DEATH BY CANCER
Excerpt from With Heart Divided
What do you say about dying? Holding a hand that is already like a skeleton with skin stretched over it? Standing in back of his lounge chair and putting your hands gently on his shoulders for fear of hurting him? Kissing the top of his head where only a few strands of those once thick curls remain? Saying, “I love you.” trying to make up for all those times you did not say it before?
On the night before our son, Mac, died, Jacob stopped by his daddy’s chair on his way to bed and said, “Goodnight, Dad” Mac answered “Goodnight, Jake.” John and I and Dennie had been there all day and about 10:00 I went home to get some sleep. John stayed because Mac had begun to get really agitated in his hallucinations and he was afraid Mac, though weak, could throw himself out of his chair or hurt Shelby.
At 5:30 the next morning the phone rang and Dennie said I’d better come quickly. By the time I arrived Mac had just won his war. Satan had played his last card, death, and though he won a battle, he lost the war. Mac died with his father’s arms around his shoulders and his wife’s arms holding him. Shelby let the boys sleep until the undertaker had gone, then she sat in her chair with a child held close under each arm and told them their Daddy had gone to Heaven.
When we went with Shelby to make arrangements, the first thing she said was, “I never expected to be doing this at 33.” Both the visitation and funeral service were held in our Church for there was not enough room in the funeral home. The Director said he had never held a service with so many people in attendance. Shelby and John decided to bury Mac in the little cemetery about a quarter-mile from our home. Arrangements were made and now Mac’s grave is close by.
Of course Mac is not there. He has changed the landscape of Heaven for us. No longer is it a place just to be talked about in sermons or read about in the Bible. Now it is where Mac is. And we wonder what he’s doing today. We see Heaven through the eyes of sorrow and joy. And death has truly lost its sting.
My family has lost many members to cancer; two sisters, a brother, my mother and several cousins. When the battle is done and the tears have dried, the heart regains its equilibrium and life goes on. But for the poet, part of the healing process is putting into words our thoughts and the thoughts we see reflected in the eyes of our loved ones. These are written for my son, Mac, and my sister Jackie who died of ovarian cancer.
FROM THE SHADOWS
I step back into the shadow,
beyond the light of my family’s
that must last through eternity.
I watch for the last time
each milestone celebration;
each small moment.
I take in the wonder
of the ordinary:
The smile of the morning,
The uncertain rest of the night
and the miracle of a day renewed.
As eternity beckons
I reach for the temporal,
for one last touch of mortality.
But I watch from the shadows.
© cover art, narrative, and poem 2011, Donna Swanson, all rights reserved
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Donna Swanson was born during the Great Depression in 1938 to an Indiana farm family.Youngest of eight children and a twin, she has lived her entire life in Warren County, Indiana. A high school graduate, she chose to marry and raise a family rather than attend college; although she took classes in art, Koine’ Greek and psychology after marriage. She has written nine books: Mind Song, published by The Upper Room in Nashville, TN; Rachel’s Daughters, The Windfallow Chronicles (a double trilogy), self-published; Splinters of Light, yet to be published, and the present autobiography. A poem, Minnie Remembers, has become a standard tool in the study of gerontology, made into a documentary film by United Methodist Communications, and given the Golden Eagle Film Award. It has been reprinted in most denominational publications and over twenty-five books. Mrs. Swanson is a Bible scholar and taught adult Bible classes for over forty years. She began prayer and share groups for women in two area Churches and hosted a teenage “rap” group in her home for four years. She counts among her mentors college professors, authors and ministers. Donna blogs at Mindsinger.