It was her birthday. My very good friend phoned me and caught me between flights while I was travelling. We were so excited because after many years, I was moving back to her area and we could get together more often. Regular dates for playing cards and going out to eat, together with our husbands, were already on the calendar. In fact, we were on our way back from house hunting only an hour away from where they lived.
“Are you sitting down?” she asked.
“I can find a place to sit down,” I said, wondering at the tone of her voice. “What’s up?”
“We are at the hospital.”
I sat down. “What happened?”
Nothing but quiet on her side. After a little bit she said, “We went to the emergency room. He has been having stomach trouble and it was so bad today that he didn’t think he could take it.”
As I listened, my stomach started to churn. If her husband felt so bad that he went to the emergency room it could not be good. He was not the type to let an ache or a pain stop him. I heard the fear in her voice and I knew she was trying not to cry.
“Cancer,” she choked out the word.
That word always puts someone’s life into a tailspin, and it was not any different for my friend and her husband. It was aggressive; the prognosis was not good. The timing was VERY bad…of course there is no good time for cancer…but it was her birthday!
By the time we moved into the area things had really gone downhill. We took possession of our house, showed the movers where to put our piles of things, and the very next day we made that hour drive. Already the cancer was taking its toll, but nothing could tank his good spirit.
We sat with them and listened to them. They told us how their kids and the rest of the family were taking it. We heard about the different scenarios the doctors had suggested. Treatments and medications with names you cannot pronounce—the whole process seemed like moving to a different universe, and it was. They shared how mutual friends were helping them and holding them. She said church was hard.
There was honesty—sadness, anxiety, frustration over the intimidating choices they had in front of them, and uncertainties about the days ahead. How much time…weeks? Months? Years? Not years.
There was planning, good decisions already made, determination. Above all, there was strength. Peace that came from acceptance of the situation. Not some cheap peace that does not require an experience of heartbreaking fear and dread. It was peace that comes from the will, from a choice made long ago.
“We made our decision to give our lives to Jesus a long time ago. If this is what it’s going to be, I don’t necessarily like it but, it’s what it is,” he said. “Jesus gave His life, so I don’t say ‘Why me? I say, Why not me? Either way, I’m saved, and I’ll be with Him.’”
A few short weeks later, this Jesus follower went to be with Jesus. My dear friend is learning how to manage the gaping hole in her life. If someone asks her how she is, she might respond, “How do you think I am? My husband just died and it’s awful, and I don’t like it.” She will have a wry smile; she will occasionally tear up. Church is very hard. Someone puts a Kleenex box near her normal spot in the sanctuary.
I pray that Jesus will fill up that gaping hole. She is taking it a day at a time. There is a reason she is here, and that they are separated for now. She has peace alongside the mourning, and she is honest. “It’s Jesus,” she says. “It’s still about Jesus.”
Isaiah said this when he wrote about Jesus:
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;… Isaiah 53:9-11
For some reason a “crushing” may come into our lives. But the anguish will end and we too will be satisfied. He will dry every tear and we will know why.