I Can’t Stop Crying | A Complicated Conversation that I would rather have with you in person but feel compelled to write about tonight

Today, in a landmark decision, the Texas State Governor cancelled Medicaid funding in the state of Texas for Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the United States. The Governor has made it clear in his written statement that the state of Texas firmly supports both women’s healthcare and unborn life.

Other states are mired in legalities over this topic, and everyone is bursting at the seams with their own opinion and idea of whom we should support, and how.

Abortion is, and will continue to be, a complicated conversation, and a legislative battle in our country.

When I was a senior in college, I worked at Super Target. It was our first year of marriage. I worked full time to support us, while Benjamin was a full time student. I was also finishing a few senior-level classes and my senior thesis.

A co-worker at Super Target had four children, all grown and around my own age.  I remember talking to her one day about being a newlywed, and we got on the topic of birth control.  I was saying something about how we were being extra cautious not to conceive at this time of our lives – both still in school, about to graduate in less than a year, and myself being the only income (besides my husband’s work study job, which we all know how much those pay!).

She lightly said something to the effect of, “Well, if anything unexpected happens, you can take care of it easily.” She told me after she and her husband had two of their children, they conceived an unexpected third. They were poor, and she was beside herself at the idea of another child, at that time of their lives. So she had an abortion. Later in life, they went on to have two other children, when they were more financially stable. She encouraged me that I shouldn’t worry about birth control too much, because there was another option for an unwanted pregnancy.

I sat in my chair in the Super Target clerical office, completely stunned. I guess I had naively figured most women who have had an abortion, when they are “all grown up”, they probably regret it, or at least wonder about their baby.

I couldn’t help but wonder…. she had four healthy adult children. I’m guessing she loves her children, and has grandchildren from them whom she also loves.  I couldn’t reconcile the idea that one of her children, who would have been just as amazing and precious as the four living ones, never had a chance. If she had birthed all five of them, and lost that middle child when he or she was five, or ten, or eighteen – would she have had the same nonchalant attitude about that child?

If you are reading this and you’ve had an abortion, I love you. Whether you feel it was the right decision and stand by it; or whether you regret it and can’t forgive yourself for it; or whether you have mixed feelings and thoughts because…. it was complicated then, and it’s still complicated now. The last thing I will do is judge you for your reasons and your decision. Judgement doesn’t breathe love, and love is what is breathed into every human life at its conception.

We don’t fight civil wars anymore over issues that tear our country apart. Instead we post Facebook articles, write hashtags, send emails to our Senators, listen to media tell us what to think, gush with like-minded friends and un-friend people who don’t agree with us.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I documented my pregnancy in a weekly photo blog. We had waited ten years of marriage, and I felt I had been waiting my entire life, to have a baby. We purchased an iPhone app called Sprout that gave us insight into what was developing with the baby on a week-to-week basis.

 

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By the time a woman misses her period and takes a positive pregnancy test, the cells are in place that form the base of the child’s brain. The baby is the size of an apple seed.

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By ten weeks old, the baby is the size of a radish, has a head and skeleton, and can be seen in a sonogram DANCING.

……………………………………………………….

I don’t generally consider Facebook – or any online format for that matter – to be the right place to express my deeply held values or discuss inflammatory and complicated topics. I prefer to have deep, meaningful, heartfelt conversations face-to-face, where I can hear your story, you can hear mine, and we can understand each other. The human touch is key to resolving conflict; and Facebook, email, and text message don’t do a great job with that.

You don’t have to agree with me to be my friend. I don’t have to agree with you to be your friend. I have friends of many faiths, genders, and nationalities. Our friendship or our business relationship doesn’t hinge on our agreement about a slew of topics (otherwise, who would have friends?!).

What I want to be, as a human and a Christ-follower in this world, is to be part of the solution to the problems I see. I can’t fix the world. I can’t even fix myself and my own kids! The solution for me, is to support women, to support mothers, in the ways I know how. To be a playful partner to children around me. To be a better friend. To be a better parent. To love people who are lonely. To continue wrestling with the possibility of foster care or adoption in growing my family.

Because God is love and love comes from God. And there’s a lot of hurting people who don’t feel loved right now. Born and unborn. Those people – all of them – are where I am called to love and serve.

So today, I can’t stop crying. For the babies. For the mothers. For the lonely people in our world today. For a raging conversation that tears friends and nations apart. For a desperation to see life and freedom where there is death and darkness. Oh God, would you give us more of Your love. Would You help me express more of Your love in this earth. The world needs Love.

Life After Death

Note: This post does not contain photos, but talks plainly about death, including infant death (not mine; I’m still pregnant). If this topic is too much for you, please skip this post and come back later 😉

Five years ago today, my grandmother joined the chorus of heaven. I was with many family members at the hospital for hours as she slowly drifted away from the internal bleeding in her brain caused by a fall. I don’t remember touching her after she passed, but I remember the moment I realized I was in the presence of her shell, not her soul.

It meant she could see now (she had been legally blind for several years). It meant she was free from the pain of arthritis, old shoulder injuries, and cat scratches. It meant she was healed from fatigue, memory loss, and the toll that aging can take on the human body. She was instantly whole, healthy, and strong. If I believe some of the stories we read about living people who have, for a few moments, visited heaven, I will add that she was also young and vibrant again, in the prime of her life.

A friend recently recommended the book, “Heaven is For Real,” which tells the story of a little boy who had been very ill, and after his recovery, begins to tell his family about things he experienced “in heaven.” A poignant moment from “heaven” was his meeting a man who introduced himself to the little boy as his great grandfather. Back on earth, when he told his family, they tried showing the boy photos of this man, whom he had never met. The boy would say, “No, that’s not him. He wasn’t old.” When they finally brought out a photo of the great grandfather in his youth, thirty, strong, healthy, the boy pointed and said, “Yes! That’s him!”

Yesterday evening I had the heart-wrenching privilege of photographing an infant who was stillborn.

