Decline has become April’s new norm. Though her doctors credit her resolve and determination for having propelled her beyond that initial two-week prediction that expired this past Wednesday (June 15, 2022), her trajectory remains unchanged. Over the past seven days, she has moved from traveling up and down the stairs between our living room and bedroom, to traveling between her hospice bed and her favorite chair a few feet away, to staying in her hospice bed. As her mobility has declined, her fatigue and mental fog have increased. She eats and drinks very little and sleeps much of the day, gaining clarity of mind at best for thirty minutes here and there during the afternoon. At times, she can engage in conversation and respond to messages. But after a few minutes, she must surrender to the impulse for more sleep, lower her bed, and set aside her best intentions to carry on.
The Vocation of Death
In his book Surprised By Suffering, R.C. Sproul described death as being a type of vocation, a calling…if you will. To associate death with say one’s call to preach will undoubtedly sound strange, but I believe the idea proves poignantly true. Solomon bluntly notes in Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die.” We should not seek out death, but we also must not pretend that death will never come. It is appointed for all men and women to die once. Rather than shunning discussions of death, we should diligently mine the things of God so that we are prepared for that moment when our mortal and broken bodies will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor 5:3-8). As the Puritan John Flavel noted,
“It is the high point of wisdom to look upon things which shortly will not be as if they were not.”
May seeing Jesus face to face be our true purpose, the telos of our existence. In short, the vocation of death is the calling to depend upon Jesus as we walk underneath shadows of death so that we might reach the joys of heaven.
To steward this her final vocation well, April and I have devoted those ever-shrinking moments of her mental clarity to the task of preparing for eternity. I read her our daily Bible readings and then pray with her. We talk of Jesus’s sweet promise that he “will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), of his pledge “to come again and take you to myself (Jn. 14:2),” and of how sleep can be a common mercy in times of sorrow. We also talk through some of our family’s plans for the immediate future which inevitably must touch upon April’s demise. While April floats in and out of consciousness, I spend my energy managing April’s medications, assisting her with daily necessities, studying how to shepherd (as much as can be done on this side of eternity) her heart towards Jesus, parenting our children, and praying for her, our family, and our church family. When she’s able to break free from the fetters of fatigue, April summons her small amounts of energy to reaffirm her love for me, our children, her parents and her sister, the Witkowski family, and her many friends. There have been many tears and “I love you’s” these last few days. After swallowing her pills or bite or two of food, she blesses our children with one those faint and yet, all important hugs and then closes her eyes.
Her time grows short. The ‘when’ still remains obscured behind providence’s heavy curtain. So, we continue to take one day at a time, valuing these precious moments.
As long as April retains her earthly citizenship, I plan to stay close by her side surrounded by our children.
What Comes Next
Once her funeral is complete, I will be out of the pulpit for another 2-3 weeks to begin the process of slowly transforming our family of five into a family of four. At the conclusion of that time, I will return to my church duties and eventually resume dissertation, relying upon the support of my fellow elders, deacons, church members, family, and friends.
Dear friends, April and I will forever and always will cherish your visits, messages, cards, and those times of prayer, fellowship, and song that we have shared together these last few weeks. We also appreciate your many generous gifts that have been given to us and appreciate Fresta Valley Christian School (FV) for having generously secured our children’s education for the next school year. Lastly, we appreciate our church family gifting me the freedom to devote myself to April this past month. You have loved us well! Thank you!
Please continue to pray for God to encourage and comfort April with a special awareness of his spirit. Pray for me, the elders of ABC, and for the Witkowski and Gentry families to have the wisdom needed to navigate what comes in the days before after her death. And Pray for God to save and comfort our children and our extend families, our church family, and our many friends as who are grieving her cancer and who will soon grieve her death.
May God be merciful.
Please note, we long to responded to all texts and messages. But with the many challenges facing us, our responses will probably be increasingly slow.
EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM
SNAIL-MAIL: P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106
CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.
SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND