erminal illness offers a chance to say goodbye

dodds    " I remember what you said,” our daughter said the other day. Uh-oh. Of all the things we’ve said over so many years, what did she remember? About what topic?
    “You said it’s like a kid in the middle of summer when back-to-school ads start,” she continued. “He can feel so bad about school coming that he doesn’t enjoy the rest of summer.”
    Ah. That.
    In 2010, Monica was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of uterine cancer and had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. This past February, we found out it has metastasized to her lungs and she has, at most, a year to live.
    She immediately entered hospice.
    Yes, we knew the odds were against her with the first diagnosis, but we didn’t think the worst would happen. But it has.
    We know we aren’t the first couple, the first family, to face this, or to deal with it daily as the days slip by much too quickly. We know that “a year at most” can mean much less than 12 months. We know that 38 years of a truly happy and blessed marriage aren’t enough, but they’re more than many are given. In a happy marriage, there are never enough years.
    It would be a lie to say we’re never afraid, never angry, never grumpy, never overwhelmed. (Christ’s perfect faith didn’t take away his agony in the garden of Gethsemane.) Most simply, we’ve fallen into a pattern of laugh, cry, pray, repeat.
Newfound compassion
    We have newfound compassion for families who lose a loved one suddenly, for those who aren’t given weeks or months to prepare, for those whose illnesses and needs drag on and on. We think especially of families with a loved one who has dementia, who is still there but, in many ways, not there, for those who are facing a physically painful death.
    It seems that in Monica’s case there may be no pain, just greater and greater fatigue.
    We have no doubt that the prayers of so many people, many we’ve never met, are making a tremendous difference in this final time. So, too, are the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick. In God’s mysterious ways, we owe a debt of gratitude to Catholic News Service and the Catholic press.
    Twenty years ago, CNS editor David Gibson asked us to write a monthly column titled “Your Aging Parent.” That led to two books and the founding of the Friends of St. John the Caregiver. For two decades, God was preparing the two of us to be a caregiver and a care-receiver.
    That work will continue, as will the CNS family column and the editing of My Daily Visitor magazine. We’ve been so fortunate to work together on those three projects, those ministries, for so many years, to raise three children, now in their 30s, and enjoy the delightful company of two grandchildren.
    We thank you so much for your concern and your prayers. Be assured that we’re praying for you. We promise to continue those prayers in this world and in the world to come.
    We’ve reconnected with a number of longtime friends over the past few months, and it has been interesting to see how relationships can pick right up where they left off – no awkwardness, no uncertainty, just a true joy in being with the other.
    A few people, during a particular time of our lives, were best friends. Most were good friends. All had shared a part of our lives and we had shared a part of theirs during four years of high school or living together in a house just off campus in college, in the trenches of a job early in a career or on the sidelines watching little ones try to play soccer.
    When we visited with some of them, we felt like kids or teens again. With others, we were once more the parents of preschoolers. And now (how could this be?), we’re grandparents.
Memories and laughter
    There has been reminiscing and a lot of laughter. There has been talk about what the two of us are facing and there have been some tears.
    Always there has been an appreciation of what was: those times, those years shared during a particular chapter in our lives. There’s the recognition of what still is: an interest in the other, a concern for the other, a love for the other.
    The two of us have discovered that one of the blessings of Monica’s condition has been the time to reunite with those friends, if only for a short visit, phone call or exchange of emails. We’ve thought about those who die suddenly, who don’t have that chance to reconnect.
    This is the time, while there is time, to make that call, send that note or email. Friendship, which has its foundation in love, doesn’t end with death.
    The quote, “Friendships begun in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off,” has been attributed to St. Francis de Sales. It’s a lovely thought, a comforting thought and it is the truth.
    Bill and Monica Dodds can be contacted at BillandMonica@BillDodds.com. Their website is www.BillDodds.com.

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