Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Life

Life has become so terribly terribly pointless. I realised today that it doesn't matter where I go I will never feel at home again. I will always feel like I am in the way wherever I am and will never fit in. There is only one place I ever felt completely comfortable and that was with Fran. It didn't matter where she was, in our house in Stafford, in a car driving to church or in a hospital bed in Philadelphia, that was where home was.

Now I am alone I feel homeless. Yes, there are houses I can live in, there are churches I can be members of, but there is no home to return to.

That void left from being a husband cannot be filled in with being a brother, or an uncle, or a committee member, or an analyst. While these roles all have their own demand of me they all seem so superficial and limited compared to husbandry.

Of course being a follower of Christ should give my life meaning, but my greatest ministry through serving my wife isn’t there anymore. I should find comfort in my faith but I see no direction, and the obvious answers of bible schools would mean I would have to be able to get over the feeling that they are all man made institutions, which I don’t think I am likely to get over.

What gets to me is the abundance of abusive relationships, and adultery, and divorce, and fornication and that all those things were so foreign to us that we didn't even understand them. Yet it was our marriage that was cruelly ripped apart by this disease. It seems so unjust and so unfair, and it takes every ounce of faith I have to be able to say that it is all just part of God’s will, and you know, He has His reasons.

And I’m sure that He does, I just don’t understand them.

As Horatio Spafford puts it, it is well with my soul. I know one day I will join her. It’s my life that isn’t well. And I while I don’t exactly welcome death, I do have an overwhelming desire to join her today.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Where is Fran now?

Where is Fran now?

I ask this question to myself and to other people and a lot of people would give me a different answer. An atheist would tell me that Fran only exists in our memories now. That what we understood to be her personality, and her consciousness was merely a collection of neurons in her brain that stopped firing electrical impulses once they experienced necrosis due to lack of oxygen. A catholic might tell me that her soul is in purgatory and some penance or something might need to be paid, probably not with paypal, so that she can earn her way into heaven. Someone told me that heaven gained another angel, although from my understanding angels are entirely different creatures from us, even if they look similar, or perhaps if I listen to Hollywood, giant animated cgi rock formations.

The universal solace that seems to be given is that Fran is no longer in pain and suffering anymore. It’s interesting that it didn't really seem to be an issue before she was diagnosed with leukaemia, and that it was all in her head, and she should probably just lose some weight. Of course the suffering right at the end was terrible, but she was definitely no stranger to it for almost all of our marriage.

I will not miss the years of listening to my wife crying in pain all night and not being able to do anything about it.

My experience of grief seems to be different from the rest of her family. But then we are grieving different things. Her parents knew her for her entire life. All the hopes and dreams they had for their oldest child have been unfairly cut short. Her siblings knew her for their entire lives. The big sister they grew up with is no longer there to look after them. I on the other hand have only known her for half of her life. Although, in those years of marriage we became one flesh. All decisions, all ideas, our entire lives were lived together. The reason that so many messages of condolence are focused on me, and they have been overwhelming, is because I am effectively half a man. My other half is gone.

The reality of grief over the first few days was overwhelming. Any picture, any object, any thought about her brought me to tears almost immediately. The term ‘trigger’ is used in mental illness, as in objects or events that cause uncontrollable breaks or flashbacks to traumatic events. I was in the unenviable position of being surrounded by triggers, in terms of objects, and thoughts.

As time has progressed however acceptance of the situation has set in. Her image and her belongings now trigger a melancholy bittersweet memory. My heart sinks, but I can smile back at her image. She is still in my constant thoughts, even on occasion I have to remind myself that she’s gone. I often think that I need to share things with her. Fran would love this. Then I have to correct myself, and say Fran would have loved this.The automatic connection that has grown over the years now leads to nowhere.

