Sunday 13 January 2019 – the second Sunday in Epiphany
There was a phone call on Friday from two daughters whose mother we will call Rene. She and her husband were wonderful, faithful members of St Andrew’s Newcastle whom we came to know very well. Rene’s husband (we’ll call him Mal) ended up dying a few years ago from a brain tumour. A year ago Rene went to an aged care facility – a really good one. The phone call was to tell me that she was now very low. Would I mind going to see her? The St Andrew’s minister was away at the time.
Janet and I went at once. Rene has always been such a delightful person and worked so hard for her church. She was one of the “lunch bunch” folk who used to go to lunch after the morning service at St Andrew’s…. she was one of those very sweet, gentle people who are a pleasure to know, with a great faith.
We were a little shocked when we walked in. Rene was obviously dying. The girls wanted me to have a prayer-time with their mother. I took her hand and had the prayer. “Look at that!” one said. “Mum hasn’t been responding to anything. Now she’s holding Tony’s hand very tightly!” She was too. That told me Rene wanted the assurance of prayer and the reassurance of her heavenly Father’s Presence. We stayed for as long as we could but I was keen to get back to her.
I was back at the facility on Sunday about 11.45. When I walked in I feared I was too late. The two daughters were there with their husbands and Rene was there on the bed.
I had another prayer with her and again there was evidence she could hear, for her hand held mine. I knew she needed to be aware of the eternal Presence of Jesus with her. I know He was. The breathing stopped – and just before we expected it never to start again, it did. Cheyne-Stoke breathing it’s called. Signs of the end.
The palliative care sister came in. She felt for a pulse, then listened with a stethoscope. “I think she’s really gone,” she said. “I can’t hear or feel a pulse.” And yet she continued to breathe and she didn’t go cold as one who had died.
“I can’t understand it,” the sister said..
Rene continued to breathe through the hours. The girls had been there ever since 0900 the previous day and were exhausted. By then I’d been there over three hours myself.
Finally it was decided that as it appeared Rene could survive yet another night, each daughter should go home, have a shower and a change of clothes and have something to eat before returning. One did just that and came back in time, looking much refreshed.
The other daughter decided also to do as her sister had done – shower, change of clothes etc. I’d been there just over four hours. I decided I would have to go too, for Janet’s sake who had no idea what had happened to me. I said that if Rene didn’t die I’d be back in the morning – but first I went to Rene:
“Rene, I am going home now and I think it’s time for you to go home – to heaven.” I turned to leave and as I did so one of the daughters gave a cry: “Look!”
I turned. Rene’s eyes were on me, staring at me, full of life, bright blue. I stared back, completely astonished.
“She can’t take her eyes off Tony!” said one of the girls. Then Rene’s eyes shifted to the girls and their husbands at the end of the bed. Then she closed her eyes and died.
I came home exhausted spiritually and emotionally but aware that I’d been in the presence of some strange miracle that had occurred during those few moments.
For dying people suddenly to have a little spurt of life at the end is not uncommon. I’ve seen it a number of times. There is a sudden rally. They may look about or even speak. I’ve often equated it to the way flowers in a vase, shortly before they die, suddenly, briefly brighten. What made this miraculous was the immediate response to those words I spoke, and the way she looked directly at me. I will never get over those bright blue eyes, staring at me like that, full of life – and significantly, understanding.
If ever there was a good reason to die in the faith, as Rene did, thoroughly prepared for the life to come, it was Sunday. None of us knows the day or the hour. I just hope and pray that our ends will not be so traumatic and hard as Rene’s but I know she was unaware really of all that was happening about her, and her loving family’s hovering, and their tears.
Enough of all this. Days like that have an effect.
Keep well and God bless you all this day and always.