Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I wrote the following a few days after Shannon died. It was published in the program that was given out at her memorial service. - Mike Gifford

Where Was God?

When facing life’s trials, some begin to wonder if God is really there or, if He is, if He really cares about our suffering. Considering our frailty, such questioning is reasonable, so long as one searches for the answer and doesn’t just throw his hands up in disgust and conclude that God does not exist. Job, Habakkuk, Asaph (Psalm 73) and others engaged in this type of thinking when they were facing difficulties. As we consider the question in this article’s title, I hope that you will indulge me in my personal references. Their usage is the best way I know of providing an answer.

Where was God…

  • …when we learned that Shannon had an aggressive cancer that had arisen suddenly and without warning?
  • … when she nearly died of collapsed lungs caused by the cancer?
  • … when our family was thrown into turmoil with emergency room visits followed by days and then weeks of hospital stays?
  • … when we were told that the cancer was incurable and that the best we could aim for was to make her comfortable in her declining days?
  • … when she lost her battle for life?
  • … when she departed this world?
Now let me tell you where He was…

  • …when we were told of her disease. He was in the same place as He had been the dozens of times in years past that she had previously gone to doctors for checkups and was pronounced healthy.
  • …when she nearly died. He was in the same place as the day the world was blessed with her birth.
  • …when we were experiencing the long days and nights of hospital stays. He was in the same place that He had been on the thousands of days in which we walked freely and in good health.
  • … when we were told that the end for her was near. He was in the same place as He was the day that we fell in love and our world began.
  • … when she lost her battle for life. He was in the same place that He was on the day that He gave His only begotten Son on the cross so that death would not have the victory over His faithful ones (I Corinthians 15:55-58)
  • … when she departed this world. He was in the same place that He was when He welcomed her into His family by virtue of her new birth in immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 3:15; John 3:3,5).
In essence, the God whom some blame for their woes when they’re in the throes of life’s challenges is the same God who is often forgotten when things are going well. He has not moved. The apostle Paul said that He is not far from every one of us, adding, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:27-28). Through that same apostle God said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5). If in our trials we feel that God is not there it would be wise for us to consider the fact that it is we who have moved, not God. In life’s darkness, thinking that God has forgotten us, we might find ourselves asking, “God, where are you?” but in life’s good days, when we tend to forget God, perhaps He asks, “My child, where are you?”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your Support System

When the hospice staff first came to our house, they told us of all the people in their network to whom we would have access whenever we needed support. I think I shocked them when I told them that all we would need would be the nurses and aides because we already had a significant support system in place. It saddened me when they told me that not everyone has that though. Apparently there are some who are practically alone in their suffering. It makes me think that each of us needs to be more aware of those around us who are hurting.

Our support system consisted of God (the Bible and prayer) first, each other, immediate family, extended family, fellow Christians, other friends and medical personnel. Each one provided something unique that held us up through our ordeal. There was not a single day that we ever felt we were alone in our battle. True, no one could take Shannon's illness on themselves and no one could bear my pain, but in their own way, every person who prayed for us, sent us cards and emails, called us, came by to see us or did something "hands on" to help us contributed to the strength that we were able to maintain through it all. No gesture was insignificant in our minds.

You will need a support system in order to battle cancer. You probably already have one in place but don't realize it. If you don't know how to build one, let me tell you how I watched Shannon's grow over the 31+ years that I knew her. She was a servant who gave of herself, expecting nothing in return. Even when she needed the support, she expressed that she felt unworthy of all the attention. Jesus told His apostles, "but whosever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." (Matthew 20:26-27). I myself benefited from Shannon's understanding of that principle as I enjoyed the overflow of the support that was being extended to her.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Lesson Learned From the Hospital

Let's face it, no one likes the idea of having to stay in the hospital. Between the unfamiliar food, the strange bed and a host of other inconveniences, a hospital stay is a far cry from home. Having said that, I'd like to remind you that said hospital stays are often necessary when other care is not sufficient. The hospital staff is there to help you. They know you would rather be home. Their task is to try to get you home, as soon as possible, but in better health than when you were admitted. As aggravating and disruptive as a stay in the hospital can be to both the patient and the patient's family, it nonetheless could be a lifesaver.

My biggest trouble with hospital stays in the beginning of Shannon's illness was the anticipation of being able to leave, only to be told that we had to postpone her release for one reason or another. Hopes would be built up and then dashed. It was only after the events of March 17 that I learned that just being able to be with Shannon was more important than my desire to be home. That was the day that we were getting ready to check out and she suddenly lost a great deal of blood and passed out. Had this occurred at home I don't think I could have helped her. Thankfully, two nurses were there at her side to revive her.

