Sunday, September 27, 2009
Wake Me Up, When September Ends...
September has been... too deep for words. But I'll try.
On September 9th I was present for the birth of one of my best friend's baby girl. I have to admit that I sort of hung around in the delivery room until she asked, "do you want to stay?" in which I eagerly replied, "oh please let me stay! I'll sit in the corner and I won't say a word the whole time just please let me watch." The moments leading up to the birth were phenomenal... watching the mother work so hard, hanging on to every breath, working, breathing, never complaining, but one word describes seeing a new life come into the world, "spiritual"... awe inspiring really. To watch a baby being born is so cool on so many levels. If you haven't seen it yourself, or experienced your own child being born, then you can guess how the emotions are. I trembled and laughed through my tears as I watched a family embrace this new little person and welcome her into their lives. To hear the baby cry and see her father's eyes shine with pride and mother's eyes glisten with anticipation is a remarkable experience that at the end of the day left me saying, "thank you Lord for letting me be a part of this..." and the to the parents of Campbell, "thank you."
This past Thursday I was at work and asked by an abnormally high number of people, "How is Mrs. Sullivan? Have you talked to her?" "No, not lately, She needs her space, but I am going to call her today." I called my dear friend whom many of you know about... a lady that I taught with for 4 years who you could say is my true Godmother.
Flash back. Every day while we worked together, we shared diet cokes, popcorn, laughs, tears, prayers, and gossip. She taught me about what it means to endure life's hardest trials: divorce, illness, death of loved ones, except all with a smile and a never faltering faith in God and His mercies and multitude of blessings, in the form of specific answered prayers and in the small things in life that brings us joy like lunch with a friend and a Bloody Mary or a hot piece of cornbread and home made vegetable soup. You see, "Sully" had beat so many health obstacles such as cancer and a brain aneurysm that one could argue what faith could you have left after so much pain and suffering? But she never asked "why me?" She never troubled people with any complaining. When she told me about her sufferings and conquerings she always said, "God made it a piece of cake... I don't want to do it again, but it really wasn't that bad." She helped me see that nothing we worry about day to day is really even worth our time.
She retired from teaching at the same time that I took my maternity leave in May of 2008. I didn't know that it would be our last year together and I am glad I didn't. Over the past year up until now, she kept a secret: the cancer was back and this time was determined to take her life. Remember what she said about the chemotherapy? "It wasn't that bad, but I don't want to do it again."
Around the time that the floods happened in Montgomery in May of 2009 I spoke to her on the phone about attending my babies' first birthday party. She sounded weak but sincerely sorry that she wouldn't be able to come. She said she would be spending the weekend in a hotel because the rain water had ruined her home and staying there was not possible. I said, "Sully, a hotel? You know you are welcome to stay with us..." She said, "No Mielke, I need to be alone. Peace and quiet. God and I have some serious talking to do." She needed to know what was coming and who would be taking care of her son Christian, 30 something and living with Down Syndrome - totally dependent on his "Mama." The party went on but she was missed. I wanted so badly to see her white spiked hair and pink eye shadow and big bright smile as she would have sat under the shady tree giving God all the credit for these miracle babies being celebrated on their first birthday. I called her the following week. Thankfully she answered her cell phone, in the hospital where she would stay for the next 3 months. I went to see her one evening and I wept because there was my Sully in a medically induced sleep, tubes and ventilator and all... for the next couple of months she slept and lost weight and even in her sleep appeared to be going through more pain than anyone could endure. I asked that dreaded question, "why?" So that is how the summer went... I'd wait on Nick to get home from work, we would play with the children, feed them, put them down for bed, and I would drive to the hospital and sit beside her, read to her, tell her about my day, and how much I missed her and knew that she would pull through this. I'll never hear Cold Play's "Lovers in Japan" without also being taking back to what it was like to drive down the Troy Highway with the windows down, summer's sweltering hear causing me to perspire while I sipped on cold icey lemon flavored water, wondering, "how will she be tonight?" But one spectacular night I went to visit and her eyes were open! She couldn't speak because of the trachea tube that was in her throat making it possible for her to breathe but she could mouth simple phrases. I crept up beside her bed and I said, "hey Love!?!" She mouthed these words, "Thank you Lord" as she held her hands up and looked to the sky. After that she would ask for water which I couldn't give to her because of her condition. She was so thirsty and she twisted in bed because of the pain of her stomach, neck, back, and shoulders. She coudn't remember my name or any other simple questions I would ask her... sheer confusion about where she was and what was going on but something prompted me to ask her, "Sully, do you know who your Father is?" She mouthed, "God." Then I said, "Sully, do you know Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." and she put her hands up again, looked to the sky, and began saying it with me... word. for. word. It was amazing. This person who didn't know what day it was and shook her head when I explained that she had a tube in her throat, knew every word of this Psalm... Proof that God's Word was truly written on her heart.
The next few weeks were the same. Confusion, thirst, discomfort. Then one day the nurses told me she had been moved to another hopsital. When I showed up at her new room I braced myself for what I might see but the opposite conditions were observed. I walked in and sitting up in bed, using a knife and fork to cut a pork chop, she looked up at me and I said, "Well look who is back!?" Her first words were, "When is the party? What do the babies need?" I said, "Sully, it is August now. The party was in May." "Oh, I missed it" she said. "Yea, you did," I laughed. For the next two hours we compared our experiences of what the past three months had looked like for both of us. I told her (though without gory details) about how I visited her and wanted her to open her eyes and talk to me. I told her that she asked for water and I couldn't five it to her. I told her that she had recited Psalm 23. She stared in amazement and said, "Mielke, if you asked me to do that right now I couldn't tell you how it even starts, I never was good at memorizing Scripture." She said that the she didn't remember a single visit nor did she remember any pain or anything about any hospital at all. She said that all she remembered was being at the lake, with all of her friends and family, and wearing diamond and other jewel adorned gloves. She said the image of the sun on the water and the shimmering of the jewels was so vivid that it could not have been a dream... it was real. She was somewhere else in her deep deep sleep. While I stood at her side in grief she basked in the sun.
In August she was released. The next couple of weeks she spent time at home, rehabilitating to some degree, but more importantly she spent time with Christian watching Charles Stanley on t.v. and enjoying being "lazy bones" together as she always said was her favorite thing to do. But three weeks ago she took a turn. Back to long term care she went. I spoke to her mother in law a few times who said, "Hunny, I'm afraid this time it is worse than before." Worse!? How could it be worse?"
Flash forward to Thursday September 24th. "How is Mrs. Sullivan?" they asked. On Thursday I drove directly from work to see her at the hospital. Her room was dark, the machines were loud. She was asleep again, and this time her eyes would not open. I told her I loved her and that I would be back every day until she was sitting up eating pork chops in bed again. I left at 5p.m. just after Jay-Z and Barbra Streisand sang on Oprah. When I got home I talked to Jo, her mother in law, staying with Christian, and she asked if I would go with her to the hospital the next day to talk with the nurses and doctor and discuss the hard topic of hospice and DNR. I was in shock. I held it together on the phone but when we hung up I melted into Nick's loving arms because my heart was breaking... was this the end? At 9p.m. I took my phone to my nightstand where I plugged it into the charger and I walked back to the den to do some winding down and watch T.V. with Nick. At 10:15p.m. it was time for bed, one last check on the phone for Twitter updates and text messages, and there was missed call from "Sully at Home" and a frantic message from Jo, "Laura, the doctor wants me to come up to the hospital, come if you can."
I walked into the room at 11p.m. and for the next 55 minutes, myself and a handful of close relatives embraced, cried, laughed by sharing stories, and each took a turn talking to Sully. I sat right beside her and looked into her now open eyes. Did she see me? I can't tell. Her eyes were fixed on me but I didn't see her in there. I wondered, "How long will we be here? 1 a.m.? 3a.m." At exactly midnight, her breaths became shallow and further apart. The four of us laid our hands on her and all kept saying, "Go now, go Home, we love you and will miss you but it is time for you to go Home." I shook and my head fell and I heard myself cry out, "Oh Sully!?!?" and I promise you at that moment a light flashed before my tight shut eyes and the wind was knocked out of me... I felt light headed, but not weak. I don't remember hearing anyone else in their crying out... I looked up at her face and we all knew, she was gone. Spiritual, phenomenal, thankful.
Such beautiful moments in time: a birth and a death... all in the month of September. Has my life changed from being witness to the beginning and end of the circle of life? YES. But how? I am not sure yet... still processing it all. I may never be able to tell anyone what this month has meant for me but the feelings I am having right now are very very real:
Spiritual, phenomenal, thankful.