By Ann Mann
What would you do with eight more hours? That is how many hours we had between the time my husband coded in the Monroe County Hospital in Forsyth and the time he was pronounced dead at Emory University hospital in Atlanta. The damage from a massive brain bleed was too much to overcome despite heroic measures by the medical professionals who cared for us.
My husband had a living will and an advanced directive. He did not want to be kept alive with a ventilator if there was no hope of survival. When it is time to die, he said he was ready to meet Jesus. I feel the same way. But in those moments when you must make life and death decisions, you hold on to hope. You want to be sure you have given the doctors time to do everything they can to save his life.
And so, they revived my husband and kept him alive with the help of a ventilator. The doctor said there were neurosurgeons who might be able to relieve the pressure from the bleeding and bring him back. There was a chance his life could be saved. So, I held on, for eight more hours.
But shortly after he was airlifted to Emory, the surgeons said all hope was gone. In the first brain scan at Monroe County Hospital, the left hemisphere had gone gray (which means it was destroyed by the brain bleed.) By the time they did another scan at Emory, the entire right hemisphere was gray.
We spent a few hours determining whether any of his organs could be saved, to give the gift of life to someone else. Because of his age, the damage from the brain bleed, and the unspecified infection, there were no organs that could be saved.
Even so, those eight hours offered us so many gifts. It gave our son time to fly in from Nevada. He had already decided to fly home that morning, before the brain bleed, and I am so thankful he made the trip. He arrived in time to say goodbye, to say all the things you need to say if you know the end is near.
Those eight hours offered our daughter a chance to whisper in Kim’s ear that she was expecting her first child. She would become a mother in March. I don’t know what else they talked about. But like my son, it was an opportunity to share one more moment with the world’s best dad.
Those eight hours gave my family, Kim’s brothers, and sisters, and some of his other relatives a chance to drive in from Alabama and around Georgia to join us as we held out hope for a miracle. When it was clear the healing would not come on this side of heaven, it gave them a chance to say goodbye.
I have relived those eight hours more times than I care to admit, and especially this month. You see, earlier this month there was a memorial service at the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church for all clergy, clergy spouses, and conference laity who had died since the last annual conference. There were colleagues who had not heard about Kim’s passing. They wanted to know what happened. And I told our story.
As I told our story, I wonder if we should have said our goodbye the first time his heart stopped beating. But if we had, my son and my daughter would not have had that special time together. And so, I know it was the right choice. We had to try to save him, even though we knew he would most likely never be the man he was before the brain bleed.
What would you do with eight more hours? So much of that time is a blur. There are also moments I remember clearly. Moments when I held his hand and prayed for all I was worth. And I will be brutally honest, I also told him how sad I was that he never shared his passwords. (Please, make sure your partner in life has your passwords! It will be a beautiful final gift.) I am most grateful for the opportunity to say all the things I wanted to say to my husband of almost 40 years.
In the end, eight more hours gave our family time to prepare for the unthinkable (as much as you can.) Eight more hours gave us time to hold each other, to say goodbye one last time, and to pray. While I prayed for healing on this side of heaven, over and over I have seen that prayers aren’t always answered the way we hope. While this is not the future I prayed for, I am overwhelmed by God’s love, mercy, and grace. And I am so very grateful to God for those eight more hours.
(Ann Mann is an Emmy Award winning journalist, now serving as pastor to Barnesville First United Methodist Church. Her email is email@example.com.)