Staring Death in the Face

I’m still not sure why it happens. As far as I know, science has only defined it as the act of one’s body wearing out, unable to support what we know as life. A “cessation of vital functions,” says the dictionary. But it’s strange to think that sometimes it’s more of a process and sometimes it’s immediate.

Just before Christmas, my grandmother got some bad news. After going into the hospital for what doctors thought to be pneumonia, later tests showed a mass in one of her lungs. Of course, the prognosis wasn’t good. New Years Eve we learned it was stage four lung cancer.

I’ve been blessed to have both sets of grandparents in my life up until about three years ago when I stood by my Opa as he took his final breath. My grandparents practically raised me, as I was shuffled yearly from one side of the country to the other. My Opa and Oma kept me occupied in the summers when my dad worked. Oma is 89. Gramps and Gramma took care of me during the school year when mom worked. I spent much of my growing up years in their old upper Michigan home. Gramps is 81 and Gram is only 75.

Out of all people, my vibrant, go-getter, non-smoking Gramma gets lung cancer. It didn’t make any sense.

She is the quintessential caregiver. Our door was always open; the dinner table always set for an extra person. She turned no one away. She calls just because to talk about whatever I needed to. She is the glue that holds the family together. Gram would love you no matter what. She would probably tell you that she’s experienced so much grace that she would have no problem extending it to someone else.

So here we are, with a diagnosis and a plan. Chemo starts next week. The cancer is inoperable, meaning chemo is only a treatment to extend the inevitable.  I can’t say that I’m scared. Gram says that she isn’t. She knows Jesus and that always alleviates a certain burden one feels when talking with loved ones facing such circumstances. What it’s done more than anything, is given me a lot to think on.

My friend Amy told me once that the Chinese symbol for “crisis” occupies the literal meaning of dangerous opportunity. She also explained to me that life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it. I have, and I would say that she also has taken this dangerous opportunity to react with optimism.

This is quite out of character for me, which causes me to believe that it’s only the strength of the Lord. This is my mom’s mother. I want to be positive for my mom. I want to be positive for my Gramma because negativity gets us nowhere.

Jesus told the people facing the death of Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5:36, “do not fear; only believe.”

Jesus said it. I want to do it.

Do not fear. Only believe that God has a greater plan. In death or in life, He will make good on all of His promises.

This also reminded me of my dislike for eulogies. I wrote my Opa’s. Hear me out: it’s wonderful to tell a bunch of people how much someone meant to you, but I fear that we miss valuable opportunities to tell those people to their face while they can still hear it. I want my Gram to know she’s loved now. I want to also tell my friends how much I value them. I want to thank people more, to thank God more. To write relatives letters and not get annoyed by phone calls from aging family members.

In his song, Life Leftover, Carl Broemel writes:

 Let’s not wait around for death

To show us how well we have lived

This is a challenge I give to myself, and maybe it will challenge you as well. Don’t wait to remember; don’t wait to be joyful. More than anything, don’t wait for the eulogy to tell someone how much they meant to you today.


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