Life in Community

work • simplicity • education
caring • fulfillment • celebration

Life in Community

Encounters: Robertsbridge, UK, June 2017

July 5, 2018 by

Marcelle Page as a young woman
Marcelle as a young woman

Marcelle was many things: a devoted wife to her husband, Allen; a mother and grandmother; and a beloved sister to all who lived with her at Darvell, a Bruderhof in southern England. That’s where our paths crossed most recently. No, not crossed. They became one as we traveled with Allen and Marcelle through the last five months of her life.

Marcelle was also a peacemaker. Not because she stoically endured the ultimate test of her life – a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) – but because she was an active messenger of peace throughout the agonizing ten months that followed, as one faculty after another surrendered to the inexorable progression of the illness.

It was as if Marcelle was caught in a trap, jaws closing ever tighter until life itself was extinguished. It is no wonder that this particular disease is one of the most frequent candidates for physician-assisted suicide. Though I will never know a fraction of Marcelle’s suffering, I can attest that her Master was with her as she passed through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus had been there before her; indeed, he was the peace that surrounded her and the one source of strength that carried her across the line.

To be equipped to die in peace, we must live in peace. This does not mean to be spared life’s trials and traumas – rather that they need not define us. It means that the peace that passes all understanding, a peace that the world can never give, is within reach if only we extend our small hand to God’s, which is ready and waiting for ours.

The apostle Paul compares the church community to a body comprised of separate parts that complement, nurture, and care for one another. If one part suffers, all suffer. But not in passive resignation. As Marcelle’s condition changed almost daily (and never for the better), brothers and sisters rallied to provide medical, physical, and spiritual assistance.

I can only describe this process as a dance. It was so fluid, so organic, and so quietly understated to be almost invisible. It was beautiful to behold, and to be part of. My eyes were opened to a facet of spirit-led church community I had not been fully conscious of. It seemed almost miraculous.

But this love in action was also hard and painful work. It required significant self-sacrifice from many. Not just once, but again and again. Schedules were adjusted and duties covered as the level of care increased. Increased effort was necessary to make Marcelle as comfortable as possible and more time was required to keep spirits afloat. Allen made it a weekly practice to invite people Fridays for an evening of wine and cheese, accompanied by fresh bread he baked himself. Similarly, the care team found it necessary to get together weekly for chips and dips, fellowship, and laughter – a key factor in our own mental and spiritual survival.

My wife, Grace, and I had known Allen and Marcelle for years, and until the onset of the disease we knew Marcelle as an active person in the fullest sense of the word. Then – as the disease progressed and in spite of the top-quality medical care she received – Marcelle could no longer walk. Then no longer talk. No longer even smile or move her head. Because the Marcelle we knew was no longer visible, we placed a photo (taken only months before) near her bedside so that all who entered her room would see the real Marcelle, alive and yet hidden beneath a mask.

Allen and Marcelle Allen and Marcelle in 2016

How is it possible to use words like peace, dance, and laughter within the context of ALS? How can these words have any meaning at all within the indescribable anguish of not knowing how best to help, when all means of communication are gone?

I can only answer these questions by giving witness to the reality of the soul and to the nearness of God who created every soul in his image.

And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.
–Reepicheep

If we let go and give the wheel of our life into the hands of the One who guides the celestial beings in their courses, it is possible to go through the valley of the shadow of death without being defined by its harrowing darkness. In fact, it is possible to embark on the most impossible of journeys with a determination that is best described in the words of one of the most courageous and loyal characters in English literature – the indomitable Reepicheep: “While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country…I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

This was our lived experience as Grace and I walked with Allen and Marcelle through the final day of her earthly life. Family after family streamed through the room, each contributing their own unique solace in word and song. When Marcelle took her final breath she was with Allen, their son and his wife, and two grandchildren. Soli Deo gloria!

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About the author

photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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  • Thank you

    Les McCarthy
  • Beautifully written. I feel like I have met, ever so briefly, with the lovely Marcelle. I also experienced the blessing of Grace-Anna and Bill W's ministry of love and support as my dear husband suffered so much through a very aggressive cancer and the disfiguring and limiting aftermath. God bless you, Bill and Grace Anna. You share your many gifts with the humility of Christ. Thanks for this encouragement.

    leigh waters