A dear and caring friend and I coordinate a prison ministry out of our church. She texted me today and asked if we might visit one of the other volunteers in the hospital today after work instead of tomorrow. That did not sound good and since I had to drive right by the hospital on the way home I agreed.
I hate cancer. I have lost too many people from the disease. I have watched several people survive at great cost and am glad they kicked cancer in the butt and out the door. I know the odds are not always great and I know that this situation was serious. My heart was heavy as I walked towards the hospital entrance.
How does one really prepare to face someone with this greedy disease? I had not seen this volunteer in months and the yellow tone to his skin and the weight loss are always a difficult visual sign of how the person is suffering. Though he said he was not on pain killers, he could hardly keep his eyes open but they would spring open attentively when one of us said something to him. We did not stay too long because he seemed so tired and perhaps slightly confused as he repeated himself a number of times. We listened and tried to affirm him.
Cancer patients hang on sometimes because of unfinished business. We tried hard to let him know how much we–and more importantly, the incarcerated men–appreciated his visits over the years. His desire was to see them one more time, and we tried to skirt that issue with him and just let him know that his time had been appreciated.
Cancer is mean too because it lingers, trying to suck every little piece of dignity out of you before it lets you go. At one point, all I could think of was my uncle’s recent passing and a dear friend who looked so much like he had been starved to death prior to his passing. Images of the later’s journey flashed through my mind. I had to detangle my thinking and for a moment I struggled to be present. One never forgets memories that are seared in pain on the brain. It had been hard to watch my friend wither away so quickly. The protuding collar bone under velvet skin of the volunteer reminded me of my final days with my friend.
As we prayed with him prior to leaving, I reached out and touched that shoulder. Laying my hand gently upon it, words came but I knew not to pray for healing as I listened to his rattling breath in his chest. The whole visit it had not been there but just as I prayed it came. I felt the tears rise knowing that this soul has suffered much. Then when I was done, he reached out and blessed us and the ministry that he loves so much. Even death and illness cannot keep God from working for good. These prayers carry so much weight. I know that as he lays in bed he is storming heaven for men whose lives are cramped by bars of steel. His world has become even more confined than theirs and yet he is free. As I drove home though, I realized that even when cancer seems to win, it does not really. Moments of grace win, moments where a body failing rises above everything to think of someone else worse off and offer prayer for them. The beauty and mystery in that is more profound than I can explain. I have been there so many times with people who have cancer and the memory of the moment of grace always wins. Cancer may suck but it does not have the last word. Grace does.