Betsy Kelleher's world shattered after a phone call on Nov. 17, 2008.
"Hi Mom, it's your son Bob," she heardand she smiled at the way he always began his calls. But her smile quickly faded; Bob was in the hospital. He had just learned he had multiple myelomaa cancer of the bone marrowand there was no cure.
For four years and three months, Kelleher found hope in her faith that God could work a miracle. Prayers did not bring healing, and a mother's heart was broken. Three months after Bob's death, she was further devastated by the sudden loss of a precious Boston terrier that had given her special comfort.
Join this grieving mother as she and a newly acquired Boston named Ribbons discover a pathway into a nearby wetlands conservation project. While exploring the developing secluded field, Kelleher finds comfort in a field of yellow flowers and hope in a morning sunrise.
As she struggles to accept God's will in the loss of her son, walking the dog becomes a spiritual pilgrimage. Within that peaceful secluded field just beyond the visible edge of her mobile home community, she experiences God's intimate, healing presence.
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About the Author
Betsy Kelleher grew up on an Iowa farm that cultivated her love of nature and animals. After earning a journalism degree from Iowa State University, she wrote radio commercials, newspaper articles, and scripts for both audio and video training programs. Shes the author of two books for horse lovers, and for twenty years she wrote a column titled Sometimes God Uses Horses for the Illinois Horse Network newspaper. She and her husband, Russ, live near Granite City, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
Covered by Grace
Bob was the middle child of three from my first marriage — between Mark, my firstborn, and David, my youngest. I had struggled in that marriage for forty-two years, telling myself I was a good Christian for staying even though I was miserable. Bob was forty the year Wes and I agreed on a divorce. All three boys had families of their own by then. They were more disappointed than surprised.
I remarried. I had met Russ at the barn where I boarded my horses, and we had ridden together in the pasture behind the stable. We were both retired by the time we married, and life was good. Russ and I had a wonderful relationship, even though I still felt guilty for leaving my first husband.
Horses had been my lifelong passion. After years of effort, I was enjoying moderate success as an equestrian writer. I was the author of two published books, and I wrote a monthly newspaper column in the Illinois Horse Network newspaper. Under the heading "Sometimes God Uses Horses," each column shared a horse-related experience with a Christian application. I was just finishing my December column that Monday morning, November 17, 2008, when the call came.
"Hi Mom, it's your son Bob." I smiled at how he always began his phone calls, as if I wouldn't immediately recognize his voice. "I'm not doing so good. I'm in the hospital." My smile disappeared as he talked about high blood calcium, 15
anemia, failing kidneys, and bone lesions. I felt my chest tighten; I held my breath. It sounded serious, even before he told me he was in the ICU. I had questions, but he sounded weak.
"Let me talk to Kim." I knew his wife would have answers. She soon pronounced that word that I dreaded. Cancer. Feeling sick, Bob had gone to the emergency room on Sunday. Tests showed an advanced stage of multiple myeloma.
This was a cancer I'd never heard of, so I looked it up in my big Mayo Clinic health book. And then I sat staring into space for a moment while trying to process what I'd read. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow; it's a blood cancer that eats away at the bones. It is treatable to the point of producing temporary remission, but there is no cure. It is a terminal illness.
What? How did that happen?
Bob had mentioned back pain several times that summer when we talked. His doctor prescribed physical therapy, but then his pain got worse. No one had suspected that cancer was causing the pain, not even his doctor.
My personal prayers didn't seem enough for something this big, so I sent emails to everyone I knew. Experience had taught me that the prayers of many could have miraculous results. God had answered prayer in the past, and I believed He would do it again.
Twenty years earlier, my youngest son David, then twenty-three years old, had almost died of liver failure from hepatitis. For three weeks, I stayed with him in the hospital, going home only to clean up and change clothes. David's father had kept busy at work, visiting only twice. He didn't know what to do for David or how to give me the support I needed. I was the one who talked to the doctors. I was the one who signed papers to approve the transplant. I felt terribly alone and anxious while waiting for the outcome. I watched my son slip in and out of a coma for five days, and then I was told one morning that he had twenty-four hours to live.
