The Healing of the Dying

Morrow County Courthouse

A watercolor of Scottish man in a kilt playing the fiddle took the Judge’s Choice Award. I know because I was the judge who awarded it.

I’m not sure what time we got home last night but when I stepped into the house, hot from being locked up for days, I thought about how when I left the house last Thursday I had plans, different plans.

One of the fair superintendents of the Morrow County Fair expressed surprise that I would still show up to do the judging, given all that has transpired in the family over the past few days.

“Oh! No!” I said. “I wanted to be around all this creativity, and to see the beautiful works of art.”

Beauty — one of the most overlooked of God’s characteristics, I think — manifest itself in all sorts of mediums. Sometimes it’s a prayer and sometimes it is watercolor notecards painted with celery sticks, instead of brushes. (Blue Ribbon).

I enjoyed the drive out to Heppner. People often remark about how much traveling I do, especially in the car, and ask if I tire of it and the truth is rarely.

How else am I going to run into creatures like Mr. Coyote? He was just staring at me from the edge of the field until I pointed the camera at him at which point he decided to high-tail it.

Ever notice how great the sun feels after you’ve been cooped up in an office all day long or in the belly of a hospital with fans and AC running? I wanted to park the car and just walk out into the middle of the field and lay down. But then I figured there might be bugs biting me there and I hate bugs.

Mama gets a dose of Vitamin D everyday. I don’t know if that’s because this is Seattle and there is never enough sun here or because she’s confined to a hospital bed, unable to feel the sun on her face, unable to even tolerate the brightness of it streaming through the window.

They did do the biopsy. There was much concern that Mama wasn’t going to make it through the procedure. I received a text message asking me to pray because Mama presented with the highest possible risk because of location of the chest tumor, her inability to lie down, her inability to tolerate contrast. Doctors decided they were going to go in blind for the tissue sample. That meant that they hoped to get to the hard-to-reach tumor without nicking an artery in the meantime.

You don’t want to hear your surgeon, any surgeon tell you he’s going in blind.

The text came shortly after noon. I did pray but then I went by the store and picked up some groceries. Somewhere between Heppner and Hermiston, I decided I need to cook my mother a meal.

You expected something else from a southern girl?

It’s been so long since I made chicken the old-Crisco way, I wasn’t sure I knew how to make a drumstick golden anymore. Turns out I did.

Fried chicken. Baked potatoes. Apple dumplings.

Frying a chicken is something I learned to do before I graduated from elementary school. I remember I was so young that I  stood on a stool to reach the stove.

There’s a rhythm to scrubbing the potatoes and wrapping them in foil, slicing apples and shaking the cinnamon over top them, turning the chicken from one side of the skillet to the other. A therapist might say that the cooking was a way to bring order to the chaos of Mama’s cancer.

Perhaps. All I know is that it helped me pass the time as doctors fished around in her lungs, hoping to hook a piece of her.

Sometime after I’d brewed the sweet tea and taken the apple dumplings from the oven, Sister Tater called to tell me that Mama had survived the biopsy and doctors had been able to retrieve the tissue sample they need to help chart a course of chemo.

I loaded the car up with that fried chicken, baked potatoes, sweet tea and apple dumplings and arrived back at the University of Washington Hospital in time to hear Mama say that she just didn’t feel like eating anything for supper.

So Sister Tater and I sat in the corner of a hospital room, eating fried chicken and baked potatoes as nurses prepped Mama for a blood transfusion.

“This is good,” Sister Tater said. “Thank you.”

Two nurses stand at Mama’s bedside, reading off numbers and double-checking prior to hanging the pouch of blood.

“You still here?” Mama said to one of the nurses who has been at work for what seems like the entire day.

“I never leave,” she answers. “What’s the point?”

One of the nurses is from Baton Rouge, wouldn’t you know it? God’s poetry in the middle of the night.

The transfusion will take four hours to complete.

There’s a rhythm to the healing of the dying, too.

Mama is so cognizant, so alert, so much herself – telling the nurses how she worked the profession for 42 years, how she always wanted one of those New Orleans shot-gun houses, how she thought we’d be here partying all night – that if you didn’t know any better you’d think the diagnosis couldn’t possibly be right.

Thank you for your prayers. Mama asked me to read to her your comments. Apparently she not only wants to hear from God but you as well.

About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • TherealZippy

    Mama, you hang in there. My mom is fighting too, (ovarian cancer) but the good news is that even though the doctors may know God, they aren’t Him. God is the great physician and I see miracles happen every day. You are a strong woman as evidenced by your children and your children’s children. They do you proud every single day. Now you rest up now as the prayer warriors do their part, the medical team does their part and God does His. Love, hugs and prayers, Zippy

  • Nancy Garry

    Hello, you do not know me but I know you through Zippy. How your posting touched my soul and gave me great uplifting of spirit. What love demonstrated, that you brought this lovingly prepared food as but one more symbol of your love. Your testimony on this blog has demonstrated to the world the uplifting power of God. I have asked all my friends to pray for you and to think of you. Your strong witness will be noticed by so many people. Some will write and some will not…Smile, that is just the way that human beings are. Years ago I worked with Hospice program and have been a family caregiver for years too. It is not easy to care for frail folks (I am one now) but more like a Steel Magnolia…. (I don’t follow orders to rest). But what I’m rambling around here without morning coffee to say, that you ability to write and bring beauty and light through your words and your pictures is God Given. I praise God for you, for Zippy, for your family, for your Witness. Your taking the time to share has indeed Glorified God. May you find the rest you will need in the days and would you please give your mother Love from one very talkative lady in Georgia. And if you have a craving for Georgia food you cannot get up there, you let me know….. Wish I could look straight into your face and say hello but I’m here and you are there, but past the coast to coast talk, you are my new SITL….. Sister In The Lord and that is an everlasting tie. I don’t want to stop writing, but I have to finish physical therapy and so I must go for now! Love, hugs, prayers and thought, your SITL, Nancy from The Garry Farm

