Today My Neighbor Died

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My wife and I were in the living room of our third-floor apartment when she heard the low rumblings of an emergency vehicle in the drive. In a flash we were at the window. Who? How bad? Is there hope? “I think they’re headed for Glenn and Arlene’s place. I better be with Arlene.” She headed out. Seconds later, an ambulance arrived, pulled out a gurney and headed for the same apartment. Within fifteen minutes, the paramedics reappeared, guiding the gurney to their vehicle with Glenn wearing an oxygen mask, covered with a blanket, strapped to the gurney. He seemed out of it.

My wife helped Arlene into the ambulance and told her we would talk tomorrow. If she needed anything to call. Small, seemingly insignificant words perhaps but to Arlene, they were words of love and compassion if she remembers them at all. No calls that night. Arlene spent the night beside her husband, sleeping very little. At 77, that’s a sure-fire way to sap one’s strength.

The next morning our phone rang at 7:30. Arlene calling. “Please call my daughter and my niece. Glenn is in pain. They are giving him morphine. It seems to help. He’s not talking, just mumbling a bit. The doctor said they may have to prepare him for emergency surgery. His body is failing. Heart rate 60/40.

Last night, and since we awoke this morning, we’ve been praying for Glenn and Arlene. But what does one pray? God heal Glenn and make their lives good again? Really? So we pray, “God please reveal your perfect will for this couple. You know them and have a plan for them. We pray for the best possible outcome! In the name of Jesus we pray.” Although I believe in God and the efficacy of prayer I must admit to feelings of helplessness in times such as this. “God, I know you hear but I don’t know what you will do.” Glenn and Arlene trust God with the outcome. Actually, what else can you do at a time like this?

Leann makes the calls and we head-out for the hospital. Arriving we find Arlene alternately sobbing and looking confused. Who wouldn’t be? Is this it? Will he live or die? Can he understand me? Will he forgive me for that snippy remark I made last night? Will I forgive myself? God help me.

A young doctor attempts to describe Glenn’s condition and the possible surgical procedure. He fails. We are dumb. He knows and walks slowly away, wishing he was a better communicator. “Ok folks (four of us now, including the 53-year-old daughter), we’re moving Glenn and Sally will take you to the second floor waiting area. A doctor will be there shortly to explain everything.”

Time slowly passed as we talked aimlessly, trying humor which fell flat, remembrances which brought sadness and tears until a middle-aged doctor arrived to introduce himself. I got off the two person padded bench for him but he motioned for me to sit beside him. I think he wanted the contact. What he had to say was not easy but necessary. I felt his compassion and love. It was evident to see. I patted his back from time to time. He didn’t object.

Using wonderful, caring descriptions this man, this surgeon helped Arlene and her daughter understand that Glenn’s body would not recover. He was shutting down. Surgery would not be possible. Too much risk. Not much chance for satisfactory recovery. Finally he said, “Sometimes, when the body is shutting down, the heart reflects that change by slowing down accordingly until finally…it stops beating.” Tears filled his eyes. “Believe me I understand your feelings. Today I had to admit my 93-year-old mother and there’s not much chance she will return home.” Those tears overflowed from his eyes and streaked down his worn face. We all cried.

We were told to join Glenn around the corner in a cordoned off area where his bed had been situated. A wonderful, loving nurse softly explained what was happening and how important it was for us to talk and pray with Glenn. She found country music (his favorite) on her phone and set it near him as she gently caressed his face asking how he felt, making certain he was as comfortable as possible. “He knows you are here,” she told us. “It’s good if you talk to him and touch him. It will help you too.”

Shortly, Arlene asked us to leave and thanked us for all we did to help. “I will never forget what you’ve done,” she tearfully said. “Never! It meant everything to me.” Funny how much it meant to her. We did nothing unusual or admirable. Perhaps we were following the command of Jesus to “love your neighbor.” I hope so.

Arlene called within two hours. Glenn had passed from this life to the next. Now he was at peace and without pain.

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