Driving on the highway last night to visit a little patient and his family I see weekly, I found myself musing about the nature of faith and hope. I rarely travel this road but it has become a weekly ritual now for quite a few months. Despite my intentions and planning it always seems to be around evening time and into the setting sun, and inexplicable has evolved into some of the more peaceful moments of my week. Despite Jo’burgers thinking at times we live in a flat city the rolling hills are aplenty. Coming up over the ridge from my usual haunt, being offered the vista of the setting sun over the distant Magaliesburg, settles my week back into perspective. It does not hurt that the open evening highway allows the usual stop start driving of the week to stretch the legs on the turbo, the cool spring evening welcome after an afternoon shower, allowing the settling of a frazzled week of being present to suffering, at work and at home. The home I visit, despite facing multiple heart wrenching losses, one of peace, joy, and laughter. I often come away wondering who gets more benefit from these visits? An example of holding faith and hope constantly present in our hearts while looking the reality of the moment squarely in the eye and trusting that all will be well, no matter how it unfolds, even as reality becomes more painful to bear.
Many discussions this week have been around letting go of the clinging to life at all cost, recognising the immense suffering that may be caused by the clinging. One such discussion being with a family and young teenager of 15, deciding not to go any further, to take the last months of quality rather than disfiguring surgery and debilitating chemotherapy, and to face the journey with love, courage and dignity. Leaving me with immense respect for parents and children who navigate the road of saying no to futile treatment yet retain hope and faith and dignity within themselves and their families. The more I do this work, however, the more I understand and have compassion for the difficulties of sitting with the choices, with the challenges, and have less delusions about the nature of denial and futile hope. We all travel this road as best we can and none can say how another should navigate it, even if this may seem a less skillful way of engaging with what may seem obvious to others. We perhaps witness more commonly that hope is defined superficially in the hoping for all that is difficult and terrible to be taken away from us, but the true healing depth of hope and faith is in the capacity to be with all that is difficult and terrible and still retain joy, love, and laughter in the daily encounter. This hope and faith allows a deep trust in wherever it is we place our trust, be it a God, a being, or just simply life, to hold us and to keep us well and safe, a wellness and safety that transcends this momentary existence with a capacity to meet all suffering in a way that transforms it into a journey of simplicity that can be embarked on and fully met.
Ira Byock, Director of Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, stated it wisely: “When someone we love is diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, the worst thing we can imagine is that he or she might die. The sobering fact is that there are worse things than having someone you love die. Most basic, there is having the person you love die badly, suffering as he or she dies. Worse still is realizing later on that much of his or her suffering was unnecessary. “
…and then there is this…
Life by Juan Ramon Jimenez
What I used to regard as a glory shut in my face,
was a door, opening
toward this clarity:
Country without a name:
Nothing can destroy it, this road
of doors, opening, one after another,
always toward reality:
Life without calculation!
May you all be well this day in whatever difficulties you encounter with faith and hope, joy, laughter, and love.