Note: This is the fourth installment in the Breath of Heaven series. If you’re new here, Welcome! If you’d like to start with the first installment please click here.
I open my eyes. The sideways sallow hall light ushers with it a creeping sense of dread, low-level anxiety threatens to balloon into full-blown freakout. I feel hungover. Maybe I’m getting the flu? Did I wreck my car? What the hell is wrong with me? I run my hand through my tangled hair.
Oh yeah, I remember – Greg died yesterday … twice … I’m awake now.
Zombie-like I stand, managing to step over Travis who’s dozing on the floor. Kimberly sees I’m conscious and quips, “How do you sleep without moving at all? You haven’t so much as flinched since you laid down.”
I shrug, continuing my shuffle toward the restroom. “What makes you think I slept?” I volley back managing a playful smile.
I must have napped. It is 5:17 am. I left Greg in the Critical Care Unit shortly after 3 a.m.
Opening the creaky door to the public restroom the vulgar fluorescent light attacks my throbbing head. The garish pink tiled walls sporting beige toilet stalls announce this isn’t the recently remodeled wing of the hospital. Balancing my toothbrush and paste on the edge of the faded pink sink I notice a disinfectant odor mixed with urine mixed with a horribly outdated public restroom. I want to gag. Instead, I swallow hard, choking back a sob that threatens to rise above the vomit.
I glimpse at the sterile metal framed mirror. Bags under my eyes assure me that I’m older than I imagine myself. Should I pat on makeup to cover them?
Why do I care? This is all about Greg waking up, not a bag of makeup. Not the perfect outfit. Not my hairstyle. Not fretting over what people think. I know the people who love me won’t think anything. I toss my makeup bag in my purse. Pulling open the heavy door, I pause, dig around in my bag for my neutral lipstick and apply just a bit – baby steps … baby steps.
I tread back to my sleeping spot. I sit staring at the opposite end of the waiting area. I consider the exit sign for far too long. I walk over to check out the coffee station. I have no appetite for it. Tea … gross. Water … nope.
I’m in a haze. I can’t climb out. I hear others engaged in quiet conversations. I manage to take a bite of a dry leftover deli sandwich that is sitting half-covered on an end table. I manage not to cry in front of anyone. I participate in conversations. The sun peaks over the edge of the building. We made it through the night.
I visit Greg. My tears drip onto his sheets. I visit the chapel. I sit, staring at the altar. Zero feelings. I’m not sad. I’m not scared. I’m not anything. I am exhausted. I walk to the hospital gift shop – closed. An eerie feeling washes over me as I tread through the empty corridors. With nowhere else to go, I head toward the familiar waiting area.
I step off the elevator into a sea of people. I’m surprised there are others in the waiting area. The world didn’t stop? Other’s lives are moving forward while mine stands still? They, too, are here for loved ones undergoing medical procedures or hoping their lives will be spared. They, too, are worried or hopeful or prayerful. I consider this crowd. They each seem to be considering me. Look at the zombie lady who just stepped off the elevator!
Feeling conspicuous, I turn left moving toward our section of the room. There is a crowd there. I see many relatives I haven’t seen for years. Greg’s extended family has come out in full force. I instantly feel the weight of my exhaustion. ‘Lord, help me deal with all these extroverts,’ I silently pray.
I smile my way through hugs and well wishes and promises of prayers.
I look for an opportunity to excuse myself but don’t immediately see a way to escape the jolly exchanges and banter.
Before long, an opportunity presents itself as the hospital chaplain, Father Lange, moves into the crowd. He is searching specifically for Travis and me. I gladly retreat to his side. Father Lange, expresses his concern for Greg and invites us to join him on his visit. During the walk to the Critical Care Unit, Father offers to administer the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
I explain, “Greg received the sacrament from Father Doyle last evening in the emergency room.”
“That’s wonderful,” Father Lange exclaims. Adding, “we’ll do a full anointing today.”
The sacrament is a beautifully comforting ritual complete with holy oils, prayers, encouragement and most importantly inviting God to be present. ‘I’ve got the inviting covered,’ I think to myself.
Through Father Lange, it is Jesus who touches Greg absolving his sins. My heart melts with relief that Father Lange is taking great care to lead us to a place of calm, holiness and light. I know that the primary effect of the sacrament is spiritual healing but I selfishly pray for physical healing, too.
Father Lange blesses us and before he leaves, reminds us that ‘faith doesn’t make things easy, it makes them possible.’
Greg’s nurse, Chris, joins us for the anointing. She stands silently in a corner of the room. We hit it off immediately when I met her earlier in the day. She is a highly skilled nurse with confidence and a sense of humor. Her assurance comforts me. Her knowledge builds my trust in the medical process.
We started with basic exchanges of information.
“How many kids do you have?” I venture.
“Three. How about you?”
“Travis, you’ve met and my daughter, Evanne, is on her way home from the Pittsburgh area. She should be here this afternoon.”
“Your daughter, Evanne?”
“Yep. Like the boy’s name.”
“That’s a cool name.”
I watch as Chris does her job of checking Greg’s breathing tube, swobs his mouth, and adjusts his pillows.
