Just north of Waco a woman from Iowa was killed. She was driving down I-35, a crowded, fast, bone-crushing interstate connecting all of North America. She was driving north when a tire flew out of the bed of a south bound pick-up flew and through the windshield of her car and instantly killed her. It was a tragedy, a death of inches and seconds.
The strokes and the aftermaths of the strokes brought Marty close too many times. Marty has cheated death, she has pushed through death, she has lived through things others do not survive.
Death, the end of all, I’ve seen it when I didn’t know it was there. I’ve seen it when the fear of it was completely suppressed by the urgency of the moment. I’ve seen it when I stood beside and over her pleading with her not to go, not to succumb. But, I really haven’t seen it at all, I am ignorant of death.
Sometimes, I think I think about it too much. I know when we first came home after the 2nd stroke it was on my mind every day, every cough, every sneeze, every breath she took. The thinking of death, the worrying of Marty dying pushed away any semblance of living our new life. Talking about what happened, understanding the impact of what happened helps with the obsession, it helps with perspective, it helps with focusing on what is important, life itself.
The first stroke, the ruptured aneurysm should have killed her. The rupture, the bleeding, the surgery, the infections, the vasospasms, the hydrocephalus should have taken her. They didn’t, she lived, she recovered, and she came home. I didn’t understand at the time that death was so close. It never occurred to me, the very real possibility of Marty dying was not real; my innocence shielded me from reality.
Weeks later, after multiple procedures, after multiple brain-jarring events, after the ICU and in a regular hospital room I saw it up close. This time I could see it in her face as she turned blue and couldn’t breathe, this time I was there right beside her. I was barely awake when I heard Marty cough once and then start gasping for air. I stood over her as she struggled in the bed to try and pull air into her lungs and couldn’t, the color in her face started to fall away, replaced by a light blue tint as I pushed the call button to get help.
Nurses and a respiratory therapist came immediately and began clearing her tracheotomy and clearing her airway allowing oxygen to fill her lungs. Her skin began to return to a more normal color as I sat to the side on the hard built-in couch in the sterile room. The event was over, it was then I could feel the fear of the moment, the fear of the consequences of that event take hold of my brain. It was only after the she almost suffocated, only as the lights went off in the room, only after I lay down on the hard couch did I finally confront how close we had been and how afraid I was as I laid in the dark watching over Marty.
After the second stroke, about a week into her hospital stay Marty contracted pneumonia and was put into the ICU at Providence. The infection she was fighting in her weakened body took a heavy toll and she was incredibly weak. I stood over her early one afternoon as her blood pressure registered just above death.
Looking down, I saw Marty inflamed from an allergic reaction to one of the many antibiotics they were pumping through her body through one of the many tubes connected to her. Her feet were elevated to push blood to her brain and they were running fluids into her as fast as possible. She was weak, she was quiet and barely aware as I stood there and pleaded with her not to go, not to leave me yet, I was not ready to let her go. Apparently, Marty wasn’t ready either and through sheer will, through the miracle of modern drugs, through grace, she stayed and pulled away from death once again.
In the grand scheme of life I don’t have a lot of experience with death and dying and I don’t really know much about it. Frankly, I’m not looking for anymore hands on experience than I already have. Through Marty, through her courage and her willingness to think and talk about dying I think I understand a lot more about my own fears and misconceptions. Through Marty’s faith, through her grace, through her comfort with the end I think I have lost part of my fear of death and dying.
I don’t think I believe that God reaches down and plucks any of us from the jaws of death. I don’t think I am comfortable saying that God reached down and continued to breathe life into Marty each time she seemed on the precipice of leaving life. I don’t think God was involved in a tire bouncing across the interstate into some poor soul’s car. I don’t think it works that way, I think living and dying is much simpler than an act of God, we just break.
What I do believe -- Marty and I still have stuff to do. I do believe Marty and I have places to go, people to see, and more life to live. I believe that there are still moments of laughter and smiles for us; I believe there are tears we still need to cry and I believe it is always a lot better to focus on the living and not the dying. Sometimes, sadly, it just happens.