Monday, October 08, 2007

Before I Die

About ten years ago, I made a deal with God. I was at the funeral of a friend's mother. She died in her forties from cancer, and the entire family was devastated. Just before the service, when the family is invited up for one final viewing, her mother stood at the casket. I'll never forget her walk back down the aisle. Her face was blank, but her legs just buckled under her, and her sons caught her before she hit the floor. She never made a sound, but it was one of the most profound instances of grief I've ever witnessed. And in that moment, I begged God not to allow my children to die before I do. Death is an inevitable in life, and every culture treats it a little differently, but all of them mourn the tragedy of a child taken before its parent. The Fall of Man caused the brokenness in the entire world, and that is seen most evidently in the death of a child, even an adult child. It's as though a law of nature has been broken. It's devastating in a way nothing else is. We have children with the expectation that someday they will bury us. Reading the book I review today was extremely difficult to do, but worth the time for the lessons learned.

I heard about Randy Pausch on Good Morning America. College professor, husband, father of three young boys, dying of cancer. And yet this man has transformed what could have been his tragedy into trying to uplift others. Please check out his video about how life should be lived. It's a message about loving others and loving life. It's long, but you won't regret a minute of it, until you remember that he wrote this because he's dying.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham was the most difficult book I've ever had to read. Ever harder to review. I finished it a month ago, but it's taken me this much time to allow some of the ache to go away before I could get it down. It's the story of Tessa, who is 17 and dying of cancer. She lives with her father and younger brother and occasionally sees her estranged mother. Tessa has made of a list of the things that she wants to do before she dies. Many of the things on the list are stereotypical of the average teen: have sex, try drugs. Others are deeper: fall in love, not say no to anyone for an entire day. She completes much of her list, but the ramifications of some of them aren't what she hoped for. Sex with someone she doesn't know or love doesn't fulfill her; drugs are strange and take away what little happiness she has in life. Tessa's father struggles with his daughter's impending death. He feeds her organic food and vitamins in the unspoken hope that somehow, something will change. He and Tessa fight each other as she tries to live what little life she has left to the fullest and he tries to protect her. How do you put limits on or ground a teenager who is going to die? How can you keep her from experiences when all she wants is to feel? She swoops in and out of depression, refusing the leave the bed for days, then suddenly wanting adventure. Her best friend gets pregnant, her parents start moving closer to each other, she falls in love with the boy next door; all sorts of exciting experiences show themselves just as she can't be there to see how any of it turns out. I was shocked to find out that the author of this book was a middle-aged woman; she speaks so authentically as a teenage girl. This book is heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. Tessa is so real that I found myself hoping against hope that somehow the ending would change. But her peace and acceptance toward death was moving. As Tessa's soul drifts away on the final page, so do the words. As the mother of teenage children, this was an especially hard read, but I'm glad I did. Tessa discovers that life is worth living the best you can, even if the best you can is only 17 years.

Lots of grief and sadness I'm posting about today, but I have amazing news! Mia is officially in remission from her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor couldn't even tell which leg bothered her until he read his previous notes. She's off of the medication. There is no atrophying in the muscles, and the right leg is just a shade shorter than the left and will catch up. She may have flare-ups on occasion that we can treat, but praise God, she's ok!