Tag Archives: leukemia

Fate or Providence | How To Interpret Life’s Misfortunes?

This blog is about the mystery or wonderment of life’s TIMING.

Several friends of mine are avowed atheists, which, truthfully, draws me to them versus detracts. Why? I appreciate their candor. To me their professed lack of belief communicates a serious searching for meaning in life. I wonder how they – and you – might interpret the following “life’s timing” story.

A primary reason my family returned to the U.S. from South Africa in 2010 was to be nearer my wife’s aging and ailing mother, more especially since my wife is an only child and her father is deceased.

“Bueli,” who my girls and I visited barely one week ago, and who I wrote about last week in Grandparents | Person and Place Specialness was suddenly admitted to hospital this past Saturday with an elevated white blood count of about 133k. Today she was “officially” diagnosed (after a painful bone marrow biopsy yesterday) with chronic leukemia.

This blog isn’t a “Why me Lord?! Why Me?!” type bemoaning of a Queen Latifah in the movie The Last Holiday (in the movie she’s mistakenly diagnosed as having only 3 weeks to live), which, of course, is easy for me to say since I’m not the one lying in a hospital bed. You see, my mother-in-law is well beyond retirement age, and given her long-term health struggles is really either a walking miracle, or a testament to the resilience of the human body and will power – or all three.

Rather, in the case of my mother-in-law, the question is not so much”Why did this happen?” or (if you’re a person of faith) “Why did God allow this?” But rather, “What are we to make of, and take from the extraordinary timeliness, and sometimes fortuitousness of events, relationships, et cetera, in life?

Her situation is “fortuitous” only in the sense that her hospital admittance comes a mere three weeks after my wife graduated with a 3-year in length MSN degree – less than 48 hours after she completed her national CNS credentialing exam – and in-between her search for full-time work. Any earlier (or later) and she would not have had the time and opportunity to hop on a plane and be with her mother 24/7 during this difficult and fearful time.

You see, my theology, as it were, doesn’t wrestle (much) with the skeptic’s scornful question – “If there is a God, why does s/he allow suffering?” Suffering, to me, is largely part and parcel of having been created with the inestimable freedom of will and choice.  Like my doctoral mentor, whose memoir recounts carrying the wet, cold and lifeless body of his 5-year-old son out of a South African river, what’s of more life-giving-meaning to me than resolving the enigma of immense suffering in this world is a belief that “God” (whoever ultimate reality might be for you) participates with and suffers alongside us in our day-to-day lives.

Therefore, like many of you I’m contemptuous of simplistic platitudes and theologies that convey belief in “God’s will” for this and that calamity or atrocity, such as ‘God plucks his most beautiful flowers,’ and ‘Take comfort that this was the will of God.’  I don’t think the MANY people – in my experience mostly Christians – who persist in holding and professing such belief ever pause to truly consider the many day-to-day life implications of what believing in that “type of God” entails.

So . . . I’m not arguing for God’s existence based on this one very personal and sad event, whose timing appears beyond the coincidental.

I’m merely suggesting that during the many very difficult days of the past three years of our family’s struggling through graduate studies alongside my wife (those of you who have a postgraduate degree know what I’m saying about graduate studies being a “family thing” versus merely the lone student’s achievement), this one tragic event’s timing gives us grateful pause.

I suppose I’m also saying that if I have to choose in life between living with either a belief that a compassionate and loving Being participates in life alongside you and me – in good times and through suffering – or in a world of mere happenstance and fate.  I’ll choose the former.

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Birth-dates | Memories of Celebration & Loss

In case the world doesn’t know yet, please ring the bells.  It’s my birthday!

Birthdays symbolize and celebrate the fact that individuals have a history.

One of my eldest daughter's birthday.

Our eldest daughter’s 17th birthday.

In this blog I share a few memories from my own life history, plus an exercise that demonstrates the importance of memories.  I hope the exercise “I Remember” helps you re-experience happy occasions, or alternatively emotionally process through and beyond painful memories of loss.

Life celebratory dates are met with a mix of emotions by people.  For instance, I have learned over the years that December 31st is not a good day, to put it mildly, for my mother-in-law.  Although it marks a traditionally celebratory day (wedding anniversary), it’s also a painful 24-hour period, in which she’s acutely conscious of memories of lost love (husband’s death from leukemia) and of shared life and opportunities missed.

