Keith came into my life a little over 5 years ago. He was my friend Denise's neighbor and they had started getting close. Actually, they had been dating for a little while and the first I heard about him was when she wanted her friends to meet him. At a Christmas party thrown by another friend, Aaron and I met Keith. We ended up spending a good part of the night on a very big couch, the four of us just chatting away.
That following May, Aaron and I attended Keith & Denise's wedding. What a beautiful, beautiful day that was. Mukilteo beach, Puget Sound the backdrop for their wedding, the lighthouse nearby.
My husband and Keith grew very close and for five years our lives have been significantly intertwined. Keith and Denise are part of our Lifegroup. Lifegroups are home groups at our church, started so we could "do life together." That's what we do. Keith & Denise are 3AM Friends. You know - those friends you can call at 3AM when there is an emergency and (1) you know they'll come and (2) they aren't going to be mad at you for calling in the middle of the night.
Fast forward to this last December. Just five short years after meeting Keith, I sat in my living room and listened as he and Denise explained his skin cancer had returned. Metastatic Melanoma. A tumor in his shoulder this time. His oncologist named it Bob. It was a big'un. The prognosis was grim, though. His oncologist said 8-12 months. We all looked at each other, the same thought looming in our head. A year isn't enough time... and quickly followed by... the doctors are always wrong. Maybe 18 months? Two years? Five years?
Chemo started. That wasn't working as they hoped. They changed his chemo, added radiation.
And then... pneumonia. It settled in about a month ago and almost wiped him out. Fortunately, he battled through it. We thought.
More chemo, more radiation and then his last CT scan. The tumors in his lungs (we knew it had spread there) were growing in number and now there was a tumor on his pancreas.
Then...the blow that took us all to our knees (at the same time). Pneumonia never actually went away and had come roaring back. This last Tuesday, Keith was admitted and intubated. He's been sedated ever since because the one time he woke up, he ripped the tube out.
Yesterday afternoon one of the guys in our Lifegroup went with his wife to visit. He learned the doctors' latest prognosis: Keith won't have the tubed removed unless there is "significant" lung function improvement. That isn't going to happen and they say 2 weeks. And he probably will never regain conciousness.
Two weeks? Never wake up? How can that be? He was JUST at my house. He used, for the first time, the electric blanket I'd bought for him because he could never, ever get warm. No matter how many blankets he piled on so...I bought him one that would heat him rather than needing his non-existent body heat to keep him warm... Our last conversation? He attempted to thank me for the blanket. Couldn't hardly get the words out it was so hard for him to breathe. I just smiled, kind of cut him off and told him "I know what you're trying to say. You're welcome. 'nough said." And we hugged.
Truth is? It's not about me. Nothing is ever about me and I know that. I still make it about me, though - even when I know I shouldn't try. Here is where I will, for just one second, make this a teensy bit about me. See...something about me drove Keith nuts. I don't know if I reminded him of his ex-wife or another family member he had difficulty with or what but Keith almost never missed an opportunity to chastise me, or slam me or attempt to shut me down. He'd try to cover it sometimes, make it appear as a joke but it was bad enough that a few times my husband would step in and tell him it wasn't appropriate. Keith would always apologize and always said it came out wrong but I know...something about me rubbed him the wrong way. It made me sad, too and I'd try so hard to NOT drive him crazy. He made Denise so happy and I was thrilled for my friend and I like Keith. I didn't mean to irritate him. Somehow, though, I almost always did.
Now? Now I'd love the chance to irritate him again. He needs to get fiesty with me. I need to get fiesty back. We serve a God who does mighty things. I know, with every fiber of my being, He can heal Keith. I'm just concerned it's not in His plan to heal Keith my way. I think He's healing Keith by taking him home. That breaks my heart - a little bit. I am thrilled for Keith (except for the suffering he has to go through to get there part). Going home is what we all want to do, right? It's where we belong, where we can't wait to go. If I had the choice between gray pallor, an inability to breathe or sleep, constant pain and going home to Jesus you can bet I'm choosing Jesus every time. Who am I kidding, I'd choose Jesus even perfectly healthy.
But... and then there is always the but, right? We will miss him here. His quiet strength, his lead for prayer requests, his gentle love and compassion for his wife. Differences schmifferences... we want to have him with us for many, many years to come.
And therein lies our hope, doesn't it? He will be with us again. Someday. Healed, whole, beautiful in God's glory... Whether it be we join him in heaven or he returns with Jesus, we will see him again. Death will not win - even if it thinks it has. Cancer will not take Keith, no matter how many of his cells it destroys.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
~1 Corinthians 15:54-55
I rest on that. And while we wait to all be together again, we love Denise. We work together to bury our petty selves and live for Christ, loving one another. Getting it wrong - and right - together.
We love you, Keith. Rest in the arms of Him who loves you - and knows you - best.