A Friday Mishmash
February 26, 2016 | My Jottings
The sun is coming up as I type, and the magenta, dusky purple and cantaloupe orange streaks are exquisite. I’ve been up for over an hour, and am always glad for the sun. Getting up when it’s “peach black,” as my granddaughter Vivienne used to say, becomes a little less desirable as one ages.
Last week I took care of Chris and Sharon’s four children while they jetted off to a land of turquoise waters and fine yellow sand, swaying palms and clear rain forest pools, cabanas and swimming with dolphins, and personal butlers and sleeping late in canopied beds and reading while listening to the gentle lapping of waves….
I’m not bitter at all.
The kids had the whole week off from school, and I decided that while Mr. McBoy, Mrs. Nisky, Li’l Gleegirl and Baby Shamrock (also known as Louiser) were with me, we would try to do one fun thing a day outside the house. One day I took them to the library and out to lunch at the Duluth Grill, two of my favorite places on earth.
Another day we bought two loaves of bread and drove up to the cemetery to feed the ducks and geese who for some reason never migrated and now huddle together in the cold near the iced over pond. The birds were obviously not a gluten-free species, and flew to us in a frenzy and gobbled up every crumb we offered, and the kids loved it. Then we decided to break the rules and drive to Dairy Queen in Canal Park to each have a mini-blizzard before going home for lunch. Dessert before the main meal is what grandmas can do if they want.
Another day I took my grands to the Timber Twister, which is quite the thrill in the winter. Ice cream headaches without the ice cream, and wonderful exhilaration.
Another day we went to Bayfront Park, which of course was almost empty because there was snow everywhere. The kids were warmly dressed in snow pants, boots, mittens, coats and hats, so playing outside in the 20 degree weather wasn’t bad. The nearby outdoor skating rink was open, and they took advantage of the free ice skates and sleds, and had a great time ice skating for about a half hour. Louiser is too little to manage skating, so she sat on a sled while her almost fourteen year old brother skated and pulled her around the rink with a tow rope. What a beautiful memory for me, watching them skate by as I sat and watched, huge grins on their faces and cheeks rosy from the cold.
When at home we played countless card games of Gin and the dice game Farkle. I’m not a Monopoly lover but the kids are, so they played that several times. I put on some kind of movie for them each day too. A grandma needs a few minutes here and there to rest and recuperate in a recliner. They watched an old animated favorite called The Rescuers, Tangled, and I introduced them to one of the best films ever, The Hiding Place. Here’s the trailer, and if you’ve never seen the entire movie and would like to, click here. Absolutely unforgettable. Mr. McBoy has a great sense of humor so one afternoon I put on a DVD by Michael Jr. for him. He’s a comedian who happens to be a Christian, and here’s a clip of his to prompt a smile for you today.
And, every night after dinner, we watched an episode or two of “The Great British Baking Show,” streaming on Netflix. (In the UK it’s called “The Great British Bake-off.”) If you have Netflix and haven’t seen this yet, you must watch. Even if you don’t think you’ll like this sort of thing, just tune in and watch the first episode and see if it isn’t the best thing you’ve watched in a long while. Here’s a short trailer from the BBC on the first season. I played the show because Mrs. Nisky and Li’l Gleegirl love to bake and I knew they’d enjoy it and feel inspired. But even Mr. McBoy loved it and got into the competitiveness of each episode. We all got to know the contestants and root for different ones, making our predictions about who would win and why. I’m looking forward to when Netflix carries season two.
And now onto something much less interesting and not at all uplifting.
Those of you who have stopped by my blog for any length of time know that I rarely mention politics. But I’m going to say a few words today because I might erupt if I don’t.
I lean a bit right on the political spectrum. I’m not as conservative as some of my Christian friends and family, but I hold to a few of the basic tenets of conservatism, yet also embrace a few of the tenets of the Democratic party. I don’t think I’d go so far as to label myself a right-leaning liberal, but I might say I’m a left-leaning conservative. I have always believed it is a privilege to vote and have taken that responsibility seriously and prayerfully. When candidates I didn’t support were elected, I grieved for a day and then decided to pray for them, as the scriptures clearly admonish us. I have never liked the loud factions that badmouth our elected officials in a condescending, reviling way. I might intensely dislike and even deplore what an elected official stands for and has done, but I want to speak my mind about him/her in a productive way, and I know I’m supposed to pray for them.
Now we’re all watching as we’re approximately eight months away from electing the 45th President of the United States, and we see that Donald Trump is surging ahead of the other Republican contenders. I’ve always believed Hillary Clinton would be our next president, but it seems like anything could happen now.
I’m not surprised that Trump is doing well. What surprises me is that so many Christians wholeheartedly support him. I don’t understand that at all. A friend of mine said Trump is ahead because he’s saying the things that so many people are thinking. Well, he’s not saying what I’m thinking. Trump might want to make America great again, as his motto promises, but if he is our next president, so many new and disturbing precedents will be set I hardly know where to begin.
He says he is pro-life and conservative with family values, but he would be the first president we’ve had who has owned a strip club.
It was a scandal when Bill Clinton was found to be cheating on Hillary in the Oval Office and publicly lying about it. By his own admission Donald has not been faithful to his wives but it doesn’t seem to matter to Christian America anymore. Character doesn’t count, but a good business sense, building a mammoth wall, and deporting millions of illegals does. Never mind that 1 Timothy 6:10 says, For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil (Amplified version), and this is one of the traits that characterizes Trump most accurately. A lover and pursuer of money above all else.
And while Trump professes to be a (Presbyterian) Christian and waved his childhood Bible around while making a speech to largely evangelical voters, he admits he has never repented and asked God for forgiveness, and just tries to move on and do better.
I do not have the right to judge someone’s heart, and I have absolutely no judgment for Trump. The intentions of his heart are between him and God. But we do get to observe our candidates and try to discern what kind of fruit their lives are growing, and what kind of presidential fruit they might cultivate if elected. What kind of character traits mark the life of Donald Trump?
At our monthly SAGs meeting the other night, my friend Gail said, “Can you imagine Donald Trump in possession of the nuclear codes?” and we all stared back at her and felt the weight of that ominous possibility.
And I’m wondering if the Democrats are waiting until he wins the nomination to present this tidbit, or if it’s old news and I just didn’t know it. Donald Trump was a stalker. Did you know that? Did you know that while he was married, he tried to seduce a female reporter and then stalked her, for years? And when she ultimately threatened him legally he then repeatedly disparaged and castigated her? Here’s the reporter’s version of the story.
Lastly, the way he belittles and mocks people is almost unbelievable to me. Can you imagine Jimmy Carter making fun of a reporter with a disability, like Trump does in this video?
Even Max Lucado, who usually stays quiet about politics, has had enough of Trump and spoke out recently. You can read his wise words here.
I have no idea who I’m going to vote for in November. It’s the first time in my voting life I’ve been this unsure, but I do know that I will never cast a vote for Donald Trump. If he becomes my next president I will do more than just grieve for a day.
