Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
~ John 14:27
It wasn't going to be an easy conversation, no matter how I approached it, but a young woman was going to die. She had been missing for nearly a month. Missing person reports had been issued along the I 10 corridor between New Orleans and Houston. The woman was a mother with two small children who suffered from a mental illness and would often disappear to self-medicate, usually only for a few days at a time. This time it had been weeks and the family was fearful that she had either ran into some, "real trouble," or had died.
A rollover accident on the highway near Beaumont, Texas, would bring the "Jane Doe," to Galveston, UTMB, where treatment would be provided. The woman never regained consciousness, but because of the missing person report, she was identified within a few hours.
I was on call the night she was discovered at the accident, and authorities had managed to contact her parents. By morning, the woman's mother was at her bedside as machines and hanging IV's kept her daughter alive.
I was present when the woman's mother arrived. There were so many emotions shared. A sense of joy that they had found their daughter, but also great sadness at the same time. There was no way their daughter would survive, and if she did, she would only be a living memory of the woman she once was.
The decision was made to stop all treatment, but not before a call was made back to the home where the woman's two daughters were waiting to hear that their mom was okay.
I offered to make the call for the mother of the woman. She would talk to the girls and let them know that their "Mommy was very sick, and can't talk right now," but they could tell her that they love her.
I held the phone near the patient as the call was made. The father of the woman answered and soon the two girls, ages 9 and six were on the phone. Their voices reminded me of my own children when they were that age. The youngest immediately began to tell her mom about a kitten they had found. Both girls shared how much they missed their mom, and that they hoped that she would get better. The mother of the woman struggled to tell the girls that "Mommy can't talk right now, but she can hear you just fine. She is happy to hear your voices. Now, let her know you love her. The doctors are helping mommy and we can't stay on the phone."
One of the girls politely responded, "Yes, ma'am," and promptly told her mother she loved her. The other followed. Both telling their mother how much they missed her and that they hoped to see her again soon.
The woman told the girls that she loved them, and how happy their mom was to hear their voices and then asked me to hang up the phone. She fell into her own hands and cried. "I'm glad that is done."
We stayed in the room while machines became quiet, monitors were turned off, and all treatment stopped. The room became completely quiet, except for a conversation being held outside the room by staff.
The woman's mother looked at me and said, "I don't know if this is right or not, but I feel relieved to know that she is finally at peace."
She shared of all the times the woman struggled with her illness. The tests, the changes in medications, the men that had been in the woman's life, and the birth of both of the girls and how she and her husband were raising them both because they, "never knew what that next phone call would bring."
She shared how "somehow I knew," that this would be where the woman would end her life. She looked at me and asked if somehow this made her a "bad person?"
Our love for one another has many expressions, and the relief found in the peace of someone passing is something I encounter more than what people realize, and then the guilt that seems to wash over them because in some way they feel as if they are "bad" for allowing the feeling or thought to exist.
Death is something that none of us can avoid. We talk about those who "die well," and those who have lived long lives that somehow enter death in some poetic way, but then there are those that linger, or seem to be filled with unrest, who are surrounded by folks just trying somehow to make it right.
Jesus reminds us, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you."
Our encounter with grief allows for us to have a sense of relief when someone is no longer struggling. When mothers no longer have to "worry about this call," any longer, but also, for the chance for life to move forward.
While none of us are ever truly ready to let go, we do possess the need to move forward, even when we know that the loss will mean sadness, change, and the possibility that our grief may invite guilt. While the peace of God may be present, allowing for that peace is something we all must learn to accept.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
A side note: I always recommend that folks who have experienced loss of any kind, consider joining a grief group, or seek suport from a person who specializes in loss.
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.