My friend’s husband died today. Cancer is an ugly word, but it’s an uglier way to die. Death is ugly. It really is the enemy. Separation, loss, fear, anger – all tied up in its inescapable grip that none of us gets to side-step. Christians need to talk about this more. We need to remind one another that everybody dies. We need to live with the knowledge that at any moment our lives could end – how will they end? We also need to live what life we have with purpose and energy knowing that we will be accountable for how we spent the minutes we were given.
She and I talked openly about what it’s like to be married to someone facing terminal situations – hers a more imminent one, but both death sentences, barring miracles.
Pain and fear never bring out the best in people. It’s hard to go through it. It’s hard to be married to someone going through it. Try as we do to carry the load for our spouses for a while at least, in the end, it’s their load to carry alone. But it costs us much. Our spouses are both good husbands, but sometimes they’re pretty difficult patients.
We joked about having death preparation as part of pre-marital counseling – but we only laughed a little. We wondered if we should write lists of things for other people to know. Neither of us knew how to do this really – it would be good to have a guide book. It’s been hard to walk through the maze of conflicting thoughts and feeling – all the details of preparations and decisions. We commiserated about being torn between the searing pain of expected loss and the need to prepare to carry on, you know… “after”. We confessed to sometimes creating distance out of self-protection, and then feeling indescribably ashamed for holding the person who needed us the most at an arm’s length. We cried, and hugged, and left each other the last time feeling that at least we weren’t alone – but still carrying heavy burdens.
Run to Jesus, was all we could think to do. We prayed.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor 15:55-58)
Your toil is not in vain in the Lord… that is comfort. The toil of waking up again to serve a tired, irritable, scared spouse who is in pain was not in vain. The toil of cleaning up vomit and so much more was not in vain. The toil of trying to get him to eat, or take medication, or get up, or lie down was not in vain. The toil of endless doctor’s appointments and tests and waiting rooms and uncomfortable car rides was not in vain. The toil of praying against all hope for a miracle even as you watched your beloved wither before you was not in vain. The toil of letting go, and watching the wretched process actually happen before your eyes was not in vain. The toil of sitting by the bedside – steadfast, immovable – as he slipped into eternity, gasping, gasping and finally not… WAS NOT IN VAIN.
It is love. It is the truest expression of caring. Though the wickedness of our own selfishness screamed silently for an escape, still you stayed, and served, and loved through the toil of every day. I know you did it because you loved him, but you were faithful because you love the Lord.
And none of it was in vain. Thank you sweet friend for showing Jesus’ love to so many around you. Your offerings of sacrificial love and service are like a cool drink in a barren desert. What you’ve offered is an outpouring of your real and living faith – and none of it is in vain.