Thursday, April 02, 2015

Retrieve Lament: Les & Renee Aylesworth ( I am thirsty.)

"Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.  
That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted." 
             -- Ranier Maria Rilke, from Requiem For A Friend

Each  year during Holy Week I ask friends to share a "mourning story" from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering. Each story reflects on one phrase of Jesus' dying words.  The man who wrote today's reflection was a God-send to us when we were first figuring out how to be parents to teenagers - befriending our oldest son at a key time in his life.  We've grieved Renee's illness from a distance and have grown in our ability to understand what suffering-bourne love looks like -- in marriage, in family, in community.  Christ died fully human -- with every bodily need made evident in public.  The same Christ who told us to give the smallest gifts to the most vulnerable people, was Himself given cruelty when he asked for liquid relief.  May each time we give drink or food or comfort in His name, we relieve a little bit more the suffering, thirsty Christ.

A journal entry upon the one year anniversary of Renee's stroke:

I can't even begin to describe what this year has been like.  The ups and the downs, the highs the lows, the fear, the worry, the pain, the grief, the loneliness, the despair, the despondency, the frustration, the anger, the everything negative emotion you can imagine.  Yet somehow after hitting all these emotional and physical potholes along the way; some that threatened to completely engulf us - we have made it!

In our darkest days, there has been light.  Sometimes, oftentimes, just a sliver - but enough to keep going; to keep hoping.  The darkness can never overpower the light; and we have lived that this year.  In those early days when we weren't even sure if Renee would move again, let alone walk or talk; all we had was hope.  A hope that didn't generate from within us, that was manufactured or conceived by some superior ability of our own; but from somewhere, from Someone else.  From Jesus, who then placed it in us.  In our profound weakness and groanings, He instilled hope within us.  There have been days, many days, when hope faded, that it seemed like futility; but because of Him, somehow it came back - and has carried us.  Anyone who has gone through a major trauma in life and who knows Jesus can understand and probably say Amen to that.

And it has been your prayers that have kept us going.  Not that they are magical, but because you brought us faithfully to the throne of grace, for us to find mercy and healing and provision - God responded to those prayers.  I've been reflecting lately on what prayer is; what it does and how it does it.  I don't really have a lot of answers, because God maintains a certain level of mystery, but I know prayer works.  So I keep praying and trusting that His desire and plan will be done.

Renee has made incredible strides this past year.  As we've been in this new world of stroke recovery with aphasia (which I've discovered it's own animal), we've met people, mostly over the internet who have and are enduring similar things, but are farther down the road to recovery.  They have encouraged me that Renee appears to be making great progress; and coming from them it carries a lot of weight.  Even this morning is another example.  She wanted to know who was coming today to be with her.  Since she can't come up with sentences on her own yet (she can repeat and practice ones I show her), she usually just says a word.  With much learning and context, I can usually figure out what she's trying to say.  When Renee wants to ask a question about anything, she will say "Where?"  I know it sounds weird, but that's the world of aphasia and stroke recovery - "where" has become the catch all word for all interrogatives.  This morning however instead of saying "where" and me trying to figure out what the question is that she is actually asking; she said "who".  For a second I just stood and stared; then I realized that she was actually asking "who?".  Who was coming today?  I know it's just one little word, but that little word now has the capacity to be built upon and dramatically increase her communication and our understanding!  Thank you God!

I've tried to detail and let you know how Renee has progressed this year so that you could rejoice with us.  It has been awesome knowing that there have been so many people cheering Renee on; who have rejoiced in her victories and have wept in our sorrow.  As God has never left us alone, He has often made His presence known to us through people - through you.  Many of you were and some still are people we've never met - yet you have become family to us.  You have loved us.  You have personified what Jesus said in Matthew 25...

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

I grew up poor, but I have never known such need as this past year: emotional, spiritual, physical.  And Jesus used many of you to meet many of those needs.  You have provided meals when there was no way possible I could prepare a meal, you bought our growing kids clothes when there was no way I could go shopping for them, you have provided time so that I could go to work and have peace of mind knowing that someone was home with Renee and the kids.  You send cards and gift cards, and Christmas presents.  People opened their homes so we had a place to stay other than the hospital.  You visited Renee, even making a 3 hour drive to the hospital or flying across the country to do so.  And the list goes on and on and on...

I've said this before, but the things I've seen this past year are things you read about or see on a talk show; yet it has happened to us.  In the midst of the worst, we have seen the best.  Yet, as yesterday reminded us, we still need you.

Please continue to pray for us.  For no more seizures, for no more strokes or clots or anything damaging to Renee's already fragile brain.  That she is able to continue therapy.  That "who" turns into "who's coming today?" and her ability to speak is restored.  That our daily needs continue to be met.  That there is someone to be with Renee and the kids for every spot we need filled.  That her right side continues to improve with both ability, agility and sensation.  That Renee's cognitive awareness and mental processing increases.  For no more headaches (she has one today) or worrying symptoms.  That our kids continue to be great kids and do well in school and life.  That I am able to bear the burdens of dad, mom and caregiver.  That we make Jesus proud and are an example of a life well lived for Him.  That Renee is completely healed and restored.  And so many other things that come up.

There's one more thing I ask that you do - rejoice with us!  Renee is alive; my beautiful, wonderful wife, the mother of my 5 awesome kids is alive - and that is worth celebrating.

The road continues to be hard and long and dark, but I'm confident that better days are ahead and there will more many more opportunities to celebrate.  Thank you again from the bottom of this exceedingly grateful husband's heart.


On February 26th at 2:25am Les was awakened by Renee restlessly moving.  At first he thought she was just moving closer to get warm.  He turned the lamp on to find her eyes open, but unresponsive.  He shook her, calling out her name, but she just would not wake up.  He noticed that as she was trying to grab a hold of me, she could not use her right arm.  

Doctors discovered Renee had suffered a severe stroke caused by a spontaneous carotid dissection. The inner lining of her artery had torn, causing the blood flow to slow and form a clot.  Parts of the clot broke off causing the massive stroke which has left her unable to speak or move her right side.

 Renee is only 38 years old and has 5 kids: Ivan aged 14, Maris 12, Anaya 6, Haven 4 and Aviah 20 months.  Les and Renee live with their family in Newark Valley, NY.

You can follow Les & Renee's journey on their Caring Bridge journal.  


Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories o lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

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