Anniversaries are odd things. At 3:05 this afternoon, on this date, ten years ago, my third daughter Francesca Louise died at the age of nine years, five months, and 25 days. We had learned of her brainstem tumor 468 days before, on January 9, 1996.
This anniversary should be no different from any others like it, except that it is further removed from the Ur-event than previous anniversaries, and less removed from the anniversaries to come. But, the Lord seems to have thought anniversaries are important (e.g. the annual cycle of the feasts of the LORD in the Law), and that groups of anniversaries may be noteworthy as well (e.g. the Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee, a Sabbath of sabbatical years). So, perhaps, the first decade after Cheska’s death is worth noting for the reason that it is a decade, and the first decade at that.
The short story goes like this …
Cheska was the third of four daughters. Her older sisters were hard-charging, bigger than life presences whose normal sibling rivalry contributed a constant syncopation to our domestic rhythms. Aunt Kathy gave Cheska’s younger sister the nickname “Fun, Incorporated.” Contrary to all this, Cheska’s demeanor was melancholic, serious, often pessimistic, early on aware of the Fall, the Curse, and all the woes that attend these features of the universe.
Who’d have guessed that the Lord would have laid that trial on her small-boned frame? But, there it was, in an MRI on January 9, 1996. I should have guessed from the neuro-opthamologist’s manner that something horrid was afoot, as he told me “Your daughter has a pontine glioma. You should consult a neuro-surgeon as soon as possible.” He said this, as I look back on it, with the tone appropriate for what the neuro-surgeon did tell me a couple of hours later. “These things do not heal. There is nothing I can do for your daughter.” So, on that momentous day, our family set out on a 15 month, 12 day adventure to deposit Cheska at the gates of heaven, to depart from her until it’s our turn to pass through that portal.
That she was in Christ is an abiding comfort and provides a shining hope. But, from another angle, her trial – unusual (at least in our expectations) for an eight-year old – has meaning only because she was a Christian. Indeed, her youth, the monstrous calamity facing her, the near-inevitability of the outcome, the inexorable deterioration of her mobility over the months, the squalid humiliation of her final hours – the sheer enormity of it all pointed to issues far grander, much deeper, and necessarily other than a worrying, whiney eight-year old girl in a small Texas town.
For us and for everyone watching us, the issue was necessarily Christ Himself and the veracity of His words. The gospel itself was laid squarely on the table, and we alongside it, for everyone in our town, in our parish, throughout our extended family, and throughout the network of thousands of friends and acquaintances that come with over a decade of vocational ministry. “Come to me, you who are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” How does that fit with what faced Cheska for almost 16 months?
We know the answers now, and they’re more than will fit into this blog. So, I’ll skip to the end, and let Cheska provide her own testimony, in her own words, and by her own hand – her left hand, since her right hand (the dominant one) was by the time of this testimony, paralyzed. In the last few weeks of her life, she set about writing small poems and she illustrated them as best she could with her weakened muscles and her severely marred vision.
In previous years, on the anniversary of her death I have passed the exact moment sitting in an Anglican chapel that now bears her name. It was in this chapel that she continued to worship all throughout her illness, even when she had to be physically assisted to the communion rail. Her last Eucharist in this chapel was Easter Sunday. She was buried in that Easter outfit three weeks later.
On this tenth anniversary of her death, however, I’ve decided to post this blog and four of her poems as evidence of Christ’s saving work in her soul.
God, God in the sky,
Hold my hand, and hear my cry.
Sometimes, Lord, I wish to die.
I know that’s wrong, so I will try
To live my life, although it’s tough.
Lord I think I’ve had enough.
Lord I ask that You’d heal me.
This tumor’s got me by the knee.
God, my heart’s about to bust.
So please come down and live with us!
To My Fuzzy Daddy
On His 50th Birthday
I’m in a yucky hospital,
Where Id really like not to be,
‘Cause all they do is stick you,
Then it’s time for medicine,
I guess it’s for the best,
But let me tell you something,
It doesn’t give you much rest.
Oh no! Here comes the chemo!
They stuff it in my body.
I guess it’s time to see my Friend,
His name is Mr. Potty.
Jesus loves me,
I can see.
He hates this test sting,
so does me.
He doesn’t test me
to make me sad,
make me mope,
make me mad.
He gives me tests
to check my heart,
to see if it is extra smart,
to see if it really believes in Him.
Lord, I hope this makes You grin:
I believe in you will all my might,
and wish to hug you extra tight.
Till This Goes Away
When I get to feeling that this will never go away,
I always find my Mommy, and we go and pray.
And, when I’m sad and lonely, and feeling most depressed,
We always find the Bible, lay down, and read, and rest.
And, till this goes away, though it may take a little while,
I’ll always try my best, to wear a happy smile.