Here follows part four of a multi-part story. You can read the first three parts here and here and here.
That next morning dawned bright and clear, whereas the preceding days up until Katherine’s passing had been rather bitter and dreary. The winter had been a long one, made all the more unbearable by Katherine’s illness. But this new day had risen fair, and a sort of freshness was in the air, as if spring was peeking through the cold Wisconsin snow.
Ben had hardly slept during the evening, and as the clock in the foyer approached eight AM, he was already feeling weary. He had tucked Missy into bed last night, and laid down in his own bed with every intention of sleeping, but because of his grief, and alternating anger, he hadn’t found the peace that had swaddled him on the drive home from the hospital. Here in this house, Katherine’s house, memories danced between the shadows of anguish in his mind. Everywhere he turned, he saw Katherine, on the bookshelf next to the fireplace, where Katherine’s collection of porcelain angels now stood, dusty and unattended for weeks; in the brightly lit kitchen, where she had refused any sort of darkening stain on her maple cabinets, claiming a kitchen was meant to be the light of the house, where family and friends founds food, comfort, and companionship.
There was no comfort in the kitchen this morning, Ben thought. Only a brightly lit, messy part of a house where once his wife had reigned, but now was no more. Ben made his way into the kitchen, pausing momentarily for the family cat, Tabby, to pass between his legs, meowing on her way to her dinner bowl. As Ben resumed his approach into Katherine’s former throne room, Tabby meowed more insistently, and Ben suddenly could not remember the last time she had been fed.
“Sorry Tabbs.” He said forlornly, “Come here, I’ll get you some food.”
The bin where Tabby’s bag of food was kept was nearly empty, and Ben made a mental note to pick some cat food up on his way home from the funeral home today. “The funeral home” he sighed. He had to be there at ten, he still had a little better than two hours to shower, get dressed, and drive the fifteen miles to Swan and Dillery Funeral Home. Plenty of time, he thought, although his heart ached for plenty more time, like fifty years more.
If someone had asked him just last week if he was finally prepared for Kate’s death, he would have told them no. The truth was, he still wasn’t ready for it. It seemed like years had passed since Katherine had been well. In truth, it had been one year of steadily failing health, until the last two months, when Kate could no longer stay at home safely. And through all of that time, Ben had prayed, hoped, and begged to God for a miracle cure. He had never really wanted to believe the cancer would end in death, not for his wife, not for Kate. Especially not for Missy.
But death had appeared last night, and despite Ben’s pleas to God, no saving answer had come. There had been no reprieve, and the doctors had been honest for the last year. They had said Katherine’s cancer would end in death, and they had been right.
Two weeks earlier, alone in his bed, Ben had dreamed of a conversation with God. He remembered it vividly, and began to replay it in his mind. He had been leaving the hospital in his car, in this dream, and had it not been for the fact that he knew he had woken up in his bed immediately after the dream, the reality of it would have caused him to believe the argument with God had been real, had actually taken place in his car.
But it had been a dream. He remembered how he had been driving down Oak street, the same street Missy took to get to the hospital, when a movement in the passenger seat caught his eye, He dared not look, he was afraid he was somehow seeing his wife’s spirit, that she had passed in the brief moments since he left her, and now she was in the car with him, saying goodbye. But the voice he heard was not Katherine’s. It was a man’s voice, deep and reassuring, kindly, fatherly. He stared straight ahead in this dream, still afraid to look to his right.
“Ben, I know what you are thinking.” The voice had said. Ben did not answer. He was acutely aware that suddenly he knew who was speaking. “I know how you feel. I am here to tell you that Katherine will find her rest soon, very soon. Then, you will find rest as well, in a different way.”
Ben still did not answer. He was certain he did not want to hear what this “voice” had to say. He tried plugging his ears as he was driving, but the voice rang into his hearing anyway, as if there was no hindrance that could silence it.
“Ben….listen to Me. I want you to tell me how you feel. I want you to tell me, so that you will know how you feel. I want you to face this, and not run away from it. Katherine is leaving here, and you must meet this death, and live beyond it. Missy is the one I have given you, and I have placed her in your hands. I will not have you neglect her. I will not suffer more tragedy than is necessary.”
It was then that Ben had exploded, as if God had removed the cork to his soul, the seal that had kept him from feeling, and from hurting. All at once, he blurted out, “More tragedy than is necessary?! What in the hell is that supposed to mean!? “ Ben waited, but God gave him no answer.
Catching his breath, he went on. “I mean, what in the world is tragedy for, anyway? Why all this pain, God? You want me to live through this, so that Missy won’t suffer, and I will, I promise, I will. But I want to know why this has to happen. I want to know why You decided to kill my wife, when You could have saved her.” Ben was rambling now, and anger was welling up from depths he had not realized existed,
“What about my faith?!! What about Katherine’s faith?! We believed in You, we prayed, begged, cried, and nothing!!! We got nothing!!! Nothing except more pain, and suffering, and this blasted waiting for her to die. Always the waiting!! You can’t just kill her instantly in a car accident. No!!! You have to MAKE her suffer. Why??!!!!!!”
