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The hard part was watching Derek put the needle in. A part of him understood that he didn’t have to watch. That part was dwarfed by a strange compulsion to stare. Even once the IV was set up, Paul watched as the solution poured down from the bag and into her arm. He hated seeing it even as he hoped that this solution would do its job.
Paul sat near his mother and held her hand as she read. She whispered the words to herself so low he couldn’t make them out. The entire process felt surreal to him. He’d watch her lips move, look at her arm and the solution, look up at the bag, and look back at her. He couldn’t tell if Derek had left or not, and Paul didn’t spare a moment to look around for him.
“Do you need anything?” he asked.
She smiled at him, patting his hand. “I have everything I need.”
“I could get you some water or maybe a pillow?” He wanted to do something, anything.
Her smile widened. “I’m OK.” She turned back to her reading.
Each of the bags seemed to deflate. Derek must have been there. At the very least, he came back to switch bags, but Paul never noticed.
His mother looked away from her reading again. “I love you.” Her eyes hardened. She spoke so forcefully, as if she’d never said the words before and was desperate for him to believe her.
He smiled. “I know.”
She shook her head. “Do you understand what love is?”
He looked at her. “Sure.”
She stared at him. Did he actually expect him to define the term?
He stammered. “It’s … well, it’s when you care about someone. It’s when they’re important to you.”
She nodded, but it wasn’t one that conveyed agreement. “I think most people think that way, but love is so much more.”
She waved her hand around the room. “You took time off work. You help around the house.”
“Most the people who visit the house just sort of appreciate that I stay out of the way.” Paul wasn’t sure why he felt the urge to fell embarrassed, but he did.
“You’re here now, when you could be somewhere else,” she said.
“Where else would I go?” Did she think he’d leave her? “Mom, I’m right here.”
She nodded, and this time her smile showed she agreed with his words. “I know you love me because you’re caring for me now. You’re sacrificing a chance to do more at work, and I know you’re still using that brain of yours. But you’re here with me.”
“I’m not leaving you!” This time it was Paul’s turn to speak with urgency.
She smiled again. “I know. My point is, love is sacrifice. Anyone can say someone is important, but we show importance by how we prioritize things. When we’re willing to give up ourselves for someone else, we show our love for them.”
“Where is this coming from?” Paul let out a chuckle.
“Because as much as I love you, though I’m willing to give up everything for you, there’s something I can’t do.” A tear rolled down her cheek.
“What? Mom, is something wrong?” Paul stood up and looked around for Derek. Was she in pain?
He was about to call out when his mother said, “I can’t save you.”
Paul let out a long, slow breath. He was worried she was in pain, and she was just gearing up for a sermon. She was giving a speech right there in the treatment center.
“Oh, I know that look,” his mother said. “If you must be mad at me, be mad, but I don’t frankly know when or how else to tell you this.”
Paul plopped down in the chair, gritting his teeth. “I already know your point.”
“Then give me the decency to allow me to say it, and maybe without looking like I’ve just slapped you.” She gave him a stern look. He shut his eyes.
She’s afraid, and she wants to say her piece.
That thought actually made him more angry for a second. He didn’t want to lose her in the first place. But if he wanted to be near her, he’d better get more than a little used to her faith. She’s worth that much and more.
He opened his eyes to find her smiling. “Thank you. I would give my life for you to have anything, but Christ died so that you can have everything, and whatever happens, before things get bad, I wanted to tell you that. I understand you’re hurt, but all the pain we face in this world isn’t worth comparing to the glory to come.”
He gave her his full attention, hoping to at least show her he cared about her enough to hear her out. After she hadn’t said anything for another few moments, he nodded.
“Thank you,” she said.
That was it? He’d thought she would want some sort of statement or affirmation. He was really worried he’d have to lie to her to make her feel better.
“Would you believe in God if I got better?” she asked.
Paul gave a scoffing laugh before he could stop himself. He also couldn’t avoid opening his mouth to talk. “I’d believe the doctors were good at what they did.”
She nodded. Paul worried she would be angry at his mocking tone, but she only shrugged. “I see,” she said. “So man gets the credit for anything good that happens, but God only gets the blame for the bad things.”
He let out another sigh. He’d walked right into that one.
She shook her head. “Just a point I wanted to emphasize to you. My son, we’ve both felt pain that no one should ever have to, but one day, you’ll see that it all works for your good.”
Bill died for his good. His biological father beat him for his own good. His mother got cancer for his own good.
“There’s that look again,” she muttered. “Keep that temper for three more seconds. I promise you; one day, you’ll see it.”
Paul’s breathing grew faster. She was talking like a crazy person! Here she is, near to death, and she still wanted to say her God loved her.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
The words sucked the anger right out of him. “For what?”
“I know the thought angers you,” she admitted. “So I really appreciate you listening with such patience.”
He looked at her, worried she’d want more of that patience.
“Like I said.” She held up her hands in surrender. “That’s all I wanted to say.”
He studied the tiled floor. He was angry, but did he really want to take her faith from her at a time like this?
No, he realized. Let her have it if it makes her feel better.