In Death and Life – Tracey’s Story

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Tracey (far left) and Graham (far right) with his brother during the months of Graham’s treatments.

June 3, 2013  [Your Letters, Living Faith, Death]  From my friend, Tracey: It was 3 years ago that our friend Dr Bruce Robinson dropped the bomb. What we thought was a shoulder problem was mesothelioma. The cancer you get from asbestos. To make matters worse it was the worst kind. Sarcomitoid mesothelioma, the most aggressive and painful cancer. The pain Graham was feeling in his shoulder was from the cancer entering his chest cavity and breaking some ribs. He was 49 years old. “You have six months to live, palliative care only, you need a miracle.”  The tears flowed from my eyes immediately. I could not stop them.

I asked Graham for his sunglasses as I did not want people to see me crying.

We walked back to the car. He grabbed my hand and said “I want you to know you are the love of my life.”

We drove home in shock, and I remember being so thankful our children were not going to be there.

My daughter Paige was 18 my son Carson was 14. We called friends to come over and pray.

I prayed to the Lord that we would not be disempowered by this, but  empowered to bring Him glory.

I can tell you He faithfully honoured that prayer.

Graham did all he could for the next 8 months to fight the diagnosis.  He believed the Lord could heal him and he hoped He would.

One of the treatments was a new radical radiotherapy, which meant leaving Perth and heading to Melbourne for six weeks. It was hard to leave family and friends, but in the end it was also a beautiful time to be together and seek the Lord.

From my Diary during that trip:  “Graham and I went through Proverbs together. In Pro 14 I was struck afresh with the idea of seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. The theme for that Proverb is wisdom and knowledge and I realized I so often pray for everything else first–the kids doing well etc. I felt grieved about this. God tells us first seek him and all these things will be given. He knows everything: even what I fear for my children and Graham. Yet I forget. Somehow I thought “If I don’t pray maybe nothing will happen!” But being wise is the most important. So that should be my prayer for myself my children, everyone–the joy, peace and wisdom that comes from walking closely with my Lord. The skill that comes from wisdom, that flows to choices and relationships. I am thankful for His Spirit who is my constant helper.

When I see Graham suffer it’s the worst. The treatment is hard.

On one occasion I wrote, “Lord if you’re going to take him please don’t put him through all this, just take him. I know part of it is that I am selfish and I can’t stand how I feel to see him suffer this way.” Once when the treatment was particularly hard for Graham I was overwhelmed with sadness. I did not want to cry in front of other people. But the tears kept slipping out. He was suffering. I reflected on that day and thought, “What does it mean to be strong? Does ‘hold it in’ mean strength? I felt that having the courage to be real and vulnerable in that moment meant strength. To be honest in the emotion.” It is hard to just sit in that first primary emotion, it ends up getting buried under the layers of other emotions, fear, embarrassment and shame.

That was the hardest day in Melbourne. I wrote about a scene from a movie we watched a few nights earlier. Jeff Bridges was an alcoholic musician. In the end he lost everything because of his addiction. He hit rock bottom before he finally chose to change. In the end when asked how he was doing he said “one day at a time.” One day at a time is all we only ever really have. We live in the illusion that we have more days ahead. We have only now. Today. I have learned to live in the present.  One day is all I can muster when it’s a roller coaster ride. Watching the movie also caused me to reflect on the two times in the bible where it talks about what we sow.  I see sin that way. Just as the Jeff Bridges character was totally destroying his life. People all over the world don’t fully comprehend the consequences of what they do, what they say and so on.

Then the treatment was finally over and we left Melbourne and headed home.

Graham started to deteriorate. That was the end of Nov and he wanted me to plan a trip to see his family in Texas in Dec. We were booked to leave New Year’s Day to be with his folks. I believed he would not be up for the trip, but I did not have the heart to squash what he wanted, so I booked the trip.

On Christmas day, I was overcome with dread. I knew he was struggling. I wanted to take him to the hospital, but he insisted we go to my sisters near our home in Perth. Again the tears just flowed. I could not stop them. Graham did not want to spoil the day. The next day I insisted and I took him to the hospital.

They drained 2 litres from the healthy lung, and 600ml from his chest cavity surrounding his heart.

He had all that fluid in him Christmas day causing him difficulty to breathe, but his love for us gave him the strength to push through. He did not want to spoil Christmas for us.

Dr Bruce Robinson came in to tell us he only had a few days to a couple of weeks left. We were all hit again with the news. Graham was resting at the time, but had heard a bit. I sat outside in the waiting area in shock, wondering how and if I should tell him what Bruce said.

Graham and I loved to read Psalm 27 and 103.  We read them regularly.

From my Diary: “When this all first happened I went to that dark place of what if I lose him. I know I am quite independent in many ways. But what Graham adds to my life is invaluable. He is my champion and my mentor, counsellor, defender, rock encourager my teacher my friend. He’s the one I go to when I need insight about the Bible, who could possibly replace him? My thoughts are not God’s thoughts. My thoughts say I need him, he still has so much to do, You can still use him. I know God sees things differently. I know God sees the big picture. I know. As I watch Graham, my heart is overcome. My darling is wasting away in front of me. How many times did I ask the Lord to take me instead.  He fought so hard, went through so much pain. In the end when I sat by his bed I just prayed the Lord would not keep him this way for too long. He struggled to breathe, he was gasping for breath. What is worse than watching someone you love suffer? I felt helpless. My God is my helper. Who watched His own son suffer and die. How much can the heart hurt? My chest would feel like it was about to break open and cave in all at the same time. Will this pain ever cease? Maybe not til we are together again in the presence of our Lord. I don’t want to be touched or comforted just left alone. My grief is private.” 

