I knew Bob was fighting cancer before I established my Cancer with Christ support group last January. When I announced my first meeting, I was hopeful he would come. And he did come, usually brought by one of his family members. Bob sat in a big corner chair, right next to mine and I asked him to be our official bell ringer — when the chat time had gone on long enough and it was time for the meeting to begin, he would ring the little bell that sat next to his chair.
At first he wasn’t the only man in the support group. There were others, but over time they fell away. Bob became our only male member and he was left sitting in his corner chair, ringing his bell and listening to the sharing that often consisted of women’s things like hair loss, mastectomies, breast reconstruction and drugs that stripped us of estrogen to prevent cancer regrowth. Bob more than tolerated it all — he sat looking quite satisfied to be among the women and all their female cancer talk. Occasionally, he’d add a quip or two which made us laugh and we all grew to love our only male member. We called his chair the “king’s chair”. He loved that. And he loved it when we prayed for him — and pray for him we did. Lots of prayer over many months.
It looked like Bob’s chemo had done its job and his cancer was gone. But there was one final test and Bob kept anticipating that one final test. But he’d have to wait awhile longer because he had an accident and it brought on severe breathing problems and he’d have to recover from all that. We prayed more and harder. He’d almost recovered from that darn accident when his back began to hurt and hurt badly. He barely made it up the stairs and in to my living room for our meetings and we had to position a pillow carefully behind his back as he sat in his “king’s chair”. At those meetings he didn’t look so comfortable or satisfied. But he’d still ring the bell and listen patiently to all the female cancer talk and when given his chance to share, he’d ask for more prayer.
The back pain increased and over time it prevented him from coming to the support group meetings and soon, it restricted him to his home. Visiting him there, I saw something I didn’t like. Bob was deteriorating.
Bob never got that one last test. But he did get a hospital stay … a long one that ended in a new diagnosis: Bob’s cancer had moved to his lungs, his liver and his pelvis. Bob was going to die. He was sent home on hospice. One doctor said he’d live as long as a year. But that projection quickly changed to a few months, even a few weeks. Bob died in just a few days.
Bob Magotch was the first of our Cancer with Christ support group members to go home to be with Jesus. The first lamb in our little flock to leave us for heaven. Like Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, I wept when I realized my friend Bob was going to die. Patty, a sister-in-Christ prayed for me in my grief and reminded me how important compassion is in my ministry in times like these. Without it, I can’t be like Christ to these dear ones. Jesus was driven by compassion for people. And so I was driven by compassion as I visited Bob on Thursday and soaked his final Communion wafer in wine and gave it to him on a little spoon. Compassion led me yesterday as I administered to him the Last Rites of the Church, kissed his forehead, bid him goodbye and sang softly in his ear,
“I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in His arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, oh, there are ten thousand charms.”
In our Anglican burial liturgy, we pray this prayer: “To your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.” The life of Bob Magotch, my friend, my brother-in-Christ, and fellow cancer sufferer is changed, not ended. Mid-afternoon Friday, November 7, he left his mortal body for his eternal dwelling place in heaven. Bob is home now. He is not dead; he’s alive! He is breathing freely the atmosphere of heaven. There is no more pain, no more cancer, no more suffering.
Every time I ring the little bell that begins our “Cancer with Christ” support group, I will miss Bob. When someone else sits in his “king’s chair”, I’ll have to remember that Bob is now sitting at the feet of the King of Kings who is his Kind Savior and where there are ten thousand charms. And I’ll be grateful for this cancer ministry that makes me love with a love that hurts and in the end when it really matters, makes me confident in the reality that I’ll see Bob Magotch again.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.