Yesterday. September 7, 2016. My great aunt, Barbara Nix, was laid to rest. She lived 74 years.
You might think one of two things: "That sounds like a full life." Or "That sounds young to die." It's all a matter of perspective, but regardless, you are wrong on both accounts.
When I was in college, about 14 years ago, I took a literature class based on survival stories. We read books and watched documentaries of people surviving shipwrecks, being stranded in the mountains in the dead of winter, and even growing up in Rhodesia during the bush wars. And then we were tasked with finding our own survival story. I didn't have to look very far.
A LIFE OF SURVIVAL
I interviewed my Aunt Barb (as we all congenially called her) and discussed her life and her struggles. You may be awaiting the cancer story. Well, it isn't that short and concise. Although cancer is there, it was full of other terrible ordeals.
At nearly the onset of her life, she developed leukemia. That was at age two. She was miraculously healed of the disease when a preacher came to her parents' house and said, "I am here to pray for your baby." He prayed a simple prayer, left, and the leukemia was gone.
Leukemia left, but polio arrived shortly after at the age of nine. In a stroke of bad luck, which seemed to be her plague, she developed polio only weeks before the vaccine was created. Through excruciating pain, she underwent physical therapy to keep the disease's crippling affect at bay. She ultimately beat polio.
As she grew older, she began to have labor pains, not due to pregnancy, but because of her monthly cycle. Her doctors said that because of problems within her body, every month she would experience pain that could only be compared to a woman giving birth. This terrible condition led to a hysterectomy. She had endured the pains, but never was given the chance to have children.
The constant suffering and emotional pain brought on mental challenges that caused a nervous breakdown. During this time, doctors turned to shock therapy, which is similar to we now call torture. Her body and mind remained in a constant state of survival mode. For the rest of her life, her doctors made no bones about providing her pharmaceuticals.
When I interview her, she had already undergone more than 30 surgeries, beaten several diseases, and somehow outlived her parents, whom she had lived with and cared for.
Throughout my life, I remember hearing the phone ring and it being her requesting prayer, or letting us know that she was in the hospital. She would be in intense pain, or she was vomiting continually, or there was something terribly wrong that the doctors couldn't pinpoint. We prayed. We begged God to alleviate her suffering. Even Aunt Barb would beg God to let her pass on from this life and end the constant struggle.
AN ANSWER TO PRAYER
About five or six years after my interview, Aunt Barb died. It must have seemed an answer to prayer. But, with her life-long string of bad luck, the paramedics, upon arriving, unwittingly brought her back. She would be forced to continue in pain and suffering for nearly another decade.
I remember talking to her the following Christmas after she died and came back to life, and she told me that she was healed. She had never felt better. She wasn't in pain. She had downsized her medicinal intake. I was so thrilled to hear it.
But it didn't last. Another sickness brought on enormous pain. She was severely nauseous. She was back in the hospital. She was calling for prayer.
We all asked the same question: why? Why must someone suffer for so long?
I don't know why. No one knows why. She didn't live a full life. She survived a life of suffering and pain. She didn't die young. If anything, she lived longer than she would have wished.
The last few years of her life were spent in a nursing home. When I went to see her before she passed, she had every appearance of a dead person, except for her struggled breathing. Her lifeless eyes were seeing something else entirely. They could not see us. They could not see me. Those eyes that had witnessed so much terrible finally closed for good. And it was for good.
There was very little crying upon hearing the news. To know Aunt Barb was to know, from the outside looking in, a constant suffering. But what I must say is that there are two things I take most from her life: endurance and faith.
ENDURANCE AND FAITH
As much as she went through, Barbara Nix's faith never wavered. Her faith and trust was always in her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She was never given an explanation, as none ever are, for why she was given her burden, but she carried it as best she could.
She called out to God. She prayed, not just for herself, though no one would have blamed her if she would have focused all of her prayers on her problems, but she prayed for all of the family. She would always tell me that she was praying for me and she knew I would do something wonderful with my life. She loved to hear me sing. She loved the way I wrote. She came to church as faithfully as she could. She hated missing out on family functions and always tried to make it for Christmas. It must have been equivalent to smashing through a brick wall with your bare hands just get out and go somewhere.
You may think that she was just able to deal with the pain and nausea and sickness, but no one ever deals with those things - you just endure it till it passes or until you pass. And it hit me shortly after she did pass that the human heart can endure. Not so much the physical heart, but metaphorical, emotional, and theoretical heart. It is the will to make it, to push through, to carry on. Even while she lay in the nursing home bed, she pressed on and I will never understand how or why. Perhaps she was simply stating that she would go when she was good and ready. Or perhaps she was waiting for us to all say goodbye. Or perhaps she was busy talking to God somewhere in between her living and dying, telling Him she was coming home and not to send her back.
But I look upon her life now, understanding, again from the outside looking in, that one can endure the greatest of hardships and keep the faith. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought a good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith." Aunt Barb may have said those same words to Jesus on her way up, or perhaps He said that of her, either way, those words ring incredibly true for her. What faith. What endurance. As I said earlier, it's all a matter of perspective. If Aunt Barb left anything for us, it is that: perspective.
Yes. Aunt Barb was laid to rest on September 7, 2016. It was a rest that was long overdue, and as my dad said during her funeral, she is finally getting to live a real life. It was a long struggle for eternal peace, but she has it now.