Wednesday, February 15, 2006

February 14, 2006 - Hearts and Flowers

Today is Valentine’s Day. Plans I made about a week ago swing into action. I’m not always the best at planning ahead for holiday gifts, but this year I knew – based on where I’d be in the chemo cycle – that a last-minute store run would not be an option. So last week, as I was feeling a bit better, I went out and pre-ordered a flower arrangement for Claire, to be delivered to our home. I also picked up a heart-shaped box of chocolates and a card at the drug store, and hid them away.

This morning I present her with the chocolates and the card. She has chocolates and a card to give me, as well. The vase of tulips arrives in the early afternoon, and she’s pleased to receive it, after returning home from some hospice home visits.

The two of us act mildly surprised by our little presents, even though there’s no real surprise. We’ve been married for twenty-five years. Valentines and chocolates have been a feature of our February 14th for all those years, and then some. It would have been infinitely more surprising had either of us failed to give the other a valentine.

Claire has written some wonderful things on her valentine to me. I won’t share them all here – they’re personal, of course – but here’s one line: “The path will get harder before it gets better, but we have an unending well of divine love from which to draw living water – not only to strengthen ourselves, but also our beautiful children.”

I’m thinking, today, that it’s not only me who has the cancer. It’s also our marriage... and our family... even our church community. The malignant cells are limited to my own body, but somehow the malignancy as an abstract concept reaches further, insinuating its way into all my relationships, most especially my own family. I’m sorry Claire and the kids have to go through this with me, but at the same time I’m also glad they’re here for me. We’re fighting this together. I can hardly imagine how I would get through this, without the love and support of family.

“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). The Apostle Paul wrote those words to a church community, but they’re words I feel I could address to my own family as well – a different sort of valentine, perhaps, but one that’s so very appropriate this year, considering all that we’re going through together.

Bernie Siegel is a surgeon who’s one of the pioneers of “mind-body medicine” – the holistic approach to treating cancer. In his bestseller, Love, Medicine and Miracles, he makes this rather far-reaching claim:

“I feel that all disease is ultimately related to a lack of love, or to love that is only conditional, for the exhaustion and depression of the immune system thus created leads to physical vulnerability. I also feel that all healing is related to the ability to give and receive unconditional love... I am convinced that unconditional love is the most powerful known stimulant of the immune system. If I told patients to raise their blood levels of immune globulins or killer T cells, no one would know how. But if I can teach them to love themselves and others fully, the same changes happen automatically. The truth is: love heals.” [Love, Medicine and Miracles (Harper, 1986), pp. 180-181.]

I wouldn’t go so far, myself, as to make that sort of global statement, but I do think Siegel’s onto something. There is a mysterious link between wellness and love. I wouldn’t want to encourage sick people to feel they are somehow to blame for their illness, on account of their not having loved or been loved well enough – but it’s true that patients with strong family support systems tend to do better.

Today I give thanks for love that heals.


Anonymous said...

Amen to love Carl.With my two operations last year the love support from Jean and my family was very intrumental in my road to feeling better faster.The table reversed itself these past months where my family and I have been there for Jean,as has our church family. This word love has so many dimensions--far more than I can count, but one dimension I know. Your congregation loves you and is praying every day for you and your family. Love will heal.Bill

Julie Orvis Marcinkiewicz said...

It's nice to hear about the sweetness on Valentine's day between you and Claire after 25 years of marriage and 30 years togethers! As I read your blog from day to day, I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know you better, but I have been thinking of Claire, my friend of 30 years! I know that your cancer is her journey as well and I pray for both of you, and Ania and Ben. On Valentine's my husband and I also exchanged sweet gifts and we have started new traditions as we just at the begining of our journey together. I hope that we will face adversity with as much inspiration as you and Claire are with your cancer. Send my love to Claire and your family.

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