Frequent phone calls from a friend with medical experience me cope. Pam had been my best friend for ten years since supervising the training of my first horse — the experience shared in my first book. Her advice may have saved David's life; because of her, I knew to turn him on his side to prevent choking when he became nauseous. She also suggested I could help the nurses by checking the flow from the IV bags. Whether it really did any good or not, doing something positive was better than sitting and worrying.
God took care of us during those stressful weeks, and I truly believe He let me see His hand at work in all the details. I sensed the support of prayers for David, and I witnessed the miracle of a successful liver transplant. I was deeply grateful for the liver that came just in time, even though I knew it was donated by a grieving family who lost their own loved one. I thanked God for the eventual success of the transplant in spite of a few early episodes of rejection.
God's loving presence was with me through it all. I sensed His power and control. In spite of the fear and worry, this whole situation was an experience that strengthened my faith.
David's miraculous transplant confirmed my belief that God could heal, but I already believed. I had experienced a physical healing myself ten years earlier. With two healings in our family and everyone now praying for Bob, I had great hopes for another miracle.
In early December a few weeks after Bob's call from the hospital, I went to bed saying fervent prayers for Bob's healing. I remember waking up the next morning with a song of praise flowing through me. Music had always been a strong influence in my life, but I hadn't sung or heard this particular song for many years. Yet now here it was suddenly filling me with the joy of God's protective power: "He's my rock, He's my fortress, He's my deliverer, in Him will I trust! Praise the name of Jesus!" Similar words are found in Psalm 18:2, in Psalm 114:2, and in 2 Samuel 22:2.
I emailed a friend to share my experience. She emailed back that God sometimes gives us a song or a special message of encouragement called a grace covering. "You are not alone in this. God is present and doing many things to strengthen you."
When I told Bob about the song, he wanted to hear it — so I found it for him on YouTube. I believed this grace covering was more than just encouragement; it gave me the assurance that God was with us. I believed He was preparing a miracle.
Perhaps that song was more for me than for Bob. Looking back, I believe God meant it to guide me through all of life's trials. The words reminded me to depend on God for my strength and hope. I remembered my friend's words: "You are not alone."
When did I stop singing that song? Why did I stop?CHAPTER 2
Road to Remission
For four years and three months, I waited for the miracle that would heal my son. I truly believed God could heal, even at the last minute; and I believed He could use doctors or any other means. Was I wrong to expect a miracle? Shouldn't we always believe in miracles?
The doctors could not treat the cancer until Bob's failing kidneys were functioning. He needed dialysis three times a week at first. Finally in March his kidneys were working, and dialysis was no longer necessary.
Meanwhile, because he had five compression fractures in his spine, Bob was scheduled in January for a procedure called a vertebroplasty. This was an operation to inject special cement into the fractures to stabilize his spine so he could walk. The doctors did a series of procedures, working on different sections each time. During one procedure, however, Bob had a cardiac arrest. They brought him back, but his spine had been damaged. He was now six inches shorter and looked somewhat like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was transferred to a rehab center from the end of January until the middle of March. Kim stayed at his side.
Although it was a miracle that Bob was still alive, I had to hold back tears of despair when I saw him so bent over — so deformed. I was never again able to hug him with the same affectionate energy as I had before his spine was damaged. He looked too fragile. The cancer had already taken a part of him from me.
I was grateful for the Facebook page Kim and Bob created to keep friends and family updated. I followed Bob's cancer journey by their posts, which probably saved them a lot of time not having to answer my inquiring phone calls.
They say denial is the first stage of the grief process. I couldn't deny that Bob had cancer, but I could refuse to accept that it was terminal. I was determined to fix this — to find a cure to change Bob's prognosis. Did I believe I could do more than his doctors? I was his mother; I had to do something!
In a discussion group one day, I heard someone say, "When we feel helpless and we don't know what to do, we just do something we can do." I realized I was doing exactly that — spending hours on the internet researching cancer. It became an obsession.
Finally I understood why my first husband had spent so much time in his office back in 1988 instead of being with our youngest son in the hospital. After his first visit — seeing David's condition before the liver transplant — he knew he couldn't fix it, and he couldn't face what might happen. Work was his escape.
