Lunch with Kevin: My Conversation With A Dying Man

Lessons About Life While Facing Death

What is it like to face death head on? To know you are going to die in 2-5 years? To experience the reality of death without actually dying? Two weeks ago I had lunch with Kevin. He’d been recently diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a terminal disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the famous baseball player who died of ALS in 1941. Kevin knows that he will pass from this earth sometime in the next 5 years. It is that final. There is no cure. He is dying.

As an Orthodox Christian, Kevin deals with his impending death with a radically different perspective. It’s actually more than a perspective. It’s a reality. He is experiencing the reality of death before he dies. And as a result, he is experiencing life as never before. You might say, in dying he is coming alive.

Counsel From The Conversation 

  • Everything changed with the diagnosis.” His relationship with his wife, children, grandchildren, and friends came alive. Almost instantaneously, familial and friendship love deepened. He wants to be with his wife and family constantly. They want to be with him. His friends no longer assume he’ll be here tomorrow but declare their love as often as possible.

In an email Kevin wrote: “the love of family and close friends is an especially soothing balm. My relations with my beloved wife and rock of 37 years have been transformed overnight. We see into each other’s eyes deeply; we speak meaningfully and with sensitivity, and hold each other with true love; and we now are beginning to understand what “pure love” means. I also cannot believe the number of friends and acquaintances who have reached out with kind thoughts and words and acts. I am spending as much time with my relatives and friends as possible, even though I am more prone to being introspective.”

  • I can see more clearly now. I see what I could not see before.” He writes, “My thoughts are clear and more focused. My mind does not wander as it did. I am more “watchful” over my thoughts…Useless thoughts are driven away more easily by repeating the “Jesus Prayer:” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
  • I am less preoccupied.” He’s not attracted to doing or thinking about certain things. Some activities he once gave his time to are not important anymore.
  • “All I want to do is pray.” He has a deep commitment to commune with God. He is ramping up now for what he will do for eternity.  A “bucket list” is nonsense. He’s preparing for eternity.
  • “This is for my transfiguration.” He told me that a friend who is a faith-healer wrote him advising him to resist those who would tell him he could not be healed. But, Kevin isn’t desperate for physical healing. He desires spiritual healing that he knows dying brings about. For him it is more important that he experience God’s presence to transform than God’s power to deliver. He doesn’t doubt God’s ability to physically heal people. He just knows that his need for inner “transfiguration” is much more significant than his need for physical comfort. He is being transformed by death.

Life From Death

Life is coming out of death. True living begins to happen when you begin to die.

Isn’t this how Christians are to live all the time? St. Paul died everyday (1 Corinthians 15.31). He was “crucified with Christ:” dead already. Yet he lived (Galatians 2.20).

Jesus teaches that new fruit only comes from a buried and dead seed (John 12.24). His resurrection demonstrates that life comes out of death.

You and I struggle to know how to live because we struggle to know how to die.

I asked Kevin to teach me how to die. He wasn’t sure he could do that. Yet the words he spoke were lessons I needed and wanted to hear.

Now it’s a matter of struggling to live out the lessons. I hope not to be diagnosed with a terminal disease before I begin practicing them. But, I am not even guaranteed tomorrow. I better start dying today.

Thank you, Kevin! I love you, brother!

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

21 thoughts on “Lunch with Kevin: My Conversation With A Dying Man

  1. Kevin is a dear friend of mine my daughter was baptised in his back yard before we where ortodox. He looked after me when I became a widow. He is always interested in you….you feel it when he talks today you. He was my husbands God father….he pointed the way to orthodoxy. He continues to teach us by his words and his example.

    • Thank you Debbie for your kind words of Kevin’s influence on your life and that of your family. He is a good man and fine example of a transforming life. Many are blessed to know him. Thanks be to God! Keith

  2. Your post about Lunch with Kevin reinforced what I read earlier today in the book of Numbers where God ordered Moses to count His people by taking a census. Moses is credited with authoring Psalm 90:12 where he tells us to count our days. These three thoughts – God’s directive to Moses to count the people, Moses’s challenge to us to count our days, and theuncommonjourney’s message that life can change in an instant – was very meaningful to me today. I needed that reminder to make my time count. God bless you and your wonderful family. Thank you, Dr. K!

    • Thank you for your comments, Sharon. In suffering we find a deeper experience of God’s mercy, love, and grace. In light of the thoughts you shared, may your life show forth the love of God. Blessings to you. Dr. K/Keith

  3. Kevin’s story is so identical with mine and my husband’s (+Archpriest MIchael Lewis) who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2011 after a 2-year battle.