I volunteer for a non-profit called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. The organization connects professional photographers with hospitals and families. When a baby is stillborn, or is born with problems such that it will never leave the hospital, except to be buried, NILMDTS photographers volunteer their services to capture images of the baby. Often, these are the only images the family will have of this tiny member of their family who left them too soon.

The last phone call I received to volunteer, I was unavailable. But just the phone call was enough to send me into a spasm of tears. “Hi Joy, this is N. from Methodist Hospital. I was calling to see if you were available to take photographs. We have a baby we’re going to be taking off life support this afternoon.” I was at work, and they couldn’t wait for me to get off work, so they looked for another photographer instead. But when I hung up the phone, I lost it. To put myself in the shoes of those parents. To take their baby off life support. To hold him while he breathes his last. I can’t even imagine.

It took me several days of raw weeping and aching emptiness to emotionally process JUST that phone call, during which time I began to doubt myself. How would I hold it together, cope, at a session I was supposed to capture? How would I even take photos and not just melt into a puddle of sorrow for this dear family and this dear child? Honestly, I think having to work through those emotions THEN, prepared me up for my experience last night.

It was just me, a nurse, and the baby, in a separate room from the family. His body was fully developed, he had curly hair, and perfectly shaped features. Most of his skin was a bright, rosy pink, and tender just like you would expect from a newborn. The images of his little hands, feet, ears, and body cuddled in a tiny christening outfit were just as precious as any newborn I’ve photographed. His body was soft and poseable, like a doll. Parts of his body were discolored or misshapen, and not photographable, but it was minimal in comparison to what was perfect (and much better than I expected based what I had been told about the baby’s condition in advance).

It probably sounds more morbid than it felt. Our bodies are just our shell. On earth, they seem like the only part of us that is really “real”, but that is far from the spiritual truth. As the nurse and I gently worked with his body, I pictured him already in heaven, about four or five years old, running and laughing in sunny fields surrounded by other children.

Another story from the book, “Heaven is For Real,” is when the little boy tells his mom that he met his sister in heaven. The mom, a little freaked out, reminded him that his sister was still here on earth, living. “No mom,” he insisted, “It was a different girl. She told me she was my sister. She said she died when she was still in your belly.” The mom gasped, because her first pregnancy had miscarried, but she and her husband were the only ones who knew about the miscarriage that would have been his older sibling. Last night, photographing this precious boy, I remembered that story.

I can’t share details of this family’s story, or any photographs I captured, due to privacy agreements. The images will be edited and mailed on disc to the family with a copyright release, and that is all. But hopefully it is more than “all”; it is meaningful.

When I heard about NILMDTS from another photographer, I was inspired to join by the experience of an acquaintance of mine. She is the sister of one of my close friends. Her journey through infertility had been long and hard, so it was tragic to lose her triplet boys (conceived through in vitro) too early to survive. The good news is she recently delivered healthy twin girls.

She came to visit her sister (my friend), some months after the loss of the triplets. We sat together at our kitchen table, and she showed me a photo book she had put together of the triplets. Images that had been taken when some of them were already passed, some were alive, but the only images she would ever have of them. At the hospital, she took the time to hold each one in the hours after they were delivered. The one who was born alive, she held for the short hour he had breath. Her husband or friends took the pictures for her, and they were so precious to her. After hearing about NILMDTS, I thought how precious those images were to her, and how special it would be for a professional photographer to capture images like that for a grieving family.

Now my favorite thing to photograph, hands down, is natural birth. It’s why I started a birth photography business. It’s why I would practically photograph natural birth for free every single day if I thought that was the best use of my time and life! Birth, especially after a hard, natural labor, is the most incrediculous, unbelievable, joyful occasion I have ever witnessed. Every. Time.

Every time except the ones where joy turns to despair. Where the momma suffers through a difficult birth, and instead of laughter, her face becomes ashen grief. Again, I can’t even imagine.

So a bit of my heart that is eager to celebrate the most amazing moment on earth, is also with families who are experiencing the most tragic moment on earth. That is why I could make it through last night.

I don’t know how anyone does this without God though. The hope of heaven is all that can truly sustain my eyes as they witness a tiny motionless form, and steady my hands as they gently position lifeless limbs.

God. Heaven. Hope.

The hope of a God in Heaven who cares.

Who holds that child tenderly, patiently, for someday when he will – living – meet his parents – also living – in the presence of a thousand other children and families who have gone before. Grieving without the presence of God, now that must truly be devastating.

What motivation to give His hope to others.
For Life.
For Death.
For Life After Death.
For Everlasting.