I remember my 7th grade and thirteenth year of life in, Texas.  My parents had returned there from Kenya for sabbatical. It must have been an emotionally laden and formative one, given the number of memories associated with it, but then again, middle school itself is the onset of a burgeoning adolescence for most teens.  

Memories include: walking to school with wet, long hair and then having to comb out icicles; learning CB radio lingo and having my own CB handle; having a much older high school girl catching me off-guard outside a church youth event, telling me she has this “thing for kids from Africa, do I know what she means?,” me naively replying “yes,” and then before I know what is what experiencing the sensation of a warm, wet and all-engulfing mouth; hanging out with an “exemplary adult” who not only introduced me to the world of adult magazines, but who wore his character on a T-shirt declaring “If all else fails, I still have my personality”; and drawing circles on a Texas map of the route I intended to take when I ran away from home, because I was adamantly opposed to my family’s return to Africa, given my happy acclimation to U.S. culture and life.

What about you?

Are traditionally celebratory dates mostly joyous occasions? Or do they evoke disproportional anguish and pain of memories past, such as a loved one’s death? A marriage dissolved? A child’s estrangement? The onset of a debilitating illness or addiction? A loss of a way of life and/or vocation?

Some Sinomlando staff and I (3rd from right).

Some Sinomlando staff and I (3rd from right).

Over the past decade my life has benefited from working with people, who comprise and relate to a South African research and community development non-profit called The Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa, http://sinomlando.ukzn.ac.za/.  Sinomlando is a non-profit psychosocial memory work and human rights initiative begun in 1994 by a Belgian professor of History of Christianity at the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, Philippe Denis, and a colleague, Nokhaya Makiwane.

Political satirist Zapiro using photo of June 16th massacre of school children as theme for a new South Africa tragedy - HIV/AIDS

Political satirist Zapiro using photo of June 16th massacre of school children as theme for a new South Africa tragedy – HIV/AIDS

Sinomlando seeks to redress the damaging effect of violence and HIV/AIDS on African children and their families through memory work and oral history. Sinomlando, an isiZulu word for “we have a history,” utilizes a slim memory manual in book form for its training of memory workers, entitled Never Too Small To Remember, the title of which is intentional in that we advocate for traditionally “silenced voices” – aka, children, but also women – to contribute their voices and stories.

Should you have interest to know how you can either contribute financially or become a partner member of Sinomlando’s work, contact them directly at “contact us”: http://sinomlando.ukzn.ac.za/index.php/en/contact-us-mainmenu-36.

June 16 (Soweto Uprising), 1976, massacre of 176+ South African students for protesting Afrikaans as medium of instruction.

June 16 (Soweto Uprising), 1976, massacre of 176+ South African students for protesting Afrikaans as medium of instruction.

Memory work utilizes many different exercises in enabling individuals to share their history and process life trauma. “Memories of Loss” and “I Remember” are two. Given that birthdays are hopefully more celebratory than remorseful, I share how to do “I Remember” because it can be used for painful and joyful remembrances.  With your spouse, partner, close friend, immediate and extended family, church or any other small group that constitutes a “safe place” for you, share with each other answers to the following four questions.

NeverTooSmall

The final question is particularly important, in that, it’s where participants express feelings associated with specific memories.  The start to healing or coming to terms with a specific loss and struggle in life, is most often  preceded by a verbalization or sharing with someone, as in, for example, the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, where the first step is simply having the courage to acknowledge one’s addiction/problem and need for help.

I REMEMBER

 Share a remembrance, a memory.

(Examples: a wedding, the birth of a child, the death of a family member, etc.)

Share on what occasions you most often remember these events.

(Example: for my mother-in-law it’s December 31st)

Share what you typically do or think when you remember these events.

(Examples: I sing songs, I look at photo albums, I get in a “sour mood”, I cry inconsolably)

Share what emotions these memories provoke in you.

(Examples: I feel relief, pain, sadness, distress, etc.)

Thank you for sharing in my birthday by allowing me to share something of my own history and life story, as well as that of The Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work in Africa!

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Filed under Africa, Life, Loss, Memories, Perspective, Relationships, Uncategorized