by Dick Innes
I remember well the night I experienced chest pains. I was afraid to go to sleep for fear I might not wake the next morning. I was not only worried about myself but also my family. I had two children and wondered how they would manage without me. I realized, too, how badly I wanted to complete some unfinished goals. I was scared.
Finally, I fell off to sleep exhausted. The next morning I woke up feeling fine, much to my relief. The doctor's verdict? A dose of indigestion.
Not so fortunate was a close friend, Graham, who took ill suddenly and was rushed to hospital. Tests revealed cancer of the liver. The doctors did all they could, but it was too late. Graham had always been very active and achievement oriented, so the news was devastating. In the ensuing weeks I watched him struggle with and work through an entire gamut of emotions such as the following: Initially there was the shock of his plight. Understandably, it came as a terrible shock to Graham and his family when they realized the seriousness of his condition. After the initial shock, came fear, fear of leaving his wife and his four children behind. How would they manage? Who would take care of them? Plus, there was the fear of facing the unknown, of walking a road not traveled before.
Then there was a stage of intense grief and sadness over leaving loved ones and the terrible loss of his own life. At times his grief was profound. It helped to cry.
Mingled throughout were a few friends who tried to bring hope for healing. Graham pored over the books they gave him and read about other people's stories, all promising a sure cure. But as the reality of his situation hit home, he experienced deep disappointment and depression and had to work through these feelings as well.
At times there were feelings of anger and resentment, anger at God and life because his life was being snatched away in his prime.
At one point I asked Graham, "What is it like to be only forty-four and in your situation?" After contemplating silently for a time, he finally answered, "I feel cheated. I had so much more I wanted to do with my life and now it won't get done. I feel angry, frustrated, scared." There were also feelings of remorse. He talked about how busy he had always been and how he hadn't spent enough time with his family. Finally he said, "As I look at my life I can't help but wonder, What have I done that has really been worthwhile?" Various stages of emotions and introspection were normal. They came and went, each overlapping the other.
Through it all people came and went too. Some talked endlessly without saying anything meaningful as a cover of their own insecurity in the face of death. Graham found this very distressing. Later he said to me, "My time is short. I want people to talk meaningfully to me, about our feelings and about life. Nothing else matters now."
Others came too. They didn't offer advice. They mostly listened and accepted his feelings. They hugged him. Some wept and prayed with him. They helped lighten his load. They were sensitive to his needs and supported him as he worked his way through an uncharted maze of conflicting emotions. They were exactly what he needed and what others in a similar situation need most of all.
True, Graham did all he could to hang on to life, but when he realized he was fighting a losing battle and worked through his conflicting emotions, he came to accept his situation with a deep sense of peace. What helped him do this more than anything else was his irrepressible faith. In fact, hospital staff remarked how well he was handling his situation and said that without a strong faith many in the same condition tend to go to pieces.
Graham felt certain of life beyond death. He believed implicitly in what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, said: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."1 With outstretched arms raised heavenward, Graham described how he longed to meet God, the heavenly Father. He was ready to die. I had to return home so the last time I saw Graham we both knew that we wouldn't see each other again in this life. There would be no more fishing trips. . .no more family get togethers. . .no more laughing and joking together. . .and no more companionship.
When we said goodbye I felt overwhelmed with grief and wept unashamedly. Graham, as ill as he was, ended up hugging and comforting me. And when he said, "Goodbye, my friend. I know where I'm going. I'll see you on the other side," there was a genuine note of confidence and assurance in his voice. Then came the sad news. The day after Graham passed away, Jenny, his wife, called to tell me. She told me how before he died, as sick as he was, he continued to say right till the end that he was not only ready but longing to go and how much he was looking forward to meeting God, his heavenly Father. The day before he died, he went into a coma. The following morning Jenny knew he was close to the end, so she called the doctor.
As the doctor leaned over Graham's almost lifeless body to check his pulse, Graham suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, and, pushing the doctor aside, turned his face heavenward, as if being greeted by someone human eyes couldn't see, reached up with outstretched arms to whom or whatever was there, slumped backwards and was gone! According to Jenny a sense of peace like a divine presence filled the entire house. It felt as if an angel had come in person to take Graham home. Perhaps one had. One thing is certain, Graham had made his peace with God, was ready to die, and was excited about meeting God something we'll all do when our time is up, although not everybody will be ready or excited about that occasion.
But you could be by believing that God's Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross to save you from your sins, by confessing your sinfulness to him and asking for his forgiveness, and by inviting Jesus into your heart and life as personal Lord and Savior. When you do this, God will freely forgive you and give you the gift and assurance of eternal life. Why not pray and do this now, either out loud or in your heart?
1. John 11:25-26, (NIV).
2. See Hebrews 9:27 and Amos 4:12 in the Bible.