Being Humanity

On this earth, we will not experience life without death.  Joy without suffering.  Healing without pain.  Light without dark.  Heat without cold.  In heaven, we are promised there is no more dying, no more pain, no more suffering, no more darkness.  But on planet earth, contrasting experiences are the inescapable yin and yang of life.
Perhaps this is why tragedy can be unifying.  It can also be isolating, but if we can connect with humanity around us, both personal tragedy and shared tragedy has the potential to draw people together.
It is the universality of the human condition.
Every American, if old enough to remember, knows where they were ten years and three days ago.  Who they were with, what room they were in, what they were doing, how they felt.  While felt individually, the experience is shared, and thus is unifying.
I was in my fourth year in university, moving to and from class, among fellow media students.  The bustle in the halls guided me toward the large media conference room packed with other students.  Broadcast journalism students, film production students, graphic design students, crowding together to watch the big screen.  Students studying to work in the very media format making it possible for tragedy to be a shared experience.
Later, all over campus, every lobby, every dorm had televisions on, students clumped together, stunned, crying, praying.  Our university called a prayer meeting in chapel that evening that nearly everyone on campus voluntarily attended.
For me, the experience was thus shared and unifying.  I consider it a privilege really, to have been in a location surrounded by fellow sufferers.  Not alone.
Amazingly enough, there were ways in which it was unifying for nations as well.  Only one American was not on earth that day.  Astronaut Frank Culbertson videotaped the tragedy from thousands of miles above the surface of the earth, traveling in space with two Russians.  He tells the story that the Russians were equally shocked and devastated as he was, and amazingly sympathetic and comforting.  In the days that followed, every communication he had through the international space center reinforced this experience.  The world and nations reached out to comfort and share in the ache Americans experienced that day.  As a result, Culbertson is an advocate for continued American participation in international space programs.  He experienced how it can draw nations together for a common good and peaceful purpose.
This past Sunday morning, our non-denominational Christian church closed the service with an unusual prayer.  An international graduate student from Turkey is part of our church.  His father works in Turkey for the American Department of Defense, helping protect Americans in Turkey.  He even helped one group of Americans build a Christian church in Turkey so they could have a place to worship.  Both our friend who attends our church, and his father, are Muslim. 
At the end of our church service, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, our American Christian pastor and our Turkish Muslim friend closed the service in a joint prayer.  For our country, for our world, for unity.  Our Turkish friend used the word “wholeness” as something he desires and prays for our world to experience.  For me, it was incredibly moving and brought tears to my eyes.
Perhaps some people would not agree with this being done.  But knowing this friend, and hearing his story, I have to believe that tragedies like this truly affect the entire world.  He told another member of church, “It was a loss for us too.  On 9/11, a billion Muslims lost the opportunity to interact with Christians.”  It became not only a political divide, but a religious divide.  One that undermines humanity and friendship.
He is a conservative Muslim, as is most of Turkey – one of the most peaceful Muslim nations in fact, and one which the U.S. has strong historical allegiance with.  I am a conservative Christian, and also prefer not be associated with “extremist” Christians who seem to express more judgment and hatred than they do love (and because of their painful public expressions, manage to make national news).
I considered titling this post, “Unifying Humanity.”  But I truly mean, “Being Humanity.”  The fact that we share a common humanity is in itself unifying.  It is our own insecurities, fears, and feelings of isolation in tragedy, that create an unnatural divide.
Do not hear that I am a Christian whose faith is vague, or whose definition of salvation is anything less than belief in, and action on, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My belief that God desires unity for humanity does not contradict my belief that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.  I am merely trying to bring together both phrases of the gospel message, “For God so LOVED the world, that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life,” (John 3:16).
The gospel message does not begin with belief.  It begins with LOVE.  Love for the WORLD.  It begins with giving up what is most precious.  For the cause of belief.  For the cause of everlasting life in eternal heaven in the presence of God.
Let it be for this cause – the cause of love, the cause of unity, only possible by the strength of Christ – that Americans died ten years and three days ago.  That Christ died for all.  That we die to self, to fear, to hatred, to division.  That WE learn to “so love the world.”
| Filed under death, God moments

Juxtaposition of Birth and Death

In a few days, it will be the fourth anniversary of my grandma’s trip to heaven (or should I say, her permanent relocation). It’s easy to remember how long it has been, because the same week I watched her die, I watched the birth of a friend’s baby (Julian). He will soon be four years old.

Before her passing, Grandma was in the hospital a couple days for unusual heart palpitations. Her health was otherwise excellent, but in the middle of the night, she fell on her way back to bed. She hit her head on the bedside table, causing internal brain hemorrhaging. She died with 24 hours.

My dad received the call about 1:00 a.m. that she had fallen. When he arrived at the hospital, she was coherent, and remembered I had visited her the night before. Within an hour, she was unconscious, and for another fifteen hours or so, the hemorrhaging in her brain increased. I arrived at the hospital in the morning, and other friends and family came also during the day. My mom never came; she couldn’t bear to see Grandma that way. Toward the end, her body was sweating and heaving for breath, like someone running a marathon, her heart rate increased, and her body temperature elevated to dangerous levels. We knew she had passed when the gasping and heaving slowed, and her body relaxed. A cassette tape recording of my Grandpa Homer (deceased in 1991) singing had been playing near her for hours. When she passed, he was singing “When Jesus Passed By.”

“They took him to the tomb that day
Lazarus was his name
His loved ones wept for death had crept
Into their lives with pain
Oh, but someone sent a message
And soon Jesus did reply
And even death could have no power
When Jesus passes by”

A week later, one of my closest friends delivered a baby at my parents’ home. Benjamin and I were still living in my parents’ office. On the other side of the office wall was my parents’ bathroom, where Melissa labored in the large bathtub for several hours. This was Melissa’s second child, and her first had been born in the hospital via cesarean for “failure to progress.” Determined to avoid a second cesarean, she and her husband chose a home birth with a licensed midwife for their second child. They delivered at my parents’ home because we live about 10 minutes from a hospital and they lived more than 30 minutes from one; they wanted access just in case. Toward the end of labor, the baby’s heart rate slowed enough to concern the midwife, and my mom and I were woken up (again about 1:00 in the morning) to gather around Melissa and pray. Julian was born safe and healthy about an hour later.

During the hour my mom and I spent praying in my parents’ room with Melissa, her husband Stephen, and the two midwives, I had time to think. It is hard to put into words how it felt to spend a day watching someone die, and eight days later, spend an evening watching someone be born. This is life, you know? Birth; death. Endings; beginnings. Through it all, the Lord sees us, knows us, and has an eternal plan.

The feelings associated with losing someone you love are deep, and almost intangible. “Grief” is a drastically insufficient word. Emptiness, loneliness, anger, confusion, despair….there is just this gaping hole, and the bigness and blackness of it seems to overwhelm everything else in your mind and heart.

And yet here I was, watching a new little human be born – one of my favorite things on earth to see. It is miraculous and beautiful every time. Here, “excitement” is yet another vastly insufficient word. Exultation, awe, bubbling joy, amazement, togetherness…..the whole world seems like it should explode in wonder.

Photo courtesy Willow Grove Photography

I stood there, watching the baby slip into the earth, take his first breath, and was overwhelmed with the juxtaposition of these two experiences. Impossibly, each demanded the total involvement of my thoughts and feelings, seeming to sweep me away into themselves. Yet somehow, I didn’t feel torn between opposing extremes. Instead, I realized I felt whole again.

