The Strongest Woman I’ve Known (a tribute to Cissy)

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This past week didn’t go as planned. We were supposed to visit Cissy today. Jason’s step-mom. We had Christmas presents for her. There was a fluffy robe, flannel pj’s, and a calendar chock full of our kids’ photos as well as a few of her…

At least that’s what we planned to do. Instead, we received a call Tuesday afternoon. Jason’s sister said Cissy was not expected to last the day. So we threw our things in a bag and left town as fast as we could.

We hoped we’d get there in time. We wanted to say good-bye. That didn’t happen, though, for she left this earth much too soon.

And so our week was not what we thought it would be. And instead of dropping off gifts, we ended up bringing home more than we took. Items tucked into a box…

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This is what we have left of her now. Memories of our time with Cissy. And it’s what I’ve pilfered through this evening. As the photos sifted through my finger tips, scene after scene played out in my mind…

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I thought about Cissy most of our drive home today, too. Between bathroom stops and calming my toddler, I did. And along with tears, there were smiles. When I thought of all those cozy things that brought her image to mind, the ends of my mouth curved upward…

Tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses. Smile. And pajamas and slippers and lotion. There’s warmth. This is how I remember her best. Cissy sitting in her comfy chair with a kitty nearby.

And I grin when I think of our first meeting. See, she wasn’t home when Jason introduced me to his dad and I was downright terrified. That’s because Dwight wasn’t a man of many words. At least not at first, he wasn’t. And at our introduction, I didn’t have any of my own.

No, flanked by two non-speaking men, I sat trembling in my brown corduroy jumper staring blankly at the TV screen. I searched the far recesses of my brain for something interesting to say but found nothing to offer. I don’t think I could have been more uncomfortable.

But then, Cissy.

Thank the Lord she came home. Totally outgoing and filled to the brim with questions, she had an abundance of words. A friend to everyone, I don’t think she knew a stranger. And God bless her, she even sat sideways on our way to dinner so there wouldn’t be a pause in the conversation.

Yep, Cissy kept the banter going and she made everything alright from that moment on. And in light of Cissy, Dwight wasn’t so scary to me anymore. And over time, my love for him pushed that unfounded fear right out the door anyway.

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Yeah, those are all good memories. So much to smile about. But there are other things, too. Sadness and tragedy. Utter heartbreak. For Cissy had it rough. Unbearable, really.

And when I found the following note the day after Cissy’s passing, written in her own hand, I decided I’d print and frame her words to keep as a reminder.

For if any woman would know about difficulty, she would.

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Cissy said we’re to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult. And one would assume she was referring to her battle with cancer. A three year grueling ordeal.

But in truth, I believe her battle began long before that. Because I think life’s hardest blow hit when her beloved died suddenly. Without warning. A massive heart attack claimed the man she’d never get over. My husband’s father, Dwight, passed quickly in 2008.

One week beyond Jason’s birthday…

And none of us got the chance to say good-bye.

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The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

I have to tell the truth. On Tuesday, I had plans. I was in the middle of a project and there was one delay after another. Namely, my daughter wouldn’t take her morning nap which pushed everything back.

I just wanted to do the thing I’d been trying to do all morning. And when I encountered resistance, I felt anger. My attitude went south way too easily.

And therein lies the lesson of Cissy. And tackling difficulty. It has to do with attitude. Her attitude. Which was a good one.

Staying positive. And hopeful.

That’s the example she left us.

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Cissy was a strong woman. Independent and driven and full of purpose. She was that way long before she met Dwight. But alas, her Prince Charming swept her off her feet and love came knocking.

And I just love the story she told. About how Dwight had a business trip that took him away for a few days. But while they were apart, she sensed a change in him. She just knew he was going to end their relationship. A good-bye before she was ready…

And so upon his return when he asked her to sit with him on the porch so they could talk, she resisted.

No, I’m tired. I want to go to bed.

She just didn’t want to hear him say it was over. But Dwight was persistent so they sat, Cissy thinking the end had come. That’s when a song started playing…

“Sha la la la la la, live for today.”

