Brenda R. - 10/2/2007 5:09 PM ET
I'm left speechless... Without trying, these scenes played themselves out in my head as I read your story. Thank you for this very elegant and profound peek into the unknown.
|He was just sitting there quietly, in the large, brown and uncomfortable vinyl chair next to my hospital bed. Legs crossed, he tapped a foot in rhythm to the rather slow chirps of the EKG. The only other sound in the room was the drip of my IV. He sat, leaned forward in his chair, watching me intently while holding my needle-bruised hand in his. He had smooth alabaster skin, so soft and warm. He was sitting there in such a manner when my eyelids fluttered open. I blinked through the medicated haze and focused on this man without recognition.
"Who are you?" I tried to ask, as I pulled my hand out of his. My throat felt as if it were on fire and I failed to produce the words. The man just shook his head and smiling, placed a perfect finger to my lips to shush me.
"There is no need for you to speak, Gretchen."
The words flowed effortlessly from his thin lips; For a second I questioned whether his lips had moved at all. I noticed that everything about this man appeared flawless, seamless really. Even his sharp charcoal suit fit his long body perfectly and appeared to hold no creases as he rose from the chair. He looked like a lawyer to me, and at this point in my illness, lawyers were not a welcome sight.
"Who are you?" I asked again, this time the words came out with a terrible ratchety sound much like nails on a chalkboard. The drugged slur in my voice was almost comical. "And how the Hell do you know my name?"
He extended his hand to me and searching his clear, blue eyes for a moment I found myself lost in a peaceful sea of tranquility. I felt that I knew him and somehow, I knew that I trusted him.
I put my hand in his and his touch almost seemed to energize me. I slid down out of the bed to stand at his side, making certain to tighten my hospital gown to cover my almost exposed rear.
"Walk with me," he said, and squeezed my hand reassuringly as we exited the room into the stark, white hall. I thought briefly that we must make quite the odd pair walking hand in hand- he so tall and pristine while I was so withered and meek.
"My name," he started, "is Gabe. I've been sent to help you with the final details."
Despair must have crept into my face upon hearing the inevitable spoken aloud because his hand tightened on mine and he pulled me closer, sliding his arm over my shoulders to embrace me. I felt my sadness dissipate slightly.
I had really not thought that much about the details that would include my passing on, what my family would do without me, or where my soul would wander to in it's next life. I was merely living day by day, and now it became obvious to me that my time to make these decisions was approaching too fast. The cancer had almost completely deteriorated my immune system and I was wasting away, a shell of my former self. I sighed sadly. Why did I have to do this to my family? I really hoped that somehow, this stranger really was here to make things easier, to help me cope. I really needed a friend.. I broke the reverie with a question:
"Gabe, who are you? Do you have a last name? And where are you taking me- I shouldn't be out of my bed really..." I faltered.
"Gabe. Simply Gabe will do. And we're just headed to the snack machine for the moment.." we turned the corner past the nurse's station and reached the machines. His smile seemed to glow when he confirmed that the vendor had peanut M&Ms. He placed a hand over the coin slot and the machine beeped twice in confusion before dropping the small bag of candy into the catch tray.
"Gretchen, one thing about life that I don't think you've quite come to grips with is that you get what you pay for. You've spent a lot on your life.." he trailed off serenely, and then offered me an M&M. He popped it into his own mouth when I distractedly ignored the offering.
"Gretchen, John loves you with all of his being. You're condition is tearing him apart. He's praying for you to realize that he's finally ready to let you go, for you to be relieved of your suffering." Gabe spoke these words softly in my ear. We'd come to a large window at the end of the ward, and here we paused in silence for a moment until I spoke.
"I don't understand, Gabe. I'm not certain that I can go so easily. I don't deserve to be relieved of this pain when it's going to cause my family such devastation to go on without me! I don't even know where I'm going, I've never been the religious type. I can't leave them like this! I just want my daughter to grow up happy, but I want to BE there when she does!" The feelings gushed out in an uncontrollable sob.