Neither birth nor death is the complete story. Neither the beginning nor the ending tells you all you need to know. It is both together, and one begets the other. An earthly birth must someday culminate in an earthly death. Yet death is, for Christians, a heavenly beginning. Spiritual birth into salvation is death to our human nature and selfishness.

Thankfully, we were made for eternity. One day we will be “born” into a new earth and a new body, where we will live forever with no more dying.

“No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny”

– Hymn “In Christ Alone”

Stories from Vietnam / Thoughts on Service and Suffering

My boss, a successful stock broker for a global financial firm, was an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War. He spent a year in Vietnam coordinating search and rescue teams that flew helicopters to rescue fighter pilots whose planes had been shot down. In listening to some of his stories, I glimpsed the life-and-death struggle that shaped him, and many from his generation, forever.

It is no wonder to me that we now have several decades of young people who are selfish, greedy, and consumed with material possessions. While I am grateful we have experienced less war than generations gone by, perhaps in the end, it has done us no good. The war we experience now we watch on TV or read on the Internet. What we know of war is the theory and criticisms of observers, not the service and patriotism of participants.

The day my boss arrived in Vietnam, he learned that the young man he had lived next door to in the dorm at Texas A&M University had been shot down that morning. Seven years later, to his great surprise, he received a phone call from the same man. His friend had been in captivity all those years, and my boss was one of the first people he called when he finally arrived home.

Fighter pilots were required to fly 100 missions before they could return home. Some of them flew a mission every day, just to get it over with, so they could be home as soon as possible. Some were shot down and killed on their 99th or 100th mission, and never made it. Those who survived 100 missions were celebrated by their comrades with noisy flyover of the landing strip, a dunk in the swimming pool and drinks all around.

When a plane was loaded with bombs, they could not land without deploying the bombs. If the plane began to have technical troubles, and the pilot was concerned for his safety, he had to dispose of the bombs in a remote place in the jungle before returning to base. My boss, a Second Lieutenant, once went with a team to locate uninhabited sites for this type of disposal. Deep in the jungle, one of their jeeps got stuck in the thick mud created by daily rains. Unable to push the jeep out of the sludge, the team looked up to see a native watching from the edge of the clearing. Then another pair of eyes, and another, and slowly about fifteen natives emerged from the trees. Without a word, the local men stepped behind the jeep and put their muscle into pushing it out of the mud pit. One young man was only 13 or 14 years old, and as a small thanks, my boss offered him a cup of cool water from the Igloo in the back of the jeep. Staring at the pure water, the boy slowly poured it into the mud pit at his feet, then bent and scooped up a cup full of murky, brown water. Then he slowly drank until the cup was empty.

When a fighter pilot was hit, he had a fast decision to make: Eject immediately over the jungle and risk almost certain capture by enemy fighters waiting below; or take 3-4 precious seconds to fly the plane closer to the mountains and eject there. If he made it to the mountains, his risk of capture decreased substantially, and a beeper he wore sent a signal to helicopter teams to locate and rescue him. But there was no predicting how long after being struck the plane would explode. If he waited too long he would be killed before he could eject.

My boss said his teams would do one or two rescues per day in the year he was deployed, but many would not be successful. Often the pilots were captured or dead when the rescue teams arrived. He lost many comrades during the time he was there.

I think about how attentive my boss is to detail now, how hard he has worked to have a successful career, send his children to college, be a good father and grandparent. How he insists on learning new things, how he is persistent with certain tasks, even to the exasperation of the team that works for him now; and I wonder, how much of the character, strength, and integrity is a result of serving our country and watching friends die doing so. There is no bitterness, only pride. He is fiercely loyal and fiercely Republican. He is determined and precise.

The experiences of his generation, and the ones before who experienced World Wars and the Great Depression shaped the entire American culture for decades. These days, it seems we have lost the precious perspective of those times, because our lives have been too easy.

We worry about how to pay our mortgage, student loans, car loans, retirement funds, gym memberships and credit cards while working three jobs and shuffling our children between school, church, soccer, and music lessons. They worried about whether they would live to see another day.

We complain about our weight, the weather, the government, our pastor, traffic, poor customer service, our employer, taxes, and a thousand minor inconveniences. They served and loved and committed and paid the price.

Something about that perspective I want to grasp, to lay hold of for my generation, for my children. Not that I wish the ugliness of war and death upon us. I just wonder at the correlation between

suffering and persistence,

challenge and greatness,

failure and success,

fear and determination,

pain and long suffering,

sorrow and joy,

service and gratitude.

Service.

Certainly it breeds selflessness and a broader perspective of the world. There is a saying that we can tell how much of a servant’s heart we have by how we respond to being treated like a servant. Servants don’t get thanked, receive low to no wages, get bossed around, do the hard work no one wants to do, yet are expected to continue doing so by people who are proud and comfortable, viewing their own humanity as more worthwhile than that of a laborer. Could we put ourselves, and our children, in situations to experience this type of service? By so doing, could we inspire hard work and determination, while also motivating servants to become gentle leaders and supervisors when they are grown?

Suffering.

Certainly too much suffering has broken many people. But perhaps some suffering has appropriate and necessary purpose in our lives and we should embrace it, not for the moment of pain in brings, but for the character it can produce if we choose. And perhaps when raising our children, we need not shield them from every sorrow and suffering, but instruct them how to grow through it and become greater humans as a result of it.

