Lunch with Kevin: My Conversation With A Dying Man

Keith KettenringAncient Paths, Christian Living, The Uncommon Journey

On August 7, 2018, Kevin left the struggles of this earth and entered eternity. Kevin was born December 11, 1949 spending most of his life striving to appropriate Christ’s life into his own. In this struggle, he impacted thousands of lives towards a fuller faith in the Triune God, including mine. He will be eternally remembered by His Lord and so many on earth.

This post was written over two years ago. Yet, it’s message rings true today.

Death teaches us how to live.

Life is learning to die.

Kevin is an good example of these connected truths (though he would probably deny this). 

Here’s the post from June 6, 2016:

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.

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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.

I miss Kevin. Yet, he is in my thoughts and prayers more now than ever. He’s also much more aware of what I’m up to. I look forward to seeing him again someday. I love you, brother!

Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K