When is the right time to say good bye? I am not even sure I like the sound of that word. If said in care, good bye implies absence of someone dear. Our spirits are far greater than our human bodies, so in that sense, we are joined, those of us that choice Jesus as our Savior and God Almighty our Father always. Hence, perhaps we never really need to say good bye?
As I rode to church this morning, I found myself suddenly reminiscing about Friday. That was a long two days ago. I had read the update on caring bridge about my friend late Thursday and learned, due to some complications he had been moved into hospice. The note sounded hopeful, that he would be out in a few days but my heart sank as the odds seem to continually be stacking against this wonderful man who came into my life over a year ago. I told myself visitors would probably be frowned on. To cement my desire to not go see him, I told myself I am so bad at directions I would probably get lost even finding the place.
On I went about my day Thursday, trying as hard as I could to put it out my mind, my friend’s deteriorating battle with Stage 4 cancer. It was no good, it kept reappearing in my thoughts as I went about my day and my work at the cancer society. Besides, was it not for men like Mike we were waging this battle against cancer? I let myself, through the day, remember the sound of his laughter, how his face lit up when he said something funny, knowing a robust chuckle was sure to follow! Mike is blessed with humor, at every step of his journey. As I left work that day, I mentioned to our receptionist which hospice he was in, and she told me it was within blocks of our offices. I still managed to come up with some reason or other not to go…
The next morning, another update appeared on my email. This time, Michelle, his wife, was asking for visitors. She wanted people that cared to come and see them both there. Where some folks would shy away from others when facing difficult times, Michelle has this uncanny ability to embrace them. And I knew, as I read that update, I needed to rethink my reluctance to go visit. I went to a meeting that opened and closed in prayer that morning, as if God was signaling me to go…..see my friend in need.
With wariness inside me, I drove the path that took me the hospice. Partly due to nerves and partly due to my horrible sense of direction, I circled the hospice three times before entering the parking lot. I went in the front door and was greeted by a receptionist of sorts. I signed the guest book and was told the direction to walk to his room.
Thus, began a long walk. The sound of the heels on my boots sounded deafening as they clicked on the hallway. Why could Mike not have gotten a closer room, one to the front so I would not have to walk so long. All around me were hushed voices, and many closed doors. I pictured in my mind folks on the other side, each with a story to tell, lying there awaiting God’s outstretched hand to take them to the heaven. I felt strange, out of place and uncomfortable. I, who has always said I fear not death felt afraid to be here. I kept walking but found my pace get slower and slower as I turned the corner and began down another corridor. Then, there it was, his room number. And the door was open…another sign I was meant to be there and go in. I think I half hoped it would be closed and I could only assume he was sleeping and it would be best to not disturb him or his wife.
I walked in and was immediately greeted by Michelle’s outstretched arms, comforting me. How can that be, when I am not the one living this nightmare but the cancer survivor? The softness of her smile and her voice showed such joy I had come to be there, if only for a moment. I looked past Michelle to Mike and saw a shadow of the man I once use to eagerly look for in the treatment room. He would sit there, laptop opened up, grinning ear to ear and I can still hear his booming hello as if I was the last one to arrive at a party! Now, what I saw before me was someone in the deep throes of cancer, someone in intense pain and discomfort, Mike hanging on by a thread.
Words escaped me at first. What to say? I had so much emotion flooding my insides that I thought my heart pounding must be audible to them both in this small room. Mike lay curled up on the bed and I said a quick prayer asking if now was the time.
God smiled, I felt it inside. Speak from the heart is what I felt God say, and so I did. I told this dear man lying curled up like a baby with a face as white as the sheets carelessly loose around him, how much he meant to me. I told him he will always live inside of me for I am forever changed for the privilege of having had him come into my life. I told him that his strength amazes me continually and I pray that I can one day have that kind of strength he has to fight this battle. I told him how lucky I thought his children were to have such a wonderful daddy to love and to have a daddy that so loved them. I poured my heart out to both him and Michelle so afraid, if I left without saying it, maybe another opportunity would not present itself. I saw a few tears escape from Michelle’s eyes and I saw the twinkle in Mike’s eyes, even in his current state that told me, at some level, my words had registered. I loved them both and wanted them to know my heart is heavy with the painful cross they have to bear. But I am certain God is there, with them every step of the way. And will eventually lead them home.
As Michelle and I embraced and I retreated out of the room, I walked with a more sure step than how I had progressed initially down that hallway. I thanked God for giving me the push to come here and to open my heart to them and say what weighed heavy on my mind. I think God knew this walk had to be done by me and my words needed to be said.
As I walked into church this morning, I saw the Vicar, standing on crutches from a broken ankle but the same smile on his face he wore on days when he was on solid on both feet. For a second, the face of Mike popped into my mind and I was struck by how both men seem to be able to laugh and truly enjoy life even when adversity hits them. I went over to him, and asked him this question “When is the right time to say your final words to someone you know is dying?” I thought certainly a godly man would know the precise answer. He didn’t know, he contemplated on it and said he could not relate to the situation I described. He reflected on a situation he had been in where he did get that kind of opportunity but it was quite different than a man, only 30ish with two small children at home that was laying in a hospice curled up in pain and wanting to live yet facing death. I wondered if he met Mike if he would be able to give me a more precise answer. I wonder if Mike’s life affected him? I wanted so badly for others to know this man and be touched by his story. I think, in asking the question, I was really merely trying to tell the story of Mike.
I walked into church, sat down and looked at the beautiful front of the church. I felt the warmth of the Christian community surrounding me. I saw the smile on the faces of all present knowing they were as happy as I to be in God's home. I listened closely as I knew, if I did that, I could sense God’s presence. I knew, in that instant, God was keeping a vigil over Mike Lanius. As I was here in this holy place paying my respects to God, God was watching over Mike 24/7 until the time is right to put him back in the palm of His hand, our Father, and pull Mike up to heaven.