A few years ago, I sat with a father of a 17 year old young woman who had been an in-patient for over a year fighting cancer. When I walked into her room the first time, I was amazed at the transformation of the room and how it signaled a will to kick cancer’s butt and get on with life. She had her eye on going home even as she knew it would be a while before that happened.
Though her immune system would not allow her to be in class with other kids, this tenacious woman was tending to her high school home work in between chemo treatments so she would not get behind. Later I would learn of her plans to attend college after graduation.
Her institutional hospital room now had bold colored curtains from home (I think they were purple). The family never used the harsh overhead florescent lights but, had brought table lamps to cast a homey, welcoming, soft glow in the room. She had put up typical teenage themed posters alongside the big ‘get well’ card posters signed by her friends back home in New Jersey. Her friends could not visit her, but their spirit and enthusiastic love were felt in the room.
I learned that this young woman was a Christian and an active leader in her church, including serving as communion steward with the pastor in her small congregation. I could imagine the hope rising in the hearts of older people in her congregation when they saw a young person joyfully leading in church. Everyone would want this teenager to be back home.
She went home. I remember the excitement in her eyes when she told me the news! Indeed, it seemed as though she could have walked out that very day, but at that time, she only had the promise of leaving soon.
Within two weeks she was back in the hospital, her young body was not able to keep up with the immunological demands of the outside world. She slipped further and further away from the picture of health.
I sat with her father; her mother wouldn’t speak to me because it indicated to her that she’d given up hope. Her father and I had spoken several times in the preceding hospitalization as he grasped for something positive, something to feel good about, some good news. This time he cried that he just wanted her to be home, that she said she just wanted to go home. I asked him where he thought home was, and he looked aback with no answer.
I reminded him that his daughter professed faith in Christ and the promise of heaven after death. I wondered if she might have a different idea of where home was. His expression softened, “I hadn’t thought of it that way. I just thought she meant New Jersey”, he said. And, then after a moment, “huh”.
After her death, we talked once more and he told me how she kept looking up into the corner ceiling of her hospital bed. Tied up with tubes and lines and an oxygen mask, she kept trying to move her head over to get a look at something past her dad’s shoulder, so much so that at one time, he too looked up to see what she was looking at. We wondered if she’d seen an angel waiting for her to take her home.