“How long have you and Greg been married?”
“30 years in February.”
“Are you married. Yes, my second.”
“Wow! Young love!” I add with a smile.
Chris hesitates, “Definitely.
I see there is something else that she isn’t sharing. Not wanting to pry I remain silent.
“I’m fairly confident Greg is going to come out of this really well,” Chris says cautiously.
“I hope so. We’ve been praying for it. I just don’t know how to feel. One minute I’m terrified, the next I’m sure he’s waking up.”
“When I adjust his breathing tube he responds.”
I throw her a questioning look.
“He has a gag reflex. He’s under a tremendous amount of sedatives so that shouldn’t be happening. In 22 years of doing this job I’ve never had anyone respond at this stage with a gag reflex.”
“Should I be excited?” I ask.
“His brain waves skyrocket every time he hears your voice. I’ve only seen that a couple of times before. He’s a fighter. I know that. But we both know I can’t guarantee anything,” she says with a grin as a disclaimer.
“So I’ll just keep praying and counting my blessings, huh?”
“Yes. Please don’t stop.”
“I’m so glad you shared this with me I’m so overwhelmed with all the information.”
Wanting to keep her engaged I ask, “What are you doing this weekend with your husband?”
“Not too much. You see, we were married for a year and a half and then he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We’ve been fighting for this past year and a half. He’s not getting better and he’s in a wheelchair now. It’s sort of hard to go out and do things on my days off.”
“Oh Chris, I’m so sorry to hear this. I’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself and you’re going through hell. Please forgive me.”
“I didn’t intend for you to feel bad. I know the fear you’re going through because I’m going through it too. I just thought I’d share because I know you’re connected to God,” she says with a laugh.
“I don’t know how connected I am, but I’m definitely praying for you and your husband.”
Chris pauses and says, “I know you are because I feel God present in this room.”
I’m surprised and pleasantly amazed. This simple exchange fills me with the hope I haven’t been able to muster.
Returning to the crowded waiting area, I more easily engage in banter with the visitors. My phone rings. It’s Lisa, my sister-friend, confidant and spiritual mentor. Lisa and I have had an unusually profound relationship from the moment we met. Lisa is on her way to fetch Evanne from O’Hare Airport. I’m aching to wrap my arms around my girl.
Just beginning her drive, Lisa and I have an opportunity to share our thoughts. Much different than last night when we were simply exchanging frantic prayers as we stumbled through Greg’s emergency. We have an extended time to talk. I gladly take another chance to retreat from the throng of family.
“Hi, sweetheart! How’s everything?”
“Hanging in there as best as I can. Do you have a minute to chat?” I ask.
“Sure. What’s up?”
“There’s something that’s been bothering me that I want to bounce off of you. It happened when we were at Matthew Kelly’s event in August.”
“Gosh, that was a fantastic night,” Lisa exclaims.
“Remember when Matthew explained to us how to work toward being the best-version-of-ourselves and that God would transform our lives if we asked him?”
“You did it, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I say, tears threatening.
“Well, that’s great!”
“I don’t know if it is. I’m afraid that by asking God to transform my life it’s my fault that this is happening to Greg. Is that insane?”
“Oh Mary, don’t do that to yourself! This isn’t your fault.”
“I’m terrified that I’m going to lose him. He doesn’t deserve this!” I sob.
“Listen to me. Remember last year when I was upset because of something I prayed for? You told me that I wasn’t that powerful? You said ‘We don’t have the power to decide.’ You reminded me God is in charge. It’s the same with you and Greg.” Lisa assures me.
“I remember Matthew saying if we ask God to transform us, he’ll do it every time and I’m scared as hell. I guess I’m not ready to be transformed. Help me process this … ”
I tearfully read this Matthew Kelly excerpt for her:
We pray for tweaking—and then we wonder why God doesn’t answer our prayers. The reason is simple: God is not in the business of tweaking. He’s in the business of transformation.
The other sad, tragic, miserable truth is that most of us have never prayed a prayer of transformation—not even once in our lives. Most of us have never come before God and prayed:
Here I am.
I trust that you have an incredible plan for me.
Transform me. Transform my life.
Everything is on the table.
Take what you want to take and give what you want to give.
Transform me into the person you created me to be,
so I can live the life you envision for me.
I hold nothing back;
I am 100 percent available.
How can I help?
If you want to see miracles, pray that prayer. If you want to see and experience miracles in your own life, pray a wholehearted prayer of transformation. That’s a prayer God will answer. God always answers a prayer of transformation. Never once in the history of the world has God not answered a sincere prayer of transformation.
So, what’s it going to be: More tweaking or are you ready for transformation? *Excerpt is taken from Chapter 22 of Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Jesus.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for you, Mary. As hard as it is God is going to take care of all of you. Greg, your kids, your family – each of you are safe leaning on God. Let him determine the outcome.”
“Thank you, Lisa. I love you, my friend.”
I click off my phone and rest in the security of the moment. My confidence is growing as I take Lisa’s advice and have the courage to again pray Matthew Kelly’s prayer.