This is a guest post by Laura Tringali.
It has been a little over two weeks now that my mom has been in the hospital. She has been battling cancer for three years, and recently, brief stays in the hospital have not been uncommon. I was already planning to visit my family last week, as it was the week of my wedding. I arrived on Monday morning as planned, but instead of driving to see my parents at my childhood home I was driving straight to the hospital. The nurses all promised me she would be discharged in plenty of time to make the six-hour road trip from Hershey, PA to Columbus, OH for my wedding.
Tuesday morning was a different story when I arrived at the hospital to spend the day with my mom. The staff was not preparing her for discharge as planned. She was in so much pain, and by the end of the day I was calling my fiancé from the surgical waiting room asking him to come be with us. Her surgery was a long three hours, and my fiancé was a long seven-hour drive away. There were so many unknowns in this situation, but the only certainty was that she would not be in attendance at my wedding after all. Seeing her at the end of the night was the first time I saw someone on a ventilator in real life. Nothing could have prepared me to see her like that.
Thursday afternoon, I held her hand and in between sobs told her goodbye. I couldn’t image getting married without her there. She couldn’t speak to me, but she wrote me a note. She loves me. She loves him. She felt ready to pass on to him the responsibility once hers to love and protect me. We left for Ohio without her for my wedding, and her sister stayed by her side.
Still present with us
We live-streamed the wedding for her. My mom didn’t feel so far away because every time my brother-in-law came by me I could look straight into his smart-phone camera and say hi to her. We placed her corsage on the empty seat next to my dad at Mass, and her name card sat at her dinner table. We sneaked away from the reception briefly to video chat with her. The hospital staff had decorated her room in our wedding colors, and she was wrapped in a prayer shawl made especially for her for this occasion. My mom was as present with us as she could have been.
We returned to Hershey the day after the wedding to be with her. My new husband and I booked a few nights at a cozy bed-and-breakfast – calling it our “fake honeymoon” – so we could be close-by and spend our days at the hospital. My mom was finally being transferred out of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, but it was becoming clear that she would not make any sort of recovery. Midweek the doctors switched her to “comfort care,” which essentially means that they would only manage her pain and care for her basic needs but no longer try to treat her disease or failing organs.
The day before her transition to comfort care, the family had gathered around her, holding her hands. She told us she was ready to die. We sang hymns and cried together. We all thought we were losing her right then. It would have been a beautiful moment for the Lord to call her home.
She hasn’t been able to interact with us in three days since comfort care began. My dad has slept in a chair at her bedside for at least a week, and the rest of us have spent every day here in her hospital room. When she could speak to us, she told us she liked the sounds of us chatting with each other and playing board games in her room so we have continued to do that for her. We have prayed over her, sung to her, held her hands, and talked to her even though we aren’t sure how aware she is of our presence.
As she sleeps the days away in her hospital bed, I wonder why God is prolonging the end of her life. I have had a cold all week, and we are all exhausted. My brother and new husband each are traveling home today to return to work this week. Her death seemed imminent every day last week, but now we aren’t sure how many more days she might just lay here asleep as her organs slowly fail.
Why is God not ready to call her home?
Why must we watch her like this day after day?
Where is the mercy of God?
These last three years since she was diagnosed with a terminal recurrence of cancer, I have wondered why God would allow my mom to be taken from us at such a young age – all of us, including her, being too young for her to die. But today I see things a little differently. The first time she had cancer, I was just seven years old. Her biggest reason for fighting was that she wanted to finish raising my older brothers and me with our dad. What a gift God gave her: seventeen more years to love us, teach us, and encourage us until she got to watch her youngest baby get married to a man that she loves and respects.
Grace from heartache
This morning as I watched my mom in her perpetual state of sleep I wondered why God would let this suffering drag on for her and for us. While my heart ached for her soul to be at peace, the Lord drew my attention to two graces in this situation.
The first is the beautiful and timely example of married love my dad is demonstrating to my new husband and me in the way that he has been faithfully by my mom’s side day after day and night after night through all of this. The second is the wisdom to recognize that the love we have for my mom, which keeps us coming back to the hospital each day to spend time with her even while she is unable to interact with us, is a mere shadow of the love that God has for each of us. If, in our human weakness, this is how we are able to love her with our imperfect faithfulness, then how unfathomable the love and faithfulness of God must be for us. So today I thank God that I can look over at my dad in the chair next to my mom, one hand on hers and the other scrolling through articles on his tablet, and know that God loves each of us at least as much as my dad loves my mom. And hopefully, my new husband and I can likewise share such love and faithfulness through the grace of God until death do us part.
Laura Tringali, born and raised in Hershey, PA received her BS in Psychology with minors in Nonprofit Studies and Classics at The Ohio State University. She then went on to earn a Master of Theological Studies at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry concentrating in New Testament Scripture. Laura now works as a Youth Minister and Director of Confirmation at a parish just outside of Boston.