Some mornings when you open your inbox, you wish you hadn’t.
An update arrived last week from a couple who are lifelong friends of ours, telling that the wife’s Stage IV cancer is now clearly winning the war. These people are younger than we are!—with two lovely daughters, and five bright-eyed grandchildren still in their teens and preteens. Yet, at an appointment earlier this month, the oncologist gently announced that further treatment would be pointless, and so it was time for hospice care to begin.
The dear woman received this sobering news with grace and composure—that’s the kind of person she has always been. At the end of the afternoon, she proceeded to go from one clinic staff member to another, offering words of thanks. Her husband wrote, “Jesus has been her Stronghold. He has been her reason to grip things gently and to love people deeply … to do her best to design her life so that—painful though it will be to say goodbye—she can leave.”
Just imagining this tender scene reminded me of conversations with my own father more than 20 years ago as his Parkinson’s disease became overwhelming. His deep voice had softened to a slurred whisper, almost unintelligible. The muscles in his legs simply would no longer cooperate. Though six feet tall, his weight had now dropped below ninety pounds.
“The truth is, Dad,” I said on one occasion, “that you and I are both what they call ‘terminal.’ But you have more information than I do. It is becoming clear what is going to usher you into the next world, whereas I’m still in the dark about that for myself.” He nodded silently.
Another time I told him how St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) used to refer to his physical body as “Brother Ass”—in other words, the donkey that carried the real Francis around this world. The donkey would get tired from time to time, would occasionally stumble on the path, and was known to turn stubborn once in a while (that’s how donkeys are). Francis would have to give “Brother Ass” a lecture and tell him to get up and do as instructed.
“Dad,” I would say, “I guess we have to admit that your ‘donkey’ is wearing out these days. But the real you on the inside is the same as always. You are still God’s adopted son, and my amazing father. I will always admire what you have stood for and the way you’ve led this family. You have a great future before you. None of this physical travail changes any of that.”
A few months later, I kept vigil by his nursing-home bed for the last 20 hours, until he finally stopped breathing. Even as I retreated into the hallway to weep, I felt honored to have witnessed this epic moment. I was seeing what the apostle Peter wrote about: “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
Such a moment is now coming for my friend and her husband—and for us all. She is (to change the metaphor) heading for “the airport.” Soon she will board her flight for a wondrous new destination. We here on earth are struggling to wish her bon voyage.
But I know that my wife and I shall follow her, and my father, and thousands of others, on other upcoming “flights.” Our tickets have been in hand for a long time. They show no specific dates of departure yet, at least that we can see. But they’re ready for usage.
See you at curbside.