Scriptures: Psalms 71:9; Matthew 27:46; Psalms 71:18
Friday morning we were at our friend's house waiting for Atlanta traffic to calm down so we could come home from the time of my sister's funeral Thursday. I was looking over my notes on Luke I planned to share today when Judy said, "I know you probably won't do it, but I think it would be powerful to share some of what you shared at the funeral." We discussed it. The more I thought about it, the more I felt maybe it would be good.
Imagine your child standing in a hospital ICU room with his/her sister. The doctors basically told them their sister will die shortly. Did you prepare your child for such a moment? Can you prepare your child to watch their sister or brother die? Nothing in life prepares you for that. I wasn't prepared. Mentally, we prepare for our parents to pass, but a sibling? I never prepared my children, yet one day either of them could walk into that room. Perhaps the only way for them to prepare is to be with you when you do it.
Last Sunday was that day for me. Knowingly, I walked into the room where my little sister would leave her body and literally meet God. We all have that room. She's two plus years younger than me. It was with her, I spent every day of my younger life. She's the person I grew up with. She's the person who said mom and dad to the same people I called mom and dad. She's the person I waited for the bus with and got off the bus with to come home. She's the person I've gone through life with. She's my little sister. She's now 61 years old.
Since about 1993, for nearly two decades, Carol valiantly battled the life ending stuff called cancer. She fought through the surgeries, radiation, chemo, nausea, worry, near death experiences, you name it. For the past year, Carol went to the doctor's office or the hospital every day. Every day she was violated someplace with a needle either taking her blood, or injecting chemicals attempting to kill the cancer but, at the same time, not kill her. Every day injected with antibiotics to control the infection from the ports. Every day my little sister valiantly fought for life. She never complained. We would talk on the phone. She'd simply say, "I'm still here. This is what I have to do." Then she'd say, "Brother (she called me brother), pray for me." She meant right then. She liked how I prayed for her.
Growing up, Carol was the perfect child. She never got into trouble. I can't remember one time she was disciplined about anything. It wasn't that way with me. If Carol ever came close to getting in trouble, it was because of me.
She's always been an excellent person never causing problems and always loving people. She was an excellent child, excellent sister, excellent friend, excellent employee, excellent wife, excellent mother, excellent grandmother, excellent relative, excellent church member, etc.
If so excellent, then why did she have to battle cancer for two decades? Why did she have to die at the young age of 61? Why was she taken from everything she loved and from everything that loved her? Why? Though we know its how it works, we never understand. There are millions of people who should go before someone like Carol goes. Why? At these times, we feel God has forsaken us. I'm reminded of King David in the scriptures.
Psalms 71:9 Do not CAST ME AWAY when I am old; do not FORSAKE ME when my strength is gone.
Isn't that how we feel - forsaken, cast away, when God doesn't heal, when an excellent person who loved and served God dies? We experience such doubt about God when a person we love dies. It seems God used them while they were young and strong, but threw them away forsaking them when old, sick, and weak.
The scriptures even say of Jesus Christ dying on the cross,
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?
Even Jesus didn't understand. I've always pondered these questions, but even more these past few days.
Carol didn't want to die. I know that sounds trite. But it was different with her. She valiantly fought to live. There were several times it seemed death would win, but Carol would come back. One day she told Ernest (her husband), "I have to live with cancer, but it's not going to become my life." Carol refused to allow anything to rob her of her precious gift of life she had come to treasure and thank God for every day. She taught me how to fight for life.
I want to share a few stories with you as discretely as possible. She came to the hospital fighting and in a severe condition. The Emergency Room went into alert mode, but Carol was not through fighting. She was sent to ICU where she improved, and moved to a room, but in the room she had to fight again. Carol coded. She died, but she wasn't ready to give up yet. She came back to fight some more. Last Sunday, about 3:30 a.m., the hospital called the family in. Naturally, we were all in high gear and high stress wanting to get there before the end. We were all around her bed crying and waiting. But, Carol wasn't ready to give up yet. She bounced back somewhat. We all waited. Around 11 a.m. they called us in again, but again Carol wasn't ready to give up. Like a warrior who would not stay down, again, she bounced back somewhat. All day we were in and out of her ICU room observing the monitors, except Ernest. He would only leave when they made him leave. Around 4 p.m. it became obvious the end was truly near. She fought so valiantly, but her body was just done. The family gathered around her watching the monitor. We were told what to expect. As a pastor for many years and being around death, I knew. Around 4:45 the nurse checked her pulse and could not find one. He said, "At this time I cannot find a pulse. I will send for a physician to pronounce her." Of course, we were all weeping. Ernest was bending over holding and hugging her. Chad, her son, asked me to pray. We joined hands and thanked God for Carol. A few minutes later the doctor came in to pronounce her, but as he checked, though he couldn't hear anything definite with his stethoscope, he ordered a vascular doppler. Though Carol's heart was not beating strong enough to give a pulse or definite rhythm for the stethoscope to pick up, there was still a spark. Carol was continuing to send electrical impulses - SPARKS - to try and live. No one on the floor had ever seen anything like it. Only the monitor could pick it up. It was not until an hour and half later, Carol finally stopped fighting.
So, why is it someone who is not only an excellent person, but someone who wants to live so desperately, is taken when there are millions of evil vile people who, in our eyes, should be taken? I'm not capable of giving you an answer that will satisfy you, but here's how I've come to deal with it. Why? It's so we will learn to "Live like Carol."
We all have our "cancers." We all have something that one day will take us out of this life. We all have battles to face so why Carol or any excellent life loving person? King David later said in Psalm 71
Psalms 71:18 Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to THE NEXT GENERATION, your might to all who are to come.
David said don't let me die until I can teach the next generation how to live. Excellent people will one day face this. Carol was an excellent person who loved life so she treated life with excellence. Why? So that she could teach us and teach her children how to fight for life. Carol showed me "I have to live with cancer, but it's not going to become my life."
I learned even more how precious it is to love and fight for life from my little sister than from anyone. I learned to fight for life until there is no spark left to fight. Why Carol? Maybe a part is to help us all love, appreciate, fight for, and understand life better. Carol wouldn't die until she taught others how to live.
I learned a lot from Carol. But, I learned a lot from her husband, my brother-in-law, Ernest. This is the part Judy really wanted me to share. They were married 42 years and at the same moment he became Carols' husband, he became my brother-in-law. I've always appreciated Ernest and told him so. I told him how much I appreciated how he loved and took care of my sister, but I cannot tell you what watching him at the hospital as my sister left this life revolutionized mine. I thought no man could love a woman like our dad loved our mom until I observed how Earnest loved my sister. He wouldn't leave her room the entire time until they made him leave. When they waited "attempting to pronounce" Carol, he was holding her and whispering in her ear. When death comes, or tries to come in Carol's case, the body usually convulses as the spirit leaves. It's not pretty to watch. We were all in the room as Carol did this. Earnest, never more than a step from Carol, would immediately grab and hold Carol covering her until she stopped convulsing. He would again whisper in her ear calming words of love. Carol, being Carol, did this several times refusing to stop fighting. Ernest did this every time. It was one of the most beautiful things I've every witnessed. It was the purest truth of the vow when he said, "I Ernest Smith, take thee Carol Ann Young, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, till God, by death, separates us."
I wanted to share those two thoughts with you. (1) Treat life with excellence for life is a most excellent gift of God. Be excellent in every way. Realize the preciousness of the gift of life God's given you. Fight for it no matter how many holes they stick in you. Fight until there is no spark left to fight with. (2) Love your spouse. Prepare yourself. Do all you can for them.
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