And because I don’t want to end on a strident, offensive note, I’ll share something a bit more buoyant, at least for me. Ever since Michael died I thought I might consider attending a grief support group, or even search out a grief counselor, but as this past year has flown by, I never did. Recently a friend of mine whose husband died a month ago, told me about a grief support group she tried out. Her beloved had Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia from Agent Orange too. Vicki texted that she thought I should try it out, so I acted on that nudge and went to my first meeting on Wednesday. It was very well attended, was for people over 50 who had lost spouses, had a quiet but skillful facilitator, and I enjoyed being there so much. Every person shared. One person had been in the group since 2013, and many had been there for over a year. Several people said they felt the group had been the single most helpful thing for their journey through the valley of grief. There was compassion, openness, unashamed tears, love, empathy, friendship, vulnerable sharing, encouragement and hope in that room. A handful spoke of their Christian faith as well. It meets twice a month and I look forward to going back. It’s nice to have something to look forward to apart from heaven. Just kidding. Sort of.
I’ve stepped down off my soapbox now. And may I lastly say that if you’re a Trump supporter, you are so welcome here, and your comments would be appreciated and respected as well.
I hope you have a blessed weekend, friends…
February 24, 2016 | My Jottings
February 20, 2016 | My Jottings
Hello friends. I read a fantastic book recently. It’s a hopeful and inspiring book, and addresses the problem of pain, suffering and God’s sovereignty in a very needed way. The book is called Through the Eyes of a Lion, and is written by a young Montana pastor named Levi Lusko. If you missed seeing the short interview with him I posted a while back, check it out here. It’s so worth watching, and was why I bought the book in the first place.
I bought a few extra copies of this book and have already given three as gifts. I’d love to give a copy away here on the blog too. All you have to do is leave a comment below with your name, and I’ll put your entry in the hat, so to speak. I’d especially like it if you’ve never left a comment before. Bloggers are curious about who stops by to read their humble words, you know? 🙂
I’ll take names until Wednesday, February 24th, and announce the winner soon after.
God rest you all,
His eye is on the sparrow, and mine is on the parakeet
February 11, 2016 | My Jottings
Our little parakeet Phoebe is about nine or ten months old now. She has adjusted well to her cage and our home, and her chatter makes me happy.
When I first brought her home she was quiet and wary, as expected. I learned that in order to introduce a new toy or perch in her cage, it was best to attach it first to the outside of the cage so she could study it and get accustomed to it. Now Sara and I say Phoebe trusts us completely, because whenever we put a new toy in her cage she doesn’t flap about anymore in fright, but instead sidles right up to it and checks it out with her little beak and her beady birdy eyes. I love how she turns her head from side to side as if considering things carefully.
She likes her toys with bells the best. Many times a day she takes the hanging toys in her mouth and rattles them around and rings the bells at the bottom, and chirps happily.
Recently Phoebe has taken to a new “activity,” if we could call it that. She sits on one of her perches, places her head and neck under the bell, and lets it rest against her while she’s quietly crouching down, motionless. She can sit like that for a long time.
I put a picture of this on Instagram and asked other parakeet parents if they had seen this. One answered me and said parakeets (also called budgies) like to cuddle, and since Phoebe is alone, this might be what she’s doing.
Here’s a picture of her cuddling her bell…you can click to enlarge if you like:
You can see her white cuttle bone in the back, which keeps her beak trimmed, a spray of millet in a yellow clip on the front of the cage, which she devours, a concrete perch up high to keep her toenails (is that what they’re called? Do birds have toenails?) from getting too long, and another colorful bell toy to the left.
So far, Phoebe isn’t talking. I talk to her constantly, and am working on two phrases — “what a pretty bird” and “praise the Lord.” I think I taught her to make a distinct clicking sound, and after clicking at her with my tongue against my teeth about seven hundred times, she started doing it back. Success! I was so thrilled. There are times when she warbles a bit that makes me think she might be trying to talk, but it may never happen. Which is okay.
I love Phoebe not for her beauty or her cleverness or her way with words. I love her because she’s mine, and because she’s completely dependent on me, and because her life is precious to me. I know that will sound silly to some, but Michael taught me to be a bird lover and that I firmly am.
And if you’d like to see a short clip of an adorable parakeet talking, click here. His name is Mr. Poof and his vocabulary is incredible.
I hope you have a great weekend, friends,
Feb. 9, 2015 – We Said Goodbye
February 9, 2016 | My Jottings
One year ago today my husband of almost 34 years met his Savior face to face. I can hardly believe it has been a year since I’ve seen him. In many ways it seems like just a few months.
In honor of Michael’s life, his homegoing, and how much we love and miss him, I’m republishing the posts from the week of his dying here.
This picture was taken by our daughter Sharon and is my favorite of Michael as an older man. Oh, to have been loved by him! I will forever praise God for that.
Monday, February 9, 2015:
Sharon, Sara and I took turns getting up with Michael on Sunday night and early Monday morning. Carolyn had gone home with baby Miriam and asked that we text her when the end came, no matter what the time. I believe I got up at 1:00 a.m. to turn Michael, moisten his mouth with cool water from an oral sponge, give him a dose of liquid morphine to help ease his awful, labored breathing, kiss him and stroke his burning hot skin, and climb back under the covers to rest until the next time. Sara’s turn was at 2:00 a.m., and Sharon’s was at 3:00 a.m. And as I mentioned before, we weren’t actually sleeping in between times — lightly dozing might be a better word. Michael had lived through Sunday and we didn’t think he would. Every prayer I breathed now was that God would take him home.
Sharon got up to minister to her dad at 3:00 a.m. and around 3:05 I heard her whisper to me, “Mom! I think Dad is going….” I jumped up out of bed and leaned close to Michael on his right side, and Sharon was on his left. Yes, that ghastly, chest-compressing breathing had stopped, we thought. But then in about 20 seconds Michael inhaled deeply again, and this breath was different than any others had been; it was a remarkably long, quiet, lung-filling inhalation, followed by a long, whisper-quiet peaceful exhalation.
And that was his last breath on this earth.
At 3:07 a.m. on February 9, 2015, my beloved husband went to be with his Jesus.
I wished I could have seen his spirit leave his broken body, the precious vessel I’d loved and depended on and clung to for almost 34 years. I have heard of many credible people who have experienced out of body experiences when they were dying, explaining how their spirits seemed to rise out and above their body, and how they could look down and see their body below, on an operating table or at a roadside accident. Obviously some have lived to tell about this phenomenon when their physical lives were saved and their spirits returned to their bodies.
At the moment of Michael’s death I thought of this, and there in the dark as I laid my head against his chest and the tears fell, I looked up toward the ceiling above him and waved goodbye. I don’t know if he saw that or not, but I’d like to think the huge angelic escorts who were carrying him to heaven paused long enough for him to see his grateful wife waving at him from down below, and that somehow he knew that my heart was going with him.
Sharon and I woke Sara up, and for a while we sat with Michael’s body, and I think we were all just so grateful his suffering was over.
Oh, how much he has taught us, even (or especially) in the midst of 11 years of the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. No one has taught me more about praising the Lord than my husband. His life was a ministry of praise. He even praised God when he was crabby! His life also spoke volumes about trusting acceptance — he did not complain. He never wanted to be the center of attention and was not a self-focused man. He knew how to love people and treat them kindly. He was a giver. He was a hard worker. He believed in Jesus and his life reflected that beautifully. And I feel blessed beyond measure to have had his love.
The hospice nurse had told us that when Michael died, we didn’t need to feel any rush to call the funeral home. I was grateful for that “permission,” because I was not in a hurry to say goodbye to his body. We were finally able to recline his bed a little (this had not been possible before as he would immediately begin to have more difficulty breathing), and we covered him and arranged his pillow, and laid down to rest a bit ourselves, even if sleep wouldn’t come.
