The last thing you say to someone might be the last thing you say to him. These words came to me as a memory from the day my friend Jim had a seizure which left him unconscious. That day ended with a diagnosis of a very, very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer.
In the midst of being told that Jim may never regain consciousness, I wondered, “What was the last thing I said to him?”
Fortunately, I had spoken to him shortly before the seizure and my words were positive.
I know, though, that I don’t end every conversation, every interaction on a positive note. Sometimes I speak out of frustration or anger. Other times, I am distracted or tired or…That question, though, from the day Jim had a seizure has stayed with me and is a reminder to try to end every conversation on a positive note. That is particularly significant because I work at a cancer support center.
One of the women who came to the center for a couple of years had not been around for a while. Phone calls and messages went unanswered. We knew she had stopped treatment and began to wonder if she was still alive.
Sometimes families don’t notify us for weeks or even months, so we often live in a kind of limbo. But, we learned of this woman’s death within a few days after she had died.
Remembering this particular woman, I wondered what had been my last words to her. I hope they were something that let her know that I was glad to see her and that I cared about her. I hope she felt accepted, consoled and even uplifted.
She had been very realistic about the path she had chosen. She knew that without treatment, the cancer would end her life. But, I don’t think she knew that the last time she came to our center would be the last time. I did not know that the last words I said to her were the last words I would ever say to her.
Some days, I am overwhelmed by the sadness of my work. People learning they have cancer, enduring treatment, anxious for results from scans, some of them dying—it can be so sad.
Other days, though, I am overjoyed by the good news of my work. People learning that the cancer is in remission or that they are cancer-free, optimistic that life holds promise, hopeful for a future they once feared would never come.
Balancing these emotions, this ups and downs of cancer and its many ripple effects, can be difficult for me. God invites me to hold both the joys and sorrows.
I am reminded of St. Paul’s words: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)
Strengthen me, Lord.