Bob and Jo-Jo


(Spectrumbot) #1

They had been married for 47 years, raised two boys and two girls, and seven grandchildren. High school sweethearts, married at age 20, and now, all those years of love, family and life had come down to this: she was in a Critical Care Unit with cancer. Nearly unconscious except for the slow, painful moans that forced their escape from her parted lips, she sought relief from her body’s agony. Cancer, like an evil spirit, was speedily consuming her from the inside out. Her name was Josephine. Only days before, though sick, they believed she had more time. Then her feeble health suddenly collapsed. Death was near.

Bob, her husband, called her Jo-Jo. And now he was bending over her contorted form, gently rubbing her head and calling her Sweetie and Darling repeatedly, like some incantation of hope. Too weak to speak, she would open her eyes and stare at him. Her lips would move, but there was no sound.

I was a volunteer chaplain, and I had been summoned by the hospital to see what I could do. These were always unpleasant, messy, hurtful moments where we earthlings seek ‘professionals’ to help us make sense of them. Disturbed, my own soul pleaded for leave from this heartbreaking moment of stricken humanity. Regardless of our life’s journey, this is our destiny; this is where life takes us. Our finitude is certain.

I noticed her fingernails still bore the evidence of a careful manicure, pink in color, filed ends, signs of a caring, thriving self, shadows of a time when life was full and vibrant. Her eyes colored a light bluish grey and her hair short, mangled, bed-worn. Bob wore oversized glasses and a poorly fitted hairpiece; his clothes draped his frail frame as if dangling from a hanger. Though retired for many years, he still elected to work for a large power company, as a consultant, for sheer enjoyment.

He whispered to me, "She is afraid to die." (My heart heard him say,"I’m afraid, she’s leaving me"). His eyes, behind the oversized glasses, began to fill with tears, and in a mournful, faltering tone, he pined, "She never complained about anything. She was the most unselfish person I have ever known. She always thought of the kids and me, never herself. I feel so selfish compared to her."

His hand nervously, adoringly stroked her head. Every so often she unleashed mournful cries of cancer pain; it was more than he could take. He rushed into the hallway, just around the corner, out of ear-shot, crumbled against the wall and wept. I found him and placed my arm around him. Words refused me.

Life is this. We don’t sail into the sunset on happy endings. Most of us will find ourselves, in one way or the other, in shattering, heart-rending scenarios like Bob and Josephine. This is the part of existence we spend our entire lives trying to repress and avoid. We’re only here for a short duration, and the end is as real as the beginning. We don’t want to hear it.

Poignant moments of looming death often transform the notion of everlasting life into hoped-for reality. There must be more. Life and love can’t end like this. Bob and Josephine’s love begs the question, why an ending at all? Doesn’t true love last forever? The poets and songwriters have lied to us. We come to the marital altar to have the officiating person promise that we’ll love each other ‘til death do us part,’ but we never really hear or consider that death does do us part. Something deep within us reaches for eternity, love like Bob and Jo-Jo’s, so tested and endearing, can’t simply be over. Isn’t that what we all want to believe? In our hearts we believe our love will never die, but sadly, in this life, death looks us in the face, we quiver in terror, as it rips both life and love from our grasp, daring us to do something about it.

My mind fought to resist this thought. Reality crushed me deeply. If there is no eternity, then life ends in a cruel joke. All the efforts to grow and mature; to overcome and refine; to become and achieve are, in the end, for nothing. Solomon had a point when he cried all was vanity. Our culture is mad with its attempts to hide from and bury this hard fact of life’s disturbing destiny. Everything we do, it seemed, was an effort to deceive ourselves, to ignore, deny, what I was witnessing in that hospital room. We just can’t accept something so dark, so depressing, and so fatalistic. But without exception, we will.

In that awful moment, I keenly felt God’s necessity. Only He could assuage this conundrum, only He could give meaning where my being found none. Only He could promise another try at life, another beginning. I had been taught that with God our ending means new beginning. If there was no God, what could I do or say to console Jo-Jo’s terror of imminent death, and Bob, with his unthinkable loss?