My thoughts are now becoming preoccupied with what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’ve had two jobs in the last few years of my marriage. My day job, earning a wage, and my second job, supporting Fran in her medical needs and supporting all her ministries within the church. Eventually as her health became progressively worse supporting her became my full time job. Now I have no job. I am at more lost than I’ve ever been. The freedom that comes from being a widower is an unwelcome one.

My heart tells me that I want to continue being an uncle, a brother, and a son to the family that I’ve been living with as Fran fought her final months with leukaemia, but the difficulty in that is the same as it was before. I need a job, I need a visa, I need a car of my own, and eventually a house. I am praying for guidance in what God would have me do.I’ve learnt through experience it’s always easiest to do what God wills.  It all seemed so clear just a few weeks ago, but now that I’m without a wife it all seems so uncertain. I rationalise that the easiest thing to do would be to return to our home in England, back to the church, back to a job that I’ve sat in for years. But I’m not sure that this the right thing to do. And the guidance I’ve felt with the convictions of the Holy Spirit have always been a matter of doing what is right, not necessarily what seems feasible or possible, but of course, anything possible with God.

Today me, my sister-in-law Ashley, and my father-in-law went to the funeral home to make arrangements with them and sign a contract to have Fran’s body transported and cremated. As Fran requested we are using the Bolock Funeral home. She decided the name was fitting. We have decided against an actual cremation service due to the expense although we have asked to be informed when the cremation takes place so we can witness the smoke ascending into the heavens, and while she may not be a sweet smelling sacrifice to the Lord, she did surrender her life to Him when she trusted Christ as her saviour.

Emotionally I feel so compelled to rush into a new relationship, but I know rationally how unwise that is, not only because of the notion of a rebound relationship, and that any relationship would mean that anyone else would constantly struggle to live up to her, which would be entirely unfair and unrealistic. I also realise that all the available bachelorettes that I may consider, while not intending to offend any of  them, all seem to be available because they’re all horribly broken from failed or abusive relationships. But of course I’m horribly broken now too.

I also concern myself, now that I am a single man again how I will be perceived. I am no longer in a stable happy marriage, entrusted to be alone with, on occasion, other married women. I could easily be perceived as some sort of predator, as I think I was perceived before I was married, although that was realistically for good reason. I know I’m a very different man than I was 13 years ago, so these concerns about perceptions of me are probably unfounded. Still it will be some time before I’m ready to take off my wedding ring. It gives me some measure of protection from those sorts of perceptions, at least in my mind.

So, back to my original question. Where is Fran now?

I don’t think the Fran I knew and loved exists anymore. The woman I married in the end was a combination of human spirit, holy spirit and the flesh. The flesh is gone, so all that remains is the purest human spirit in heaven with Jesus Christ. Which isn't the personality I knew, her pain, her suffering, her sin was as much part of who I knew as the Holy Spirit that compelled her to serve God in the way that she did. And when I meet her again, I won’t be the sinful creature I am today for the same reason. She will just be my sister in Christ, even if it won’t really be what I perceive to be me, and her what I perceive to be her. For that matter I can’t possibly understand heaven, because eternity means that time doesn't have the same meaning it does here, the limitations of the body, and of the 4 dimensional space time do not apply there. I imagined that she might be up there looking down on us, like a viewer watches TV, and yelling at it, telling me to stop being so miserable in my grief. But I don’t think it’s like that. Being one with God means having access to omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. So time has no meaning for her now, nor does space, nor does the unknown, because she knows everything that there is to know, and exists everywhere there is to exist. Not that I could ever begin to understand such concepts, but I look forward to the day that I can join her, and our child. In the mean time I must continue to live my life.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Fran's Eulogy

I met Frances in an internet chat room 16 years ago when I was going to university. What a lot of people may not know is that we met in a chat room that was tied closely to a room that was for depression support. Anyone that knew her in the last years of her life would have no idea that either of us had ever suffered mental illness. If there’s anything that cured our mental illnesses it was our relationship. Frances matured from an angry young teenage girl to the most loving, kindest, generous, beautiful wife that any man could ever want. She had a heart for people and over the last few years of her life once she came to know the Lord Jesus Christ as her saviour, she had a true heart for serving God in any way she could. From day one it was an adventure. The day she moved in with me in October of 2001 she fell down the stairs and we ended up in Stafford hospital being treated for a twisted ankle. Humour was an integral part of our relationship. Much to my dismay, even though I was below her standing on the floor at the time, she insisted on informing people that I had pushed her down the stairs to put her in her place and show her who’s boss.

