“I’m not leaving.”
I sat beside my brother’s hospital bed.
My husband frowned. “What?” he said. “Nobody said anything about leaving.”
True. Moments earlier, however, I’d mentally decided to check-out. Maybe it was a defense mechanism. Maybe I couldn’t handle the truth.
My brother, 33, was battling kidney failure. Jim was diagnosed three weeks earlier, when my husband and I announced the birth of our youngest daughter. Immediately, desperately, we sought competent medical care for Jim.
But Jim, unable to tolerate dialysis, became hospitalized. Still, I was convinced he’d recover.
I stood there, observing Jim’s slumbering form. Why stay? I thought. Jim was sleeping. I needed to get home to my newborn. And Joe was supposed to play tennis that night.
Yes, I’d silently decided. We’d return tomorrow. For now, we’d leave.
Almost immediately another thought hit: I have to stay.
Suddenly I was filled with conviction.
I sat down. “I’m not leaving,” I heard myself say.
Joe cocked his head.
“Go play tennis,” I said. Who put those words in my mouth? The tennis match was miles away.
“No, I’m not…” Joe protested.
However, with uncharacteristic persuasion, I insisted he go.
“What do you want me to do afterwards?” he asked.
My words came without hesitation. “Come back here,” I said.
“Then what will you do?”
“I don’t know,” I heard myself say. “I’ll tell you then.”
He left, and I turned to Jim.
Inching closer to his face, I jiggled Jim’s shoulder. “Jim,” I said. “Jim”
Jim couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak. But his eyes flickered open. We made eye contact, enabling a communication, albeit without words.
He wore an oxygen mask. Sometimes he wanted it on, and sometimes he wanted it off, so I did that for him. Sometimes waves of pain washed over him, and I’d encourage him through that. Sometimes I’d just talk, and he’d watch, listening to my every word.
In the handful of hours that passed, time stood still. I remained freakishly calm, even when I lost the connection to Jim…even when he, moments later, took his last breath…even when Sr. Catherine appeared, apologizing for the unexpected delay that caused her to arrive after his passing…
But the nun’s timing was perfect. She prayed with me. Jim wouldn’t have wanted a stranger in the room.
After she left, I stood alone, still strangely calm, besides my brother’s lifeless body. Moments later, a thought arose: My job is done. I can go home now.
With that, I turned to leave.
As I exited the hospital room, the elevator doors across the hallway opened. Amazingly, my husband emerged, returning from his tennis game. I collapsed into his arms.
Looking back, I didn’t know how I remained calm. I didn’t know how I knew what to do. I didn’t know how Joe or the nun arrived with such perfect timing.
Jim’s death, however, awakened my faith. With that, I realized, despite the sad outcome, that each one of us was held, like a royal diadem, in the hand of God. The orchestration was supernatural.
Indeed, God gives us what we need, when we need it. He can be trusted. His timing is perfect.
Debra Tomaselli writes from Altamonte Springs, Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org