Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This Time Last Year

At exactly this time last year I was standing at the foot of your bed, watching you. Your eyes were closed, and your breathing was belaboured again. I was just wondering if I should call the nurse to suction out your airwaves when she appeared. 

As she prepared to do what she had to do, you naturally became agitated. I slipped to the right side of your bed as she worked on the left, and I gripped one of your enormous hands with both of mine.

"Brian, it's okay. This will make you feel better. Try to relax ..."

Suddenly I felt your hand gripping back, the pressure increasing as the suction tube invaded your throat. Your eyes opened and you looked sidewards to your left at me. Our eyes locked and great drops of sweat broke out on your forehead. Your eyes mirrored the pain you were in, and my "encouraging words" faded into suddenly thin air. We just stared at each other, hanging on for dear life.

When it was over, you looked at me. Thank you, you said, softly but distinctively. Your eyes fluttered shut, exhausted. 

I got a cool, damp facecloth and gently wiped your forehead, allowing the refreshing cloth to rest on the top of your head as I had seen your beloved Char do countless times.

That was the last time I was to see your blue, blue eyes. 

Those were the last words you spoke, as far as we know.

It was just like you to express gratitude with your fading breath!

I had stopped by your room at about 10 pm on September 3, armed with my Daily Light and a soft pashmina shawl. I had arrived back from Calgary half an hour earlier and suddenly felt strongly that I needed to go to the hospital and spell Char off for a stretch.

Hesitantly I offered and gratefully she accepted. She was able to catch about four hours' sleep, which gave her the strength she needed to be beside you, watching you enter the gates of heaven the next morning.

The two nurses on duty during the night, Miriam and Karen, recognized my ignorance and incompetence while understanding my good intentions; they very kindly stopped by your room every single half hour to make sure everything was okay and to reassure both of us. 

I had been singing to you; praying for you and Char, and Rebecca and Bob; reading, both to you and silently; and just sitting at your side, wrapped in my pashmina, watching your face.

As you calmed and seemed to rest more easily, I sat back in the comfortable arm chair and became conscious of the comprehensive softness, the fluidity, of the shawl under which I was sheltering. And my mind flipped back to the previous Sunday, when Dad spoke from the book of Ruth. He focused on Boaz, the eventual husband of Ruth.

The story of Ruth from Moab is quite well known to many of us: she marries the handsome foreigner and is accepted by her mother-in-law; her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law all die; her mother-in-law, Naomi, can't stand to be away from her home country any more so she tells her two daughters-in-law to go home and get on with their lives. They both demur, saying they'll stay with her. She insists; one goes back, but Ruth refuses to leave Naomi (isn't it interesting that one of the most romantic passages often used in weddings is actually spoken by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law?! Go figure ...).

In extreme brief: Naomi settles back into her community; Ruth sets out to get food for them and - it being harvest time - starts gleaning the left-over and missed crop in the fields of a wealthy land owner, who turns out to be a distant relative of Naomi; several exciting plot turns; Ruth and the wealthy land owner, named Boaz, get married and have a son, Obed, who has a son named Jesse, who has a son named David - and David becomes the second king of Israel.

What was of great interest to me, however, was what Dad had to say about Boaz's lineage. Boaz's father's name was Salmon. Salmon is derived from the root word simla, meaning garment or raiment. The book of Genesis, chapter 9 and verse 23 uses the same word, where two of Noah's son's took a garment and covered up their drunk, naked father. The word cover takes the meaning assuming the shape of the object beneath. The book of Deuteronomy chapter 8 and verse 4 exhorts the children of Israel to remember that for 40 years their garments didn't grow old or tattered on them. A soft garment doesn't care what size or shape you are; it takes your shape and offers protection and cover for you.

What Dad did then in the little Hanna church was get his childhood friend, Doreen, up on the platform. Then he gently placed a soft pink shawl over her shoulders. The shawl immediately adjusted to her posture and the angle of her back - it took her shape. The same shawl would look quite different on someone else, Dad commented.

The shawl reminded Dad of what God did for us. The book of Romans chapter 8 and verse 3 tells us that God sent his own son, who took on the shape of sinful humankind - our own personal simla! - and became the offering for our sin. Jesus himself covers us, protecting us from the dreadful consequences of our own wrong doing, if we accept his offer of salvation. Just like Ruth in the fields of Boaz, there is nothing we can do to earn this covering; all we have to do is accept it.

I was thinking of all of this when I sat at the foot of your bed, Brian, after the nurse had left. And on impulse I rose, unwrapped my soft shawl from around me and placed it gently over your torso and legs. You were lying so still, the only sound in the room your stertorous breathing. The shawl settled into the hillocks and hollows of your shape under the covers - it took on your shape. I prayed then into the silence, asking God to cover you with his protection and peace and rest. I asked him to assure you of his covering as you walked through that last valley.

Your breathing eased and you slipped into sleep. I left the shawl where it lay and stood watch over you until it was time for me to leave. There was no need for lung clearing for the rest of my time with you.

And I realized that these hours with you and with God comprised one of the most holy, one of the most peaceful, nights I had ever spent. I had been given the inestimable privilege of standing at the foot of your bed, knowing I was standing on holy ground: God himself was covering that whole room. His protection never left your room until he took you with him the following morning...

Your dear Char crept back into the room somewhere between 3:00 and 3:30 and was with you for the rest of your journey here on earth.

Char's new toy!
She's doing okay, Brian. She is a woman of uncommon valour and courage. She is picking up the pieces of her life without you and is pressing on. The latest step on her journey is a camper she got in order to continue enjoying one aspect of life that you two enjoyed together for as long as you could. She helps out at the TH whenever I need her and she is taking on new academic and professional challenges. You would be so proud of her.

In many ways, you each - notable, independent people in your own separate right - had provided that soft, adaptable covering, that uncommonly delicate layer of protection, for each other. 

Her earthly covering has indeed been removed with your death; but she is finding solace, more and more, under her heavenly simla. She has always placed her confidence and trust in her heavenly Father; now she is claiming, from the yawning crevasse of her sorrow and loneliness, the promise from the 91st Psalm, "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings shall you trust ... because you have made the Lord your habitation."

As tenderly as God covered you in your hospital room, Brian, he is covering her in her life after you.  But you are never far from her thoughts and always in her heart.

And oh, how she misses you ...


  1. 365 days later - he is home; her homeward journey continues. It's a long walk, through these long and often lonely days; so glad for these new wheels to help a bit. Loving thoughts to Char, and sparkling memories of Brian today. Both real troopers - and treasures. God bless.


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