God and O’Henry

I want to cry, sitting there all alone.

The office is cold, the walls stark except for baby photography as if most people go there to have babies instead of lose them.


I try hard to be at terms with my miscarriages, but on this day my coping skills are already used up, so hot tears sting my eyes despite my best efforts at wearing my brave pants.

My bones hurt, and I am so tired that I almost can’t stay awake just to sit there and wait. How hard is waiting? It feels like a blanket of bricks on me, so heavy.

When the lady finally calls my name, I don’t hear her. I sit facing the door just in case, but have lost myself somewhere between dreaming and crying, just far enough I can’t take my own advice with deep breathing.

I feel it coming.

I know.

I know not because I am afraid, but because I have a peace. It is a familiar peace given me before, the kind that says this is going to be really hard, but you are going to be okay.

She comes to me, and touches my shoulder, and I wipe away an escaped tear that betrays me.

She nods a smile, as if she already knows, too.

She doesn’t shame me, though, or fake cheerfulness, and I am grateful.

She just lets me be.

I follow her, then, because to me that is a great kindness, and do as I am told. I remove my modest Mormon clothes in exchange for a half-gown that covers nothing but my shoulders, really. Don’t they know my shoulders are fine?

I sit, idly swinging my feet in the air, as if I were on the porch swing with Nathan rather than a doctor’s office waiting my turn to be invaded. I stare out the window, watching the tops of trees blow in the wind, knowing my spirit is here to fight to stay in this mess of a body. I feel my mother there, holding me in the room by the hair on my head, and my father, too, which startles me at first, but is also a comfort – not just to have them there, but to have them there together.

That’s when I know that I know.

We have been through this, they say.

We will get you through this, they say.

More tears fall.

Why are my tears so hot? They are such hot tears.

My doctors come back in and talk to me. It feels far away. I hear them discuss my case history, and about all the people in my family that died from cancer, and about the pain I am having, the weird results from my lab work, and my past ultrasounds and scans. It is too much to process, and there is nothing I can do about it, so I just keep looking past them and back at the trees. I pretend the branches move at my breath, and I try to keep breathing.

This really does not look good, they say.

We need to do another ultrasound today, they say.

Wrap yourself up in a toga here, and walk with us down the hall.

Sigh. There is nothing pretty about cancer. There is no place not invaded, no piece of me not looked at by everyone. My pile of Mormon clothes are left behind, abandoned, as I walk down the hall half-wrapped in a sheet.

The regular exam is bad enough, but the transvaginal ultrasound is not pleasant. I am grateful the doctor is so gentle and careful, but he cannot make it comfortable.

One side hurts worse than the other side, the same as always, and that’s when I know that I know that I know.

We need to talk, he says.

I look at him then, maybe for the first time, right in the eyes. They are dark and I can see in his soul. He has a mother, and a wife, and a daughter. He looks at me as if I were a daughter, though he knows my parents are both already passed, so whose daughter could I be? His eyes are sad and heavy. I want to know more, but look away from his eyes before he sees into mine.

I don’t wait for the news.

Promise me you will be my doctor, I say.

I will do the surgery, he says, and that’s how the conversation starts without either of us saying it out loud.

I don’t let him talk until all my Mormon layers are back on, until I can wear my clothes like armor, until I have breathed in the trees and can do the conversation without crying.

There are at least three large tumors, he says.

We hope they are benign, he says. But we won’t know until we can get in there and test them.

But here, showing me my black and white ultrasound, here is an even bigger tumor, and this texture and shape indicates it is probably malignant.

I look back to the trees.

I don’t brush away my hot tears any more. They fall freely, and I leave them where they fall.

I wonder if the baby is awake, or if Nathan is feeding her, or if DHS is going to take our kids away now that they will know I am sick.

We won’t know for sure until we get in there to look and can do some more scans and some more testing, he says.

We need to take everything out as soon as possible, he says.

He goes on to talk about chemo options, recovery times, and hormone replacement options.

It’s a blur to me, and the hot tears sting my eyes until I can’t see the trees.

He quietly asks if I have any questions, and hands me a tissue.

What’s going to happen to my kids?

They aren’t even mine yet?

He says it’s good I have already crossed the bridge about not having children. What bridge is that?.

It will help, he says. Help what? How?

“Oh, good,” I say, not wanting any more discussion, firmly closing the conversation.

He sends me out, then, with a handshake that says “I hope you are still alive next month,” simultaneously with “my receptionist will schedule your pre-op”.

I can’t have surgery, as it turns out, until some other lab work can show up better, so it might be a week or two, as we work on that.

But August will be too late, he says.

Too late for what?

Go home to your husband, and enjoy these normal days while you have them. Go live your life, enjoy your time together, and try to relax.