When we eliminate service and suffering from an entire generation, what a dangerous world we have created.

| Filed under death, molding small humans

Gramma Margy’s Passing

On Tuesday night, Benjamin and I were at the Johnson’s home in Boerne, taking care of some bookkeeping that we do for them. I heard my cell phone ring, and it was the special ring I have programmed for my immediate family members, but I was busy so I ignored the call. We were in the car on the way home at about 10:30 at night, when I remembered the call earlier, and decided to check my messages. The first voicemail was from my mom at about 2:30 in the afternoon, saying that Gramma had been admitted to the hospital for some heart flutterings. I started to get nervous. The second voicemail was from my father, and before his voice started speaking, I heard his breathing shuddering as if he were crying, and my heart almost stopped as I thought… “Gramma’s dead and I missed it… I never answered the call..” But then my dad started talking, saying “Sorry I’m out of breath, I’m walking really fast, in a hurry to get something from my car on the break during my choir rehearsal…” He went on to ask me something about church, totally unrelated to Gramma. That incident scared me though, and I determined to visit Gramma at the hospital the following evening.

On Wednesday night after dinner, I headed out to the hospital to visit Gramma. When I arrived, she was resting in the hospital bed with her eyes closed. When I sat down in the chair next to the bed, she opened her eyes and looked up at me… “Joy! Oh Joy, how nice! I’m so glad you came!” I’ll never forget how she was always so excited to see me, or anyone who came to visit her. She just loved to be with her friends and family, and her face would just completely light up when we would come spend time with her.

That night at the hospital, we spent time just laughing and talking together. I told her a funny story about my co-worker’s son getting into things…. I told her a funny story about Isabel standing wobbly, holding onto the window ledge and looking out the window…Adia came over to look out the window too, and Isabel put her little hand on Adia’s head and pushed her away from the window! She wanted the view all to herself…

I read Scripture outloud to her… Isaiah 53, she particularly enjoyed the section about being healed by Jesus’ stripes…the blind will see… Psalm 23, 24, 25 about praising the Lord for His goodness…

Before I left, we prayed together. I prayed for her that she would be peaceful during the evening, and unafraid, that healing would come to her body…and that the Lord knows her time on this earth, and He will guard and protect her for that time.

She then prayed for me… to grow closer to the Lord, thanking me for all the things I had done for her, and also praying about my marriage…she said “And Lord, you know I have a lot to say about marriage, but that will have to be at another time…” I had this momentary sick feeling like, “Why didn’t I ever ask her about this, what if there wasn’t to be another time?” I promised myself to talk to her about this soon after she got out of the hospital.

It was such a sweet three hours of laughter and prayer. I felt very close to Gramma. I guess I knew going to the hospital to visit her, that she was having heart trouble, so it was possible to lose her at anytime…her heart could just stop and they might not get to her fast enough. So I had a small sense of worry and also urgency to be with her that evening.

It was also odd because as I was leaving the house, I was very close to taking our video camera with me, just to set in the room and record us being together, to remember a special time together, maybe even have her say something on tape to the family, just in case her heart trouble got worse. But I didn’t take the camera with me, I think the main reason was that I didn’t to admit that something could happen to her, and we could lose her. Like taking the camera would be a sign that life is short… of course now I wish I had taken it, but there is no changing what happened.

While I was there, a nurse named Heather came, to be Gramma’s attendant during the night shift. Heather changed out the IV on Gramma’s arm, and put fresh paper tape, since the previous dressing was with plastic adhesive tape, which Gramma is allergic to. Gramma was just so grateful to have the fresh IV, it just felt so much better with the new tape.

It was cute because when Heather was putting in the new IV needle, Gramma said, “Well you might have a hard time, the last lady had a hard time, because my arms are just skin and bones.” Then Gramma laughed, “Now, if you put it in my stomach, well you’d have a lot of places to choose from!” The three of us laughed together, and Heather said, “Well I’m actually pretty good at the bony ones; it’s the goosh I have a hard time with!”

After the IV and some oral pills that Gramma usually takes, Heather had to give Gramma a blood thinner injection into her stomach, of all places! Gramma said that the medication burned her stomach, and she asked what it was. Heather told her the name of it, and said that Gramma would be taking it twice a day until her blood thinned sufficiently. Gramma said, “Oh. So are you trying to say I won’t be going home tomorrow? I thought I would be going home tomorrow.” Heather said that she wasn’t the doctor, but from what she’d seen, Gramma’s heart condition made her look like she would be in the hospital for a few more days. Gramma said, “So you think maybe Friday?” Heather said maybe.

Heather said, “Now, it looks like you had a sleeping pill last night, did you want one again tonight?” “Oh yes!” Gramma answered emphatically, “that was great, I didn’t get up all night, and usually I get up two or three times a night.” Heather said she would bring the pill a bit later.

The whole evening, Heather was so gentle with Gramma – she was as gentle as I would have been, and I was really surprised. I thanked her for being so gentle and caring, and she said, “Well, it’s important. I hope that when I’m her age, someone will do the same for me.”

That evening I spent with Gramma, I will cherish as our last special time together. I am so incredibly grateful for that time.

As I was leaving, Heather brought Gramma’s sleeping pill in. Gramma and I hugged and kissed, and said goodnight. Gramma also gave me a list of thing she wanted brough to the hospital the next morning – clean panties, depends, toothbrush and toothpaste, and candy!

It was about 6 am the next morning when I heard a knock on my bedroom door. It was my mom. She was crying, and she told me that Gramma was not doing well, and they thought she might not make it. Apparently, Gramma had fallen down in the hospital during the night, and hit her head, and she was bleeding inside her brain. She was unconscious, and my dad was with her.

Back at my house at 6 am, I sat with my mom, and cried with her and held her for a while. Mommy said, “I’m not ready to lose her…” Mommy said that Gramma was bleeding inside her brain. There was a surgery that they could do to try to go in and stop the bleeding, but Gramma was already in a coma, and the neurosurgeon said that even if they could stop the bleeding, it would only prolong Gramma’s life in a coma state. Because the state she was in was being caused by the pressure of the blood on the brain, and it had already caused extensive brain damage to bring Gramma to the coma state she was in now.

While I was with my mom, I called Donna and Kathy to tell them what had happened. We also woke up Benjamin, Priscilla, and Mercy, to tell them what was happening. Mommy asked me to go to the hospital to be with Daddy. So I gathered together the things that Gramma had asked for the night before, and some things that my dad wanted (mainly warm clothes), and headed to the hospital.

