by Gord Lang
And it will come about after this that … your old men shall dream dreams. Joel 2:28
The room was empty and silent. I sat alone with my thoughts as my eyes surveyed the abandoned chairs. In my peripheral vision I could detect the flowers and casket, and my ears were attune to the soft music that now quietly reverberated throughout the room. An aching sense of loneliness gripped me as I rose to leave. All of my hopes and dreams lay silently at the altar, embodied in the now-still body of my darling wife, Anna, but an inexplicable sense of peace overwhelmed me. As I numbly made my way to the exit, I became aware of a person blocking the doorway. Dressed in slacks and a loose-fitting blouse with a scooped neckline, I vaguely recognized her as a former co-worker. She stood, almost defiantly, with her hands on her hips as she challenged;
“So, Gordon, what are you going to do now?”
The reply was instantly in my mind, as if it had been rehearsed and with calm determination I looked her straight in the eyes as I countered in my best John-Wayne drawl;
“Well Ma’am, bein’ as how there’s only one of us left, I guess that sort of limits my options, doesn’t it?” I replied.
“Humph!” was all she could muster, as she wheeled around and flounced out the door, slamming it shut to emphasize her total disgust. The sound of the door caused me to recoil, and, as my total being shuddered in response to the clamour, I was instantly awake.
The sound of Anna’s gentle breathing filled my ears as I hesitantly felt for, and gingerly touched the silky softness of her nightgown. Reality! “Thank-you Lord!” my spirit screamed silently, “thank-you that it was only a dream!” Cruelly, my mind began an instant replay of the preceding moments. Even the knowledge that it was all just a bad nightmare did nothing to lessen the panic that started to rise within me. What would I do if it were ever to come true? Would I really be able to remain that calm and collected? Shouldn’t I have been feeling a little more remorseful and grievious?
She moaned softly as she rolled to face me, still asleep, trying to find just the right comfortable position. In the dim morning light, it was a pleasure and relief to watch her snuggle into the pillow for a few more moments of much-needed rest. “Oh my Little-One,” I thought, as a sob caught in my throat, “what would I ever do without you to wake-up to?” I stretched out my hand and gently stroked her cheek, my whole being thrilling, as usual, at the amazing softness of her skin. Her eyelids fluttered, but as I continued running my hand over the gentle curve of her face, her breathing settled to that slow, even pace – indicating that she was once more deep in slumber.
“It still works!” I thought, my heart bursting with pride. “After twenty-four years, it still works!” My mind wandered back to that first time, so long ago, when she had fallen asleep in my arms. I had found it so awe-inspiring, after all she had endured at the hands of others, that she would trust me so implicitly.
My reverie was broken as she stirred once more – this time more determinedly. “Good Morning…” she managed groggily.
“Good Morning, Little-One,” I returned, slipping one arm underneath her right side, the other over her left. A little giggle escaped from her lips as she allowed herself to cuddle closer in my embrace. A gentle squeeze, a light kiss on her forehead, and we were lost in the ecstasy of intimacy. However precious the next few moments became, I couldn’t shake the vivid recollection of that dream. “Surely it wasn’t meant to be prophetic!” I reasoned. “God wouldn’t do such a thing! He couldn’t!” Still, as much as I tried to ignore them, every detail continued to fill my memory. “There must be a spiritual application here!” my logic argued, but, try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to come up with one.
In addition to the turmoil now invading my mind, I felt a compelling urgency to share the dream with someone – if only for the purpose that, if and when it came to pass, I would have a valid witness. Nothing would seem so futile as the skeptical “Yeah, right!” reaction if I were to share such an event with anyone after-the-fact. With that in mind, I arranged to have a “talk” with a couple of friends that afternoon. One of them flinched visibly as I related my story, refusing to even consider that there might be an element of truth to the matter. In a vain attempt to encourage me, I received the “I don’t believe that was of God!” counsel. However well-intentioned the words may have been, they still had a hollow ring in my spirit.
Admittedly, I did start to feel the turmoil settle, having shared the experience with another individual. In the middle of the emotional storm, I started to hear the calming voice of the loving Saviour saying “Peace! Be still! Should it come to pass in the fullness of time, am I not able to sustain you? Am I not Jehovah-Shalom?” More and more, I found myself meditating on the words of Romans 8:28 which had long since become the theme verse of my life – “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God – to them that are the called according to His purpose.” I had come to understand that this verse was not purporting a fatalistic resignation as I had so often heard it taught (Oh well, hang in there Brother, you know, all things work together…) but rather that God, in His foreknowledge, knows the end from the beginning. We, then, can rest in the fact that, because of His great love toward us, He has all things under control, and He will not test us above what He knows we are able to stand. No matter how crazy or bizarre the situation becomes, we can rest assured that the Master-Designer is still at work – perfecting His life in and through us, so that we may be a witness of His mercy and grace to a world that is struggling to see beyond the hurts and disappointments of this temporal life.
“I need to go downtown to get a few things at the store, today” she offered, “will you come with me?”
“I’d love to” I replied, “do you want to go right now?”