I decided to pray, to point them to hope. My mind wondered if I was only continuing the practice of denial and repression of death’s ugly confrontation. I prayed anyway. I touched her shoulder, said something about resting in God. I looked at Bob, his teetering form struggling to hold up under such heavy pain; I assured him this was not the end of the story, and I hugged him. I had stayed as long as I could; they needed time alone; I quietly said ‘good-bye’ and left.

Josephine died in the morning.

Greg Prout is father of three, grandfather of two, and has been happily married for 31 years to Mary Ventresca.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6606

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

Death in Christ is not an enemy… The process of dying can be. Cancer and assorted organ failures are of the devil’s making. Keeping ones affairs in order extends beyond annuities. The real preparation for death is the assurance we share in the Gospel of Grace. Partnerships broken are heart rending. We see and feel it Daily. But we close ranks In a common bond of our humanity. Tom Z


(Taka Da Mickey) #3

Heartbreaking…

To see the suffering in many elderly is tough. I hate to think what it is like to be going through the physical, mental and emotional agony.

I am closely associated with some who have lived lives of deep faith and trust, are assured of their salvation - and pray each night not to wake up in the morning because the ravages of ageing are too much.


(Steve Mga) #4

I watched a movie some time ago. There was a 20s character. He related that when in high school a group got to tour a hospital for the day. An event he got to participate in was watching heart surgery up close. His character stated, Such a small, fragile muscle keeps the whole world going. It was awesome to him.

Any type of accident, injury, illness that changes our bodies from that which the Creator created in Eden has a huge impact on us at any age. Especially when the results progress into a Chronic state and prevent us from living life to its fullest. Some creep up on us, some are very sudden.
I have 2 chronic conditions that could be life threatening if I stop taking my medications that control them.
Back in August I had a life changing event. For a year I was volunteering at this day homeless shelter, enjoying my “young acting” 72 yr old body. An activity I enjoy is doing laundry for clients. 14 loads for 14 different persons in 3 hours – wash, dry, fold. No problem!
One day I was marvelously “whole”. The next day after my shift my left knee felt “tired” and my left lower leg felt somewhat “heavy”. I thought it was just tired as I hadnt taken any sit down break. Two days later I was doing well to walk from the chair to the bathroom. It was a week before I could get into my vehicle to go see the doctor at VA. I was told x-rays showed arthritis. But this arthritis that I did not know I had affected my hamstrings and calf muscle into tightness, smaller knee muscles became stiff if I sat too long, and I had to use OTC anti-inflammatory med to maintain my life style, somewhat. No long distance walking, no running at stop lights. Careful climbing stairs. A couple months later at a VA trip for my yearly exam, I was told my Right Knee was really worse than my left, but my right one has no symptoms yet. I had been doing gym stuff. One day tried the bicycle. In 5 minutes my knee relaxed, almost pain free, and stayed that way or almost 48 hours. So 3 days a week keeps me back on the pavement and working. I can still walk to “work” on nice days - about 6 miles round trip - if I’m careful.
I dont have Alzheimers or had a stroke, so my mind enjoys creative reading, meeting new people in both Macon community and on-line,
We do have to prepare ourself at any age, and particularly as we get older, that in the END [Fine as they say in the movies] ALL we have is GOD. And that is going to have to be OK. And ALL our family and friends have with us is God. And that is going to be OK. And it is GOD who is going to have to wipe our tears away here on Earth as we say good-bye, and speak to the realization of the Empty place in our galaxy of living, breathing human beings.
But as Greg reminds us, helping each to hold the hands of God at this time as God sheds tears with us at HIS LOSS, is the best Gift that we can share.


(Michael Wortman) #5

Greg- Thanks for this story. The gift of your presence and loving attention at the time of someone’s sadness or distress is a lovely gift to both give or receive. I’ll have to disagree with you what about some of your conclusions , however. I think Solomon must have been having a very frustrating day when he wrote “all is vanity.” For me living is a privilege made even more valuable knowing that it will eventually end. To live in the
now without hope of an eventual reward can be sweet, too.


(Steve Mga) #6

Michael:
Perhaps Solomon meant that doing wonderful things [whether art, music, writing, developing one’s land in fruitful and artistic way, etc] without pleasuring God with one’s life is meaningless, a lifetime of futility, life is fleeting as it just slips through one’s fingers and vanishes like mist’
;
Perhaps what he was trying to say is, Only in God does our great accomplishments have meaning. In God we have no regrets when we have to leave everything.


