Dad’s witness was such that we had to accept God in spite of his death, or reject both God and Dad.

On maundy thursday we partook of the sacrament. It was very much, I fancy, like the first Maundy Thursday when our Lord saw ahead to his death on the following day. On this Thursday, 1982, my father, bones spearing at his skin and stomach distended, looked ahead to his death. My mother stood on one side of the bed; I stood on the other. The pastor opened his portable Communion kit. He handed around the broken wafers, then said: “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat.…’ ”

It was less than a week later, on April 14, that the cancer had its say. After a year of waiting and watching, a year of fighting, death’s moment came. Dickinson’s paralyzing “hour of lead” was upon us.

“When someone has cancer or another fatal disease, there is nothing you can do.” Too many people say this. Sadder yet, too many Christians believe it. The phrase is a telling one, and it discloses how much of our faith we have given up. “Ah,” you think, “faith healing. We are going to be chastised for not believing in faith healing.” But no; and again the reaction is a telling one. It too betrays depths of the faith naturalized, secularized, surrendered, and forgotten.

My father’s battle began in April 1981 when the tumor was found crouching in his colon. It had given him months of intermittent nausea and weakness. He and his doctor thought it a lingering flu. But it was cancer, hidden in his bowels like a wolf in a cave.

Surgery was scheduled to follow a week of tests. There were humiliating tests: proctoscopes and barium ...

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