I sat and watched my 18-year-old son shake in the hospital bed, his eyes rolling up and away. This time, it was only about 30 seconds long. I checked the oxygen mask as the pulse oximeter beeped the desaturation out. I knew it would occur again in a few minutes. I had tried using my iPhone to record the episodes to show his doctors. They'd seen enough. After all, we'd been here for two days.
My wife slept restlessly in the chair next to me. After a couple of minutes, my son focused his eyes back on me and half smiled, a small tear rolling down his cheek like so many times before. I looked at him … unable to do anything else, I squeezed his hand and kissed him on the forehead willing him to go back to his fitful sleep.
The doctors came in en masse, all attempting the same smile I had used so often going into patients’ rooms — facing patients and families with that hungry, expectant, questioning look in their eyes for which I knew I had no answers. I knew the conflicted anguish the doctors faced, wanting to bring some sort of good news and knowing that there was none.
It had been a long road with so many different physicians, medications, devices, procedures, and surgeries. We had gone through this for over 15 years. This time, we knew it was different in an unspoken way.
His brother and twin sister sang and laughed with him, energizing smiles from him, reigniting so many memories of difficult times bridged by sibling love. I marveled at the connection — envious of the easy love they shared, and heartbroken at the pain I knew was welling inside each of them. His two older sisters, so far away, called and wished love on their "Bubba”: anxiously waiting for some good news.
We had almost lost him several times before. But over the past couple of years we had reached a new, more stable pattern where we, for the first time, had to think about our son becoming a dependent "adult," with new needs and requirements. Guardianship, different regulations and laws; different physicians. We had walked this path, recalculating finances and plans, never having been able to consider that possibility before.
Now just during that life readjustment, the slippery slope of life had slapped us across the face, taken hold, and pulled us ... tumbling downhill, all the while clawing at every possibility in hope of arresting the downward spiral. The last few weeks of increasing weakness, tremor, seizures, and generalized swelling had come unexpectedly, unwelcome.
The medical team smiled sadly, feeling their impotence after many days of trying, as we packed our son into the car to take him home. He arrived back to his world, his bed, his TV, his Spiderman and SpongeBob with relief. But each day, he became a little weaker, a little more swollen. Every look into his eyes tore through my heart as I fought off the gnawing recognition of life ebbing away. I worked daily, missing precious hours with him. Each smile we shared became a rare exotic jewel, clutched at hungrily, not knowing how many more I might be given from this seeming unlimited heart.
Despite ever-increasing exhaustion, his face spoke to a depth of love and comprehension I could not fathom. I watched my wife's heart break moment by moment, hour by hour, unable to give any succor or relief — knowing a piece of each of us crumbled away daily.
Late that night, my wife and daughter yelled for me to come to his room quickly. His grey ashen face, slow heartbeat, and weak breathing shook me to my core. I utilized the oxygen and bag-valve-mask device available to support him, slowly watching his heart rate and oxygen saturation climb back into normal ranges. After many minutes, his eyes opened with confusion and apprehension, and then recognition and resignation. He smiled weakly, understandingly. My wife climbed into the bed with him and held him as only a mother could. I stood there hoping he knew how much I loved him, and hoping I loved Him enough.
The next morning, I left early for work as my usual custom after checking on my wife and son huddled together in his bed. I kissed them both and stood back staring. I could not fathom the thoughts and emotions running through me. Ambivalently, I walked away wondering what today would bring. Eighty minutes later, the phone call came — “come home.” I looked around the ICU, told my colleague I had to go.
Every traffic stop on my way home was agony because I knew in my heart what God had been speaking to me since the night before; and I hoped for ... what, I didn't know: another breath, another smile, another kiss. The ambulance and police car were parked outside. I rushed in through the chaos of people already there. I held my wife; I hugged his twin sister. I kissed his brow ... and wept.
I wrote the words above several years ago, a couple of years after Robert’s passing. Reading these words now evokes the emotions I felt during those last few minutes. There are things that will happen in our lives that we would fight against to our own deaths; and still, they will happen. As has often been said, God is not our vending machine, waiting for us to push the button of our choice to make things happen. He is sovereign, and there are some things that are inevitable because they are His will.
We may never understand. It does not matter. What does matter is how we respond to these inevitable events and how we are changed by them. That is your challenge: to be better once you have endured those events than before they occurred. In my world, that makes me ask, “Am I more like Jesus today than I was yesterday? When I weep, am I weeping as Jesus wept — not because of what was taken from me, but because of my poverty for not allowing His love to transform loss and grief to make me better?”
I am reminded of the story of Jacob’s limp, described in Genesis 32. It was forever present and served as a marker of his transition from Jacob, the schemer, to Israel, the father of a nation. This pain I still feel will not go away. But if I acknowledge how weak I am, I may be able to move my prideful anger away and allow His strong love to transform me into someone I could never become in any other way. I hear my spirit yell at me, “Don’t waste this pain. It is too precious, and its price was too high.”
I would still move heaven and earth to have Robert back, but I can finally accept that God’s wisdom is far greater than mine. I don’t have to like it; I just have to surrender to that fact, and live.
Listening Library: Let Go (Tyrone Wells)
“Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” … “Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” … “Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’” (John 11:32-33,35-36, 40 ESV)
Time will rob you blind - take everything you have to offer Love sweet when it comes - Saves all us beggars, priests and authors Oh, how do we let go? When someone we love slips away in the shadows It's hard to see you go 'cause you mean everything to me The seeds that you have sewn will live on deep inside of me It's time, you're leaving now - Your hands are cold, as I kiss your brow And I will try, but I don't know how - to let go. To let go. Years fly without fear - turning a boy into a father Now he smiles through tears down the aisle, As he gives away his youngest daughter Oh how do we let go, when every new step leads us into the unknown It's hard to see you go 'cause you mean everything to me The seeds that you have sewn will live on deep inside of me It's time, you're leaving now - Your hands are cold, as I kiss your brow And I will try, but I don't know how - to let go Every new morning all I can do, is hold onto the promise that we all hope is true That when it's all over - when this life is through I'll wake up in heaven and run to find you But it's still hard to see you go 'cause you mean everything to me The seeds that you have sewn will live on deep inside of me It's time, you're leaving now - Your hands are cold, as I kiss your brow And I will try, but I don't know how - to let go. To let go.
To let go. To let go.
Copyright 2010 Position Music