My paternal grandmother died of an aggressive form of colon cancer when I was just 10 years old.
It was the early 1970s, well before the advent of modern chemotherapy, radiation, and experimental treatments. Surgery was, at best, the only viable option.
I don’t remember specifics, but I do remember that she kept her symptoms from her grown children for months before her diagnosis. You see, she didn’t want to worry or inconvenience anyone.
Her surgery was deemed “successful.” Her oncologist assured our family that he’d gotten it all. “She’ll die from something else like old age, but not this cancer.”
(insert famous last words here)
Within a couple of months, the cancer was back, with a vengeance. Short of a miracle, her frail body would succumb to this awful disease.
Someone in the family, one of her children, decided that we would not discuss her terminal situation in her presence.
So we didn’t.
We didn’t get the opportunity to tell her goodbye.
Instead, we washed our faces clean of the tears, plastered on fake smiles, and talked optimistically about life. Her future. Her getting better.
At the time, I didn’t understand why we were lying to her.
She knew how sick she was. She was no dummy.
She was a strong Christian, a Pentecostal lady who spent Sundays shouting and praising her Lord, even while standing in the kitchen, preparing lunch for a dozen people.
And now, 40 years after the fact, I look back and realize what a mistake that was.
We didn’t tell her what she meant to us. We didn’t get to say goodbye properly. We danced around the elephant in the room, day after day, night after night.
It was a long, arduous, painful process, her death. She knew how much she was loved. I just wish I could’ve told her one more time.
Here in the 21st century, folks still generally deal with death like an awkward teenager’s first attempt at driving a car.
We don’t know what the heck we’re doing.
Let’s don’t talk about it and maybe it will go away.
It’s like sitting in the driver’s seat of a car for the first time. You see the steering wheel, the gear shift, and the pedals in the floorboard. You know the goal (driving said car), but putting all of the working parts together takes time and practice.
That’s your soul journey in a nutshell. Your soul sits in the driver’s seat of your life. You see all the gadgets and pedals and gears, but putting it all together? Takes a lifetime to get it right.
And the best way to live your journey is to be transparent.
My grandmother should have been told, “You are going to die from this awful, terrible disease. We’re going to spend whatever time you have left telling you how much you are loved. How much you mean to us. We want you to tell us stories, give us some pearls of wisdom to get us through the difficult days ahead. Let your faith be our guide.”
She died in 1973. I miss her every day. She was one of the biggest Christian influences in my life.
Honesty. Transparency. Facing the tough diagnoses. Choosing to live well in spite of the bad.
It’s what quenches souls.
It’s what connects you to others.
It’s what sustains you while in this imperfect dance called life.
That, my friends, is where God is glorified.
While my soul’s sitting in the driver’s seat of this temporal life, I’m going to tell it like it is for anyone that cares to listen. I’m teaching my sons the same.
Transparency sometimes comes after hitting rock bottom. It’s a freeing moment when there are no more secrets.
Transparency allows those who practice it the ability to live without regrets or hidden agendas.
If nothing else it certainly makes for an interesting dress rehearsal 🙂