Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Labor of Love

Karen Gerstenberger

Karen is one of my most cherished friends. I have never actually met her, since she lives on the west coast while I live on the east coast, way across the country from one another, but our friendship surpasses the bounds of proximity. We were drawn together via the world of grief blogs, and her writing about her daughter's death so resonated with my own experience, that I became a follower of her blog. Not every bereaved mother can express the sorrow of my own heart, but Karen is one who can--eloquently and articulately. She has been an incredible support and safe place for me in the past three years and I am forever grateful for the Providence that brought us together.

She's spent the past couple of years working on a most emotionally challenging project: that of sharing the story of her family's journey with a child diagnosed with pediatric cancer. The book, her labor of love,  is called "Because of Katie", and I will link you to amazon so you can order it too. It is a tremendous resource for any family dealing with a child with chronic illness that requires hospitalization or significant life change. Karen wrote the book as a guidepost for those families and to sensitize the medical community to the trauma to both the patient and family of those whose lives have been turned upside-down by a diagnosis.

Karen systematically recounts her family's ten month journey through childhood cancer, from diagnosis, hospitalization, chemo,  and surgery, to  Katie's eventual death.  I could feel the intense stress of a family in crisis having to uproot and then relocate to a hospital; which then became, for all practical purposes, their new home --so much so that when and where to use the bathroom became a critical daily challenge. All that,  while simultaneously dealing with keeping the rest of life going--a home, a job, caring for a marriage, and the welfare and education of  the other child in the family. Underneath all that exists the ever-present harsh reality of a child who is terminally ill, who must cope with insensitive resident rounds, pain management, and the crushing fact of her own impending death.  Karen's honest reflections on her disappointments, heartaches, and fears would provide comfort and solidarity for any family dealing with the same. Her chapter on spiritual resources and quotes on faith from Katie's memorial are extremely helpful, and among my favorite parts of the book.  

Karen's suggestions for hospital personnel should make this required reading in medical and nursing school, and especially for hospital administrators who want to create the most healing environment. She has no axe to grind, only an insider's view of what works best. For the non-medical reader such as myself, this family's fierce dedication to their daughter was moving, and I wept my way through many of the chapters. Thanks to Karen's brisk and factual writing style, I  only had to lay the book down once to rest my heart.  These lessons cannot be learned anywhere but in the trenches, and so it is such a gift for Karen to re-walk that painful road to share them with us.

Beautiful Katie Gerstenberger

This beautiful creature is Katie, the heroine of Karen's book. She passed away a little over four years ago, but she has left behind a legacy of love, hope and insight for all of us.
We love and miss you, Katie.
I am sending all my love and comfort to her mama, Karen, and her whole precious family, and praying that this wonderful, helpful book gets into the hands of those who need it most.

Tomorrow I will share a story from the book that inspired me most of all...  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rachel's Birthday

Rachel is truly one of the most beautiful creatures under God's big sky. We adore our daughter-in-love, our chosen family member, who though never a bride, is now, for all practical purposes, our son's widow. She is the silver lining in our story, and cherished by each and every person in our family. She has brought us all deep comfort by her presence, her love, and her courage. It's her 30th birthday and she is being surprised and celebrated by friends in California wine country this weekend. No one ever deserved it more.

We love you, Rachel. Thanks for travelling
the long and winding road with us.
May you be showered with the love
you so generously pour on all of us around you.
May all your dreams come true, precious girl,
and may God fill your heart with joy beyond words.

Psalm 30:5
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Joy Comes in the Mourning

It started as a tiny, match-sized flame.
A tiny thought that underneath the heavy load of grief
it was okay.
It flickered in the wind
But it didn't go out.

It fed on truth and grew stronger.
There's a bigger picture, it said.
All will be well, it said.
He holds it all in His hands, it said.
Like a fire in a hearth
A place to warm my chilled hands and feet.

Will it be a bonfire someday?
Big enough to chase away the cold
and only strengthened by the wind?
I do not know.

For now it's enough.
I can sit next to it
and feel the peace spreading
inside, around my heart,
in my lungs,
breathing it in and out.
Warm. Safe. Quiet.
Not happiness...something better.

Joy. (Joey)