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When Cancer Takes Your Loved One

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My mom was diagnosed with cancer a few days before Thanksgiving. My husband, Bernie, and our three daughters were at my sister’s house in northern Michigan, rejoicing as she and her husband welcomed their fifth child into their family. The Monday before Thanksgiving, I saw my niece, Maggie, be born. Later that evening, I listened in shock as my mom told me over the phone that she had gone to the hospital with shortness of breath thinking something was wrong with her heart. Instead, the doctor told her she had lung cancer.

By Christmas, we knew it was stage three, inoperable, and incurable, words we had protested and resisted. But the doctor was firm in his diagnosis. With treatment, Mom had six to 24 months.

Everyone decided to come to our house for Christmas. All we knew for sure is that we wanted to be together. We needed to be together. So my mom, my sisters, and their families came to our home, near Chicago, and we prepared our favorite foods, decorated the house, and piled presents around the tree. We systematically moved through the holiday, doing our best to keep everything as normal as possible for the children, but those of us who knew about Mom’s diagnosis were wondering the same thing. Will this be our last year together? God, what kind of grief will this new year bring with it? 

We read the Nativity story and sang our favorite carols. We laughed and cried and prayed together. We stayed up late and told stories. We went to the Christmas Eve service at our church and these lyrics became my prayer for us that Christmas:

O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

We were reminded that the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus were not glamorous or easy. He was born into a hostile, broken world. That Christmas Eve, we needed the hope of Christmas more than ever before. Our world and our hearts were breaking into pieces, and we needed the presence of Emmanuel, God with us. We’d need it every day of the New Year, as mom endured chemo and radiation, as she fought hard to get well. 

Mom told us she believed she would be healed, but that no matter what happened, she was in a win-win situation. If she was healed she won more time with her family. And if she died, she won eternity with her Savior. Either way, her future—and ours—was secure.

I continued to make this hymn my prayer for Mom on dark winter days in January and February, and on promising days of spring in April and May.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home
Make safe the way that leads on high
And close the path to misery
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

In late November, I had watched my niece, Maggie, be born into this world. Seven months later, in early July, I watched my mom be born into heaven. It was not the outcome we had prayed for, but God had answered our prayers. Emmanuel had come, and He had opened wide our heavenly home. He had made safe the way that leads on high, and He had, once and for all, closed the path to misery. Mom was no longer in pain. She was at peace. She was home.

The following November everyone gathered in our home again; it was difficult to accept our new reality and the empty chair at our Thanksgiving table. And yet, as we went around the circle and offered up our thanks, even in the midst of our brokenness and sorrow, the faithful presence of Emmanuel was undeniable. We had not walked alone. The true hope of Christmas is not that our troubles will magically be far away, but that Emmanuel comes into our world, into our pain and grief, and brings true healing to every heart.

Excerpt taken from Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy. Copyright © 2017 by Becky Baudouin. Published by Kregel Publications. Used by permission.

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About The Author


Becky Baudouin is the author of Cancer, Faith, and Unexpected Joy, and a former columnist for Chicago’s Daily Herald. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband, Bernie, and their three daughters.

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