1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1 – 2, NIV)
A few months ago, the 2 year old little buddy whose cancer struggle I’ve been following (he’s the son of a friend) went home from the hospital with his family in a great pink fire truck - a triumphant celebration of his successful bone marrow transplant and remission. It was a happy day for about a million people who have been praying for him, all through the upstate of South Carolina, and it lifted a small but persistent burden that I have carried on my heart since he was diagnosed.
Alas, he was not out of the hospital long before relapse hit – the greedy, gobbling, vicious disease came roaring back. Although his donor was willing to donate again, poor wee Lachlan had not been well enough for long enough to go through the chemo regimen that donation entails. They were scheduled for transplant #2 later this month. That transplant has now been canceled.
They are bringing sweet Lachlan home again today. There is no remission this time. There is no fire truck. There is no further treatment option. There is just, as his mother says, the family’s goal to breathe him in, as much as possible, for as much additional time as they are blessed with. He and his identical twin brother are two years old – their little baby brother is not quite a year. His parents are forty, and what I think now is “If they live another forty years, that will be forty more years without him.” How they can stand it, how anyone can, is the ghoulish niggling terror that keeps all parents up in the wee hours so many nights.
Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani – my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This is what Jesus cries, after his ninth hour on the cross. I had to read these words in church this past Palm Sunday, which is two days after I learned of Lachlan’s relapse via his mother’s CaringBridge journal. I could not get it out, I tell you – I could not say it without my voice breaking. Shattered. Weeping, before a congregation who probably thought I was moved by the crucifixion story alone. Before he is crucified, Jesus weeps alone in the garden of Gethsemane and asks God – his father, mind you – “please don’t make me do this. I don’t think I have the strength to do this.” I paraphrase, of course, but essentially that is the story. And then God makes him do it, and he hangs there leaking blood from a million cuts, knowing he will be dead soon but forced to slowly suffocate in intense pain without hope of help, and after nine hours of this literal torture he screams WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME, and he is not taken down from that living hell until he’s dead.
That line keeps ringing in my head – My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? On the facebook and CaringBridge comment sections, many religious people are leaving messages, offering what pathetic crumbs of comfort they can, and more often than I like they say that this is all part of God’s plan, God wants another angel, and what-have-you. I do not attack their well-meaning comments, it’s not my place and it doesn’t help. But I don’t think God planned to make this baby lay with enlarged and painful internal organs, with skin peeling off in painful sheets due to GVHD, as part of some master plan. I think, right now, that entire family is tortured on the cross, his mother is weeping in the Garden, begging “please don’t make me do this,” they have been forsaken by God, and there is no higher reason for this. It’s just torture, it’s Nature’s cruel and impersonal, undiscriminating hand, it is a genetic mutation triggered in one twin but (thankfully, mysteriously, and we hope enduringly) not in his genetic copy, whose perfect blond hair and pale skin and healthy limbs show, by contrast, just what a hateful and destructive disease cancer has been to his broken and gray and bald and suffering brother. Lachlan is two, and he almost certainly will not see three, and there is no specific plan that a loving and beneficent God could have designed that would require the torture he has suffered, that would force his twin Calhoun to live the remainder of his life without his brother.
Where I find comfort in this mess of a story is simply the camaraderie of a religious figure who has also suffered, and a God-parent and human mother who were forced, for whatever religious reason you care to believe, to watch Jesus-the-child endure bodily torture and pain. The mother Mary, the father-God, the son-Jesus – they walked this terrible road before Lachlan and his family, they suffered the unspeakable, and for the already-religious, they can perhaps be a sort of support group, a spiritual AA meeting, if you will. There is something that, I think, would make me feel less alone bearing my child’s illness, if I know that for thousands of years other parents have suffered and yet endured.
I can’t think of much else right now. Every time a pregnant friend nears a due date, a small part of my consciousness is tied up in the waiting, is a tiny bird perched on her distant shoulder watching expectantly for the end of pregnancy to come and the beautiful new life to start. This is the cruel, torturous negative to that experience – part of my consciousness, the primal bit of me that is Mother, has been conscripted to sit vigil with Lachlan’s family, and I find myself staring out the window more than a dozen times a day, biting my lips and restraining tears. He is not my child and this is not my pain, except that he is Everychild and I am Everymother. If prayers and hope and love and faith could heal, he would be well now through mine alone. They do not. They comfort, is all, and palliative care of both the spiritual and medicinal variety is all that the world can offer Lachlan and his sweet family today.
If you are the praying type, please send up prayers for sweet Lachlan and his family, prayers that they have time to create a few more happy memories together, prayers that they have the will to continue this road, and the strength to carry this unfathomably heavy cross towards its unbearable finish. If the word “prayer” makes you squicky, then please beam a positive and loving and secular thought towards tiny Seneca South Carolina. All of it helps – our tiny, futile gestures of love and faith in the face of true human misery and the cruel and grinding determination of a disease that will not be denied. It buoys the family to know that thousands across the South, and the world, are holding them in their thoughts, regardless of denomination (or lack thereof).
Fight like a tiger, Lachlan. Love and hope.