Pete and I have spent much of the last week and a half in emergency rooms and hospitals. After years of gradual decline, my 91-year-old dad took a sudden nosedive. He’d been enjoying his new living arrangement, going to the hall parties, filling up on his favorite foods, smiling a lot. Then one day we went to see him and he was curled up on his bed refusing to get up. In spite of bed trays and persuasive nurses, he refused to eat or drink. Then he fell… and fell again, hitting his head.
While we’ve been anticipating this point for years, it was still a bit of a shock. Suddenly Pete and I were faced with huge decisions. Rather than create an advanced directive, where every possibility is considered and plans decided ahead of time, my dad had assigned the two of us joint “durable medical power of attorney.” The idea was that, knowing my dad and his end-of-life preferences, we would be able to flex according to the circumstances.
The problem was that no one seemed to know just what was wrong with my dad. Was this just a matter of dehydration, perhaps anemia and/or low potassium (issues we’ve dealt with in the past)? Or was something more serious causing his rapid decline?
I knew that my dad had no desire for his life to be “pointlessly prolonged” (as he put it) by artificial means, but what about an I-V? How about antibiotics, or a feeding tube? Was this something he could recover from, or not? Doctors would walk into his hospital room, ask questions, and expect immediate decisions, but we lacked the necessary information to answer them. Even more frustrating, one doctor would tell us one thing, and the next would have a totally different theory.
He was in a Catholic hospital, so I was surprised by the number of physicians who urged us to give up and let hospice take over, even before the test results were in. Pete and I have experienced God’s miraculous intervention—healing my dad from terminal cancer, for example—and we wanted to leave plenty of room for Him to work.
I’ve never needed God’s wisdom so badly.
Friday my prayer was for clarity. I asked God to make His desires known. Should we continue searching for a diagnosis while trying to keep my dad from getting worse, or was this his time to die?
God answered that prayer. After much poking and prodding, scans and more scans, it’ became clear that my dad has several critical issues that cannot be treated. So it was with a clear conscience, and deep peace that we decided to discontinue life support and transfer him to hospice care. For two days he was back in his familiar apartment, where he rested peacefully. Just after midnight this morning, he died.
Meanwhile, our older daughter and her husband were waiting for the birth of their first child, a daughter. After a long labor of 32 hours, our granddaughter entered the world at 2:25 this morning. Welcome Nora.
Reading my friends’ Facebook posts, listening to the conversations around me, I’m reminded that most of the time our lives are focused on everyday matters—working, running errands, cheering on our favorite team. We begin to believe that’s all there is. But once in a while, we’re forced to step back and consider the bigger picture.
Unlike choosing the best laundry detergent, or watching a movie, these are events and decisions that will matter for all eternity.
Birth is a joyous occasion; old age and death bring mourning. My emotions are being pulled in so many directions! Thankfully, I don’t have to handle this on my own. Our friends are praying for us all. Pete has been a rock of support. And Jesus said, “… surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)