Donning the Red Coat

More than a year ago, I stood in a shop downtown, waiting while the cashier rang up my small purchase.  My bare head wrapped in a scarf, I was through the worst of the chemotherapy and gaining momentum to get through the 6 weeks of radiation treatment.  While I waited, I was absorbed in my own thoughts, perhaps about where I was headed next or what might be for dinner that night.

You know how it is when you’re lost in your own miasma.  People and noises surround you but you’re oblivious because, at that moment, your world is interior, not connected to the activities around you. But from that swirl of activity – other shoppers milling about, the cashiers in conversation — a voice pushed open a channel into my interior world.

“Are you in treatment?” the voice said.

I looked around for the source of the question and saw, standing a short distance to my left, a young woman with raven black, shoulder-length hair wearing a brilliant red coat.  She was smiling brightly at me, and before I could respond to her question, she continued:

“Don’t worry. The hair comes back, and it goes back to normal.”

This angel in the red coat was offering me assurance – that things would be OK, that there was life after cancer treatment. And that someday in the not-too-distant future, I would be going on about life as I always had been. Her presence there was living proof for me.

I don’t know who the woman was, have never seen her again, have no idea why she chose to speak to me that day.  But I’m glad she did.  She was one of those gifts a fellow traveller told me would appear along the journey.

So now it’s my turn.

A few weeks ago, I learned that my favorite uncle has been diagnosed with cancer – of the lung, of the liver – we’re not sure, and he has some difficult choices ahead of him. In his 80’s now, he is a very dear man who has met the many challenges in his life with courage and integrity.  I do not know what his journey will be like, but I can perhaps offer him the same encouragement the woman in red offered to me.

And so too for the friend and colleague who just received a diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer. When he first heard of my diagnosis more than 2 years ago, he told me that he knew I would come through the treatment OK.  Given his closer proximity to God, I put a lot of faith in his words.  For him now too, I don the metaphoric red coat, to offer what assurance I can for his journey.

To both of these brave men, I say — you too will be OK.  You too will survive this.

I know it.



3 Responses to “Donning the Red Coat”

  1. Beverly Says:

    Hard to find words to assure anyone who is traveling down scary paths… but I am glad you are there with the comfort they will need to hear.

    God bless them both, and you, too. <3<3<3

  2. margie Says:

    Julie, what a beautiful posting.

  3. lat Says:

    With many people claiming some connection to family or friend who is suffering or recently diagnosed with some serious health challenge, I often begin to wonder… Why is it that we pray for healing? Why do we offer words of encouragement that they will recover or survive? Why do we believe that recovery is not only possible but simply must happen for the best outcome?

    While we do regret the suffering with life-threatening illness, sometimes recovery is just not going to happen! While we often cannot imagine life without our loved ones, the most important way to give support is to recognize and accept the present condition/situation with all possible challenges, provide encouragement to the afflicted by allowing them to feel and experience this part of life (for life is not always the rose garden we hope for), and travel as we are able the tough road as it becomes known with the patient as well as spouse or other caregivers. For this too is part of life! For this too is an opportunity to learn and grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Yet not just for us, but for all involved. The sharing of time, love, encouragement, and support is far more beneficial that providing false hope for recovery. And when the good fight is lost, then coming to terms with loss of our loved ones comes with reassurance that we have shared a tremendous time in easing one special person in passing from this life into the next. This can help bring peace to all, but especially those left behind.

    We all will have our time to face death, and it will present itself in many ways, unpredictable and not. But for those who suffer such great physical health challeges, why would anyone want the patient to remain here with us to suffer longer, even one day more, in the hope of recovery. It is truly something to question. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes life ends. Who are we to say…

    Certainly there is no clear answer. No way to know for certain. Certainly there can be much here to question, ponder, and wonder what the best answer is. Clearly, then, there is no clear answer.

    And that is life.

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