DEATH ISN’T SO EASY

Editor’s Note: Following is a page from my spiritual notebook.

 DEATH ISN’T SO EASY

            Polished church floor-tiles felt cool under my stocking feet. The choir sang a slow melody of longing that rose and fell like a great flock of starlings riding a summer breeze.  In the solemn  line, I inched forward to venerate a tall wood cross.  Good Friday. For weeks, I heard Easter stories of Jesus journey to crucifixion.  It’s no wonder I’ve been thinking about death and dying.

According to the Bible, Jesus died in less than a day.  Nightly, I watch one-shot killings on TV cop shows.  But, I stood by my parents on their final journey. It’s not so easy to die.

In 1985,    Mother and Daddy were driving from Indiana to Florida when Daddy breathed his last. A car accident. The Tennessee Highway Patrol phoned after they found the flaming Cadillac and my father in a ditch. Police reported Mother was not with him.

I flew from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Nashville. By then,   Daddy was in the burn unit and police had located my sick, vomiting mother in a motel. The emergency room doctor told me Mother was dying of congestive heart failure.

An only child, I made decisions. Mother had heart  valve surgery while Daddy endured skin grafts for an eighty-percent burn.

During twenty-three days of Mother’s operation and Daddy’s treatment, I learned medical terms and hospital ways. I pestered doctors. On tip-toe, I read chart notes over nurses’ shoulders.  White-coats keep secrets about their patients.

Aides and respiratory therapists also wore white coats, but they explained heart-line monitor squiggles and oxygen saturation numbers. Watching nurses change shifts, I realized the importance of urine-output.  If the color darkens and volume falls, kidneys are failing. Death is near.  

My learning didn’t help  Daddy. He passed. But it may have helped Mother. After heart surgery, she recovered.

By 1995, my Florida Mother needed extra care. She chose moving to an assisted living in her home town: Goshen, Indiana. We flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan where we planned to rest before driving to Goshen. Mother never completed the trip.

She collapsed.  Frightened by her paralysis and inability to speak, I raced to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital.  

It was dark and after 8:00 when I stopped in their driveway, but Mother was limp. I could not move her. Dear God!  I scanned the quiet area. A solitary man walked to his car.  I called, “Help me! Please!” The stranger stopped and hurried over. He stooped and looked in the car.  Without a word, he bent and lifted Mother’s arm over his shoulder.

 We “walked” Mother into the bright emergency and eased her into a molded plastic chair near the admission desk. I surveyed the room.  No gunshot wounds or knife cuts. I ran to the clerk who tapped a keyboard, taking information from another client. Reaching across the counter, I touched her sleeve. “Please! … My mother!”

The woman frowned and looked up. I begged, “Just get her in! I’ll wait for paperwork …  please!” 

Looking past me, she saw my drooping mother. The clerk  called, “Carl! Dan!  Come help this lady!”

White jackets flapping, two young men appeared. They raised Mother into a wheelchair and disappeared down a hallway.

I took my first full breath in over an hour.  She’s in! They’ll help her. 

Later, I waited in emergency with Mother. An IV dripped into one arm. A respiratory therapist gave her a breathing treatment.  But, the doctor stopped coming and asking questions. What’s taking so long?   

I stuck my head into the hall, looking for our 30-ish physician.  I spotted him and walked his way. “Why is this taking so long?”

He took a breath. “I’m not sure we can admit your mother.”

“W-h-a-t?” I put my hands on my hips and hissed, “Why not?”  

“We’re not sure we can save her.”

 I frowned. The white coat continued, “This is a hospital. We save people here.  Your mother is terminal.”

 I sputtered. A hospital can’t refuse a sick person! I said, “She’ll get better!”

The man shook his head and walked away.

Back in the examination room, I looked at my exhausted mother.  Will she die?

I don’t know why the powers-that-be admitted Mother, but soon I stood by her hospital bed.  Propped up for easier breathing, her eyes were closed. I checked the heart monitor.  The usual camel hump of her atrial fibrillation. I leaned over her white-sheeted bed and checked her urine-output. Clear and light.

Like a small black plastic clothes-pin clipped to her right  index finger, an oxygen  saturation meter glowed a red “92.”  Good enough.  

I studied my very freckled mother.  She colored her hair a strawberry shade. Even without make-up, her large tan “sun-kisses” gave her face color.   She seems better. But, the doctor said she’s terminal. I raised a hand, covering my lips.  How will this end?

During the next eleven days I witnessed the fine line between life-saving and palliative care.  Mother was bathed, fed, and given meds. Even without “life-saving measures,” she got better. She was transferred to an after-hospital-care facility. She awaited death.  

Jesus had a touch of palliative care. He was offered a sponge dipped in wine. He died anyway. So did Mother.

God had a plan for Jesus. He had a plan for Mother. He has one for me, too. I’d like to cooperate, but it’s hard to know God’s thinking. I can only guess at it and do what I believe to be the next right thing.

 

Frances Fritzie

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