It was 10pm when I pulled into the drive of number 12. I struggled to stifle a huge yawn. What sort of confidence would they have in me if they were watching through the window? I hadn’t expected to be called out that night, but couldn’t refuse knowing the circumstances. A quick glance in the mirror assured me that I looked even more zapped than I felt.
The door was ajar and a youngish man popped his head around it. He smiled wanly as I extended my hand. “Hello, I’m Chrissie from the Community Nursing Team. You must be Tommy?”
“That’s right.” He opened the door. “Thank you for coming at short notice.”
His war-weary, heavy eyed demeanour confirmed to me that losing my night’s sleep was a paltry affair in comparison with the trials and heartache of this family.
“No problem Tommy,” I assured him as he gestured toward the living room. Grace lay in her bed under the window. Chairs and boxes cluttered the corners in order to make space.
“This is my dad, Frank, and my sister Carol,” he politely introduced me. Frank was sitting at the bedside, his hands cupping his wife’s. Her frail bone structure and network of veins could easily be traced through delicate, tissue-thin skin.
Carol gently mopped beads of sweat from mom’s forehead with a damp cloth rinsed in a bowl of tepid water.
Grace’s respirations were long and deep; sometimes stopping, then starting up again with a sharp intake of breath.
The malodorous atmosphere, mingled with vain attempts at neutralising concoctions, was heavy with the characteristic traits of the dreadful disease.
Frank expressed his concern right away. “She’s taken a turn for the worse since Tuesday Chrissie. She was on her feet until then. It happened so quickly.”
I couldn’t lie to him. “She’s very poorly Frank.”
“How long do you think?” I felt his despair. He looked me in the eye. “Two days; three? A week?” He almost pleaded with me for more time. Carol began to sob; Tommy flopped back onto the sofa with head in hands, but Frank’s face remained impassive. “Grace could die tonight. Right?”
“God has an appointed time for each person to die Frank. And yes, it may well be tonight.”
“Thank you Chrissie,” he said flatly. “So you believe in God?”
I gave him space to mull over his thoughts.
“Grace believes in God. I think the notion of God helped her cope when she realised her illness was terminal.”
I waited some more. He went on to affirm that his wife’s faith in God had deepened in her on/off battle with cancer over the past couple of years. He couldn’t understand why.
And then, right out of the blue he testified to having a ‘discomfiting experience’ this week. He glanced toward Tommy and Carol for their approval to continue.
“Chrissie, do you believe in angels?”
“Well Frank, the Bible speaks of angels so that’s good enough for me.”
“You’ve been in this type of work for a long time?” I nodded. “Did you ever see an angel?”
“No Frank. As far as I’m aware, I’ve never seen an angel.” The room fell silent bar the pattern of exhaling, and stopping, and starting of Grace’s respirations.
We had come to an impasse of sorts. I suggested they all try snatching some badly needed sleep as I was here until 6am. I promised to call them immediately if there was a change in Grace’s condition.
Three hours later, a bleary eyed Frank stumbled back to his wife’s bedside.
“Chrissie,” he began hesitantly. “Do you believe that a dying person sees or feels the presence of lost loved ones, waiting to take them over to the other side of death?”
“Frank, powerful analgesia can play tricks with an exhausted mind.” I replied.
“But what about family and friends who claim to witness such things?”
All I know for certain Frank is that the fraught and tangled emotions of a grieving family can play havoc with a fatigued mind.”
As we spoke Grace’s eyes flickered open briefly. Frank leaned over and gently squeezed her hand. She focused straight ahead and a faint smile teased the corners of her mouth. A glimmer of recognition in her eyes seemed to warm her whole countenance.
Grace took in a long, deep inhalation. And on the wings of her very last breath, she whispered one word… “JESUS.”