Freedom Friday- Cancer Sucks

Freedom Friday– every Friday I free myself from a burden, either an old embarrassing story, a secret phobia, a lie I told and got away with, a fear I can’t win, or something else to be determined. I want to free myself from secrets to end those nagging moments when I can’t sleep at night, or those random thoughts that pop in my head for no reason other than their need to get expelled from my psyche. We all need to free ourselves from self-recrimination, to open ourselves up and face our fears. Freedom Friday is my attempt to do that, and in turn take ownership of my guilt so it doesn’t eat me alive anymore.


Last night the kids were helping me clean the kitchen after dinner. Twinkle likes to ask deep, philosophical or scary questions when we are doing chores. Last night, she turned to look at me while I washed dishes, a sponge in her hand, at rest between scrubs of the kitchen table. She told me, “Mom, I am scared about what happens when you die.” Her face immediately turned red, her mouth gaped in a silent cry for comfort, and then rushed over to my side, hugging me around the waist.

We are Unitarian Universalists but I grew up Catholic. The pat answers that gave me peace during my childhood directly conflict with our family’s religious identity. I can’t tell her about the perfect clouds of heaven, the guarantee of forever as long as we listen well and love Jesus. I pulled her into a tight hug, walked over into our family room and told her that no one can come back after they die, so there is no way to know what happens. I explained what each heritage she can claim a part of (Catholic and Jewish) believes. I explained reincarnation. I explained that some people believe that nothing happens, your body becomes part of the earth. She said she wants to believe in reincarnation, but only if she can be reincarnated after her parents are and come back as our baby again.

She asked me if we could start going to two or three different churches to cover our bases. She feels like she has a better chance of getting an afterlife if we go to Synagogue, Unitarian services and Catholic mass. The reason we became UU before having kids was to prevent ourselves from feeding them a truth we were uncertain of ourselves. However, going blind yesterday was a cluster of emotions I was not prepared to handle.

Confession 1: Sometimes I wish I still believed in my childhood version of heaven, where all good people who love Jesus get to go on to eternity and everyone else burns in hell. I am not sure if heaven exists, I would like it to. I know hell is a construct created during the Council of Nicea as a means of keeping people in line with the church’s teachings. That is history, and I feel safe sharing history with my kids. I can with great confidence tell my kids that a pit of fire does not await them, that the end will indeed be peaceful either in its nothingness or in its glory, but I cannot tell them I know what will happen without lying. So I am left with a six-year-old huddled in my arms telling me that she needs to go to lots of churches so she earns the right of existing forever. The voice in my head prayed for easy answers to fix it, I only wish I could still believe in them.

A few minutes later she calmed down. We were talking about one of her favorite shows on PBS, Arthur. She grasped both of my hands in hers, looked me straight in the eye, and told me that no matter what she hopes that no one she loves ever has cancer. She told me that Arthur’s lunch lady had it and it made her body produce weeds instead of flowers so they had to rip out the whole garden and start over. I need to watch the episode for clarity—I have no idea what she means with that metaphor.

My father’s cancer was the greatest intrusion into my personal sense of safety I had ever experienced. Sure, a few of my older relatives had had cancer. But the immediacy of cancer in a grandparent is something different than watching your own father stripped of the immortality cloak you bestowed on him during your childhood. The guy I knew would be there for me for always, to fight my foes when I was too wary and call me out when I needed it, the guy who never once complained about the long hours he worked and came up with ways to creatively complement every extracurricular activity, failures and successes alike, was now mortal.

I could talk about the “good side” of cancer. It pushed me to make life altering decisions quickly. Facing the fact that life was no longer a guarantee I jumped headfirst into really living, including starting my marriage. Best damn snap decision ever, by the way. I am 100% sure we would have gotten married after a traditional dating period, but this way we skipped all that and waltzed to the altar after knowing each other less than a year. I jumped into starting our family, too, knowing that in my husband I found a man who could be a Dad on caliber with my own Dad. It also made me see how lucky I was that I was blessed with my parents.

But seriously, screw cancer. Glass half full, learned my lesson, don’t take life for granted, these lessons could have been taught without the fear of losing my Dad. He is in remission now, and spends many hours each week, hand in hand with my awesome and strong mom, playing with our kids and giving them the experiences I cherish so much from my own youth. Last night, with Twinkle in my lap and tears flooding my face, I told her that sometimes people live through cancer. She asked me if I knew anyone who did. I told her Poppa Rocks had cancer once, but was all better now. She was immediately overcome with emotion and told me he wasn’t allowed to have it anymore because she doesn’t want him to die. She told me that maybe he should go to UU, Catholic and Jewish church with us, too, just in case.

Confession 2: I wish I would have lied to her last night. I wish I would have told her that no one we know has ever had cancer. We wove through two of the most heart-wrenching conversations of my life in a matter of 20 minutes. I had to watch my own daughter process the fact that even her Poppa, the guy who hangs the moon from his shoulders and is never too tired to push her on the swings one more time, that guy was mortal like the rest of us. I take pride in not lying to the kids. If they ask questions I answer them. This is why my six-year-old can draw you a diagram of the reproductive organs of a woman and explain periods. But this time, this time I wish I would have lied to her.

