Michael and Kathy were known to their friends as a loving couple. Michael ran a small shop selling car accessories while his wife did all the administrative and accounting backend work of the business. After giving birth to their second child, Kathy discovered that there was a lump in her right breast. The biopsy for the lab test showed that the lump was benign.
Despite so, their oncologist had advised a breast mastectomy to remove the benign tumor. However, Michael and Kathy are both a man and woman of high faith. They believed that it is not God’s will for a woman to live her life less than complete with only one breast when He has created two. She argued that God would not short-change her because she had lived as an exemplary Christian. More importantly, they sought God and felt the peace that He would miraculously remove the lump from her.
As the couple continued with their usual lives: busy in business, active in ministry and attending to their children in-between, they were steadfast in seeking God to heal Kathy through prayer and fasting. This had also become a regular prayer item in their cell group.
Two years on, Kathy noticed that the lump had grown bigger and its shape became more irregular. She was unperturbed and dismissed the new symptoms as from the devil out to play tricks on her to derail her faith. When Michael suggested a further test, she thought he was not trusting God enough. However, he insisted on it when she felt some pain from the lump. She reluctantly complied and the test came out malignant.
The couple became desperate and sought God more earnestly for the healing. They went to every healing service that they got to know. They even travelled overseas to attend the healing rallies of some big-name celebrities.
Kathy also joined to serve a ministry that prays for the healing of cancer patients. It was started by a lady who experienced a miraculous remission from her fourth-stage cancer. Kathy reasoned by herself that if she rises up in faith to pray for the healing of other people despite her cancer, God will notice her and reward her with her own healing.
After three months, the couple was eventually told that the cancer had spread to the other parts of her body and the oncologist advocated chemotherapy. At that time, someone prophesied to them that God would heal Kathy of her cancer because he saw the couple being used mightily by God to pray for the sick. Encouraged by this, they decided against the chemotherapy and instead continued to trust God for the healing.
Consequence of loss
As the months passed by, Kathy became more and more weak and suffered much in pain. The couple attributed her worsening condition as not having enough faith on their part. They also picked up along the way some strong convictions told to them by well-meaning so-called ministers. One is that they must not pronounce the word “cancer” as there is power in our spoken word. The belief is that speaking the name will strengthen its existence and hold over us. Death is also not to be entertained as the thought of it will negatively energize such an eventuality.
But when his wife finally died, Michael was caught totally unprepared. Although she died in his arms and surrounded by their children and her siblings, there was not a word of goodbye. She died intestate. The wake and burial services were made a cheerful celebration of Kathy’s life and the goodness of God. The children were confused and did not know how to respond as crying was discouraged.
After losing his wife, Michael was in a state of denial for some time. When I last saw him, he showed me the wedding ring that he is still wearing and said as far as he is concerned, his wife is still alive. He had closed the business as he could not handle it without her help. For most days, Michael just isolates himself and sings a song that he has written about her. He seems to be experiencing a crisis in faith as he is now not attending the Sunday church services regularly.
A different journey
Jack is a Government servant and his wife Josie is a home-maker. Married for 20 years, the couple is childless. One day, they had a shock of their lives when Josie was diagnosed with fourth-stage pancreatic cancer and given six months to live. They went through an initial period of denial, believing that there must be some mistake, as they had been serving God faithfully.
Soon, Josie was angry with God, asking Him, “What did I do to deserve this?” In desperation, she began to bargain with God that if He would let her live, they would serve as missionaries in India. As her body grew weaker and she could not deny the possibility of her impending death, some degree of depression began to set in.
Finally, she came to a stage of acceptance with a certain calm readiness to die. Despite this, the couple kept a balance between hope and reality. They believed that she could still defy the odds with God’s healing, for sometimes, the worst predictions of the doctors are only their best guesses.
Being so, they are not superstitiously fearful that talking about death would invite the worst eventualities. In fact, they had often discussed openly about the possibility of death when Josie could still talk about it without much anxiety. Jack was always there to encourage his wife to spend more time with God and sort out any unfinished businesses with Him.
They used the time they have together to embrace each day more fully. Jack helped her to put her financial and legal matters in order. They talked about her preferences for funeral and burial plans. Josie restored friendships with some long-lost buddies and mended all the outstanding broken relationships that she could think of. They said goodbye to each other, knowing it could be their last visit to talk with her.
By chance, one of my grief support team members visited the couple to minister to them. She asked them how they were coping with Josie’s terminal sickness. They told her that it is by God’s providence that they got hold of a book that helped them to weather through such a difficult time. They would often go through the list provided in the book (page 113) to make sure that they were doing all that’s recommended by the author. They showed the visitor the book: it was the book I wrote (Jesus’ Model for Grief Support).
Grief after loss
When Josie died, both husband and wife took comfort that they had spent meaningful time together in the last leg of her sojourn on earth and have discussed many things over. He was in deep grief but he managed his loss in a healthy way. Jack had three grief therapy sessions with me and he also attended a grief support group (13 sessions) in a local church.
I met up with Jack a year down the road and I was pleased with the progress he made in moving on. He told me that he is now actively serving in the men’s ministry as well as the senior citizens’ fellowship. In not many words, his lips slipped to reveal that he had started to get closer to a woman in the church. I wished him a new beginning in the next chapter of his life.
Dr. Edmund Ng
3 Mar 2023
Corresponding SSC monthly teaching video: V09 – Ministry to the Dying at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLP0OSBDA7k
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