Last September, I told you about my friend Jack June, who had just learned he had esophageal cancer. When doctors told him he had a fifteen percent chance of surviving five more years, his focus had been on the family he’d leave behind—their spiritual legacy, and that his dear Barb would be taken care of.
He endured weeks of chemo and radiation treatment and then waited. In November, I stopped in to hear the medical prognosis. “Not so good.” He took a deep breath. “The doctor said I’m good for Christmas … maybe Easter. It’s gotten outside my esophagus. The chemo didn’t get it all.”
I looked away, overcome by a great sadness as I considered life without my old friend of over thirty years. A good four inches shorter than me, but when we played basketball over in Dave Roth’s barn with the young pups, Jack always played big. Lots of words could describe Jack: savvy, for sure; loyal friend; what you see is what you get; sometimes pugnacious but a keen sense of justice and willingness to confront evil; an incredible sense of humor; a brilliant mentor and coach; a patriot; a firm follower of Jesus.
He told me about the remaining medical options. Very few. Phrases like quality of life, pain management. But again, over it all, he considered what he could do about the spiritual welfare of his family. That’s sometimes described as “passing the baton,” handing off that sacred connection to the eternal.
He and I tried to live one day at a time, just as if Jack wasn’t living under a death sentence. A few weeks ago, Coach Willie Freeman came by to see Jack. Ever the stalwart, Jack said he’d be at the Salem Sabres next game. Three weeks ago, we did just that. Jack insisted on driving, of course, although he could barely walk. Swinging his legs in or out of the vehicle was a tour de force and must have caused blinding pain but never—not once—did Jack complain. Once at the arena, I had to solicit the help of another fan to help get Jack seated—one mere level above courtside.
In keeping with the sense of engagement woven through every aspect of his life, Jack determined to make a last family gathering—five days at the Oregon coast between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Family came from the East Coast and points in between to make it all happen. Remarkably, he survived it. It was his last roundup, but one he felt he needed to do … for those he called family. Shortly after the return to that welcoming house down the hill, hospice was brought in, making caring for him easier.
Another few hours to see him yesterday … he talked about every family member, dealing with pain, people that he yet expected to see, and we talked about heaven. I asked him about their second son, Randy, whose passing in his early twenties left an indelible grief on the family. Jack’s immediate response was, “Oh, Randy’s in heaven!” Barb brought his Bible and he pulled out two letters Randy had written in college–a solid manifesto of his faith in Christ. Baton passed.
Regrets? The big one—that he’d not be able to see his grandchildren grow up.
I went by to see Jack this morning. My old buddy rasped a thanks for my coming to see him and gave a surprisingly bright smile, in view of his condition. In the twenty hours since I’d seen him, he had deteriorated immeasurably. Almost overcome, I fled, promising Barb I’d return to see Jack again this afternoon.
That was not to be. Before I got this half done, Barb called to tell me that at 1:07 this afternoon, Jack went to be with the Lord.
In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.
Jack’s set his mission to hand off to those he loved the sacred connection to the eternal. By sheer strength of will, he would have controlled the weather if he could have. But by his example, he left a spiritual legacy. Nothing approaches the value of such a bequest. The wonder of such an inheritance is that it must be requested and then received.