I don't want to die. Gail doesn't want to die. I don't want Gail to die. Not now.
Fact: I am going to die. Gail is going to die. Some day.
I don't think about this a lot. But, that changed on July 23 when we ended up in the emergency room, and through a series of tests (CAT scan, MRI, etc.) we were told Gail has a brain tumor. After the numbing jolt to our very being- body, mind, soul, spirit- that thought consumed us for the weekend: dying.
As I wrote in my last post, things have changed since our July 23 ER visit (being told this mass is very likely a malignant tumor and inoperable due to its location) to our subsequent visits to a new neurosurgeon.
In the two visits, and with some further tests (ophthamologist and endocrine tests), he has consulted 3 other neurosurgeons and his neuroradiology team. They all believe this: that this "mass" in Gail's skull is not malignant, that it has likely been there for quite some time, and that the best course is to monitor this closely. The next step: a follow-up MRI in October to see if there has been any change (he tends to think there will not be a change). If there is no change, then there will be MRI's at 6-month intervals for a year.
Of course, if there are any symptoms that would indicate some possible changes, we would meet with Gail's neurosurgeon. During these past four weeks, with the exception of Gail's last day on staff with Young Life (a very painful/stressful day), she has had no symptoms. We have been grateful, and continue to pray for this to continue down this same path.
Thinking about death...
That first weekend was horrible, the weekend after the ER visit. Everything is going through your mind- the fear, terrible grief, unimaginable life without Gail, the loss of a very part of me. Each moment, each hour was pregnant with meaning.
We all know that we cannot determine when death will reach our door. I might help the odds, and even fool myself into believing that I can somehow determine the length of my life; but, I am not in control of this. I eat my share of fruit, vegetables, grains, healthy cereal and grab those 23 almonds daily for a snack. I drink enough water. A glass of red wine for my heart (and taste). I exercise regularly. And so does Gail. And we can't control the day we will die.
I know this. I know that I have lived, at age 54, longer than many in our global village. I know that far, far too many in our human family suffer and die daily due to inequities and injustice. I know I could live to be 95 or I could die tomorrow. But, I'm not ready to die nor am I ready to think about my closest friend, lover, intimate companion, and partner on this journey in life and ministry dying.
I have also pondered this, frequently, over the past 5 weeks: heaven. More specifically, a "new heaven and a new earth." Or, as N.T. Wright calls it, "life after life after death."
What has troubled me about the "heaven" thing in some religious circles is that it is the only thing that matters: you're born, sometime you believe that Jesus died for you, and then you go to heaven when you die. Period. That's it. All there is to it. And, I don't believe it- that is, this is all there is to it.
I believe, from my standpoint as a follower of Jesus and a faith in a God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that this life matters. Life now. Life that is robust with meaning ("eternal life"). Joy and beauty and wholeness. And, living in such a way that loves and cares about the marginalized and the "least of these." Living life to the fullest and seeking justice where it is absent. Seeking even to love one's enemies. This new realm, this new reign, this new "Kingdom" that has broken into our world...NOW.
I believe that. I want to live my life aligned with that truth.
And...I believe in life after my life has ended in its current state. That there will truly be a new heaven and new earth (whatever that will look like) that will not be this huge dichotomy between the physical and spiritual being.
I have thought much more about this in the past 5 weeks. It's not an either/or: this life or life after death. This is where history is headed, where God will redeem and restore and bring all things to completion. That gives me great hope even as I walk through life on this earth. Another one of those both/and deals.
While I'm not ready for that today, I know that much more awaits me, and Gail. It will be the fullness, completeness and perfection of the Kingdom of God that we are already beginning to experience now.