We woke up this morning to find voicemail messages on both our phones from my oldest friend, Helen. She was waiting at death’s door last night, about to pass through and she wanted to say goodbye to all her friends. I have never seen anyone die so well and I honour her. I wrote her tribute in January – see Sister Death. I’m so glad we were able to visit her in Bristol twice since then and she definitely made the most of these last 5 months – full of faith and hope. She stayed cheerful and always interested in others despite dealing with pain and becoming more and more disabled as the cancer went to her brain and liver. This godly woman surely made a lasting impression on everyone around her – her loving spirit shone through until the end and she has left a legacy of love.
The next thing we had to do was write a condolence card to Martin’s old boss in London and his wife. They are both extremely successful retired professional people, world famous in their fields, and more than many others have gone out of their way to express support and be kind to us over the last year. Last week their 47 year old daughter was killed in a road traffic accident – the most devastating shock imaginable. Even after walking through our own situation of staring death in the face and waiting to see who will blink first, I cannot imagine the pain this dear couple are feeling. What can we say to them? We seek to stand alongside, somehow share in their grief – and tell them we love them: that is all we can do.
Also today, our daughter’s best friend will be burying her mother, another Christian woman who has battled with cancer for a long time. Becca will come home this week because of course she wants to ‘be there’ for her friend, share in the mourning, bring help and comfort: it is the expression of love. In the end all we have left are faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13v13)
Meanwhile, Monday morning, with death impacting us from every side, again we are choosing life. Today Martin got up at 6.30am, dressed in his suit (“what are these things on my legs?”) and went back to work – an incongruous sight with his dark tan, collar and tie. The 2 months off are at an end and it is time to resume responsibility and re-engage. That is quite challenging, even frightening, after such a long time away… But he feels much better and at this end of the break so many things have changed in Sam’s life that we definitely have a renewed sense of focus and direction. I’m sure the Prof will be welcomed by colleagues and patients alike: may it be a day of joy and love as he carries life and light into the cancer ward and research labs.
He’s not the only one ‘going back’: already the schools traffic is building up again beyond my window – half term is over. For me too there is a clearly delineated change of season: I’ll be alone again, running the household, choosing my own routine, finding my way through June and into the summer months. This week a lot of that will be about finding Sam and Jess somewhere to live so they can have their own space and we can have ours – and that really will be a change! It seems this is the next thing I have to do, the next mountain to climb… I am not really looking forward much further than that yet – we just don’t know what will happen next. The truth is none of us do.
I am not in control and life is not about me. I learned that from Richard Rohr: the 5 things a man must accept in order to grow up from idyllic childhood. It’s really ‘inspiring’ stuff – not for the faint-hearted! – stop reading now if you don’t want to have to cope with any more harsh reality!
1 Life is hard
2 You are not in control
3 You are not important
4 Life is not about you
5 You will die
Face it like a man! A real man who is not driven by ego, rights, greed or self-importance! It requires humility and submission, maturity and empathy to recognise we are all in the same sinking boat. Yet there is also a certain freedom in this confession, a coming clean – because this is how it really is for everyone. How then to believe in a God of Love confronted with the stark truth of suffering? All I can say is I am a witness to what He can do with such raw materials, the transformation, the victory that is possible in the midst of it all. So I am choosing to believe that despite death and tragedy there is a Bigger Plan of redemption and rescue and alongside the sadness there is a future hope in the God who stepped into our broken, sinful world to save us and give life in the midst of death.
So… 6.6.11 – a day of endings and new beginnings – again. Seeds falling into the ground and dying and the opportunities of a new season. Time to see the bigger picture – yet again – and acknowledge the flow of death and life all around us – to participate in it and play our part.
‘And the greatest of these is love’.