Just read a beautiful piece by a woman blessed by family and faith. In the teaser issue of a beautiful new magazine startup,Verily, Sophie Caldecott, the daughter of friend, writes about her father’s advanced cancer and how a most lethal cross can be a life-giving blessing when we approach it in the open, honest, generous love of Christ:
After the initial fear and shock, life returned more or less to normal. Today, sometimes I forget that he has cancer, and the only sign that something is attacking the heart of our family is the increased closeness and honesty between us all. The overt affection and support for one another that has always been there is now a constant priority. There is no need for wishing we had done things differently. We are soaking each other up, drinking in smiles and jokes and mundane moments as we always have, pushing against the same darkness that threatens us all.
It is not so much that we need to be strong for each other – a phrase that people often quote as they grasp around for some piece of comforting wisdom. It is more that we need to be ourselves, weak and strong all jumbled up together. We do not talk about it much, we carry on as normally as possible, but when things are bad it isn’t strength that keeps us going, it is empathy.
Suffering alongside each other doesn’t mean that we are negative all the time. When he had an ultrasound on his tumours, dad joked about asking the doctor whether it was a boy or a girl. We laughed about how he wanted to be discharged from the hospital so that he could come home in time to watch his favorite Sunday night television program. It just means that we don’t have to hide our tears from one another when we’ve had a bad day, that we can curl up on each other’s beds and just lie there without needing to give a reason.
The deepest kind of strength, after all, is empathy, but strength seems like an inadequate word to describe it. It implies a stoicism, a hardness, when in reality what we need most of all when things are most difficult is a softness, a flexibility, an openness to roll with the punches, to bend and not break.
Life seems so fragile back in that hospital waiting room, but I have come to realise that in fact it is resilient even in the face of death. When life is built around love, it can outlast death, because death is not the end. The cancer is a sick imitation of the real thing, multiplying desperately because it has no real substance or meaning of its own beyond that which it destroys; that is the nature of evil.
It is almost impossible to say exactly how my father shaped who I am; his gentle manner, his childlike curiosity and awe about the world, his ability to listen and connect and speak right to the heart of the way things are with very few words are all qualities about him that I love, and I aspire to. But perhaps the most precious lesson that a father can teach his daughter – a lesson which helps her to deal with the possibility of losing him, in fact – is that love is stronger than death. I learnt this through the heroes and heroines of the stories that my father shared with me, and, like them, I will never despair or stop believing that the world is good.