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Eloquent Dying | dr william isley

September 23, 2007



23 September 2007


A man is dying.

A man’s body is slowly, painfully, being attacked by deadly cancer cells. The cancer is winning. The man is living his final days on earth.

I met this man, for the first time, a month ago. I stopped by his house for a few minutes as I drove through his city on my way to a family vacation. As I drove around his cul-de-sac looking for his house number, his wife came out to greet me. She brought me into the modest house, into the living room, where he lay, uncomfortably, on the sofa. She brought me a glass of lemonade, excused herself, and left the two of us to talk.

After some get-to-know-you talk, he offered to tell his story. Here, before me, lay a man at the end of his life about to tell me, a stranger who he has just met and may never see again on this earth, his life story. He has only a few minutes to do so. How does one reduce decades of a life lived into a few minutes? What does one share? And how does one share it?

I grabbed the lemonade and leaned forward to make sure I heard everything.

He spoke not a word about sports or the latest have-to-see tv program. He spoke of no movie stars or what the best car he ever drove was. He spoke little of his career and hardly anything of his accomplishments. All these things had already faded in importance and fallen to the wayside. He was sharing that which had risen to the top, that which was of most importance, that which had the most value, that which he was most passionate about.

It was an emotional telling. As he spoke, his voice would often break as he fought the tears.

He spoke of Janet, his wife, and how she almost died a few years ago and how difficult that time was.

He spoke of his children who mean the world to him.

And he spoke much of one who clearly is his life and love above even these. He is Christ. His story revolved around his coming to know and increasingly cherish this Christ.

When he finished he asked what he could pray for me. Hmmm… This man just gave me an hour of the precious few he has left and then asks what he can pray for me. In his pain and dying, this man is still giving of his life …to one he hardly knows. This is a man who has come to know that which is the greatest – loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind and loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

The man’s name?

He goes by “Bill”.

A couple weeks later, as death drew nearer, Bill and Janet set up a web site to make communication easier. After a time, Bill decided to share his story on the site. But, in his genuine humility, it seems there was much he left out. Soon friends and family were filling in missing parts. And the site visits went from hundreds to thousands.

I became more curious. I googled his name on the internet. There was not just a couple references to him, there were pages.

As it turns out, he’s not really just “Bill”, he’s Dr William Isley of the Mayo Clinic – one of, if not the, most respected medical facilities in the world. He has written numerous medical papers. This is a man who has excelled to the top in his profession.

If one leaves off the “Dr” references and just googles “Bill Isley”, one finds he is also quite the reader and writer of things theological. He has written a great critical document on the what the true gospel is in The Ragamuffin Gospel. One of the most telling writings is a comment he posted to a website earlier this year:

As a physician for 30 years and one who is in a prolonged fight with widespread cancer, I would say that the big problem is that most physicians have not come to grips with their own mortality, much less that of their patients.

Bill Isley

While Bill is professionally a doctor, he is, in his heart and mind, a man of God and of people. His life demonstrates his sincere love for each. As the stories and tributes continue to come in from across the country, from around the world, from people of many different backgrounds, the impact of a life, even one “cut short”, given to Christ, is amazing. And now God, in his perfect timing and amazing and gracious love, is giving those Bill gave his life to, a chance to give Bill thanks before he leaves this earth. It is a wondrous thing.

“Bill” lived an eloquent life. It speaks of one who loves. It speaks of Christ. And now it is speaking of how to die. Bill’s life is eloquent even in its dying.

God bless you, “Bill”, and Janet, and your children. May these days be sweet. May the end come quickly. And may you see the smile of Christ forever.


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  1. Lydia #
    June 1, 2008

    This was written about my Dad. I miss him everyday but I know that he is where he had longed to be for so long. Thank you for sharing my fathers story with so many. He was an amazing man and I am grateful for the 27 years i was given with him. Thank you.

  2. adam #
    March 1, 2012

    Hi my name is adam i met your father in april of 2006 at the mayo clinic. I had been to many upon many of doctors and i had no idea that your father would help me as much as he did. I only got to meet your father once because i think at that time he was leaving the hospital for a leave of absence because he was ill. When i met your father he told me he was going to cure me but unfortunately we didnt have the oppurtunity to achieve my cure. He told me that he thought i had a 75 percent chance of having a rare disorder called cushings syndrome. I had tears in my eyes when i heard that your father passed away. He was the nicest doctor i have ever met . You can email me at hope to hear from you

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