Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dying Well - It's In God's Hands: A Tribute to Manley Burchett

As Mitch Albom writes in The Five People You’ll Meet in Heaven, “part of the secret of heaven is that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.”  

Last weekend, I had an awesome opportunity to celebrate the life of a godly man, husband, and teacher, Manley Burchett.  He has been a patient of mine off and on over the last several months and he left this world for another on May 11, 2016.  He was 82-years-old.  His wife, Carol, has given me permission to share him and his never-ending teaching spirit with you.  

I wasn’t surprised when Carol told me that Manley liked Psalm 23.  He lived it to the very end.  When we talked about how his story might end over several hospitalizations, he would hold both palms up and serenely say, “It’s in God’s hands.” 

Can you walk through the valley of the shadow of death while sitting in a recliner, hooked up to an oxygen tank?  Undoubtedly, Yes.  I saw Manley do it and I saw Carol sitting by his side.  He had no fear.  None.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
For thou art with me;

I came across a story which I cannot verify, but it said that Jack Nicklaus was beaten one time by a blind golfer.  It cost him $5,000.  He said as he wrote out the check, “I met a person who refuses to let fear control his life.”  If Manley were blind, I would have wondered if he was the nameless man in that story.  In fact, just the week prior to his death, he told me, “Fear and faith are diametrically opposed.  They cannot exist at the same time.”  I was certain that was never more true than in his hospital room.  

When there still seemed to be choices on the table for treatment, Manley held them with an open hand.  Not with a clinched fist like you might expect.  He considered pursuing surgery, even with severe side effects like not being able to eat or speak again, just for another shot on the green or a cast in his favorite fishing spot. 

For a man who, in his own words, had “a lot of living left to do”, you would have expected to sense a little desperation at the possibility of time running out.  It would only be natural…But, try as you might, you couldn’t find that desperation.  A few more moments or years to live seemed to be all the same to him, and his wife shared this "holy indifference". 

They were completely abandoned to the will of God.  Abandoned, as in yielding (oneself) without restraint.  And it was this abandonment that was Manley’s final gift to me.  

In Our Greatest Gift – A Meditation on Dying and Caring, Henry Nouwen discusses watching his sister-in-law, Marina, die from cancer.  He writes, “As I have seen Marina prepare herself for death, I have gradually realized that she is making her own dying a gift for others – not only for my brother, not only for her family and friends, but also for the nurses and doctors and the many circles of people with whom she has spoken and shared…Having taught all her life, she now teaches through her preparation for death.  It strikes me that her successes and accomplishments will probably soon be forgotten, but the fruits of her dying may well last a long time…She has shown me, in a whole new way, what it means to die for others.  It means to become the parent of future generations.”  

It is in this way that Manley has become a parent to me and I imagine, to as many people as have met him.  I didn’t know Manley as well as I would have liked, but maybe I know enough.  If it is true that we die like we live, then he lived very well, indeed.  He showed me what faith in action looks like.  It looks like abandonment to Divine Providence, even and especially when it is life and death.  It looks like Manley in his recliner with his palms turned skyward, saying all the while, “It’s in God’s hands.” 


  1. Oh Heidi,
    Thank you for putting these thoughts into such simply and beautifully stated words. I have had these thoughts swimming around in my head and heart for several months now. It is such a relief to see them spread out so elegantly. You are God's mouth to me today.

    1. Praise the Lord! Thanks, Carla! To bless a blessing is my favorite!