  • Rachel

    My mom is fighting, too. Starting through our 13th year of fighting together. I’ve been raising my children. They were 4, 5, 6, and 7 when we started this journey…now they are 15, 17, 18, and almost 20. We started homeschooling that year also…the kids are awesome kids, thanks to Jesus, because I’ve been absent for a lot of their life. I have no regrets walking through this with my mom. I have done all I can do, now the rest is in Jesus’ hands. Dialysis is the only medical treatment keeping my mother alive. Rest in Jesus, be strong, take courage. Please know you’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Lisa

    prayers!
    Much love,
    Lisa Vise
    Bowdon, GA

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    Mama,
    Like many others, I feel I know you through your daughter’s writing. She’s very proud of you, you know.
    A few weeks ago, I shared a chapter from Double-Wide with my homegroup that I lead. I wanted to reinforce the purpose of the homegroup by sharing the story of the Marine. Or is it the Veteran? I get those two mixed up. Anyway, the man who ministers to the homeless, and how he ran across a woman who had a place to stay, but was about to watch her electricity get cutoff. He said “I can’t pay your bill to keep your lights on, but I’ll sit here with you in the dark.” That’s what we (friends in a homegroup) are there for, and now, your kids are right there with you as you face this unwelcome turn of events. From the outside, it is a beautiful thing to observe.
    I think I should tell you one more thing: I hate cancer. Last week, as a kid I know–a brother of one of the baseball players I coach–was getting ready for a bone marrow transplant which is due to happen today, we found out that another sibling from that same baseball team, a 9-yr-old younger sister of another of my players, has bone cancer in her arm. An aggressive type, but they think they can get it with chemo. Still, a 9-yr-old girl needs to be going through an obsession with Justin Bieber, not going through 9 months of chemo.
    I mention this to say that, when I say I’m praying for you, I really am praying for you. Because I hate cancer, and because I know that prayer changes things.

  • loretta

    Karen, this is such a hard, tough, tender, exasperating, informational, surreal, and tired-to-the bone time for families and for patients. I know your are full of all kinds of emotions, and that you are pulled in so many different directions, but I know you will do the right thing, find the right words and minister to your mother the way you have to so many others. My prayers are with you, your mother, and your family, and I know a special group of ladies who live in a holy place that will be praying for her before this day is through…. may the peace that passeth all understanding envelope all of you, and may you stand strong against this monster called cancer….it can be beaten….love to all of you! (check your regular email in a few minutes…)

  • Mary Gallagher Williams

    Karen,
    I’ve been in your shoes with my own mother. You’re in my prayers.

  • Becky

    Praying for Mama Shelby and all of you. xoxoxo

  • http://twitter.com/ShellieT Shellie R. Tomlinson

    MissZ, I continue to pray for you. Give Mama by best.

  • Gloria

    Your pictures and your words and the love from your heart have touched all of us once again. You know my favorite part of Double-Wide is the scene that James Williams talks about today in his comment. We are all sitting there in that hospital room with you and Mama Shelby and Sister Tater and the rest of the family. We are uplifting you all to the heavenlies. Much love from our hearts to yours!

  • AFRoger

    Two things very briefly today. First, I ask everyone who reads this to stretch the canopy of prayer a little wider. The ministry I am a part of is under grave threat from an unhinged person. Without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirt, we could very well become the next mass shooting incident you read about. Amen, come Holy Spirit!
    Second, I countinue to lift up your Mama in prayer. Other ways we can all “pray” with deeds in addition to our words is to enter the marrow donor program as well as to donate platelets. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are in desperate need of platelets. Unlike whole blood, platelets have a life expectancy of only five days, the first three of which are typically taken up in testing. Unlike whole blood, a healthy donor can usually give a triple unit of platelets in one donation. Our bodies are so wondrous that we could go back and make another triple donation a week later. And yet, there is a shortage. During my next scheduled platelet donation next week, I will devote the entire time to prayer for Mama Shelby and family.

  • Jackie Colton

    a few Irish jokes for you and your Mama…..
    What is out on the lawn all summer and is Irish?
    Paddy O’ Furniture! :D
    What does a leprechaun call a happy man wearing green?
    A Jolly Green Giant! :D
    When is an Irish Potato not an Irish Potato?
    When it’s a French Fry! :D

  • Sharon O

    She sounds like a wonderful lady and oh that chicken looks good.

  • Samantha Clough

    During my Da’s (my stepfather) last hospitalization, I spent alot of time cooking…guess it must have been my Southern blood kicking in. I also spent alot of time finding music to play for Da and having long talks with him, including about talks he had had earlier that morning with Daddy…. seems alot of the family who had already passed over were stopping by to visit…. I cherish those times. Everything was simple, clear and as blessed as it was heart breaking. Da would say everytime I’d leave,
    “I’m fine, I’m going home. Love and God bless” So know I’m thinking of you, Mama and all yours wishing you much peace and solace during this time.

  • Monique Joeph

    I was touched to read your blog about your mother and how you are each facing this challenge before you. I faced a similar challenge with my mother and her cancer. She had just had my little sister, who was only a year old, when ovarian cancer was discovered. They gave her no hope. Said it was inoperable and uncureable. They gave her 6 months. I was in college many states away and was torn with what to do and how I could be there for my mom. Fearing what the next few months would bring and preparing myself, at the age of 19 to have to raise my little sister. But God had other plans and answered prayers. Today my sister is 35 and my mother is 75. Yes, she lived way beyond those six months. Miracles happen all the time. “Only Believe” is what Smith Wigglesworth would say.

    Monique Joseph


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