Hope For Those Who Hurt, by Howard and Jeanne Tomlinson

Chapter 31 –

The unthinkable has happened – now what?  Have you ever felt like just when things could not get any more difficult, they became impossible?  Like when you just conquered the infantry, on came the tanks and the atom bombs?  Where is God when it really, really hurts?

Hi, Iím Dave, Jeanneís brother.  Jeanne asked me to help write this last chapter of her book for her.  This will have to be a rough draft, because, you see, I have to catch a plane to New York in the morning to go to her funeral.  You heard me right: Jeanneís funeral.

As I pause for us all to catch a breath, I must break to you the bad news.  Jeanne died last night.  Youíve just been reading about her life experiences, her faith, her joy, her love, her growth in spiritual maturity through all her trials with her husband Howard.  The previous few chapters were in the drafting stages when we heard the news: Jeanne had cancer.  Why, Lord?  How could you do this to our precious Jeanne?  What is going on?  I am sobbing as I write these words.  None of us could believe it.  At age 53, just 70 days from the time of diagnosis, she was gone!

Jeanne and Howie had just spent two wonderful months out West over the “Y2K” period, visiting family and friends, and catching up on some rest from their most recent trials.  While in California during January, they had a chance to drop in at Joni Eareckson Tadaís headquarters and record a short radio program about how God had blessed them through all their trials.  As you know from reading thus far, Jeanne was usually the healthy one, helping Howie through his ongoing treatments and emergencies.  She had the episode with the hives, but had usually been quite healthy.  We celebrated Y2K together, and were relieved the world didnít come to an end.  It was even less of a problem than I thought – and I was an optimist.  Anyway, the radio program with Joni, scheduled to air in May, focused primarily on Howieís physical problems; little did we know at the time that Jeanne was in far greater danger.

After returning to New York, Jeanne started having coughing fits and headaches.  She was told they were migraines, and given medication.  When they got worse, and she started losing her vision, she rushed to the emergency room and requested an MRI.  Meanwhile, she made her usual birthday phone call to me and Howie played Happy Birthday on his trumpet, only this time on tape because he was starting to get paralysis on his left side again.  Other than the headaches and coughing, Jeanne was up and about and felt normal.  At the hospital, however, Dr. Fetterman, the substitute on duty, looked with concern at the images.  Brain tumors.  Five or six of them.

When the doctor got Jeanne and Howie together to explain the diagnosis, he wisely gave them some time alone to reflect.  “Brain tumors!” Howard exclaimed – “Iím the one with brain tumors! No, no, not Jeanne! God help us!” They wept and prayed on each others shoulders.  “Lord, whatever is your will in this,” they prayed, “help your Son to be glorified in our trials.”

A chest X-ray was taken and showed where the tumors had come from: a cancerous tumor on her lung.  Jeanne was diagnosed with non-small-cell carcinoma.  Over 85% who contract this cancer are smokers.  Jeanne had never smoked a cigarette in her life.  She didnít even hang around smokers.  We couldnít think of any exposure that could have caused this; it just did not make any sense at all.  None of us knew, also, that the life expectancy for this kind of cancer after diagnosis was five months.  Jeanne got a little more than two.

The doctors immediately put Jeanne on an aggressive program of radiation to the head and chest.  Her hair started coming out in clumps in the shower.  She coughed incessantly.  She started getting weaker.  Walking became slow. At the same time, Howard went completely paralyzed on his left side.  Now, at the time when Jeanne needed him most, he became almost a complete invalid.  He could not walk.  He became incontinent.  He needed help just getting to the bathroom, or from the couch to the bed.  Jeanneís euphemism, “a most bizarre situation,” camouflaged the great danger the two of them were in.  Jeanneís reference to Psalm 23 in the last chapter, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” was beginning to sound prescient.

Friends, family, and her church responded with unprecedented acts of support.  Jeanne and Howieís walls were covered with cards; flowers arrived, and every day friends from church were bringing home-cooked meals, so much that the refrigerator was stuffed.  Her mom and I flew out from California and ran errands, took care of Howie, and hugged and prayed with Jeanne.  Howardís folks ran a three-month marathon of work on their behalf, everything from driving Jeanne to her radiation treatments to bathing Howie and getting him to the bathroom.  The situation was desperate, and all the people you have been reading about in this book came out in force to help: Dr. Damadian, Dr. Engstrand, Dr. Diener, Pastor Richard, Corrie, Nancy, Cliff, Steven, and too many more than we could possibly name.  Her dad researched alternative treatments.  I arranged and recorded some of her original songs. Her sister Judy, unable to travel due to severe back trouble, wrote a prayer to her based on the character of God, and had her children send creative gifts.  Her mom bought Jeanne a wig to compensate for the hair loss.  Nancy bought medical supplies and found information about hospitals, nursing homes and insurance.  The food kept coming. An army of people touched by Jeanneís testimony and ministry of encouragement responded.  Maybe that was part of the reason.