We married in March of 2002, when we came back to America for the month. We eloped. That was the most adventurous month of my life before this last year anyway. Through all the chaos of her struggling family at the time to them I went from being a crazy internet stalker that was trying to kidnap their eldest daughter to a son that they grew to love and trust.

Over the years we had many trials, and times of joy. We went through the struggle of a miscarriage, and I still say to this day that in my experience losing a child is harder than losing a wife.

I think the greatest thing about our marriage were our “in jokes”. I was her knight in shining lard. Fran always made sure to know that I was her favourite husband. Over the last few months of her life when she was in hospital and attached to an IV pump stand she referred to it as the “other Ben”. I thought in my modesty that this was an honourary title.because she could lean on it and it was doing it’s best to support her in getting better. She saw fit to inform me that the real reason she named it the “other Ben” was because it constantly slowed her down, she had to drag it around everywhere and it made a horrible whining noise. Of course the jokes went both ways.I dubbed her my cancerella. When the chemotherapy made her lose all her hair and she was constantly falling asleep she became my sleeping bauldy. I also claimed that my dishwasher was in for repair because it kept making a terrible moaning noise.

Fran had a real passion for cooking. I will really miss that. She knew how to cater like a real American. When Kingsmead was putting on a bring and share meal the rest of the church catered like they were putting on a tea party, while Fran always catered like she was putting on a banquet. Everyone was always so excited to hear that Fran had made snicker-doodles, not only because they were this exotic American food, but because they were really really good.

It was a learning curve for her though, I recall her desire to make me a birthday cake very early on in our marriage. She made the cake and then attempted decorate it with icing. While I standing next to her in the kitchen I was shocked to find that it had abruptly started raining indoors. However it was only when I noticed that it precipitating delicious pieces of chocolate cake that I realised what was happening.

Fran also had a real passion for children’s ministry. We both desperately wanted children but the Lord never gave us that blessing. It always seemed so incredibly unfair that while all the wives around us were getting pregnant, Fran was getting cancer.

The closest we ever got to having children was having cats. While in an attempt to move to America our first cat Esther stayed here with her parents, when she came back we had Meatball, Nelly and Rascal.  She was a self proclaimed crazy cat lady. She said that they were her boys - until they did something wrong, and then they were my boys.

Through her dedicated service at Little Angels a church toddler group she got to be around young children and mothers every week. However it wasn't really until her closest friend Vicky had her first child Alyssa that she came closest to being a mother. Little Alyssa gave her so much joy, and just being able to be around her for the first few months of her life gave her some of the most precious moments she could ever have hoped for. When Fran was devastated with the news that she had terminal prognosis for her leukaemia the first thing she did was buy 21 birthday cards for Alyssa for the first 21 years of her life to make sure that she was able to maintain that connection in some way even after she passed away.

The happiest and strongest years of our marriage were after Fran came to know the Lord. She convinced me it was a good idea for us to go to church, and even though I was a militant atheist I agreed to go with her. We soon ended up at Kingsmead and after a few short months of discipleship and experience with that church I was ready to be saved. It was however not until it came to Fran’s baptism that I became born again. The moment she came up out of the water and I saw the expression of pure joy and excitement from someone that I had known so intimately for many years was the moment I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour.

