When someone tells you they are dying


I stood on the porch, talking to my neighbour about his visit to the hospital. He showed me the bag around his neck containing the chemo drugs.

And then he told me “They said they can’t operate on my back. They could get about 95% of the tumour, but not the last 5%…” His voice trails off…

I swallow. Suddenly, words fail me.

Where are my profound, empathetic words when I need them?

“So the drugs are…”

“Just to keep me comfortable until… until my day comes.” He pauses. “I’ve smoked all my life so… ”

“Well, I guess we all have to go someday…”  Wow. Profound. Good job, Kristen.

I’m feeling so inadequate, so awkward.

All of a sudden, I find the cat very interesting.

We discuss the cat. How he’s a  good hunter. How my neighbour just watched him catch and eat a butterfly.


“Thanks for puttin’ up with us as neighbours,” he says. “Oh, no. No problem! It’s been great, you’ve been great, really! … I mean you mow the lawn, and… ”   I swallow again.

Finally I find some words that are appropriate to the situation.  “So, is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?”

“No, no… you’ve been kind enough already. With the food, and… well… just being a good neighbour”

“Well, I’m sorry to hear your news”

I head back over to my side of the driveway, my eyes welling as I go. Inside the house, I begin a full-on cry.  Bawling in the kitchen.

The thing is, I don’t really know why. It’s not like he is a good friend of mine. It’s not like I didn’t suspect that he was dying.

Because of my suspicions, I’ve been praying for an opportunity to share God’s love with him. I have offered to pray for him, but never with him. I’ve been asking God for an opportunity to do that too. But it feels strange and awkward. He is a man that has led a very different life from I. Out of school at 16, he worked his whole life in construction, and had to leave work because of his diagnosis. He took his worth and his definition from working.  He has spent the better part of the last year battling cancer, fighting pneumonia. He is not a man of many words. He smokes. Through the winter I knew it was a bad day for him if I didn’t see him out on the front porch several times a day having a cigarette.

We are so different, he and I. And yet I’ve been amazed and moved by the way that God has blessed me with a heart of love and compassion for this man.

And now, time is short. And I don’t know what to do for him. Except pray.


6 responses »

  1. I believe there’s only one thing you can do that really matters… be a friend. When I was first doagnosed with cancer I figured that was it, I was going to die. My father, his father, his father’s father; there’s a long long line of Gray males that never saw their 61st birthday because of the disease. I figured I was next. There was only one thing I wanted anyone to do and that was just keep being a good friend.

    All I really needed was to not feel alone. To have the comfort that comes not from saying the right thing, or offering the right service, but simply from being there.

    I knew there was nothing anyone could say that would make it all better. But there’s a great amount of comfort in just not being alone, in knowing that the person standing there not really saying anything wants to be there and is wiling to listen to whatever I need to say.

    If we can wrap our heads around the fact that all we need to do is be there, then we’ll already be in the right place for God to use when the time comes.

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