(Michael Wortman) #7

Steve- Maybe Solomon did mean what you say he meant. My point is that Greg’s gift to Bob,and to Jo-Jo, if she was aware, was meaningful as an act of kindness from one human to another- Even if God is taken out of the picture. Greg wouldn’t say this, and that wasn’t the point of his story, but I think of Greg as inherently kind.( He was when I knew him ages ago). That goodness or kindness or whatever you care to call it, is somewhere (even if it is squelched) in the DNA of most of us. . Maybe I’m a cock-eyed optimist. Maybe you feel I’m not appropriately giving God the credit. I dunno.


(Greg Prout) #8

mickey, is that you?! unbelievable! i remember you at the ‘whitehouse’ at andrews. forrest howe and i are still good friends in close contact. barry black is …well, in ethereal places beyond my world. so good to hear from you! and i agree with you, kindness is relevant and important even if apart from God, but i would add, for me, kindness finds its origins in a creator God of love. but views and questions persist. i respect anyone’s views as ‘every man must be convinced in his own mind.’ rom. 14:5. i don’t know how to do it, but i would love to talk with you. i have such fond memories of you and your sense of humor. how lucky am i to have shared a rooming house with michael wortman, (it was Mickey back then). thanks for your post.


(Greg Prout) #9

i agree. at least i understand your point. the NOW is a gift within itself. being NOW is a gift unto itself. we often add what the future brings, and in so doing, we miss the blessing of existence in the moment. God gave us life to enjoy, being for its sake. life is more than hoping for the next dimension, the next ‘place.’ you make a good point.


(Catherine Titus) #10

Greg, reading your columns or your posts always brings me inspiration. You have a talent, and you’re using it to ease the burdens for so many other people.

I’ll be 82 in another few weeks. I know I have to face death at some point. But my past experience with the kindest, best, most tender-hearted family physician gives me courage. What he did for my dear husband during his last illness – after the cancer surgeons had said they could do nothing more for him – was to put him on a wonderful therapy including NO FOOD OR IV’s, but every six hours a spoonful of applesauce with a tranquilizer tablet. It slid down his throat easily and kept him calm. Also, there was liquid morphine – four drops on the tongue every four hours – in case he had any lingering pain. He just had the most peaceful last few days; this kind doctor called on him every day, sometimes twice a day [he asked Ed first if he’d rather have him take care of him rather than the hospice people, and Ed was here at home with me so he could make that decision]. The doctor was very careful when checking the blood pressure, heart and lungs; when he would tell me what to expect he carefully whispered it to me in another room, because I guess the hearing is the last to go. My dearly beloved husband had a peaceful time as he went to his rest.

I myself have such faith in God that I don’t worry about the hereafter. I just hope I don’t have to suffer. I hope I can find a doctor to put me on the same type of program when my time comes. Ed couldn’t have had a better time. He was able to rouse when his friends came to see him, and he could hear them when they talked to him. But otherwise he just lay there peacefully until one morning I heard him breathe his last. Of course it was sad, but I knew he had not suffered. It was so peaceful.

Well, here I’ve gone on and on about this topic. I don’t see why people these days are asking for assisted suicide laws when we can just decide to let the disease take its course, as long as we have palliative care in the process. And we know Who holds our future.

I miss you at church, Greg. You’re an inspiration.

Catherine


(Kim Green) #11

Beautiful story and thank-you!

A poignant reminder that this life is just a phase before we pass into another eternal life. It should also remind us all that each day is a gift and to cherish what and who we have in our lives. God is good no matter what.


(Carolyn) #12

Thank you for sharing your experience Catherine. You’ve encouraged me to rethink my stance on how a terminal illness should be ended. When I read this:[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:7715”]
Nearly unconscious except for the slow, painful moans that forced their escape from her parted lips, she sought relief from her body’s agony. Cancer, like an evil spirit, was speedily consuming her from the inside out.
[/quote]
I immediately thought, here’s another example of under treated and poor pain management (which I’ve heard of a number of times), so it’s comforting to hear about a well managed, gentler and more peaceful way of dealing with those final days.