“Can you play, Raise a Hallelujah?”
I sat up a from the hard pullout couch that I was attempting to make a bed out of, and I looked over at him. I didn’t know if I heard him correctly. I didn’t know if I heard him at all. He laid perfectly still in his bed across the sterile hospital room from me.
It always felt like there was no way to be close to him in those places, those hospital rooms. Even when I attempted to sleep in the recliner next to his bed, there was this giant gap of space- medical, physical, and emotional- between us.
On this night, he was just hours out of surgery. “A big surgery,” everyone kept reminding us that day, as though we were not already seeing the aftermath of that fact. The night nurse shook her head when she walked in, and looked at me, eyes full of pity and said, “Thoracotomy, that’s a big surgery.” I just nodded, wondering why we had heard this sentiment so much more after the surgery, than we did before.
The whole day was a doozy. We were up at 4:30 and at the hospital by 5:15. By 7:00 we were all hugging him goodbye before they took him back. This is when he handed me his wedding ring, and that’s when my eyes finally watered. This happened every time, every procedure. I would be okay until he handed me his wedding ring, and then something would rip a little in me as I slipped it on my own pointer finger. It was like this was always the moment in our story where I would remember that we couldn’t do everything together. We did a lot together, but some wars he had to fight alone.
I think this is the hardest part about cancer in a marriage… some of the battles, you both have to fight alone.
I don’t remember how long the surgery was. Four hours, maybe? Six? I just remember working, reading, eating, trying anything to stop thinking about a surgeon’s hands on my husband’s lungs. It felt so intimate, almost adulterous, that some random man was currently touching a part of my husband that I never had. Lungs are simply never supposed to be touched by human hands.
Then they called us, me, his mom, his sister, and they led us into a private room where they delivered the good news first.
“He did well.”
“He’s taking a while to wake up.”
“He sure likes to sleep.” —We all offered a little giggle on that one.
Then there was the bad news.
“There was more there than the scans showed.”
“There was one, that may just be nothing, but it is probably something.”
“To remove it, we would have had to remove a lot of lung, and we already removed a lot of lung, so we left it.”
“We did not get it all.”
I don’t remember the steps I took to get back to the waiting room, but I do remember crying into his sister’s shoulder and saying, “I can’t lose him.”
I don’t remember the steps I took to get to him in recovery, but I do remember sneaking his ring back onto his finger while he was sleeping, as though it was my desperate mission to save him with love and commitment.
I don’t remember the steps I took to end up in his room on the eighth floor, but I do remember the first words he said when he was finally awake enough to talk, “Did they get it all?”
So “why,” you may ask?
Why am I sharing the hard to stomach and personal details about one of the absolute worst days of my life? Why am I sharing my intimate thoughts about my grief, my husband, his health, our marriage?
Why am I writing this as a narrative, publicly sharing words that probably should have been kept in a private diary?
Because I want you to read about one of the hardest days of my life, and I want you to read it knowing that as bad of a day as I had, my husband’s was ten times worse, and I want you to have this context when I tell you about how God showed up for us that day.
I want you to know this context when I go on to tell you how my husband sought the kingdom on this terrible, painful, worldly, ugly day.
“Can you play, Raise a Hallelujah?” He said again, and this time, there was no mistaking what I heard. So, I got up and made my way to him. I picked up his phone, and I found the song. I placed the phone by him on the bedside table, and I returned to my little bed-nook and opened my book.
I wasn’t terribly interested in the song that my husband had requested, because, honestly, after the month we’d had, the day we’d had, I wasn’t super interested in raising any hallelujahs.
But apparently he was… so I helped him.
I could hear the song in the background move on to the chorus as I tried to engage my mind back into the fictional, and more ideological, contents of my book.
And that’s when I heard it. That’s when I heard him. My husband. The wounded warrior across the room from me using what little breath he had at the time to raise a hallelujah.
“I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm
Louder and louder, you’re gonna hear my praises roar
Up from the ashes, hope will arise
Death is defeated, the King is alive!”
He was tired, and this reflected in his voice.
He was sore, and this reflected in his voice.
He was faithful, and this reflected in his life.
In recent months, I’ve lost images of my husband. This kills me a little. In recent months, I have developed mind-holes in our stories. I’ve forgotten the exact placement of some of his freckles on his face. I’ve forgotten some of the distinct sounds of his many different laughs.
I know this will never stop. I know that for as long as I am inhabiting this earth without him, I will inevitably lose parts of him, of us.
But I am confident that no matter where I go in life, no matter how much I live between now and the day of our reunification, I will never forget the image of his tubed, tired, and monitored hands reaching up to raise a hallelujah.
I will never forget the bold exhaustion in his voice as he declared that death is defeated hours after hearing that his own death was inevitable and likely impending.
I will never forget these details, this moment in our story, because this moment shifted the course of my entire life.
In that moment, Andrew set the theme for our battle.
In that moment, Andrew had a choice between anger and faith, and he chose faith, and in this act, he cancelled Satan’s assignment on his life, and on my life, and on the lives of so many who love him and watched him fight an undignified battle with the firm dignity of one who sought the Kingdom’s Will above his own.
In that moment, Andrew made a decision of how he was going to finish his race, no matter how “too soon” that finish line approached.
In that moment, Andrew taught me how believers handle devastation, and I truly believe that in this moment, in this example he set as a leader of my world, he saved my life.
In that moment, Andrew won his battle.
I’m not talking about the battle that the world thought he was fighting. I’m not talking about a battle against cancer or tumors.
In that moment, Andrew won the battle for his own soul.
I simply can’t find it in me to be mad at a God who gave me peace in my husband’s passing, because Andrew made it so easy for me.
I know where my husband is right now. I rest in the belief that he is okay. I firmly believe that he is resting in heaven’s arms of mercy right now, because I watched him surrender the world for the kingdom.
I can’t find it in me to be mad at a God who gifted me a man like Andrew. I can’t find it in me to be mad at this God who gave me this man who chose to raise his hands in Christ’s victory in the thickest days of his own greatest battles.
Eight days short of a year from this “big” surgery, Andrew finished his race. He finished it well. In that year, I never saw him put down his hands in defeat. Andrew crossed the finish line raising a hallelujah.
I pray to finish my own race one day in this same faithful gesture.