The last blog I wrote, then re-wrote (a thousand times), a year ago, was about how “showing up” for my family in hard times was a blessing. How choosing to “walk through the fire” with those you love is a privilege, how it made me stronger, how it awakened every part of me to the very meaning of life.
You see, in the last couple of years, both of my siblings battled severe health issues. My sister underwent a 2nd brain surgery; due to a rare and extraordinarily painful nerve disease called trigeminal neuralgia. She was only a couple weeks out of her operation when my brother called a family meeting. We don’t have family meetings. What was stage two colon cancer, with a very good prognosis, suddenly became stage-four cancer, with a very bad prognosis.
Honestly, “showing up” was the only thing I could do. It was my saving grace, my coping mechanism. I felt grateful to be by both of their sides as much as I could. But each time I tried to write about it, I couldn’t finish it. It suddenly seemed like a desperate attempt to wrap it all up in a pretty bow of “lessons” and “blessings”- there was no pretty bow.
My brother, Mark, died.
I am steaming mad, sad, furious, and still in utter shock. I can’t believe Mark’s beautiful children have to wake up every day with this tremendous loss. I can’t believe my sister-in-law has to go on living without the love of her life. I can’t believe the pain my parents have to withstand in their golden years. I can’t believe my sister, and I don’t have our brother.
After all the prayers and all the treatment, he is gone? How do we live without him here?
There are rabbit holes, triggers, and traps everywhere. When the “burning” grief swells to an all-time high, then comes the doubt. It spirals quickly into every other aspect of my life; to combat it, I watch endless videos about near-death experiences. The testimonials of “seeing the light,” “the endless love of God,” “no more pain” are incredibly comforting to me.
I have to remember Mark is no longer in pain. He is no longer suffering, but he was never supposed to suffer! (I can’t seem to get past that part). And yet, he isn’t. As strong as he was, never allowing his pain to be a burden on anyone, every day was a struggle. He suffered greatly; more then he wanted any of us to know.
It is clear Mark led us through his cancer, like an empathetic and loving king leading his lost people. We looked to him with every new update, every twist in treatment options, every… everything. He never once led us astray.
Maybe we allow Mark to keep leading us. This time to navigate this painful path of his physical loss.
Mark didn’t want cancer, but he faced it with laser-sharp intention, pure love and compassion, brave leadership, and full of grace and true WARRIOR GRIT. We didn’t want to lose him and deal with the twist and turns of overwhelming grief that comes with it. But we can choose to deal with it the way he dealt with cancer, leaning into the storm, giving it hell, and somehow making peace.
He gave it “hell” by not only relentlessly treating cancer but, more importantly, by relentlessly LIVING. His life force grew stronger.
Mark lived full of pride and love within his favorite roles of Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Friend, and Believer in Jesus. He used every breathe blessed upon his body for as much good as possible.
The moment Mark heard of his diagnosis, he was extremely intentional. He has a fun and salty sense of humor, he never lost it, but he did think twice before he spoke. Texting me, on a few occasions, “was that harsh?” to which I replied, “kind of” with a, “don’t be a Jerk” Gif #smileyface.
He was not perfect, but even on his worst days, he leaned into his life force, his God, his most authentic self, and let that lead the day.
Mark’s example of LIVING is our roadmap.
He never allowed cancer to define him, and we don’t have to let the roller coaster of grief define us. We have two choices, just like him. We can either choose to allow the loss we did not want to make us more of who we really are, more compassionate, present, and loving, or we can choose to allow it to make us less of who we are.
Mark tackled his days with the sacred knowledge that only the sick and dying are blessed to know, that every single moment counts. That our actions do indeed cause a ripple effect that expands exponentially. That the ordinary, we may seek to escape, is actually extraordinary.
As I watched Mark make peace with every stage of his illness, it was clear that it did not mean giving up. Not at all. He seemed to be more excepting of the present moment and immediate next steps, which made him even more open to miracles.
Grief is exhausting, unpredictable, and more often than not, I want to scream, “Uncle, uncle, you win!”. But, if Mark can do what he did, and so many other people who are in the same circumstance, I can get up and face the day. The precious day that I have been given. Maybe that is all I need to do.
If you decide to choose LIFE, either in extraordinary circumstances or in the day to day (which may be the same thing), it will most certainly be unpredictable. It will be messy and filled with extreme highs and lows: sometimes, it might even feel like torture. But, from my perspective, LIVING will always be worth it.
When I get quiet and cut through the noise in my head, I always hear Mark. “Look within Jen; look to God. Honor yourself, not me. You don’t get to use me as your excuse, instead, use me as your inspiration.”
Those who knew Mark best have his soul imprinted on us forever. The gifts he gave us continue to bless our lives. We get to honor his legacy and spirit by acknowledging our own through the simple act of living.