Monday, November 14, 2011

What Haunts Me

Have you ever been looking into someone's eyes the exact moment their heart stops beating?
I have, and it haunts me.

I hesitated to write this post, and hesitate even more to post it.  But I must get these words out of my mind, because they are eating away at me.  If you don't want to read it, that is fine.  I understand.  But I cannot bear this pain alone any longer.  And if I put it out here for you to see, then I can let it go.  I hope.

Jim was in the critical care unit at U of M when he died.  It wasn't what either of us wanted for his last hours, but it's what happened.  His friends were halfway there, driving almost six hours from Indiana, and he'd asked me to get ahold of his brother and sisters.  Did he know he was about to die?  I don't know.  I certainly wasn't prepared for what came next. 

The nurses had kicked me out of his room while they inserted femoral IV lines in his legs to administer medicines and fluids.  I'd been with him through every single procedure (except an MRI- I had to stand outside the door) over the last five days, and we were both upset that they kicked me out for this one.  I had just come back into the room and was so glad to see the look of relief that washed over his face when I walked in the door. 

I went immediately to his side and grabbed his hand.  It was cool to the touch.  The nurses came in with one of those inflatable warming blankets and covered him all the way up to his chin.  This made him claustrophobic and he started to get agitated, so I pulled it down to his chest.  The nurses started to correct me, but one glare from me stopped them.  I think they got the message.  Jim told me that he felt like he couldn't breathe very well.  I'd been watching his oxygen saturation, because it had been fluctuating all day (he'd been out on the main floor until now).  It was in the 90's so I knew that he was getting oxygen, but I also knew he was starting to panic for some reason.  Then his sats started dropping slowly into the 80's over an hour or so, and I pointed it out to the nurses.  They told me it was probably a bad connection with the monitor and fiddled around with his finger at little.  They didn't know our story, didn't know that I was an asset and not a hindrance.  Didn't know that I knew every vital statistic about my husband spanning the last three years of his illness.  Didn't know that this drop was the start of a bad trend.  Didn't know that ignoring me was going to bring out a tiger in me. 

When the oxygen sats got into the low 80's, I told them they needed to get an intubation kit.  Did I mention that his nurse was a man?  I think I offended him when I told him what to do.  He didn't like that I was hovering.  I didn't care.  Jim was getting more and more agitated, telling me that he couldn't breathe.They put some oxygen on him and told him to relax.  I felt the tiger waking up.

When his sats hit 79, I yelled for them to get an intubation kit, and suddenly people started listening. Jim was scared and really beginning to panic.  I felt this animalistic rage well up inside of me as I turned to the nurses and yelled again, "Get the damned tube NOW.  He can't breathe and you're not doing anything!  Stop standing there talking about it and DO SOMETHING."   The tiger was loose. ICU's are quiet.  When someone starts yelling, people start running.

Then I looked into my husband's pained face, and calm washed over me.  I was holding his hand, and I pulled it close to my chest.  I knew he probably was having tunnel vision from the pain and panic, so I got very close to him.  I told him to look at me, to focus on my face.  I'll never forget the plaintive tone in his voice when he said, "Meg, please help me.  I can't breathe.  Meg, I can't breathe."  I told him to look at my eyes and stroked his hand.  I told him that the nurses were coming with a tube and it was going to help him.  His eyes started to roll back in his head, and I talked louder, telling him to look at my eyes.  He forced himself back into conciousness and looked directly into my eyes.  "Meg, please help me, please.  I can't breathe.  Help me, Meg."

I'll never foget feeling God Himself come into my heart and calming my spirit.  I laid my free hand on Jim's chest.  I looked directly into those beautiful blue eyes and began to pray.  The first words that came out of my mouth were, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus".  Jim looked at me and repeated, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus".  A desperate cry for help.  I told him to be quiet and just concentrate on breathing, that I would pray and he could agree.  He nodded his head, and I prayed for God to calm his heart, to control his breathing.  In my peripheral vision I saw a nurse return to his room with an intubation kit.  Finally.