    • Thank you Kyra Lewis for your comment. I know you are praying with a sensitive heart for Kevin, his wife, and family out of your experience. “Lord of heaven and earth, have mercy.”
      Dr. K

  4. This brings to a new level of understanding the statement “dying to self”.

    Though I do not know Kevin personally, and only through AFR podcasts, I grieve knowing his diagnosis having lost a friend to the same thing. I grieve the loss of his important messages and thoughts. I grieve for his family. I grieve for myself because he is closer to God than I am.

    Quite a mix of emotions for someone I don’t know very well yet admire.

    • Hello Athanasia. Thank you for your comments. I too had a friend die of ALS many years ago. We grieve. Yet Kevin’s ability to embrace God in this situation is inspiring. He would deny it but he is worthy of your admiration. Thanks be to God for all things. Dr. K

  5. My prayers are with Kevin & his family. My younger brother, John, was diagnosed with ALS in 2009. Sometimes we say suffered from ALS. John said he was victorious over ALS all throughout his struggle. He & his family were/are devout Evangelical Protestants & we all witnessed his testimony to his & Christ’s victory over death. He strengthened us all. He Is Risen. Tom S

    • Indeed He is risen! Thanks be to God! Thank you Thomas for your comments. You know first-hand what this family is going through. Your words encourage us! Dr. K

  6. Kevin’s diagnosis has battered me like nothing else. He has been my best friend for the past 20 years. We know where each other’s warts are. What has impressed me throughout the years of relationship has been how honest he always has been. Not only in faith, but even at times when each of our faith has wavered. Yes, there have been seasons of that. Thank God they haven’t lasted long! This life is a struggle. Sometimes life can take a long time. I will say that the last 3 weeks since the diagnosis has brought spiritual fruit within him that I am completely envious of. He said to me “now we will find out the reality of our faith, here we go”

    Kyra Lewis’ words touch my heart. She knows. Her husband Fr Michael Lewis walked this path. A friend of mine from their parish said to me, “Fr Michael taught me how to live. More importantly, he taught me how to die”……. ” Oh death, where is thy sting”?

      • Illness reminds us
        never take a day for granted for it is a gift from God. Love one another as he loves you. Although we don’t want suffering for Kevin or his family, whatever the course will bring them, they will be closer to our Lord & to each other.
        Pure Love as Kevin states is the most beautiful feeling knowing the love of your life will be with you for eternity. Death has a way of making you see & feel that love so clearly, yes thru the eyes one sends a message of love & your words of love.
        My love took this journey 9yrs ago & we did it together.
        My advice always have hope.💞 & live..
        Christos Anesti

        • Thank you Diane for your good words. Life is a great gift indeed. Let us all treasure it as we live it in God. Thanks be to God for all things! Keith

  7. Lord, have mercy! We are glad to hold Kevin in our prayers, of course! I am so grateful to him for his vision and diligence in his ministry at AFR; it was such a helpful tool in our conversion to Orthodoxy (after a 3-ish year catechumenate, we were received into the Church 3 years ago).

    What a sobering and yet beautiful article. Thanks, Kevin, for sharing so openly and reminding me to focus on that which is needful.

    • Thank you Pauline. I hope Kevin will read your kind words and find encouragement. God is so gracious to place such good people in our lives to move us forward on our journey with God. Thanks be to God for all things. Keith

  8. Great thoughts! I just came across this quote from Peter Kreeft. It seems that Kevin’s experience is very similar to what Kreeft articulates.

    “…remember some ordinary past event in your life. Then imagine—really enter into it—that you only have a few minutes to live. Now remember that same event again. How different, how incalculably precious it seems!” (Peter Kreeft, “Heaven”, p. 72)

    It does seem that living life well is actually enhanced when it is viewed through the lens of death. ‘Seems counter-intuitive, but there is something to it. If only I lived more of my life from that perspective!

    • Thanks for sharing these insights, Brian. “Remembering death” is one of the initial “disciplines” a young monk encounters and must learn. It goes along with “detachment.” Kevin’s words remind us how transient is this world and our “stuff” and how attached we are to both. Imagining only a few minutes to live seems impossible. I have much to learn. It sounds like Kreeft is describing “seeing my whole life flash before my eyes” that those facing sudden death talk about. Remembering death probably makes us live in the present more fully. Both are needed. Thanks for your companionship on the journey. Thanks be to God for all things. Keith

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