Friday, February 6, 2015
April 14, 2015 | My Jottings
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.