But what about Jeanne herself?  Was she distraught by her situation?  On the day of the diagnosis, she called me long distance and sounded her usual cheerful self, that she felt fine, and was trusting the Lord was working things according to His will. She said, “we are in a desperate situation, but not in despair.” After I came out to New York two weeks later, as their needs were starting to really get desperate, she told me that the lessons she had learned through the trials described in this book had prepared her.  She was calm, peaceful, appreciative, and always wore a sweet smile right to the end.  I wept with her at the hospital taking her to one of her daily radiation treatments, but she just smiled, and asked for prayer that she would be faithful and be able to finish this book.  “Youíre really strong, Jeanne,” I said.

I could not have always said that.  Twenty years earlier, I had felt Jeanne tended to be weak emotionally; she worried a lot, was very sensitive and self-conscious, and fearful.  How could she be so calm now, facing death?  This is perhaps another part of the answer.  Jeanne had been refined in the fire, and was coming forth as gold.  Her trials had transformed her into a sweet, calm encourager, and as you have read in this book, she became a bright gem of a Christian, walking her talk.  She has become a prime example of everything she encouraged you to do in this book.  I used to think that it was a little too autobiographical, because a lot of people have trials, and what makes hers worth writing a book about? Iím ashamed of that now; as you have seen, she didnít tell their story for its own sake, but to illustrate how we can each respond to our own trials with Biblical attitudes.  And now Jeanne had faced the ultimate trial – death – with a fortitude, courage, and peace that puts me to shame.  This book is tenfold more powerful now because of what happened between chapters 30 and 31.  Maybe God wanted to give her the highest prize for trials: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev 2:10b).

On June 1, Jeanne was spiralling downhill fast.  The cancer had spread throughout her body.  When the doctors said they could do no more than try to keep her comfortable, Jeanne asked to be taken from the hospital back to her husband Howieís side at Birchwood Care Center, where he was still bedridden.  They spent some precious hours together that day.  Freda, Howardís mom, brought a tape recorder to get some of Jeanneís last words, but she was so weak it was hard for her to speak at all.  Freda asked her if she had any message to share with her friends and family.  Very weak but fully alert, she said what would be her last words to us:

“This is Jeanne.  The hymns that I enjoy the most are It Is Well With My Soul and God Will Take Care Of You and the songs that Iíve written all concerning peace and Peace I Leave With You, John 14:27 and Phil.4: 6 and 7 – Be anxious for nothing – that passage.  So those are some of the passages and the best thing for me is to take it one day at a time and not to try to look ahead and to trust God and allow Him to be in control of everything thatís going to happen in my life.  Thank You.”

Shortly after this, around 8:00 p.m., Jeanne had a violent coughing spell and needed the nursesí help.  Then she rested calmly, so family members felt safe to leave her alone with Howie, both of them holding hands.  At about 9:10, a nurse came by and looked at her, and thought, “Iíd better get my stethoscope.” Sure enough, Jeanneís soul had slipped away peacefully, and Howie, still holding her hand, did not even know it.  He didnít even know that quietly, the Savior they both loved and served since childhood, had taken Jeanneís hand.

FOR THOSE WHO HURT:  When the unbelievable happens, or is about to happen, how can you respond without terror and fear?  One way is to think of the worst thing that could happen, and then list reasons why it isnít so bad after all.  Dying, clearly, is one of the most frightening things we can imagine happening to us, but in reality, for those of us who trust Christ, it is a day of triumph! “Where, O death, is thy sting?  Where, O grave is your victory? . . . Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:55, 57).  A chorus Jeanne sang many times growing up says, “This world is not my home; Iím just a-passing through.” And so it is for each of us who know Christ.  Death is not the end, it is a glorious entry into our eternal home in heaven! Jesus Christ has removed the sting of death; it is no longer our enemy, something to be dreaded, but rather a gateway to the Everlasting Arms.  A change of perspective turns terror into triumph.

Also, we can be sure God is in control, no matter what happens.  His timing is just right.  Because He is sovereign and loving, death will not come as an accident, but according to His merciful plan for each one of us, individually.  The Bible doesnít promise any of us a 90-year lifespan, retirement, and all the rest the world seeks.  No; God will take us, each of us, in His own time.  If God wanted to take Jeanne what seemed to us a little early, to congratulate her and say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” He couldnít have chosen a better way, surrounding her with love and caring friends, without prolonged pain, holding her husbandís hand.  That God hasnít taken you and me yet means we still have work to do.  Thatís why Paul continues in verse 58, “Therefore” – because of Christís resurrection – because our resurrection bodies will have no pain and sickness – because Christ will take us to our eternal home no matter what trials come our way – “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Thatís all I have time for now.  Iíve got to go celebrate Jeanneís graduation.
Her brother, Dave

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