In 2012, after I was diagnosed with cancer, I kept a list of five names written on a small piece of yellow post-it paper. My name was included too, the most recent addition, and last on the list. The first name belonged to a man I didn’t know well, but his reputation showed him to be a quiet man of prayer who worked hard, and loved his family. The second name belonged to my best friend from childhood, who still held that spot in my heart. The third was a German man from my church, a friend of my husband, always smiling, always serving. The fourth name belonged to a beautiful nineteen-year-old-old-soul, a lover of life and laughter.
We were a group of people joined by circumstances, sharing the permanent bond of cancer and close diagnosis dates. Now, four years later, I am the last name on the list.
Ron Luettger, #3, passed away on Monday.
|In Puerto Rico wearing my big hat from Amy (list name #2).|
My first day of chemotherapy, as I sat prepped and primed in my chemo chair, my husband stopped in to say hello on his lunch break. He looked out of place in his jacket and tie while the rest of us were dressed for comfort and the long-haul wait of the slow-dripping chemo. He wanted to come stand vigil at my first treatment, but I told him no and insisted he go to work, after all my brother was there and what was the point of waiting around to watch an IV?
My husband kissed me hello and told me Ron Luettger was sitting six chairs away, getting his weekly chemo dose too. I didn’t believe him. After all, I had already been sitting in my seat for several hours and would have certainly noticed if Ron was in the same room. But I looked, and sure enough, there was Ron, asleep in his chair. I didn’t recognize him earlier because he wore humungous 80s style headphones. He didn’t see me, because as I mentioned earlier, he was asleep, relaxing to his music in the chemo room.
Ron was present at my last visit to the chemo room too. It was over a year since my final treatment, but I still came every six weeks to have my chemo access port flushed. I hadn’t gotten rid of the port yet, mainly because of a superstitious belief in Murphy’s Law. I thought the moment I had the port taken out I would receive word that they needed to put it right back in. Ron was in the room, still receiving chemo. This time he noticed me as soon as I walked through the door. He greeted me and asked what in the world I was doing still coming back to the chemo room. I told him of my paranoia with removing my port. He listened, considered, and spoke his wisdom: “Go live your life. If I didn’t have to keep coming here, believe me, I’d be out the door.”
His words hit their mark. I left the chemo room, made an appointment to have my port removed and cut the invisible umbilical cord tethering me to the fear of cancer’s return.
Last Monday, as Ron entered eternity, I was flying home from a beautiful island paradise off the coast of Puerto Rico. Oddly, I was thinking of Ron. I was looking out the window of the plane and could see an endless ocean below and an expanse of sunlit clouds above. I wondered how Ron was doing. I knew before I left for my trip that he only had a few earth-bound weeks left. I also wondered what it would be like to enter heaven.
As I Iooked out the window the view was amazing and beautiful, but also cold, vast and terrifying. Is that what heaven would be like? A giant leap into the unknown?
Jesus said an interesting thing to the thief dying next to him on the cross. The thief, in the last moments of his life, professed belief in Jesus as the Savior of the world and asked Jesus if he could accompany him into the next. Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Paradise is easy for me to envision, especially so soon after spending time on a gorgeous tropical island. But the first part of Jesus’ statement brings a stronger comfort: “today you will be with me…” The leap into eternity is not taken alone. Jesus is there. Waiting. His arms are open, ready to welcome and embrace. He has carefully and lovingly prepared a place for those who will accept his invitation (John 14:2). “Come home,” he says. “Come and spend some time with me in paradise.”
I will miss Ron deeply, especially those moments when we caught each other’s eye across our church’s large sanctuary and he gave me a wink, just a quick recognition that we each shared a place on our little list and for some reason were still on it. And yet, it does bring some joy to know that the day I was traveling home to Oneonta, NY, Ron too was traveling home—to his true home. And Jesus was there waiting for him.
In honor of Ron Luettger,
December 29, 1958 - May 29, 2017
and his wife, Doree.
You both have a special place in my heart.