This is one of the stories I rarely tell.
I have changed or left out the identifying markers of place, time and gender.
I was called in to consult about an old woman who was dying in a care facility.
Her child made the call.
I had never met the mother.
The care facility was run by a religious organization. It was a place I would have allowed my mother to stay. Praying people all around. A full time chaplain. A very nice and peaceful place.
But this mother was having a terrible time. She was deep into dementia and had not been verbal with family or staff in weeks. Had not recognized anyone in months. She was extremely frail, not eating and only rarely taking sips of water. No one knew what was holding her to this life. Her living relations had visited and blessed her journey. No one knew of any “unfinished business.”
But she was not passing, and she was having intermittent bouts of terror. Screaming terrors. Trying to crawl through the wall terrors. All meds had been tried, none had worked. The child asked me to come and see if I had any ideas. The child asked me to come and pray. They wanted someone cross-trained in mental health/spirituality. I was not at all confident that I could do anything that was not been done, but I knew I could come pray with the child so I went.
I witnessed one bout of the screaming. Way beyond "sun-downers" and at the wrong time of day. Eyes wide open looking into space. God-awful screams. The nerves of the child and the nursing staff were on edge. They had given her all the morphine that anyone’s conscience would allow.
I talked with the child and then sat by the mother. I held her hand - papery and cold in the hot room. We settled into prayer and then I prayed vocally for her. And then she turned her head and spoke to me.
Who are you?
I don’t know you, what are you doing here?
You are right you don’t know me. Your child called me. I am a counselor and a pastor. You seem to be having a lot of trouble.
I’m in between - and I am stuck. Have you ever been to in between?
No, I don’t think so. Tell me about in between.
Oh, you'd know. It’s awful. I can’t some back and I am scared to death of going over.
What are you scared of?
He’s there. He’s telling me to come to him.
Who is he?
(Now, I knew about the husband. A lifetime abuser of women and children. A first degree controller. An actual living nightmare when on earth - now several years gone. I never met him either, but was glad of it)
Is there anyone else there? I asked.
Yes, my parents, but they are farther away and quiet. But I can see them.
(I turn to the child - grandparents, ok? - yes, kind people, dead many long years, child hardly knew them, but loved them.)
Go to your parents. I said.
I’m scared. I scared of stepping across. I don’t think I can change my mind once I choose. My husband says that I have to listen to him, that I need to obey him.
Don’t, ok. Tell him to go away. I’m pretty sure it is safe to cross. Call out for your mother and stretch out your hands and walk to her.
It’s going to be ok.
You come with me!
I’m pretty sure that I am not allowed to do that.
See, you’re scared too!
I’ll hold your hand, and your child will hold your other hand. OK?
And we did
And she took a deep breath and shut her eyes, and never spoke again in this world. She didn’t die for another 48 hours, but she didn’t scream either. She rested peacefully and slipped away quietly.
To her parents, I presume.
Because the cord of Love is strong even when it is thin.
My Favorite Cyborg
I am pro-science and pro-technology. I have a pretty good reason. Her name is Alivia and along with my flesh and blood, she is my favorite person on the planet.
Of course, she is also a cyborg.
By natural order, and some people's definition of God's will, she shouldn't be alive. She was sent into this world by God with that heart defect that drops healthy young athletes dead on the basketball court. She remembers being faint and occasionally passing out during her active youth sports career. No one noticed much - a few minutes on the bench. She also has a immune disease that often kills young and kills badly. Fortunately God also sent onto the planet teams of scientists, doctors and engineers determined to do their best to keep her alive.
They have used lots of fancy tools and lots of toxic chemicals on her. Sometimes they used them before they really knew what they were doing. Several times before I met her they tried to save her with that technique where they use toxic chemicals to poison you right up to death's door hoping the momentum will send the disease through without you. It worked. Probably. Some of the chemicals have long term effects, one of them in particular, as it turns out, raises by a lot the chance that you will get cancer. But long-term effects presume long term life, and she is here to face the risk.
After the poisons, the heart thing finally got noticed. When her heart kept trying to stop. So they implanted her with an on-board computer that sits just above her heart with wires that go into her heart. It counts and thinks about her every heartbeat. If need be, it keeps time for her. If she dies it will try and shock her back into life.
And she takes more chemicals. Her pill box looks like Willy Wonka's storeroom.
And without all this messing with nature, this human experimentation with the certainty of unforeseen consequences, I would have never known her. Never loved her. Never been made better by her.
I have seen her tell her fancy pants cardiologist that she has no intention of ceasing to ride her motorcycle. I have seen her tell him that there are lots of things worse than death. I was there when she made him promise that he would turn the computer off if she asked him to. I have seen her tell him that she has too much to live for to be worried about it.
This morning he told her that her cyborg bits have been put on a recall list. Inconvenient that. Seems that maybe they didn't have all the bugs worked out. They lost her on table for a few minutes putting the thing in. Nobody really wants to mess with it, so she decided to wait till it is due to have it's battery changed in a couple years and mess with the bad bits then. Her consulting scientist is ok with her courage. He was a little stunned that she wasn't scared or angry.
I had to take a couple of deep breaths. Then she told me that she had decided not to be angry, and had decided not to worry, because both of those things waste time, and she has more important things to do.
Photo by Heather Espana McGeehon
Happy Birthday Hero of the Faith
Happy Birthday BOB!!!
We are still singing