My entire adult life, I'd never tried to devote myself to God or any other Higher Power. And now here I was faced with the fact that I was going to leave this world not knowing where I would wind up, or if I would ever see my family again. Would my lack of faith be my final downfall?
Gabe's soft touch gave me solace and he seemed to absorb my immense grief. We were walking (floating?) now back down to the other end of the ward where the waiting room was. Reaching the small room, I was able to see through the window in the door to where my daughter sat, fervently drawing a picture. She was seated on the floor at my husband, John's, feet. John slept upright in yet another uncomfortable chair, his handsome features furrowed tightly with tortured worry as he slept. Opening the door, we stepped inside. I moved over to look down at my precocious five year old's artwork. She didn't see us standing there. She'd drawn our family on a picnic outside of a castle- such talent for one so young. I couldn't leave her now!
"Julie is going to do great things in her life. Gretchen, you have done such a wonderful job of beginning her journey. Her intelligence and perception are advanced simply because you recognized them early and helped promote development. In her eyes, you are everything and she hurts when you hurt. Even now, at only five." Gabe placed a hand on my shoulder.
"But I CAN'T leave them like this! Julie will need me! I want to see her grow to be a woman! I won't be here for her when she..." Gabe silenced me gently.
"Now listen to how selfish you sound now, Gretchen. This little girl that you have raised is far more capable of handling grief than you give her credit for." Gabe placed his hand on top of Julie's mass of springy blonde curls. "Just listen to HER, Gretchen. Julie has a message for you."
At the moment Gabe's fingers grazed her little head, Julie's demeanor completely changed. She stopped drawing, and even dropped her crayon. She turned her pretty little face up toward the sky and her bright, blue eyes appeared to be looking right into my own. She began to pray in her little girl's voice:
"Dear Jesus and God up in Heaven, I know my mommy is really sick. And I know she is going to go to sleep forever soon but it's okay with me because I know she will be in Heaven with you and you will make the hurt go away. Please make mommy not sick anymore. I don't want mommy to hurt anymore. And please make daddy not sad because one day we can all be together again in Heaven. Thank you God, amen."
The sadness I was retained burst forth then, my tears flowed and I knew then I loved Julie more than anything. My dying wish was for her to be happy and have everything that she ever wanted. And all SHE wanted was for God to take his best care of me and for my pain to vanish. We can learn a lot from the unselfish charms of children. I leaned down and kissed her curls.
I stepped over Julie's picture and laid a weak, trembling hand on John's chest. His breathing came sporadically and he moaned in his sleep. I knew now that he would not see me there if he woke up, but I spoke anyway, praying that he would feek and hear me somehow.
"John, I don't want to leave you here, you and Julie. But I know that all you really want for me is for the pain to go away. For me to be able to rest finally. I know that you and Julie will be strong for each other and I will watch over you always, my love, as you have watched over me.
John, one more thing.. I think there is a Heaven. And so far, it looks beautiful." I smiled through my tears up at Gabe, and then leaned down to kiss my husband's slack mouth for the last time. As I pulled away from his lips I felt, rather than saw, the grief and anguish leave John's soul. His features softened as if he was now at peace.
We left the waiting area. Gabe led me as far as my hospital room, and we could hear the life support machine chirping ever more slowly. My attending nurse was sitting in Gabe's chair from earlier, watching and waiting. I saw her say a silent prayer.
I squeezed Gabe's hand and, as we looked on through the doorway, I observed the little bit of life that was hanging on in the frail, shrunken, worn out body in my hospital bed fade. Gabe turned to me.
"Gretchen, it is time," he simply said. I slipped my small hand into his.
I was overwhelmed then, by a glorious feeling of calm and the bleak hospital surroundings were drowned out in a brilliant splash of white light.
"Take me home," I whispered. And all of my pain vanished in an instant. My last lucid vision came so clear to me that I could almost touch it... I saw Julie sitting in the waiting room next to her daddy who was sleeping peacefully now.
She was playing with a large, soft, white feather.
~Elizabeth P. Leiby (Going Home 2005)
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