I stared at the empty wheelchair where I rested my feet as Jon was rolled away on a stretcher for another MRI of the many MRIs on his 33-month journey.
While watching the clock, I decided to pray through the moments. Emotions were running high.
My mind wandered down a path to what life might look like a year from now as I stared at the empty chair.
I remember it like it was yesterday as we prepared to say goodbye to our big kids as they journeyed westward. They were home packing bags and their car for another year away at school. We were not sure Jon could make the 5-hour trip to move them. He did. And here we are again.
Tender times and uncertain days.
How has a year passed since then?
Month after month, I rolled Jon into the MRI nurses’ station to change him into a gown for his scans, help prepare his heart, and calm any worries and fears that would creep into that room.
Dark thoughts were always trying to steal our peace.
Preparing for these scans took prayer and commitment to fix our eyes and settle our hearts as we grappled with finding peace with God. No doubt, the faithful prayers of so many lifted us and brought us peace and grace. That morning our dear priest friend from our kids’ school prayed a rosary with Many Hail Marys Ministry offering intentions for Jon’s MRI that day.
With prayer, I could turn to Jon to acknowledge that what he was/we were facing was really hard—because there was no denying it and no need to bypass the truth.
Avoiding or ignoring the pain and reality of such enormous things as a terminal diagnosis, unimaginable loss, and mountains of grief is unnecessary/not helpful. I have been curious lately why humans want to bypass suffering and grief rather than simply acknowledge and sit with others in pain. That is a story for another day.
As I helped Jon change his clothes, I reminded him that all would be well even when all was hard. He and I never ran from the hard conversations on this journey.
Sometimes the nurse and staff became fast friends who listened well and added to those conversations. Though behind masks, faces became familiar, eyes would connect. Conversation and laughter became everything, even when few words needed to be said.
We’d find beauty and fun in the moments as we encountered those caring for Jon. It helped ease the pain.
We’d hear stories about how faith was crucial and made all the difference for those walking these difficult journeys. Aren’t we all facing challenging circumstances?
Often we would pray a rosary or a chaplet or pray for specific intentions and the suffering others carried.
Sometimes I would turn to singing out of tune or dancing out of step—a skill I learned while raising kids—to distract and redirect the rising emotions.
Then we would laugh.
All would be well—for that moment anyway.
That afternoon I pulled out a few songs, danced, and giggled a bit, knowing we still carried so much ache in our hearts.
Jon laughed until tears fell from the corners of his eyes. I knew how to make him laugh. And cry.
Then I hugged my guy and kissed his head as he kept laughing. I asked if they gave him laughing gas. Then more laughing kept him busy.
Prayer is too.
As the Gospel of Matthew says today, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” May we pray together.
As he was rolled away on the stretcher to the MRI, I whispered all would be well and kissed him on his head where his scar made its mark.
As the team rolled him away, I blurted, “I love you, Jon Lebano.”
In a faint voice and his strong hand raised, Jon yelled back as they turned him down the hall, “All will be well. I love youuuu.”
The MRI transport staff and our nurses’ eyes darted toward one another. They knew how painful these moments were.
I knew they felt the ache for us too.
Likely, “It is well” was the last thing any of us felt.
The nurse looked back with tears in her eyes and repeated “All will be well.”
I know Jon was worried. I was worried too.
In June, the doctor shared how thrilled she was that Jon’s recovery from the stroke was going well while his body was being hit hard with treatment to keep things from growing aggressively.
July brought news of a new tumor and more growth and lingering worry.
This visit would suggest we may need to consider one of the few remaining options for attacking this cancer. Additional radiation would likely be soon. Radiation to an area that had already endured more than enough radiation was not ideal.
“Third time is a charm,” Jon said.
But we knew options were limited, and none was without risk. We were not giving up yet.
Like July, we didn’t receive good news that day. There was so much to process. I felt deep in my heart I knew where things were headed.
Only God knew the timing.
After a long day of appointments, we made our way home. Despite the hour of the day, traffic was very light, thanks to prayer warriors.
We sat silently for much of the car ride home, processing everything and making sense of none of it.
Jon broke the silence, grabbed my hand, looked at me, and in a quivering voice, said, “All will be well.”
I knew reaching for music to temper the rising emotions was the right thing to do.
