By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 6, 2009
“I wish we had never left the Garden of Eden.” This was the longing I expressed to a friend upon hearing that my brother-in-law had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
I wished the devil had never tempted Adam and Eve, and they had never succumbed to sin, so mankind would still be living disease-free and perfectly happy in paradise.
But, alas, this truly is a fallen world with so many illnesses and sorrows.
And I admit that I have fallen into sadness about my brother-in-law Dick, who is the father of three married children and the grandfather of seven. You see, he is more of a real brother to me than an in-law.
I never had a biological brother growing up, and I always thought it would be wonderful to have one because then surely I would have been more daring. I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I have never climbed a tree, captured a snake or made a campfire.
Still, I was fortunate because at the age of sixteen, I acquired a very nice brother-in-law—a man my sister thought had hung the moon. He was a handsome military guy and for days on end, my sister played “Army Boy” on our little record player until I thought I’d go mad.
When my father was too busy to take me to my driving test, my brother-in-law filled in for him. Dick and I share the memory of that day, especially the moment when I steered my dad’s gigantic Oldsmobile right smack into a stop sign, and then burst into tears. It had to be a really funny scene, but my brother-in-law managed not to laugh.
My father doubted that any man could be good enough for his little girls, but it wasn’t long after my sister married Dick that my father had a change of heart. He saw that this man was providing for his daughter and doing right by her. And then, when the first grandchild arrived—a little boy named Richard Thomas—my dad grew even fonder of his son-in-law.
After my father died, Dick became the patriarch of the family. He was the one who walked me proudly down the aisle on that day long ago when I married Jef. He was the one at the family reunion setting up a tripod to capture the big crowd gathered in our living room.
And then, just a few months ago, he discovered in short order that he had lung cancer and that it had spread. But he is facing the diagnosis the same way he has dealt with other potholes in life: with courage and hope.
Even though he is bedridden and frequently hospitalized, he remains upbeat. Last time I spoke with him, he told me about ordering a bright red electric scooter/wheelchair so he can wander around the neighborhood with his dog, Reggie, and “terrorize the neighbors.”
As I was talking with him, I heard one of his sons-in-law enter his hospital room. As we said goodbye, my brother-in-law said proudly, “I have three great sons.” He was referring to his one biological son, Rick, and his two sons by marriage, Wayne and Bill.
I realized this is the true meaning of family, which doesn’t hinge on genetic codes but on something that runs much deeper: a shared history, and, most of all, a shared faith in Christ’s merciful love.
It’s so true that the world is fallen, and Satan has a field day spreading disease, destruction and despair. But it is also true that every prayer draws us closer to God, and the dark times especially bring us to our knees. And with so many people praying for the man I have come to call “brother,” I believe he is unknowingly playing a role in the salvation of many souls.
Suffering is mysterious, and so is love and prayer, but what seems fairly clear is that hospitals are filled with folks who tell the devil to go straight back where he came from, so that, even in our fallen world with all its heartaches and sorrows, love can have the final word.
Editor’s Note: Richard H. Mende died on Monday, Aug. 3, at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City surrounded by his loving family. Readers may contact Lorraine Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.