Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness–A Philosopher’s Lament

Walking Through Twilight

How I landed on the Twitter page of Douglas Groothius on June 10 is a total mystery to me.  I had heard of him, and even considered buying Philosophy in Seven Sentences when it was first published, but I didn’t follow him until ten days ago.  Somehow, in a way now known only to God, I got to his page, and the first tweet I read said, “I spent 20 minutes with Becky trying to understand a thought she could not get out of her mind into her voice. I’ve ventured possibilities, but they were all futile. De-voicing a genius is cruel beyond words.”

I was gripped by a need to put that strange heart-cry in context.  I don’t know how long I spent wading backwards into an ocean of pain before I ordered Walking Through Twilight from Amazon.  I only know I had to hear Becky’s story,  driven by the force of weeping with those who weep.  I have experienced that same force repeatedly since childhood, but for the first time in my life, I think I am beginning to understand it in a meaningful way.

After a week of checking on Becky each morning through her husband’s now bookmarked Twitter feed, I finally picked up the thin book that had arrived via USPS on June 12.  I opened the window and peered into the deep, dark night of two souls entwined in suffering.   I can think of no greater anguish than what is described in Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness—A Philosopher’s Lament.

That is not a frivolous statement.

As I labored through 170 pages of lamentation, I thought about holocaust survivors, tortured martyrs, prolonged illnesses, and dying children.  I thought about individuals who through accident, disease, or malice have been subjected to the kind of assault on the body that turns death into an agent of mercy.  I thought about family and friends whose sudden losses immersed them in torrents of grief.  Still, nothing in either real life or in the imagination rises to level of agony that must come from watching the relentless deterioration of your soulmate, day after day, month after month, year after year.

Nothing can compare with the long and lingering death of your kindred spirit, delightful  companion, and wise counselor.

Nothing, that is, except the cross the Christ where the grief of the world was absorbed.

Douglas Groothius shares their story with his wife’s full approval.  So I thank them both for a magnificent lesson on the power of love, but not just their love for each other. Their story displays their love for the God who often seems to hide while they suffer far beyond what most mortals are called to endure.  The combination of Doug’s philosophical mind, his verbal precision, and his steadfast devotion (to both his wife and his God) allows us to walk the paths of pain with them. So I thank them both for sharpening my focus on what lasts forever.

Walking Through Twilight is a vessel of precious oils broken and spilled out to share the transforming fragrance of suffering.  Those who open the pages will catch the uplifting scent of marriage according to God’s design, the comforting aroma of the body of Christ supporting those in pain, and the pungent odor of sorrow that permeates every activity of daily living.  Perhaps far stronger than all others is the bitter smell of irony that rises from a life dedicated to a reasoned defense of Christianity that is now tested and tried.

A husband watches helplessly as the God of the faith he defends allows his wife’s brilliant mind to slowly dissolve in the devastation of primary progressive aphasia.  Breathe deep of Doug and Becky’s story and the perfume of eternal life will waft in from beyond the created realm.

I have been thinking about death from early childhood, perpetually imagining what lies beyond this veil of clay.  And in the course of those meandering ruminations, I often think about the people I will encounter somewhere in the light of eternity: the people I have loved, the people I have met through books or lectures, and the people who are still totally unknown to me.  I imagine the delight and the wonder that we will all find in sharing our stories of the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives.

At this moment, there isn’t a story I want to hear more than the one that only Rebecca Merrill Groothius will someday be able to tell us all.

 

 

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Approaching the Portal

We are all moving toward the world beyond this one.

Everyone is moving toward the world beyond the one we know now.

Two weeks after my father died in February 2016, I started a Facebook page called “Approaching the Portal” to encourage a public discussion of end of life issues.  I had been thinking about it for a year before that moment, because in January of 2015 I learned that the cancer I had been fighting since 2002 had metastasized to my liver and lungs.  When I insistently pressed my doctor for the average survival time for someone with my diagnosis, he reluctantly told me it was one and a half to two years.

It is three years since I received that news and two years since I started the Facebook page to discuss it. Now I have finally come to the place where the progression of disease makes writing one of the few things I can do without pain.  I am driven at last by a very hard taskmaster to capture my continuous flow of thoughts on the page just because it is something productive thing I can do in my current state.

The cancer is (as far as my doctor can tell) pressing against my breast bone to make nearly all movement of my right arm away from my side painfully restricted.  The opioid and NSAID and herbals I take on a regular schedule dull the pain sufficiently for me to move about freely as long as I keep my right arm close to my body.   This is not a complaint.  After the three days of unrelenting pain that I experienced two weeks ago, I genuinely consider my present situation a blessing.  As much as I would like to be up and doing the 1001 things around our home that need to be done, I accept my situation with the peace that passes understanding, thankful that my mind is clear and that I am able to write.

By choosing an internet format, I welcome others to follow my journey, and I hope that those who do so will find a blessing here and there.  But I am not primarily writing for an audience.  I am writing because I want to think deeply about the things that matter most in the brief time we have in these bodies on this earth.  I want to closely examine what I believe and articulate it clearly.  Because writing has been my favorite tool for examining my heart and mind since I was in grade school, I choose to see my restrictions as an opportunity to freely engage in an activity I thoroughly enjoy.  If the thoughts I share publicly ignite friendly conversation for mutual discovery, then I will be doubly blessed.

I look forward to all that the Lord has in store for me as I walk joyously toward the open portal that awaits us all.