As a child, I was one for sneaking into our parents’ bedroom and feeling the mysterious parcels at the bottom of Mum’s wardrobe, in the weeks of Advent. Even when I knew exactly what was in a parcel, the anticipation of opening it brought future joy forward to me. Mum and Dad had a wonderful way of taking the ordinary and making it special by withholding it and thus filling it with mysterious delight.
This Advent, a more disturbing gift has lain in wait for us. We are beginning to feel its shape and size and bit by bit, understand the meaning it brings into our lives together. You certainly wouldn’t call it delight, but it was more relief when we finally had a name for it, this shadowy thing that was hiding just under our conscious knowledge.
We have known for some time (a year or two) that George’s health was ‘not right’. It was a vague feeling, nothing you could exactly put a finger on, something we tried to explain to ourselves as ageing, or unnecessary worrying. Last Christmas he had a serious infection that did not respond to antibiotics, and eventually had to have a bowel resection. His health seemed to pick up for a while after that, but a few months later he was again exhausted much of the day. This is quite uncharacteristic of him, as he is a fit man and an avid gardener.
One day I went down the backyard and noticed that weeds were running through everything and taking over. That told me something really bad was happening. A short time later he got an infection in his thumb and was on the merry-go-round of medical tests grumbling that the doctor was overreacting.
I am sure you are now getting the shape and size of what was hidden but waiting for us. He has now been diagnosed with Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia. As it is at the intermediate stage, he will start chemo in the new year, once the follow-up tests are completed and a program made. If he responds well, this will become the ongoing rhythm of life for us.
It is a tumultuous time, and I don’t want to speak for him, but I do want to say that we are finding it is bringing us together in an intimacy that is redolent of our earliest times together, where we set out the kind of way we wanted to live our lives, what our values and beliefs were, and how we wanted to be together.
Many things in the parcel along with the unsought devastation, fear, concern and forced changes have been real and precious gifts to us: our family with whom we shared the news over takeaway pizzas and several bottles of red wine, or by phone for those away, are our lifeline and our comfort. We are so proud of each one of them, and so grateful for all the kindnesses and practical ways they have shown their love for us.
Friends and extended family members are our good fortune too. Mum’s heart is sad, in her love for us wishing we did not have to face this future, but the way she has lived her life is our model of courage and trust. We have a sense of being loved and sheltered as we rearrange our understandings and perceptions in response to opening the wrapping paper.
There is much life to be lived yet, and we are blessed and held in the deep peace that lies below the stormy waves.
Strangely enough, this is where I take off my shoes and find the common bush afire with God.