That was Dwight’s queue. “Hear that song, Cissy? Will you marry me?” And what she thought was going to be an ending turned out to be a beginning.

And along with Dwight, she gained two step-children and eventually four grandchildren.

However, happily ever after didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t stay that way.

DSCN4132This picture was taken a month before Dwight died. And this was a month before Cissy’s heart broke right in two. And I swear, she had every reason to be bitter.

Because her husband was gone.

But see, Cissy was a strong woman before she met Dwight. Independent and driven and full of purpose. And though life knocked her down and she never got over him, she did get back up.

Cissy found the strength to stand on her feet again. And it was this strength that carried her through her three year battle with cancer. The disease kicked her down more than once, but she stood again and again and again.

She battled unlike any woman I’d ever seen. She fought harder than anyone could have. I swear, Cissy was the strongest woman I’ve ever known.

When I told her so several months back, she said that’s what Dwight used to say, too.

The strongest woman I know.

That’s what Dwight would say…

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You know, God has a way of tying things up. Of drawing loose ends together. He did so for me this past week when I found this card on Cissy’s desk. It’s what I sent for her birthday earlier this year.

And I read the words I wrote to Cissy. I told her how I’d been focusing on the struggles of life. I said, “And what I realize is if anybody knows what it’s like to struggle, you do. You have to do battle every day.” 

Funny thing is, that’s where I found myself on Tuesday. Just before I heard the news about Cissy, I was thinking about struggle and battle. Even writing about it. Because I felt some resistance in what I was trying to accomplish.

But you know what? My attitude got really bad. I felt angry and bitter over something so teeny-tiny. If there was a skirmish, I lost for sure and my mood was the source of my downfall.

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And then, there’s Cissy. A woman who lost her husband before he was 57 years old. A woman who was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2012 at Thanksgiving when she was only 56. She went through one hardship after another with her illness.

And yet, her attitude remained positive.

Always.

She did not complain.

Never.

She hid her pain.

So well.

And she remained hopeful.

Always.

Her faith never, ever faltered. Ever. And though cancer eventually took her life, it never got the best of her. And though cancer claimed her body, Cissy never lost the battle. She fought the good fight…

She fought and fought till the very end.

The bitter end.

The strongest woman I’ve ever known never once gave up.

She never did.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12

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I wish I could be more like Cissy.

Unfortunately, I all too easily become bitter when I let myself. Over small things. Like not saying good-bye. I just felt so mad that we didn’t get that chance.

But you know, Cissy didn’t either. She didn’t get the opportunity to tell her beloved Dwight good-bye. Some time after his passing, though, the oddest thing began to happen. There were feathers.

Cissy would find feathers in the most obscure places. All over her home. And there was no reason on earth they should have been where they were. No where they could have come from.

Cissy believed they were from Dwight.

And that’s one of the things that makes me smile today. Because on Wednesday, I chose a globe with a bird in it for myself. I’d made it for Cissy’s mother a few years back and didn’t think anybody else would want it. I dusted the edges and sat it on Cissy’s counter but left it behind.

And the oddest thing happened.

When Jason’s sister brought it to me two days later, she asked if a feather had always been in it. But there hadn’t been. I would have seen it when I cleaned it up. And yet, on Friday, a feather was inside.

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Know what I think?

It’s from Cissy.

I think this woman who was tough as steel left an imprint as soft as a feather upon this earth. Thus, I’ll think of Cissy whenever I see it. And I’ll smile. Just like I do with tissues and magazines and newspapers and reading glasses and pajamas and slippers and lotion.

And I’ll become resolute as I recall Cissy’s words. That we are meant to learn important lessons from the things that are most difficult.

And this coming year, I’ll try to follow her footsteps.

Striving to be strong just like her,

battling courageously,

fighting the good fight.

That’s what I’ll do.

If I make a New Year’s Resolution at all, it’ll be to be like her.

The strongest woman I’ve known.