So I hit play on a random playlist.
Of course, all would be well as a familiar tune replaced the deafening silence.
“It is Well,” began to echo throughout my car.
We smiled, remembering the first song I sang out of tune in Jon’s ear while waiting for the transport team earlier that day: “It is Well.”
May we pay attention to the gift of these consolations from above.
We will find peace in them and be reminded that God hears our hearts even when we encounter difficult days.
Today several photo memories popped up from August 16 of last year and a few from previous years before that. These memories are huge consolations and gifts to our grieving hearts.
Many places in my heart, soul, and home feel as empty as that wheelchair where my feet rested a year ago today. I remember staring at the empty space for a long moment last year, trying to imagine what it would feel like without Jon here. We had no idea what kind of time we had.
I didn’t let my mind go there for too long. I chose to stay in the present and look with gratitude for the time I had instead.
I could never imagine or prepare myself for the depth of loss, the emptiness left behind.
No one can. I don’t recommend you try to imagine either—not for yourself or for me—why do we want to imagine. Even now, I try not to think too far ahead. I prefer to stay in the present moment.
In mass on Tuesday, for the Solemn Feast of the Assumption of Mary, our priest asked us to take a moment to think if we were grateful people. I like to believe I am a very grateful person.
I know for certain I am grateful for the time I was given with Jon. I am grateful for the time I have to live the best I can while living on this side of heaven, even though Jon is on the other side of that thin veil.
I’ll admit it is really hard, though.
The truth is all is not well in many ways when you lose your lifetime partner, your husband, your best friend, your other half, your confidant, your encourager, your kid’s father—the other parent in the family you are raising, the one who knows your dreams and whose dreams you hold in your heart too and all of the other things I lost when Jon left this earth.
But It is well with my soul, even in this grief and suffering. I know we aren’t meant for this world.
But My heart, well, that’s a story for another day. As my dear friend who listens well and reminds me, the human heart feels loss deeply. It makes sense my heart feels heavy as a stone while it’s steeped in sorrow.
But I know God is with me on this path. He IS the only thing that fills that empty chair—that emptiness, that loneliness, the gaping hole left behind after loss. He is the Man of Sorrows. He is my light and hope
He is the only one who can stay silent and sit with me in that empty space to help ease the pain. In His suffering, He bore all our pain.
Because The Man of Sorrows, God, is acquainted so closely with our grief, He allows me to grieve for as long as I need as I stare at the many empty chairs and places in my life today.
He is also the one who will guide me over this mountain of grief that lies in front of me.
And through it all, I will keep my eyes on Him and know that when I see photos or hear songs at certain moments that remind me of specific memories of life with Jon, I know they are consolations and messages from above, letting me know I am seen, known, and loved and it is well.
And by keeping my eyes on God, It is Well even when it is hard.
As it turns out, I searched my notes—in my journal and on my phone— like I often do for thoughts related to the topics I feel called to write. Turns out, I wrote a post last year on this date titled “It is Well.” I hardly remember this.
I am grateful for the consolation. Though some of that post was about some of what you read here. I also shared a bit about a trip we took to the beach, the last trip where Jon walked across the sand, the last time the waves washed over his feet, and the last time we lived summer with him. I will treasure that trip.
I like to call that spontaneous trip our Hail Mary Trip. Mary was all over it in more ways than one.
When Jon learned about his tumor growth in July, He tearfully told me he wanted to return to the beach. I did whatever I could to make it happen. Without Mary, we would have never made that trip.
The black and white Image was taken on the same beach 12 years ago today. Life is short take the trip.
It is well with my soul because we did.
I am currently reading Suffering: The Catholic Answer—The Cross of Christ and Its Meaning for You. It is an easy read on Suffering through the lens of the Stations of the Cross. The back cover reads: “Every time you go through a time of trial, you have a choice; trust God or in the words of Job’s wife, “curse God and die”—spiritually if not physically. This book helps you understand suffering as the Spirit does, so that when your own troubles come, you will already be prepared —and will make the right choice.”
While my heart is steeped in sorrow, I choose to cling to Jesus, trust in Him as I work with him to sanctify me and to keep my soul well as I unite my suffering with His. I invite you to read the book to understand more about the role of suffering in the Christian life.