Still Chewing

Terry Lieb Coping with Adversity, God Finds, Healing Relationships 7 Comments

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of sitting with several people who have been given a terminal illness diagnosis as they grapple with how to deal with this shocking and overwhelming news. On occasion they may ask for my thoughts or professional advice, but for the most part, they are hoping for someone to sit with them, listen carefully, pass no judgement, and at times hold their hand. Some choose as much medication as is allowable and basically remove themselves to the furthest extent possible from that last segment of their journey, while others dive into a deep depression often driven by anger, guilt and fear. A few move to some level of acceptance.

Well over twenty years ago an elderly friend invited me to accompany her on that final journey and that experience has been etched in my memory ever since. In fact, I think about it even more often as the years seem to go by at a faster and faster pace!  

This is my best recall of that life-altering—or perhaps more accurately death-altering—experience!

Photo by Sarah Noltner on Unsplash.com

Photo by Sarah Noltner on Unsplash.com

I got back to my desk to find a pile of telephone notes. The one on top of the pile read, “Supervising nurse from the skilled nursing unit on campus called. Your friend Elsie isn’t doing well and is asking that you stop over.”

I fit Elsie into my schedule that same afternoon. I always managed to fit Elsie in. Not so much for her sake, but my own! A visit with the spunky octogenarian always managed to lift my spirits. Yet another bona fide “character” I had come across in my journey, she never failed to make me laugh. 

But this time there was more urgency and less expectation of light-hearted fun and jokes. Elsie had cancer and in my latest conversation with her physician, I had learned it had progressed rapidly in the last month. She had at best a few weeks of life remaining.

It was with a heavy heart I walked over to the skilled nursing building. When I got to Elsie’s room, her first request was the same as it ever was: “Hand me my teeth!” I reached into the container on her bedside stand, picked out her false teeth, and placed them in her outstretched hand. 

The first time she made that request, several years earlier, I made the mistake of handing her the entire container. She immediately responded with, “I didn’t ask for the whole works, just my teeth!” I replied, “I didn’t want to touch your teeth.” Without missing a beat Elsie responded, “Why not? Where did you have your hands last?” That exchange set the tone and from there, we were off to the races!

At this visit, though, there was no joking. Elsie was serious. “I need a favor from you, Terry,” she said. “I want you to convince my children and grandchildren that their prayers have been answered. I have been healed!”  

“You have been healed?” I asked, flabbergasted. I hadn’t heard anything about this miraculous turn of events.

Elsie responded with a strong, resounding, “Yes!”

She went on to explain that her family, along with her friends and fellow church members, had been praying day and night that she would be healed physically. Elsie said that was partly her prayer also.

But she went on to explain that the healing she had received wasn’t physical but rather emotional/spiritual in nature. She described a new-found sense of peace, joy, and oneness with her God. Her amazing description left me feeling envious. I honestly couldn’t fully grasp Elsie’s experience; however, I did accept and believe it because Elsie had said it!quote

Elsie had tried to describe this experience to her family, but they couldn’t begin to understand.  She was very concerned about them. They were becoming more and more angry and disillusioned with God. In their view, God wasn’t answering their prayers.

What Elsie wanted most was that her death experience would bring each of them closer to God, just as it had her. Now she feared her death would just alienate them from God, perhaps shattering their faith forever. She couldn’t bear that thought.

I promised Elsie I would do my best to convince her family that she had been “healed.” I did speak with each member of her family either in person or on the phone which was a much bigger assignment than I imagined! In my estimation I failed completely in every case but one.

A twelve-year-old granddaughter responded to my recounting of Elsie’s experience by saying, “I don’t need to understand it in order to believe it, I know my grandmother.”

That simple statement jarred me to the core of my being! It also challenged me and my faith. Could I possibly have this young girl’s level of trust when I couldn’t fully understand much about this Sneaky God I was continually bumbling into through many of the folks and experiences I was encountering every day?

During the last few minutes I had with my friend, Elsie gifted me beyond my ability to fully appreciate when she said, “Terry, if somehow God was to give me the choice today whether to receive complete physical healing from this cancer or the healing I described to you, there is no question I would cling tight to the gift I have been given!”

Over the years, I handed Elsie her teeth many times, but during that last visit she blessed me with a gift I have been chewing on ever since!


  1. Have you ever been asked or had the opportunity to be with a person near the end of their life journey? If you did, what takeaways did you have from the experience? If not, why did you refuse? 
  2. Would you be open to sitting with a dying person though a program like No One Dies Alone (facebook.com/NODA.INFO/) or No One Should Die Alone (nosdaf.com)? What emotions come up when you contemplate that decision? What might you gain if you did or miss out on if you didn’t?
  3. What would you like your own end-of-life journey to be like? How would you like to face your own death and/or what would you like to gain from it?
  4. What do you think of Elsie’s “healing”? Can you imagine preferring a spiritual healing to a life-saving physical one or do you identify more with her family members who thought God didn’t answer their prayers?
  5. Have you had experiences of prayer being answered in the way you wanted? What about prayers that seemingly went “unanswered”? What impact on your faith did the latter cause?
  6. What do you think of the quotation, “Prayer may not change your circumstances, but it always changes you”? How have prayers changed you?
  7. What spiritual/emotional healing would you like right now?

Banner photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash.com


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