I was so distraught and distracted over what was happening that I ended up on the wrong side of town. I had been driving on “auto pilot” to a hospital where my dad had stayed when he was ill a couple years ago. When I realized my mistake, I was stuck in rush hour traffic, going back the way I came, and heading to the correct hospital, North Central Baptist Hospital. I picked up breakfast tacos for my dad from Las Palapas on the way, and told Benjamin he should try to get the day off work to be with the family.

I was crying off and on that whole morning, and really for the rest of the day. It would come in waves, as I would think about what was happening, and realize that I was probably losing my wonderful Gramma.

When I got to the hospital, Gramma’s bed had been moved to ICU. It was interesting that the whole time, they kept her in the same bed she had been in when I visited her the night before. They would just wheel the bed from room to room, for the CT scan, stitches, and everything, even over to ICU, where she was now. When I arrived, Gramma’s eyes were closed, her face was relaxed, her mouth hanging open slightly to the side as she breathed, and her head resting on her own feather pillow with the teal colored satin pillowcase Priscilla had made for her. She laid on her back, in the same pale green hospital gown she had worn the night before, a small stuffed black cat was cuddled in her arm, and a thin white blanket and sheet drawn up to her chest. She breathed deeply and sort of snored periodically, but mostly seemed to be resting peacefully. She had an oxygen tube in her nose, to make her breathing easier, and there were several drips going through her IV.

Daddy told me more details about what had transpired that morning. Apparently, the hospital had called my mom about 1:30 in the morning, to say that Gramma had fallen down. My mom called my dad, who was at church working on his sermon, and Daddy went to the hospital to be with Gramma. When got there, Gramma was coherent, but a bit dazed. She didn’t remember that she had been in the hospital for two days, or why she was there, but she said she did remember that she had visited with me the night before. Within thirty minutes, the hospital had given Gramma stiches on the back of her head where it was cut, and had sent her through a CT scan. The nurse, Brenda, who went into the room for the CT scan, told my dad that there was “something there.” She immediately got on the phone and said she wanted a neurosurgeon to come see Gramma “now.”

That didn’t happen, and my dad didn’t know that this was or could be, a serious thing. He went with Gramma as they wheeled her bed back to the room she came from. It was a double room, and there was another elderly woman sleeping in the bed next to Gramma’s. That woman’s daughter was there, because she had been spending the night with her mom. She told my dad that she had woken up during the night to the sounds of Gramma getting out of bed to go to the restroom. She dozed off again, and woke up to some noise, and the sight of Gramma falling through the curtain that divided the room. She said she jumped up to try to get over close enough to catch her, but Gramma fell, hitting her head on the side of the other woman’s bed. The lady immediately went to go find a nurse to tell them what had happened. The lady was crying when she saw Daddy, and said she felt awful because she had tried to get close enough to her to break her fall, but she was too far away. My dad said that her told her it was okay, not to feel bad, it was not her fault.

The odd thing about it, is that Gramma must have been very disoriented. Because the side of the bed that Gramma was supposed to get in and out of was only about 4 feet from the bathroom door. The bed rail was down, to allow Gramma to get out of the bed to go to the bathroom (even though the nurse, Heather, had told Gramma to call her when she needed to get up to use the restroom, and not to go by herself). However, the side of the bed where Gramma fell was the opposite side of the bed, near the dresser and the chair I had sat on during the evening, so Gramma should never have been over on that far side of the bed. The sleeping pill she had wanted had probably made her not be alert enough to know where she was.

Daddy said that the first CT scan was shortly after 2:00 am, immediately after the stitches, and that was where the nurse thought there was “something there” and tried to get a neurosurgeon. The second CT scan had been at 4:30 am, and by then, Gramma was hardly responding, even to being pinched. They said that it was clear that her brain had continued to bleed, very fast, even though they had given her blood thickeners to try to counteract all the blood thinners she had been on for her heart. By 6:00 am, when Daddy called my mom, and my mom woke me up, Gramma was in a complete coma. Daddy said that in retrospect, he knows that he watched her go, he watched her pass from conscious and talking with him, to gradual unresponsiveness, into a coma. At the time, he didn’t realize what he was seeing, and the nurses even said that some of the typical symptoms of that process weren’t present (such as the eyes being dialated to different sizes).

At about 8:00 am, a few minutes after I arrived, the nurse, Vincent, came in and asked Daddy if he wanted to do a third CT scan. The nurse didn’t seem to think it was necessary, since the second scan had already shown what was happening, and Gramma’s condition had continued to show symptoms on the outside of what was happening on the inside. Daddy wanted to do the scan, and he asked me to go with them.

I followed them as they wheeled Gramma’s bed to a different floor, and into a radiation room. I waited outside the room, and cried. A police officer walked by and said good morning. Another female nurse walked by and just said “morning”. I wondered if she had learned that “good” is not always the most appropriate adjective to use in a hospital when describing the morning.

In a few minutes, they brought Gramma out, said they would have the results in about twenty minutes, and I followed them and Gramma’s bed back to ICU. Vincent came back in a while, and said that from what he could see on the scan, the bleeding had continued pretty strongly. At this point, Gramma’s brain was being pressed down towards the base of her skull, which would cause very serious damage. He didn’t really say it, but he seemed to suggest that she would pass away within the next 24 hours.

We began calling family members again to update them.

Esther arrived at the hospital in a few minutes, then Benjamin arrived. And after a while, Priscilla and Mercy arrived too, brought over by our next door neighbor Richard. We all took turns crying and comforting each other, and crying some more. Periodically, one of us would talk to Gramma, or read Scripture to her. She continued to rest peacefully, though her breathing was audible.

About 11:30 am, I suggested that we sing together for Gramma. First, we had to turn off the cassette player of Grandpa Homer singing, which had been playing near Gramma’s head, resting gently on her satin pillow.

