How does a man say goodbye to his little girls, knowing that he will never see them again? And how does he do so without letting them know that this is the last time they will see their daddy? Does he look them straight in the eyes and affirm his undying love for them, or do words fail him so that he can do little more than hug and kiss them for the last time and then send them on their way? Does he still hold out hope that he will see them again? Or does he know in his heart of hearts that this is the end? Maybe he is so worn down from his long fight with cancer that he can barely feel or express emotion anymore. Maybe he just wants to be gone.
Yesterday I heard from the wife of my friend Mike that he has been accepted into the Palliative ward of a local hospital. It was almost exactly one year ago that he was diagnosed with leukemia and since that time all treatments have failed. At this point all they can do is attempt to relieve his suffering as he succumbs to the disease. His body will probably not hold out for another week. Soon he will leave his wife and his little girls on their own.
Those little girls are five and three - the same as my children. Mike has been married as long as I’ve been married and is around the same age. A couple of years older, I guess. But he isn’t all that much different than me. I guess that’s why his approaching death is so real; so vivid.
I wonder if the girls knew. Sometimes we do not give children enough credit. Maybe their intuition told them that something was happening. Probably not. Hopefully not. I hope all they know is that daddy is going back to the hospital and that they are going to spend a week with grandma. How are they supposed to guess, after the hundreds of times daddy has gone to the hospital, that this is his last time? How can they know that they have given daddy their final kiss? Will they even remember him when they are all grown up? Or will daddy be only a face in photographs who brings a lump to the throat, even after so many years?
As far as I know, Mike does not know the Lord. We had plenty of opportunities to talk about spiritual matters when we worked for the same company and I don’t think Mike ever understood the value of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If anything I’d say Mike was more a follower of Dr. Phil than of Jesus. There is not much I wouldn’t give at this point to be able to go and and ask him exactly what he believes. The imminence of death would surely give me the boldness I lacked even a couple of months ago when I last sat with him.
So now I sit here at the time when it is too late, wondering why I did not do more. Sure I told the family that I was praying for them and asked if I could pray with them. And sure I tried to get Mike to think about preparing for eternity. But I did so in such a pathetic way. Such a half-hearted way. I burn with shame as I write these words thinking of all I didn’t do and didn’t say. I feel burdened with guilt that Mike is days or maybe even hours away from standing before God, and that I did not make one clear, strong presentation of the gospel. I failed him. And I failed God.
Do you know what may be even worse? The likelihood that I’ll get over it. Two days from now I probably won’t even think of Mike. I’ll get busy with my life and the guilt will ease away. In a week or two I guess I’ll attend his funeral and feel this guilt again, but a few days after that I’ll conveniently put Mike out of my mind and go back to life. But you know what? I don’t want to get over it!
Truly I don’t.
This burden I feel right now - why can’t I feel this same burden for the lost all the time? Why is it a burden birthed from guilt rather than from a desire to see the lost be saved? I’ve asked God to tell me why. The only answer I find is the hardness of my own heart.
Still, with hope in my heart I pray for Mike, that maybe, just maybe, there will be someone in that hospital who can reach out to him with the message I failed to bring. Maybe God will bring to Mike’s mind some fragment of Scripture he heard as a child, or some words I shared with him years ago. Maybe. Hopefully.
With hopeful sadness I pray for Mike’s family, that somehow God would use this awful situation to draw them to Himself. That somehow God would make His presence felt and provide meaning through the pain.
And then with tears I pray for myself, that God would not allow this burden to disappear, but that he would use my shortcomings to teach me how I can do better next time, not simply to avoid this crushing, burning guilt, but to use the opportunities He provides.
Because I just don’t want to get over it. Oh God, please don’t let me get over it!
Note: - This is probably the most personal bit of writing I’ve ever shared on this site. Truth be told, I’m more than a little embarrassed to post this. I apologize if it is just far too personal for public consumption. I really wrote it as a personal reflection, but decided to share it not so I can receive absolution from others, but since I am sure there are others who have struggled with similar feelings of guilt. Perhaps we can learn from each other.