Within minutes, we were in the car, and heading for the downtown-shopping district. When we arrived at the store, she slipped her little hand into mine as we walked toward the door marked “ENTER”. Arriving at the entrance, I hesitated, to let her precede me, putting my hand on the small of her back, as I gently guided her through. Once inside, she replaced her hand in mine as we strolled through the aisles. More than just an outward show of affection, the practice of holding her hand as we walked together had, over time, become a vital form of communication. A spontaneous gentle squeeze from her hand was her way of saying “I love you!” without uttering a sound.
“You two!” came the voice of a friend from down one aisle; “you act like a couple of newly-weds!” she chided good-naturedly.
“So ?!” Anna’s response echoed my sentiments exactly. In spite of what was being implied, I couldn’t help thinking of how elated I felt, knowing how fully she trusted me. It had always been natural for us to publicly show our affection for each other, much to some of our elders’ chagrin. After twenty-five years, I couldn’t help feeling the same joy that I had felt in our period of courtship. It was a sign that said to the world “She’s mine – and I am proud of her!” Still, the memories of that morning’s experience continued to pervade my thoughts as we went about our daily routine. “Could I ever face even a menial task like grocery-shopping all alone?” my mind wondered. Once more, the horror of even the slightest possibility of such an event caused me to stifle a sob.
“Something wrong?” she asked in a concerned tone.
“No, nothing!” I replied, “just thinking of something.” I was thankful for her concern, but also for her ability to recognize my space. Unlike other wives that I had observed, Anna simply accepted the fact that I would share my feelings if and when I chose. However lame my reasoning may have sounded, she never pressed an issue until it was clearly being detrimental to our relationship. Even then, it was never accusatory, but rather with an attitude of “How can I help you in this situation?”
“My back is really bothering me today!” Anna complained for the third time in as many days. Having been through numerous physically abusive situations in her adolescent and teenage years, she wasn’t one to complain without a valid reason. In fact, many times she would carry on, trying to act normal, when I knew she was definitely in pain. “Do you think we could go to see the chiropractor again?” She had been making those appointments more and more frequently of late, and, while they did afford temporary relief, it never seemed to last very long. Despite the menthol rubs, the exercises, the hot tub sessions, and the ice packs, nothing seemed to provide any type of lasting comfort. A few months ago, her chiropractic treatments averaged about once a week, then it was once every two or three days, but lately it had become part of our daily routine. As I sat in the clinic’s waiting room, the image of that dream that I had a few weeks prior once again flashed across my mind.
“That’s ridiculous!” my mind argued. “No one dies of chronic back problems! Do they?” But the logistics did nothing to allay the dull foreboding I felt within me. Minutes later she emerged from the treatment room, trying desperately to appear 100 % once more, complete with a prescription for some rather potent pain-killers. Over the following weeks the trips to the chiropractor didn’t seem to lessen any, despite the frequency or the increasing potency of the prescribed analgesics.
“I’m a little concerned about this wheezing in my chest,” Anna commented. “I’ve done everything I know to do for a cold, but it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. Maybe I should go and have it checked by the doctor.” That was no problem. A simple phone call, and the appointment with the family doctor was made for later that day. Having done a cursory examination, the doctor concluded that, considering the fluid in her lungs, her problem was a classic case of pleurisy, maybe even a touch of pneumonia. A prescription for anti-biotics and plenty of rest should clear that up. But now the problem was two-fold, and still, from time to time, the scenes from the dream would replay in my mind.
“All right,” my logic argued, “pneumonia used to be fatal, but not anymore, not with the modern medical developments” Still, it was becoming more obvious that her combined maladies were causing a general weakening of her entire body. Nothing made it more apparent than the day I heard her desperate call from where she was busy in the kitchen. Entering the room, I saw her clutching the table for support, with a look of terror in her eyes, unable to remain standing. “OK, Little-One,” I tried to comfort her as I eased her into the nearest chair.
“I don’t know what’s happening!” she cried, gasping for breath. “I can’t breathe!” Within the hour she was checked into the emergency ward at the local hospital. X-rays taken revealed that her lungs were indeed filled with fluid, and a subsequent tap was performed to drain the offending liquid. A sample of the fluid was sent to the nearest lab in an effort to determine its properties as well as it’s source.
“I don’t want to upset you prematurely,” the doctor advised solemnly, “but I’ve arranged for Anna to go to Victoria for further examination. There were some things that showed up on the x-rays we took last week that were inconclusive. Hopefully, with better technology in a larger center, they will be able to be a little more definitive.” A few days later she was admitted to the hospital in Victoria to undergo extensive testing. “Lord, I don’t understand what is happening, but this is getting scary,” I silently prayed as I awaited the results of the tests. Try as I might, I couldn’t erase the scenes of the dream from my consciousness. “Well, I’m just not going to let it happen!” my spirit cried. “Lord, your word says if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can say to the mountains “Be removed, and be cast into the sea” and it will be done. So, Lord, let this mountain rising before us be removed.”
