The past week has left me weary with the sort of fatigue that even a good night’s sleep fails to solve. We drove up last weekend to spend time with some friends from college, but my husband had to drive back through notorious Seattle traffic that night because he had a funeral to do the next morning. After the funeral, he again navigated the Seattle traffic and arrived in Bellingham at about dinner-time. All told, he spent about fifteen hours driving back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
When we returned home the next afternoon, the red light was blinking on our answering machine. A friend from our church was in critical condition at the hospital. My worn-out husband responded with, “I have to sleep for an hour,” and did so. Before his nap was over, another phone call came, reiterating the message about our friend in the hospital. And so, with meetings and church business sandwiched in between, my husband began sitting vigil at the church with the man’s family.
Here’s the story as I know it. I think the details are accurate.
Our friend, Jeff, went outside last Saturday to do yard work. He came in after fifteen minutes, complaining of exhaustion. He’d suffered from shortness of breath all week. His wife took him to the doctor because something just seemed off. The doctor x-rayed his chest and said, “Friend, you have pneumonia. You’ll have to stay in the hospital a few days until you feel better.”
The night, his wife kissed him good-bye and said she’d be back after church Sunday. But Sunday morning she called the church music director and told him that she couldn’t sing the solo as scheduled. “I feel like I need to go back to the hospital,” she said.
When she arrived, a nurse blocked her way from Jeff’s room. And then the nightmare began. Sometime between her departure from the hospital and her arrival that morning, Jeff’s body crashed. The medical team revived him, but his heart was beating dimly. He’d been intubated. He was no longer conscious.
And so Jeff lingered between life and death for four more nights and three days. My husband spent every available minute the hospital, buying food and offering comfort, until Jeff’s kidneys shut down and his heart beat its last beat. He was 62, I think.
He left a wife, grown children, some grandchildren and a giant circle of friends and acquaintances.
Last Saturday, he went out to do some yard work. Today, I believe he’s running in heavenly fields, basking in eternal daylight. I will never cease to be shocked by the sudden ending of life. At least with birth, you get months to get used to the idea of someone new. Even with some warning, I never get used to the finality of death and the loss of someone dear. We spend most of the days of our lives living as if we have an infinite number of days to frolic and work and squander time. And then the days run out for someone–what? so soon?–and we stop for a moment, until we forget again that our days are limited. Each time someone dies, it’s a stunning shock all over again that life on earth is limited.
On Sunday mornings, I hurry into church without my lipstick on, cringing as I’ve just noticed that my children have chosen pants too short, shirts too shabby and shoes that don’t match anything. Always, as I pull open the heavy wooden doors with stained windows and rush inside a minute or two behind schedule to teach my Sunday School class, Jeff scans me and my unkempt kids and even though I try to be invisible most Sunday mornings, he says from his seat in the entry-way, “Good morning, Mother,” in a voice brimming with wry amusement. He never let me slip past without this greeting.
But now he’ll never say it again and I can’t tell you just how much I’m going to miss him.