Book donation honors, encourages and comforts

Bellingham | June 18, 2018
Husband finds fitting way to honor late wife

A lifetime of giving

Debbie DuFrene led a life of service. She was devoted to her family, including four children and six grandchildren, and dedicated to ministering to people of all backgrounds through her lifelong missionary work. She was generous without the need for formalities and down-to-earth in the girl-next-door kind of way. 

Phil DuFrene, Debbie’s husband of more than 47 years, described her as “a beautiful example of a godly woman.” He explained, “‘Godly’ really encompasses everything she did as a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and helper for whoever needed help.” She moved through life with great faith, compassion and humility.

Not the ‘normal’ Debbie

In the fall of 2017, Debbie didn’t quite feel like herself. She was stiff and had difficulty getting around. During a visit to her son and his family in Ireland, it was clear that she couldn’t travel and explore like she had in the past. Her limitations increased. She soon had to give up driving, and she often experienced shortness of breath. Doctors and chiropractors couldn’t figure out what was going on. She and her family attributed these changes to the challenges, aches and pains of aging.

On Feb. 11, 2018, Debbie had excruciating pain in her hip. She couldn’t move. A neighbor rushed Phil and Debbie to the emergency department at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, where they received very bad news: Debbie had cancer. In fact, she had adenocarcinoma that had metastasized (or spread) throughout her body. Phil and Debbie’s lives were instantly uprooted.

The ‘pink book’

Chaplain Barbara Hoag was paged to support the DuFrenes as they grappled with Debbie’s prognosis and settled into their new realities of hospitalization. She instantly connected with Debbie. “Debbie had no pretenses about her,” Barbara said. “It was just so easy to talk with her.”

There were many layers to Debbie’s care at PeaceHealth St. Joseph, but Barbara soon serendipitously added a new element: a daily devotional book with a pink cover titled “Jesus Calling.”

Written in the format of letters from Jesus, the “pink book” provided Debbie with great comfort. “Faith does not take away fear,” Barbara explained.

Amidst treatments and end-of-life conversations, Debbie often asked Barbara and other members of her Spiritual Care team to read out loud from the “pink book.”

Saying goodbye

Debbie’s last days were not easy, but they were filled with many poignant, tender moments. Members of her family traveled from near and far to be with her, and, one-by-one, they each said their goodbyes. Debbie passed away on March 5, 2018.

Phil felt a great sense of loss, but he came up with a thoughtful way to honor his late wife: He collected donations to purchase copies of “Jesus Calling” for other PeaceHealth patients in times of need.

Friends and family from across the USA and Canada gave generously, and he was able to purchase 310 copies of the daily devotional book. Debbie’s original copy with a pink cover remained with him for use in his chaplain ministry.

On a Monday afternoon in April, Phil returned to the hospital where his wife had spent her final moments to deliver the book donation to Barbara. He brought in eight full cases of “Jesus Calling”—each stamped with “Given in loving memory of Deborah DuFrene” inside the front cover.

Paying it forward

“I know that ‘Jesus Calling’ won’t speak to everyone,” Phil explained. “But my hope is that it can be given out strategically to those with whom its messaging will resonate. I hope that it can offer a bridge of hope and comfort to other patients and families going through tough times.”

The donation was a gracious gesture filled with symbolism. Though she’s not physically here anymore, it’s as though Debbie has found a small way to continue caring for others.