Carolyn had received our texts right after her dad died, and she texted me back at 3:25 a.m. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I am so grateful. I love you.” The love, thoughtfulness and presence of my children during this time is something I will never, ever forget, or stop marveling about.
When the sun came up on Monday morning, we were all experiencing a mixture of relief and grief. What a wondrous blessing that Michael’s suffering had come to an end, and his real life, the one that would go on forever and ever, had just begun. But our lives here without him had to go on. And he was such a treasure in our lives, we knew the void he was leaving would be huge.
For about two hours before the men from the funeral home came to take Michael’s body away, Edith and Mildred laid close to him on the hospital bed. Later on, Millie actually got very close to Michael and sniffed his mouth carefully, surely detecting that life had gone. I took a picture of her as the morning sun was coming in the window behind him, as she sat close to him, ears back, very still and quiet. It seemed like she knew her kind master was gone, and she didn’t want to leave the body that had petted her and fed her and coddled her for years.
God gave our family abundant grace as we spent this day making all the necessary preparations. Sharon went with me to the funeral home to make plans for Michael’s funeral, which was scheduled for Friday, February 13th. Many of us sat together in our living room, writing his obituary with contributions from each person, and the laughter, unity, tears and gratitude we all felt were priceless. We pulled out picture albums and began to sort through hundreds of photos, so we could decide on which one to use for the obituary, and which ones Sharon would use in the slide show presentation she was planning for a tribute at the funeral. If you would like to see the newspaper obituary our family wrote to honor Michael, you can click here.
Unbeknownst to me at this time, four of my friends began to plan for the huge meal that would be served at church after the upcoming service on Friday. I still can’t think about the time and hard work such an undertaking required, without tears coming to my eyes.
It felt surreal to pick out one of Michael’s suits, a shirt and a tie from our closet to be brought to the funeral home, to actually write the date of Michael’s death, to choose songs and receive calls, and to see that empty hospital bed in our room.
Late Monday night after a very busy day, I let the dogs out as I always do and got ready for bed. When I walked into our bedroom and was reminded that I would never see my husband again on this earth, a powerful wave of grief hit me. I climbed up into that hospital bed where my Michael had finally met his Savior, turned out the light, pulled the covers up to my chin, and wept. Even the dogs sat very still on the king-sized bed, watching me as if they knew who I was crying for.
The hospital bed would be picked up by the medical supply company the next day, but on Monday night it seemed like a very sacred and beautiful place to me, almost like an altar, and there I slept, my first night as a widow.
Feb. 8, 2015 – We Loved
February 8, 2016 | My Jottings
I love this picture of Michael. He was sixteen years old here, a junior at Proctor High School near Duluth, MN. I was eight years old when this shot was taken, living in Southern California and of course had no idea that God’s great kindness would lead me to Michael and Minnesota someday.
One year ago today we knew Michael had very little time left on this earth. Hours. Below is my account of Michael’s last full day with us, and how God gave us grace at every turn, blanketed us with His love and grace really, and we just poured it all out on Michael.
Sunday, February 8, 2015:
I have heard people speak about the kind of breathing that happens when a loved one is close to death, and the hospice nurse mentioned this to help prepare us also. What was described to me never happened, however Michael’s breathing was becoming so labored it was difficult to watch.
Hour after hour passed on Sunday and our hearts were breaking to see his body under such strain just to breathe. Michael’s body temperature began to rise as well. I never took his temperature, but by Sunday night his skin was burning up and I would not have been surprised had it been 105°-106°. I called the hospice nurse to ask about this, and also mentioned how hard his lungs and body were working to draw each breath. She told me that this all meant that Michael’s central nervous system was shutting down and was to be expected. She encouraged us to give him liquid morphine every 30-60 minutes now, to help ease his breathing. I told her I was hesitant about giving him so much — I didn’t want to give him an overdose. I know that might sound odd to some, but I wanted God to take Michael in His timing, and I didn’t ever want to wonder if I had given him too much. The nurse reassured me that with the dosage we were giving him, we weren’t even close to those levels, and every 30-60 minutes for his comfort was entirely reasonable. I was relieved.
Michael’s wonderful daughters Buffy and Daphne were there all day Sunday, as was his sister Patty and his oldest grandson Jordan. We did what we had done before — gathered quietly around him, tended to his needs and tried to keep him comfortable in every possible way, and told him how much we loved him and what a wonderful man he was. Sometimes a few of us would stay in the bedroom with Michael while the others took a break and went to the kitchen to have soup and bread; then they would come back to be with him while we took a break to eat. Once again I was so grateful to have a fridge full of food so everyone could be easily fed.
This picture is of Daphne, Buffy and Patty, basically pouring their love out on Michael. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with a more devoted sister and daughters. It was a joy and privilege to see.
The weather on Sunday was a little warmer than it had been earlier in the week, but by the time the sun began to set, we had some freezing rain coming down. Buffy, Daphne and Jordan all had several hours of very cautious driving ahead of them, and reluctantly left right after dark. They said their tearful goodbyes to Michael with so many hugs and tender kisses, and even though it was unspoken, we all knew the end was near, and this would be the last time these lovely young women would see their father alive.
Sara spent a long time with her dad, massaging him with essential oils and tending to him so lovingly. She gives just about the best massage I’ve ever had, so I know Michael was feeling her love come through her gentle touch.
Mr. McBoy, Sharon and Chris’s oldest child and my oldest grandson, asked if he could spend the night to help take care of Grandpa. He’s only twelve, but he loved Michael deeply and wasn’t afraid of what he was seeing, so his parents agreed.
That night as we all got into our pajamas and prepared for the hours ahead, I started earnestly praying over and over for the Lord to take Michael soon. We couldn’t abide the thought of being without him, and we couldn’t stand the heartbreak of seeing him breathe so laboriously.
We set our alarms (in case we dropped off to sleep in our exhaustion) so that every hour on the hour, one of us got up to minister to Michael’s needs. I was sleeping 18 inches from him, Sharon was next to me, Sara was camped out on the carpeted floor, and Mr. McBoy was on the couch.
We had all thought that Michael would be taken home sometime on Sunday — it just seemed almost impossible that he could continue for much longer with such harrowing breathing, but as Sunday came to a close, it looked like Monday would be the day.
When I got up to care for Michael, each time I leaned down and kissed him, stroked his face gently and whispered in his ear, “Michael, you’re going to meet Jesus soon…we’re waiting with you, Michael. We will be here with you…it’s okay to go to Heaven now. I’ll be all right…the Lord will take care of me, and you and I will be together again soon. I’m waiting here with you, my dear husband. I love you. I love you. Thank you for being so good to me for thirty-three years. I love you.”
And I would whisper words of praise to the Lord in Michael’s ear. Praising God was like Michael’s second language — he always had a song of praise or words to extol his Savior on his lips. I wanted the last words he would hear on this earth to be words of love from a deeply grateful wife, and words of praise to the One he had loved and served, and was getting ready to meet.
When Sharon got up at midnight to look after her dad, he was still with us. But we knew it wouldn’t be much longer…
Feb. 7, 2015 – We Sang
February 7, 2016 | My Jottings
The picture below is of Michael and one of our beloved granddaughters, Li’l Gleegirl, taken a few years ago.
One year ago today Michael had come home from the hospital, and we cared for him at home while we waited by his side for Jesus to come. Below are the memories I recorded as the atmosphere of our home seemed to grow more sacred by the hour.
