My Dad’s Prayer Speech and Obituary

Today’s post will be the last in this series sharing my dad’s final weeks. As promised, on the day of my dad’s memorial service, I’m posting the prayer testimonial he had my sister, Erica, deliver to five church services a few weekends ago. If you’ve read this full series, you already know that my dad did not always believe in prayer, energy and things unseen. Although he opted for different treatment routes than I personally would have chosen, his cancer journey brought us much closer: between “chemo brain,” miraculous healing and divine intervention, my father finally began to understand the way I live my daily life.

He considered this speech one of the most important offerings of his life, and it seems appropriate that the “Prayer Is” conference takes place this week in the same location as his memorial service. The night of my dad’s “aura” experience, he had also finally given me permission to send him Reiki and to request all the Reiki students and Master Teachers I had trained to send Reiki to him. Prior to that day, he had felt varying degrees of fear or skepticism towards Reiki, but since that day, he gladly received it. In fact, his final moments on this Earth passed with me providing Reiki to his heart until I could no longer distinguish between its beating and my own pulse. Having my sister read this testimonial for him when he was too ill to do so himself was one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given him.

I have also included as my first comment below the beautiful obituary my brother, Craig, wrote for Sunday’s Morning Call. My dad always enjoyed teaching, and last night we encountered many students, colleagues, ride recipients, bridge partners, friends, relatives and casual acquaintances my dad affected in profound ways. Somehow, the combination of my dad’s words and my brother’s words about my dad seem like the fullest way to complete this series. I’ve heard from so many of you how this journey has affected your own lives, and I know my father would feel honored and humbled by his impact. Thank you for all the love and care for our family during this sacred time together.

Steve Derbenwick’s Witness Statement

Good Morning.   My name is Steve Derbenwick.   Around here I am probably best known as Jane Derbenwick’s husband with the weird cancer.  I had no exposure to religion as a child and only a little bit of church attendance in high school and graduate school plus a rigorous undergradate course on the Old Testament.  I have struggled with religious issues for most of my adult life but it has been hard for a highly analytical science oriented academic introvert like me to find the answers I sought.   Although I have been coming to First Pres for over four decades, I never went through the process to become a member.

With that preamble you may be wondering why I am up here today.  The answer is what happened in July 2011.  I was hospitalized with a type of total intestinal blockage that rarely affects adults.  Before my surgery Jane asked if I wanted to be on the Prayer Chain.  I said yes, but I confess I wasn’t very optimistic then that it would make a big difference.

During surgery, my doctor uncovered a marble sized lymphoma that had triggered the blockage.   Subsequent tests revealed I had a very rare and highly aggressive cancer called Mantle Cell Lymphoma with many golf ball sized and larger lymphomas throughout my body.  My case was the worst of its four varieties. The quoted mortality rate was 95% at 4 years but before I could deal with this life threatening cancer I faced a more immediate crisis.

About a week after my surgery, I awoke from a short afternoon nap, rang my buzzer and told my nurse I had no idea what was wrong with me but I felt horrible.  That complaint triggered a whole flurry of activity ending with a CAT scan that revealed a very large pulmonary embolism that would eventually make my right lung virtually useless for over 5 months.  That night I lay in bed fearing I could die if another clot affecting my other lung came through.  I remember thinking how terrible it would be to die without being able to say goodbye to the people I loved.  I remember praying that they could forgive me if that happened.  But before I got around to praying for myself, something amazing happened that I cannot really describe adequately.

Suddenly a very bright gold or orange aura appeared inside or surrounding my head.  The accompanying message was an assurance that everything would be all right and I relaxed.  What I thought then and still believe is that the prayers of everyone who had been praying for me somehow coalesced and formed this amazing protective shield.  I survived the night and the next day my nurse told me I was already turning blue when I rang buzzer the day before.  A week later I learned that one of the new resident doctors had spent that entire night in my room or just a few steps away from it.

