Never had I understood this verse in 1 Corinthian 15:55 more clearly..
A dear friend of us from church succumbed to lung cancer yesterday morning. It has been one-and-a-half year since Michael was diagnosed with stage four of lung cancer. I remembered we were shell-shocked and sad to receive the sms his wife Elaine sent during our fellowship Christmas party in 2006. We never expected that.. end stage lung cancer!? He was not even a smoker at all. There was so much to look forward to in his life - Elaine was then pregnant with their first son. And they were one of the most loving couples, and such nice and friendly people I know.
For the last 18 months or so - we saw how they battled cancer through medical treatment, also prayers and supports from church and friends.. At one stage after chemotherapy, the tumor had actually reduced in size and there was some optimism. But unfortunately not long later, his condition got worse and cancer has spread to other parts of his body.
All along, Elaine has been a wonderful and supportive wife - she constantly updated us of Michael's condition through SMSes so that we could pray for him. She also had quit her job especially after baby Brian arrived - and to take care of her husband and baby full-time. On the other hand, I am encouraged and amazed by Michael as well. Whenever I saw him, he had never once complained of his illness or pain if he was suffering any. He was still the same cheerful, smiling guy I knew since day one.
Usually we would see them during Sunday service and sometimes have lunch together. But for the last two months or so, due to his worsening condition, they couldn't come out much. Then about two weeks ago when I got a SMS from Elaine saying that Michael has been warded at Pantai due to breathing difficulty, I decided to pay them a visit. And I'm glad I went although that was the crazy evening - the eve of fuel price rise. That was the first time I saw Michael totally bald but he seemed still in good spirit. He didn't talk much because he was given the oxygen mask then so Elaine and I talked for a while.. and I was very encouraged by what she shared with me., with Michael nodding his head. Indeed their faith was strong and the Lord has been very close to Michael during his final days on earth and filled him with His Spirit. Unfortunately I couldn't stay too long and said a short prayer for Michael and bid goodbye.
That was the last time I saw Michael. The news of his demise was equally if not more shocking than the news of him diagnosed with cancer. Although to be realistic, we have mentally prepared for a day that he might not make it. But the night before, I just got an sms from Elaine asking us to pray for him as he has got an infection and was warded again. I was thinking of following up the next day. Then when I woke up (very late), I got the news. Elaine herself also sent out sms to inform..I decided just text her rather than call as I know she must be very worn out and distraught.
I was in a melancholic mood the whole day.. on one hand I know Michael has gone to be with the Lord and is at a better place..but I really feel for Elaine, Brian and Michael's family. Especially Elaine - I prayed that she would be strong and her faith not shaken..
I was really encouraged by her sharing at the wake service tonight.. yes, I could see she had cried buckets but last minute she decided to go on stage to share about what happened to Michael before he left. It was similar to what she had told me in the hospital and although being filled with the Spirit may be something a little `foreign' to Baptists (we are all from a baptist church), but I know it's true and I know that the Lord had been with Michael and sustaining him to the last hour. Although like what pastor said, we don't understand why God did not heal him and let him die, but we know God never left Michael alone and he is now with Jesus..
I song led for a bereavement occasion for the first time. I wanted to do it when I was asked because that was something I could do for my friends. I was quite worried at first for I had never done it before - what should I say? what songs to pick? it would be far easier to lead songs for wedding (which I have done a few times) I was asked to choose only four songs. Since yesterday I was praying that the Lord gave me the right songs - those that can comfort and give hope to the family. Elaine also called me last evening and told me a song that Michael liked so I incorporated that.. which was actually very appropriate too.
Praise and thank God that the songs had touched many people - for I had some positive comments.. Actually as late as today I didn't know how to choose two out of three songs (the other two - the opening and Michael's song - were fixed) Finally I was so glad that I had `Because He Lives' as closing.. I had to forgo `It is Well With My Soul' for `In Christ Alone' because I felt the latter has a more powerful and hopeful meaning.. `It is Well' is quite a popular hymn for bereavement I guess but it would be a bit too sad.. somehow I thought.
It was a meaningful memorial service for Michael - a number of his friends went on stage impromptu to give mini eulogy. The amount of people who turned out also said a lot about his personality. And Elaine's own speech was very touching and inspiring.. though I saw her broke down after she spoke.. :(
Just to digress from this a bit.. but also in related topic - last evening I interviewed a couple who lost their teenage son to cancer. Already affected by Michael's death, that was not something I really looked forward to hear and talk about but deadline was looming so I just had to go ahead. It turned out to be another amazing testimony. Their son had so much faith in God that he became the inspirations to the parents and now that the parents, who had led lukewarm Christian lives had turned back to God and active in serving too. The way that the parents talked about their son (who died less than a year ago) was quite amazing - to me it really opened up my eyes on how powerful `death' can be. Because for a person who has found Christ, there is no fear in death. Death has lost its sting.
The last verse in the closing hymn we sang goes:
"And then one day I'll cross the river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
and then as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives"
Of course, we know for the loved ones left behind, it's sad and I can really empathise with Elaine and their young boy. She will no doubt miss her hubby dearly. But I also believe that with time, she will come out of it because the Lord is there with her at all time.
Farewell Michael, you have fought a good fight! We shall miss you..
Take care and be strong, Elaine. We love you and God bless..