I don't know why this post struck me but it did. Some of the personal blogs just talking about people and bloggers don't generally effect me but I felt an inner urging, a drawing towards this blog and almost instantly scrolled through the posts until I found this one as though a magnet were drawing me. I felt stirred from the moment I saw this post and read "Dear Friends". I don't know why it moved me, but it did. Maybe it will stir something in you as well.
The post was rather long and so I'm putting the first several paragraphs, if you'd like to read the rest of the post click here.
What a week it has been. A week ago we were watching the sun come up after a sleepless night, surprised that Al was still with us, although he had slipped into unresponsiveness, and wondering how much longer he would have to wait to go home.
It was hard to see him suffer. In some ways it was merciful that he was no longer conscious. The previous day he had been so thirsty, and we had only been partially able to quench his thirst, because it was hard for him to swallow, and more than a drop or two of water at a time tended to make him choke. For me, that was one of the hardest things in the whole process. So I think we were relieved that around 2 a.m. on Monday he passed beyond consciously feeling that thirst.
At about 10:00 Monday morning Al began to struggle to breathe. I had the impression from books or movies that when that characteristic breathing (what used to be called the “death rattle”) began, it was a matter of just a handful of minutes before the person passed away. But for Al it went on for ten and a half hours. We kept praying that the Lord would take Al home and end his suffering right away. And we kept waiting. We sang, we prayed, we talked, sometimes we laughed, and we waited. The hours rolled by, the nurse and others came and went, and still we waited.
At the time we wondered why the Lord waited so long to take Al. I don’t mean that we were railing against his judgment, or questioning that his wisdom was best; I think the Lord granted us all peace and trust that he knew what he was doing, and that he was doing it out of love. But we were curious what purpose was being served by making Al wait so long.
The first answer to that question came when our friend Mike, the oncology nurse, came over after he got home from work. He explained that Al was a young man, and underneath the cancer, and even the fibromyalgia, he was a strong man with a strong heart, and it takes a long time for a strong heart to wear down and stop. If Al had been 99 and frail, he would not have had to linger all day. That was helpful information.
So, we waited. We took shifts so that we could eat and take care of other details, but at least two people were with Al all the time, stroking his head, his hands, his feet, moistening his dry lips, talking to him, playing or singing music.
The nurse had told us that it is common for someone to have long pauses between breaths, even pausing for up to 30 or 60 seconds and then resuming breathing again. We had seen that many times on Sunday, although never a pause longer than 7 seconds and not at all on Monday. She had also explained that sometimes the final breath happens but the heart keeps beating for while, and she described how to check for moisture on a hand mirror held near the mouth to tell when the heart has stopped as well.
Al’s breathing had been regular, though labored, all day, without any pauses between breaths. But around 8:30 p.m. the people who happened to be with Al at that time noticed that there was a long pause after a breath. After a number of seconds they called downstairs and we all bounded upstairs to Al’s bedside. Still no new breath. Alasdair had his hands on Al and could feel his heart still beating. Then it seemed to stop, although we couldn’t be sure. I was fumbling hurriedly and clumsily with a hand mirror trying to figure out how to hold it right. But by God’s providence, our friend Mike was there and was able to step to the side of the bed, ascertain with competence and quiet expertise that Al’s heart had indeed stopped, and assure us that he was gone.
Then we all broke out into tears, and smiles, and hugs, and crying, cheering Al on, shouting, “You’re home!” “Run to Jesus!” “You’re free!” “You made it!” “Go get him, Dad!” “Run!” We held each other, and sobbed through our smiles, and just let the sweet knowledge sink in that Al was set free and was seeing Jesus face to face, wrapped in the warm embrace of his savior. Then we simply had to sing something. Nothing short of a song would do to express the relief, and joy, and overwhelming turbulence of emotions swelling up out of our hearts.
So we sang, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”. We had sung that same song earlier in the day through tears of sadness and yearning, aching for Al who was still waiting patiently but eagerly on this side of the “Jordan” to cross over into the promised land. This time the emotion was entirely different. We still sang with flowing tears, but they were tears of joy and relief that Al had crossed over and safely arrived in that eternal day, where the poisonous breath he had struggled with was banished, where sickness, sorrow, pain and death were obliterated and where he was seeing his Father’s face.