Living -- and Dying -- Well
- Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Editor’s Note: Our culture doesn’t offer much guidance on how to die well. Sometimes even our churches don't know how to handle this topic. In her book, Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories of Hope & Peace at the End of Life’s Journey, former hospice nurse Trudy Harris shares her encounters with the many brave yet ordinary people that she’s cared for over the past 32 years. Harris collected these stories from those nearing the end of life's journey to offer comfort to those who have experienced loss as well as to share profound insights on the spiritual realm that only those getting ready to pass into heaven can offer. Having observed God's tender care for those He calls home firsthand, she notes, “Those who have allowed themselves the luxury of being present with patients as they are dying come away realizing in a whole new way that there is only one Divine Physician, and it is He alone who sets the timetables of our lives.” Mary Anne’s story is reprinted here.
Mary Anne, a wealthy investment broker, married with no children, came to my door one day. She lived in a world of social activity, wealth, and country clubs, a world that was very different from mine. “I understand your father died recently,” she stated as she pushed past me and seated herself in my family room early one morning. “I didn’t know what to bring you,” she said, handing me a brass door knocker wrapped in tissue paper. “So I got you this.” Nothing sat well with me that day in regard to Mary Anne. I didn’t understand the gift at all and did not want to, and only later did I realize the symbolism involved with the “knock at the door.”
I have to confess: I didn’t like Mary Anne very much. She was a strong, outspoken businesswoman, and I was sure we had nothing in common. Why was she here?
“I’d like to hear about your dad’s death,” she said. “How it was, what he said, how he died. I want to know all about it.”
Her prodding questions made me both uncomfortable and angry. In spite of my feelings, I somehow knew deep inside myself that this was the beginning of something that I did not yet understand, something I was to experience and from which I was to learn. What the lesson was to be, I had no idea. It seemed that God’s plan for Mary Anne and for the things to come was just unfolding. Needless to say, over a period of time and out of my control, we became very good friends. God taught each of us what He wanted us to know through the other.
She came to visit often, always asking questions about life and its meaning and purpose. She asked about God and about Jesus. “Where is it written? How do you know, how do you find Him?” Mary Anne had an unquenchable thirst and could barely get the questions out fast enough. She needed to learn about many things, and she seemed to be in a hurry.
During a visit one day she told me that she had inoperable cancer, which had been diagnosed just days before my dad died. She wanted to be close to someone who had experienced death firsthand, and she wanted to know everything she could about what happened and why. It was the businesswoman in her that made Mary Anne want to have a plan and to understand as much as she possibly could. It was God’s invisible hand putting her together with those who would walk this way with her, experience her struggle, learn from her, and be there for her when she found Him. It was awesome and humbling to be part of it.
Mary Anne’s diagnosis was deadly. Her cancer, first discovered in the breast, had spread rapidly to both lungs and the lining of her chest wall. Her prognosis was three to four months. She lived for two and a half years. What exciting, searching, joyful, and difficult years they were! It was more than evident to me from the start that God loved Mary Anne dearly and wanted her to know Him well. Thus began her long and wonderful journey. Visiting her was like being in a church sanctuary. You wanted to take your shoes off because you felt as though you were on holy ground. The presence of grace was always evident as Mary Anne journeyed toward God, experiencing Him in many, many ways.
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