, though, is Jesus gently leading those that have young (Isaiah 40:11), and it shows that he really loves and moves on behalf of the unique person of who I am.
The kicker was grasping his personal, carefully timed recovery for my spirit. Recently, I was searching for a quality children’s book to give as a baby shower gift. I ran across the Princess and the Pea. It is the classic tale of a test for the true princess: could she feel a tiny pea under a multitude of thick blankets and prove her true identity as princess? The shop I was visiting actually had displayed with the book a beautiful handmade doll laying on a stack of small, multicolored blankets, in a white princess bed. Naturally, I dug around under the mini mattresses for the pea. It was there, a precious crocheted, green pea! Like me resting on layers and layers of heartache, God penetrated my heart with the slightest, yet most powerful communication of himself. He had already equipped me to be aware of his faithfulness from times past, it was not a matter of me making anything happen, but simply to lay there and rest. The remainder of the Serenity prayer speaks to what serenity is meaning for me as I continue to experience the “pea”.
“Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him (and my William) forever in the next. Amen.”
About the Author
Tamea is currently pursuing her Master’s in Counseling at Gordon Conwell Seminary. Tamea has been married to Bill for 28 years. She is the mother of Natalie (16) and Sara (23). And the mother of William still.