“Well it’s good news. Your PSA level remains low, which means your prostate cancer is all under control!” I said to the elderly gentleman in front of me. He was nearing ninety years old, but still amazingly mentally sharp. He smiled at me, but blankly. There was just the moment of awkward pause, and then I’m not sure why I asked, in a much less jubilant tone, “How is everything else?”
“Well,” he hesitated for a little. “To tell you the truth, my wife passed away a month ago.”
My heart sank with his. “I’m so sorry to hear that…” And I was. I’m sure it is excruciatingly hard. To lose what has essentially become a part of you. To be living alone again, to go through life with a pair less of eyes. What does it all mean, and how does everything matter now?
“We would have been married for sixty two years end of this year.”
“…You must miss her a lot.”
“Oh,” he gasped, “I miss her every moment,” and his voice trembled at the end.
On the way out I felt like giving this elderly gentleman a hug. I won’t know fully what he was going through, but sometimes I catch a glimpse, or two, I really do think. Some people and too many pop songs say you don’t know what you have until you lose it — but I disagree.
But sixty two years. I haven’t even lived half that long.
I lived in New Zealand for about ten years (not that anyone’s interested), so I enjoyed talking to Kate and getting to know her for the short period of time our paths crossed. She was a Maori from New Zealand, living in Melbourne by herself.
Her terminal stage lymphoma wasn’t responding well to treatment though, and she was growing weaker by the day. Her whanau was keen to fly her back to the country to spend her last remaining days. Everything happened so quick, and that morning I made the executive decision to stop her treatment and let her fly home the following day. Not a single day to waste.
The radiation therapists came to get me when her protective elder sister was about to take her home that morning. She was in a wheelchair, so I knelt down beside her and held her hand. I knew I wouldn’t see her again.
“All the very best, Kate,” I said with a pause, “I have really enjoyed knowing you and looking after you.”
It is a year ago now, but I remember the tired smile she gave me. “You too, Joseph, and all the best for your future.”
I almost teared up. Oh I wish you had a future too.
After they left, one of the radiotherapy nurses sighed, “We’ve had a wave of sad events happening to young people recently haven’t we…, just before the Easter season too, when family get together…”
She is right, but thinking about it, Easter is not really about family though. Easter celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus — for our forgiveness, and for a new start, if we believe in him. And through his resurrection, we have a living hope that one day God will also make everything anew, when there will be no more suffering, no more tears and no more regrets.
Would you think about it? It didn’t strike me very hard before, but even as I start to relate a little more to the suffering of the people around me, I know only the tiniest amount of the suffering in this world — yet this hope has become so much more heartfelt to me, and I find my insides yearning for it in this broken world.