Saturday, February 7, 2015:
To say, “When we woke up on Saturday morning” would not be the most accurate way to begin this post. I don’t think we actually slept much Friday night after Michael was brought home. Sharon and I were in my king-sized bed and Sara was camped out on the floor nearby, and Carolyn had gone home with baby Miriam the night before and would be returning this morning.
Michael’s breathing had grown more labored during the night and when we weren’t up and turning him, changing him, giving him meds and keeping his mouth moistened, whispering our love to him and trying to reposition him to keep him as comfortable as possible, we were laying in bed in the dark hours, listening to him breathe and feeling the enormity of what was happening.
I was so thankful that Michael wasn’t in pain. A day or two after the diagnosis of ischemic stroke had been given, our son-in-law Jeremy shared something with me that was more evidence of God’s mercies for Michael and us, his family. Jeremy is a nurse, and a couple of the seasoned nurses he works with told him that a massive ischemic stroke is known in the medical profession as “the velvet hammer.” It is said to be one of the most merciful deaths a person can experience, because unconsciousness comes quickly, and the very few people who have recovered from large ischemic strokes have said there was no pain. You close your eyes, and slowly fade away. A merciful death for a merciful man, I have thought countless times since then.
I knew the hospice nurse would be visiting on Saturday morning and I was quite anxious for her to arrive, since I was overwhelmed with how to keep the sheets beneath him smooth and how to do all his cares. It seemed like each time we changed him, the draw sheet would rumple underneath him and I can’t explain how inefficient I felt I was being, and I wanted her to show me how everything was done. The hospital nurse had shown me once, but I was having a hard time remembering all the steps. I wanted with all my heart to make Michael’s last days at home the most comfortable, tender and loving possible, and while I never voiced it, I felt I was already failing him in some way. I had failed him with my inability to keep him home for the entire duration of his Parkinson’s and dementia, now I wondered if I was letting him down again.
The gracious, encouraging, knowledgeable, caring hospice nurse arrived around 9:00 a.m. and what a help she was! Stephanie assessed Michael right away, then took a thorough look around the room, checking our supplies, giving me tips for how to do some things I’d been perplexed about, and telling us how impressed she was with how we were doing. That made me relax a little. She commented on how beautiful and bright the room was, the obvious love and care of Michael’s family, and she said we were doing “above and beyond,” and that she could feel the love and peace in the room, which truly surprised me.
When Stephanie observed Michael as we changed him, she looked straight into my eyes across his bed and said in a low voice that she thought it would be “a day or two.” I later asked her how she could tell, and she said she had seen some momentary grayness in his hands and lips when we turned him to the side. I hadn’t seen that at all, and it made me trust Stephanie’s years of experience, and it made me almost sob. After she pre-measured all of Michael’s oral syringes for us and set them where our makeshift pharmacy was arranged on our bedroom dresser, Stephanie asked to speak privately with me, Sharon, Carolyn and Sara. (Buffy and Daphne had spent the night with Michael’s sister Patty at her house up the north shore and would be arriving a little later.) We sat in the living room for over an hour and she told us what to expect, how to watch for certain things, little tips on how to better care for Michael. She was so quietly encouraging to all of us. She told us that when death finally came, we could keep him at home as long as we wanted, and not to feel any rush to call the funeral home. She told us it’s very common for a family to hold vigil at the deathbed of a loved one for days, and for the person to die when the people leave the room for three minutes to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to be with Michael when he died. Stephanie also gave us a hospice journal and told us to write down the times we turned Michael and on which side, the times and amounts of medication we gave him, when he was changed, etc. She said all these things would be hard to keep track of unless they were written down, and she was so right. We kept the journal on the dresser and each of us made entries in it as the hours passed.
Stephanie told us that she or another hospice nurse would come back on Monday. When she left I noticed a light sleety rain and a thin film of ice forming on the surfaces outside.
All day Saturday we were blessed with the visits of friends and family. Food and love poured into our house and I can’t even begin to say what a lavish gift this was. If I ever thought that taking a simple meal to a friend in need was just a trifle, I don’t think that now. I didn’t have to make a meal for days, and when 4:00 p.m. would roll around and I’d begin to think, “What shall I fix for dinner?” and then it would hit me that I didn’t have to fix dinner, the tears of gratitude would come. Friends brought pots of savory beef stew, homemade breads and rolls with meat and cheese platters, mouth-watering chicken and wild rice soup, ingredients for breakfast omelets, cookies, turkey and pasta casserole, salads, pies, and more.
Our friends were also so sensitive and respectful and made their visits fairly short. Michael was a well-loved man and people wanted to say good bye to him. I completely understood this, and I was grateful for it too. So while we had a steady stream of visitors, everyone seemed to intuitively know to keep their time in our room fairly brief. I never once felt intruded upon or overwhelmed by the friends and family who came to quietly pray or to just give us their hugs and tears. The older I get the more introverted I feel, but during the last week of Michael’s life I desperately needed the support of my peeps and it was right there.
There might even be people reading this who came to visit, who brought food, who sent cards and money, and to you all once again I say a humble and deeply heartfelt thank you. Such burden bearers. You made such a difference in our lives!
Michael was born in 1949, the first child of an agnostic father and a devoutly Catholic mother. His parents were truly great people. His mama had him baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, but he’d been only halfhearted in any of the normal church things a Catholic child is expected to take part in for his spiritual formation. When Michael was almost sixteen and ready to get his driver’s license, his mother lovingly coerced him to go through confirmation classes in exchange for driving privileges, and he agreed. Unfortunately for his mom, though, Michael never truly embraced Catholicism. Many years later when he dramatically became a Christian at age thirty and had difficulty restraining his zeal, I think his mom was torn. She was glad he had dedicated his life to Jesus, but probably saddened because he did not want to be Catholic. When the CAT scan results revealed that Michael’s stroke was massive and would soon take his life, his only sibling Patty asked me if he could have Last Rites performed by a priest. She knew it would have meant so much to his mom (who died along with his dad in a terrible car accident in 1997), and it would be reassuring to her as well. I happily agreed to this ceremony because I love Michael’s sister Patty so much. I wanted her to be blessed, and if having a priest come to pray at Michael’s bedside would help, I didn’t want to hesitate. It was agreed that we would schedule the priest’s visit for the weekend when Michael was brought home.
So, right around the dinner hour on Saturday evening, Sharon and Chris’s parish priest, Father Graham, arrived. In spite of our bedroom having at least ten people in it, Father Graham remarked right away how noticeable the sense of peace was. He looked at Michael quietly for a while and said, “Oh, he is at peace.” I believed he knew what he was talking about and meant it, since as a priest he had probably attended more death beds than he could remember. He had possibly seen some death beds that weren’t so full of peace. Father Graham asked us all to draw close to Michael, and as we surrounded the bed he anointed Michael’s forehead and wrists with oil, then read a beautiful prayer asking God to have mercy on his servant Michael and to take him home soon. He then invited all the grandchildren present to lay their hands on Grandpa as he prayed, and we all prayed The Lord’s Prayer together. It was a short ceremony and so touching, with the little children there praying for their grandfather. We thanked Father Graham, and I’ll never forget the last thing he confidently said before he left: “This is the grace of a happy death!” We grabbed onto that phrase “the grace of a happy death” and have spoken of it many times since.
