‘His leukaemia returned aggressively and there was nothing more they could do’

Emily’s story | Clinging on to faith, amidst the bleakness of grief

“Our second child, Edward (Ned), was diagnosed with leukaemia, not long after his second birthday. It floored us. We not only had to process our child having cancer, and convey that to our family, but we had to grieve the life we had planned, as well as try to keep our marriage intact, and be grace-filled, patient, stable, loving parents to our other children.

The next five years of cancer treatment necessitated two bone marrow transplants and 18 months away from home – in Melbourne and then Seattle. I can’t even begin to convey the profound depths of devastation with every bad result and leukaemia relapse, or the ecstatic highs where God, in his infinite mercy, provided just what we needed. Our utterly depleted selves were sustained only by the prayers of many, the kindness of strangers, friends, family and a new church we started attending. We solely relied on God’s strength to put each foot in front of the other, day after day, despite the seemingly constant bad news. Ned’s second bone marrow transplant was his last remaining chance. It was gruelling for us all, so you can imagine the triumph and celebrations when it finished. We had fought valiantly, Ned had battled courageously and we were victoriously given the prize of his life, or so we thought.

But then in February 2019, Ned’s leukaemia was found to have returned aggressively, for the fourth time. Our oncologist grimly said to us, “That’s it. We have no more options. You need to take him home.”

Palliating your own child is a truly surreal daily existence; made even more so in our case because I’m a doctor as well as a Mum – a vocation primarily focused on saving lives. It felt like an alternate reality – one in which the parameters of my old life had shifted dramatically – where my prompting for his farewells needed to change from saying ‘see you later’ to saying ‘goodbye’. We had five weeks with him at the end. They should have been glorious, and in some ways they were – we had him alive with us, and oh how I long to have that time back. But we were shocked and grieving, not knowing what was around the corner. Surely the doctors got it wrong? In the last few days, we bent to his every need and whim. It was a heart-wrenching and profoundly sorrow-filled time. Through God’s strength alone we trudged, with his soul-filling peace replacing our fear and panic about what was ahead. He alone was our Rock amidst the sea of debilitating uncertainty.

But it turned out our son was better prepared for his death than any of us were anyway. Not knowing the end was so nigh, Ned prayed this prayer the night before he died: “Dear God. Thank you for loving me. Please help everyone have a good sleep. I love you. See you when I get to heaven. Amen.”

It’s been nearly three years since he left us. We continue to miss him desperately. We continue to mourn and cry out to God, pleading with him for answers. We daily lament at the scars we bear. Some days, I wonder if my body has moulded itself around the holes of grief … or is it still in pieces? Can the people around me see the weariness borne of dreadfully missing one child, whilst concurrently trying to love and serve my other four children here on earth?

Into the bleakness of his absence, though, we cling to our faith in God and hope for reunification one day. I’m sad more often than not, but I’m not scared. Psalm 23:4 says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” We have not yet made it through that valley. In fact, we are far from it. But as I remind our eldest (and myself) every night, God has assured us that he will be walking beside us. For us, having faith doesn’t make the pain hurt any less, but it does allow us to see a God who’s working out his plans to put an end to the evil and suffering in this world. We know that Jesus understands suffering, sees our pain, and weeps with us … so it is by his grace alone that we continue on, eagerly anticipating the day when we’ll be reunited once more with our Ned.”

Emily’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series. Click here for more Faith Stories.

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