Facing death with courage and hope

Benny Hazlehurst was raised in a liberal High Anglican family, but came to evangelical faith in his teens. He trained at Trinity College, Bristol before ordination, and a serious of encounters with gay Christians led him to change his view on the Church’s teaching on same-sex relationships, out of which he founded Accepting Evangelicals. Our paths crossed at various times during our ministries, and I invited him to contribute to one of the study days discussing sexuality that I organised at St John’s, Nottingham. I remember him as a person of remarkable energy and passion, and was deeply moved to read the last article he wrote on his blog as he knew he was facing imminent death from cancer. He died on Boxing Day, and his funeral is to be held tomorrow. I repost his article with permission from his widow Mel; do pray for her and their children.


Timing…

When I think back, I can now remember that I never thought I would see old age.  I can’t put my finger on why but I didn’t. Perhaps I was influenced by the immortal line in the film Blade Runner where the creator of the rogue replicants says to him “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly.”

I was aware that I had been blessed with so many wonderful experiences of God, beyond anything I could justify. I have heard God speaking to me in many and various ways from my childhood. I experienced things on a regular basis which many Christians longed for just once.  God had been so good to me and his light had indeed burned so very very brightly. This gave me a kind of fearlessness which embraced racing around the streets of London on two wheels, or sharing bunk beds with a recent triad ex–addict without question. When I really needed God to speak to me, I knew where I could go and how to wait to hear from God.  I didn’t always get a direct answer to my questions, but I always received the next piece of the puzzle.

I had been so blessed and God’s light had burned so bright for me, perhaps I could only ever expect to live half as long. That is not so unusual amongst the young, of course.  Being old seems such a very long way away, and so incomprehensible when you are in your teens and your twenties. As I grew older however, other people came into my life – wife, son, daughter. Priorities change.  Plans change.  Whereas once I could be ready to pack bags at a moment’s notice for a new experience in life, there were now other people to think about.  Other considerations.  Growing old starts to become more attractive as the time of life when I could relax with my wife after our children had flown the nest. Mel and I had planned to retire to Oban on the west coast of Scotland.  I would buy a second hand Rib and explore the channels and islands.  We would hold hands and watch the sun setting over the sea. I forgot about my younger premonitions.

Now of course, we know that will never be. After another few weeks of struggling, I was admitted to hospital last week for more scans.  They showed that my cancer has now spread to my liver and lungs. That’s a full house for the major organs which are monitored for Prostate Cancer.  It is travelling at will around my body.  I have reached the limit of treatment for radiotherapy.  There is no chemotherapy available.  My cancer is resistant to the standard chemo and I am not well enough to even contemplate the only stronger alternative. The  consensus is that I have entered my last few months of life on this earth. And so to timing.

Recently, I shared my ambivalent thoughts on retiring (Broken Vessels) and it just so happened that on the day of my official retirement last Friday, I was transferred from hospital to our local hospice in Dorchester.  The timing was poignant to say the least. I should only be here for a few days this time to get my meds on an even keel and control my pain to give me some quality of life for the time I have left.

Which brings me to one positive thought tonight and the opportunity to express it.  As I face this shortening fuse, at least I get the opportunity to prepare for my death – a luxury which many do not enjoy – and I want use it to ensure that, wherever possible, I am at peace with others. So to anyone I have hurt over the years, I humbly ask your forgiveness. And to anyone who knows they have hurt me, may I assure you of mine.

In the last few moments of Blade Runner it is the android, the replicant who is about to die, that displays the greatest humanity.  Built to destroy, he chooses to save a life as his last act before the curtains come down on his own – and he saves the life of the person  who has been sent to kill him. There is nothing so dramatic in my life, but I have often found myself in conflict with others during my ministry and conflict almost inevitably leads to one or both parties being hurt. Neither is this a death-bed confession (I’ve got a few months to go yet and nothing to warrant such hype!) but setting things straight is given a high priority in the Gospels.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23;24)

In the Lord’s Prayer, our own forgiveness is inextricably linked with our willingness to forgive others.

“Forgive us our sins
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”

Forgiveness shared and exchanged is the only way in God’s kingdom and I both offer and seek this as part of my preparation for what lies ahead.

Beyond that, I would ask for your continuing prayers for my wife Mel, son Isaac and  daughter Iona. They are uppermost in my thoughts and prayers at this time and I would be grateful if you could spare a moment for them from time to time.

For myself, I have found encouragement in the words of Psalm 16 recently:

I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Amen.


It feels appropriate to append here the video of the end of Blade Runner that Benny mentions above, with its moving reflection on ‘the time to die’. The difference, of course, is that the replicant talks of his experiences being lost, ‘like tears in the rain’. By contrast, we believe that we will, with Benny, not be lost, but will be raised again, and enjoy the glory of the New Jerusalem, where ‘God will be with them, and wipe every tear from their eyes’ (Rev 21.3–4).


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7 thoughts on “Facing death with courage and hope”

  1. Benny has been a remarkable example of assurance in His Heavenly Father especially latterly when he was facing his own death and those precious times with his beloved Mel, Isaac and Iona.

  2. I remember Benny from theological college. A wise and pastoral man with a huge biblical understanding, who made a deep impression on me. RIP good and faithful servant.

  3. I recall my time with Benny and Mel while they were still dating at Trinity College, Bristol. Benny and I used to stay on the same level at Carter Block. He’s always has a ready smile and kind words to say. May the Lord bring Mel, Issac and Iona to my remembrance.

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