Friday, July 15, 2011

Lo, I Am With You....

How do you measure time? We wish it away and then wonder where it went. We fill it up with endless rounds of commitments and then wonder why we are exhausted. While parenting babies, it sometimes seems individual days will kill us. While parenting teens, we sometimes wish they had! It drags for a teen counting down the days to a driver's license. It flies for a woman contemplating the changes in her neck as gravity takes its toll. We measure it by holidays, birthdays, and pivotal moments. We navigate today expecting tomorrow will be much the same.

I had anticipated the day and tried to prepare, yet it caught me by surprise. I was frying squash as I recall. My parents lived a mile away and would soon come over for supper. At 80 and 83, they were doing pretty well. It was obvious that mom had failed a lot during the 6 months. Lately, she'd say, “I'm about ready for the bone yard.” She echoed the words her own mother said in the year before she died.

The phone rang. “We are going to be late. Mamma fell.” Dad and I agreed they'd come when they could. The phone rang again, Dad seemed a little perplexed and unsure of himself. We agreed I'd take the plates to them. I knew something wasn't right and quickly plated the food and flew out the door.

The ambulance soon followed me. She had a fractured a bone in her thoracic spine. I asked them not to discharge her, but it as apparent we were headed home. I asked them not to send her home without an antibiotic. The doctor didn't listen. I said, “We'll be back. She will have pneumonia by the weekend.”

I called the ambulance again 2 days later. We left the house with her for the last time. She would spend the next 57 days on an ICU unit. When you do the tidy work of dotting i's and crossing t's in an attorney's office, you think that death will be a seamless process. You think you've taken the trauma out of it, and that you and the patient are safe.

No one tells you when you draw up the powers of attorney and living will. They don't tell you that you may look the patient in the eye while they make the decision to turn off their own machines. Ignorance is not always bliss, but sometimes it helps for a while. Three days or so in, they asked for permission to allow insertion of a vent for therapeutic (vs life support) services. They did not tell us that one would become the other, but it did.

There were lots of heroes during those long, nightmarish days. The biggest hero was the woman whom I will tell you about tonight. The one who did the dying. Here are journal excerpts from the last days:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010:
Our Beloved Nanna Chookie has waged a valiant fight since May 17 when she fell and fractured her thoracic spine. This morning about 11a, her pulmonologist talked with her at length. He explained that she was too weak to wean off the vent. For that reason, her choices were to allow a transfer to a nursing home (in either NC or GA) which is vent certified or to allow the medical team to withdraw the vent. The doctor was clear. She would not live. Neither did he think she would survive a lengthy transfer to a vent facility. He prepared her for the reality that she would most likely slip away into the arms of her Savior within a fairly short amount of time. He told her he would speak with us and then we would all need to speak together with her.

About noon we gathered with mom to discuss her options. Nanna clearly stated by firm shakes of her head that she did NOT want to continue to live in a vent facility much less one far from home. She clearly indicated that she was prepared to wean from the vent and allow God to intervene if and how he chooses. Then, Nanna asked for pen and paper and wrote the following which we have, as a family, opted to share with you:
“Seems like the end. Yet God is in control. I hate to think it is over. Not as I will but as God wills. My hope was to recover and have some good days left. God is able. As he healed me in our home church, he can do it again. It is a sobering thought: never leave family. 

We have the greatest family ever. Surely God has blessed us greatly. We love one another. To see the warmth is a pleasure. Thank God for every blessing. Thank him for Redemption and your walk with him. 'Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world'...." 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
About 6p yesterday, mom began asking questions of the medical staff that made them feel as tho' they should give some additional time before beginning the weaning process. She spent about an hour visiting with her 3 sisters and brother as well as a niece and nephew. Will was able to take some wonderful pictures of that visit. She had time to visit with my family and Beth's.

This morning, her pulmonologist, respiratory therapist, and nurse asked family to leave the room. The MD adjusted her trach so that she could verbalize her wishes. The medical team witnessed without family there as any kind of influence. She verbally told the MD that she did not desire transport to a nursing home of any kind much less one far away nor did she wish to continue living on a vent. At that point, the medical team felt prepared ethically to carry out her wishes.

Thank you for taking time out of your lives and your pain, however large or small the latter may be at this time in your life journey, to walk this walk with us. You honor us and humble us.
Godspeed to all of you.
Godspeed to our dear Nanna
Adored Grandmother
Honored Mother
Treasured Wife
Faithful and Trusting Servant to the end

Thursday, July 15, 2010
I have asked God to let me sense the presence of angels hovering close to us. I would like to tell you that I hear the whispers of their wings. The horror of our journey has, I suppose, left me tone deaf and sensory impaired as I have no sense at present of that sure reality. However, if there are angels on earth, I have walked in their presence as I have watched the LTAC/ICU teams move through the duties that comprise their days and nights. May God bless and minister to them as they face this relentless calling day in and day out.

Nanna's earthly journey is over. She slipped away at 1:05p...You have been gracious with your time. Loving in your support. Eloquent in your written encouragement.  She fell 8 wks and 2 days ago and has been in the hospital 55 days.  I hope her story will serve to bless you, encourage you, and strengthen you in the days ahead. Nanna would want you to know that she held firm in her conviction that the closing words of Matthew 28:20 were true to her even as she chose eternal over earthly life:

"And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

How could it have only been a year? How could it have already been a year? How do you measure time? We realize now as we did then – Nanna left us a parting gift. On July 13th when the doctor told us what was to come, my husband chuckled wryly. He and my mom had spent 22 years sparing. One of the last things she did to communicate with him was to stick out her tongue and waggle her hands beside her head in that old fashioned childhood taunt. He said, “She will die on my birthday just to show me she got the last word in and will never let me forget her.” Before she slipped away, she asked the date and mouthed, “It's Jeff's birthday tomorrow?” She slipped away about 20 hours later – lunchtime on his birthday. So, today as we have all wrestled with our grief, we have also laughed. She got the last word just like Jeff said. And...our tears will always mingle with our laughter.

Matthew 28:20 (NIV) And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.


  1. My thoughts are with you on this sad anniversary. My dad hung on so that he would not die on my birthday . . . .

  2. Oh, how bittersweet must have been that day, friend. What a precious tribute to your mom you have written...thank you.

  3. Beautiful. Bittersweet. Thank you for sharing your heart, friend. I think your momma would be proud.

  4. And, I can think of some children who will be proud of YOU!Now you understand why I am in such awe of you.