My friend’s brother is dying. He’s 48, with a wife and son he won’t see fully grown. As I write this he is in a hospital bed in Minnesota, dying. He’s been fighting the disease of cancer for the last two years. It is a battle he cannot win, and he recently made his resolve with that.
My friend is heartbroken. There is no other word for it. Her father died when she was just becoming an adult. That was before I met her, twenty years ago—making what I know will be a lifelong friendship—and yet over the years the way she still talks about her dad lets me know his dying also broke her heart.
About three years ago, her only nephew was in an accident, resulting in a serious TBI (“traumatic brain injury”). The early prognosis was not good; the worst, if being candid. Somehow, enduring coma, multiple therapies, and relearning, he’s hung in there. It has been a long, painful, and emotional road for the entire family to travel along the way to her nephew’s recovery. He has just recently started back taking a few college classes, and his journey of recovery, likely, will never be over. And now, her brother is dying—her nephew’s dad. Her heartbreak continues.
There is only one thing any of ask during such times. Why?
If we are to admit anything, no matter how much we learn about life’s circumstances, it is that there will never be an answer to that question. Not in this life. And that makes faith a more fragile thing still.
A few weeks ago, while it was still very much winter here in Pennsylvania, I bought a sprout of a hyacinth at the grocery store. It was an impulse buy; my own effort to force spring into being before spring actually arrives.
As it turned out, somewhere between unloading my car and the house, I left the nub of hyacinth in the garage, completely forgetting it until last week when I pulled into the garage and my headlights caught a blaze of purple stalk sticking up out of the box I had deposited the hyacinth into without thinking. Spring had come, and I hadn’t even been there to see it.
I brought the little pot into the house and put it on the kitchen window sill where, for the last several days, the hyacinth’s fragrance has greeted me each morning.
But this morning, I saw that the best of its flowering was spent. Overnight the bloom had withered, the purple florets turning almost black. And then I saw that at the base of the bulb a new flower is beginning to emerge. Life renews itself on its own terms. “To every thing there is a season,” as Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us. Powerful words to believe in, but hard to believe in when you are facing such unanswered, unfathomable heartbreak, like my friend.
Difficult for me, too, as I watch my friend struggle to keep her faith strong, when all I can do is cry with her, and tell her that I am here, whenever she needs me. Here, I will disagree with a particular verse from Ecclesiastes; although I believe “there is a time to every purpose under heaven,” there is no timeframe—no end of season—to our friendship.
With God’s grace we will be here for one another, through this heartbreak or any other.
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