Thursday, May 21, 2009

Until We All Meet Again

By Nichole Giles

We prayed and prayed. And even though I wasn’t good at fasting—my body had always struggled to do without essential vitamins for more than 8 hours—we held a family fast. For the first time in 10 years, I was able to fast for a full 24 hours. But it wasn’t enough.

Carol was dying. Through all our prayers, our fasting, and many priesthood blessings, my husband Gary’s mother had survived—but after all was said and done, not one of us could deny the conviction with which we knew that the cancer would take her. She knew it too, and did her best to prepare the rest of us.

Meanwhile, life went on around her. The kids started school, my husband went to work, stores had monster sales, politicians campaigned for seats on the city council, and my two younger sisters planned weddings.

The first wedding, despite a somewhat tenuous relationship between the husband and wife-to-be, came together beautifully. My family handled all the preparations except the food, and we worked together as a team. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful settings for a wedding I had ever seen, but they didn’t get married in the temple. I listened to the finality of the bishop’s words, “For all your time on earth” and felt an undeniable sadness that my baby sister might never know the benefits of eternity.

The next wedding was different. You could feel it in everything. Again my family banded together to take care of the details, but this time, Gary and I were the only immediate family members who were able to attend the actual ceremony to see my sister sealed to her husband. I was the lucky one who escorted her through the endowment session the evening before. I held her hand, her face glowing and radiant, as she sat waiting for her true love to escort her through the veil.

I sat in the temple that day with my husband, watching my sister and her love join hands in bliss, and pondered the meaning of it all. Love and death. Here in this room, I could accept that Carol would soon be gone. Here in this room I could accept that this union I was witnessing would bring forth new life. And yet, tears welled up in my eyes and spilled over onto my cheeks.

The next day, even though I was only twenty-eight, I sat in a chair usually reserved for the mother of the bride—a place I was more than honored to sit—while the beautiful couple was joined for eternity. I had never been so proud.

The reception was a celebration to behold, and stretched out into the night long after the newlyweds were gone. I celebrated too, danced with my husband, my father, and both of my sons. And joy of joys, my daughter made a point of telling me that she hoped someday she would get to be married in the temple. And so we celebrated life.

Early the next morning, we received a phone call from Gary’s sister, Jennifer. “Mom’s going to be leaving us soon,” she said. “She slipped into a coma in the night, and we’re afraid it’s only a matter of minutes before she’s gone.”

Gary’s parents’ house wasn’t far away—only two miles or so—and we were dressed and there in record time. Jennifer was right. Carol’s eyes looked bruised—surrounded as they were by prominent dark circles—and they were closed. Every breath she took seemed to come right back out again, never seeming to make it anywhere deeper than her throat. The cancer had spread to her lungs and liver, causing her liver to shut down completely and allow fluid to build up inside her until she looked like a balloon that would pop. Her skin was a ghastly yellow pallor.

We gathered there, in that tiny bedroom, twelve people waiting for death. But Carol held on, insisting—even as she left this world—on waiting for everyone to arrive. One by one, her children and family members came to join the bedside vigil. Those last moments were precious as we each took a moment to tell her goodbye, shedding loving tears as she took her last breath and left us to pass through the veil.

Though she wasn’t my natural mother, a part of me felt broken, missing. We wandered around like zombies, fighting off the raw ache in order to do what needed to be done. Someone called the mortuary. Someone else started a phone tree to extended family members and close friends. An obituary was written, and the children were fed.

During all this, I couldn’t help but ponder the rapid pace at which joy turned into pain. It hurt. It hurt so bad I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings welling up inside me. Carol was no longer the person in pain—that was us now. By her leaving us behind, the roles had reversed.

Several days later, my sister returned from her honeymoon and called to see how we were doing. She sounded so happy—so utterly in love and at peace. And then it clicked. That feeling I’d been searching for returned. Of course we would see Carol again. My small children would have the opportunity to know her in another life, and to impart of her love and wisdom. And though they didn’t know it now, they would someday pass her genes and her spirit on to their children—who would also get to know her. The circle of life mirrors the blessings of eternity.

Lucky for me, I had a rare, and profound opportunity to witness both in a matter of two days.

It’s been six years since Carol passed away, but we remember her every day. Sometimes I feel the nearness of her spirit, and know she’s watching over us, taking time out of her busy schedule to protect us and help lead us in the right direction to find happiness and the fulfillment of our destinies.

Also in that time, between my two sisters and my married brother, I’ve gained three nieces and two nephews. I love those kids. I even got to witness two of them being born into the world. Life continues on into eternity.

And so it goes, until we all meet again


David J. West said...

I know the bitter-sweet feeling well. Lost the girl I thought I was to marry at 21 to a lymphatic cancer, but it's all in the Lord's Hand's. Can't forget that we don't ever see the whole picture no matter how many times we look back.

Carolyn V. said...

Nichole, that was beautiful.

What a great lesson, I hope others read your story and feel the spirit it brings. =)

Nicole said...

That was beautifully written and so sweet. We are so blessed to have the opportunity to be with our families forever.

The Perkmeister said...

Beautiful and poignant. Thank you for sharing something of such intensely personal quality. It brought a tear to my eye, yet I rejoiced in your goodness and the Spirit in your family. May the Lord bless you.

LexiconLuvr said...

Beautiful, beautiful post, Nichole. I'm so sorry for your loss but so grateful that you know it's not the end.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Cindy Beck said...

Such a touching story and so beautifully written. Thanks for sharing with us. And congrats on it being run in the yourldsneighborhood newsletter.

Rachelle said...

This was beautiful. Thanks for sharing it in such a way to touch my heart and remind me what's most important. What a wonderful memory you have intertwined with so many gospel principles.
Congrats on getting this in the newsletter and I wanted to tell you about an awesome contest I entered at
The Original Scrapbox Check it out and please vote for me, #319 for the cutest craft giveaway. Thanks a bunch!

Janice LeFevre said...

Thank you, Nichole. Poignant and lovely expression.