“ We have received the results of your wife’s tests,” the specialist began soberly. “To be quite frank with you, Mr. Lang, if I were you, I would count your wife’s life expectancy in terms of weeks and months.” So there it was, reality – I felt like I had been hit in the abdomen with a five-pound sledgehammer. I sat and listened numbly as he explained that the tests had revealed several sites of cancer throughout her body. The main site had attached to the rib cage and was actually destroying two ribs – hence the chronic back pains. Other sites included the liver, pancreas, and the length of the spine. “You may see her momentarily” he concluded.
As I entered the room I saw her sitting on the bed, clad in the typical hospital gown. She fixed her gaze on me with tear-filled eyes. “I’m sorry!” she offered apologetically, as though she had given me the ultimate let-down.
“Oh Little-One, it’s not your fault” I tried to console her as I embraced her gently. “It’s all right, we’re going to make it - together” I tried to encourage her. Still the words had a hollow ring to myself as my spirit hesitantly began to see the distinct possibility of what I now considered God’s merciful warning.
“All we can do now is try to control the pain”, the doctor advised, his voice filled with apology. Repeated attempts at chemo therapy had only resulted in making her violently nauseous. In the following weeks, the increasing dosages of morphine had a limited effect on the pain that racked her little body. Not surprisingly, the daily levels of morphine that she was being given for the pain caused her to spend most of her time in a drug-induced slumber. But, even as she slept, she continued to writhe in pain. Thankfully, I was in a position that I could spend several hours a day with her, just holding her hand, watching my Sleeping Beauty. “My darling Anna” my spirit cried as she slept uncomfortably, “what am I ever going to do without you? How am I ever going to face each day if you aren’t there to hold?”
“Surely I will sustain you, I will uphold you with my right arm,” replied that still, small voice.
“Thank-you, Lord,” I cried, “Teach me what it means to totally depend on You!”
She stood with her back to me, arms slightly extended to each side to accentuate the flowing white robe that she wore. Her feet were hidden in what appeared to be a swirling mist. The colour and style of her hair confirmed that it was undoubtedly my Anna. As music played softly in the background, she began to rotate slowly toward me. With her arms still extended in the same position as she turned, I noticed a gentle breeze caused her robe to flutter slightly. Finally, as she faced me directly, she stopped turning so that I could view her fully. I had always believed that I would never see a more beautiful sight than the first time I saw her dressed in white, walking slowly toward me. Yet, there she was, as if awaiting my inspection and approval, more radiant and lovely than I could ever recall. This time, I noticed, instead of a white lace veil adorning her gorgeous hair, she wore what appeared to be a diamond-studded tiara. I don’t know how long I stood there just drinking in her beauty.
“Oh my Little-One,” my spirit cried, “you are beauty-personified!” To my dismay, without warning, I found myself staring at the ceiling from the comfort of my bed. Another dream! But, as I reflected on it, this one carried such hope and promise. “Thank-you, Lord,” I thought, “for that little preview of what surely shall be one day.” With that, I proceeded to arise, and prepare for another day which would, undoubtedly, include time spent watching my little Sleeping Beauty.
It was a sunny, spring Sunday in the city. The church service was just finished, and it was only a few blocks to walk to the hospital. “If I hurry” I thought, “maybe I can catch her while she is still awake – eating her lunch”. Not that she ate much anymore. It was often a chore just getting her to eat a small bowl of custard, but the time it took to accomplish that might give me a chance to see her before she drifted off to sleep once more. I entered the hospital and ascended the stairs to the second floor as I had done nearly every day for the past few months. As I passed the nurses’ station I greeted the on-duty nurse, and proceeded down the hall to Anna’s room.
“Mr. Lang!” I recognized the voice of the male nurse and turned to acknowledge his greeting. He approached me slowly, and put his arm around my shoulder as he looked solemnly into my eyes. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” he agonized, “But we lost her about half an hour ago. She just drifted quietly away – no agony, no struggle, she just went to sleep. You may go in and say “Good-bye” if you want. Is there someone you would like to call? You can use the phone at the nurse’s station if you like.” In a daze I went to the phone and called the church, asking to speak to the pastor. When he came on the line, the only words that came to mind were “Anna’s in Glory!”
“I’ll be right there!” he replied, knowing instinctively what I meant.
Hesitantly I stepped over the yellow tape someone had strung across the door to cordon off the room. There she lay, eyes wide open as if beholding some beautiful sight in child-like wonder. Her lips formed a distinctive smile of sheer elation. “Good-bye, Little-One,” I sobbed, as I held her limp little hand. “Thank-you for twenty-five wonderful years. I will always love you, and I will see you again someday!” Gently, I felt a consoling arm slip around my shoulders. True to his word, the pastor had come immediately.
The next few days were a flurry of signing official documents, making necessary arrangements, and notifying appropriate people. When the day of the memorial service arrived, I was surprised again at the pervading sense of peace that surrounded me. No, I was not challenged – at least not physically. Certainly, the Enemy of my soul has challenged me numerous times, but each time the comfort of an all-knowing, loving God ultimately prevails. I still have my “Anna moments”, but I have come to understand more fully what Jesus meant that day on the mountain when He declared, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
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