My battle with the cancer then began and followed the usual progression – chemotherapy, radiation, remission, and relapse followed by a different chemotherapy.  Along the way my body decided a 6 week long nasty case of shingles in my head would just add to the fun.  The second type of chemotherapy was a total failure.  When it was finished in December 2013, all my tumors had at least doubled in size and I had twice as many.  I figured I had a couple of months to live but another miracle happened for me – the FDA had just given super accelerated approval to a new daily oral chemotherapy drug for my cancer based on just a Phase II study with only 111 subjects.   I started on that medicine immediately and 3 months later only one tumor was left.  In the spring of 2015, that tumor was presumably destroyed with radiation treatments although its shell still appears on a CAT scan.

During this long ordeal it was very easy for the negative thoughts like anger, frustration, self-pity, and depression to creep in.  Every time that happened I remembered that special night in the hospital and I relaxed.

In May 2015, I made a list of my 12 personal miracles – things that went my way but just as easily could have gone the other way.  Just imagine the odds of flipping a coin and having it come up heads 12 times in a row when your life depends on it.  That has been my experience.

What do I think I have done in my life to deserve such good luck – absolutely nothing.  I attribute it all to the power of all those prayers being said for me.  I am constantly amazed at how many people tell Jane they are praying for me even when I am not on the Official Prayer Chain.  Many of you do not even know me personally.  Thank you all so much.  I won’t classify my life as easy now but the fact that I am here today is evidence that those prayers really work.

On March 13 through March 17 First Pres will be offering its annual Prayer Is event.  I hope you can appreciate how meaningful and emotional this opportunity is for me every year.   I think everyone can benefit from devoting as many moments as you wish to the solitude, peace, introspection, and opportunity to pray for yourself and others that this dedicated prayer time and environment provides.  Please try to attend.

When I prepared these remarks a few weeks ago I expected to deliver them from a position of strength.  Instead I again find myself facing serious health issues and extreme fatigue.  Nevertheless I am very grateful to be able to tell you my story today.  Thank you for listening.

16 responses to this post.

  1. Stephen R. Derbenwick Obituary

    Stephen Raymond Derbenwick passed away peacefully on March 11, 2016, at home after a nearly five-year battle with mantle cell lymphoma. Steve is survived by his wife, Rebecca Jane; daughters Laura Bruno (David) of Goshen, Ind., and Erica Cappellini, of Allentown, Penn.; and son Craig (Adin) of Evanston, Ill. He is also survived by his beloved grandsons Owen and Anthony Cappellini, as well as his brothers Gary, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Kenneth, of Ormond Beach, Fla.; and Leland, of Westford, Mass.

    Steve was born in Martinez, Calif., on May 14, 1943, to Vantries (Peake) and Frank Derbenwick. His family moved around considerably while he was a child before they settled in Greenwich, Conn. Steve attended Greenwich High School, where he graduated at the top of his class and was an active member of the school’s basketball and track and field teams, as well as a viola player in school, local and state symphonies. Upon graduation, Steve attended Brown University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He subsequently attended Cornell University, where he earned a PhD in physics, and where he met his wife, Jane. They were married in her home state of Illinois in 1968.

    In 1971, Steve and Jane moved to the Lehigh Valley for Steve’s teaching career in the Physics Department at Moravian College. After working summers at Air Products & Chemicals while at Moravian, Steve moved to a permanent position there and began a more than 30-year career at Air Products. Over his time at Air Products, he developed computer systems for a wide array of projects, combining his scientific training with a keen analytical mind and a gift for making complex systems easy to use.

    Steve was very active in his children’s sports teams, including swimming, soccer, basketball and tennis. More recently, he was an extremely dedicated fan of his grandsons’ soccer teams. After his childhood athletic career, Steve swam and played tennis as an adult and was a fearsome bridge player. He also served as the primary caregiver for his mother Vantries for 37 years until her passing in 2013.

