Ache – Part 2

Someone calculated how long it had been since the diagnosis and we all had a wakeup call when we realised 8 weeks had already passed in what only felt like 2. That’s a couple of months of people barely working, doing the bare minimum to care for their own families, with round the clock support. We could hardly believe time could move so fast. The weeks were filled with graces through people’s words, actions, gifts, prayers, and conversions of heart. 

Her joy carried us through for the first couple of months, even amidst the pain she endured as the medication levelled out and we found the right dosage for her. As she became more and more groggy, she remained joyful and at peace with dying – smiling, laughing and talking about heaven often. Occasionally, she’d even utter pearls of wisdom when visitors were present and needed consoling or brought their own burdens to her.  

Then things began to take a turn.

Frustration and impatience began to run awry. Everyone’s fatigue levels, including that of her own, especially against her own abilities began to make themselves known. This was a stage of dying that was much more challenging than watching her physically deteriorate. 

When you watch someone physically become ill, it hurts and you wish to be able to take it away from them, ease their discomfort by making a home remedy, doing pharmacy runs, and holding them or giving gentle massages. But at least they remain themselves. When their cognitive functions decline, they begin to change and you end up watching the person you love, their character and passion deteriorate in front of you. Occasionally, they even say things that hurt, that in and through their pain they would normally never have uttered. But with pain removing their filter, things come across in ways that were never intended.  In some ways, that is much harder to watch than physical and bodily deterioration. It’s much harder to love, when the one you love seems to be inflicting pain upon your heart. 

At every turn the lesson became asking ‘what does love need to look like here?’

There were boundary crosses of disrespect being felt by many, and hurt being inflicted by us all in one way or another. We knew that this was not just. On the one hand, it’s not according to the virtue of justice to allow someone to repeatedly disrespect and hurt us, nor to continue to hurt another. On the other hand, here is a dying woman and every one’s hearts are already hurting and we’re called to be merciful. Where is the line between what is acceptable in this context and what is not?

I’m slightly ashamed to admit, there were many moments there where I retreated to my room at the end of the day feeling defeated, a heart frustrated and bitter. I lay in bed either crying to God as I fell asleep or angry, and every morning I would say to God ‘I hate who I’m becoming’. On the 5th day I finally dared to say to God ‘I don’t know how to love here, show me how. How do I love her as she deteriorates, and how do I love those around her who are causing her heart to ache and mine to become bitter. Teach me how to love’. 

God did not fail.

He didn’t change the people around me to suit my comfort, he changed my heart instead. He stretched mine just that little bit more to become a bit more patient with myself, and more compassionate with others. To become a bit less anxious and stressed, and more at peace and joy. Just one drop at a time, slowly stretching. 

That’s the lesson with an aching heart.

The heart aches not because it’s breaking but because it’s being stretched. We don’t just feel pain when a muscle is overextended, we also feel pain when we’re stretching it beyond what it’s used to. But God doesn’t pull at our hearts without our permission. He is forever gentle and respectful of our will and gives us time and space to want our hearts to expand. Will you give him yours to teach you to love the ones who hurt you?

Written by

Stina Constantine – Founder and Director of Virtue Ministry

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