I watched a loved one die today.
It was nothing like in the movies, nothing like what I’ve read in novels. It was neither glorious nor peaceful, exciting nor frightening, there was no opening of the heavens, loud voices or gaseous paranormal activity. It was in fact, nothing. She was there one moment and gone the next. She went from a wonderful mother and dear friend to a stiff and lifeless form that had little visible resemblance to the person I’d known all these years.
When I arrived, I could see her struggling for breath through a dark hole surrounded by taught, grey cheekbones and my first thought was “good thing I didn’t stop and get gas in the car first”. The tragedy in that thought, as shallow as it is, lies in the fact that had I stopped, She’d have been gone before I keyed the debit number into the pump. Trading gas for life – that’s how bizarre this all is.
As I approached the bedside, I could only feel pain for my wife who has done everything imaginable to make these last 6 months anything but lonely for her. Her pain and tears were the exact opposite of her hands. Those hands told a different story, the story of unflinching love and refusal to submit to death while her eyes, moist with tears were already letting go. Her hands gently cupped her mother’s face, stroking the cheek with warm, tender touches while looking into the eyes that seemed already devoid of life.
I walked around to the opposite side of the bed leaned over and kissed her mother’s forehead. Thin grey hair roiling in an unruly mass, back against the pillow exposing her narrow forehead which felt warm and vital, her eyes on the other hand were cool and looking nowhere in particular. I stood there and stroked her hair with my left hand, as gentle as I could. I said little – nothing in fact, recalling the dear friends of Job, friends who came to suffer with him and did a splendid job of support right up until they opened their mouths. I determined myself not to be proven the fool at this point.
I stood there for a short while and decided to talk to God. He knows more about this stuff than I do and I wasn’t going to challenge him on the issue. I wasn’t going to cry “unfair”, wasn’t going to challenge his sovereignty, had no intention of being angry with him in the least. In fact, I felt as though on this single issue we were on the same side. I watched her struggle for breath, the jaws working so hard, like the gills of a fish on the shore. Deep bites of air that offered little respite to the lungs. I prayed. I prayed for God to take her now. I prayed to God to ease the suffering, let the body go, as it was apparent that he’d already claimed the soul. Right there, at that very moment God answered my prayer.
I continued to stroke the hair, gave a final kiss on the forehead and then simply stood in silence. It became apparent to all of us that the suffering had ended for not only mom but for all of us.
She once went home from school, excited about planting a victory garden. Teachers had explained the importance of growing your own vegetables as a way to support the war effort and mom, with her patriotic bent, rushed home to get started. The field was overgrown and needed to be cleared so she asked her father for matches. He gave her three. It was a windy day and the first match blew out quickly. The second match was struck with much more care yet as she bent over, the wind spilled over her hand and it too, quickly extinguished. Marilyn always loved the Lord, always knew to bring her needs to him, lay them at his feet and follow his will, so she did the only thing a young girl could do at this desperate point. She prayed. She prayed to God not for a garden, not to win the war, she simply prayed that the match would stay lit. And the very same God that answered my prayer answered hers. The brambles and overgrown matter was soon ablaze in the glorious glow of a God-delivered fire. Her prayers were answered, the field was burning and God was marching on. Onward Christian Soldiers would have been the perfect tune for her fire. It burned the field with perfect precision. It burned the next field with an equal zeal. It burned the neighbor’s garden and then proceeded to burn the neighbor’s garage. If not for the heroic action of the local fire department, Grandville would have had a new “Mrs. O’Leary”.
Marilyn loved the Lord. The Lord loves Marilyn, and on this particular day I needed gas in my car but instead decided to go to the nursing home first. There I prayed and my prayers were answered. There, I watched my friend, my counselor, and the mother of my wife, slip away into eternity. She was gone like the fields of her victory garden, but this time there was no fire department, no burning buildings, no war to win. This time, the prayers were perfectly answered. I look forward to talking with her again soon.
“As for man, his days are numbered. Like the flowers of the field, the wind passes over it and it is gone and the place thereof, knows of it no more”.