Last week was a tough one for our family. A beloved part of our village had been battling stage 4 cancer for several weeks. Naturally, the two of us have been frequently making hospital visits, checking in with the family, and providing medical insight, where appropriate. But there was something we put off doing… telling the kids. During one of our recent hospital visits, we were asked where the kids were. “At home with their sitter.” They didn’t know we were visiting the hospital, didn’t even know that anyone was sick. We were clearly avoiding the conversation with them. We simply weren’t sure of how we wanted to approach it. We seek to be so intentional about how we teach our kids. We try not to choose the easy path of minimizing difficult topics, just to get through the moment of the awkward or difficult conversation (except that time I told them that dinosaurs are extinct because they didn’t get on the ark with Noah, lol). We try to maintain awareness that what we say and do at each turn is shaping their view of life of moving forward. With that mindset, we approached this sickness and death conversation with caution. We didn’t want to tell them that we could pray and God will make him better. But we also didn’t want to tell them that because he had cancer, he would surely die. We had reluctance about linking cancer with absolute death, as we’re concerned that they would develop an absence of hope in the face of any potential future illnesses.
Regardless of what language we used, we knew we had to talk to them. This was really happening and we didn’t want to bury our heads in the sand and avoid it any longer. We can’t shield them from life. We have to walk them through it.
After laboring over what we would say, and how, we finally, prayerfully and thoughtfully approached the conversation with the kids on Monday afternoon. We told them that he was very ill with cancer. Naturally (with 3 very curious and intelligent children), we answered many questions about cancer and illness and death. And by many, we mean MANY! By the end of conversation, they had come to the conclusion that we had no idea what would happen next… he may get better, or he may soon go to heaven to live with God, whom the kids knew he believed in. But either way, they wanted to go visit him and tell him that they loved him. So we went that evening. And they loved on him. And hugged him. And just a few hours later, he was gone.
We shared the news with the kids on Tuesday, and in the midst of their sadness, they expressed gratitude that they had the chance to see him on Monday. None of us knew that it would be the last opportunity we would have to say, “I love you.” We’re so grateful that we didn’t wait another day.
So that brings us to what we want to leave with you this week. We hear it so much that it almost becomes background noise, or cliché… “Don’t take anything for granted.” But it’s so true. You really don’t know what each day, hour, or minute may bring. Particularly as it relates to the people in your life. Cherish them. Forgive. Love with no regrets. Truly, with your whole heart, appreciate the people you have in your life. Don’t assume tomorrow is coming. Choose to love right now. With urgency.
Also, be intentional about modeling that for your children. We’re reminded often that it’s more our behavior than our words that’s shaping their perspective about life and love. Teach them to love by loving. Teach them to be appreciative by practicing gratitude. Teach them to be intentional by living intentionally.
In the midst of this experience, we’ve learned from them almost as much as they’ve learned from us. Their expression of gratitude even with sad news. Their care for and desire to comfort the family, even while they learn how to manage their own grief. We’re learning how resilient the human spirit really is. And how, in the midst of it all, we can still choose joy.