Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
~ Matthew 28:20
Recently a friend shared that she felt as if people abandoned her during the course of her cancer treatment. She even went so far as to share that you can only tell your "real friends," by those who were with her through every treatment and each high and low.
I can somewhat relate after having experienced an extended illness years ago. When the news was first shared of my illness, and especially after a period of time in the hospital, every day there seemed to be a revolving door of people. As time went on, and I continued on my own journey to get better, there were fewer folks. After a year, I could count the number of people who visited regularly on two hands, and half of those people were family.
I think for a while I was like this friend who feels abandoned by her friends, but over time I realized that the issue wasn't necessarily with my friends, it was with me.
For people who are facing illness, accidents that require recovery, and those facing life-limiting illness, life has suddenly changed. Not only has routine been disrupted, but often there are great periods of time that suddenly exist to dwell on things, both healthy and unhealthy.
I told someone after a hospital stay, "I counted 24 ceiling tiles in my room, and then tried to figure out the average number of holes per tile that were part of the decoration in the tile." I had suddenly felt trapped by my illness, and my mind!
I read an account of someone who had been held prisoner during war, and he talked about memorizing steps, distance, and then imagined trips in his mind to lakes and beautiful meadows to keep him from the reality of what he was actually going through.
Illness, job loss, divorce, death, and a number of other life milestones can take us to to places we have never been before. All of which can be brought to light when we recognize that what we are feeling is grief.
It wasn't until months later that I realized what I was now experiencing was grief. Grief occurs when we have experienced losses, as well as, unexpected or unplanned life changes.
Someone shared, "Imagine how Jesus felt as he hung on the cross, looking out, and seeing not one single disciple he had called to follow him? Even in his final hours he cried out and asked God, 'Why have you abandoned me?'"
There suddenly exists a new understanding of being abandoned, but yet, the disciples gathered together to spend time with the risen Christ when he appeared to them. No where does scripture say that he asks, "Where were you?"
I couldn't say why it is that I felt the way I did, or how my friend is feeling now, but I will say that in the time that followed my illness when I could once again appear to be keeping up with the rest of the world, there were those who reached out and shared that they were sorry for not having provided more support.
I'm not sure if that helped me or them, but it really didn't matter. God had been present through it all, and that was really the lesson I learned in those quiet and empty times. Even Jesus reminds us that he will be with us always, even until the end of time.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.