Bryan’s diagnosis of malignant melanoma made life look completely different. The prognosis was terrifying.
As Bryan was called in, a team of oncologists also entered the examination room. My frail frame shook, and I could feel my heart beating against my chest. His doctor finally called me into the office and explained all that was required for surgery: a radical scalp and neck dissection and removal of lymph nodes, with follow-up radiation and chemotherapy.
The doctor’s last words at the appointment were, “We are aiming for a home run!” My husband and I held on to the idea of “a home run.”
A God Lens
Thankfully, I had recently been connected with a Salvation Army church through Marg, a colleague of mine who, through this very difficult time, became my best friend. I also had a wonderful support group and counsellor. It wasn’t long after my husband’s surgery that I was able to start a residential therapeutic program of group work. We had strict routines that included daily exercise, chores, healthy meals, group sessions, journaling, education and evening relaxation. We were not exposed to the outside world, except for our daily walks, but we were exposed to spiritual principles.
In those 28 days, I developed a relationship with God that was real, a concept I had never experienced before.
The program was life-changing. All too soon, it was time to leave our secure, nurturing environment and re-enter the world that would be exactly as we left it. The difference was, I was now viewing it through a God lens.
“The Lamp of the Body”
It was not an easy road over the next months, as Bryan and I visited hospitals and pain clinics. As a registered nurse, I had the skill to care for my husband at home, but home-care nurses came to do bloodwork and maintain the pain medication. The atmosphere in the room was peaceful, much like a hospice. It was close to Christmas and a poinsettia was placed on the bedside table.
Every day, it seemed, Bryan needed an increase in pain medication. Eventually, lumps began to appear on his chest. His final visit to the hospital was for a blood transfusion. But there was no more the medical professionals could do. He was dying.
I developed a relationship with God that was real, a concept I had never experienced before.
I was at home when Bryan returned. It was a dark, winter evening and the ambulance pulled up to the back door. Our home was a tiny little place, and the ambulance attendants had to maneuver the stretcher around some very tight corners.
As they twisted and turned to get into the bedroom, my husband yelled with pain. After they laid him gently on the bed, I walked them out, then returned to the bedroom to settle him in.
When I entered, an incredible peace came over me. As I made contact with Bryan’s eyes, he smiled at me. My eyes grew big and round, and I was in awe. I told him that he had a bright light shining out of his right eye. He smiled peacefully at me, closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The next morning, I called my brother to tell him what I seen the night before. Shortly after, my brother turned up with a Bible in his hand. He read Scripture to me from Matthew 6:22: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”
Out of Deep Water
As the day went by, Bryan started to get sleepier and less responsive. The doctor dropped in that afternoon and explained that, as the calcium levels increased in his blood, he would become less conscious and just sleep until he passed away.
I was tired and I curled up close to my husband to get some sleep. As I drifted into slumber, I began to dream.
In it, my brother, Bryan and I were biking along a path when we came upon a bridge. My brother challenged Bryan to jump, and he did.
Fear came upon me as I watched my husband struggle in the deep water far below the bridge. But out of the sky came a big hand that scooped him right out of the water and held him safely. I woke up.
When my counsellor came to visit that day, he had tears when I told him my dream. He told me that that was from Psalm 18:16: “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”
My counsellor and my best friend, Marg, stayed with me into the morning hours. My husband did not rouse until 2:30 a.m., when he called out, “Is that you, Dad? I am not ready to come yet.”
His father had just passed away a few months earlier.
At 7:30 a.m., Bryan opened his eyes, his breathing laboured, deep and rattling. He looked at my counsellor and Marg, who had been beside us through the whole journey, and said, “I just want to say thank you both, but it is time to go home now.” He then looked over at me, and from the depths of his heart, he spoke his final words, “I love you.” He closed his eyes and was gone.
The following days were full of busyness and arrangements. Out of habit, I walked by the bedroom to see how he was doing, only to realize he wasn’t there.
To my amazement, the poinsettia beside his bed was in full bloom. I’d received two poinsettias at Christmas and hadn’t watered either. I went out to the dining room to see the other one. It was dead. My mother-in-law smiled at me and said, “The poinsettia, right?”
All I remember of the funeral was that the Salvation Army church was packed with people. And I also remember the final words of the funeral director as the casket was lowered into the ground: “Now we release him home to you, God.”
Exactly where Bryan said he was going: Home. And to you, doctor, your aim was perfect: it was indeed a home run.
Barb Cole is a senior soldier in Trail, B.C.