I woke up on October 8th around 7am and made my usual pilgrimage to my basement sanctuary, coffee in hand, while my husband, Steve, slept. I browsed Facebook, checked email and thought about what it meant to draw close to God, to spend time with The Almighty. I wondered if checking email and Facebook was something I should do AFTER my reading and journaling (which is pretty much how I pray). And then I argued with myself about how I’d always been one to clear the deck, to clean my room or my desk off before getting to work.
That morning, I was particularly struck by the verse of the day in one of my devotional readings, Jeremiah 31:3:
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
I remember just rolling that one around in my head: an EVERLASTING love. An everlasting LOVE. So powerful. I wrote in my journal about crawling out of the “pit” — I’d felt out of kilter, down, for a couple of weeks but was starting to work out of it.
Oh, how to describe that place: I’d felt like God was far, far away; I’d felt as though all the doors of heaven were shut (and I would add now: as though even the angels were hiding, unwilling to look at what was coming). I’d also had a horrible nightmare just 3 nights before. In that subconscious state, I’d felt something large and terrible (exemplified by an enraged, determined elephant) – something I somehow knew, something that I’d known would come find me because it was angry at me – chasing me, wrecking everything in its path in its pursuit. In my dream, I ran and ran and ran.
I wrote about trying to trust the God who, we are always told, “is in control.”
I’d just come up from the basement, getting ready to get dressed for exercise, when the phone rang – a call from Misty, in the Blacksburg ER, at 8:31am. “Your son’s been involved in an accident.” I immediately thought he’d been in a car wreck with his roommates – perhaps alcohol was involved. Ugh, Mark!
“He’s pretty banged up, Mom. But his head is fine – he’s alert and talking. We’re getting him scanned.”
Her tone was pretty upbeat. Almost casual. I started to imagine a situation where Mark would be released soon, but that didn’t jibe with what she told me had happened – he’d been hit by a car as he biked to class; he had been under the car. My brain was filled with static. I needed clarity, direction.
“I should come, though, right?”
“Yes, you should come.”
The next 45 minutes were a flurry of activity: tell my Steve, who was in the shower; call our daughter, Sarah, whose university was on the way. Steve is a self-employed CPA and the final tax-filing deadline of October 15th loomed; I work with him and I knew there was plenty left to do. So, as he toweled off, I said I’d drive by myself, so he could work, that I’d call when I got there and had a better sense of what was going on, what would happen next…but then I realized I was shaking so badly I could not.
Pack (oh my God, what to pack? Comfy – yes, comfy, hang-around -the-hospital-for-days clothes. Yoga pants, sweats...), start texting and calling – please come tend our cat, please pray for our Mark. Another phone call from the ER, and I asked the nurse to get a message to our boy, who I pictured sort of bobbing in the middle of zillions of medical personnel: “Tell him we love him, we’re coming, and that thousands of people are already praying for him.” We were later told he replied, with the profundity of a 19 year old male, “Oh, that’s cool.”
The drive took several hours. Every moment was filled. I deployed hundreds and hundreds of prayer warriors. We grabbed Sarah. Not long after we left the house, we got another phone call – from the doctor, this time – detailing a long list of injuries (fractures, lacerations, pretty much everywhere) and telling us our son was being transferred to a trauma center in Roanoke for surgery…there was concern about internal bleeding from a laceration of the liver. But he cautioned us not to drive too fast.
We talked to the police about halfway to Roanoke. Steve and I discussed how to adjust – would I need to move down to Blacksburg to nurse Mark back to health? Should I rent a car?
I remember I still had my slippers on and my feet were endlessly sweating inside those fleece-lined clogs, as we drove and drove. I could feel my armpits were drenched. I am not a person who perspires a lot.
As we neared the trauma center at 1:30, Steve and Sarah were hungry and I was really, really annoyed by their insistence on eating then, when we were so close. We grabbed sandwiches (hurry! hurry!) and found our way to the surgical wing. We weren’t sure where Mark was in the process. In surgery? In recovery?
Within moments of arriving and being ushered into a tiny, L-shaped waiting room, I felt surrealism seeping in. There was a hospital chaplain waiting for us (WHY? WHY are you HERE?) and our air, our attitude – we kid around a lot in this family – seemed to disarm him. He was thin, small and insubstantial. He did not exude peace, but anxiety. He carefully asked, “Why don’t you tell me what you know?” At the end of my list, he left the room.
There is a sound effect, in movies, that often accompanies the moments ticking down to some explosion or catastrophe…as time slows until it stops. There is a decrescendo until everything condenses into a singularity…and the sound stops for that moment in time that lasts forever, that moment immediately before everything is changed. That sound wound down in my soul, as the chaplain ushered in the solemn male surgeon and equally subdued head nurse, and they awkwardly sat, gravely explaining everything they did in surgery… until I interrupted, and the sound stopped.
“Is he dead?”
The surgeon’s affirmation was drowned out by Sarah’s endless screams. Our son, our boy, our Mark had died on the operating table at 12:10, almost 2 hours earlier. The damage to his liver was so severe he could not be saved.
The hospital chaplain – oh Lord, please find this man another job – tried to pray for and with us. He spoke loudly over our shock, over Sarah’s screams, until I could not stand it any longer. “You need to stop talking!”
We fell, we three. We fell and we broke.
Oh God, Oh God, Oh God.