And I absolutely believe there can be such a thing as a happy death, even though death is full of sorrow and often pain. To me, a happy death is when a person has trusted Christ for their salvation, and knows where they are going when they stop living on this earth. And a happy death is when that same person is so loved and cherished that his friends and family can’t bear the thought of a day without him, and they shower him with affection, grateful tears, songs and prayers as he is getting ready to leave them. And a happy death (in Michael’s case) was one relatively free of terrible physical suffering. I know not everyone gets to experience that one.
As it was getting close to bed time, my daughters and I sat around Michael’s bed and sang together. We might very well have sung a hundred songs on Saturday and Sunday. We sang songs from their growing up years in church (“The Horse and the Rider,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Majesty,” “Jesus, Name Above All Names”) and we pulled up songs and lyrics on our phones to help us sing along with the ones we didn’t fully know. We sang hymns and choruses. One daughter would start, and then when we recognized the song she was singing, the rest of us would join her. We sang God’s faithfulness and love and beauty and mercy out over Michael, into the air around us, and up to God’s throne. We cried as we sang. We laughed at some of the old memories the songs brought. We trusted that even though Michael was completely unresponsive now, he was still hearing us and being blessed. He had been a loud, unashamed and exuberant worshiper since he made the decision to follow Christ, and it seemed so right to worship together as a family around his bed.
I hesitate to speak this next sentence since it sounds self-focused, but by late Saturday night I was exhausted in every possible way. I kept silently praying that God would help us, help Michael, and give us strength and joy as we walked through this agonizing but beautiful part of his life, our lives. So when our son-in-law Jeremy showed up at our house at 11:30 p.m., after he had just worked an eight hour shift as a nurse at the hospital, I was taken aback. He told Sharon, Sara and me that he would be taking care of Michael through the night and that we were to get some sleep. Such costly mercies were being poured out on us! Jeremy set up a chair in the corner of our bedroom by the head of Michael’s bed, kept one small candle going all night, and Sharon, Sara and I tried to sleep. We did sleep off and on, at least better than we had on Friday night.
Every 90 minutes or so, Jeremy quietly tended to Michael’s needs. I heard him gently but expertly turning him, massaging lotion on his skin, giving him his meds. At one point after midnight Michael moaned deeply as Jeremy was turning him, and I heard Jeremy whisper, “There’s that voice I love…I’m here Michael. I’m with you. I love you,” and I could hardly bear it when Jeremy quietly wept as he bent over his father-in-law to care for him, showing his love in the most perfect way possible.
Around 3:00 a.m. I laid awake and listened to Michael’s breath become so labored. I wondered if he would live past Sunday. In the candle-lit dark I said to Sharon, “Are you awake?” and she was. Sara was sleeping, not very deeply I’m sure, on a pallet of blankets on the floor near the bed. Sharon and I laid together for a while and then I felt her take my right hand under the covers, and begin to massage it. Our family members (including my mom and dad) have always loved a good massage and have practically fallen unconscious each time someone rubs our necks or feet or hands. Sharon rubbed my hand and forearm and it was so lovely I almost cried. After a while she reached up to my jaw and slowly found the spots in the muscles that were tight from stress, and she gently massaged my jaw for the longest time too. After over 30 minutes of this gift, she patted my hand and whispered, “I love you Mama.” I’m always searching for words as I attempt to share some of the details of Michael’s journey to heaven, and here again, I can’t find any that really convey what Saturday night was like. As we laid in bed and listened to the beauty of Jeremy caring for Michael as he made his way down his final earthly path, as Sharon so tenderly blessed her exhausted mama with such a practical, loving gesture, I was struck by something, and I spoke of it to Sharon. “Can you feel it, Sharon?” I quietly asked. “Can you feel the kindness hovering over us right now?” She responded that she could, and of course she could, because it was almost palpable. There in the dark it blanketed us, and I said, “It’s the huge kindness of God, hovering over us all right now.”
And I was in awe. We were being covered with a comfort, a loving kindness, the weighty, glorious presence of our Heavenly Father. When our friends Steve and Diane had left to return home the day before, Diane assured me that what was happening in our home was very precious in God’s sight, and that He would be focusing all His attention on us in this room as He was calling Michael home. And since we know God lives outside of time, it is entirely possible for Him to do that with His children. Do you think God is too busy attending to all the needs of this groaning world to listen to your feeble prayers? Not so. He has all the time in the world for each one of us, because He is not constrained by time and place as we are.
I will never forget the wonder of Saturday night, when Jeremy selflessly stayed up all night to care for Michael so Sharon and I could rest. I will never forget God’s love through Sharon, and each of my children during this time. Try as I have here with much verbosity, there just aren’t words.
And Edith and Mildred were experiencing all of this in their own doggy ways. No one will ever convince me that they didn’t perceive that their daddy was getting ready to leave them.
Edith held her vigil under Michael’s hospital bed. She’s thirteen now and is becoming a little arthritic, so she doesn’t jump up on furniture as easily as she used to.
And Millie, who is still spry and gazelle-like at age nine, jumped up on Michael’s bed many times, carefully sniffing him and discerning what was happening. She often curled up as close to her master as possible, with her expressive ears back and down, as if she sensed how little time for such snuggling was left.
Friends, family, food, tears, laughter, singing, worshiping, hope, exhaustion, anticipation, sorrow, unity, comfort, kindness, love, gratitude, vigilance, awe, devotion and peace.
These wondrous gifts and more filled up the last Saturday of Michael’s life. And made us so acutely and thankfully aware of what it’s like when God bestows on His undeserving children the grace of a happy death.
As the sun came up on Sunday morning, we all thought, this might be the day…
Feb. 6, 2015 – We Prepared
February 6, 2016 | My Jottings
This beautiful picture was taken of Michael and one of our granddaughters, Mrs. Nisky. 🙂 As we approach the one year anniversary of Michael’s death, I’m republishing the posts from that fateful week last February. Below are my thoughts and some photos I took as we prepared to bring Michael home from the hospital for his last few days.
Friday, February 6, 2015:
Monday through Wednesday I had hoped and prayed that Michael would wake up and come back to me. Thursday’s CAT scan results closed a dark curtain over that hope, and changed my prayers. And early Friday morning I couldn’t believe that I was making breakfast, letting the dogs out, getting dressed, and brushing my teeth, after hearing the news that Michael was very close to leaving this earth and going to heaven. It’s odd to do normal, mundane things after receiving news that makes one feel like life can never, ever be normal again.
I knew from what Dr. McKee had explained that the massive stroke would continue to cause progressive tissue death in Michael’s brain, taking him further and further away from us and ultimately shutting down all the systems of his body. As I drove to the hospital on Friday morning, I knew now not to expect to see improvement, but I sobbed out the most fervent prayer anyway. I cried out to the Lord to give me one final connection with Michael before He took him home. I prayed that God would let Michael respond to me in some personal, obvious way, so that I could know without a doubt that it was real and not just a reflex.
(And may I just insert here that I believe God still heals people today? I believe Jesus is the great physician and I know He can do anything — He can make the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. He can raise the dead! He holds this universe together! My acceptance of Michael’s illness and subsequent journey toward heaven were not because I didn’t believe God could heal him. Over the years I’m pretty certain he was prayed for hundreds of times. He believed God could heal him. We have dear friends who had great faith that Michael would be healed. Our pastor anointed him with oil weekly for many months, and we prayed with faith that Parkinson’s would be healed in the mighty name of Jesus. He even flew with friends once to a healing conference and felt the strong presence of God there. So why wasn’t Michael healed of PD and Lewy Body Dementia? I don’t know. I will trust God with that.
