It’s been six months since I discovered my dear friend and aunt on the floor of her apartment.
She’s been on my mind a lot these last two weeks.
I’ve wanted to ask her advice, show her recipes, and hear her laughter again.
I’ve wanted to listen to her stories, absorb her attitudes, and live like her – always making the most of every opportunity to do good to another. Why am I not more like that?
I miss her like crazy.
Since she’s what’s on my mind, I’d like to share an excerpt of my journal entry from the day she died; from the day I discovered her.
I wrestled with whether or not I should.
Why am I deciding to share this very personal story?
Because I want to share this moment with you.
Because maybe in sharing this moment you’ll understand me. Or feel understood. Or remember someone you’ve lost. Or cherish someone you have. Maybe you’ll simply be moved to gratitude for the wonderful people in your life, or even for the privilege of being there for someone in their hard stuff.
If any of that happens, it's worth it.
April 12, 2016. Tuesday.
At 10:44 I sent this message to family:
I've been taking Liz to appointments for the last few days and, since she doesn't have a voice to phone (or, I think, energy enough to be online), thought I'd let you know where things are at.
On Friday I took Liz in to the Quick Care Clinic. Given her symptoms, the nurse thought it might be pneumonia, and sent Liz for a chest xray, bloodwork, and an EKG, which could only happen on Monday.
On Monday, we went for those tests. We expected it to take hours and hours, but we were in and out in 2 hrs or less. Thank goodness, because Liz was nearly falling asleep in her chair from exhaustion.
This morning, the nurse called back with test results. (That was fast!) The chest xray showed 'something', and a CT scan was ordered to find out "what's behind it". For the moment, she's assuming it is pneumonia, and is prescribing meds to treat it.
At the moment, the nurse is contacting me because Liz can't speak. She has no voice, so can't talk on the phone. (So if she doesn't answer your calls, texts, or emails, you know why) Liz has asked that I be the contact person for the nurse because of it.)
She's in good spirits, trusting God and not complaining, but she is in rough shape.
Please pray that the medication acts quickly, and that the infection does not advance.
As for contacting her, I'm not sure what to say. She can't talk on the phone.
Right now she needs strength. Stamina. Healing. Fortitude. Rescue.
Psalms 34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
I called Liz with the information the nurse had given me that morning, and also let Liz know of the email I’d sent to her siblings. Her voice had been a whisper the day before. Today it was reduced to a croak. I could hardly understand her, but figured out that she wanted me to arrange an emergency appointment at the chiropractor for that day. She’d been there the day before (which looked horribly painful), but again she was out of joint and in great pain.
An hour later I called back with good news – they’d fit her in for a 3:00 appointment.
Four hours later I would arrive at Liz’s house to pick her up.
It would not be soon enough.
I pulled up at 2:45. Ethan and Abby were with me. It would just be a quick pick up, so I said they could stay in the van reading their freshly acquired library books, and I’d be right back. They were pleased to be able to continue to read.
In the entrance, I buzzed Liz’s apartment. No doubt she would be ready and waiting by the door just like yesterday. The phone went straight to answering machine. That was odd. I dialed again. No answer. Just then, an elderly gentleman pushed open the locked door on his way out, so I snuck through and zipped up to the third floor.
Thankfully, Liz always left her apartment door unlocked. I opened the door, expecting her to be right there in the entrance, waiting for me as she had yesterday. The entrance was empty.
“Liz?” I called. No answer. Maybe she was so exhausted she was sleeping long and hard.
But her bed was empty. The couch, her other resting place, was also empty. It was a small apartment. She wasn’t in the kitchen. I turned toward the bathroom and that’s when I saw her.
Sitting on the floor, fully clothed, she sat slumped against the wall, oddly still. Her head hung too low and her skin was too yellow. I called her name and raced to her side.
“No. …No! No, no, no.” I said it constantly and called her name as I held up her head and tried to find any sign of breath. Her chest did not rise, her mouth moved no air. Her skin, though yellow, was still quite warm.
Against my will, panic rose in me.
I always thought in moments like this I would be strong – rock solid, unshaken. I wouldn’t freak out like people do in movies. I’m not sure where I got that idea. All I know is that, to my surprise, panic, fear, and a deeper sense of urgency than I’ve ever felt rose up in me.
In this moment, I felt the sliver of space between here and eternity – between connection and loss. It felt like Death had just been in the room, and I was desperately fighting to pull her from his grip. It felt like he’d gotten a head start and I was losing.
