This is part two of a series about Willard who enrolled in our outpatient hospice program with pancreatic cancer at age seventy-seven. Willard was a small fellow of Irish decent, not much over five-foot tall, soft spoken, customarily dressed in blue jeans with suspenders, a flannel shirt, and a ball cap. Willard’s wife, Frances, on the other hand, was about five-feet-nine-inches tall. She customarily wore a dress which hung well below her knees, adorning a full apron. She was exuberant and animated. She affectionately referred to Willard as, “My little luv muffin”.
When presented with a terminal illness many people look back and evaluate whether or not theirs was a life well-spent. I remember standing beside another patient’s bed in the hospice inpatient center. Joe and I had grown close; we related to one another. We’d both grown up with a chip on our shoulders; oppositional-defiant. I suggested, “We may look a lot different on the outside but we are a lot alike on the inside”. Joe was imminently dying and I was heading out of town for a few days. I realized that it would likely be the last time I would see Joe so I seized the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated knowing him. Then Joe asked, “Will you do me a favor? Will you stand up and say something at my funeral?” I asked, “Do you want me to tell you right now what I would say?” He replied, “Sure, I’d love to hear it”; so I did. When I finished I extended my right hand to grasp Joe’s and he implored, “Give me your left hand”, When I asked why he replied, “Because it’s closer to my heart”. Then he pulled my hand against his chest and held it there. Then Joe concluded, “You know, looking back I wouldn’t change anything about my life”, and then I replied, “Well Joe, that’s where we differ. I wouldn’t change the hard times or the struggles, but I would change everything that I did or said that hurt others.”
I’m reminded of a story about a young boy who had a bad habit of saying hurtful mean things to others then immediately saying, “I’m sorry”. When confronted by his father he said, “But dad, I told them I was sorry”. So his father took him to his workshop and gave him a handful of nails and a block of wood and told him, “Now drive those nails into that block of wood. Now pull them back out.” Then the father explained, “Every time you say something hurtful to someone it’s like driving a nail in the block of wood and every time you say you are sorry it’s like pulling the nail out. But look at the block of wood, the scars remain.”
Back to Willard; one day Willard and I were talking about regrets and mistakes. Then Willard, gazed outward, as if looking beyond the horizon, and attested, “Well, the way I look at it is, mistakes are only mistakes until you learn from them, then they become lessons. And life is full of lessons.” Willard’s realization reminds me of a quote from Oswald Chambers, “The sense of the irreparable is apt to make us despair, and we say, ‘It is all up now, it’s no use trying anymore’… when we realize that we have not done that which we had a magnificent opportunity of doing, then we are apt to sink into despair; and Jesus comes and says –‘…that opportunity is lost forever, you cannot alter it, but arise and do the next thing’…Never let the sense of failure corrupt your new actions.” (My Utmost for His Highest, Feb. 18th).
Jesus asked Peter after Peter denied Him three times, “Do you love me” and then Jesus exhorted, “then feed my sheep”, in other words, “Get back into the game. Don’t let your sense of failure corrupt your new actions. Arise and do the next thing”, (John 21:15-17).
Our choices and actions have consequences, and sometimes wound others and ourselves and even leave life-long scars. Apologies nor any amount of good works can wash away our sins. As the old hymn declares, “What can wash away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus?” May the scars that remain remind us of “the sins the good Lord washed away,” (YouTube video, “Tattoos”, by Shane Runion). And let’s not let the sense of failure corrupt our new actions. Let’s arise and do the next thing.
If you are chained to your sense of failure by guilt and shame I encourage you to view and listen to a tribute to my departed friend Jerry which was created by my son-in-law, Shane. The song was pre-recorded by Jerry and played at his funeral, (YouTube, Jerry Hammond Rock of Ages).
“Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. Let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power. Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy laws demands, could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone. Thou must save, and thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling, naked come to thee for dress, helpless look to thee for grace, foul I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior or I die. While I draw this fleeting breath, when my eyelids close in death, when I soar to worlds unknown, see thee on thy judgment throne, Rock of Ages cleft for me; let me hide myself in thee.”
Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at email@example.com. You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.