Dorothy (not her actual name) was a stage 4 cancer patient that I’d come to know through a series of chaplain visits. She was one of the most forgiving/bitterness-free people I’ve ever known, having suffered quite a lot in life, often at the hands of others.
Early one Monday morning, Dorothy called me in tears, asking if I’d officiate at a funeral for her son Matt (not actual name), whom had unexpectedly died two days earlier, the cause of death being undetermined. I was heartbroken. You see, Dorothy had lost another son to suicide a few years earlier, at which point Matt dealt with the loss of his twin brother by descending into drug and alcohol abuse. However, a few months ago Matt entered a recovery program and Dorothy elected to move in with Matt in order to support him in his recovery. Just as hope began to blossom, Matt was suddenly gone.
Matt was well loved, as the staggering numbers at his memorial service suggested. Yet, there was a sense of hopelessness present as we began the service, the family being nominally religious at best. I had the privilege of eulogizing Matt and imagining out loud what Jesus might say to him during different seasons of Matt’s life and to all of us during this present season of loss and pain.
Shortly after the funeral, Heather, the social worker at the hospital (another hero among many at the cancer center) contacted me to say that Dorothy had been admitted to the hospital. I dropped by her room and she was, as always, pleasant and grateful. Having given a lot of thought to the visit, I said to Dorothy, ‘Were I you, having lost two children and battling stage 4 cancer, I’d likely give up.’ She smiled politely as if to say, ‘Yes, that thought has crossed my mind.’ I went on and said something like, ‘I am going to ask you not to surrender to ‘it’ but to ‘him.’ Don’t ‘give up’ as much as ‘give over.’ Surrender yourself to Jesus and ask him to take you wherever he wishes you to go, only requesting that he accompany you every step along the way.’
Dorothy quietly replied, ‘I now begin every day that way.’ About a week later, Dorothy entered hospice care and I visited with her, though she was half conscious. I asked the Jesus she’d surrendered to, to gently, tenderly, take her to himself into a place that was free of chemo, radiation, appointments, sickness, death, need, evil, injustice and even the tyranny of time itself. She passed, as St Paul would put it, from death to life, the next morning. Please remember this dear family in your prayers, that God would provide for them and draw them to himself amidst the heartache they’ve suffered in recent days. Thank you.