I frantically searched for her phone. It wasn’t near her or in her bedroom. I dumped her purse’s contents onto the floor to discover it was not in there either. Critical seconds ticked away. I talked aloud to myself and to God about where the heck her phone was, and please help me.
Dashing down the hall, I rapped like a woodpecker on the neighbor’s door. She walked slowly to the door, and slowly to the cordless phone I asked to borrow. I thanked her and ran back to Liz’s side and held her head up again while calling 911.
What happened next was pretty much like in the movies. (This is one of those scenes they actually get
right.) The caller is a panicked, crying person who’s never done this before, and the 911 operator calmly instructs and somehow gets the panicked person to hold it together enough to do those chest compressions until emergency responders arrive.
The whole time thoughts flashed through my mind one after the other. Why isn’t she telling me to give her breath? How long has Liz been without air? I continued pumping as the 911 operator counted aloud on speakerphone to pace me lest I go too quickly in my panicked state. 1,2,3,4. 1..2..3..4..
In the back of my mind I felt like God was watching me, knowingly, compassionately. Like He was in complete control. I was sort of comforted by it, but I didn’t like the story that was unfolding.
Meanwhile the thoughts continued to race through my mind. Did she pass out just before I got here? She’s still warm! There’s still hope! What were her last thoughts? Was she peaceful or afraid? Come on Liz. Come on, God. Someone please help me!
It felt like only a minute or two before paramedics burst into the bathroom. One quickly took my place carrying on chest compressions while another set up an equipment bag of some kind. Another two stood at the door, readying other equipment. Cornered, I climbed into the tub to get out of their way. They exchanged instructions and medical terms that blurred in my mind. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying.
When something was apparently ready, or perhaps it was just for more space so the whole team could access her, they moved her into the middle of the apartment. I felt stunned, watching a team of four or five people in dark suits work on my aunt who laid lifeless on the floor.
They pumped. They intubated. They monitored her heart activity on a machine that pushed out what seemed like meters of paper with a flat green line on it.
While they worked, I realized I needed to collect my children. They were waiting for us.
Parked near the van were two ambulances. The children would have noticed that. I opened the van door and sat down.
“Hi guys,” How on earth was I supposed to tell them? “So, we won’t be going to that appointment. Those ambulances are for aunt Liz.”
“Yes. When I went upstairs, I found her on the floor, not breathing.”
“Not breathing!?” Abby asked, and began crying.
“No, but the medical workers are helping her. They’re trying to get her to breathe again.”
We three made our way upstairs, and I sat with them in a puzzle alcove right next to Liz’s apartment. We talked about what the medical workers were doing, and I would go back and forth between sitting with them and being in the apartment watching them work on Liz.
One of the workers said something about it having been twenty-two minutes, and ‘do you want to call it?’. I couldn’t believe it. How could they call it? Didn’t they know she was supposed to get up and come with me and be okay? Didn’t they know that people had been praying for healing and God would come through? They watched the machine’s relentless paper printout with its endless flat green line.
One worker left the hovering circle to approach me. He explained they’d worked for twenty minutes and none of their efforts had received a single response from her. She was gone.
It felt wrong. How could she be gone? I’d spoken with her that morning. And we had an appointment. And I love her. And she’s right there. And she was warm. She was WARM!
But it was over. And I couldn’t do anything about it. Neither could they. No one could.
A new life had begun. A life without Liz in it. How could it be? She was supposed to get better and come live with us. She was supposed to continue to bless our lives with hers. God had brought her here, couldn’t she stay longer?
I thought of all the prayers I’d prayed that morning for God to please let her stay. I’d had a bad feeling, and begged him to let her stay. His ways are higher though, and apparently the better plan is that she’s with Him. I’m sure she would agree with that…
Just by living her life, she modeled a godly life and inspired so many. And she didn’t seem to know how powerful and far reaching that was. Hers was an example of faith in good and bad times, of decorating each day and room with something cheery, of initiating and reaching out instead of waiting for others to make a move, of seeking God and waiting on Him, and trusting Him completely even when she wasn’t sure of anything.
Her example continues to inspire me.
I want to decorate my house and life with something cheery.
I want to reach out instead of waiting for others to make a move.
I want to trust God completely, even when it doesn’t look like I’m making any difference at all.
I want to have faith in good times and hard times.
With Jesus’ help, I believe He’ll make it so.
Even if I don’t ever realize how powerful and far-reaching it is.
What about you? Who has inspired you?