The valley of the shadow of death

I have a friend who is dying. I've followed his fight with leukemia (which he was winning) and now what looks to be a fatal stomach fungal infection--a fricking fungus infection-- via Caringbridge.org for the last several weeks because he is too sick to have visitors. The immune system is compromised. No visitors. A form of blog keeps us updated.

His devoted wife, who is a Methodist minister, posts updates on the site about his condition. Email delivers an advisory to friends that there is a new update on his personal Caring Bridge web page. I sign in and read his wife's latest report. His condition is getting worse. The updates are getting more difficult to read. And write, we all know. I cannot imagine having to type the words.

I toggle to the guestbook section and leave a message of encouragement. My theme is the simpler the better. A few, hopefully well chosen, words. I read the other posts, searching for the one elegant, reverent transcendental post that miraculously turns the tide. From someone's keyboard to God's ear. But we cannot blame God.

The messages include remembrances, prayers and a lot of lifting up. Faith in every post. Suddenly a fear takes hold of me that my messages are not grounded enough in faith. Can that harm him?

I may have left my last message. Some things you just don't say on a public forum. There or here. And to say less than what you really want to express is... well, bogus. Even if the sentiment is tinged with anger, frustration and not enough faith, he deserves the words that convey what his friends really want to say. Rhetoric and all. I think the Methodist minister would understand, but I don't know about the others. So I write it here, in spite of myself.

"Rick, this is so unfair. You were beating this thing. Your brother was a great match for the bone marrow transplant, and everything. And then this. Fungus?! This turn of events is so not right! But you might beat this yet. If not, I know you, pal; you'll go out bareback and bucking. Another adventure, eh?

"I know you are proud of Pat's strength and her...her nobleness. There is great dignity in her posts. And faith. Her faith wafts through the words. Strong faith, but not overpowering like a bad perfume. I have never heard her preach, but I'd bet she preaches like a good perfume, wouldn't you say? The kind that makes you want to get closer and closer to the source of that goodness.

"Has Pat read you the thank you post Sara wrote to everyone? Be sure you know what she wrote. You'll be proud. The kid has a way with words. Did she learn it from her Mama? You can hear her faith through the words. She will be alright. The Methodist minister will be alright. In time. Changed, but alright. Everybody will be OK. Including you, pal. Including you. Stay strong in your faith.

"I'm so sorry. I really don't know what to say. Am I rambling? I see now why people say these "last visits" are for those who remain, not for the dying. Thank God one of us has some apparent grace. But see how this sounds to you, pal:

"I've always thought that whether there is a literal Heaven and hell or not, at death one of 'em comes up on your ass right at the the Last Minute. We will contend with Heaven or hell on earth, at a minimum. There is no shirking responsibility for our shortcomings. There is no vanity in accepting our due for a good life.

"Wasted life? Well then, hell tortures you with remorse and regret, anger and disappointment. Your last fear-filled mortal thoughts conjure up an unfulfilled life. Coma or cognisant, the distress of a lifetime comes. It washes over you like scalding water. There is enough remorse and regret for an eternity in that last worldly thinking, that last nano second.

"But you have lived a good and righteous life. And so like that good perfume we were talking about, Heaven's promise, at least for that nano second, fills your worldly senses one last time and you are infused with the sweet aroma of serenity. You are raised up by some overwhelming sense of happiness. The winner's prize for a righteous, well-spent life. So then, a peace falls softly upon your being, in time for the last flicker of worldly life, and that peace points the way forward to the White Light of death. Enough tranquility at that moment to last an eternity, even if that's all there is. We'll take that, at least, won't we pal! But you know there will be so much more, so much more. Strong in your faith. Grounded in God."

I imagine his time. It is untoward, I know. Yet, I see him in the hospital bed, his wife and family there with him, holding hands. Perhaps his wife softly recites Scripture. He would like that. They have said all those things that need saying. He has not eaten in weeks and weeks. But he is satiated by the love of God. Ready, by all accounts.

So, near the end of worldly life, I see my friend smile. No. Better! I see a big, Full o' Faith Ricky-from-high school-days innocent and trusting grin take over his face. He is infused. Peace falls softly. He knows he has been and always will be a lucky dog, saved by the grace of a loving God. Forever, Amen. Regrets are not at issue. He is bathed in the blood of the lamb and ready to roll. May I be so lucky one day, too.

And then, there he goes! Bareback yes, yet with no fear or need to buck the call of The Lord. He may not have beat this fungus thing. But he won the one that really counts. A good life. A glorious life. The Big Prize. On earth as it will be in Heaven, Amen.



  1. Wow...never read this one before..very powerful and one of the most interesting and compelling treatments of death I have EVER encountered. Well done...and sorry for your loss. I lost my Dad in July and have been contemplating the subject quite a bit since then.

  2. MLS,
    Thank you for the comment, compliment and thank you for your condolences. And please accept my condolences regarding your Father's passing. I lost my Father when seventeen(and my Mom when 11) and can appreciate your contemplation. Same here, regarding the introspection.