Walter R. Bouman was the Edward C. Fendt Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, where he had taught from 1971 until last spring when he was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer.
When The Lutheran asked Bouman to write this article in July, he called me for assistance. Too weak by then to sit at the computer, he dictated to me, from his bed at home, much of what follows. It took a great deal of his strength that summer day to complete this article, but he wanted to honor The Lutheran’s invitation to share some final thoughts about his hope for the church and the world, and about the good news that sustained him throughout his life and in the face of death.
Bouman died Aug. 17. Some 600 friends, colleagues and former students celebrated his life in a mass of the Resurrection Aug. 23 at Trinity Seminary.
now there arise the great questions: Why did you live? Why did you
suffer? We must answer these questions some way if we are to continue
living—yes, even if we are only to continue dying (composer Gustav Mahler).
The surgeon stood beside my bed in the recovery room. He said he had removed a large growth attached to my abdomen. There was no longer any cancer in the colon. But it had spread to the liver and lymph system, and it was stage four, terminal. From the Latin word terminus, ‘‘end of the line.”
I remember thinking how painful it must be for this good and gentle man to have to say those words to a patient. Then I thought of Paul’s words: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).
I’ve often taught courses on death and dying. I studied the path-breaking book by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying (Fortress Press, 1972; available from www.amazon.com). I knew the stages: denial, anger, bargaining, grief, acceptance. But I haven’t experienced them. I have some regret that I won’t see my grade-school grandchildren grow to maturity. But mostly I’ve experienced peace.
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers