Lois Thompson is no stranger to tragedy. She has lost her husband to cancer, a son in a tragic accident, and her own experience with secondary breast cancer.
Lois has been a social worker for the past 40 years and she’s also a pastor and speaker.
Importantly for us, Lois is an author whose book is an absolute must read for all Australians. It’s Lois’s revised second edition of ‘One More Hurdle To Jump’ titled ‘Hope in Cancer, Death and Grief’.
Here is an excerpt.
P.64 para 3. ‘Love and Loss, Living and Loss, often go hand in hand, mostly not simultaneously. Some people try to avoid grief by choosing not to love or live freely or take that risk in life. To choose not to, is a loss in itself.”
So if Lois says Australia has a death denying culture then we can take her word as ‘gospel’.
On death, Lois had this to say.
“We don’t really embrace death and consider it in our lives. Many people don’t confront death until they’re told they have cancer, or they get that knock on the door from the police in the middle of the night,” said Lois.
What many of us do know is that other cultures handle death or terminal illnesses differently, something Lois could confirm.
“My husband had a Chinese oncologist. He was in hospital for six weeks waiting to go to heaven,” was how Lois described it. “At times Pat was rather impatient in doing that and we had some really interesting chats with his oncologist.”
“She (the oncologist) said, ‘I’m surprised by the fact we don’t acknowledge that people are going to be dying in our lives.”
“Death is as much a part of life as birth and she certainly thought from her culture (Chinese) it was much more open and discussed,” Lois said, and she qualified it by saying how much of a blessing it is to be a Christian.
“We are the most blessed people on earth to know Jesus.”
“When you know Jesus you have that peace, comfort, and we have that hope and faith of an eternal life,” Lois testified, saying she and her husband had walked with the Lord from the time they had met decades earlier.
“That made his death very different from those that don’t know the Lord.”
Lois is speaking from experience having worked in hospitals as a social worker.
“Sadly I’ve seen people who don’t have that understanding and love of the Lord in their life.’
“In the situation with my husband Pat passing away there was such a tangible peace in the room,” Lois shared, saying her husband had quite a reputation in the hospital as a man of God.
“This is what he had actually prayed for.”
“He said, ‘I want to glorify Jesus in my death as well as in my life.’ And he really did that.”
Lois compared a lingering death and its advantages over a sudden one.
“When someone has a terminal illness that’s chronic, you have more time to adjust to the departure, the death, and certainly we found that.”
“The Lord had spoken to us that Pat’s cancer was going to be to his death 12 months before he passed away.”
Lois said the couple has plenty of time at home together but not so much at the hospital which came at the end.
“We would talk about him leaving me and how I would cope. So we addressed all those issues.”
“It sounds strange but that’s where cancer can be a positive way of dying. My husband had a heart problem and they found the cancer when they were putting a stent in his heart. And we had always thought he would pass away from a heart attack.”
But the reality of cancer’s affliction and the suffering and pain as the patient comes closer to death, the reality is hard to face for both patient and loved ones.
“I think from our point of view as carers and people who loved the person with cancer, it’s so hard to look on.”
It was in one of those moments Lois asked her husband if he would have preferred to have gone quickly after suffering a heart attack.
“I was surprised at his answer. He said, ‘No. I’m appreciating the time to say my goodbyes and to spend time with the children. I’m good with this.’”
Death, grief, suffering and dying. It had come upon Lois’ family suddenly. Pat and Lois’s son had been killed in a tragic accident.
“John was our eldest son. He was 19. He was killed in a car accident five minutes from home. That was in 2002,” Lois recalled, saying from that moment through to 2016 had been loaded with cancer, death, and grief.
Last year Lois was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer.
“It has been a rough 15 years but it’s been totally balanced by us being so blessed by God.”
In other words, the hope of an eternal life with God is offset against the sting of death.
Having said all of that, Lois’ daughter Penny was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008, two years after Lois was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
If that wasn’t enough, Lois said Penny was pregnant at the time.
“She was diagnosed when she was 24-weeks pregnant with her little one. That was a huge shock. The doctors thought she was just having morning sickness.”
Penny was only 28. And as far as cancer was concerned, Lois said she was the first with breast cancer.
“But bowel cancer has been in the family line on both sides, yes,” Lois confirmed.
The big question to answer, and one that comes up frequently for Lois, is how does she cope on a day to day basis?
Lois said when her son John was killed after his car hit a pole two blocks from home, they were comforted by the people who came to visit.
“Phone calls, meals, people coming, that really helped initially. But what I did find interesting when people came to visit, all I wanted to talk about was John.”
She said her whole attention was on John and that she found it was those who had come to visit and support who were uncomfortable.
“I wanted to talk about John and they didn’t want to listen. They would swing to a different conversation, anything but John,” Lois said, admitting it’s hard for people, be they colleagues, friends or family.
“They don’t know what to say and I think the best thing to do is to listen.”
But what of the Shock. The shock of a tragic death. Is there an end to it? Perhaps not.
“I don’t think you can ever get passed the shock. But if you do accept that we are all going to die, go to heaven, have eternal life, then it’s easier to cope with what happens,” Lois confessed, saying the memories of that person are really important.
“With John and with Pat, the funerals were important. I used to shrug my shoulders and say I didn’t need to go to funerals, but you really appreciate people coming to the funeral.”
“You really appreciate people giving you a phone call, sending you a card.” Lois said it’s part of their grieving as well.
“Not only next of kin but everyone who comes to the funeral is touched in a sense and your whole community.”
Lois admitted there is no denying it’s tough.
“The emotions are still there, it’s still raw and it’s rough. It’s probably the most difficult thing we go through in life.”
Lois Thompson is a social worker of 40 years who has worked mostly in the health field.
She is a Christian pastor and speaker and lives in Logan City, Queensland, where she enjoys running on the Track of Life.