That’s a photo of my sister Ruthie Leming and her daughter Claire in the hospital this morning, shortly after we brought the girls in to see their mother. I think the look on Claire’s face upon being reunited with her Mama after a long night speaks more eloquently than I can about the love in that family. Later in the morning, Dr. Tim’s wife Laura came down and worked with the girls to make posters for their mom. Tonight everybody is at home, and resting. I’d texted my cousin Melanie to ask her to change Ruthie’s sheets on the off chance she got to come home tonight. Melanie rounded up the cousins and they did a spectacular job cleaning the entire place. Ruthie was so touched and grateful to come home just now to a sparkling-clean house. She will resume radiation therapy Monday on an outpatient basis. She’s just so very, very grateful to be in her own home tonight, and in her own bed, with her family around her.
She’s tired, but her spirits are high. Dr. Tim Lindsey told her that this weekend should be for her and her family to do things together, and to have as much fun as they can as a family, because she’s about to get very sick from the radiation, which will be followed by chemotherapy. So they will be cocooning for the next few days, and are looking forward to having this time alone together, just their family.
Hannah and I drove to New Orleans this afternoon to pray for Ruthie at the Shrine of the Bl. Father F.X. Seelos. We had a late lunch on magazine street at the po-boy joint Ignatius. I explained to her where the name comes from. “Oooh, I’d like to read that,” she said. Music to my ears! Somewhere in heaven, my Uncle Murphy, who gave me “A Confederacy of Dunces” as a teenager, is lifting his glass and smiling.
UPDATE: I find I keep coming back to this entry myself to contemplate the look on Claire’s face. She is 10, and though she’s been told what her mother and their family is facing, she really has no idea what they’re about to endure. I think of that look of pure adoration and tranquillity, as a moment out of time — Claire is plainly oblivious to the conversation going on around her — as tragic in that respect (the last moment of innocence before the ravages of cancer therapy strike). But more hopefully, I look at her face as an icon of a daughter’s love for her mother, and of a purity and timelessness that nothing, not even suffering unto death, can tarnish or break. Whether she knows it or not, that little girl sees with her heart into eternity, and to a time and place beyond the valley of the shadow of death, where there will be no more suffering, and in which we will all be together again, our broken bodies restored and our fractured bonds with others made whole, united in and sustained by unlimited love. This beatific image is an icon to which all of us in this family are going to need to return again and again in the days to come — and maybe even for the rest of our lives.
If you’re just coming to the story of my sister Ruthie’s fight with cancer, you might want to see these links from earlier this week, in the order they first appeared:
1. My sister has cancer
2. The theology of illness
3. Hospital in Baton Rouge
4. When prayer seems futile
5. Our beautiful, horrible cancer day
6. Andy Crouch’s three last things
I also strongly encourage you to read the comboxes, for several reasons. One, to see how good my sister is through the prism of the comments her friends, neighbors and colleagues have been leaving, talking about her and her kindness to them (I think in particular of the friend who remembered the time they were running a race, and she fell, and my sister stopped running to pick her up and to encourage her); two, to see the character of the people of this community who have rallied to the Leming family’s side; and finally, to see the character of the people who follow this blog, and who don’t even know my family, but who are praying for Ruthie. It’s really something else, all of it, and such an encouragement to us all, I think.