Not All Trips Are Pleasant
Not all trips are pleasant.
Not all family relationships are harmonious.
Not all stories have happy endings.
This is one of those times. You don’t HAVE to read it, but I HAD to write it.
We received a call on a Tuesday that Jenni’s brother had gone to the emergency room. Over the course of two days he would make four such trips, being sent back to his assisted living facility each time, until the fourth when he suffered two strokes. He was then sent to a larger hospital for better, more thorough care. We made quick plans for the four hour trip to see him.
To say the family relationship is complicated is an understatement in dysfunctional family dynamics. Their mother might have used her favorite word “interesting” for this (code for ‘I can’t tell you what I really want to say.’) But be clear, a lifetime of self-destruction led to this moment. Early on there were outbursts and acts of violence that created permanent emotional scars for most of the family. And be assured that a lifetime of prayers were poured out for him.
And now he was helpless in a hospital bed. After decades of destroying relationships he had no one to care for him or advocate on his behalf. No one except a sister who found a way to release 40+ years of conflict and past wrongs, hold his hand, wipe his tears, and speak on his behalf for his medical care.
The strokes progressively isolated his brain until there was only a miniscule amount of blood flow reaching it. The diagnosis was undoubtedly grim.
We parked Wanda in the hospital parking lot and waited. The second night we moved down the street to the Hospice House parking lot. We could quickly come and go as needed.
I went into the hospice house to see him on the second night. I called his name above the drug induced snoring and he opened his eyes. Something seemed to register but, of course, words were no longer possible. I told him hello and where he was. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so forthright but I thought he deserved to know. He indicated he was not in pain. Honestly, I wanted to offer him one last beer but I knew he couldn’t swallow. It didn’t seem fair.
The conversation was short. What do you talk about when all your history together has been about brokenness, sadness, and avoidance? I was the one who met the prison guard with a change of clothes when he was brought to his father’s funeral. I was the one who fed him a cheeseburger as we left his mother dying in hospice care of her own. No, those were not great conversation starters.
Searching the past 35 years for something positive, I do remember him carrying our youngest son on his hip as he walked around my in-law’s fig trees. It was one of those rare, conflict-free times we could enjoy. And I remember the time my oldest son was saying bedtime prayers while on the floor of the living room. He named his uncle and I glanced up to see that his uncle was looking around his newspaper, listening. Yes, he was prayed for a lot in his lifetime. The good times were not plentiful; I didn’t know him as a kid like his sister and cousins.
Later Jenni and I left the hospice house and walked the family cemetery discussing funeral arrangements. It’s sad, and even more so that he is only 55. But a life of pain and demons would be over soon.
As we prepared to return home on the fourth day we said our goodbyes and urged him not to linger but to release himself. I reminded Jenni that no one truly dies alone. Even if there is not a physical person in the room with them I believe there is a presence of angels, the Holy Spirit, or maybe relatives who have gone before. He would not be alone. And God bless the special people who work in hospice care to make sure of that.
Sharing all of this is no longer embarrassing; that feeling went away a long time ago. But it is painful—painful to relive past hurts and second doubts. Why write about it? The chances are good that someone reading this could be in a similar situation. Dysfunction is more common than we think. It may be just starting for you or it may be a long road you are too familiar with traveling. Knowing you are not alone is a first step to healing. Finding someone you can share with is a second step. There is help available. Just ask.
And as our pastor often reminds us: The worst thing is never the last thing.
Bubba died on Saturday, February 27, 2021. He is at peace. Finally.