Author's note: I wrote the following remembrance about one of my patients, who passed away on June 13th, 2008, at the age of 48. I had the horrible responsibility of diagnosing him with lung cancer last summer, only about a week after his first visit at the clinic.
I see lots of patients with cancer, but for some reason, Don was extra special. Soon after I started seeing him, Don had an experience with God that changed his life. Throughout the following months I witnessed firsthand the difference that God can make in a life.
Before his death, Don was featured in our Hope Clinic video. He wanted his story to inspire and encourage others who might be facing similar circumstances, and gave me permission to share this story to that end. Following is my remembrance of him.
-Jenny Dittes, June 13, 2008
Love -that’s what it came down to.
Love that reached down and took hold of a man who was lost, pulled him out of the darkness, and clutched him close to the heart of God – so close the Devil could not get him back, no matter how he fretted and begged.
I was swept into the love because the minute I saw this man, God whispered in my ear, “This one is mine. It’s time for him to come to me, after a lifetime of running away; it’s time, and I want you to claim him for me, and tell him about my great love for him.” So I prayed for him, and as I spoke, and he wept, I could sense the Spirit filling and claiming him.
In the months to come, as his body gradually filled with cancer, his mind and heart were re-made. He struggled with many things during those months, as he sought to restore relationships with family and friends that, through his own actions, had grown sour through the years. But one thing he never struggled with or doubted was God’s love for him. Like a child, he accepted it without question.
One day, when he was discouraged, I asked him if he was worried about his salvation, or frightened about what would happen after his death. Without hesitation, he said No, he wasn’t worried about that. What worried him most was becoming helpless – not able to walk or care for himself. He dreaded that terribly, and told me he’d rather that it all be over right away than to gradually lose his abilities.
And in the end, I think God honored that wish. Just days before his death, he was still able to walk – slowly, with a limp – and to talk, in halting sentences. And then, within hours, his brain function deteriorated and he went into a coma. Within twelve hours, it was over. I have actually never seen a cancer patient who went that quickly and mercifully at the very end.
One of the last things he said to me, just several days before he died, was: “I love everyone!” It came out haltingly, as though he was fighting to get the words out; but he said it several times, and the look in his eyes, and the tone of his voice, told me that this was a new thing for him. I think he himself was surprised by the love that filled him and overflowed to everyone around.
When I think of Don, I think first of his big smile – a smile that completely lit up his face. And the tears that come to my eyes are not only tears of grief that he is no longer here, but also tears of joy, for the miraculous way in which God redeemed him, claimed him, and changed his heart.
In the end, it all came down to love: God’s love which flowed steadily and freely, like clear water, washing away all the obstacles, dirt, and sin in its path; a love which said, “I don’t care what you've done in the past; now, you are my child, my grace is sufficient for you, and nothing can separate us again.”
A few days ago, Don let go of our hands and took the hand of Jesus, where that love became stronger and brighter than we can imagine.
Though we, his friends, are lonely without him, I know he would would not want us to be sad. Instead, I think he would want us to be swept up into the same love that swept him away.
Don is resting now in that love and peace that passes our understanding.
Praise be to God!