Daddy, Esther, Priscilla, Mercy, Benjamin, Richard, and I all sang around her bed… Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, In the Arms of My Father… it was beautiful all in harmony, and we hoped somehow Gramma could hear us. Then we prayed together, that the Lord would bring peace to Gramma.

Several of us went home then, to rest. Richard went home, Mercy and I drove home together, and Daddy drove home. Benjamin, Priscilla, and Mercy stayed at the hospital together. This entire time, Mommy had been at home with Isabel. Mommy really did not want to come to the hospital, she really didn’t want to see Gramma sick and dying – she wanted only to be able to remember her alive. So Isabel and Mommy played together, so that Esther could be at the hospital. When I had come to visit Gramma the night before, I had invited Esther to come with me, but she was tired and stayed home. She had told me that she had felt she really should come, but she didn’t. So I think she was upset with herself, and wanted to be at the hospital as much as she could, as long as Isabel was doing okay without her.

On his way out, Richard said that he had some extra batteries at home that he would give us, for “Homer” (the cassette player), because we didn’t want “Homer” to run out J. I’m pretty sure Richard actually went out and bought batteries, because he told me to give him 15 or 20 minutes to “find them” at his house, but when he came over, it was a brand new sealed package from HEB.

At the house, I spent a little time talking with Mommy, and filling her in on as many details as I could think of . Then I spent some time looking for Pam, Daddy’s sister. We knew from her roommate that she had gone camping, but the roommate didn’t know where or how long she would be gone. My mom had already tried calling Pam on Tuesday when Gramma first went into the hospital, so that’s when she found out that Pam was camping. My mom called Greg, Pam’s ex-husband, he is a police officer. She got ahold of the station where he works, and they were able to track him down, and have him call our house. But he didn’t know where Pam had gone. My dad had several ideas as to what campgrounds Pam might be at, that had been family favorites.

I called Refugio State Park, El Capitan State Park, and Goleta State Park and asked if they had a Pam McHenry there. No one did. Then Mommy called Pam’s roommate again, and the roommate said she thought Pam had said something about “Solvang,” and that she might be traveling with a friend named Ann. My mom thought this would be Ann Farson, and old friend of the family, so she looked in Gramma’s address book and found Ann Farson’s parents phone number. Her parents didn’t know where they had gone, but they did tell us that Ann’s married name was Hazel. So I called all those parks again, looking for Ann Hazel, but again, no luck. Then I searched the internet for Solvang Camping – and called three places that came up from that search, but none of them had an Ann Hazel or a Pam McHenry. Then Pam’s roommate called us back, and said that she had found a note from Pam saying where she had gone! It was LL LL Park, so I googled that name and called them. The girl took my name and phone numbe and said she would call back. She called back in a few minutes, saying that she had located the park ranger, and the ranger confirmed they were staying there, and he would find them and tell them to call me.

When Pam called me a bit later, she was frazzled because the gal she was camping with had left the campsite to drive back to Los Angeles to pick up Haley, to bring Haley back to the campground for the remainder of their trip. The park ranger found someone he knew who was willing to drive Pam and Kelsey into town to the airport for $100. Pam and Kelsey flew from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, where they met Haley, and all three of them got on a plane to San Antonio, but they werent’ going to arrive until 8pm or so.

By this time, we had contacted all of Gramma’s kids, and the rest of them were trying to get flights here as well, so we were just praying that Gramma would hold on long enough to see some of them. We kept telling Gramma that her kids were coming, and some of her grandkids too.

About 1:00 pm, Benjamin and Priscilla got to the house, and were resting. Esther called and wanted to come home too, so Benjamin and I gathered our things together to head to the hospital to relieve her. We arrived at the hospital about 2:00 pm. When we got there, Gramma was breathing much harder, and her heart rate was jumping all around. Esther said that the nurse had just put her on an IV drip to slow down her heart rate, because it was bouncing between 120 and 170. The nurse figured that Gramma’s heart medicine that she usually takes orally, and had taken the night before, had all worn off, and this was the result. Esther kissed Gramma, and went home to pick up Isabel.

About thirty minutes later, the cassette player of Grandpa Homer was dead, and we had forgotten to bring the batteries that Richard had so graciously purchased for us, so I sent Benjamin to go purchase batteries.

Benjamin ended up trying to get cash, and searching for several places in the area that might sell batteries, then he got stuck in traffic, so he did not return until after 5:00 pm…but before then….

While Benjamin was gone, Gramma’s breathing was getting much harder. She seemed to be struggling to get enough air, so I got the nurse, Victor, and he put an oxygen mask on her instead of the nose tube. Before he did, I put chapstick on Gramma’s lips, because they were dry and shrunken from her labored breathing through her wide open mouth. I also repositioned her head, because it had slid to the side of the satin pillow, and I could see blood stains underneath where her head had laid, and blood had leaked through the wound on the back left side of her head. I pulled the pillow under her head again, so that the stains would be hidden, and I fluffed up her hair, so that the curly parts would come over her forehead again, and look like the Gramma I know. I also got my toenail clippers from my purse, and trimmed two long white hairs that had grown from her chin. I had noticed them days earlier, but didn’t have the heart to tell her. Now I wanted them to be cleaned up for when her family arrived. Then I read some more from the Psalms, until I was too choked up to read any more.

It was about this time, that I saw that Gramma’s body temperature was rising. The catheter led to a container to hold the liquid, which sat inside another device which had several digital readings on it, one of which being the body temperature. When I looked down at about this time (maybe 3:00 or so), her temperature was over 100 degrees. I asked Victor about this, and he gently informed that this was an expected symptom of the pressure of the blood on her brain, and a sign that her condition was worsening. Within about 30 minutes, I asked Victor if he had any more oxygen for Gramma, and he put a full ventilator mask on her, which gave her 100% oxygen, the maximum amount they could give her. At that point, her temperature had continued to rise to above 102 degrees, and Victor said that I should call my father to come.

