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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Counting the last days

Walter Bouman considers his dying and joining the saints on the other side

And 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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