It was early morning of December 13, 2017 when I woke up feeling like the world was about to end. The fact that Lisa, my wife of 32 years, lay in hospice, the result of a long battle with muscular dystrophy that she would soon be forced to concede, brought its own daily fear. But this was different. Something in me said I needed to get to her now instead of at 10am when I would typically visit.
I raced to her side to find her awake and spry and highly aware of who I was; the lack of oxygen to her brain had been causing her some fogginess lately. But not this morning. She looked great. It seemed I was concerned for nothing.
“Hi Bobby!” she said with wide eyes as if she was expecting me. How I loved that smile that I had come to build my life around. We talked like two people who had shared a life together and yet there was an urgency about our time, like we were trying to get in as much as we could before I had to go to work. And like we always did, we recited our little phrase to each other that had become our oath. “You and me are going to be together till the very end,” we would say in unison.
“You and me are going to be together till the very end,” we would say in unison.
She got comfort from that. She always knew deep down in her heart that I would take a bullet for her because I always told her so. But she just loved to hear me say it anyway.
When it was time for me to go, she had an adorable request. “Come back at lunch, OK, honey?” she said. “And bring 12 rolled tacos.”
“Twelve?” I said with a little shock. “Anything for you, my dear!” I chuckled while holding her hand. Cute as her request was, it was a reminder how hard her body was working just to keep air in her lungs. Her second-by-second fight to breathe was burning thousands of calories. What a trooper she was. And always with that smile.
I kissed her goodbye, got in my car and ambled toward the freeway feeling good about our time together. I was about 10 minutes away when my phone rang. Lisa had taken a turn for the worse, the hospice worker said, and that I needed to return immediately. I almost got in two crashes as I sped back, but my girl needed me, and I would do anything to get to her.
As I arrived at her side, she was able to open one eye. “Oh Bobby, I knew you’d come back to me.”
“I’ll always come back to you, my sweetheart,” I said as I kneeled at her side and took her hand.
It wasn’t long before her numbers on the nearby monitor began to plummet. She was dying right before me. How odd it was that only I moved to draw near; the hospice workers were not there to save her but keep her comfortable until she crossed over to the other side.
“No, no!” I yelled as her skin began to thin, and her blood vessels rose to the surface before my eyes. “Hold on, darling! You’ve got to hold on!”
Suddenly, she turned to the side, and left. Just like that, all her striving was done. I thought I was so prepared for her passing. I knew it was coming for years, and yet when it happened, I was overcome with grief. I closed her eyes and felt the lifelessness in her touch. Awful doesn’t describe it. There are no words.
The year that lay ahead was a dark, dark place for me. I didn’t know the levels of despair that I reached were possible without imploding or simply turning off for the overloaded circuitry. There were times I didn’t think I’d make it, and there were times I didn’t think I wanted to make it. But Lisa and I shared a faith in Jesus, and I reached for Him to keep me alive and to remind me I had a reason to live. I kept two verses nearby as I battled throughout each night.
Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
They gave me hope—thin rays of light piercing my dark night of the soul. They told me if I could just hold on, life, by God’s mercy, would feel bright and warm again. I had doubt and desperation, but I hung on to those words.
In time, I began to have a need to express what was going on in me. I sat down and wrote one day, and then returned again and again to my computer until the below emerged. I didn’t have intention for what I wrote, but this is what came out. How interesting that it is entirely about hope.
It's easy to feel hopeful on beautiful days like today. But there will be dark days ahead of us too, days where you will feel all alone, and that’s when hope is needed the most. No matter how intense it gets or how lost you feel, you must always cling and hold on to hope; keep it alive. We have to be greater than what we suffered or lost. My wish for you all is to become hope for someone else. People so desperately need hope today, and even if we fail, what better way is there to live? Look around you at all the people in your life who helped make you who you are today so we can all carry a piece of each other into everything that we do next, to remind us of who we are and who we’re meant to be.
Since that day, one of the greatest things has emerged in my heart to make me feel so full of gratitude. I realized the extraordinary blessing of being with Lisa as she passed into heaven. So many people never get a chance to say goodbye. So many people die alone. And yet, God allowed me to be there at her side, holding her hand. She could feel my love all the way until the moment she let go of my hand and took the hand of God. This was God’s blessing to both of us. I now have more hope in a loving God than I ever did before.
She could feel my love all the way until the moment she let go of my hand and took the hand of God.
The more hopeful I come to feel, the more I see hope is everywhere in the Word of God. It seems to me to be the most prominent theme throughout. As if everything God did, He was trying to communicate hope to us. I am so glad to be able to see that now.
Finally, in the aftermath of Lisa’s death, I was rummaging around our computer when I came across a document that I hadn’t noticed before. Lisa had been working on answering a question that had been put to her by one of the Rock writers. I would like to include it here as a part of her story. As someone who was facing certain death, I think her thoughts may be helpful to many.
May you find hope and joy today in the Word of God no matter how hard your circumstances.
A Rock Church member with muscular dystrophy answers: What things are most important in life?
I am grateful for the chance to give my thoughts, especially now that life for me may be different than it is for others who are not battling in the same way. The truth is, I really don’t like to talk about my own mortality. I can’t talk about it and still have the hope and strength that I need to fight my eye disease and win. When I found out that I could lose my eyesight, it was the worst thing ever. The idea that I might lose the ability to see is almost unbearable for me. I want to live the rest of my time seeing my husband, Bobby, the children that I tutor on Saturday mornings, and the beauty in nature all around me. I’m eating right and taking my medication, and even though the side effects of the meds are sometimes more than I can take—with awful pains in my stomach and chest and horrible panic attacks plus sleepless nights, it is worth it. I really want to see.
People ask me if I am mad at God. I do feel like Job at times because this is a lot for one person to take. But I am not mad at God. If I thought getting angry at Him might help my situation, I might try it. But as I hope and pray for healing, I feel that getting mad at God would only hurt my cause. I still love Him. And I know, no matter what, He still loves me. So I really am not mad. I do so wish, however, I could still do some of the things that I used to, among them would be to figure skate again—to fly away on the ice, into the wind, into the cold, into my own world. And even though I may not skate again in this life, I will have my time to be on the ice one day. I can’t wait.
The question: What things are most important in life? is very interesting to me, especially now that my time is coming to an end. Two things come to mind. One, so many of us spend a large part of our lives carrying anger or resentment toward someone. So many of us Christians are so grateful for the forgiveness that Jesus won for us, but we will not extend that to others, even people we love, because of our own pride. I hope that everyone will begin a journey of forgiving people in their lives and not wait until disease or disaster hits to bring about this sentiment: God, if I only could have said this or done that. The only person you hurt is yourself. Have the conversation. Tell them you forgive them. It may be awful, but you will be so happy you did it. Remember, life can be taken away from you so quickly. You will want the people you love to know that you loved them.
The other way I would answer is this: As Christians, we should be praying all the time. I think this is what God truly wants from each of us, that we would constantly be talking to Him. It took me getting sick to turn me into someone who consistently prays. I used to pray here and there, when I thought of it. Now, as I sit in my wheel chair, with my body getting worse each day, I am guided into prayer to have hope, to hear from God, to get through the pain, and to stay sane. But what has happened is I now have a vibrant relationship with God. I talk to Him all day long. I sense that this is what He has always wanted from me. And so we talk, and talk, and talk. And I listen, and sometimes I get a sense of His voice or a glimpse of His presence. He tells me that, even though sometimes I may feel alone in this fight, He is with me. He is doing something good in me. And whether I see Him soon, or many years from now, I trust that He will tell me He was glad to spend so much time with me. This life is all about relationships—just like forgiving people and letting them back in your life. The more this happens, the greater you will feel His presence and His joy.
See a video done by the Rock Church on Lisa and me