When I had arrived, her breathing had been labored, as if she were jogging. But it had gradually increased to where she was gasping as deep and hard as I could imagine someone gasping for air. Her heart rate continued to bounce between 140 and 170, her desperate breathing was awful to watch, and her temperature continued to rise. The machines were beeping constantly, because of her high heart rate. Once she stopped breathing for a moment, and then coughed up a mouthful of foam that had accumulated in her throat from her labored breathing.

By the time Daddy arrived, along with Juan Campos, a nurse had removed the temperature box for another patient, and the last reading I saw was over 106 degrees. Gramma continued to struggle for air, which became increasingly more painful to watch. The nurse said that she was not in any pain, other than not being able to breathe, and that there was nothing more they could do for her. This went on for another hour or so, and we got Grandpa Homer working again with Richard’s batteries that Daddy has brought. We talked to Gramma periodically, telling her to hold on, because her kids were coming to see her. We cried a lot too. Her face was flushed and her cheeks pink from the high body temperature, and her body shuddered with each long grating breath. I had to keep re-positioning the stuffed black Inky cat, because he would slide down from his perch as her body would shudder.

Daddy stood by the bed, right near Gramma’s head, and kept his hand on her forehead and hair, gently smoothing her hair and stroking her forehead. He talked soothingly to her, and held me in his other arm, and we cried together.

About 4:45 pm, we finally noticed a difference in her breathing and heart rate, as they both began to slow. But as it turned out, she wasn’t recovering, her body was just slowly quitting. Since it had been three hours of increasing high temperature and insufficient oxygen flow, she had struggled long enough. Shortly after 5:00 pm, her breathing slowed so much that there were gaps between breaths, the machines said “apnea”, and we weren’t sure if she had passed away or not. But then suddenly, she would take one deep gasp in and breathe again. Grandpa Homer’s tape started stuttering, and I desperately fussed with it, trying to get it work for Gramma’s last moments on earth. It started working again, and began playing the song “When Jesus Passed By.” A few minutes later, I looked down, and her eyes were cracked open. I asked Daddy if the pressure of his hand on her forehead had pulled her eyes open, and he said he didn’t have any weight on her. Juan stood up to look at her, and she breathed again, her heart rate having slowed to around 60. Benjamin came in, new batteries in hand, and saw us all looking at Gramma. Juan said he thought she was gone, and I went to get a nurse. A nurse came, and felt Gramma’s pulse at her wrist and throat, and said “It’s her time….” By 5:12 pm (Juan paid attention to the time, and the rest of us were not), there was no more breathing or pulse. Daddy gently closed Gramma’s eyelids, which were barely open, and we all stood together and cried. Daddy kept his hand on Gramma’s forehead, and he put his face to hers and kissed her cheek gently.

It seemed unreal to me that I had watched someone die. Benjamin said, “She doesn’t look real anymore…it just looks like a shell…I can see the difference….she’s in heaven now.”

We laughed and cried at the same time about all the people Gramma was saying hello to, and how she had all her vision back, just as she had prayed for, and all her health back for every ache and pain.

One of our friends told me the next day that he had been thinking about how sometimes our spirit knows something that our body doesn’t know. The Thursday before Gramma went to the hospital, we had a community group training session with almost 30 people present, to train about prayer for people for healing. During the meeting, Gramma had broken down and asked about why God wouldn’t heal people, even when they have prayed for a long time. She said that she had been praying for 15 years for healing for her eyesight, but it had only gotten worse. She asked if she was doing something wrong, or if she didn’t have enough faith, or if there was sin in her life, and that’s why she wasn’t healed. The person leading the meeting was so gently with her, and just said that sometimes God just doesn’t answer the way we would like Him to, and sometimes we just won’t understand, and that is a lesson in trusting Him. It was just unusual for me to see Gramma so broken down and crying and distraut. She doesn’t usually get like that, even when she’s talking about her vision, or other things that make her sad. Our friend that was talking to me about it was saying that it seemed to him, in retrospect, that somehow her spirit knew that her healing was coming, so she was longing for it even deeper and greater than she normally does. She had been getting lonelier too, for Grandpa, and for her sister who passed away earlier this year. She said she felt like she missed them now even more than she ever had before.

Mercy cried at and cried at 6 am when we found out what had happened. She said, “I always told Gramma that she had to stay around to see me get married, and at least have a couple kids!” She could barely choke out the words.

Esther said that she remembered driving by our house on Monday, and thinking that she should stop in to see Gramma. She took Isabel inside, and spent about 10 minutes together the three of them. Isabel wanted to try to walk around, so she grabbed Gramma’s finger. But Gramma wasn’t balanced well enough anymore to hold herself up, let alone an unsturdy baby! So Gramma held Isabel’s hand, and Esther held Gramma’s other hand, to hold Gramma up so she could hold up the baby. This is Esther’s cherished last memory together with Gramma.

We were also talking about how Gramma has just been on the greeter team at church the last two weeks. She had finally found a place in the church where she could serve, where she could fit, and she was SOOO excited. She kept telling everyone how excited she was that she had a job, and she could be useful. She would sit on a tall stool by the front door, and pass out programs, and say hello to people. She didn’t like that she could never remember anyone’s name, but she loved being able to serve.

……

5.26.09 Follow Up

As heartbreaking as it is to lose someone you love, the family had a general feeling of peace that it was “her time” to go. We were grateful that she hadn’t fallen and been injured this way in our home, because the torment and guilt of that may have haunted us. In addition, who knows how my dad’s family may have responded, because they did end up suing the hospital where Gramma fell and died. Also, the most recent “signs” such as her distress about her healing, her frustrations over the deterioration of her physical body, her sister (her last living immediate family member) dying earlier in the year, her ongoing comments that she was ready to go, and her insistence that she wanted to go easily and quickly rather than slowly and painfully (as she had watched her husband, Grandpa Homer, die of cancer)…..all of these things gave us comfort that her spirit was ready to depart this earth and meet her Creator.

| Filed under death, stories of my life