If compassionate service were an Olympic sport, the Pasadena Ward would have a quadrennial lock on the gold. I should know. Eight years ago when Bing endured his own swift, fierce non-Hodgkin’s battle, this ward provided my family with wide-ranging support delivered with military precision and balm of Gilead. I have a lump in my throat, more than one tear in my eye, and a heart molten with gratitude as I recall right now the depth and breadth of selfless acts of service rendered on our behalf. From late night shifts by his City of Hope bedside to rides for Akemi to the Colburn School to painting our house, I will never forget those who extended such tender mercies, large and small, and also all those who lent us their support in prayer. All that helped Bing transition from life to afterlife, Akemi from childhood to adolescence without her father’s presence, and me from loving partnership to painfully lonely widowhood.
But as delicious and elegant was the lunch served to our extended families on the day of Bing’s memorial service, I have no intention of anyone worrying about my funeral lunch anytime soon. In fact, our Relief Society – the organization for adult women in our church – is quite intent on saving me from my Type A tendencies of doing too much and my Relief Society sisters are making sure I have no excuse to do anything except rest and recuperate. Here’s how the system works.
In the Relief Society of each ward throughout our church, each adult woman has another woman assigned to her on a standing basis as her “visiting teacher.” The pair figures out the most comfortable and effective ways the visiting teacher could support her sister on a monthly basis. The nature of the contact and relationship typically evolves as lives evolve. In times of calm, it could be brief, quiet visits in the home. My favorite visiting teaching experiences have been breakfasts, lunches, dinners, ice cream, movies, concerts, desserts, holiday cookie baking, spring hikes, summer beach days, jack o’lantern pumpkin picking. . .boy, this happy list could go on and on. In times of need – a baby’s arrival, a mother-in-law’s pending arrival!, moving, kids with measles – it’s the visiting teacher who lends a hand and serves as the point person, coordinating any further support with others throughout our ward congregation.
My visiting teacher extraordinaire Barbara really knows what patients need, and in particular, what cancer patients need. For each day of this chemo month, Barbara has set up a “personal assistant” for me for that day. This “PA” is prepared to take me to or pick me up from the hospital or appointments, and run any errands or help with things around the house I can’t manage on my own. If an emergency arises, the PA is on standby, along with a rather deep bench of others whom I could call at a moment’s notice. They are prepared to bring me lunch and dinner that day. If I tell them I have plenty of food from the prior day’s PA kind delivery, they are prepared to tell me they want to bring something anyway. At the end of the day, the PA lets my visiting teacher and the next PA know what’s going on with me.
So at the end of this first chemo week, Day 5, this system has my hearty thumbs’ up for efficient communication and flexibility to call audibles, while giving me the right balance of privacy with companionship and support. Wednesday I started to slow down, and today I’m really starting to feel draggy. I’m not nauseous or feeling “bad,” just weaker. My dean bosses and fellow associate dean are keeping me in the loop by email, and I will handle a few “meetings” by phone next week. So – so far, so good, on not stressing about neglecting work – nor them thinking that they can function without me!
I’ve especially benefited from the very practical suggestions and ideas from those in this unfortunately expanding cancer club. I know what the immune-compromised should do, but you hear things differently when it applies to you.
Thank you, everyone, for the many emails, cards, messages, and expressions of love and concern. You are all again showing your gold medal colors, and I am grateful.
“Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.”
– Elizabeth Bibesco