Some would say that God’s will was thwarted and Michael should have walked in the healing that Christ died to give us. I’m not sure how to answer that, except to say that every single person on this earth will die someday, and most of them will die from some kind of illness. God does take His people home, and He often uses an illness or tragedy to do it. When it became apparent that Michael’s health was rapidly failing these last two years, I still prayed out loud for him often. I prayed that Jesus would heal him from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, and Michael would whisper, “Amen, amen” as I prayed and the tears fell. But…I have known about families who have lost loved ones too early, and some of them weren’t able to enjoy the blessedness of a good and peaceful death because they refused to believe that their loved one’s passing could be God’s will. [Psalm 116:15 — “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.”] So I believe in a healing God, and also in a sovereign Father who can be trusted when His answer is no.)
Just like I had for the past three days, I arrived at the hospital so anxious to see my Michael. I had my iPhone in my right hand, ready to take a picture because I knew there weren’t many days left to do that. With each step down the hallway toward his room, my prayer was, “Lord, please let him respond to me, please….one more time…one more time….” When I got to his bedside he seemed to be so deeply unconscious, because his jaw was open so much more than on Thursday. I bent down, rubbed his chest a little and greeted him, “Michael…I’m here. It’s me, Julie. I love you Michael! I love you, love you, love you…”
And will you just take a moment to try to imagine what joy and wonder I felt when my husband roused a bit, slowly moved his head back and forth, and did this:
He couldn’t open his eyes and of course couldn’t speak, but for about twenty seconds Michael moved his head and grinned at me like this, while I kissed his face and tried not to let him hear me sob.
I am still thanking God for this gift. An answered prayer.
I know I’m biased, but I think this is one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen.
The rest of the day was filled with dear people coming in and out of Michael’s room, either friends or family who learned the news that Michael would be meeting Jesus soon, or hospital and hospice staff, doing all the things needed to bring Michael home. Two of our dearests, Steve and Diane, drove three hours to come and be with us.
I received many texts and emails on Friday as the news traveled. I honestly treasured them all, but I think the one that touched me the most was an email from my friend Sue P. She wrote:
Hi Julie…..Please excuse my words if they appear clumsy for it is so hard to put into print how the heart aches. Dave and I are in prayer for all of you. My mind keeps going back to Michael as a true worshiper. Soon he will be free of the body encasing his spirit. I had a vivid picture in the early morning hours today of two very large angels on both sides of his bed, sitting at the ready to usher him home. Oh, the glory that awaits him on the other side of the thin veil that separates us from heaven. I love you my dear friend. Take courage today. xxooo Sue
Even now the thought of powerful angelic escorts waiting to take Michael to meet and worship His Savior makes me cry. Oh, the things we cannot yet see!
I met with the hospice nurse in the early afternoon and she had much to explain to me. She gave me instructions and some liquid morphine, liquid Ativan, oral syringes, and a compassionate hug. Since Michael was not exhibiting any discomfort at all I wondered about the morphine. She explained that as he neared death his breathing would most likely become labored and the morphine was to help with that. The Ativan was in case he became restless.
I was a little surprised to learn that hospice would only come to visit two times per week. I think my perception of hospice was that they were more present to do a lot of care taking. Maybe that’s the way it is elsewhere. I didn’t need to worry about that, though, because my family encircled me and for the next couple of momentous days I never had to care for Michael all by myself. My daughters each took time off from their jobs and all but moved in with us…such a blessing I will never forget.
Next, the hospital social worker came in to tell us that he was having difficulty securing a medical transport to bring Michael home. Apparently when the available companies learned we have semi-steep stairs without railings leading up to our front door, they became unwilling to move him. Too much of a risk. The social worker told me that our only remaining option was to call a Gold Cross Ambulance for transport, and he apologetically told me the cost would be $1200. I immediately responded, “Okay!” and knew this significant amount was something I wasn’t to be concerned about. My singular goal was to get Michael home quickly, safely and comfortably, and I suppose if the cost had been $5000 I would have said okay to that too.
The hospice folks had made the speedy arrangements to have a hospital bed delivered to our home, and I was called on my cell phone with the news that it would be delivered within the hour. Sara left the hospital right away to let the delivery people in, and to set things up in our bedroom for Michael. (Have you ever seen our bedroom and how spacious it is? If not, click here and you’ll be able to see.) She texted me a picture of what she had done, and it was beautiful. The hospital bed was placed close to my side of our king-sized bed, and Sara had made it, fluffed pillows, put a pretty comforter on the bed, gathered chairs all around the area, put flowers on a nightstand nearby, and made everything lovely and welcoming. Somehow I knew that even if Michael never opened his eyes to see he was home in his own bedroom, he would know that he was in a room of love, surrounded by people who adored him, and that this would be the sacred place from which he would depart this earth.
Right before the two ambulance attendants arrived at St. Luke’s, one of Michael’s neurology nurses gave me a quick demonstration on how to turn him every two hours and prop pillows up under him to prevent skin breakdown. She showed me how to make sure there was a “draw sheet” under him at all times, completely wrinkle free to protect his skin, and how to keep his mouth moist and his briefs changed. Plus about fifty other things. She reminded me to keep the hospital bed at 45 degrees for his breathing comfort, and I learned later what she meant by that.
The sun was beginning to set and it was finally, finally time. I drove home several minutes before the ambulance arrived. A light snow was falling. I knew the angels my friend Sue had envisioned were guarding Michael and would grace our home while we waited for the end to come.
The two ambulance attendants quickly assessed our home. There are two ways in: up the outside front steps which I mentioned before, and through the garage and into the basement, then up our basement steps which go up one way to a landing, then turn sharply before coming up through a door into our kitchen. They decided to back the ambulance up to the garage and bring Michael in that way, but they told me they were concerned enough to call for assistance.
They surely must have been informed that this man they were carrying was coming home to die, because all six of them were extremely quiet, very measured and deliberate in their movements, and so respectful. (I took this photo from our bedroom window when I heard the fire truck arrive, and Sara ran down to move our car out of the driveway.)
They made it up the basement stairs, went slowly through our kitchen, the dining room, down the hall past the office and laundry room, and into our bedroom, where they gently placed my treasure on the waiting hospital bed.
I didn’t know then that a few weeks later the Gold Cross Ambulance bill I received would not be $1200, but only $197. Our wonderful friends Pete and Ginny had been in the hospital room when the social worker originally informed me about the considerable cost, and had decided between the two of them that they would bless us by paying for a huge part of Michael’s transport home. To say I was humbled and stunned when I received their generous check in the mail is an understatement. In the end, a smaller check covered it, but Ginny and Pete’s gift to us is one of the countless memories of God’s loving care through His people I will always carry with me.
Sharon brought her stuff over and informed me she was staying, and I was so thankful. It didn’t take long for us all to learn how challenging it is to care for every physical need of a 185-pound person who is dying. Just to turn Michael every two hours and prop three pillows behind him took a minimum of two people.
By the time we went to bed that night, Michael’s breathing had become loud and labored, and he looked like a man very close to slipping away. We took turns all through the night, turning him, changing him, moistening the inside and outside of his mouth, giving him liquid morphine to ease his breathing, whispering our love to him, and trying to take in all that we were feeling. This was tragic. This was holy. This was impossible. This was inevitable. This was a privilege. This was glorious. This was God’s mercy. This was wondrous.
And this was heartbreaking.