And once he began, he felt as though he could not stop. All the anguish of the last year flooded out of him, all of the questions he had asked, he demanded answers to. All of the hopes that lay dead, as dead as Katherine soon would be, he demanded an accounting for. He put God to the test in that moment, and his last tirade against Him was the longest.
“Katherine’s served you ALL of her life! She gave up everything!! She gave up her parents wealth, she gave up any kind of financial security to help women who were abused for NOTHING! She never accepted payment, and she always gave, sometimes more than we could even afford to give!! And this? This is how she has to live? This isn’t life!! It’s a lie!! This is death!! It’s been death for over a year!! Nothing but death. And all along, we cried to You, and You didn’t answer!! Can’t you see? Don’t You know?!”
He took a breath, and then he said this last to make sure Jesus knew what he was talking about, “We’re losing faith!! Don’t you care? How can you just let us hang here, waiting for death that won’t come, for relief that never, EVER arrives? How can you make her suffer so much? And Missy? Talk to me about Missy! What about her? What has she done to deserve this? To live for the rest of her life without her mom? No!! If you want to talk with me, then tell me You’ve decided to heal Katherine. Otherwise, I don’t want to hear what You have to say! Not right now! Maybe not EVER!”
Ben expected God to vanish in that moment. He decided to chance a glance toward Him. What he saw broke him finally. There was Jesus, just as Ben had pictured Him, silently releasing a river of tears. In that moment, Ben didn’t know whether to choke Him to death, or pull the car over and comfort Him.
When Jesus looked at Ben, there was peace in His eyes, and He spoke with a calmness that frightened Ben a little, but gave him the assurance he would need for the end.
“Ben, death grows inside of Katherine. Death is the absence of life, and inside of her body, although it seems as if she is dying slowly, she is dying quite rapidly.” Jesus paused for a moment, and then continued, “In this world, there is trouble, and there is death. Every person dies, as you know. Some die over the space of a few days or years. Others die over the course of eighty, ninety, one hundred years. Yet each one who dies suffers, because death is suffering, Ben. And although I have chosen to give joy in this life, nevertheless, since death has come, each man has suffered it. And the suffering of death is no different for anyone who lives, be it quickly, or slowly.”
Ben turned away, not wishing to hear what Jesus was saying.
Jesus took Ben’s shoulder in his hand, and gently turned Ben back toward Him. “Ben, you will understand it soon enough. You too, have a baptism to undergo, and you are suffering death, although it will not be as quickly as Katherine.
Listen to me now, and hear the truth. Life is redeemed through death. For thirty-three years, I suffered in your place. Each turn of my head showed me pain and suffering the like of which you cannot understand. Yet I carried that cross all the way to Jerusalem, and buried it on that hill at Golgotha. And if I can suffer death and live, so too will your wife suffer death and live.”
Jesus released Ben then, but continued on, “Ben, I could have healed Katherine, and I chose not to. Do you understand why?”
Ben shook his head, tears freely flowing now.
“Neither will I tell you why, for you would not be able to understand it here. But the time will come when you will understand it, and then, you will thank me for this quick departure Katherine is making. I know, as I have said, that you believe this has been slow, and according to your way, it has been. But you think in terms of this world, whereas I see in terms of My Kingdom without end.
Remember, Ben, death comes to all, and you know not how or when it comes. But since the day I rose from the dead, life has been the end of death for those who know Me. If you knew what that life was, you would not be angry with Me for bringing Katherine to that life. But as for now, you see only with eyes that cannot understand all things completely.”
Ben spoke then, almost as if he was removed from his body, “I see well enough. I see my wife dying, Lord. It’s all I can see right now. I can’t see beyond this moment. I want to, but it’s so hard. I don’t think I can make it. Take me, and let Katherine live, please?”
“Jesus whispered, “Ben, I have heard you. All your prayers I have heard. But this prayer is beyond your understanding…”
“Then make me understand!! Lord!!” Ben cried, his heart breaking.
“Ben," Jesus answered. ” Do you believe Katherine is dying? For I say to you, she is beginning to live. Despite her fear, despite her waning body, she is beginning to live. Do you believe death is reigning within her? For I say to you, death is waning, and life is coming again. All of her life, Katherine has been dying from this cancer, a little bit each day. All or her life she has been passing away. So it is with each one who lives here, in this place. But now, death has come to completion, so that she may have life, and have it eternally. Now, in a short while, her body will die. Then she will rise, never to die or to sleep again. Where you see death, I see life. Ben, remember, you will see life in this way also, one day. Don’t lose hope, and don’t lose faith. I have come to you so that you would remain in Me.”
And with that, Ben had woken up. He cleared the memory of the dream from his head, and poured himself a cup of fresh brewed coffee. When he turned from the counter, Missy was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, sleep being wiped away from her eyes.
He looked from Missy to the window beyond. The sun was shining through, and for the first time in several months, he could see the ice melting.