Then it happened.  Those blue eyes changed to green, a color I'd never seen before.  A look of surprise came over his face and he choked, kind of like he'd swallowed water the wrong way.  And then I saw him go.  I was looking right into his eyes, and I saw his spirit leave.  Alarms started going off.  I think I smacked his cheek and called out to him, not wanting to believe what I had just seen happen in his eyes.  But I knew he was gone. 

A nurse told me they were going to push the code button and I'd better stand back.  I heard the Code Blue alert going out over the intercom, and then pounding footsteps in the hall as about twenty people converged on his room all at once.  A sweet young girl took me by the shoulders and put a chair underneath my shaking legs.  It was too late for me to get out of the room; they had swung his bed out to the middle of the room and people were everywhere.  I wouldn't have left anyway.   I somehow managed to get ahold of my mom at my house (she was staying with Marley), Jim's sister, and our friends, who were on their way.  Then I just sat and watched, my hands shaking uncontrollably.  I remember thinking, "It's too late.  He's already gone".  But I couldn't help but marvel at the team as they worked to bring him back.  The respiratory therapist was doing CPR.  He was a huge man, with enormous biceps and a tattoo of a pair of lungs on his arm.  He never waivered for twenty minutes, compressing my husband's chest so effectively that the pulse he created showed up on the monitors like a normal heartbeat.  People were yelling out the names of medications as they pushed them into his IV's.  Someone else was bagging him and forcing air into his lungs.  About 10 minutes in, they stopped to check for a heartbeat or pulse.  Nothing.  I wanted to tell them to stop, I'd seen him go, but I knew there were people who loved him on the way to the hospital.  So I kept quiet.  I remember marveling at the team, thinking that they were operating like a well-oiled machine.  After another ten minutes they regained his heartbeat and blood pressure and his heart miraculously continued to beat on its own.  I let out a primal shout; the tiger was still there.

Once everything settled down, I went back to his side and took his hand again.  It was limp and cold, but I held it anyway.  I spent some time alone with this precious man I had loved for nearly a decade.  I knew he was gone, but it was through God's sweet mercy that I had that time to sit with him.  The respirator hummed a soothing rhythm, and my tears finally fell like rain.  I had let people know that they had gotten him back, his body anyway.  But he was gone.  The strong man who had fought for so long was gone.  The arms that had held his baby daughter with such gentleness and joy, the strong hands that had opened so many stubborn jars and worked so hard all his life were now at rest.

That one moment when I saw his spirit go still haunts me at night when I close my eyes.  I find comfort knowing that the last words he uttered were words to his Savior.  His last words to me were pleas for help, and it will never leave my mind, ever.  I couldn't do anything.  Time helps, but those memories are still as vivid as they were almost ten months ago.  I wonder if he saw what happened after he left, if he heard me cry out to him, if he saw the men and women who tried desperately to bring his body back to life.  I wonder if he saw the friends and family who came to his hospital room and if he heard the words they said to him, felt the kisses they tenderly planted on his face.

I wonder if he still sees the tears that run down my face and onto my pillow at night when I can't sleep and that memory rises to the surface.  Who knows?  I do know that he isn't hurting anymore, that he is healthy and whole and free of pain.  But does he see the pain and sadness and loneliness that still exists down here?  I won't know until I join him someday. 

Until then, I'll continue to live the life that I have been given with joy, with purpose, and some sadness mixed in here and there.  That night still haunts me, that look in his eyes.  In sharing it with you, I feel that I can let part of it go.  I find comfort in reminding myself of his last words~ "Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.".  Jesus met him there in that hospital room, and took Jim home. 


  1. I can certainly see how that would be something you'd need to get out and how it'd lead to rough nights. I had a rough time after witnessing my Grandma's death (after caring for her for six years), but it was nowhere near as traumatic as the scene you describe. However, Jesus was there to walk her home, too. And knowing that they are already there and waiting for us can help take the sting out of the pain of death. Not that we don't still feel the loss, of course, but we know that they're happy, pain-free, and living in the presence of their Savior. What we need to do now is exactly what you've already said so well: "live . . . life . . . with joy, with purpose, and some sadness mixed in here and there."

