There was so much going on … and she did not want to think negatively and admit to herself that she was dying. She stayed positive and held on to hope until the very last day or two.
When the day finally came that she realized that she was dying, people starting showing up at our house to say goodbye. I kicked into my administrative mode and tried to facilitate our community of family and friends having the opportunity to honor her life, and tell her ‘goodbye’, especially my children. For many of them, she had a loving smile, a hand squeeze, or a word of encouragement or comfort. After about 20 or 30 people filed through her room, thanking her and telling her what she meant to them, I found a quiet moment alone with her. But she was already worn out and beyond the point of having a conversation. I lay down beside her on the bed and tried to put my arm around her but she felt far away from me. I felt the pain of the growing distance between us. And then at some point, without looking at me, she said to me, “Don’t be in a hurry.” That was the last coherent sentence she ever spoke to me.
I wish we could have had a quiet lengthy conversation to talk it over, hold hands and say goodbye properly. I know she would have cried. Goodbyes were always hard for her. But the truth is, we said goodbye to one another many different times and ways over the seven years she battled cancer.
The last time was about two weeks before she died. She knew the cancer was in her liver and that she was declining. While lying in bed together, she rolled over into my arms and wept, saying “I don’t want to die.” It tore my heart out. There was nothing I could say or do but hold her.
The first time was in February of 2005. I had a dream in which she was taken from me by another man who had a prior claim on her, another previous covenant. In the dream she went into a private room with the other man and shut the door, leaving me outside. I was heartbroken. When I told her the dream the next morning (with tears), she quickly interpreted the dream: the man who claimed her was Jesus, the private room was his holy of holies – his presence. She told me I had to release her to Jesus. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do up to that point. Four month later she was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer.
Rejoice whenever you get to say “hello” to a new friend. Enjoy your friends and family while you have them but don’t hold on to them too tightly. Give them space and room to breathe. And be gracious and grateful when the time comes to say goodbye. In this life, we will eventually say ‘goodbye’ to every single relationship we have. It is a bittersweet truth that causes us to value our time, and value those around us. For those who have a transcendent view of reality, there is hope for something more, something enduring even though we may not have certainty about the exact form or details.
St. Paul said, “Threethings will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these islove…” (New Living Translation) I’ll bet my money that Love is more powerful and real than death. I choose to live in a universe that has meaning and purpose; a universe where love trumps death. And if that is true, then ‘goodbye’ may become ‘hasta pronto.’