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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When the struggle ends

I received a call and voice mail from my Aunt Jilla while in church this past Sunday.  I reviewed the voice mail immediately upon returning home.  My grandmother was in ICU...again.  Since August of last year, she has suffered pneumonia and chronic pulmonary issues ever since.  At 87 years of age, it was a tough battle.

When I arrived at the ICU, I decided to wait outside my grandmother's room and wait for Jilla to arrive.  In my grandmother's mental state, I wasn't sure she would recognize me and I didn't want to startle her.  I watched Grandma from outside the room.  Her breathing was very labored and I could tell she was struggling. Once Jilla arrived, we went in and greeted Grandma.  She recognized me and we embraced.  Diminished lung capacity, sheer exhaustion, and the CPAP mask she was wearing made it very difficult for her to speak, but we managed a few sentences here and there, in her brief moments of consciousness.

Grandma had a few visitors throughout the afternoon, including some of her other grandchildren, her Sunday School teacher, and her pastor.  She had brief moments of semi-clarity and exchanges with them, then she would be out again.

While some of these moments were tender, most of the time in between was filled with real struggle.  The doctors were not confused; This situation would not improve.  Her lungs simply could not exhaust the CO2 from her blood on their own and only the CPAP machine and an IV medication to artificially elevate her blood pressure were keeping her alive.

Thankfully, we were not confused either.  Grandma made it clear years ago that she was to be considered a DNR patient (Do Not Resuscitate) and did not want extraordinary life-preserving measures to be performed.  Although we call it a tough decision, given the circumstances, the decision was clear; it was just a matter of when.  How long would we let her go on this way?

As I recall the events of two days ago, the most striking thing to me is the nature of the few thoughts she was able to communicate, not just to me, but to all who came to visit.  I'll spare you the family history and attendant drama, but suffice it to say that not all family relationships have been harmonious all of the time.  However, it became clear that these past events no longer mattered to Grandma.  In spite of her struggle for every breath, it was paramount to her that everyone knew that she loved them, including those who were not there with us.  She struggled mightily to communicate this notion and she did so with all of the assertiveness and force she could muster.

Isn't it interesting that in spite of pain, suffering, and dealing with one's own mortality, only one thing mattered?  Love.  All of the nonsense and baggage melted away.  Only love remained.

As the afternoon turned to evening, so did Grandma's condition.  The decision was made, the time had come.  With Jilla and I each holding a hand, the mask and the IV were removed by the medical team and we were left alone with her.  Grandma's sleep deepened, her grip loosened, her breathing slowed.  In about fifteen minutes, she was gone and the struggle was over.

I'll communicate Grandma's last thoughts to some of those who could not be present on Sunday.  What they do with her words are for them to decide.  As for me, there is a lesson in forgiveness here.  No matter what separates us, life is too short to hold grudges and miss the blessings to be had between the cradle and the grave.  We need to forgive, more for our own benefit than that of our perceived adversary.  No matter what blessings are awaiting us in eternity, there are many here to be had if we'll just accept the gifts of our presence in each others lives.  That being said, Zig Ziglar asserts: "Life is too short to spend your precious time trying to convince a person who wants to live in gloom & doom otherwise."  All we can do is forgive on our end regardless of the decision of the other party.

While my relationship with Grandma was never strained, I do regret not been present in her life for many years.  What if I had spent a day here and there, just sitting with her, watching a Texas Rangers game (her favorite team)?  I'll try not to dwell further on regrets, but I pray I don't miss the opportunities with those in my life who remain.

Blessings my friends,


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