I met Grace at the hospital on a beautiful spring day. She was looking out the window of her Oncology unit room; wisps of hair peaking out of a colorful paisley scarf. Her eyes were brightly frosted with tears as she looked out over the roses and wisteria blooming from the garden below. A nurse was putting on a new wristband to go with Grace’s hospital ID bracelet.
“What’s with the new jewelry?” I asked.
“Oh”, she said quietly, “that is my Do Not Resuscitate order. I have decided to stop chemo, and let nature take its course.”
I paused and said, “Wow. That took a lot of courage.”
Grace replied, “I read once that courage is about doing what is right, even if you are afraid to do it. It is the courage to act, rather than react. Cancer and chemo have been a long, hard road, and the treatment for me will never be curative. Today, I decided to live the rest of my life with the courage to let go, and say goodbye.”
I had brought her the first gardenia bloom from the garden. She held it to her nose, inhaling deeply. “My favorite scent,” she sighed. “You know, it is nearly impossible to replicate the scent of a gardenia? Only the Creator knows the formula.”
We often think of courage as physical courage: the courage to climb the tallest mountain, or enter a burning building. While these indeed take strength in the face of fear, courage more commonly is strength in the face of pain or grief.
Sometimes it is the courage to soldier on, sometimes it is the courage to call it quits, but always it takes courage to enter into the struggle of what to do next when someone you love is dying.
Courage is strength in the face of struggle, but it is also the humility to allow tears to fall, the vulnerability to let others know about painful life decisions, and to accept help from those most available to provide it.
In 2 Corinthians St. Paul writes that we are all called to be courageous in the face of uncertainty, and walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor5:7). We know that if we follow our own ego — that part of us that says we are always right and know best — we block out the helpful support that the Spirit sends our way.
As difficult as it was for Grace and her health care team, she was preparing to go home to hospice care, and eventual death. Her faith enabled her to be courageous enough to leave the body and go home to the Lord…as we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. (2Cor 5:8-9)
Whether called to persevere in illness, or called to let treatment go, we have the humble courage to believe that Christ is with us in the midst of these difficult struggles.
Everyday, AKOTA works with people who have the courage to make hard choices, and the humility to accept help in the midst of their suffering. The nature of our work means that we often augment the services of hospice, providing compassionate, experienced caregivers who provide extra support to our clients and their families. Our caregivers are intuitively humble and compassionate, encouraging our client’s in their struggles, and using their creative talents, to build trust with the families they serve.
If you are currently a family caregiver, humble courage gives you the strength to ask for help. In our society, this is one of the most difficult things to do. Asking for help takes courage…and just a little bit of walking by faith, not sight.