My escape from Bob's situation was searching for a solution. The internet was full of stories of amazing healings through alternative methods. I wanted to believe those stories. Perhaps such hope was too naive, but it kept me going.
I learned that specific tests can determine the type of cancer present, and different types of cancer need different treatments. Not all doctors do those tests. Choosing one's doctor is a critical part of any health care, whether for cancer or any other health issue. I believe we must be our own advocate — to search for knowledge, to ask questions that lead to wise decisions, and to be responsible for our God-given bodies as much as possible.
When Bob entered the hospital where his diagnosis was made, he trusted the doctors that worked with him because they were highly recommended. Bob believed that God had put him where he was for a reason, and he didn't have a lot of time to figure it out. I hoped my research could give him more information to help him understand his treatments.
Spending time on the internet, I learned about foods and pills that worked to fight cancer. I subscribed to newsletters, and I purchased books. The internet helped spread the word that I was looking, and I received countless emails and mailings from doctors and publishing companies selling books about alternative treatments. Bob bought a few of the books I mentioned to him, and we discussed his options.
For a whole year, Bob endured regular chemo and radiation treatments. Blood tests showed his cancer markers were going down. The goal of remission still had not been reached, so the doctors scheduled a stem cell transplant. Information I found online said that such a transplant was a risky procedure of last resort. Bob's doctor assured him that it could add one or two years to his remission, making it three or four years instead of the usual two. I was thankful for all that his doctors did, but I wanted more than remission; I wanted actual healing.
The doctors planned for Bob to spend most of July in the hospital. On June 24, he had a procedure to insert a catheter before five days of injections to help his bones create more stem cells. As an outpatient at Loyola University Center for Health, he was hooked up to a machine for six hours while ten million of his stem cells were collected in one day. In early July, he entered the hospital for strong chemo — the worst part — to kill off all his bone marrow. After three weeks of isolation and after the saved stem cells were reintroduced, Kim posted on Facebook that he would have to come home to a "low-bacteria" environment for two more weeks of isolation.
Her next update said: "... Bob has come home to a clean house! He's still nauseous and his throat and mouth hurt, but he's glad to be home. A lot of you have asked when Bob will be normal again (which is an excellent opportunity for humor but I'll resist the temptation). It will take half a year for his blood counts to be considered normal." Kim's sense of humor always made me smile in spite of Bob's dismal circumstances.
A post in mid-August brought another smile: "In general, Bob is miserable, and he feels gross from the chemo and stem cell transplant. I have to admit he looks quite pitiful, but so cute. A little like a droopy-eyed hound dog if you can imagine that (and this description brought a smile to his face). We take walks, he's on the treadmill daily, and he has finished three photo albums."
For a year, I kept track of Bob's struggle while going about my own life. Russ and I had been married for six years, and he understood what I was going through; he had lost a son of his own. We owned four horses then, and we often went riding in a nearby wooded park. Our rides through the peaceful beauty of nature helped me to relax. But no mother can forget her son; I was constantly praying for Bob's healing. 22
On October 12, 2009, Bob posted an update that answered my most important question. "There's a lot to be thankful for. My cancer is pretty much in full remission, and I am regaining my strength and returning to work soon." I had heard rumors of remission, but this made it official. Now I could finally do my happy dance.CHAPTER 3
Home for Christmas
When my youngest son David invited us to his home in Pennsylvania for Christmas in 2009, I was overjoyed. Our whole family would be together to celebrate Bob's remission! I was looking forward to this holiday with all my boys, and I was grateful that Russ was willing to make the long drive from Illinois and back.
That last morning on the road, we left the motel and stopped for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I was in the ladies' room feeling anxious about the weather (we had seen a few snowflakes) and about finding David's house. Then I heard someone singing, and the words were loud and clear: "Follow Me, I'll lead you home." Even though it was Amy Grant's voice on Cracker Barrel's PA system, I believed God had directed those words to me to help me trust that everything would work out.
