Hearing your doctor deliver the news that your spouse has a terminal illness is something we hope will never happen and we don’t plan for. But far too many of us do have this experience. First there is the shock that numbs you for a season but eventually a fear of what the future holds takes over. You wrestle with all the “why” questions, but eventually, as you and your spouse process the news, you slowly begin to come to grips with your new reality and the realization that your future is not going to unfold the way you dreamed.
My experience began at the end of a two-week stay in the hospital for pneumonia, which had become septic. My husband was told that he had pulmonary fibrosis, and much of his lungs had been destroyed. That began a three-year journey of frequent hospital stays, increasing oxygen, and decreasing strength. During that three-year period, we learned valuable lessons as we sought God’s face, asking what he would want to teach us from each incident. Permit me to share the grace we received and what we learned.
We learned about letting go and how important it is to live with what my husband called “arms wide open.” By that he meant we don’t hold on to our plans and dreams, but we open our arms and willingly offer them to God so that he can fill our lives with new plans and new ways to experience his grace. The future may not be what we had hoped for, but we can choose to appreciate and enjoy what time we do have together.
Another way we experienced grace was to let go of our pride and humbly submit to letting others help us. Taking care of an ailing spouse is draining emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It should not be done alone. Opening your life to welcome a support group is key to staying healthy and hopeful. Besides when we let go of our pride and let others help, we give them the gift of being able to experience God using them to bless us.
We learned about the importance of remembering God’s faithfulness in the past. God knows how important remembering his acts of mercy and grace is when we are going through tough times. That is one of the reasons he instituted Passover and the Lord’s Supper. Every morning I would sit by my husband’s bed and read Lamentations 3:21-26:
"But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. '
The Lord is my portion', says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Together, we would begin our day remembering how faithful God had been in our lives and how much he blessed us. The promise of Lamentations is true; God’s mercies are new every morning and his faithfulness is great, even in trials. This practice helped us to stay firmly rooted in God’s grace as we found joy in the remembering.
We learned the importance of staying focused on God’s gifts of grace in the present instead of all the negative test results we would hear from the doctors. We made a choice to live Philippians 4:8 and focus on what my husband called the “whatevers.” Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, think about these things. This practice inevitably led us into prayers of praise and thanksgiving for no matter how bad the news was or how tough the day had been there was always, always, always something to praise and thank God for. This didn’t make it easier for my husband to breathe, but it did fill our hearts with hope and the sure knowledge that he was with us and would go before us.
We learned that, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we could grow in faith and trust, knowing God had our future. One of the biggest blessings we have as followers of Jesus Christ is the assurance that death is not the end but rather the beginning of a glorious life with him for eternity. As I and my children and grandchildren witnessed the depth of my husband’s faith and trust, our ability to trust God grew and our faith was strengthened. Because my husband chose to trust God completely, he died with great courage. When I came into his hospital room that last day, he had a big smile on his face and he said, “I’m going home today. My body systems are shutting down and my eyesight is going.” For several hours he labored to breathe. At some point the doctors determined the oxygen wasn’t really helping so they took it away. Then at 1 pm on September 16, he opened his eyes and said in a clear, excited voice, “He’s really here!!” And he died. He trusted God to take him to eternity and God did. Not for one moment was he outside of God’s grace or presence. That assurance brought all of us great peace.
As I write this article, I am reminded how difficult the journey was, but what stands out to me more than that is the faithfulness of God’s providential love and his overcoming power to enable us to endure the darkest of times. His grace was way more than merely sufficient. It was lavish and more than I could ask or imagine. He even gave us joy, hope, and peace in the midst of it all.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster