What to do when the doctors say, “It is terminal . . .” This sentence has been on my mind for the last week or so since I learned of the terminal diagnosis of a 52 year old friend of mine from Fort Worth. She and her husband were incredibly kind and compassionate to me while I was a seminary student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1997-2001. We were church members together, I played softball with her husband, and their kids were in my wife’s children’s choir. They are very bold in their faith and are pillars of our church in Fort Worth, Texas. Our paths crossed again last week once she became a patient at the cancer hospital in Newnan, GA where I live. I learned on Facebook of her status and it has really gotten to me. She had not been sick long and only within a matter of a month or two did she learn of the cancer and the grave situation with it’s spreading. She and her family joined us for church yesterday and she looked great. She said she is at peace with it all and knows God is in control. She has decided to forgo the chemo and is now under hospice care.
What is my friend and her family thinking? In a blink of an eye, this precious mother, wife, daughter, sees her life flash before her. All over her Facebook page are wonderful pictures of her precious family. Both of her kids were recently married. There are wedding pictures, joyous dances with mother and son, big group pictures with smiles everywhere. She recently earned her Master’s degree (pictures of her graduation fill her page) and just this summer she earned a big promotion and accepted a new job across the state of Texas. They just sold their home and left their church of 44 years to move across the state of Texas. She and her husband celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary this year. And then . . . this diagnosis comes out of nowhere. There must be so much grieving ahead and much wrestling with the grief cycle in the midst of so much tremendous shocking loss.
What do you do when the doctors only give you a matter of months to live? Who do you spend your time with and what activities do you fill your day? What prayers do you pray to God? Prayers of anger? Prayers of absolute desperation begging Him to heal you or settled prayers being at peace with death? Not sure. What friends and family do you desperately share your faith with and make sure they know of Christ? What relationships do you need to reconcile, what words need to be said, and how do you leave things with those you love? I would imagine current events, the latest gossip, the weather, and even problems at work don’t seem to matter at all. I have had friends killed and others have died rather suddenly. What would they have done if someone whispered to them, today is your last? I bet they would not have believed it.
We are all terminal and all of us will die. Only God knows the day or the hour of our death. I guess with one having a terminal disease there is some finality in front of you. If you don’t have a disease hanging over you, it would not be wise to live in a frenetic state acting as if there is no tomorrow. But at the same time, none of us are guaranteed another day and our life is just a vapor. Do I treasure my relationships and loved ones like I should with the idea I am not guaranteed another hug, another talk, another opportunity to say, “I am sorry” ? I am not sure I do.
At 40 years old, I am not afraid of death and I am at peace whenever God chooses to take me. The shooting at our church in Fort Worth, Texas, Wedgwood Baptist on 9/15/1999 and the tremendous spiritual healing which took place afterward prepared me for death one day. I accepted Christ as a 7 year old which prepared me for eternity. I guess it is just the in between times which cause me to wonder. I cannot even begin to imagine the grief and devastation I would experience if the terminal patient was my wife, my children, or my parents. I would not want to leave their side and spend every waking moment with them.
How to live life as a terminal person would? I would imagine one would seek to treasure each day, share your faith boldly, measure your words, reconciling as quick as you can, forgive and release others from past hurts against you, give grace in abundance, and make every moment count for God’s Kingdom. I would not waste my time with trivial matters. Easier said than done. Easy to preach the sermon but another thing when the doctor is speaking to you. I am at a loss.
Hope my ramblings make some sense. How have you faced the mortality question in your life??