I'm pretty slow and hard-headed sometimes but this lesson came quickly that day: Be thankful that you are with your spouse, no matter where you are. You may not want to be in the hospital, but if that's where he or she needs to be to get the medical help they require, just be glad that you can be near them. In your "hatred" of the hospital and your complaining and your impatient desire to go home, you may find yourself wasting precious moments with your beloved.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Seeing Shannon

Even though I can no longer physically look at Shannon, I can still see her through a multitude of sources.
  • Above all, I see her in our children, Whitney, Elise, Andrew and Adam. Each of them carries one or more traits that I loved in Shannon. From time to time they may even display a Shannon-like quirk or two and that brings a smile to my face. With a heightened appreciation for what my children gleaned from their mother's teaching and example, I don't think I'll ever look at any of them in the same light again.
  • Just since this past Monday, we have received 11 new orders for her Zippers book and back issues of her newsletter at SensibleSewing.com. While Shannon's writings helped countless numbers of people learn the art of sewing, they also helped her family financially. The great effort that she always put into her work continues to help support her family, even after her passing.
  • Every day this week I've received numerous cards, emails and other communications from people who have been kind enough to share their stories of how Shannon touched their lives. Sometimes we're hesitant to say anything to an individual regarding their loved one who has died out of fear that we'll make that person sad. I'm not sure if this is true across the board, but in my case at least, I welcome the memories, especially shared by those whom I have never met. Each story gives me a new reason to rejoice over Shannon's life.
As all of this relates to couples dealing with cancer, it's a reminder that every day, whether we realize it or not, we have an impact on someone's life. Whether you're sitting in a recliner in the chemo room, lying in a hospital bed or just engaging in your daily routine, your attitude can help you handle your disease and lift others' spirits as well both today and well into the future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thank You

Let me begin by saying that I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that has been shown since Shannon's passing on Sunday night. My amazement is not over how many people are commenting on the great impact Shannon had on their lives. That doesn't surprise me a bit. She made a positive mark on the heart of every one she met. What's astounding is how her love and concern for others has motivated them to offer their love and concern for a family they have never met. From around the globe people are letting us know how much Shannon meant to them and how they are thinking of us. I never would have experienced this had it not been for how deeply Shannon was able to touch people's lives.

I do want to remind everyone that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. Countless numbers of men and women recover from it. Keep this in mind because a proper attitude can be one of your greatest allies in your battle against this disease.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


This evening at 8:59 p.m. Eastern time, Shannon went home to be with the Lord. She was not in any pain and was surrounded by loved ones. As you would expect of her if you knew her, her final words were those of encouragement, telling us how much she loved us and how happy her life had been.

Shannon's life was one well-lived. With faith in God and love for others, she touched so many people across the globe. It was my blessed privilege to be her husband since December 30, 1979. I can't begin to imagine what my life would have been without her. She made my time here so joyful. There wasn't any challenge that we weren't able to overcome together, including this one.

The title of this site is "A Couple Conquers Cancer." As a faithful Christian, Shannon conquered it. It robbed her of her physical strength, but never of her determination. It stole her mobility, but not her heart. It even deprived her of her beautiful hair, but it did not touch her dignity. The Bible says in I Corinthians 15:57, "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." This evening, Shannon became the victor and nothing harmful will ever bother her again (Revelation 21:4).

We are planning a memorial service for Shannon on Saturday, May 1 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time at the building of the Cartersville church of Christ, 1319 Joe Frank Harris Parkway, Cartersville, GA. We invite all to come. In lieu of flowers, we are requesting that donations be made to the Memphis School of Preaching in Shannon's name. We will have information about this at the memorial service.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to each of you for the support you've given and for frequenting this website. I plan to leave it up and may add more to it as the days go by. If you feel it might be of help to others who are in the battle we've been in, please share it with them. May God continue to bless you as you do His will.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Celebrate the Simple Pleasures

By her actions, Shannon is reminding me on a daily basis of the importance of the little things in life. She was so excited the other day because the swelling in her feet had gone down and she could move her toes. Today it was biscuits, gravy and sausage from Ross's Diner that brightened her morning. You ought to see her light up when she gets a piece of fresh fruit. For so many months during the chemotherapy she wasn't allowed to have it and now with every bite it seems as though she's tasting it for the first time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His audience to "behold the fowls of the air" and "consider the lilies of the field" to learn a lesson about God's care for His people (Matthew 6:26,28). These are just simple, every day things, but like so many other facets of God's creation, they can elicit joy and appreciation in the hearts of those who are willing to slow down for a moment or two and take a look at them.

Shannon has had another good day today and continues to share her smiles.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Talk About Priceless

Remember the "priceless" credit card commercials? Glancing over at Shannon to discover that she has been gazing at me and smiling; catching that gleam in her eye that makes my heart melt; sharing a look that only those who have ever truly been in love can understand - now that's priceless.

She's had another good day today, eating well, resting well and enjoying occasional, brief visits. I'm glad we decided to come home and I'm thankful for our friends and family who have helped make this time so pleasurable. They're the best.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Going Against the Grain

As expected, Shannon is sleeping more. We seem to have the right mix of medications going so when she's awake she is alert. She's having some pain but we're able to lessen it before it gets too severe.

I'll have to admit that I'm blazing some new trails for myself here. In the past, whenever Shannon got sick I knew my job was to make sure she got what she needed so that she would get back to full health. Now, because she is not expected to recover, I can't do anything to help her get better. I can only make her comfortable and try to ease her pain. Initially it was difficult to accept this because one's basic nature is to help an ill loved one recover. Now that I have a better understanding of my role, I realize that by seeing to her comfort, I am helping her as much as I ever have.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Energizer Bunny

Here's your word for the day: Indomitable. Look it up, and if you don't see a picture of Shannon next to the definition then you have a faulty dictionary.

As visitors have come by in the last week, some have talked about items that they are sewing or quilting. As you might have guessed, somewhere in those conversations Shannon has been sharing tips to help those folks complete their projects. The apostle Paul quoted Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35). I have to smile as I watch Shannon continuing to give of herself even in her weakened condition.

She's having a good day and has eaten more today than she has in several days. As always, we enjoy these days and are thankful for them.