The Funeral was Yesterday

The struggle watching a son die

10/29/20233 min read

I was there beside my husband Hugh that day in early 2021, the day John called his father with the news. John had been struggling with gut pains while they were on their holiday in Bermuda. He had tried changing his diet, but nothing seemed to help. Finally he had seen the doctor and the doctor had done some tests. Now he had the results and he was breaking the news to his father.

It wasn’t unusual to get a call from John. He and his dad were on the phone together almost every day. Hugh always looked forward to the calls. He loved hearing about everything that went on in his son’s life. But this day was different. “Cancer!” John sounded strong and positive. The doctor didn’t give him much hope beyond one year, but John was optimistic. He would do everything in his power and he would beat this new challenge.

Hugh was devastated. How could he handle the thought of having a son go before he did. It hit him hard. It just couldn’t be happening! He began to handle it in the only way he could. He latched onto John’s optimism, a character trait which John had actually received from him in the first place.

Every day Hugh would look forward to John’s calls, and every day John would share the positive reports: He could take the chemo without any negative reactions; they were going to take out the really bad part of his liver, and the rest wasn’t as much of a problem; his liver was growing back; they were going to be able to make adjustments to overcome the problem of the liver growing back in the wrong direction; Doctors in Germany did procedures there that were almost guaranteed to help him win the battle even though Canadian doctors had given up.

For Hugh, reality only seeped through very gradually; sometimes the sound of John’s weakened voice, or a phone call that was cut off too abruptly. Occasionally, I would try to gently interpret the calls the way I heard them, and I am sure at the time, he wished I would just keep my thoughts to myself though later he let me know it had helped in the long run.

By the time John’s fiftieth birthday rolled around, most of us knew that it would be his last. John rallied for the occasion as many of his friends and family came to celebrate with him. I think Hugh knew then, but he allowed his blindness to shield him somewhat from the stark reality that he was facing. He was blessed not to be able to see what the past two years had done to John. He just enjoyed being with his son one more time.

When the day finally came, Hugh was ready to let his John go.

God blessed us with a day without rain at the graveside service yesterday, in spite of what the early forecast had been promising. Hugh’s brother Ed led the service, and I am sure it must have been hard for him, but he handled it well. When Hugh got up to sing, his voice was strong and beautiful. He related a story about John as a beautiful new-born baby before we sang the song, Because He Lives. I came close to tears as he sang “how sweet to hold a new born baby,” but I kept my eyes glued to my steel guitar. If I had been able to see the tears that were being shed by family and friends it would have totally messed me up both with the guitar and my singing, but Hugh kept going strong.

It was a joy for Hugh to reconnect with many that had come to honor his son and a huge blessing for us to see how family and friends had worked together to provide a beautiful soup and sandwich lunch in a building that John’s cousin Rob (Rocky Neelands) had provided for our use. How wonderful to feel enveloped in the love flowing around us.

It’s over now. No more daily calls from John; no more daily prayers for his recovery. John’s time had come. We accept that. We’ve learned to trust in God’s timing. We will continue to pray for the rest of John’s family and friends. Their need for comfort will continue. There will come a time when Hugh will feel the urge to reach for the phone and make that call, and then he will remember. There will be a lasting ache for some. We will all miss John. And our soul will remind us: Life is short, and death is certain, but death is not the end.

For the previous post see: Trusting God's Timing