    There's LOTS more I'd like to say, but I'll have to wait for all of my words to stop swirling. So for now, just know that I love you lots and that you're regularly in my prayers. I won't pretend to understand the depth of your hurt, but I can certainly lift you up to the One who does. Stay close to Him, and keep on writing!

    Love and hugs to you!

  2. Megan,
    I don't have words. So I'll pray. And keep praying. Then pray some more. And I'll cry with you. And hold you and Marley close every chance I get. I love you. And I miss Jim.

  3. If I could take your pain and replace it with Jim, I would. But know I would be cheating you of the depth you are going into the Lord. May His fullness continue to be yours, comforting, healing, and enriching the special woman that you are. Love you, Megan.

  4. im sitting here in tears as i read your blog post-just after seeing the movie i posted about today -boy it all ties together and my daughter keeps looking at me kind of worried.anyhow i cant imagine what you went through or how hard it must be for you.i just wish i was close enough to be a shoulder for you to cry on.since i can i hope that you will accept this big cyber hug and know that i am praying for you.praying that you will be able to release this and have the peace that you need. also i hope that this thought helps give you peace-try looking at it not as a haunt but rather a gift that God gave you.I know in so many ways that seems messed up BUT you as a child of God got to witness what so many havent.that is to actually see his spirt leave his earthly body and go up to be with God.I mean so many of us dont ever view dealth in that way-we if we are christians know this is the case but how many have seen this side of it.also know that Jim is now with the child you lost.through the pain try to remember that he is up there with that child waiting until the day he will be reunited with the rest of his you and do hope i have helped and not hurt.God bless

  5. Megan, this was beautifully written. I felt like I was in that room with you. One Sunday soon after Jim's funeral I went to the microphone in our church (only my 2nd time in 13 years) and shared about what your dad told us Jim's last words were: "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." Thank you for sharing these precious thoughts with us.

  6. What a touching moment! You will live your life with pride and love knowing that you had that experience. Even though he was calling to be taken home, he was looking at you with love and that's what will remain when the haunting is over. Love you.

  7. My dearest Megan,
    Oh how I wish I could wipe the tears. We have shared many and I still shed tears today in reading your precious memory of Jim. He was a good husband, father and for me a friend. I love you and Marley and hold you close and pray every second I can for you. We who knew Jim will one day see him, hope he saves a place for me. Jeanne

  8. It was impossible not to cry while reading this post. I pray for your strength in dealing with these memories. You are an incredible person and momma. Love you!


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  10. Thanks for sharing Megan! God is good all the time God is good!

  11. wow. i am blown away by the story, and by you being able to share it. i can understand how it would replay in your mind over and over,and i agree with your friend chanda that it was a gift to bei with him at his last moments, crying out to Jesus. i pray that GOd can make it a 'sweet' memory, not a haunting! heaven is sweeter now to think about, isn't it?thanks for sharing and praying with you that you can be 'free' to think on it with healing in your heart.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this, Megan. I hope that it brings some comfort and relief to you. That sure is a lot to hold inside. I pray you have a peaceful night tonight. I know I have told you before, but you are an amazing person. I feel blessed to have had the chance to get to know you these past couple of years.
    ~Julie A.

  13. Thank you for sharing your pain Megan. Putting your thoughts into words will help others and maybe help you. God bless

  14. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Psalm 46:1-3 Megan as you have shared your heart I pray that you will take courage and comfort in knowing that your loving Heavenly Father is your present help as you work your way thru this challenging and troubling time. But remember it is His strength that will get your thru as you take refuge in Him. We love you Megan!!

  15. This was so beautiful Megan...sending prayers for peace your way.

  16. Thank you, friends, for your love and perspective. You have blessed me more than words can say.

  17. I couldn't leave a comment the first time I read this. Somehow it suddenly rewinds time and I'm right back there watching someone's last breath.

    There is nothing like it. Except now I tell my son, "if you have Jesus in your heart, when you die, you close your eyes here, and you wake up in heaven." and it somehow just a wee bit more comforting than when it was said to me. Because I know. I KNOW it is better there.

    But we miss them just the same.

    Thank you for posting this. I hope it helped.


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