Even our little Schnauzers, Edith and Mildred, acted like they knew something solemn and momentous was happening to their daddy. Both were very subdued and stayed close to Michael’s bed the whole time he was home. Animals know things.
And so, with the unseen angelic guard I believe was in that room, and with the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit nearer than our breath, our vigil began.
Feb. 5, 2015 – We Marveled
February 5, 2016 | My Jottings
One year ago today, after Michael had been hospitalized for two nights, we received the news from his neurologist that his second CT scan revealed a massive stroke on the left side of his brain that he would not recover from. In spite of that news and all the tears and heaviness that fell over us that day, God gave us reason to marvel at His goodness. I will never forget what happened that evening. Below is my account of that day.
Thursday, February 5, 2015:
Almost three whole days had passed since Michael had a small seizure and lapsed into unconsciousness, and I wondered what this day, Thursday, would bring. I knew he would be given another CAT scan sometime during the morning, and I was anxious to see what, if anything, would be revealed. The first CAT scan had been clear, why wouldn’t this one be?
When I arrived in Michael’s room in the neurology wing on the fourth floor of the hospital, his sister Patty was already there, and his two oldest daughters Buffy and Daphne, truly stellar young women who have taught me a lot about love, had driven up from their homes and families in southern Minnesota the night before.
Michael had been wheeled to the CAT scan place early and was just being returned to his room when I arrived. His face looked more gaunt than the day before, partially because the only nourishment he was receiving was IV fluids, and also (we later learned) because of what was slowly happening in his brain. His jaw was much more relaxed and the clenching activity in his left hand had settled and eased a bit.
We did what we had done for days now — talked to him, rubbed him, said encouraging things, sat with long periods of silence, put tiny sips of water in his mouth by spoon and watched carefully for him to swallow. Thursday morning I could tell it was taking him a lot longer to swallow even 1/4 a teaspoon of water. He could no longer return my kiss, and he seemed to be more deeply unconscious than before. I asked one of the nurses who came in every hour to care for him if this was considered a coma, and it took a few seconds for her to consider and then answer, “Well, not quite. He’s more stuporous, I’d say.” I looked it up and could see the difference between the two, but I can’t say it was encouraging to hear the term.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Michael’s neurologist did his rounds at night, so when another physician came in around 11:00 a.m. to tell us he had the results of that morning’s CAT scan, I was relieved we could know then and not have to wait until after dinner time…but I did brace myself.
Dr. Evans quietly said that he did not have good news for us, and that the results of the scan clearly revealed that Michael had had a massive, ischemic stroke, affecting the entire left hemisphere of his brain. So yes, he had experienced a seizure on Monday morning while baking a cake with Josh at the veterans home, but the seizure was because something catastrophic had just happened in his brain, and a seizure with Todd’s Paralysis was not what was going on.
The doctor very soberly told us why this stroke hadn’t shown up on Monday night when the first CAT scan was done after Michael was brought to the ER. Maybe some of you know this already, but for those that don’t, I’m going to share what we learned.
Hemorrhagic strokes are the kind when someone has a bleed in their brain. These kinds of strokes are often very painful, accompanied by what’s sometimes called a “thunderclap headache” due to the sudden, almost unbearable pressure from the bleeding under the skull, and they always show up on a CAT scan.
Ischemic strokes are different — they are caused by a piece of plaque breaking off, usually from the carotid artery in the neck, and this bit of plaque flows in the bloodstream up toward the head and causes a blockage, stopping crucial blood supply to the brain. The result is dramatic, just as we saw in Michael because he could no longer respond to us, and over the next few days, brain tissue slowly dies. An ischemic stroke does not show up on a CAT scan right away because there’s been no hemorrhagic bleed. But after a few days, a CAT scan will reveal an ischemic stroke because the affected brain tissue is now shadowed, looking slightly darker than the healthy brain tissue.
And, mercifully, an ischemic stroke is painless.
After I took a moment to let this all sink in, I asked Dr. Evans if there was any chance at all that Michael could recover from this stroke. He put his head down a little, and shook his head no.
I thanked Dr. Evans for forthrightly answering my questions, he expressed his condolences for the news he’d had to deliver, and he told us that Dr. McKee would be speaking with us that evening, giving us more information about what to expect. When the doctor left the room I took one look at Patty and burst into tears. I sat down in a chair, put my face in my hands, and cried wracking sobs as quietly as I could. Patty cried too.
Barring the most spectacular miracle we could imagine, this was it. Michael was not going to make it.
There’s nothing I can say to describe how that forceful blow to my heart, mind and soul felt. I could reach for a Thesaurus and employ words like despairing and nightmarish, yet they only pale when compared to the realization that I was soon going to have to watch the light of my life go out. I still don’t know any words that adequately convey that kind of almost-paralyzing grief. And yet, I knew in my heart that Parkinson’s Disease and the more recent cruelty of Lewy Body Dementia was nothing Michael would want to return to. In the dark of night I had cried out to God many times to release Michael from the prison his body had become. I believed this was God’s severe mercy for my beloved.
The next thing I did was blow my nose, pick up my cell phone and walk out of Michael’s room, down the hall to a solarium/family waiting room with a view of Lake Superior, and I sat down on a couch and called my daughters, one by one. I don’t remember all the details of what I told them because I think a grey fog of grief had already begun to settle over me, but I let them know what the CAT scan revealed, and that their daddy was going to die soon.
Within twenty minutes our son-in-law Chris was there with us, because of course Sharon had called him, sobbing, the second she and I had gotten off the phone. He immediately took the week off from work and said he would be there with us, and if I needed one thing or a hundred, he would do whatever I asked. Over the next hour, daughters and grandchildren, sons-in-law and friends streamed in, bringing their hugs, tears and prayers. Some of our daughters had asked for prayer for Michael through their Facebook accounts, and now a lot of people knew what had really happened to Michael, and also what was soon to come.
Two old friends, Chuck and Sally, called to ask if they could come and visit, and of course we were so happy when they arrived Thursday evening with a Bible and the strong presence of the Holy Spirit all about them. Michael had been unresponsive all day, and we knew officially why that was now. Chuck stood close to the head of Michael’s bed and greeted him with a firm, loving touch, and said, “Michael, I’m going to read some scripture to you,” as he opened to Psalm 91.
The crowded, yet quiet room listened as Chuck read aloud, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”
Chuck only got this far into the chapter when something exquisitely beautiful and breathtaking took place. Michael, who was completely unresponsive and whose brain was dying minute by minute, lifted his chin, opened his mouth and wailed, tears streaming out of his eyes and down the sides of his face, sob after sob escaping from his mouth. We were all struck by what was happening, and we knew Michael was responding to the scripture he had revered and read, loved and sang, countless times since he decided to follow Christ when he was 30 years old.
After this deep wave of emotion had washed over Michael, Chuck finished reading the Psalm out loud, and Michael continued to demonstrate all that evening that he could hear and understand what was being said all around him. The only way he could respond was with sobbing so plaintive and pure I felt like taking my shoes off or even putting my face straight down on the floor, it felt so sacred. He couldn’t talk, open his eyes, do anything on command, but when he heard the conversation turn to his Savior Jesus, he cried. When the name of a dear friend was mentioned by someone in the back of the room, Michael heard that name and wailed again. Before Chuck and Sally left, Chuck leaned down over Michael and said, “Michael, look how much your family loves you.” And his face contorted and his lips pulled back away from those beautiful teeth and the tears streamed….and even though some would have said it was an “ugly cry,” it was beautiful. Absolutely full of beauty. We were almost speechless from the impact of witnessing something so precious. We were experiencing something we knew we’d never want to forget. We all knew that Michael’s spirit was alive and well even as his body was rapidly failing, and he was responding to the things he knew were most important in all of life: Jesus, God’s Word, and the people he loved.
