I looked around the gathering area in the back of the church, and spotted Donna looking back at me. It was a look I will never forget.
There was desperation in her eyes, and she was close to the kind of tears and breakdown in front of her family in Christ that I knew she would regret a bit later; knowing her as well as I do.
I labored past other congregation members and finally made my way to her side, brushing past pews and welcoming hands alike in my anxious effort to get to her before the tears really started falling.
I assumed that something in this morning’s sermon had affected her. From time to time, we all have related in a very personal way to special words or passages or the beauty of the music, and often the effect was one that brought on intense emotion as we sat in worship.
Donna had been attending our church for a number of years while her husband stayed home; a nice enough guy that simply saw no reason to visit a church or to pray to a God he did not believe in.
So Donna was alone at this moment, and I could see the water starting to slide down her face. I got to her side, and we looked deep in each other’s eyes.
I have NEVER seen that look before or since. It was a look of sheer terror; or fear and angst that knew no limits. It reminded me of an almost animal instinctual type of look, primal in its essence.
"JD, I’m dying.”
Donna had been struggling with breast and ovarian cancer for a number of months, but seemed to have turned the corner for the better until the last few weeks. She came to church for comfort and reassurance, and because she needed to believe in something after she passed from this life.
“Donna, has it gotten worse? What have the doctors said to you?” I was scared beyond belief at what she might say.
“JD, they told me Friday that I have a number of week’s tops…no more! I’m so damned scared!!!”And with that, the flood gates opened up, and all she had bottled up inside of her spilled onto the carpet in raging torrents and sobs.
Honest to God; what do you do in a case like this?
As a family of Christ, we all are there together to lift one another up; to help carry life’s impossible burdens onward. And we do that together,…as much as any people can; we are there to serve meals and give money and drive or build or feed; whatever it takes.
But sometimes the burden is impossibly huge! Sometimes it strips any sense of dignity or decorum out of the situation, and all that is left is intense breathing and sobbing and crying with control a distant concept, as all that we are escapes from our carefully constructed defense mechanisms and pools around our feet and bodies.
I held Donna in that sanctuary for 15 minutes, as one-by-one fellow members tiptoed by and patted her shoulder with tenderness and concern.
"JD, I’m going to die”
I’m going to die really really soon!”
“Not maybe…it is going to happen in weeks…no “maybe” at all.”
“I’m sorry Donna. I am SO sorry.”
And we both bawled our eyes out.
I got Donna to her car, followed her home, and walked in for a bit to talk to her and her husband. After a little, I left and went home to a relatively so-so life; but a life…..while Donna faced death with her husband and whatever hope and peace she could muster.
I called a few times; visited her twice more as she was unable to get to church; and then one night, the call came.
“JD; Donna’s gone. She’s gone to heaven now, and knows peace and no pain,” her husband mumbled.
I drove to the hospital, but it was full to overflowing with well wishers and Donna’s own family in Christ; and all I could do was watch and pray from a distance.
I believe in lifting others up.
I believe it is the best reason we as humans exist on this planet; to be there for one another.
I don’t think anybody has to believe in God as I know Him…or ANY God.. to feel this way and to do this for others.
But I have to tell you this too.
There are some burdens in life that we as humans carry that simply defy belief; that are beyond the ability of any NUMBER of people to help carry.
I tried as best I could for Donna, but in the end, she had no choice but to carry almost all of that burden herself; left to wilt on the vine as family and friends continued to blossom around her in the fullness of life.
She carried that bag of rocks for weeks, weakening her soul and spirit; and in the end, she had no choice but to give it up and accept the only option that was left to her.
I have often thought of how courageous one has to be to live like that; but what scares me more is this:
If courage fails me when my time comes,….then what?