By Fr. Larry W. Weidner
John, in his late 60s, having been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer with only weeks to live, decided to forgo any treatment and live his final days with whatever time God was going to give him. His oncologist asked for a spiritual care visit.
Walking down the hall, I observed the maintenance staff putting up the artificial Christmas tree in a waiting area. As I walked into the room, John and his wife were having a lively conversation that ended abruptly.
The patient did not look as if he was in the final stage of his life. His wife appeared more upset than he did. Mary told me that she simply did not know what she would do without him. “He does everything. He pays all the bills, takes care of the house, the yard, the car. I can’t imagine what I’m going to do without him,” she bemoaned. John tried to comfort her by telling her that she was stronger than she thought.
After the two of us quietly listened to her concerns, I asked whether I could offer a prayer. They agreed. But as I was about to leave, I stopped. “By the way,” I said, “may I ask what you two were discussing when I walked into the room?”
“Oh, he wants me to put the damn Christmas lights up on the outside of the house,” the wife said. “With everything going on, he’s dying and he wants me to put the Christmas lights up! The last thing on my mind is Christmas. Can you believe him?”
Looking at him and then her, I said, “Do John and me a favor. Put up the damn Christmas lights!” She looked shocked, but I said, “I’ll stop by tomorrow,” and I turned and left.
The next day when I entered the room, the two of them were talking. There was even some laughter. It was apparent that they had moved beyond the doctor’s news of John’s diagnosis and her initial shock and panic. I also noticed a nighttime picture of a house with outside Christmas lights shining brightly. After a few minutes of conversation, I pointed to the picture and asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a picture of our house,” said John, with a big grin on his face. “After Mary left here yesterday, she went home and put the Christmas lights up. She took this picture for me. Don’t they look great? I’m so proud of her.”
Mary smiled at John, then looked straight at me and said, “So, tell me, Father, why did you want me to put up those damn Christmas lights?”
I said, “Mary, it wasn’t what I wanted, but what John wanted. Yesterday you were fearful. You shared that John does everything for you. You questioned what you would do without him. John needs to know that you will be OK when he’s gone. I think that John felt that if you could put up those outside Christmas lights, you could do anything. You did it, and I believe you can do anything. You have given John the best Christmas present ever — to know that when he is gone, you will be OK.”
John held Mary’s hand in his one hand and in his other hand held the picture against his chest. With tears running down her face, Mary looked away from John at me. “Thank you. Father, you do understand.”
We said a prayer together, and I left. As I was walking down the hall, I thought to myself, “When am I going to put the Christmas lights up on my house?”
Fr. Larry W. Weidner, BCC, is a retired hospital chaplain in Show Low, AZ.