Graham went to be with the Lord on the 17 Jan. 2011. 8 months after the initial diagnosis.

Beings Graham’s wife made me better. I was privileged to see how someone dealt with the fight of their life with a courage and faith that only left me in awe. He never said why, he remained strong and hopeful to the end.  He believed to live is Christ, to die is gain. He fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith.

So here I was commencing my life without him. People asked me why I was doing so well.

My grief was never destructive. I never blamed God. I was thankful He gave me this good man for 22 years. 2 beautiful children.  I was sad, but I was never without hope. I never believed as a Christian we were impervious to a broken world. I appreciate all that God had done and was doing in this difficult time of my life.

Just a few months later, one of my closest friends took her life. She was my age, and our children had grown up together. My heart was grieving again.

It seemed so strange to me: here was my friend wanting to take her life, while my husband had been fighting for his.

Sometimes my head was spinning with the dichotomy of life.

We live in a world that seems to me to have become more complex. I started to grapple with questions like, “Why do some Christians succumb and others overcome? Why are some Christians joyless and some joyful. What is it that makes the difference?”

As I reflected on this I believed it comes down to what we believe, how we see things.

What we believe about God, this world, and ourselves.

I think we want absolutes, certainties, but with what I had experienced that year I know the only absolute is that this world is full of uncertainties. The reality of our life changes. This life here is temporary. 

Graham and Hessan’s passing brought many opinions out of the woodwork. From people I admired, loved, and trusted.  I was amazed at the different responses  I got from people.

I missed Graham so much. Who would I talk to? Who was right? Then I realised for 22 years I had been lazy. If I had a question I would ask Graham. If I needed clarification I would ask Graham. I had depended on Graham to give me answers. Rather than pursuing God myself.  In Melbourne, I remembered reading Proverbs with Graham and the Lord saying wisdom is supreme. And He desires to give it to me. These last 2 years I have pursued God anew and He has faithfully shown me He is faithful and the author and perfector of my faith.

My dependency is on the Lord. My trust is in the Lord. My hope is in the Lord. 

During those years I met Karen and took her classes on God Empowered Wife even though Graham was with the Lord, and Idols of the Heart. Karen was and still is a mentor to me. Her story, her insight, has been a blessing to me. She has helped me see things anew and afresh that have just added to my faith in ways that have strengthened and empowered me.  She has helped me recognise my sin nature that desires to control and manipulate people. I have been so thankful to the Lord for bringing Karen in my life.

My daughter Paige has recently married and I have been practising God Empowered Wife, which may sound odd, but I mean by staying out of their marriage and desiring to be pleasing to my Lord by honouring Piet, her husband, as head of their home.

My relationship with them is beautiful and I am so thankful for that. My son Carson is 17 and I also ask Piet to speak into his life, as I believe what Karen teaches, that “God did not design a man to learn how to be a man from a woman.”

The Lord has helped me to see my tendency to trust in myself, and when I turn back to him the peace that surpasses my understanding is something I cannot describe. I live with a joy in my Lord even more than I did before my husband passed. How can that be? It’s not psychological, it’s not emotional, and it’s not practical or logical. Its supernatural, it’s spiritual.  My lord is more powerful than I could have imagined and He is blessing me and freeing me from the worries of this world.

The verse in Ps 37.4 — Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. I now see that in a new way. It’s not my desires. It’s the desires the lord’s puts in my heart once I delight in him. He will determine the outcomes of my life. He is sovereign.

My husband Graham was the pastor of Subiaco Church for 22 years. In the later part of his ministry he implemented the Wholehearted Follower’s Covenant. He wanted to encourage people to love God wholeheartedly. Graham loved the Lord with his whole heart.

Jesus is my Lord and Saviour. I think of all He did for me on the cross. He died the death I should have died. He lived the life I should have lived. He suffered for me, was separated from his father and even went to hell. All for love. Love for me. Whenever I am in sin which He so graciously shows me, I turn back to him, I fix my eyes on him and what he has done for me. The love that fills my heart when I think of his sacrifice is what compels me to live a life pleasing to him. My forgiveness and my justification are in him. There is nothing, nothing I can add to the cross. I can only boast in him. I am set free from condemnation and a Pharisaic life. Praise be to my Lord.

Note from Karen: I met Tracey when we first moved to Perth, Australia in late 2009, about 8 months before her husband–who was our pastor–found out suddenly that he had cancer, with a prognosis of six months left to live. After his death I was privileged to walk with her in her spiritual journey and she came to many of my God Empowered Wife and Idols of the Heart classes, searching God’s Word and testing everything against His Truth. We became close friends, and later she took over leadership of one of my classes when we were unexpectedly transferred back to Houston. The emails I receive from the group are a testimony to how God is using her love and wisdom to touch other lives. She wrote this testimony specifically for you.

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