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Me and Cissy, October 2012

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34

 

 

 

The Good Life

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The king asked me, “Why do you seem sad? Since you aren’t sick, you must have a broken heart! I was very afraid. Nehemiah 2:2

I ran into a lady yesterday who battles cancer. But she wasn’t downcast. On the contrary, she was all smiles. Positive. Hopeful. I’ve also noted several postings on Facebook recently requesting prayer. Yes, the “C” word again. Cancer. Amazingly, though, the common thread amongst these posts is hope. Expectation. And the good to come.

And then, of course, there’s someone special to me. A woman I’ve known for almost twenty years now. Her battle is the same. Cancer. That’s her fight. I think about her often. Just about every time I post a blog, in fact. Because like her, my focus is on internal medicine. And healing. But there’s one major difference… my illness is sickness of heart whereas hers is a disease that threatens to overtake her body. We both need to heal. Just differently. And so with every post, I think about how greatly she suffers. And how my trivial matters pale in comparison to what she endures daily.

Her difficulty is marked in my journal. July 21. “She suffers greatly.” Funny thing is you’d never, ever know it though. Because two days after this entry I visited her in the hospital and thought she seemed to be faring well. However when the nurse asked, her pain scale number proved otherwise. But I hadn’t a clue. Other than a number indicator, there was no evidence.  Which puts me in mind of the lady I saw yesterday and her smiles. Her positive demeanor. Hopeful expectation of better days to come…

There is an occasion for everything and a time for every activity under heaven… a time to be silent and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

I’ll tell you the truth, I suffer from foot in mouth disease. If there’s a pause in the conversation, I feel compelled to fill the lull with words. And unfortunately, anything will do. Whatever comes to mind usually makes its to my mouth. Utterance before I can bite my tongue. But you know, I’m coming to understand that sometimes silence is preferable to sound. And there are moments when I should simply bite my tongue. Perhaps until it bleeds if necessary. Because truth is words are not always the best course of action.

Because here it is. I believe one of the worst things we can do to someone who suffers is offer careless words. Empty or false ones. Or worse yet, hopeless ones. Or how about walking on eggshells? Treating someone as if they may break. As if they’re fragile. Speaking to them in a manner that’s condescending. Patting them down like they’re children. And today, after viewing a video of a random woman who fights cancer daily, I worry I’ve been guilty of this very thing. Spouting out something to fill a void. The uncomfortable silence that can sometimes surround the “C” word. Perhaps a voiced encouragement was actually discouragement instead.

Then Job answered: I have heard many things like these. You are all miserable comforters. Is there no end to your empty words? What provokes you that you continue testifying? If you were in my place I could also talk like you. I could string words together against you and shake my head at you, but I wouldn’t. I would encourage you with my mouth, and the consolation from my lips would bring relief. Job 16:2-5

People who suffer greatly have a lot to teach people like me. Like the woman I encountered yesterday morning. So inspiring. She talked of celebrating life. And dancing at a wedding. And a dear friend of mine who lost both her parents way too soon, and who was once at death’s door herself, speaks of this often. She wants to enjoy the life she’s been given. She said someone who has it too good doesn’t appreciate what they have. They can’t even recognize the good life when it’s staring them in the face.

And then there’s my loved one. She’s the one I thought of this morning after watching a video about cancer. See, she told me in July she’s up for the fight. And I believe she really is. Because I swear she’s the strongest woman I know. She’s thankful for each new day. And she’s hopeful for the days to come. Yes, this woman knows better than anyone what the good life really is. I think that’s what “C” word taught her. Cancer.

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So my thought today is… what can I possibly say to this woman? My loved one. In light of what life has taught her already, what wisdom can I possibly provide? What feeble words can I offer? In truth, I should just hold my tongue. Because I should be the one listening. To her. To what she says out loud and to what she keeps inside. Because her very life speaks loudly. Yes, it’s true the road she’s traveled has been marked with suffering. But it’s made her wise. So wise. See, she knows very well what the good life is. And most importantly, she embraces it with both arms. It’s those fighting arms of hers. They don’t release their grip. She holds on and looks to better days. To the good life.

This is what my loved one teaches me. Today, she inspires me to close my mouth and open my eyes instead. Because in the silence, I see the truth that stares me in the face. And I recognize it’s the good life I’m looking at. It’s what I choose to embrace today.

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Job 2:12-13

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