I was very much touched by a report on the world famous singer Joey Feek, now diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. Someone who was once a beautiful and renowned woman is today reduced to a mere shadow of her real self.
In an interview Feek said that she had a very difficult time initially accepting her terminal diagnosis. “More than anything, she felt like she failed at something,” Joey revealed. “I thought I did everything, but God decided for me that my job of singing for people down here is my legacy, and he needs me singing up there. That’s how I look at it.”
Over the past few days, her family has been making final arrangements for Joey as they try and make her as comfortable as possible. She wanted to go to her hometown in Indiana for her final days. She said: “This is where I was born, it’s where I was raised, and this is where I die.”
Joey seems to be mostly at peace with her situation, and credits her faith with helping her get through this incredibly difficult time. “I pray that one morning I just don’t wake up,” she says. “But I don’t fear anything because I’m so close to God and we’ve talked about it so many times. I know he’s close. And I know he loves me. I’m really at peace. I still believe there’s healing in prayer.”
During the last five years I have been working as a nurse in our clinic in Rome, mostly in the operation theatre and in the department of oncology. I have seen with my own eyes and touched with my own hands many
persons in such situations. I have realised that, when confronted with news of a terminal illness like cancer, people go through a difficult process. The first reaction is that of shock and disbelief. Tears and moments of silence often follow, both from the sick as well as from the family members. In the second stage some patients enter into a mode of denial, refusing to believe in this terrible truth. In the third stage some may look for magical cures through visits to holy places or persons and trust in the doctors and medicine. In the fourth stage, they often fall into depression and desperation faced with the severity of the illness and its symptoms.
It is at this point that the patient’s inner strength and faith in God are truly tested. Some will fight the illness with magnanimity and courage; some can fall into resignation and depression; others will come out heroically, as in the case of Joey Feek, with a firm trust in the love and care of the Almighty. They will no longer have the fear of death nor the pain of leaving loved ones because they will begin to see death and the afterlife as a continuation of their earthly sojourn. In fact, most often they will find a certain serenity and peace. Many will be ready “for singing up there”. Some others, of course, will continue to curse their fate.
Let us be clear of one thing. Such a heroic witness of courage and faith can happen only if we prepare ourselves for such moments of paschal mystery on a daily basis, with utmost trust in the One who is our origin and destiny. Whether one is rich or poor, educated or uneducated, healthy or unhealthy…we are all poor and fragile and need divine grace! How terrible it is when one assumes the illusion of omnipotence and arrogance!
In this Holy Year of Mercy, the deepest spiritual attitude that we need to have is one of profound humility to entrust ourselves to the infinite mercy of God. As followers of St Vincent, as Christians, if we trust in the infinite love and mercy of God, we will be able to say one day with the same conviction as Joey Feek when she said: “But I don’t fear anything because I’m so close to God and we’ve talked about it so many times. I know he’s close. And I know he loves me. I’m really at peace. I still believe there’s healing in prayer.”
Caring for the sick, especially for terminally ill patients, was my work of evangelisation. In this work, many words do not matter. Often a glance of compassion, a touch of tenderness, a smile radiating from faith and trust in the infinite goodness of God, are some of the means of evangelisation.
Above all people working with patients in such a dire situation should witness to the truth that there is something worth living for even beyond this earthly life – something more beautiful and infinitely lasting.
You wish to believe in that? This is the most profound existential choice that one has to make especially in such critical moments of life.
I, for one, believe in that and will help others to do the same.