On the night he almost died, eternity brushed my cheek. Ephemeral, yet solid. I knew on that night, more than ever before, that forever is.
He knew it, too. He would later talk about that passage when a massive stroke shook him like a rag doll in the mouth of a vicious dog. He would trail off wistfully, saying how ready he had been.
He emerged, but broken. A vibrantly healthy 54 year-old man who previously walked 8 miles a day, he painstakingly re-trained his legs to shuffle. A beloved manager who fought for his people, once so eloquent, now confined to simple sentences and forced into early retirement. The kind of grandpa who would have coached my children’s baseball teams, he cheered wildly from the sidelines with his one good arm. He was somehow different – more anxious, fewer filters for obsessive thoughts.
Yet unlike many so terribly afflicted who vent their frustrations on the ones they love most, he remained tender, encouraging, and so very kind.
Little by little, though, we had to let him go. Here and there I received calls from my mom. He was in the ER again. He tripped over recalcitrant feet, struck his head on cement, and suffered a nasty concussion. Another time – bleeding on the brain, outcome of a lost deuce with blood-thinners. I would race to the hospital, and we would jokingly lament that we should meet one another somewhere else next time, a bit of Irish mischief twinkling in his eyes.
Another call, ten years after his stroke. A brother this time – Dad collapsed and was struggling to breathe, an ambulance racing him to the hospital with mom in the cab. I called her; but, there was no answer. Somehow I knew.
The day before, he drove himself to my house for lunch. We laughed in easy camaraderie like always and there was no visible hint of what was to come, but he shared deeper searching. A lostness. His brain slowly stripped of rationale even as his body failed, he struggled for meaning. He was weary. I was afraid for him, for the abyss he seemed to be stumbling beside. I can still picture him standing there in my living room as I grabbed my keys to pick up a child from school. The stroke stripped his intuition for non-verbal cues; and once obsessively early, time seemed irrelevant in his new state of mind. I was afraid of being late, but he was in no hurry to get to the door. “Always know that I’ll always love you,” he never failed to say when we bid each other good-bye; and those are the last words I remember him saying.
Somehow I knew this was God’s tender call for him to come home, to finally surrender the battle and win the war. David usually stayed with our kids in an emergency, but I begged him to come. I knew I needed him for this one. We wove through dark streets to the hospital, with another brother and his family trailing close behind. My brother called again, the ambulance re-routed to a closer hospital. Mounting panic, and yet a profound settling peace. We ran through security and to his room. I pulled back the curtain. Doctors glanced up, bent over his body, frantically administering CPR. The fabric slipped from my fingers in shock. Even with that fleeting glimpse, I knew my mother wasn’t in the room. I shakily asked at the desk where she was, and with quiet respect they led us to the waiting room where she and other family members wept, eyes dark with questions, with pleading. Later a doctor stepped into our crowded little room. He said they lost his vital signs in the ambulance, but continued to administer CPR. A nurse told us quietly that they would not discontinue CPR until we told them they could stop.
Perhaps he was already gone; but as we flooded his room and they halted life-preserving procedures, we stroked his arms and urged him to go and to wait for us there. We told him how much we love him and that we will join him one day. The veil parted. He left. I could almost hear my Grandma calling his name. We wept in the shadow of Glory, a Glory that is now his to behold.
And eternity slipped its sturdy hand into mine.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.