The heart is a deep well. As the years go by many things may happen that affect the heart in both positive and negative ways. Some of the negatives may be strained or broken relationships with our parents or siblings or spouses or friends. . It may be mistakes that we were never able to overcome. It may be hurts that we inflicted and never acknowledged or apologized for. Some of the positives may be all the people we touched and helped. It may have been all the loving people who guided us and taught us and made us what we are today. While not forgotten these experiences may have sunk to the bottom of the well. They are in our heart but we are not totally aware of them and their impact upon us. But when we come to the end of life and our thoughts turn to our death we may find that the things deep in our hearts start to come to the surface. We long to find forgiveness for the wrongs we have done and to give forgiveness to those who have wronged us. We want to thank those who have blessed us and we want to hear that we have been a blessing to others.
As Chaplain Steven Stern has ministered to the dying in his hospital work he has witnessed these themes in the well of the human heart. Using the seven words that Jesus spoke from the cross Chaplain Stern addresses the themes that lie deep in our hearts. This book may speak to your heart if you are one of those who is approaching death. It may also speak to the hearts of those who attend the dying and give you words to speak that may help you help the dying.
Surviving Stormy Seas
A time of stormy seas came for me when my sister Pam called to tell me the results of mom’s exploratory surgery. She told me mom had cancer of the ovaries. It had spread to the abdominal lining and into the abdominal cavity. I was barely able to finish the conversation with Pam. I hung up the phone and was overwhelmed by emotion. I was unable to hold back the tears and groans that came from within me. I fell apart and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I knew it might be months or years before the end came, but what overwhelmed me was the knowledge that mom was going to die.
I was going to lose my mother. I was disintegrating.
I did not like the experience of disintegration. I didn’t like crying. I didn’t like losing control. I didn’t like the pain. I didn’t like what all the indicators were telling me. It was like I was standing on the deck of a ship with a broken mast, the sails in shreds, and the holds full of water. I knew my life as I had come to cherish it was being changed in a most traumatic way. I didn’t want it to change, but I couldn’t stop it. I was caught up in forces that were larger than I. I was frightened, hurt, confused, and angry.
I was falling apart.
What happened to me at the time of my mother’s diagnosis has happened to many others as well. Countless times I have come into the rooms of cancer patients who have just been told that there is no further treatment possible. They are disintegrating. Men and women of great control and strength find they cannot hold back the tears and the anguish. Some of you may have experienced your own disintegration.
Let’s take a look at this process of disintegration and see how we can use it to survive the stormy seas. First of all, we do not like the process of disintegration because of the disturbing questions it raises for us. One of those questions is: “Why?” I have always taken care of my health. I have eaten the right foods and exercised. Why did this cancer take root in my body? It just doesn’t make any sense.
It is disturbing to realize that in a world of order and purpose there can also be randomness and chaos. There can be things that defy logic and explanation. My belief that, “If I am careful and do the right thing I’ll be all right,” can be swept away. It can happen as suddenly as a tidal wave washing away a nice little beach house that for years had seen nothing but sunshine and blue skies.
The question why can also cause us to question the meaning of strength. I asked God to cure me. I told God that I believed in His power. I was so sure that He and I could defeat this disease together. For a time things went well. There was remission. There were good days, even years. But now the disease is back. It is everywhere. There are no treatments for this recurrence. Does this mean God was not strong enough? Does this mean God was too busy, stopped caring, couldn’t do the job?
When our logic is challenged, and we see weakness instead of strength, it is no wonder that we disintegrate. As shattering and uncomfortable as this process may be, however, it can also be the path that leads to reintegration. A thousand piece jigsaw- puzzle is a lot of pieces. When you first dump out the pieces on a table, you are overwhelmed at the thought of putting all of them together. But you pick out the border pieces first and then bit-by-bit, one piece at a time you begin to put the puzzle together. This is the challenge that faces all of us when we encounter our own stormy seas and that is, can we pick up the pieces and piece by piece put things together in a way that allows to go on?