Honoring the Living
There is, in all honesty, a constant tension when dealing with a terminal illness between giving up and facing facts. As I have noted earlier, during my beloved’s nine month battle with leukemia her most frequent question to me was “I can get better, can’t I?” Giving up hope is giving up, and neither of us wanted that. We do indeed serve a God who gave Hezekiah a new lease, who can make dry bones live and so from one perspective it isn’t over until it’s over. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t at least begin to discern what is more likely than not by reading test results.
This question became frighteningly practical to the two of us a few months before Denise passed away. We had yet to embark on a clinical trial that held out some hope for us. But still two of Denise’s dearest and oldest friends determined to come and visit. On the one hand this was a great blessing and an encouragement to Denise. She, though still cooped up in a hospital room, spent hours laughing and reminiscing with these dear ladies. They recounted shared childhood memories, and compared notes on the shared experience of growing up. On the other hand the visit spiked Denise’s fears. Was she facing, she wondered, a farewell tour? What did it say about her prognosis that these ladies were laboring so hard to come and see her?
A few months later we were left with only one choice- hospice. Yes we still believed God could heal. But in our more honest moments we in turn understood that He probably wouldn’t. This, in turn, prompted more visits. A flock of ladies from our beloved church in Virginia came down for one last visit. Family members made special trips Beall Phillips also came to see Denise. By this point Denise was fading fast. She asked insightful questions of her friends, but fell asleep in the midst of the answers. I found myself in the unenviable position of having to ration her time.
Within a matter of days Denise’s visitor list multiplied by a factor of ten. The only difference was that she was gone. Scores of old friends said goodbye to a casket. I highlight this with the hope of not making anyone feel bad. We all have responsibilities and limitations. I can assure her friends that she never once asked, “Why hasn’t this one come to see me?” Instead I write to encourage you to choose the right hand. Go, and visit. Your loved one may fear more deeply that there is little hope. But that will be utterly trumped by the joy of seeing you. “I must be dying or they wouldn’t have dropped everything to come and see me” is ultimately nothing compared to the joy of seeing you. And if God should bless, what a wonderful memory it would be if ten or twenty years later you could hear, “Remember that time you came to see me because you thought I was dying?”
The truth is, by God’s grace, that I have no regrets about anything. Everyone, childhood friends, relatives, pew neighbors, ministry associates, everyone has done wonderfully by us. We are so overwhelmed with the grace of others that our biggest burden is how to adequately say, “Thank you.” In the end we know we can’t, because the very source of all the kindness we have received is the same grace by which we are redeemed. You don’t repay that. You simply weep in thanksgiving.
So I ask two things. First, if you ever find yourself wondering, “Should I go?” The answer is “Yes, of course.” Second, receive not just my thanks, and the thanks of my children. But also receive the thanks of my dear wife. She is still grateful, on high. There is, among believers, no such thing as a “farewell tour.” There is instead only a “Until we meet again tour.”