Death Hits Too Close to Home

These past few days have been really intense for me. Death is looming around my life and it has been a difficult realization that it will soon hit.

First I got a call from my Mom telling me that my Grandpa, who already has Parkinsons and Alzheimers, has a mass on his kidney that is certainly cancer. If this is indeed true (we will find out for sure this week), it’s the end. The doctor said he couldn’t do surgery to remove it because it would be too dangerous for my Grandpa, and the only other option is to do dialysis three times a week for four hours a day. Even with all of this extra “treatment”, it would only prolong his life for a potential three years – of which it’s already a miserable existence.

My Grandpa taught me so much in my life; he was as large of a part of my growing up than anyone else. My emotions are all messed up because although it would be great to have him around for as long as possible, it would only be for selfish reasons as over the last year he has had no quality of life. Ugh.

But even more difficult of a situation than my Grandpa (because my Grandpa has lived such a full 86 years), is that of my 53 year old friend Michael Spencer – the famous Internet Monk. Here is a post by his wife, Denise, about his situation:

“It is with a heavy heart that I bring my latest update on Michael. We have learned that his cancer is too advanced and too aggressive to expect any sort of remission. Our oncologist estimates that with continued treatment Michael most likely has somewhere between six months and a year to live. This is not really a surprise to us, though it is certainly horrible news. From the very beginning, both of us have suspected that this would prove to be an extremely bad situation. I don’t know why; perhaps God was preparing us for the worst all along by giving us that intuition.

The combination of the cancer and the chemotherapy is keeping Michael in a very weakened state. He is in bed all day, getting up once or twice only to eat a “meal.” His meals consist mostly of Ensure, with occasional mugs of soup, dishes of ice cream and milkshakes. He’s still taking fluids well, currently preferring Sprite and ginger ale. His tastes do change slightly from time to time, and I try to be ready to jump in whatever direction they seem to be moving. He is in no pain at all, for which I am unspeakably grateful.

Michael went through a period of depression, as I’m sure you would expect. He seems to have come through that now, for the most part. He knows he is dying, and he says he is at peace. Though he will still say with unashamed honesty, “I don’t want it to all be over at age 53!” he has the confidence of knowing that he has run the race God set out for him. He believes he has done the work our Lord intended for him to do, and if the last task God has for him in this life is dying, then he will do that to the best of his ability.

Through all of this, in every phase of illness, diagnosis and treatment, Michael’s faith has not wavered. I know most readers love Michael for, among other things, the transparency of his writings. If I may be allowed such honesty for just a moment, I will confess that I have been amazed at how strong Michael has been spiritually and emotionally from the very beginning of this ghastly journey. Day by day I continue to see the Holy Spirit at work in him, molding him, softening him, giving him a more childlike faith than I believe he has ever known. When the moment comes, I am assured Michael will be ready. I am the one who doesn’t want to let go.

Words can never express our gratitude for every thought, every gift, every note, every prayer you have blessed us with. Please pray for continued peace and strength for Michael, for me, and for Noel and Clay. This is the most difficult thing we have ever been through, and only with God’s help can we make it.”

Please pray for my Grandpa and Michael. They both mean a lot to me, and my heart continues to break every day to see death become a reality.

Much love.

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  • Ramiro Medrano

    I have been in similar situations quite often at this stage of my life, lost my dad two years ago. I had a day with him, since I had to fly down to TX, which was a new home for him, since my parents retired. He needed a liver transplant, but was so weak that he couldn’t survive the surgery, if he had been able to acquire one while on the list. At the same time we learned that my wife was pregnant with our second. We sturggled with the loss but rejoiced over the homecoming and look forward to the reunion! Peace & blessings my friend!

  • Hi, Andrew; I am sorry to hear about these. I don’t know if these are comforting thoughts, but I know that these are really the precious times when what is really important in life emerges – as if we can see more clearly how important love is. The depth of sorrow and lose are reminders that we are very much alive.

    I also have learned that at times like this and after, it is up to those of us left on this side to do what we can to make the world a better place on behalf of those who we have known and loved but are no longer here. It is so much of what fuels my own HIV-work. I like to think to myself “here’s what I’ve learned from this person, and know it is a part of me, I am better for it, and can share it with others”.

    Fear of death is irrational. It is the one thing that truly binds all of us. We cry, we weep, we miss dearly, we love. We never forget. In the case of your friend Michael, we mourn because it doesn’t seem right, but it’s not ours to plan. For sure, make commitments to help prevent this from happening. But also, I hope you can cherish the gifts both of these people have given you.

  • Mrs T

    How shocking about the “IM!” I hadn’t checked his site for ages & had no clue as to the situation.
    From seeing pictures of your grandpa, I can tell he is a very fine person. My kids were about your age when they lost their grandpa. It was special to have him around for them as I didn’t know one grandpa & barely knew the other. Then my parents split & I didn’t have a dad for many years.
    You have had a rich heritage & I’m sure it will make the parting more painful. However, what you have gained will be worth it.
    I wish I could offer better words of encouragement, but we can all offer our cyber-hugs!
    Blessings to your parents, too.

  • Andrew,
    I am so sorry to learn of this news. Close encounters with death remind us how foreign death is. We know it is wrong. We were meant for life–eternal. Eternity has been written on our hearts, so our souls cry out against it. To put it bluntly, death sucks! I think God wants us to remember that. It makes the gift of Jesus and the resurrection all that much sweeter.

    Watching someone die over time is so painful. Two years ago, I watched my father die this way & held his hand when he took his last breath. There was a strange relief that he was finally free from the pain and suffering. Nothing like losing my son 3 1/2 years ago. I kissed him goodbye & told him I loved him as he left to return to campus 5 hrs away. Our family would be together the next weekend for Freshman Parents & Family Weekend at the Univ. of GA. But that’s not how it turned out for us. Heavy rain caused his car to hydroplane. He died on the way to the hospital. The temporary separation is excruciating.

    I agree with Brad (above) that death can spur us on to do great things. It’s why we have The J9 Foundation. We are grateful to be making a difference in this world in his memory. But I’ll be honest, we’d take Jacob back in an instant, even if it meant giving up the foundation. I pray that these two wonderful people in your life will inspire you to do even greater things with your foundation. My prayers are with you.

  • Seth

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandpa and Michael. I hope you are finding comfort from those near (in person, online, in spirit), it’s certainly what we need when we are saddened–especially when we are saddened by death (or imminent death).

    But to be honest, I hope you never lose your tender heart! We need more people–more men, more Christians, more servants–with tender hearts like yours.

  • Thank you all so very much. I can’t express what this means to me personally, my family, Michael’s family and everyone that my Grandpa and Michael have touched. And Sandy, I couldn’t even imagine! As Tony Campolo says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”

  • Andrew: I wrote this on your FB page, but I’m sorry about your grandfather and about Michael. I wish you all peace.