By Dianne M. Ullrich
Initially you are praying for the big miracle, a cure, with the
expectation that it will happen. When you are slapped
with the reality that it is not going to happen, you have to
search for or find a new way to renew your faith – your
relationship with God. To cope, you have to learn to
recognize what I call the “little miracles” – the people,
places and things that help you over the rough stops.
A “little miracle” was the doctor who was sensitive to Mom’s
need for hope and only gently hinted at the hopelessness of
the situation. She took the time and saved the
detailed explanations for private meetings with me, making
sure I knew what to expect. A “little miracle”
was the friend who had walked the same road and provided
support when others were telling me to think of myself, to
pursue my career and pay someone to care for my mother.
A “little miracle” was the call from a friend
who ran his own business asking, “Could you work from home
and do some typing and bookkeeping for me?” He made it
possible for me to provide the care my mother needed and
still earn an income.
These “little miracles” eventually add up to what really is
the “big miracle” – the miracle of acceptance for you and
the terminally ill patient. One day Mom looked me in
the eye and asked, “Do you think it’s hopeless?” It was
obvious she realized things were not going to get better,
yet still seemed to want reason to hope. It was
no small miracle that I had the grace and wisdom to respond,
“You’ve always told me nothing was hopeless if I trusted
God.” She accepted and seemed pleased with this
With acceptance you experience a profound sense of peace and
joy. It’s nothing like the surface peace and joy that
I had experienced at other times in my life.
Under normal circumstances, you look outside of yourself for
peace and joy. When faced with your limits, when
coming to terms with the ultimate limit of death, you are
forced to look inward. Your peace and joy cannot come
from other people or sources; it has to come from within
yourself, from a “gut-wrenching” faith that allows you to
let go and accept.
It has been several years since Mom’s death. I am
still awed by her and the other cancer patients I met during
chemo treatments. In the face of hopelessness, they
never gave up. They struggled against insurmountable
odds to continue to live even when life had little quality
left. More importantly, they appeared to struggle to
continue giving and contributing to their families, friends,
and the world in general.
When I look back at those last 18 months of Mom’s life, I am
amazed that in the face of hopelessness and death, life went
on as usual. We celebrated birthdays, holidays, we
laughed, we cried, we did the mundane everyday tasks.
A life was ending; but through it all, life went on as if
nothing was happening.
Dealing with suffering, accepting my limits and life’s
ultimate limit experience – death — changed me. I’m a
stronger more compassionate person. More importantly,
I now view life through the eyes of faith. I was
somewhat cynical about theories that God never gives us more
than we can handle and answers every prayer. I
definitely felt like I had been given more than I could
handle. He doesn’t answer every prayer – there was no
cure. He does offer the gift of faith. If we
accept that gift, we can handle anything — even suffering
and death. If we accept the gift of faith, we do find
His answers and they become ours – they become our “little
I thought Mom was ignoring the hopelessness of her situation
when she insisted that her prayers would be answered.
I later realized that her confidence, her trust in God and
prayer, the acceptance of that gift of faith empowered her
to keep trying, to live life to the fullest against
insurmountable odds. I came away from this experience
certain that while life may be a gift, the greatest gift of
all is faith.