I know before I write this, there will be tears on my keyboard, but this couldn’t be a more joyful post…
The day after our mom died, my brother and I went to a restaurant/bar to have a drink and talk. Predictably, we both teared up several times as we talked and as we were leaving I mentioned how it must have looked like we were breaking up. We chuckled a bit, then he deadpanned, “Isn’t it funny how couples who have been together a long time start to look like each other?”
Humor can help us through the toughest times. So can miracles.
I have wanted to tell the amazing story of my mom’s death for a long time, but I didn’t think I could do the moment justice. But, I guess I can’t do it justice if I never tell the story. As you can imagine, it is a difficult story to tell, no matter how amazing.
The medical circumstances, themselves, don’t seem all that remarkable, not really, til the end, that is. My mom got sick right after Christmas three years ago; a cold or the flu maybe, but that led to something worse. She called 911 on a Thursday morning in early January when she woke up short of breath. She seemed okay when I saw her in the hospital that afternoon; enjoying the attention, actually. That evening, though, her breathing became very labored and her heart (which was not in great shape) became stressed. So, they decided to put her on a ventilator and sedate her for a day or two until the antibiotics kicked in.
I guess it was Saturday morning when they weened her off the sedation but she still had the ventilator tube down her throat. The plan was to wait until the vitals looked strong enough, then they would take her off the vent. Several of us were there when she woke from the sedation and motioned for us to give her something to write with. Her first question: “Am I dying?”
My brother didn’t know he was lying when he told her she wasn’t going to die. At the time, everything seemed to be going as planned and even when her heart became stressed again when they tried to take her off the ventilator and they decided to put her back under, we felt okay. Even though they said it could be pneumonia, we were encouraged. Her vitals were good, they told us, she should recover. So they sedated her again with the plan to take her off the vent the next day.
Sunday morning they weened her off the sedation just like the day before, only this time she didn’t wake up. All the vitals still looked good so they surmised it was just going to take a while longer for her to wake up. They had a few theories that supported a longer waking time. As the day went on, though, the doctors became more and more perplexed. Every reading they were getting was showing that she should be awake.
Sunday turned into Monday and Mom still slept despite all efforts to rouse her. Her vitals weren’t so encouraging anymore, though, and that afternoon her organs began to shut down. We had to make the difficult decision to take my mom off the ventilator, knowing that her life would be over within minutes of doing so.
At this point, for her comfort, they sedated her once again. We all said our goodbyes in our own way; and we prayed over her as a family. Then, with a dozen of her family members gathered around her bed, holding her, touching her, and loving her, we allowed them to pull the breathing tube from my mom.
She took a few labored breaths, coughed some, took a few more deep and raspy breaths spaced far enough apart that each seemed like it must have been her last, then… something amazing happened. Her breathing calmed a little and her eyes began to open. Despite all efforts to wake her for two days, despite her organs shutting down, despite now being sedated again… my mom woke up.
Her head was tilted to her left and she focused on my brother first who was holding that hand. Then very slowly, eyes wide with wonder she looked all the way around her at a dozen sets of loving eyes, her daughter was there, three sons, our spouses, several of her grandchildren. We smiled through our tears and cheered her on and told her we loved her, and when her eyes got to me, I said, “It’s okay Mom, you can go. We’re going to be okay.” After she looked at every one of us, she closed her eyes for the last time, took a few more breaths, and went home.
I think my brother summed it up best. He is an above average joe. That night at the bar, after our mom died, he told me he believed that when Mom wouldn’t wake up those last couple days, when there was no medical reason for her not to wake up, she was talking with the Lord. He said he believed He was preparing her to come home; it was her time. My brother said that when she inexplicably woke up–when her body was shutting down and after just being sedated again–he believes it was the Lord who opened those eyes one last time, using them to show her the fruits of her life: All her loved ones who seek Him because of her, not just the dozen people in the room that evening, but dozens of other friends and family who couldn’t be there, as well.
I have wondered about my mom’s expression in those last moments of her life. It didn’t match the circumstances. Yeah, I know she was dying and her perspective was changed and all that. But she was seeing more than the loved ones gathered around her bed. There was genuine wide-eyed wonder in her eyes, like a three-year-old girl seeing Santa putting presents under the tree in her own home. We were there; she looked at us, saw us and felt our love, not just our love for her but our love for God. But that childlike expression of wonder tells me she was seeing something more, way more, seeing something for the first time, like the truth of her worth to God’s Kingdom.