There is a chapter in my memoir (the one we are all praying will find an avenue for publication soon) entitled “Christians Believe in Resurrection.” Here’s a portion I am considering today:
While I was a chaplain, I watched a group of doctors resuscitate an elderly gentleman. Resuscitation is a gruesome act. It often involves broken bones and blood. While physicians monitored blood pressure and breathing, I monitored grief and loss. Everyone in the room wanted to save life. I wanted death. I wasn't callous to the family or the doctor's desire to prevent death. I get that not everyone is comfortable with “do not resuscitate” orders. The doctors did not save this man. He suffered yet another major heart attack. And his last minutes on earth were traumatic.
Pete’s last moments were complicated just like that experience I had as a chaplain. Pete had a major heart attack. I watched it happen in his eyes as he reached for me and said, “Help.” Then he fell back on the bed, gasping for breath. I held his torso in my arms as I reached for the phone to call 911. He took four labored breaths as I cried and whispered “no, no, breathe honey, breathe honey, no, no.” And then I believe he was gone.
But the switchboard director answered the phone and asked me to get him onto the floor. She instructed me to do chest compressions. And then the squad arrived and they took over. And then at some point they thought they saw cardiac activity so they continued. And then finally, I asked, “are we doing the same thing over and over and getting the same response?” There was a pause and this time I did not whisper, I waved me arm and said, “Everybody stop. Really. Stop. Death is ok.”
Here's a bit more from the memoir:
“Resuscitation is about holding onto the life we have. We hold onto what we have; we cling to our lives – exposing our lives to traumatic acts of resuscitation just to hold onto what we know. We try all kinds of things to resuscitate the life that we know… There are obviously some situations that require some more grit. Sometimes in life, we need to keep working at something. But there are a lot of times where we need to stop for a second and imagine an end. Stop. Let go. Allow death to happen. Embrace loss. Wait for resurrection.
When Pete and I can no longer do certain things or go certain places, we adjust and sometimes those adjustments seem bitter. I have grown to understand that bitterness is a sign that I am still trying to resuscitate. I don't want the life we imagined to die. I want to try to keep it alive. I cling to the life we had. I cling to the dreams we dreamed together. But when a dream is dying, or MS has taken Pete's ability to walk, I want to have the courage to say, “Do not resuscitate.”
As you can imagine, I am having to imagine a new life. A resurrected life. But at the same time I am most certainly clinging to the life we had. I am overwhelmed with wanting to maintain or recreate the family life we had, the home we had, the comfortable conversation I so deeply miss. I worry about whether my life will work without him. I worry if I will know how to be who I have become – a stepmother, a grandmother, a pastor, a writer, a friend, even a lover – without him. But “who I have become” is not tangible. There’s nothing physical to hold onto.
In fact, all of the tangible things are either donated, packed or treasures that we have kept. We have donated Pete’s clothing, the dishes we used during our life together, many of our books. We’ve thrown away cds and packed up pictures. In one week, movers will pile our “life” together into a 10x15 climate controlled box, a tomb if you will.
The Christian scriptures say Jesus was in the tomb for “three days.” Three days is a literary device that essentially means “when the fat lady sings.” Jesus was in the tomb until the “fat lady sang” or “until it was time” or “when God was good and ready.” The “three days” is when the magic happens, the miracle of new life from death.