April 11, 2012

Resurrected Hope

 I was in the middle of a pity party when the telephone rang. It was Doctor Victor. “Are you looking forward to the reunion?” he asked with excitement in his voice.
I was silent.
“What’s wrong?” he prodded.
“I don’t know that I am coming to the reunion,” I finally responded.
Doctor Victor was born in Mississippi, but grew up in New York. I met him when he came to speak to my class at Oakwood College. Once I discovered where he was born, we immediately bonded. My classmates knew I spoke proudly of being from Mississippi. Twenty years later we were part of the reunion committee. He would be celebrating 40 years since his graduation; mine was half that.
But I was in no mood to talk about banquets, meetings, and gatherings with friends. My sister, Fran, had gone to a hospital emergency room complaining of an excruciating headache. Nearly four hours later a doctor came out to inform the family that he had found a brain tumor. He called it glioblastoma, a term I had never heard before. With surgery, he said, she might last six to nine months. It was incurable.
Facing Mortality
By the time Doctor Victor called, Fran had gone through surgery, and six months had gone by. I didn’t care about any class reunion. I spent my days watching the calendar. Time was running out.
Doctor Victor was supportive. As a surgeon he had seen many cases of this disease. But it was even more personal for him; he had lost two family members to the same form of cancer.
2012 1510 page28“What hurts most,” I complained, my voice breaking, “is that she’s only 42 years old. Her impending death is killing my mother a little at a time. She never planned on burying any of her children. This disease may very well claim two victims.”
Sure, Fran and Mother were daughter and mother, but over the years they had become soul mates. Fran was eternally devoted to her family.
I had convinced Fran to attend college in Huntsville, Alabama, with me. But when Mother was hospitalized with a venomous spider bite, Fran came home and never left. When Mother had the first of three strokes, Fran was the one who called me at the university to tell me what was going on. When Mother miraculously awakened out of a three-month coma, Fran was with her at the hospital. When Mother was released to continue recuperating at home, Fran told the other siblings to go on with their lives; she wasn’t going anywhere.
That was over now. It was painful to watch Fran slowly deteriorate. Confused most days, disoriented all the time, she gradually became weaker and weaker.

Through it all, I learned something about the depth of a mother’s love and the strength of a sister’s hope. A stroke had left Mother with 95 percent hearing loss, and weakness on her right side. In recent years she’d received a pacemaker and had to take medication daily.
Yet I saw Mother expend every possible ounce of energy trying to take care of Fran, probably the same way she had done some 40 years earlier.
At times I heard Mother cry bitterly and pray for divine intervention. But it seemed that nothing could stop the inevitable.
Not Again!
Approximately 30 days after Doctor Victor called about homecoming events, I received a disturbing call. He had checked himself into a hospital after a couple of unusual incidents. His diagnosis was identical to Fran’s. As he had warned me about her, with him it was just a matter of time.
I felt wounded again. Would I now lose my friend and coach?
Doctor Victor had the surgery and came to the reunion, though he had to use a wheelchair. I came over to him at the end of one of the services. Taking his hand, I asked, “Victor, what happened?”
“Look at this scar,” he said as he bent his head and pointed to the sutured area. “Man, I’ll be glad when Jesus comes. I’ve never wanted it more.” We made a commitment to encourage each other.
Every Friday night for the next several months, if he didn’t call me, I called him. I’d asked about his recovery. One night I called and was able to speak only with his wife. Dr. Victor had become weaker and disoriented.
Two months before my sister died Victor went to sleep, his pain and suffering over. His hope in the second coming of Jesus Christ was undiminished.
The Power of Hope
Fran faced her mortality with an intrepid spirit. Months earlier, as I talked with her, she explained why she had stopped the chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“It’s a waste of time,” she lamented. “The doctors cannot make me better. Furthermore, I don’t fear death. Some days I cry because I know y’all will miss me. But I know where I’m going. I got my ticket, and I’m ready to go. You ?have to make sure you have yours.”
She reached out and held my hand. Then she turned away as tears came down both our faces. That was our last real conversation. On April 4, which happens to be my birthday, Fran slipped away.
How was it that two people, who never met, victims of the same deadly disease, would express similar sentiments?
I lost a friend and a family member within two months of each other. But I gained a resurrected hope in the One who promises to return and “wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
I’m looking forward to that day.
Danny R. Chandler, a 1984 Graduate of Oakwood University, is founder of Mississippi Friends of Oakwood College United Supporters (FOCUS). This article was published April 12, 2012.