By Lindsey Eggleston
Today I woke up knowing that I was going to have to say a final goodbye.
The physical response to this grief was immediate. My eyes filled with tears, my heart felt constricted, and my stomach was weighed down as if full of lead. Sadly this is not an unfamiliar feeling but that doesn’t mean I’ve become numb to it. It’s the same feeling I’ve been carrying since four days ago when I got the phone call saying my husband’s grandmother, and the woman who raised him, had collapsed and been rushed to the ER.
Nan is one of the kindest and most wonderful people I have ever met. She married her high school sweetheart at the age of 15 during a school lunch break and are still together 57 years later. She had 3 kids before she was 21 years old and raising them was her full time job. Once they were grown, she legally adopted two of her grandkids in a time of need and agreed to raise kids all over again. My husband is one of those lucky two. Only six months into our marriage I had knee surgery and Nan was there when I woke up. She took me to her home, made every meal for me, and made sure my husband was making me do my physical therapy. She is a non-stop caretaker.
While she has been so strong for so many, she has also battled health problems for a while. She has been diagnosed with two different kinds of cancer in her lifetime. In the last year her blood pressure has been dropping without warning, causing her to be unstable when walking. For two years in a row our family has celebrated Christmas in a hospital waiting area.
I remember when we first started dating, my husband told me that he knew he would face parental health struggles much sooner than his friends and peers. He has always been ready to face the challenge of helping to care for his grandparents because they did such a fantastic job of caring for him. Being in hospitals has become a routine in our world and a weekly prayer request in our small group.
However, no matter how bad it seemed, Nan has always gotten better. She has made more miraculous recoveries than science would say is possible. Perhaps it was naive of me but I really didn’t think this time, and this phone call, would be any different.
I knew I was wrong from the moment I stepped into the ER.
Doctors couldn’t tell us what happened to cause the collapse, only that her brain was severely damaged from lack of oxygen. Over the course of a couple of days we were told she would never be able to move on her own again or live very long without the machines that surrounded her. Multiple doctors asked us the same questions. Has your family discussed her wishes if a situation like this were to happen? Do you think she would want to live in this state long term? How long do you want to continue care for? Of course these are routine questions in every day medical practice, but our physicians were skilled at asking them with sincere apologies.
It still hurts like a knife in the gut each time they ask.
I used to think it would be such an easy decision to take someone off of life support. Naturally, no one wants someone they love to be in a vegetative state or to be in pain for a extended time. However, being forced into this position, and knowing I am about to have the final goodbye with someone I love so much, made me understand why some families choose to keep their loved ones sustained on life support. I believe she can still hear my voice (even if it is from a different place outside of her body). I believe she sees us playing her favorite Elvis and Conway Twitty songs while singing by her hospital bed. She knows we’re telling funny stories about her and laughing at old memories.
This all leads me to feel as though I am split in two pieces. One half of me genuinely wants nothing more than to see her finally be at rest but the other half feels that the grief of losing her may crush me.
That constant grief threatens to overwhelm me and so, in an attempt to fight the thick clouds of despair, I try to keep busy. I tell myself to think about how to be helpful. I think about what productive steps can be taken next. Does someone need food? Can I bring anyone a drink? I am continuously telling myself to not think about how I won’t get to eat her homemade food again. To not think about how I won’t hear her listen to the police scanner while crocheting in her chair by the window. To not think about how she will never again text me at 1 a.m. asking for an extra life to play candy crush. And most of all, to not think about how much I will miss her hugs and kisses on the cheek.
I have been doing my best to seek out God through all of this mess. I can’t help but remember the hymn asking death where is its sting. I certainly feel the sting. I feel it in every part of my being. Many emotions have come and gone in the past four days but the physical effects have been the same. Constantly tired with itchy red eyes, not tasting food, feeling myself moving without purpose, and always the knotted stomach and tight chest. It hurts so deeply, so where is the relief from this sting?
Through prayer and the word of God I know where there is light in this darkness. My hope is in knowing that this is a temporary pain. Because God willingly sacrificed his own son to a most gruesome and terrible death, the pains of death would be erased for all those who accept his grace. We aren’t promised that the sting will be erased in this lifetime. We will hurt and ache from the loss of our loved ones until the day we die.
But, praise God, we know that there is a truer life awaiting once we pass from this one. We rejoice that our God suffered the same grief we feel now so that we could experience forever with him. This life is temporary. This pain is temporary. Our next life will be our forever and I am incredibly grateful to know that today Nan will be with Jesus. She will have no wants or needs and will get to enjoy feeling whole forever after spending a lifetime taking care of others. So, equipped with that knowledge, I can say the final goodbye because I know that it won’t be final after all.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”