I just laugh at him, snorting every time he says something about my life being normal.

I get my pre-op appointment card, as if it is an invitation to a child’s birthday party. The lady tries not to look at me with pity, but is smart enough not to say anything about being excited to see me next time.

I tell them I will need an interpreter for surgery day, even if not the other days. I won’t be able to use my processors the day of surgery, and have a right to know what’s being said as much as I am able to perceive it. He didn’t fuss at me like some do, and said they will take care of it. We will see.

I won’t let her schedule me before our foster care retreat weekend that Nathan and I won to get to go to, an entire weekend away at a foster conference with a paid for hotel and everything.

That’s our normal, I think. We are keeping that getaway weekend, and going to enjoy every moment of it. We can deal with cancer after we get home, but that no-kid weekend is ours.

Except what if we don’t have kids anymore after this?

That’s why I drive straight to DHS, trying to get there before closing, going there even before I go home to talk to Nathan.

Taking care of business is how I cope.

I tell our worker what is going on, and she cries.

I make sure not to cry in front of her.

She apologizes, and says we are their favorites.

And then we make a plan. 17 is turning 18, so she is already in process of leaving. The baby and 11 are headed towards reunification, so they will move over to where brother is early, in preparation for moving back home. That takes care of three.

The other two, Five and the toddler, are adoptive placements. They promised not to move them unless we ask for it, as long as I am progressing in treatment, regardless of what treatment entails. With Nathan and his parents, and other foster families in the area, they felt we have enough support to keep them here as long as we are still comfortable with it, which of course we want.

Please don’t take my babies, excepting I know it is about them and not about me.

Only after knowing these answers do I finally go home and talk to Nathan.

Then we have to call my brother since it means my niece Jessica will have to come home early instead if staying all summer.

Then we call Nathan’s siblings, because that is fair and we love them and they care and they are prayer warriors, that’s why.

And then we drive down the street to tell his parents.

And that’s when Nathan and his dad give me a blessing.

I try to make jokes.

“How much Hebrew can I do on six weeks to three months bed rest?”

Later, at home, I tell Nathan maybe I have to go through this without my mom because she went through hers without me. Maybe it is because of my life before I was baptized. Maybe it is all my fault, and part of the repentance process required of me.

That’s when Nathan says, “You have confused God with O’Henry, I think.”

He makes me laugh, always.

And with that, we return to normal, reading our scriptures together and saying our prayers. We don’t worry about whether cancer is stage two or three, or what kind of chemo will let me work the most, or how on earth we will keep me on bed rest for that long. We just smile, and write, and pray.

Maybe a lot of praying.

I pray, for the first time, for help with the pain that hurts so much. I pray for help in accomplishing our work and providing for our family. I pray for our parents, and our children, and knowing how to serve them. I pray for help knowing how to use this opportunity to get to know my parents, who have been through this, as it said in the blessing. I thanked Him for being my good Father, who knows what experiences are best for my learning and progress in this life. I thanked Him for the husband that I have, and his goodness to me. I thanked Him for good doctors, sweet children, and scriptures.

I even thanked Him for hot tears, for tears are always “a river that takes you somewhere” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes).

And I am excited to see what kind of journey this will be.

Well, truthfully, not excited for this journey, but honestly excited for whatever we learn from this.

It better be good.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


God and O’Henry — 10 Comments

  1. You are such a beautiful writer and a wonderful example of faith to me. The Moss family will always love, miss, and pray for you and your family. Much love your way <3

  2. I love you so much! You are a beautiful soul and a strong daughter of God! I pray for strength, comfort, and peace for you and your wonderful husband! I believe there are so many blessings in store for you!

  3. Emily, doors and windows close, others open…always!!! I am truly frustrated somewhat that you have to go through this trial, adversity, pain…whatever it is in the light of eternity. You are so very cool!!! I want you around to read about and be inspired by forever….We hardly met in person, and you may not be able to place my name nor face. I was touched by the spirit in some unforgettable way when I first met you in Brookhollow. As you continued to grow in the gospel, I was notified spiritually many times of you and your faith and the blessings of knowledge that were upon you. Brother Donn Mason spoke of you often in those days. I was covetous of your special spiritual experiences, and I ask for forgiveness for that. I, too, am a convert. I, too, had the truth of the Restoration, Joseph Smith, and most of all Eternal Families soar through my soul in such a way that I can never forget nor deny.

    Thus, I write to most of tell you of the love that I see that surrounds you and all you do and all you hope and all you believe and around all those you love. I see it in your writings. I feel it through the Holy Ghost as I read your writings and ponder your messages. So, onward, ever onward, Dear Sister. This too shall pass. All shall pass until the perfect day of Eternal Life and joy. May we all strive daily to live so as to receive that wonderful endowment to have and eternally hold…Elaine H