Jean had everything ready. Her children were coming for Sunday afternoon tea, just like the old days. It had been such a long time since she had got them all together. She checked the table once more, laid with a pretty cloth that her own mother had embroidered, the best porcelain tea set, sandwiches and scones and the best and lightest Victoria sponge. Jean took a deep breath.
They soon arrived, her adult children: her daughter Maisie got there first and then her youngest son David. As she could have predicted, the eldest boy George burst in at the last minute. Not that he was a boy any more, but in his mid-40s already, with the others not far behind.
They sat and ate tea. Though Jean tried to keep everything normal, she could tell they were watching her. They weren’t daft, they knew something was up.
“OK, mum,” said Maisie. “What’s this all about?”
“You don’t normally bring us all round for tea on a Sunday afternoon,” said George, “not these days”.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” said Jean. “I’ve had some tests and seen the doctor. It’s definitely cancer, and there’s nothing they can do. The nurse is going to help me, and they will make me as comfortable as possible, but we’re only going one way with this. I am going to need your help and support.”
“No!” said George. “This isn’t happening. Don’t be daft, mum. You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’ve always been so healthy: you never smoked, you never drank much, you eat a healthy diet. You of all people! They’ve made a mistake.” He had risen from his chair and he was angry. “Don’t put any more pressure on me. I can’t cope! My job is under threat; my wife is blaming me for everything; my children are going off the rails. And now you come out with all this – do you want to destroy me completely?”
“George,” Jean pleaded. “Please listen to me!”
“I’m not staying to listen to any more of this rubbish! When you’ve stopped all this attention-seeking, I’ll come back and tell you how difficult my life is!” and George grabbed his coat and stormed out of the house.
“He’s no help at all”, said Maisie. “Mum, we’ve got to draw up an action plan. I want to talk to the doctors. Just let them tell me there’s nothing they can do! What’s your actual diagnosis – I’ll google it. There will be a treatment somewhere that will make you better. We’ll send you to America, if that’s what it takes. I’ll set up a crowd funding page. We’ll raise the money somehow. Don’t give in mum. You’ve got to fight this! Don’t worry, I’ll sort this. There’s no way we will let this get to you!”
And she grabbed her coat to get back to her laptop and her new cause.
Jean was left at the table with her head in her hands.
David put his arm round her. “Mum, I am so sorry. You must have been bearing all this on your own for weeks. And it must have been so difficult to tell us.”
Jean said, “Yes, it has been a rollercoaster ride. I was like George and Maisie – at first I didn’t want to know and then I was sure that there must be some treatment somewhere. But I came to see that the doctors were telling me the truth and I had a choice about how I live with this. And that’s what I want you all to know. I am going to die. I don’t know how long I have left, but I want to make the most of it. And for me, making the most of it is about having good times with my family and showing how much I love you all and finding peace. It isn’t about trying to find an obscure cure or pretending it isn’t happening.”
There was a knock on the door at that point. It was Father James, Jean’s vicar from church.
“How did it go?” he asked. He knew that Jean was going to tell her children about her illness and prognosis.
So Jean and David told him about how George and Maisie had taken it.
Father James said, “It’s not easy to hear bad news. Peter found it very difficult when Jesus told the disciples he was going to suffer, be rejected and then be killed. Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and in his mind, Messiahs didn’t get trampled on. He had a lot to learn!”
“And how about you, David?” he continued, “How do you feel about all this?”
David thought for a moment and turned to his mother. “Mum, I will be here for you,” he said. “We’ll make a list of all the things you’d like to do, and we’ll have some great times. We’ll talk and share our memories and dream our dreams. We’ll make sure you do all the things you feel you need to do, like saying goodbyes or making arrangements. But we’ll do it at your pace, and you will choose what we’re going to do and when.”
Jean thanked him. She was somewhat comforted. “But I am still upset by George”, she said. He thought I was being attention-seeking and that my illness would be another problem in his complicated life. It was all about him!”
Father James was reassuring. “That was his first reaction. Hopefully, he will come back when he’s thought it through and be more supportive. It’s a bit like what Jesus said. At the moment, he is putting himself first. He needs to take up the cross of engaging with your situation. He needs to accept it and walk with you. That way, he will find life, even in your dying. Jesus was actually talking about what it means to follow him, but it also applies to the way we relate to others and our families.
Bad things happen: illness, accidents, death, lots of things. They are part of life. The way we cope with these difficult things matters. Jesus has already walked ahead of us on the road of trouble and distress. Jesus is always with us. But it does mean letting go of our own hopes and expectations and looking beyond them, and putting God and others first.”