Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
Bruce had a soft and delightful Scottish accent that made listening to him a very pleasant exercise. His infectious laugh seemed to cheer everyone up who was in his presence when he told a joke and he told many. He and I spent many happy hours together as the best of friends and he encouraged me in my Christian faith.
One fall evening when Bruce and I were out for a walk he confided in me that he had a medical problem that appeared to be very serious. He had not mentioned much about it to his family but knew that the time had come to let them in on the fact he was facing some difficult medical tests. He wanted me there to assist him in sharing the matter with the children in particular. I suggested that he tell his wife alone and he agreed. The difficulty was that his wife Barbara was not an emotionally strong person and she would need a lot of support from others once she understood the issues involved.
I counseled Bruce to outline the problem to the children briefly and clearly. Until the results of the tests were back and the doctors had spoken to him I told him not to get into a discussion of a prognosis. There was no point in trying to figure out the course of the disease until it was clear what the disease was and how advanced it was.
Barbara, his wife, took the news hard and we immediately got her connected with a wonderful older woman in their church to whom she could turn for comfort and encouragement. Barbara knew this woman well and had tremendous respect for her so it was a natural fit for them to get together and work through the issues. This older woman had faced several very tragic situations in her own life and was a survivor. She was the perfect person to come alongside and minister grace to a confused and frightened person.
The children were optimistic about the whole matter and tried to comfort their Dad as best they could. They did not ask many questions but were assured by Bruce that when he had answers he would tell them.
Bruce felt that he only needed to be able to talk to me and it was enough for him. I found out when he was scheduled for his tests and arranged my work around his appointments so that I could be with him at the clinic each time he had to go there. Then when he went to the specialist with Barbara for the final results I went along as well. As it turned out the news was not good. The disease was out of control and while the doctors could medicate the symptoms they could not arrest the progress of the disease. They advised Bruce that the disease would run its course in about 18 months.
After Bruce and Barbara asked a few questions we left the office and went out for a coffee. They wanted me to stay with them for a while and I was quite willing to do so. Their first question to me was, “How do we tell the children?” Their four children were young adults, three of whom still lived at home. They were a close family and shared everything with each other. I suggested they call a family conference for that night and have everyone together in the family home to share the news. I offered to speak for them or just be there if they wished. I made it clear that if they wanted to be alone as a family I would certainly understand. Both Barbara and Bruce thought it would be good for me to be with them as I had such a good relationship with the children and they trusted me. I cancelled my appointments for that evening and arranged to meet them that night.
Going to Bruce and Barbara’s home that evening was a very difficult task for me. I loved them all very much and hurt for them. I prayed for wisdom from above and for some Scripture verses that might bring comfort to their aching hearts. When I arrived everyone was there and the children were apprehensive. I commenced with reading Psalm 23 a most familiar and beautiful Psalm. Then I prayed and asked the Lord to help us understand His will and purposes for the family.
Addressing the children I explained that their father had been through some medical tests and the results indicated a very serious condition that was not curable. The doctors would be able to make their father comfortable as the disease ran its course but they could not halt its progress.
I suggested a couple of places in the Bible to go for comfort and made sure each one understood they could call me day or night if they needed help. Psalm 73 and John 14 were at the top of my list. I assured them that I was going to be with them all the way through this difficulty and that we would know the grace of God as we walked this challenging road together.
The ensuing weeks and months were an especially hard time for my dear friends, but the grace of God was with them and it was wonderful to see how the comfort of Scriptures met the needs of each one. They drew closer together as time went on.
Finally Bruce had to go into hospital for the last time to receive around the clock help from the medical community. My visits became more frequent as the disease progressed until in the final days I was there each afternoon for a brief time. Each time Bruce saw me come into the hospital room he said the same thing in his lovely Scottish brogue. “Gordon, tell me about heaven.” We had many times of delightful sharing together and I saw Bruce getting stronger in his faith each day.
One hymn writer has a very interesting phrase in a hymn where he writes about “mournful joy”. Such was the case when Bruce left us for a far more wonderful place in heaven. I preached my best at his service and the people remarked after that they had never been to a more joyful funeral service in their lives.
All of this happened because Jesus came and died for sinners and rose again. By confessing our sin and believing in the resurrected Jesus we may have the confidence of Bruce. Then when we come to face our own departure from this world it will be a joyful time for us and our loved ones will have their sorrow for their loss mingle with the joy of knowing what the one who has gone ahead now experiences.