This Christmas with my family meant much more to me than the usual holiday get-together. After the divorce, the boys had spent holidays with their dad because he was alone. One year all three boys and their families spent a whole week with him. They had invited us to join them, but Russ said he wasn't going to spend a whole week with my exhusband. It might have spoiled Christmas for all of us. I didn't see any of them, and I cried a lot that Christmastime because I felt so left out. Why hadn't I thought to talk to them about how to handle this change in our family situation? I shouldn't have assumed they would understand. 24
During phone conversations with each of my sons, I finally shared my feelings; and they adjusted their Thanksgiving plans. Russ and I drove to Bob's home in Chicago in 2006 to spend two days with everyone, and then we left before my ex-husband arrived. I was surprised to discover that time with my sons and their families was more wonderful than ever before! Being happy in my marriage with Russ, I no longer had what may have been an unhealthy need for their attention. I was free to simply enjoy their company.
When Russ and I went out to the car to leave at the end of our visit, Mark walked out with us, then Bob came out, and then David. I was amused that they followed their birth order. I cried as we drove away — not only from the usual sadness of leaving family — but because my sons' farewell gesture meant so much to me. As all three sons waved goodbye from Bob's front porch, I saw a picture of acceptance, belonging, and love. That precious image is still burned into my memory.
It was now three years later, Christmas of 2009, and Russ and I were spending a whole week with my three sons and their families in David's home in Pennsylvania. We didn't have to leave early this time, since the boys' father had passed away the previous April after a stroke. I know the boys felt his loss during this first Christmas without him, and my own emotions were still in turmoil. We didn't talk about it.
The past year had been difficult for all of us. Even while dealing with his cancer, Bob had disposed of his dad's home and contents, aided by his brothers and an auction. I had helped some, but it hadn't been easy to watch former possessions and memories laid out to be auctioned off to strangers. The entire process had been indescribably painful.
With all of that now behind us, we celebrated Bob's remission. Words could not describe my joy at finally being together with my three sons and their families for a real family Christmas. I was relieved that a year of cancer treatments was over, and I didn't want to think about the future. I hugged Bob — carefully — every chance I had. I'm thankful I didn't know then that this would be our last joyful Christmas together.
David had a lovely home in a peaceful wooded setting. LuAnn was a considerate hostess, and her meals were bounteous. We probably ate too much. We played games at the spacious dining room table surrounded by windows that revealed a wooded hillside adorned with snow. We laughed at their cat, Tommy, how he sometimes watched over us from his position on a high cupboard. Russ and I usually went to bed early downstairs, giving the younger adults a chance to share their own thoughts with each other.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Beyond the Visible Edge"
Copyright © 2018 Betsy Kelleher.
Excerpted by permission of Betsy Kelleher.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Carol Frerker,
Introduction by the author,
Prologue — A "Holy Land" of Weeds,
PART ONE — Waiting for a Miracle,
Chapter One — Covered by Grace,
Chapter Two — Road to Remission,
Chapter Three — Home for Christmas,
Chapter Four — Motif's Diamond Lil,
Chapter Five — The Struggle Resumes,
Chapter Six — Precious Days,
Chapter Seven — Missions and Bluebells,
Chapter Eight — Our Christmas Miracle,
Chapter Nine — Two Weeks!,
PART TWO — The Aftermath,
Chapter Ten — Saying Goodbye,
Chapter Eleven — Easter Message Personalized,
Chapter Twelve — Toppled,
Chapter Thirteen — A Persistent Cardinal,
Chapter Fourteen — Dealing with Grief in Stages,
Chapter Fifteen — Small Comfort; Big Challenge!,
Chapter Sixteen — Finding a New Path,
Chapter Seventeen — Connection with Nature,
PART THREE — A Pilgrimage of Healing,
Eighteen — Arlington Wetlands,
Nineteen — Autumn in the Field,
Twenty — Lingering Tears,
Twenty-One — A New Wilderness,
Twenty-Two — Clouds of Glory,
Twenty-Three — Surrender,
Twenty-Four — The Joy of His Presence,
Twenty-Five — Refocus; Move on,
Twenty-Six — Leaving the Healing Field,
Epilogue — Looking Back,
Other Books by the Author,