If there could be such a thing as a good day to die, this would be it. Particularly for someone so full of life, always a ray of sunshine…the counter statement of the heavens to open the tear ducts of the angels and pour forth their sorrow to see a sister in Christ lay down her life without angst or anger, but in peace amid the storm. It is befitting that the soul of Mother Nature would become gray and mourns the passing of one of her sweetest inhabitants. The world is full of people passing time, and people die every day, but this day is different because this person is different. Because we know our rewards will be different in heaven, it’s logical to assume that special lives deserve special note and will not pass without reverberations through the fabric of our lives.
How did it come to this? Where in the world would you go to prepare yourself for something like this? For all the marvels of modern medicine, and despite the compassion and caring concern of Hospice workers, going through this has been worse than being on death row. Without committing any crime, without deserving such an unjust end, the sentence of death is not even accompanied by a date certain for closure. Even death row inmates are at least given the courtesy of a last meal and a date when they will transition to the afterlife. The cruelty of the death sentence imposed by cancer can only be described as horrific. To endure such a fate without complaint is a testimony to my wife’s faith and trust in her Lord and Savior.
I do not understand the necessity for someone to go through what she is enduring. How does this shape her character? How does this bring her closer to Christ? What is it in this experience that glorifies God? All of a sudden the attraction of why people would contact Kevorkian to assist in transition becomes crystal clear. It is an unfathomable option until you yourself sit by the bedside of your spouse and watch day after day as her body eats in on itself. But then you see her going through all this without one complaint, without anger, absent any questions of “why me?” and you start to understand the depth of her trust in God. Not some untested hypothetical book knowledge, but deeply honed love, trust and faith which is carrying her through this trial. This is her cross and this is her test which qualifies her to hear those sweet words of welcome which don’t even need to be written.
There are definitions for some things which you just shouldn’t have to learn, like terminal agitation or terminal secretions…hideous words from which you only cringe more when you actually understand the definition.
The beauty of the human condition and our ability to experience the greatest depth of relationships in life is dependent upon our willingness to experience the wretched despair and indescribable grief of losing the love of your life. The experience of my wife being taken out of this life is equally opposite in dark magnitude as was the radiance of her love expressions during our sweetest times together. I chose to remember the sweetness.
Throughout this tapestry of chaos and pain in losing the love of my life, there is an amazing thread being woven in God's amazing plan, an incredible symmetry of balance and purpose where we are given glimpses of the nature of God. Beautiful and simple, majestic and complex; just a pure revelation for me tonight which was both perfect in timing and substance. What an amazing thing this conversation was that I just had. Before I share the details of this gift, you need to have just a little more background.
Angie (name changed)...what a project she was. She was on my daughter Kjersti's soccer team a few years back, a talented athlete. We had the opportunity to get to know her and her family through our association on the soccer field. What started out as rides to soccer games turned into a friendship that revealed a dark and tormented young soul. Someone hiding behind gothic rage to try and blend in with the youth of today. So tormented that her mother didn't know what to do with her. Her friends were afraid for her, and Kjersti worried for her. Small signs turned into huge warning flags...long sleeve sweatshirts in the dead heat of summer, when lifted would reveal the scars of self-cutting. Angie hated herself so much and hated her life so much that she would cut herself just so she would know whether she was alive or not. Her senses so deadened that she didn't know whether her emotional pain was real or not, so she had to inflict physical pain on herself to create some sense of reality. A latchkey kid from a divorced family, an older sister who was an over-achiever, vegetarian going to Berkeley and seemingly had her act together. Angie struggled with the simplest things, and yet wrestled in very obvious ways with some of the most profound issues of life; why am I here...what is my purpose, does my life matter, what does it matter whether I live or die, will anyone notice if I'm gone?
In the midst of this turmoil God placed our family with a plan in mind. Kjersti was a teammate and friend to Angie. Patti and I coached, mentored and encouraged Kjersti to pray for Angie, be a friend to Angie and help Angie realize there was a purpose for her life. More than anyone, Patti prayed for Angie, prayed for her situation, prayed for her mother, prayed for her father and prayed that Kjersti would be used by God to reach Angie. We reached out to Angie on many occasions, letting her know we were there for her in whatever way we could be. We invited her to our home, Kjersti invited her to attend church...Patti reached out to her Mom. Patti never judged, she just let Angie's Mom know she was available...and several times Angie's Mom would call Patti at wits end, crying and at a loss, not knowing what to do or how to deal with Angie. Patti was always there, always listened, always encouraged...and always prayed.
We lost touch with Angie for some time...until tonight. I get a phone call, and a shaky voice on the other end of the phone asks, "is Mrs. Lang there?" I wasn't quite sure, but I thought I recognized Angie's voice. I told her this was Mr. Lang and asked her what I could do for her. She proceeded to tell me that she was Angie, that she used to play soccer with Kjersti and she wasn't sure whether I remembered her or not. I assured her that I did remember her and knew exactly who she was. Angie said she was just wondering if she could talk with Mrs. Lang. I thought for a moment, and wasn't sure exactly what to do, so I just told her the truth. "Angie honey...I'm so sorry you hadn't heard the news, but my wife, Patti, Mrs. Lang...passed away six weeks ago. I'm so sorry to tell you this on the phone, I know that has to be such a shock, I'm sorry." Crying on the other end of the phone. "Mr. Lang, I'm so sorry, I had no idea." I say, "it's alright Angie, you had no way to know, I'm just sorry you had to hear from me this way." Angie says, "I'm so sorry for Kjersti, how is she doing?" I let her know, "Kjersti is doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances, it's really hard to lose your Mom. She has a strong faith and she knows where her Mom is."
Angie says, "I always knew that about your family. You were always so kind to me, and I'm going through a program right now that I wanted you to know about. I'm in a Christian school program that is really helping me, and I wanted to know if it would be okay if I came to visit you when I'm done with the program in about five months or so?" I told her we'd love to see her, and that we'd continue praying for her. "Mr. Lang, I'm a Christian now and as part of my program I was encouraged to contact people who influenced my life, and that is why I called to talk with Patti. I just love your family and want to thank you for being there for me. I just always knew you were strong Christians and I really want to stay in touch with you."
"Angie, I can't tell you how happy that makes me" I say as the tears are streaming down my face. "Really, it may not sound like it, but I'm really quite happy that you called and I know it would mean a lot to Patti to know you called because you thought of her. It is very special to me to know you thought about her, and I'll be sure to let Kjersti know." Angie says, "Mr. Lang, I do daily devs now...so I'll pray for you and Kjersti."
After making sure Angie promised to keep in touch and let us know when she'd finished her program, I hung up the phone and just wept. I wept because I miss my Patti, but more than that I wept because God knew I needed a boost, something to let me know there was more purpose in her life than I could possible imagine...something tangible for me to hang on to that let me know she had been used for His glory beyond what I could currently know. Just one life...just one young woman who was touched for the Kingdom. You never know who, where, when or why...but in this instance I thank God for giving me this glimpse, just one slice into the pie of heaven we are one day going to experience when all the Angie stories of our lives will fall into place. Patti touched many lives, most of all mine, but God knew I needed to hear this story tonight.