( It’s been a rough couple of months…)
Heather collapsed face first on the gravel. Her purple-tinged hair spread out like the wind blew it wild, The tattoo of a Volkswagen bus over a lotus on her left arm faced the sky. Jerald, her husband heard her fall as she hit the side of the Volkswagen bus where they sleep while they build their house on the Big Island of Hawaii. He rushed her to the local hospital where they drained a quart of fluid from her heart before flying her to the hospital intensive care unit in Honolulu. If he had not heard her fall she would have died on the spot.
After two weeks in the ICU on high flow oxygen, a lung biopsy, and MRIs came the diagnosis, stage 4 cancer of the heart and lungs. They found after a barrage of tests, a tumor in her heart, cancerous polyps throughout her lungs, and cancerous lesions in her brain, and on her spine. Previously Heather had been complaining of difficulty breathing and was on her second course of antibiotics before collapsing. Her doctor wrongly assumed it was just severe bronchitis. With aggressive chemotherapy, oxygen support, and gamma knife radiation her outcome is uncertain- a few months or a year or two? There are no answers as this type of cancer is extremely rare, especially in a 38-year-old woman. This is my husband’s daughter- my stepdaughter. He was sitting 6 hours a day by her bedside in her hospital room.
I sip Pinot Noir from a plastic cup by a crackling campfire two campsites down from mine. Bob and Kathy, a recently retired couple had bid me join them after I struck up a conversation about their lovable 9-month golden retriever, Fiona, who was snuggled up on Bob’s lap and chest. Some time into our pleasant chit chat Kathy asked, “Hey, why don’t you invite your husband over too?” I responded, “I would but I’m alone. He’s over in Honolulu with his critically ill daughter. I decided since there was nothing much I could do at this time to keep our trip as planned and have a little diversion from the magnitude of the situation.”
At this point, I realized that I had already divulged too much information about a very personal story. I do that sometimes without thinking first. I was in it now and they were curious so I related the details of Heather’s situation. After the expected horrified reaction, Kathy takes a sip of her wine and pauses, “You know, you might disagree with me but I think everything happens for a reason.”
The moment freezes in time, my mind lurches like it a bad shift on a manual transmission. I’m instantly brought back to when my 10 day- old son contracted a life-threatening infection that was spreading throughout his body. Contrary to the doctors’ predictions he survived. But in that hellish nightmare, I remember those well-meaning individuals spouting that “everything happens for a reason” line.
I remember the “It’s all part of God’s plan” and “God will not give you more than you can handle” lines. Then there’s the lines about your astrological chart and karma from a past life…
Here’s what I have to say to all of that…
The “It’s all in God’s plan” line doesn’t hold water. Remember free will? We are not puppets. And if it’s all in God’s plan, he is a horrible planner. Plus I believe God is female and she would not consider such shenanigans. The “God will not give you more than you can handle line?” I mean consider the number of suicides in this country, the violence, and addictions. People are given more than they can handle all the time.
These are things that people say who usually have not experienced true tragedy in their lives. They want a cosmic explanation to tidy things up.
Then the “everything happens for a reason line”. Here’s my take on it. Yes, bad things can happen for a reason such as but not limited to…
- poor choices
- generational trauma
- pollution/toxic chemicals
Life often is not fair. Heather does not deserve this fate, nor anyone for that matter. Here’s a young woman in the prime of her life living the dream with her husband in Hawaii and then this.
Unfortunately, S#%@ can happen to good people. What is needed here is consolation, love, and perhaps some financial support. Consider saying lines such as: “my heart goes out to you, I’m sad that this has happened, my thoughts and prayers are with you”. Hold the cosmic explanations. They don’t serve any purpose for the living or the afflicted.
Finding a convenient break in the conversation, I excuse myself from the warm fire and my hosts, walk down to the lake and watch the sun set on quiet water.