    A lifelong learner, Steve remained intellectually curious across a range of subjects, including music, philosophy, literature, religion and math. He passed along a love of learning to his children and grandchildren, who benefitted deeply from his wisdom and advice over his lifetime.

    In recent years, Steve attended the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, where his wife Jane has been a very active member for several decades. Steve found great comfort in the support of the church and credited the community there with helping him find peace amid his long battle with cancer.

    A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, at 11:00 AM at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, located at 2344 Center St. in Bethlehem.

    In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, or to an education fund for Owen and Anthony Cappellini c/o Erica Cappellini.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Posted by Diana on March 16, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Oh Dear Laura ~ Your Dad sounds like a wonderful man. Very sorry for your loss. Many blessings, hugs and love, Diana xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. through knowing and loving you and being a part of this whole journey i have come to love your dad and this story is such a beautiful expression of the purity of his soul that this experience, you, his biological and extended soul family have all been instrumental in helping him to return to. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Posted by CindyW on March 16, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    thank you for sharing the story of your father’s life and passing! how amazing that you were going through all this concern/treatment in the background, while blogging as you do! it reminds me of a saying I once heard in L.A., about how some people “travel farther” in the ways their mind changes than many do in a physical body! a tribute to that church as well. (I must say, some local Presby women were of great support to me in my own, so much less stressful, cancer journey)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have no words. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Love to you and your famil

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Reiki Dawn and commented:
    Had to share So much love to all.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Laura – my sincere heartfelt condolences on the passing of your father. (Dawn Vierra posted a link on her FB page which linked to her blog which lead me to yours.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Posted by laura on March 17, 2016 at 3:14 am

    Thank you for sharing this journey with us. It is a beautiful testimony to the power of faith love and light. Blessings to you and to your dear father and family. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Posted by Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature on March 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    I was hoping you would share this. Thank you. It is beautiful.
    Love and Blessings,
    Mary

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Posted by Ella on March 18, 2016 at 12:23 am

    With you and yours as you move through this transition. Such a fine man deserves one grand welcome home party! Peace to you all. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. My brother just sent us a copy of the eulogy he read at the memorial service:

    March 16, 2016

    Steve Derbenwick Eulogy

    My family and I want to thank you all for coming today to honor the life of my father, Steve. It’s a sad time, but it means a lot to us that you are here to celebrate his life.

    Steve and my mom Jane moved to the Lehigh Valley in the early 1970s. Since then, he made connections in a lot of different places – from his work at Moravian College and Air Products, to sports teams for my sisters and me, to Northwest Swim Club, to various bridge groups, to friends of his mother, Vantries, and a wide range of other people whose lives intersected with his. Some of you probably know my mom better than my dad. Steve was very content to be more of a homebody, but he appreciated that Jane introduced him to many people through her connections with First Pres, Lehigh and many other organizations.

    While many of you knew Steve, I want to share some things about him that maybe weren’t as well known, or that he wouldn’t have told people even if he were still here. Many people knew my dad as fiercely smart and highly analytical. And while he was an intellectual giant with a PhD in physics and an astounding math and science ability, my dad had another, lesser-seen side. Throughout his life, he always put other people ahead of himself. That’s what I want to talk about today.

    My dad told me that one of his first memories as a child was at a department store with his mother and his younger brother Gary, who was in a stroller at the time. My dad was probably three years old at most when his mother turned to him and said, “Take care of your brother while I go shop.” (Those who knew Van will remember that she was quite a prodigious shopper.) From that moment on, Steve set out on a life of responsibility and putting other people’s needs ahead of his own.

    He took great care of my mother, sisters and me, as well as his own mother. He served as her primary caregiver after his father died in 1976 until she passed away at age 101 in 2013. This 37-year period was even longer than the time she was married. Van was as stubborn as my dad, leading to many clashes over the years. But I know that one of the proudest moments of Steve’s life was the successful 100th birthday party for Van that he was instrumental in arranging, even while he was receiving cancer treatments. Over the years, he also helped nurse my mom through her own bout with cancer and other health issues that followed her chemotherapy treatments and also helped his niece Erin through her battle with cancer. He has also been there for me and my sisters Laura and Erica through our own health and personal crises.

