Through the rain
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be. —George Matheson
Sometimes a poem, song, quote or Bible verse stored in my memory will become more relevant, and therefore more appreciated, many years after I first encounter it. The quote above is from a hymn I learned in childhood and have sung many times since, but I don’t remember it having been a favorite. Lately, though, I have come to love it. The words have played in my head often since Jeff died, and the lyrics bring true consolation.
The photo above was taken on what should have been a wonderful evening for me, but I was beset by worries. Jeff and I had an unprecedented three-week vacation planned, to celebrate his retirement and continued survival. We had never, ever had that long a break before. All was ready and our dream trip was less than two weeks away. But Jeff had been having problems with his balance, and I wondered whether it was wise to leave on a transatlantic cruise if there were any risks we might not anticipate.
That evening, as I was finishing up my walk following an earlier rainstorm, I was startled to see a bright rainbow at the very end of our street. We rarely have rainbows here, and certainly not one arching over the entrance to our neighborhood. I ran inside to get my camera, and called Jeff to walk out and look at it with me. He agreed it was unusual and beautiful. “Maybe that’s meant to be a sign for us,” I said.
But that night, he could not walk upstairs easily. I convinced him to go to the Walter Reed ER the next day, and when I pulled up to let him out at the entrance, he got out of the car and immediately collapsed to the ground. I screamed for help, and staffers inside who had seen Jeff fall were already running out with a wheelchair. “I’m afraid he’s had a stroke,” I told them.
Of course, as most who read this blog already know, it was a metastatic brain tumor. The surgery to remove it went quite well, and Jeff recuperated with his usual astounding strength. In fact, the surgeons and I had to laugh when Jeff first said he did not intend to cancel our trip, but wanted to go on despite having just had neurosurgery. For once, I was on the doctors’ side when they told Jeff this would really, really not be possible. But they expressed great optimism that we would get to go later.
To his doctors’ amazement, Jeff was even able to ride the metro alone to Bethesda for radiation during the weeks that followed, as his post-op visual disturbance gradually healed. Taking the metro involved a significant uphill climb to the hospital, but Jeff was accustomed to such challenges, literally and figuratively. His resilience and stamina were such a blessing that I almost forgot about the crushing disappointment we both felt at not being able to take our long-planned celebratory trip.
We didn’t yet know that during the weeks following his surgery and radiation, when he was unable to take chemotherapy, the cancer so long held at bay would come back with a vengeance. The next set of scans showed a worse spread than ever. Jeff started to lose weight and could not seem to keep it on. Still, he went about life as usual despite his waning strength, and was able to see and hold our newborn second grandson when Drew’s family came to visit us in July. Jeff even took them to see the Independence Day fireworks over DC. He worked with me on various home improvement projects, and a month before he died, made a trip to Atlanta to see his grandsons again, and to see Mama one last time. Given her recent stage IV cancer diagnosis, we had no idea she would survive him.
Since then, I have thought often about that rainbow. What had seemed a promising delight at the time had taken on a cruel irony the following day in the face of Jeff’s brain tumor diagnosis. I suppose I am glad that, once he survived the surgery, we never dreamed he would not live to see even another November.
Still, I do have a happy memory of two of us standing outside in the warm sunset of a springtime evening, enjoying a beautiful and unexpected gift, just as we had enjoyed countless natural wonders over our 38 years together. Perhaps the rainbow’s meaning (if there was one at all) was different than what I first thought it was, but in any case, it was a joy that I captured with my camera. I can now look at the photo with mixed emotions, and somewhere amid the resentment and anger and sadness and grief there are traces of gratitude and hope.
If you are in the midst of sorrow or stress, I hope you can believe with me in the beautiful rainbow that often comes after a storm. We may not see it, or even if we do see it, we may not recognize its timeless meaning. But it’s there, and as it was from the beginning, it’s the symbol of a promise.