An early life-lesson for me was that every curse has a blessing, and the sooner I accept the curse, the sooner I will know the blessing.
My friend Jim lived nine months after he was diagnosed with a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer. The first two months were devoted to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, which extended his life, but we knew that he would not live long. Once Jim understood his situation, he had two requests. “I don’t want to live or die in the hospital, and I want to live until I die.”
He then devoted the next seven months to reviewing major life events and relationships to see if anything was unresolved. He spent a great deal of time in prayer and reflection and enjoyed listening to music.
His cancer did not affect his appetite, and we enjoyed many wonderful meals. We spent as much time as possible at the ocean, and we regularly visited his mother a couple hours away. The last few weeks of his life, he was waiting patiently for God to take him home and when the moment came, he was awake, lucid and peaceful.
While Jim was processing his life, I also reviewed mine, and after Jim died I sought to make amends. (If someone feels we have a rift in our relationship, please let me know because I am clueless.)
When Jim was diagnosed (a definite “curse”) it took me only a day or two to start seeing the blessings, and then I was grateful every day. That does not mean the whole ordeal was not terribly difficult and tragic. It was. But mixed in were extraordinary gifts and blessings.
When else would we be able to spend so much time at the ocean? When else would people shop and cook for us? When else would Jim have unlimited time for prayer and reflection?
I was working, so my reflection time was a bit more limited, but I was incredibly blessed by my staff and others connected with my work, by their generosity and compassion.
The blessings flowed in every day, and we took the time to note them and thank God for them.
Jim and I lived every day as if it was his last. We lived in the moment. We practiced letting go of whatever got in the way of our gratitude. We looked for goodness, and we enjoyed our time together. We laughed often.
I have tried to live that way since Jim died, focusing on what really matters and trying to let go of things that don’t.
Today I started to think about what I would do if I knew I had seven months to live.
Over the course of my life, I have shared my faith journey mainly through one-on-one conversations or with very small groups. And fairly often when I share how God has touched my life, the response is, “You should write a book.”
I have been blessed, for sure, but I lacked the courage to share publicly the many ways God has blessed me.
When I was fifteen, I remember thinking that someday I would write a book, and the first line would be, “From the time I was eight years old, I knew God had touched me in a special way.”
I did not know exactly what that meant, but I knew it to be true.
However, I lacked the courage to talk about how God had intervened in my life. I felt unworthy. I am well aware of my sinfulness and feared people would call me a hypocrite.
Jim’s cancer gave me the courage to speak about God’s intervention in my life; one more blessing to come from a curse.
So, if I had seven months to live, I would want to spend it courageously speaking of God’s love and mercy—and perhaps write the story of all the ways God has touched me.
Madeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.
Madeline it takes a courageous woman to face death of a friend with defiance as you did. You gave Jim an amazing gift of care, love and life. I see your bravery and your fist clenched saying, “Oh, death where is your sting.” Bless you. I am sorry for your loss.
Thank you Becky, for your encouragement. Jim’s death was so peaceful and beautiful, that it did give me new insight into that scripture.