Coping With Cancer: Counting Blessings

By Margaret Nyman

November 5, 2009

Our first day without Nate has been jam-packed with wake and funeral preparations, trips to the cemetery and funeral home, eulogy writing, and shopping for proper funeral clothes. All of it reminds us that Nate’s death is the only reason for today’s checklist.

The low point of the day was when Van’s Medical Supply arrived to pick up the hospital bed and related equipment. As the man stepped into our front door he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I started to tear up and said, “It seems like you just brought the bed in.”

He looked at the ground and quietly said, “It went so fast for you.”

Watching him break apart the sturdy automatic bed was a symbol of my breaking heart. I could hardly stand it. Last night after everyone was finally in bed, at 4:45 a.m., I was longing to get my pajamas on and go to sleep but was drawn to the little room where Nate died. The hospital bed was still set up then, although the sheets had gone out the door wrapped around Nate. I climbed onto the bed with my face in his pillows and cried and cried. The plugged-in mattress gently rose and fell as it had when Nate had been lying on it, coming to life with the weight of my body. Oh how I missed Nate, even the Nate in the hospital bed.

As long as he’d been alive, even if breathing ever so slightly, I still had my husband. I was still a married woman. We were still a team, working together to keep him alive. Now he was gone, and his absence was completely final for the rest of my life. I began to understand why people can make decisions to keep their debilitated loved ones on life support, even though brain-dead. A person can still hug, kiss and hold a warm, living body. Caressing the dead is unthinkable.

Nate’s makeshift bedroom was rearranged and put back the way it had been the day the hospital bed arrived, a desk in the middle, computer on top of that, wing chair in the corner, bookshelves again visible. Last night’s atmosphere of quiet worship in that place had dissipated like so much smoke in a stack, and my insides ached to have Nate back.

Lying in bed at 5 a.m. last “night” wasn’t peaceful. A thousand thoughts swirled in my brain as I replayed the important events of the 24 hours just past, memorizing the memories. Today as I looked at the room where he stopped breathing, the scene reappeared in my mind. But God firmly reminded me of what had happened in the minutes after Nate died.

Our nine kids and kids-in-law had once again squeezed around the bed to say their final goodbyes. After Nate died, no one said a word. Then I began talking about what he was possibly seeing and doing at that exact time in another world, trying desperately to cut through the thick atmosphere of sorrow in the room. No one else spoke, unless choked sobs and teary sniffles qualified.

We all studied Nate’s face, so devoid of life and truly qualifying as a corpse. Our Nate was no longer in the room with us. That wasn’t him. What good would it do to stay focused on him … on that?

The kids and I began talking about the way it all happened. Before too many minutes had passed, we were numbering our blessings. On a busy day like yesterday, how likely was it that each of us would have been in the room as he died? We had wanted that. I had wanted that. And there we were.

There was the blessing of having Nate at home with us, around the clock, rather than far away in the sterile, fluorescent atmosphere of a hospital. There was the totally unexpected outpouring of love from those we know and some we’d never met, everything from checks in the mail to food in the fridge. And there was the mysterious power of prayer, prayed in great volume, bringing our family and our husband/father into God’s throne room daily. As we named these blessings and many more, we were able to dry our tears and walk out of the room.

One of today’s happier tasks was to gather pictures of Nate for poster boards we will display at the funeral home. In a group effort to page through 196 albums, happy memories washed over us like a fresh breeze coming into a stuffy room. Chuckles grew into laughter and then into guffaws as we recalled funny stories the photos told. We studied Nate in all the pictures and our blessings list grew longer: he took us on great vacations, wanted us to have fun, taught us to fish, rode with us on motorcycles, always included our friends. One of the boys said, “Papa was just a legend.”

An ancient prophet once brought a message from God that we found helpful today: “I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing.”

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman chronicles the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Read more posts by visiting the Coping With Cancer section or subscribing to the RSS feed. Her personal blog is at

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