Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

A Cross and a Rose

April 5, 2019 by

“You’re not going to find it easy to see Solomon,” a nurse whispered as I began my rounds as chaplain at the hospice.

The afternoon sun cast rays of scattered light through the blinds as I opened the door to room 10. I hesitated, fearful that Solomon had already died.

I knocked softly.

“Hello there.” The reply was warm, the voice youthful and boyish. “Come on in.”

I paused on the threshold. Although just forty years old, Solomon’s body was, literally, reduced to a skeleton. His cheek and jawbones were clearly visible, his sunken eyes deeply recessed in their sockets. His bony rib cage gave rise to an abdomen bloated by malignant intestinal obstructions.

A broad smile lit up Solomon’s face as he turned toward me. He was tall and, in health, must have appeared dapper. But now his body lay wasted, his face etched with pain. If it weren’t for his black hair and heavily tattooed body, I would have mistaken him for an old man.

Taking a seat next to the bed, I looked into Solomon’s animated eyes. Wracked with pain, he could speak only softly; and with immense effort. But Solomon’s mind was clear. In fact, I was struck by the keenness and depth of his spiritual perception. Hovering between life and death, he lay in deep reverie, pondering the meaning of life – and the life to come.

The dying speak with direct abandon, and Solomon was no exception. There seemed to be much occupying his mind that afternoon; his musings were urgent – as if he were racing to fathom the riddle of human life before his time on earth was up.

With equanimity, Solomon described the cancer that was eating the bones of his spine and intervertebral discs. It had invaded his liver, lungs, and gut, and he nursed a broken femur, which, eroded by cancer, had snapped spontaneously.

It is not every day you encounter someone in the prime of life who, being devoured by an insidious cancer, exudes peace. But, having accepted his state of affairs with composure, Solomon was moving beyond this world, his thoughts probing the boundaries of human existence beyond physical matter.

It is not every day you encounter someone in the prime of life who, suffering from an insidious cancer, exudes peace.

It had all happened so quickly. Just months ago, Solomon was living as a harried Londoner – preoccupied with work and single-handedly raising his seventeen-year-old son. He and his son were unusually close, he told me. On a recent visit to his mother, Solomon became ill. It started with a fever and unrelenting pain in his back and abdomen that forced him to the hospital. A full-body CT scan had revealed the cancer in Solomon’s vital organs. Referred directly to the hospice for end-of-life palliative care, Solomon never returned to his London flat.

“My mother took me to church as a child,” Solomon explained. “But I never took to religion myself… never felt the need for it, to be honest.” But the sudden turn of events now had Solomon thinking deeply.

“I know I am dying,” he confided, more to himself than to me. “There’s got to be more to existence than what you see, but I don’t know what it is.”

And then, looking directly into my eyes, he asked pointedly, “Do you know if I will go on living when my body stops breathing?”

Sensing his need for honesty and reassurance as he approached physical death, I shared with Solomon my belief that life continues, in some form, in the hereafter. He nodded slowly but said nothing more. Closing his eyes and sighing deeply, he communicated that his strength was depleted.

I sat in silence for a while longer. His bedside lamp cast scattered shadows across his wasted form.

Supposing him asleep, I quietly rose. Leaning over the bed, I gently laid my hand on his arm as I wished him God’s peace and comfort.

I made my way toward the door, turning once more to look at Solomon in his final repose. His eyes opened one more time as he whispered, “Could you… would you know… where I could get a cross to hold in my hand? I believe it would help me to hold a cross when the pain gets unbearable.”

His eyes communicated the vastness of the unseen world as he looked at, and yet beyond, me.

I paused, in awe of his request. I had a cross for Solomon at my house. It was just the cross he needed: a hand-carved olivewood cross from Bethlehem itself.

Soon after, rushing out of my house with the cross, I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. There, blooming on its own in the garden, was a deep red rose, perfectly in bud.

I left Solomon that day, an olivewood cross clutched tightly in his closed hand as he gazed at the blood-red rose by his bed. There was nothing else in the room. Just a dying man, a cross, and a red rose, illuminated exquisitely in the lamplight.

a wood cross and a rose

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About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • 'So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross Till my trophies at last I lay down I will cling to the old rugged Cross And exchange it someday for a crown'. What comfort that cross gives

    Judith Meredith
  • Hi Rebekah I was very moved by your article, it took me back to my days working in the hospice and how those that are dying can often reach out for more than this secular life can give and will continue searching even to the last moment of life. Our Savior is always there waiting for the door to be opened so that he can walk in and scoop us up into His loving arms. This work that you do is immense and may God pour His blessing over you, yours in Christ Nunziata

    Nunziata Sloan-Capasso
  • What a great privilege to be able to share with Solomon in his final hours and to be able to give him peace through the cross and beauty of the rose. It takes a special person to minister in a Hospice thank God you were there for him.

    Jacquie Watson
  • Dear Rebekah, Thank you for sharing this story. It takes a special person to do hospice care. I am so happy this young man had you by him and could provide the assurance and cross he needed during his suffering.

    Rosalie V. Gambino
  • F Scott Peck said “life is difficult and then we die.” I think Hospice is a way of life in a country with socialized medicine but it is still considered the absolute final step and actually not even considered by many. I myself don’t really know the answer . The beauty of holding onto the cross and the rose at the end is the way I think I would choose so thank you for sharing such a powerful story .

    Anonymous
  • I love this story of Solomon and his faith in the midst of devastation. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Meredith
  • This is an incredible story. Your work and your writing is inspiring! I also finished your book months ago. I enjoyed it very much. Your generosity in sharing your personal struggles along with the people you write about is very moving.

    Maria
  • Thank you Rebekah. A beautiful reflection.

    Livia
  • I loved this story. What a sad situation for that young man. How wonderful for him to have had you there by his side and the assurance that this isn’t all there is. His understanding of life continuing beyond the grave is the crux of what we live for here on this place called earth. It gives us the insight and the strength to cope with all the pain and suffering we encounter. God sees the beginning from the end. Putting our lives in His hands is what each of us needs to do regardless of any circumstances that come our way. From an earthly stance a young 40 year old suffering and dying seems horrible and incomprehensible, and I’m not minimizing it. But believing the best is yet to come, puts that dire situation in a whole new light. Seeing the whole picture and not just what’s here in front of us is what gives us the hope we need daily to press on. Thank you for sharing this story and may God continue to use you in bringing comfort to the dying.

    Emily Russo
  • I was very touched by your latest wonderful blog! I had actually been thinking about you because I have been reading your book, "Broken but Blessed". I am making my way slowly through it because it is so deep! You certainly give of yourself heart and soul. Thank you for the rich inspiration and spiritual food.

    Sally Phalan
  • so gracefully presented, compassionate transition How fortunate to have a Chaplin such as you. Thank you

    Bill Dale
  • Beautiful and sensitive words..thank you for sharing your ministry and this story.

    Deborah
  • God speaks to us in many different ways.This has been truly a God moment, as I have been touched deeply by the impact of this story and brought close to our maker.

    Alan Archer