"It isn't helping. We've tried everything we've got. Despite that effort, he is going downhill, his oxygen levels are dropping, his kidney function is failing. I'm afraid we're losing the battle against the infection."
The intensivist looked weary and defeated. The nurses were staring at their laps, unable to look up, their eyes tearing. The hospital chaplain reached out and took his mother's hands.
After a week of heroic treatment, there was now clarity about the next step. The prayed for miracle of healing was not happening.
His mother spoke first: "Then we need to call his sister and let her know she needs to get back here as soon as she can. I need to make some calls to his friends so they can be here if they wish. He would want them here."
His father: "We know you did your best. We know you tried everything. We really appreciate everything you've done."
Two hours later, a group gathered in the waiting room outside the ICU doors. The average age was about 21; they assisted each other in tying on the gowns over their clothing, distributed gloves and masks. Together, holding each other up, they waited for the signal to come in after the ventilator had been removed and he was breathing without assistance. They entered his room and gathered around his bed.
He was ravaged by this sudden illness, his strong body beaten and giving up. His breathing was ragged and irregular, the sedation preventing response but not necessarily preventing awareness. He was surrounded by silence as each individual who had known and loved him struggled with the knowledge that this was the final goodbye.
His father approached the head of the bed and putting his gloved hands on his boy's forehead and cheek, he held this young man's face tenderly, bowing in silent prayer and then murmuring words of comfort. It's okay to let go. It's okay to leave us now. We will see you again. We'll meet again in the glory of the Lord. We know you are in His presence.
His mother stood alongside, rubbing her son's arms, gazing into his face as he slowly slowly slipped away. His father began humming, indistinguishable notes initially, just low sounds coming from a deep well of anguish and loss.
As the son's breaths spaced farther apart, dad's hummed song became recognizable as the hymn of praise by John Newton, Amazing Grace, and the words started to form around the notes. At first his dad was singing alone, giving a gift to his son as he passed, and then his mom joined in as well. His sisters wept. His friends didn't know all the words but tried to sing through their tears. The chaplain helped us all when we stumbled, not knowing if we were getting it right, not ever having done anything like this before.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.
His mom hugged each sobbing person there--the roommates, the classmates, the nurses, the doctors humbled by a powerful pathogen. She thanked each one for being present for his death, for their vigil through the week in the hospital.
His parents' grief was gracious and giving to the young people who had never seen death before, perhaps had never seen such faith in action before, and who certainly had never seen a miracle happen in a way we could not have known and could not expect. This mom and dad gave a sacred gift through their son to his friends.
And Grace will lead us home.
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