A Night To Remember

Do you ever leaf through a book and sneak a peak at the ending before you buy it?  Normally I try not to do that.  But recently I had an experience that made me wonder how our lives might be different if we could get a glimpse of the ending a little earlier on.

It’s a night I will always remember: a retirement party for my husband, Woody.  First, there was the shock that it was even happening.   We’ve been married 44 years (!) and medicine has always been a central part of our lives.  When we got married, Woody had just finished his first year of medical school.  Woody has been a physician now for 41 years, and a medical oncologist for 34 of those years. And he has loved it all. Despite long hours, weekends on call, and life with the ever-present beeper, he has loved being an oncologist.  Walking alongside cancer patients—both the living and the dying—has been not only a sacred privilege, but a calling.

So I wondered if he would ever retire.  To my astonishment, he did.  Which led to one of the most memorable nights of my life.  For the first time in our 44 years together, I was privileged to be in a room with scores of his patients.  For several hours, patients lined up to say “thank you.” They were young and old, black and white and Hispanic, some healthy at this moment and others not-so-healthy.  And they brought with them their families and friends.  There were young children and grateful parents and loving care-givers.

They all came to say “thank you.” Thank you for walking alongside me.  Thank you for caring. Thank you for giving me hope. Thank you for five more anniversaries—and that I got to see my son graduate, my daughter get married, and the birth of my grandson. There were hundreds of hugs—and plenty of tears. It was moving beyond words.

Many of them also sought me out in the crowd to say thank you.  Thank you for sharing your husband. Thank you for supporting him in those long hours he must have been away for home.  Thank you to your kids for sharing their dad. Several children of one patient even asked what they could do for our family to say thank you for saving their mom’s life.

I looked around and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could have gotten a glimpse of this now and then over the years?”  In my head I always knew that it was worth it—the long hours, the weekends on call, the evenings filled with prepping charts for the next day. But how my heart burst when I saw the other side of the story. “Worth it” took on a whole new level of meaning.

Wouldn’t it be great if each of us could see the “other side” of our husband’s careers?  I know it’s more dramatic with some careers then others. When I commented to one patient that it was great that so many had come to the party, he responded: “Yeh, isn’t it great?  We’re all here—and we’re all alive!” A career in oncology is a special kind of thing.  But there are people on “the other side” of every career.  Maybe it would help to think of them more often when your husband comes home late, has to work over a weekend, or can’t be home with you every time he’d like.  Just a thought.

It was an evening I’ll never forget.  It made me want to say “thank you.”  Not only thank you to those who gave the party and the patients who came.  But thank you to Woody for the huge respect and admiration I have for him.  Somehow, by God’s grace, he has managed to be not only an extraordinary husband—my best friend, and a wonderful father—but he has also lived out his professional calling in ways that have changed lives, given hope to the hopeless, and glorified God.  I’m thankful to have been a part of it.

Most of all, thank you to God.  Thank you for calling Woody to such a high and holy profession. Thank you for giving him the strength to live out his calling so faithfully. Thank you for giving me grace, flawed as I am, to support him on the homefront.

And thank you, God, for a good ending.  As we turn the page from this chapter to the next—the one with a lot of blank pages—I’m so thankful that the same Author writes the script.  Let the adventure continue!