I thank the Lord for the nearly 13 wonderful years of marriage that we've had. The blessing of having that time is second only to knowing Jesus Christ and I thank God that she was able to help me on my journey to accepting Him.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Death

Yesterday was the hardest day I've had in my life. It was the closest I’m ever likely to get to hell. I watched helpless and with despair my wife slowly fade away into death. All the hopes for many more years of our marriage together ended with that.

In the morning her numbers looked good, but slowly throughout the day they dropped steadily, until eventually her heart stopped beating. The doctors did absolutely everything they could, but admitted by the early evening that there was nothing more they could do. With all the medical technology, and expertise they had become as helpless as I was.

I was able to pray over her as she slowly died. I thanked God for blessing of almost 13 wonderful years of marriage we’d had. For the kind, generous and loving wife that has looked after me for so many years. For her being my strength. For the church family and in-law family that I would not know if it weren't for her. For the blessing of knowing what it is to have sisters and another brother, to be an uncle to two beautiful children. But most of all for a wife that was able to witness to me, and to help bring me to the door of Christ. For my accepting Christ at the moment of her baptism.

The knowledge of her salvation brings a bittersweet reality to her death. The pain of knowing that we have lost such a beautiful woman is set back by the knowledge that she is no longer suffering, her tears have been wiped away by our saviour and she is in eternal glory with Him in heaven.

Death of a loved one is exactly as you’d expected it be. Terribly painful and heartbreaking. Her siblings were with me as she died and we were all grateful that she was no longer suffering. We were all in agreement that this was not goodbye, but until we meet again.

I was left alone with her body for some time while her siblings moved to the waiting room. I felt adamant that I could not leave her in the room and that I should accompany her on the start of her final journey to the morgue. Her body slowly became cold and discoloured and completely still. I held her hand briefly and made sure that her eyes were closed. I could feel rigor mortis in her fingers as I held her. I leant over and saw my wife entirely still. This was my wife. I suddenly had the urge to shake her, to try and wake her up and very nearly did, until the rational understanding came over me that I was now leaning over something that was no longer my wife and I felt the moral implications and futility of attempting to awaken a corpse.

I talked to the nurse and asked her to move along the process to get her to the morgue. I felt the need to get her quickly to the morgue before she started decomposing. I left the room and they removed all the machines from her and wrapped her in a white bag. Three ladies struggled for some time to get her on the stretcher as she was still entangled in some of the machinery. She was still stubborn even after death. After they succeeded they wheeled her away from the room and the nurse put on a toe tag, and soon they started wheeling her away out of the ICU where I rejoined her siblings.

I spent the rest of the early morning having phone conversations with tearful friends as I made sure to let them know that Fran had died. So many men of God have prayed with me over the phone this morning.

Today I realise I am surrounded by things that remind me of her. From my facebook profile, to all her belongings. Her smiling face brought me to tears the moment I turned on my computer. I feel overwhelmed by the logistical ordeal of trying to arrange a funeral and cremation, along with an autopsy that I have requested, plus trying to organise all of Fran’s belongings in three geographic locations. This woman did not know how to pack light!

I also wonder what on earth I do with myself after this. I noted while travelling to my room last night that I am entirely free of the burden of being a carer for someone that has been constantly suffering for years. However when considering what I actually want to do with my life, the only desire I have is to be with my wife no matter how futile that desire is.

I’ve spent the morning talking to people at the Cancer Lodge. I talked to someone that I engaged in smalltalk with a few times that I hardly knew, and told her the bad news. She cooked me breakfast. I met her husband Ralph who is also fighting leukemia. He has a friend that works at the job I’ve applied to up in Jessop. He contacted him and gave him my name to check out my application. We both remarked that God was already opening doors for me on where to go next.

Today I hope to be able to meet with Pastor Gustafson, who is driving down. I”m praying that he has travelling mercies, as the weather is getting bad. I plan on meeting the doctors and nurses that will see me today to thank them for all their hard work in fighting with Fran against this disease.

I don’t know where I go from there. I need to blog what goes on though, I will continue to update as plans are made on what is going to happen.