After Thurston’s breast cancer diagnosis in 1983 with subsequent surgery and radiation treatments, he decided to live the remainder of his days with an optimistic attitude. His personal motto became, “Walk in hope.” A brick at the Mabry Cancer Center at the Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties bears his name and his slogan. Like all of his endeavors post-cancer, he wanted to encourage others.
I remind readers of this because after a column that mentioned Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, author of the book “On Death and Dying,” I received an email from her son, Ken Ross, who is vice-president of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation. Responses from readers encourage connections, and I delight in receiving them. In 2010, Billy Graham’s grandson responded to a column I had written about his grandfather and recently adapted and published again.
Ken, however, was concerned that I had misunderstood and actually perpetuated myths that surrounded his mother’s important work.
“While I am pleased to see articles on grief discussed and published, I am frequently frustrated to see how my mother’s five stages of loss theory are not accurately described. The majority of the criticisms I read are from false information, misinterpretations, or rehashing other incorrect articles.
“Kübler-Ross actually stated back when the first book came out that everyone’s grief is unique and that the stages are merely a tool to help us understand what some dying people go through. The idea that she later regretted how the stages were misinterpreted is not correct. She stated this to Oprah in the early 70’s within four years of 'On Death & Dying' being published. Also her first book actually contains 10 stages (see chart near back book) so when I read that there are other stages she never would have thought, I am somewhat doubtful as the press continues to fail to mention these other stages such as 'hope' that she mentioned 49 years ago.”
Throughout Thurston’s illness, I can look back now and see evidence of stages – stages that prepared him for the hope that he knew in Jesus Christ. The essence of Thurston’s life would not end on this earth, only the physical part. For him, and for his family, the hope we all expressed was in the promises of a Savior and Lord who promised eternal life for all who repented and believed in him as God’s son.
Truly, at his last breath, we all clung to the hope of a resurrected life, no longer filled with earth’s demise but with heaven’s glory and a transformed body. The Bible tells us that nothing on this earth lasts forever. The perishable must become imperishable. The mortal must become immortal. There will be a reckoning for each of us. Thurston’s reckoning was peaceful, and he passed into immortality and imperishability because of the hope he had in Christ.
“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths,” Kubler-Ross writes. Hope is the “way out of the depths.” It had carried Thurston through a 34-year survivorship of breast cancer. I carried him through the ravages of Multiple System Atrophy.
“When we have passed the tests we are sent to Earth to learn, we are allowed to graduate. We are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our souls,” Kubler-Ross assures us. Thurston’s tests were many in his 72 years, but the shedding of his body and the freeing of his soul have fulfilled his hope.
To Ken Ross, and to every reader that responds, I am thankful and I learn. Now, go and “walk in hope.”