The Ultimate Challenge
Ron was sixty-six years old when he enrolled in our hospice program with end-stage liver cancer. He was a semi-retired healthcare professional, businessman and financially and professionally successful. Ron was a take-charge person who exuded an air of confidence. He was adventuresome and welcomed challenges. He was a pilot and competitive sportsman. In appearance and personality, he reminded me of Sean Connery, the original “James Bond – Agent 007”. Ron was the stereotypical “man’s man”.
As Ron’s condition worsened so did his impatient and critical attitude, especially towards his wife, Jackie. Ron was hospitalized for pain management and one day I discovered Jackie standing in the hallway outside Ron’s room crying, “According to him I can’t do anything right. He’s downright mean to me. He’s never treated me like this before. I know he’s dying but I don’t want to remember him like this.” I obtained Jackie’s permission to confront Ron. I was never so ambivalently direct with a patient before. After all, didn’t he have a right to be frustrated and angry? After all, the poor guy was dying of cancer.
I was anxious as I entered Ron’s hospital room. I assured myself I was doing the right thing. I walked up to the side of Ron’s hospital bed and Ron greeted me. Then I took a deep breath and proceeded, “Ron, I’m going to say something to you and I don’t expect an answer or response. As a matter of fact, when I’m done I’m just simply going to turn around and walk away.” I continued, “Ron I’ve noticed you are a person who likes a challenge. Well, I’m going to present to you what might be the ultimate challenge. Jackie told me you’ve been criticizing everything she’s done for you, that she can’t do anything right. She doesn’t want to remember your last days together this way. I understand you are really suffering right now, but I’m challenging you to rise above your own feelings and be the husband she still needs for you to be.” Ron listened without saying a word, and then I turned around and walked out of the room. I left the challenge with Ron to contemplate and I had no idea how he would respond.
The next day I returned to find Jackie sitting at Ron’s bedside holding his hand. Smiling, she looked up and said, “Thank you. It’s so much better!” Then Ron looked me in the eye, winked, nodded his head and gave me a big “thumbs up”. He didn’t say a word; he didn’t have to. It was apparent he had accepted the challenge. He had determined to become the husband and man that Jackie needed him to be. Now that’s a “man’s man”!
Empathy increases understanding and provides direction, but sympathy demoralizes. I’m reminded of a quote by Max Lucado, “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.” I know based upon firsthand experience. God has called me out more than a time or two; especially when I try to make excuses for unholy behavior. You see, God is able and willing to forgive sins honestly confessed but He doesn’t forgive excuses.
“Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:5-6)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.