My husband is dying. As shocking as that seems, it’s a sentence I could have written every day for twenty-one months since he got an “aggressive cancer” diagnosis. I knew what the tests would show after that doctor’s appointment was changed to the last one of the day—allowing patients to cry or scream in privacy.
The doctor explained that tests showed 70% cancer. Already metastasized. No cure. Palliative care only.
As we began this journey, I was determined to at least learn something from it. I knew the five steps psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross used to describe the death and dying process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They usually happen in that order. But patients haven’t been trained to go through these steps calmly and sequentially like a champion dog at the Westminster Dog Show. Living with a terminal diagnosis is more like a day at an overcrowded dog park where not all the furry friends want to behave. At times the fur flies; symptoms and treatments fight each other and confusion reigns.
Many years ago, I was the caregiver for my mother as she died of ovarian cancer. She was a gentle, stoic woman, semi-apologetic to all who might be inconvenienced by her suffering. My husband is (like me) more Type A. At one point I believed he’d reached Step #5, acceptance. But then a new symptom or area of pain or hope for a treatment would come around the bend. He’d reverse course and board the denial or anger or depression express for a few more loops around the track. He’s not unique in that. Many take temporary detours, making an unpredictable journey more unpredictable.
Last week we came home from a 10-day hospital stay after the doctors had given up. The failing of vital organs meant that hospice care became the best option.
What does God ask us to do when there is nothing left we can do? He asks us to wait with Him. Someone coined a term for this: being in the waiting room. For us, the waiting room now contains a clock rather than a calendar.
What can we learn in the waiting room?
In the waiting room, we discover that in our weakness He gives us strength. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
In the waiting room, we find the “peace that transcends understanding” is possible because “the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:7, 9)
In the waiting room, we learn how temporary our bodies are. As we watch the body of our loved one morph, sometimes in terrible ways, we long for the new eternal body believers are promised. “If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
My husband’s tent is being taken down. One of his last lucid statements was, “I want to go.” He’s ready to receive Jesus’ eternal promises that he claimed as a nine-year-old. He’s ready and waiting to go home.
And those who wait around him are also ready.