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End of life conversation with a spouse: A personal story

By: Rosalie Talarzyk, Retired

Who is adequate for conversations like this?  Who knows the words to open these doors?

  • Be still and know that I am God.  Ps 46:10 (NIV)

  • He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.  On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.  2 Cor 1:10 (NIV) 

It is possible to navigate the most difficult days of a terminal disease with each other when both spouses accept that it is not on their shoulders to “fix” a terminal diagnosis. Conversations in these times are in God’s domain.  A quiet confidence can develop in these moments because God is at our center.  We have an assurance that God who is with us will lead the questions and the answers.  He has already given us eternal life.

As Wayne [Rosalie's husband] and I moved through eight weeks of a hopeless medical diagnosis, we worked through the necessary checklists of family, medical, and financial decisions with reliable helpers. But more importantly, we talked with each other and together we talked with God.

The Bible is full of gratitude.  Gratitude is tied to remembering what God has done and acknowledging who He is.  The first words out of my husband’s mouth as we left our family doctor’s office on a scorching July Saturday afternoon were words of gratitude.  We had just heard the dark diagnosis of terminal metastatic pancreatic cancer.  We left that office in silence.  We emerged into brilliant sunlight.  I heard Wayne thanking God for the joy of living to see our son choose to renew his walk with the Lord and choose sobriety. Our prayers of 15 years had been that we would live to see this miracle.  And God had answered that prayer for Wayne and me just three years earlier.  Wayne was thankful.

Remembering together the many joys and deliverances of God during our thirty-year marriage continued to be key through the next eight weeks. Gratitude became essential in our daily conversations. 

Gratitude in the face of helplessness refocuses our minds on what we have in our relationship with the Lord and with each other, and what we will have in the days ahead.  Gratitude delivers hope.  We remind ourselves of the true character of God.  Wayne and I began to see God’s hand everywhere each day as He answered our prayers with “manna.” Something we hadn’t known to ask for, before we even asked, appeared for our benefit.  Just enough for that day.  Just the perfect provision.

Along with gratitude, the Psalms are full of lament – total honesty with God while staying tethered to God long enough to hear His reply.  Wayne’s consistent prayer was for a fast death and no pain.  My consistent prayer was for more time.  I wanted our life back like it was in June.  We prayed these dichotomous prayers with each other and with our friends and family, aloud and silently.  As it became clear that his prayer was going to be the one answered, I lamented to my husband and with God that he always got what he wanted from God.  

Even as our needs were being met abundantly, we lamented over the lost future we had planned.  My husband in one quiet conversation asked if I would remarry.  The quiet fell on us.  How to answer that jealous question? I waited for God to give me the words, “If God gave me someone who fit me as perfectly as you, I could not say no.”  And the question was answered.

On another day, we spoke of the grandchildren Wayne would not meet on earth.  Then, in the quiet, he remembered with gratitude that he would meet the child lost to miscarriage.  

After one of many conversations about heaven, I rhetorically asked how I would ever find him there.  After an extended quiet, God gave my marathon-running husband the words, “I will come running and find you.”

Then, in the last week of Wayne’s life, one quiet night as Wayne lay dying in our bed, I decided to read to him from the Bible the verses about manna.  I was snuggled up close to him, propped up by pillows, warm under the duvet with the windows wide open.  We had continually referred to the daily provisions of God in these last weeks as “manna.”  I wanted, if possible, to glean more from these meaningful verses.

As I read aloud, I arrogantly announced that at least I wasn’t grumbling as the Hebrew people had done, that I wanted to go back to Egypt.  But in a moment, as clear as day, I realized that by asking God repeatedly for our life back like it was in June, I was indeed grumbling.  Persistently grumbling.  I wanted Wayne who had one foot in the promised land of heaven to “go back to Egypt” to our life here on earth. I was speechless.   Sitting with Wayne, I talked about this realization aloud with God. I repented aloud.  I wasn’t sure Wayne had heard the whole conversation.  Then in the quiet, he asked me for a drink of cold water.  And thanked me for reading to him, and talking with him. 


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