Our friend Don Lusk recently spoke at the Pray for the Cure Event on Sept. 6, 2018 in Bloomington, Illinois. We thought his essay would encourage those battling difficult seasons of life and those caregivers that are walking by their sides.
The Best of Times; the Worst of times…. A Caregiver’s Story by Don Lusk
English writer & social critic, Charles Dickens’s famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. The novel’s opening statements set the stage:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—”
The opening chapters introduction summarizes my life over the past 25 years as the husband of my darling, Angela. The best of times…. Yet, the worst of times as a caregiver.
ON January 2, 1993, I considered myself the most blessed man in all of Northern California. For on that day, Angela Maria Beckles became Mrs. Don Gilbert Lusk. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Burlingame, California, full of sunshine, 70 degree temperatures, and family & friends wishing us well as we began our journey as husband and wife.
I recall specifically reciting the marriage vows to commit myself to being the husband to this wonderful woman. We both had agreed to have a “traditional” English wedding, following the well-known matrimonial liturgy from Thomas Cranmer’s “The First English Prayer Book” published in 1549.
The ministerial declaration states:
- Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Do you promise to love her; comfort her; honor her; and keep her in sickness and in health….forsaking all others and keep only her so long as you both shall live? I enthusiastically answered ….. I will.
- Then, there is vow (for both bride and groom). After having been given her hand …. I promised to have her; hold her from that day forward; for better or for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish her; ‘till death us do part, accordingly to God’s holy ordinance.
- I found it interesting that the liturgy in the Prayer Book emphasizes the “IN sickness” and in Health” statement Not once, but twice…. It is stated in the ministerial declaration; and again as part of the “Vows” for both the husband and wife. The taking of these vows and making these promises was the beginning of the best of times for Angie and me. Some 20 years later, this would later become my mantra as the worst of times would come and rock our world.
It was in March 2013 that our journey along the road called “best of times” took a significant detour onto the road called “worst of times.” This was due to a diagnosis of Triple Negative Breast Cancer. This beginning of the “worst of times” journey made for some of the “best of times” as in the next four (4) years and two (2) months our marriage grew stronger in the midst of the “worst of times.”
Over the next several months after Angie’s initial diagnosis, we became well acquainted with the staff, nurses and doctors at our Community Cancer Center here in Normal, IL. As she received treatment each week, I found the ‘same group’ of people each Wednesday there to receive the tender and professional care of staff. Over the months, that group changed…. with some completing treatments, while others did not. I took the opportunity to make this challenge “the best of times” in the midst of the worst of times, by praying for God’s healing; not only for Angie, but others suffering from the disease of cancer. Some faces I knew…. others, not so much, but we were all on a chartered course for which NONE of us volunteered .
While Angie underwent her weekly treatments, I would often find myself reading the same paragraph over & over again in my books I had…. Saying… why was this lot cast to us? Why Angie? Why my family? Of course, the answers to these ‘why’s’ are yet to come, however, I am a better man today because of having been cast in this role of caregiver. It was said to me that “IF the God of the universe has to capitulate to explaining HIMSELF to mankind, HE ceases to be God.” I would not want to serve a god like that.
During this time as Angela’s primary caregiver, I found myself wanting to be more for her and less for me. My priorities changed significantly as we journeyed on the road called “worst of times,” whereby my vocation as provider for my family was not the end focus; but rather a means to an end. I was historically known at my job to have a strong work ethic, which is something that I learned from my father. Growing up on a farm in south central Arkansas tends to give one a greater appreciation for a comfortable desk / or office job at companies such as State Farm. I would spend nearly 36 years there, after a short teaching career, having moved my family within and across the U.S. on some five occasions.
We experienced some of the best of times as a SF employee – our family got to live in one of the most beautiful cities in these United States, (San Francisco), while having the opportunity to travel to 45 of the 50 states. My focus shifted to physically caring for my dear wife as the circumstances of her disease and treatment changed. I am grateful to State Farm for giving me the flexibility to work from home; hospitals or wherever I needed to be. Remarkably, during the four years of treatments in Normal and later at Chicago’s Northwestern Medical Center,
I managed to miss only two appointments during her four years of treatment. Each of those missed appointments left me feeling somewhat lacking as caregiver, but as they were due to circumstances beyond my control, I was comforted by family members who stepped in to support me by becoming caregivers themselves. I was Angie’s ongoing support; chauffeur; lunch maker; pill breaker and bathroom assistant…. You name it because… “For better or for worse”… I was committed to her care…
Why?… because in the midst of the worst of times, God helped us to make it the best of times.
As a caregiver, you often feel as if you have to do it all. Trust me. You can’t!!! … and neither would our loved ones want us to try and do it all. So…,it is / was important for one to take care of ones’ self while serving as a caregiver.
- My siblings were excellent…. 1) One sister traveled from Houston, TX when Angie had surgery on two occasions; while 2) Another moved in with me for nearly a month during Angie’s final weeks & days.. and 3) Additionally, there were daily calls and texts from my two brothers and two other sisters; offering prayers of support. Yes… I have a large family.
- My Church was tremendous!!! (coordinated meals / offered prayers / took on lawn care / grocery shopping / house cleaning, etc.)
- Neighbors ~ gathered mail / managed water deliveries / and even let down the garage door, which was often left “up” due to my flurry of activities.
Nothing can prepare you for those haunting words that come from the solemn faces of those who deliver the ‘bad news’ of cancer. I specifically recall the day that Angie told me of her diagnosis. I arrived home from work, after having picked up her 81-year-old mom from Adult day care. Mum was living with us as we had moved her from Barbados due to a diagnosis of late onset Dementia. As mum and I pulled into our driveway, I saw my pastor’s car parked there. My assumption was that he was there to check in on Angie as she had recently undergone biopsy surgery.
Once in the house, Angie settled her mom with a cup of tea (as most British people do) and asked my pastor and me to join her upstairs in my office. Without any hesitancy, she then broke the news of her diagnosis which set off a flurry of emotions… (seemingly everything was in “slow motion”). This was the beginning of our journey on this road of the ‘worst of times.’
We agreed at that moment that we were given this lot for a reason. No explanation from God was warranted. We agreed at that moment that we would fight with all of our strength and with God’s help. The immediate thought that came to my mind were my marriage vows….“for better; for worse; IN sickness and in health.” This commitment, along with a wonderful church family, a faithful pastor; a supportive family and many prayers from people the world over, supported me through my caregiver’s journey.
As a caregiver, I found that ‘just being’ present was far more important than anything else I could give. This journey on the ‘worst of times’ road is often filled with uncertainty; BUT, being there…. JUST being there… IS a sure remedy to make the “Best of times” in the midst of the worst of times. Angie and I would often sit quietly… whether in our family room with a warm, roaring fire; or her hospital room… nothing said… but we just sat. However, before retiring for the evening and after praying together,
- She would say “it is so good to have you here Don Gilbert Lusk…Thank you for being a good husband.”
- My response was…. “Where else could I be? Where else would I be? You are the most important thing in my life right now…., for nothing else matters.”
to be continued in Part II……..