    Don’t get me wrong – Steve was far from a softie. As a father, he could be extremely strict and had the annoying habit of pointing out the logical errors in my arguments with friends or family, even when I just wanted him to take my side. He rarely told me that he loved me, but he continually showed it. For example, I injured my elbow so badly in college that I needed surgery to repair the damage. He came to Chicago over Christmas break and lived in my apartment with my roommates to take care of me, as I was basically helpless. If you had asked him about that time, he would probably recount a story in which he walked five blocks to the Laundromat in 60-below wind chills. In reality, the Laundromat was only two blocks away, and the lowest wind chill reading on the current scale is actually -55 degrees. But his version shows just how much he was willing to do to take care of his son.

    In recent years, he devoted a lot of his life to being a grandfather to my sister Erica’s sons, Owen and Anthony. He attended as many of their soccer games as he could. Many of my phone calls to my parents ended up as monologues of him recounting a series of spectacular plays by one of my nephews in exacting detail. And I mean “exacting” detail. While he was proud of the many goals they scored, he seemed proudest of the times that Owen or Anthony made a spectacular pass to one of their teammates. Even in that way, he knew at a fundamental level that it was better to help someone else get the glory than to take it for yourself.

    I don’t want to dwell on his disease, but the way he dealt with it says a lot about him. After his cancer went into remission due to a powerful experimental drug, he drove other patients to their appointments, just as others had driven him to his appointments when he needed help. He wanted to give back because he believed he’d been given a second chance. As result, he lived each day as a new day rather than under a death sentence.

    In recent months, cracks began to show in the cancer treatment that had kept him alive for years beyond what we could have hoped for. Whether he knew consciously what was happening or not, he made a special effort to make sure his legacy was in place. This past January, he wrote a testimony about the peace and support he felt from the church community’s prayers for him when he almost died from a blood clot in 2011. That moment almost five years ago changed his life, and it was his goal to share with others how their thoughts and prayers gave him strength at a very dark time. He was unable to deliver that testimony himself two and a half weeks ago, as he entered the hospital the same day he was scheduled to speak. But he was so proud that my sister Erica could deliver his words on his behalf and share his message of love and prayer.

    Two weeks ago today, Steve found out that his cancer had spread and that there were no more treatment options. In retrospect, he had been slipping for quite some time, but we thought that his miracle drug would keep him alive indefinitely. That was not the case. After the final prognosis, we didn’t know how long he had left – it could have been a few days or several months. When he told me the news, I broke down, but he was at peace. He did not feel sorry for himself for getting a nasty disease or for leaving the earth sooner than he would have liked. He told me that he knew this would be harder on other people than on him. To the end, he was thinking of others rather than himself.

    Last Wednesday, he signed paperwork on a new house that will be perfect for my mom as she moves forward. That was the last day that he would have been able to sign anything, and he slipped in and out of consciousness after that point. When he passed away last Friday, he was surrounded by family members, including my mom, my sister Laura and her partner David. He died peacefully. But before he did, he made sure that my family was prepared for life after his passing. That was my dad.

    I know this is a sad day. I’m still in a bit of shock because until so recently, his mind was so very much alive even as his body failed. He had such a forceful personality that the world feels a bit empty without him in it. But I stand here lucky to have him as a father, and I hope that we can all share our memories and stories of his life. He touched us all in so many ways. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks so much, Bill!

    Like

  13. Thanks and blessings, Laura

    Like

  14. Thank you, Cindy! Yes, it’s always amazing where support shows up and where it doesn’t — and how everything always does return to balance. Sometimes the tiniest things mean the most, and sometimes we need very different things than we would have expected ourselves to need. Other times — things just flow along right as predicted. 🙂

    Like

  15. Thank you, Tania! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks and love, Diana! xx

    Like

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