How to Live When You Know You’re Dying


Here’s How to Live When You Know You’re Dying

How should we live when we know that we are going to die?

Of course, we all know that we will die one day, but if we knew we were going to die soon – if we had weeks, months, or maybe a few years left to live, how would that change our everyday lives? What can we learn from people who know that they don’t have much more time on this earth?

My husband is a widower and his beloved first wife, Barb, taught him how to draw near to the Lord and cherish each day as she bravely fought cancer. Near the end of her life, their pastor commented, “We have all been praying for healing for Barb and asking for a miracle. But perhaps the greater miracle is not healing but watching someone trust God and live faithfully even when they are facing death.”

Last year a reader named Patrick sent me a letter written by his late wife, Becky, who also had cancer and went to be with Jesus on December 31, 2000. Her attitude, which mirrors the attitude of the saints in the Bible, deeply encouraged me as she focused on the Lord, ran the race with endurance, and lived each day with purpose and thankfulness. Patrick gave me permission to share the letter that Becky had written to someone shortly after she realized that her own cancer had metastasized:


Dear Sister in Christ,

A mutual friend of ours, recently wrote to ask me to correspond with you. She knows that I am a cancer survivor and thought I might have some words of encouragement to offer you in your struggle. The timing of the arrival of her letter was utterly ironic; I had learned earlier that day that my cancer had reappeared as cysts in my abdomen. Two days later I was told it had also spread to both lungs. I say this to you, not to discourage you, but to let you know that I am in the trenches with you. These words don’t come from distant memories but from present realities.

Initially, I thought I wouldn’t respond to our friend’s request. Then I began to see the timing as being of the Lord. This is my opportunity to sit down and articulate a “battle plan.” I know it will be good for me, and I hope you will find something of merit in it as well.

1. Recognizing that most of our battles are waged in the mind, I chose to focus on God who is all-powerful and compassionate. The Bible tells me that God’s Name is El Elyon, God Most High, and that nothing can come into my life that is not first filtered through the fingers of God’s love. God knew before the foundation of the world that I would have cancer and has already provided the resources I need to face it. God’s plan for me in every trial of every size is that I experience victory, never defeat.

2. I chose to view this illness as a gift. Granted, it’s like expecting a new ten-speed bike for Christmas and getting underwear, but it is a gift. It is a time to draw near to God, to experience God more fully, to enjoy the simple joys of life, to focus on those things that are truly important. I will thank God every day for this particular gift of cancer.

3. Although cancer wants to be an all-encompassing issue in my life, I refuse to sink within myself. I will reach out to someone else each day with a letter, word of encouragement, act of service or prayer.

4. I will not ignore my emotions (which are currently running wild.) I will allow myself to cry as necessary in order to vent my feelings, but I will NOT be ruled by them.

5. I will share what is happening to me with others and enlist their support and prayers. I cannot do this alone, and I will not rob others of the blessing they can receive in ministering to me.

6. I will make both short-term and long-term goals in order to have something in the future to look forward to. For example, I plan on attending my parents 50th anniversary party in June 2001, I plan to take my son to Disney World in the coming year; I plan to go back to school and upgrade my professional skills.

7. I will find some reason to laugh every day (even if it means I have to buy every Calvin & Hobbes cartoon book ever written!)

8. I will remind myself that, in some inexplicable way, the manner in which I conduct myself during this time of struggle does, indeed, impact the spiritual world. The book of Job tells me that humans sometimes get caught up in a cosmic battle between God and Satan, and my actions are key to that struggle. (Jesus Himself told His disciples upon their completion of a missionary journey that God had seen Satan fall from heaven as a result of their actions!)

9. I will endeavor to keep my life as “normal” as possible. I will continue my every-day activities and responsibilities as long as I am physically able. This will afford me the comfort of the predictable and common aspects of life as well as helping me not to slide into introspection and self-pity.

Patty, I am praying for you. I am asking that you will be “sincere and blameless” (Philippians 1:10). The word “sincere” is a Greek word that grew out of a poor practice in the marketplace of the day. Everyone in the culture used pottery for many tasks we use plastic today. It was important that the pots be well made. Most were, but there were some unscrupulous pottery makers who would find a pot with cracks in it. Rather than discarding it, they would fill the crack with wax to cover it up. This would work as long as the pot sold early in the day. But after a longer time of sitting out in the hot Middle Eastern sun, the wax would melt and the cracks would show. Paul prayed that the Philippians would avoid this by being sincere or “sun-tested.” May you, as you face the heat and pressure of this time, find yourself to be, by His grace, without wax.

In Christian Love,

Becky Skinner

I love this letter because it’s practical, biblical and has such a great perspective. I pray that Becky’s words encourage you, especially those who have received difficult medical diagnoses, to face the pressure and heat of this time with sincerity and hope. No matter when we will see Jesus face to face, I’m thankful that he’ll be with us to the end of this life, and then will take us to our true home where we’ll live happily ever after with him.

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