After a few minutes of more talk Ninja piped up, “This stuff is sorta making me sad. That makes it really hard to concentrate on Legos, you know.” And with that Twinkle hopped off my lap and helped construct a Lego tree house.


About TT&NB

Wife, Mother, grant writer, professional do-gooder and friend
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2 Responses to Freedom Friday- Cancer Sucks

  1. Janice Gray says:

    That was a great article. I will make sure “poppa” reads it. The great thing about DNA & science is we know for a fact that we will live on in twinkletoes & ninja boy. This is our “forever after”

  2. Peggy Schroeder says:

    I think it is great you share historical viewpoints with the kids, but you might want a more recent viewpoint than the Council of Nicea. I have copied info from an audience with Pope Paul II in 1999, It is certainly a different way of looking at heaven and hell.
    Heaven is Fullness of Communion with God
    Heaven as the fullness of communion with God was the theme of the Holy Father’s catechesis at the General Audience of 21 July 1999. Heaven “is neither an abstraction not a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit,” the Pope said.

    1. When the form of this world has passed away, those who have welcomed God into their lives and have sincerely opened themselves to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.

    As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed is called “heaven’. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (n.1024).

    Today we will try to understand the biblical meaning of “heaven”, in order to have a better understanding of the reality to which this expression refers.

    2. In biblical language “heaven””, when it is joined to the “earth”, indicates part of the universe. Scripture says about creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1:1).

    Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God

    Metaphorically speaking, heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings (cf. Ps 104:2f.; 115:16; Is 66:1). He sees and judges from the heights of heaven (cf. Ps 113:4-9) and comes down when he is called upon (cf. Ps 18:9, 10; 144:5). However the biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with heaven, nor can he be contained in it (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27); and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees “Heaven” is simply one of God’s names (1 Mc 3:18, 19, 50, 60; 4:24, 55).

    The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11). Thus heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a “reward in heaven” (Mt 5:12) and urges people to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (ibid., 6:20; cf. 19:21).

    3. The New Testament amplifies the idea of heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ. To show that the Redeemer’s sacrifice acquires perfect and definitive value, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus “passed through the heavens” (Heb 4:14), and “entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself” (ibid., 9:24). Since believers are loved in a special way by the Father, they are raised with Christ and made citizens of heaven. It is worthwhile listening to what the Apostle Paul tells us about this in a very powerful text: “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7). The fatherhood of God, who is rich in mercy, is experienced by creatures through the love of God’s crucified and risen Son, who sits in heaven on the right hand of the Father as Lord.

    4. After the course of our earthly life, participation in complete intimacy with the Father thus comes through our insertion into Christ’s paschal mystery. St Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: “Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes 4:17-18).

    Sacramental life is anticipation of heaven

    In the context of Revelation, we know that the “heaven” or “happiness” in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.

    It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these “ultimate realities” since their depiction is always unsatisfactory. Today, personalist language is better suited to describing the state of happiness and peace we will enjoy in our definitive communion with God.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the Church’s teaching on this truth: “By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened’ heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ” (n. 1026).

    5. This final state, however, can be anticipated in some way today in sacramental life, whose centre is the Eucharist, and in the gift of self through fraternal charity. If we are able to enjoy properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day, we will already have begun to experience that joy and peace which one day will be completely ours. We know that on this earth everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the “ultimate” realities helps us to live better the “penultimate” realities. We know that as we pass through this world we are called to seek “the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1), in order to be with him in the eschatological fulfilment, when the Spirit will fully reconcile with the Father “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col 1:20).

    To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

    I extend a special welcome to the young people taking part in the Forum of the European Youth Parliament, as well as to the St Vincent Ferrer Chorale from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and the Taiwanese Native Folklore Group, accompanied by Cardinal Shan. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially those from England, Scotland, Korea, Taiwan, Canada and the United States, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. May you have a happy and blessed summer!


    Hell is the State of Those who Reject God

    At the General Audience of Wednesday, 28 July 1999, the Holy Father reflected on hell as the definitive rejection of God. In his catechesis, the Pope said that care should be taken to interpret correctly the images of hell in Sacred Scripture, and explained that “hell is the ultimate consequence of sin itself… Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”.

    1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.

    In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.

    Hell is a state of eternal damnation

    2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez. 28:8; 31:14; Jb. 10:21f.; 38:17; Ps 30:10; 88:7, 13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb. 7:9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38:18; Ps 6:6).

    The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.

    Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged “by what they [have done]” (Rv 20:13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1).

    The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Rv. 20:13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for ‘eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:9).

    3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather* than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell'” (n. 1033).

    “Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.

    We are saved from going to hell by Jesus who conquered Satan

    4. Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no”, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.

    Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the, Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Rm. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

    This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation. It is effectively reflected in the liturgical tradition of the Church, as the words of the Roman Canon attest: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family … save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen”.

    Also, with 40 years of experience as an oncology nurse and both of my parents having cancer, I know how difficult those discussions can be. There are numerous books about talking with children. Let me know, i will be happy to get one for you.

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