Everything else faded into oblivion when I heard the word “Cancer”. We both sat there speechless. My mother’s face turned pale with fear, and as for me, my thoughts were racing as I was trying to helplessly grasp what the doctor was trying to convey. Her words “cancer”, “mother”, “surgery “ was loud and clear, but the rest of it, were too jumbled for me to comprehend. What was just a few minutes visit to the doctor with something which for us seemed quite insignificant, turned out to be a fatal blow for our family. We walked hurriedly out of the room as though trying to escape quickly from the enormity of the situation we were in. My mind was swirling with anxious thoughts of fear but my common sense was telling me to put on a brave front before my mother. Common sense prevailed.
Looking back it was hardly three years ago my elder brother was diagnosed with colon cancer. Unfortunately the sickness was identified quite late; no surgery and no rounds of chemo could cure him. The disease took its toll and within a year, he quietly passed away. As we walked out of the doctor’s room, I determined in my heart that this was not going to happen again. I spoke with bold confidence, “Mom we lost Quentin, but this time we are not going to lose you”. I reassured her of what the doctor said in which the sickness was in its early stage and so this time we are going all out to fight and win this war. We are going to win.
We are going to win
Days rolled by as minutes ticked away at waiting rooms, scanning centers’ and consultation offices. Within a month’s time, the final verdict – surgery – a hysterectomy and mastectomy. We were informed that it would be just a fourteen day visit to the hospital and back home. No sooner the D day dawned; Mom was wheeled into the Operating Theatre, she seemed quite cheerful for a 69 year old who was never operated upon. We, as a family, waited hours together outside the theatre, recollecting of the past and how thankful we were that everything fell in place, so perfectly, so seamlessly; we were definitely going to win this. After several hours she was wheeled out with several tubes connected to her body and as we watched anxiously, she recognized us, we cheered her while she was taken back into her room.
We were glad that the worst was over, now we could put our troubled past behind and step forward into a bright healthy future. We never imagined, even for a minute, that the future was not going to be bright, but bleak. The 14 day visit turned into a 21 day nightmare. Breathlessness, nausea, more breathlessness, more nausea, until she was finally moved into the Intensive Care Unit. Within a few days, she turned critical, the last week was worse than the first, and before we knew it, her organs failed, one at time, until she was gone…
The 14 day visit turned into a 21 day nightmare.
What went wrong? After all we were told that she was in the early stage of cancer, everything was going on so perfectly well. What went wrong? As this question tossed in my mind about her death, I couldn’t help myself from thinking maybe “if I had never allowed her to be operated upon she would not have died”, “if I had never agreed to do two surgeries at one time, after all she was a 69 year old, she would never have died”, “if, ifs and more if, the if statements were endless and as I dug deeper, I realized that many people who have lost their loved ones have thought about these ‘if statements’, including sisters, Mary and Martha.
When Lazarus, a friend of Jesus became sick, his sisters, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, their Master. But even before Jesus could arrive at their home in Bethany, Lazarus dies. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she ran out to meet Him. “Lord, Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here my brother would not have died” (1) Later on her sister Mary says the same, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (2). For these sisters in grief, and for all of us hurting the loss of our loved ones, the ‘if’ statement is the same, our focus is the same, how could we have prevented their death.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”
While grappling with the’ if’ statements regarding death it is no surprise that we are faced with two facts. Firstly man has been created in the image of God, Genesis 1:27 reads “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them”. The uniqueness of the Christian faith is that humans are the only beings lovingly crafted by a loving God with unique qualities and having His imprint. Therefore it is logical that God’s qualities are in-born in us, they come naturally to us – our need for justice, our need for love and our need to save – even from death itself. In fact this is what Jesus said in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. The need to save.
To save from what? to save from death. “If we had not done the surgery she would not have died” and as Mary and Martha states, “if you had been here my brother would not have died”. God has placed in each human heart a desire for eternity, Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart”. All our intentions are based on our desire to prevent the death of our loved ones.
Jesus responds to these ‘if’ statements. He answered Mary, the same way as He answers us today. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (3) Jesus’ concern for Lazarus and our loved ones was not about a ‘temporary’ death, but on a life, an eternal life. What makes his response more meaningful to us is that He offers it freely. We don’t need to earn our way to heaven by our good deeds, it is a gift from God.
Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
This comes to the crucial question, has my mother received this eternal and priceless gift? Yes, she had. Today it may seem that we had lost, yes we did lose, we lost a battle to cancer, but then, we won the war. My mother was saved.
- John 11:21
- John 11:32
- John 11:25, 26
Originally published in Engage Magazine
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