This raw, honest, yet hope-infused book charts the diagnosis, decline and death of Elizabeth Groves’ husband Al from cancer. It's a testament of God’s grace to this family even in hard times that they never would have chosen.
In 2006, at age 52, happily married with four children, two still in high school, and working as Academic Dean at Westminster Theological Seminary, Al learns his previous melanoma has returned as spots on his lungs. With no real treatment options, they prepare for his final months. The book divides into two main sections, life before and life after, which also includes some reflections from Elizabeth over seven years later. Much of the material in the first half are reflections Al himself write on a blog at the time.
The chapters are very short, rarely more than 2-3 pages, which Groves’ acknowledges are purposeful, in case others reading it are also in the midst of grief and cannot read much at a time.
As I read it, I was struck by many things. This family’s continual trust and faith in God’s goodness, in all circumstances. Their deep and purposeful reliance on him. Their desire to keep serving and honouring God in their midst of their grief and pain. Their very healthy approach to Al’s final months, declaring “it’s always OK to cry”. They grieved openly that he would never walk his daughters down the aisle, never see his grandchildren, never see any more children’s graduations. They expressed their love for each other, were able to say goodbye, and it seems had few regrets about his final months. What a marvellous gift that was, and I doubt there are many who could look back on such times with the same confidence and grace. As such, it’s a marvellous witness to those who are yet to face such challenges in their own lives. It may however be hard to read for those who have faced similar circumstances, without the support, love, care, faith and trust that this family had.
I found Groves’ comments on the balance between life here and life in heaven insightful and very helpful:
How do we find the balance between holding onto life here and looking forward to life in heaven? … On the one hand, is it right to pray boldly for a miraculous healing? I would say yes. On the other hand, is it right to accept the cold, hard reality of a terminal diagnosis and walk toward death with faith and grace? I would say yes. Should we treasure life here on earth? Yes. But should we look forward to heaven with anticipation? Yes. The two mind-sets may appear to be mutually exclusive, but I think that in Christ was can actually do both at the same time. We can fully treasure life and do all that reasonably lies within our power to preserve it, while at the same time resting in the knowledge that our lives are in God’s hands and when he chooses to take us home, we can let of this life and gladly embrace the better one ahead. (p32)
I have read this book at exactly the same time a dear friend is facing this very reality. God indeed had his reasons for making me wait two years to get to it. Reading it has been a cathartic experience in many ways. At various points I found myself weeping, or rejoicing, or thankful for God’s mercies; and ever desiring and praying that all who walk the path of the valley of the shadow of death, can do so knowing they have an Eternal Father who longs to bring them home.