For several hours, we were given the gift of seeing that beauty come forth intermittently when Michael actually smiled at something funny Sharon said to him, when other family members and friends recalled aloud special memories, and he would gasp and cry, tears streaming.
I wanted to stay as late into the night as possible so I could be with Michael, and be there when Dr. McKee made his rounds, but I finally gave up and went home around 7:00 p.m. Friends had come by to provide a nice dinner to our Fosters, to tend to our dogs, and I had much to do and consider. I must have just missed Dr. McKee at St. Luke’s because he called me at home around 7:30 to tell me he had read the CAT scan and it was even more dire than Dr. Evans had reported. I guess a neurologist sees more in a brain scan than a regular physician, and Dr. McKee all but told me that the damage to Michael’s brain had put him in a near-vegetative state.
I asked the doctor how long someone usually lived with this kind of ischemic stroke, and he answered, “Well, the textbooks say four to five days, and I have seen a few people live up to eight or nine days. But the average is about a week.” I quickly did the math in my head and felt my heart race a bit when I figured that Michael was getting close to the fourth day. I knew I had to bring him home. I told Dr. McKee, and he gently encouraged me to move him to hospice in the hospital, inferring that it would be much easier on me, but I wanted Michael in his own house once more. Dr. McKee said that he would put in the order for hospice home care right away, and he felt hopeful that everything could be arranged for Michael to come home the next day, Friday.
When I went to bed that night, even in my utter exhaustion and sorrow I felt a sense of urgency, and also a strange sense of being untethered, all mixed together. I thought of the passage in 2 Corinthians which I had read to Michael many times in the past year, and knew these words were for us now, more than ever:
For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed, after we have put on our heavenly house, we will not be found naked. For we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:4, New English Translation.
My dear Michael was groaning with the burden of his earthly house. And what was mortal — his hard-working, made-of-flesh-and-blood, precious body, was getting ready to be swallowed up by life. Real, eternal life. Life with Christ.
A white robe. A loud voice with which to praise his God at the top of his lungs again. A new, glorious body that would never again know sickness. True freedom and joy. The magnificence of heaven. The face to face meeting with Jesus, whom he had loved and trusted for thirty-five years.
All this was just days away.
For Michael, I rejoiced. For myself and our family, I prayed that God would help us walk with courage through the door of grief we were approaching, and that we wouldn’t miss one single thing the Lord had planned for us.
Feb. 4, 2015 – We Waited
February 4, 2016 | My Jottings
The precious picture below is of Michael and one of our grandsons, Elijah. It was taken by our daughter Sharon about ten months before Michael died.
One year ago today, we had all gathered and prayed, and were waiting to learn what was going to happen with Michael. He was in the hospital, largely unresponsive, and what follows are my thoughts from that day, the third of his seven day journey to heaven.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
On Wednesday when I arrived at the hospital, once again the nurses reported that there hadn’t been any notable change in Michael’s condition overnight.
Due to the high risk of his lungs filling up, his bed had to be kept at a 45 degree angle, so even though he was turned on alternate sides and changed every two hours, he never really got to lay down flat.
His eyes were closed, his left hand was gripping and opening, so the rolled washcloth was still needed, and I could see that his face looked more slack than it had the day before. He kept his mouth open more. He was still coughing occasionally and yawning at least twice an hour. He was able to chew and swallow the small ice chips we were giving him, and as anyone would do who was waiting for good news, we rejoiced at these things as if they were little arrows of proof pointing to his recovery, or at least to his coming out of unconsciousness. “He’s coughing! He groaned a little! Look, he can still chew the ice and swallow it!”
I think the most encouraging thing that happened on Wednesday was around lunchtime when several of us were gathered in Michael’s hospital room. Michael seemed a little closer to the surface than he had been earlier in the day, so I hugged him and kissed him, talked to him and told him about all the people there who loved him so much. I gently opened one of his eyes with my thumb and forefinger, and right at that moment our son-in-law Jeremy walked from one part of the room to another. Michael’s eye followed Jeremy’s movement very deliberately and accurately and we were thrilled. Of course then I opened Michael’s eye and got down close to him so he could see me and I whispered happily, “Hi Michael! We’re all here! It’s me! You’re in the hospital and they’re taking great care of you, and we’re waiting with you until you wake up a little more. We love you and you are going to be just fine!” And because we were certain he had seen with that eye, and we believed he could still hear us even though he couldn’t yet respond, we all quietly and lovingly told him how crazy we were about him, all throughout the day. All the way until dark, those of us there sang to him, prayed for him, let him rest in quiet, massaged his limbs, and kissed him.
Michael’s wonderful sister and only sibling Patty had been there every day, waiting with me and speaking so compassionately to Michael. I have never heard my husband utter one negative thing about his beloved sister the whole 34 years we were together. And she didn’t hesitate to show her devotion to him. What a beautiful thing! After Patty went home late Wednesday afternoon, her husband Joe came to the hospital, and for quite a while it was just Michael, Joe and me together. Joe saw Michael squeeze my hand, noticed things he felt were hopeful, and he told me, and later Patty, that he felt the next day Michael would be waking up. That sounded good to me, after all it had now been almost 60 hours since Michael’s seizure. If this was Todd’s Paralysis, we were already past the common 48 hour waking point and moving toward the 72 hour point, which seemed ominous to me.
Our neurologist Dr. McKee makes his rounds at night, not in the morning like most doctors do, and since I had to go home and make dinner for our Fosters by 5:00, I missed his visit. He called me at home that night after he had seen Michael, and said that when he had gotten close to Michael’s face and yelled his name, he opened his eyes briefly. That sounded encouraging, but as our conversation progressed, for the first time I thought I detected more caution, less optimism in Dr. McKee’s voice than I had the days before. When I mentioned that Michael had followed Jeremy with his eye and had squeezed my hand, Dr. McKee hesitated very briefly and said, “Well, that’s good. I do think it’s time to order another CAT scan for tomorrow morning, however.” I didn’t know then what he would be looking for in this second scan, what he expected to find, but I had a feeling Todd’s Paralysis was no longer what he thought was going on with my husband. I wanted to know as much as possible, so of course I consented for the scan.
After cleaning up after dinner I got into my nightgown, let the dogs out one last time for the night, and sat in silence in our room on Michael’s and my comfortable king-sized bed. It felt like tomorrow, Thursday, would be a momentous day, due to the second scan scheduled. I contacted our daughters to let them know about Dr. McKee’s call, and in spite of how tenuous things were seeming, we knew we were all drawing close together in love, praying for Michael, and trusting God for whatever would come.
I turned out the lamp on my nightstand, turned over on my side there in the dark, and listened to the deep doggy breathing of Edith and Millie who were curled in canine circles on Michael’s side of the bed.
Michael’s side of the bed.
For a brief moment or two, I allowed my mind to go to the sorrowful place of wondering if Michael would ever lay his eyes, his body, on that bed again.
The pain was too deep and the wailing too loud. When the spell of fear and grief eventually faded, I asked God for sleep, and I begged Him to touch my Michael, the light of my life, the man of my dreams, and to be there with him all night in his hospital room, so that Michael could feel He was there.