Coping with intense pain – “Mistaken Identity” by Don & Susie Van Ryn (June 2008)

Susan’s Thursday morning note  June 12, 2008
Coping with intense pain.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Mistaken Identity by Don & Susie Van Ryn
Good morning!  Finally a beautiful day and I just want to ignore all responsibilities and go outside, but first I’ll tell you about two great books that I highly encourage you to read.  The first is The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  This has just been released and is a speech given by a professor at Carnegie Mellon University knowing that he only has 3-6 months to live with three very young children.  His book is lessons that he wants to give his children on living each day meaningfully, pursuing their own dreams, and with integrity.  Below are some of his writings from his speech that I underlined.
I knew what I was doing…under the ruse of giving an academic lecture I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.  If I were a painter, I would have painted for them.  If I were a musician, I would have composed music.  But I am a lecturer.  So I lectured.  I lectured about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left.  I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear…

On speaking on his terminal cancer:  I let the audience follow the arrows and count my tumors.  All right…that is what it is.  We can’t change it.  We just have to decide how we’ll respond.  We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

On academics playing a role in his childhood
: We didn’t buy much.  But we thought about everything.  That’s because my dad had this infectious inquisitiveness about current events, history, our lives.  In fact, growing up, I thought there were two types of families: 1) Those who need a dictionary to get through dinner.  2) Those who don’t…  “If you have a question,” my folks would say, “then find the answer.” The instinct in our house was never to sit around like slobs and wonder.  We knew a better way: Open the encyclopedia.  Open the dictionary.  Open your mind.

On criticism (in football practice):  An assistant coach in a dialogue after a tough practice: “Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” “Yeah.” “That’s a good thing.  When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.” That lesson stuck with me my whole life.  When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a bad place to be.  You may not want to hear it, but your critics are often the ones telling you they still love you and care about you, and want to make you better.  (Plutarch has an essay on the good of enemies that I’ll find for all of us another Thursday – how we rise above mediocrity if we are being critiqued…).
On knowing you’re dealing with hopeless situations: Even if the scan results are bad tomorrow (dialogue with his wife),  I just want you to know that it feels great to be alive, and to be here today, alive with you.  Whatever news we get about the scans, I’m not going to die when we hear it.  I won’t die the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that.  So today, right now, well this is a wonderful day.  And I want you to know how much I’m enjoying it.” That’s the way the rest of my life would need to be lived.  (And how he encouraged his wife to live after he died).  I’m not living in denial of my situation (“his situation” being death – each of you have your own “situation” that is out of your control…) I am maintaining my clear-eyed sense of the inevitable.  I’m living like I’m dying.  But at the same time, I’m very much living like I’m still living.

The writings from another book released this month were from families dealing with instant death.  Not preparing for death.  The encouragement, prayers, thoughts, grief portrayed, and hope in eternity’s perspective given in the book Mistaken Identity were powerful.  I highly recommend this book to anyone needing an example of prayers from families in pain.  Two Taylor college students were misidentified after a fatal accident.  The book is incredible – the diaries of both families.  One family who believed their daughter had been killed.  The other entries from the family who sat with their “daughter” for several weeks in ICU at the hospital.  Susie VanRyn, on the day that she found out the her daughter was not the one she had been nursing in the hospital, but had already been buried, wrote in her journal…
I do not know what to say!
God, you are my refuge – please protect me.
You are my strength – I am entirely weak.
You will give me peace and comfort – please see me through the days ahead.

On a day when she could barely cope with her grief.  Getting out of bed had been enough of an accomplishment.  She had to go through the motions of the day…face the day.  She looked down at her Bible, but the letters on the page all ran together into one, long, incomprehensible word.  She looked harder and could make out the words to one verse that seemed to jump off the page, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” (Proverbs 14:10).  Bitterness and joy mixed together, that’s what I feel.  Oh, God, how? Oh, God, why? Why does life keep going on when I want it to stop? Why does it keep going forward when I can’t move.  She took a deep breath.  Just keep moving, she said to herself, just keep moving.  She knew she had to keep moving, but that didn’t mean rushing back to life the way it had been before the accident…Oh, God, help me, she prayed.  I am so weak…but you are my strength.

All of us are involved in situations of grief.  Grief that we are helping our friends go through.  Changes in our lives, or in lives of those that we want to help.  Both of the above books I recommend to have in your personal library.  Not just “one-time-reads” but books that I believe will help you to find encouragement in making our days count, regardless of our circumstances or future.  And encouragement spiritually.  On changing our perspective to seeing eternity in the scope of our daily situations.  I wanted to type a song recommended to me this week called “Live with Eternity’s Values in View“, but I couldn’t find the words anywhere.  If this is a familiar hymn to you, will you please send me the words?
Thank you for letting me enter your Thursdays.  I hope that you will read some of these books.  They will truly help us to keep our perspective, and to let others that have gone through experiences help us in knowing how to be friends to each other.  Anne Lindbergh made a comment on why she was publishing her journal entries during the search for her murdered baby.  She wrote that all grief is individual and lonely, dealt differently for each of us going through loss of any sort (even loss of changes in ages, children growing up, etc.).  But she went on to write that we all also share similarities in our grief – and that we can find comfort in reading and meeting others that have been there.  As I quoted a few weeks ago from Brave Heart: Magus de Unamuno says in Tragic Sense of LifeGreat love is born of sorrow.  It is then that we know one another and feel one another and feel with one another in common anguish, and so thus we pity one another and love one another.  For to love is to pity; and if bodies are united by pleasure, souls are united by pain.  To love with the spirit is to pity, and who pities most loves most. 
I hope that you can live today with expectation of what today can bring to you and what you can do to truly live in the present.  Not with fear of tomorrow or what you are thinking about from your past.  Let us enter this day.  Take care of what is in our control and pray to get through what is not.  Thank you for your encouragement and your business and for letting me enter your Thursday morning.  Susan
Works Cited:
Pausch, Randy.  The Last Lecture.  New York.  Hyperion.  2008.
Van Ryn, Don & Susie; Cerak, Newell, Colleen, & Whitney.  Mistaken Identity.  New York: Simon & Schuster.  2008.