He Went Before / The Why That Diminishes
On an ordinary Sunday night – perhaps a little less ordinary because it was Super Bowl Sunday – a husband and wife sat together in their den to watch Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Maybe the fact that it was the Super Bowl made some of the difference in what transpired that night: maybe because it was the Super Bowl, she was sitting in the den watching the game with him rather than cooking or cleaning or putting in one more load of wash or responding to emails related to her extensive volunteer work or doing any of the other daily tasks that this active woman does by rote from morning to night.
The kids are grown and gone and now this husband and wife – still young and active – maintain a running, functioning household for themselves as a place of respite from work and volunteer responsibilities, for their nine grandchildren who all live in town, for kids and friends who come to visit.
And yet that night, instead of bustling around, she was merely feet from the man she had loved since before he went to Vietnam, the man to whom she bore three accomplished daughters, the man with whom she had traveled the United States and Europe, the man who loved her back with everything in him.
She looked up during the game, early in the second half, when they were settled back in the den, and she saw him slump just a little. Odd, that. Why would he fall asleep while they were actively talking and watching the game? She looked at him for just a second and heard an awful gurgle sound she’d never heard him make.
She stood up, walked the few steps to him, put her hand on his shoulder, and called him by name, telling him to wake up.
In that split second, she realized he had stopped breathing and wasn’t conscious. She snatched the phone that was right beside the couch and called 911. Then she began CPR. No medical training for it, just love that pumped through her arms and hands as she worked to be for him the heart for him that had stopped beating. Down, up. Down, up. Down, up. Down, up. Down, up.
For the minutes that must have seemed like an eternity between she called and when the very fast paramedics arrived, she kept the blood and oxygen pumping in his heart and throughout his body by doing chest compressions, never stopping until she heard the paramedics at the door. They resumed what she had faithfully done, using paddles to shock his heart back to pumping. They took him to an excellent nearby hospital, his wife in the ambulance right there with him.
From there, the hours and the days were fast and slow all at once.
The tubes. The lack of consciousness. The confusion. The all-clear on stroke and blood clot. The attendant questions with that all-clear. The not all-clear on his heart. The learning of heart problems previously unfelt. The medically-induced hypothermic coma. The chance he would not survive being medically taken out of that coma state. The uncertainty whether he would regain part or all neurological function. The questions about his future. The questions about what caused it all. The talk of a transplant. The procedures. The monitors. The PICC line. The hushed and rushed waiting. The extended family camped out in the ICU waiting room with so many chairs gathered together and so much food and drink that it looked like a Land Grab from days of old. The friends who came. The friends and the friends of friends who awaited updates and prayed. The tears. The hands held in prayer over an ICU bed while tubes and monitors did their part to do what the body could not and our prayers went to the One who is the Great Physician.
By mid-week we learned that my uncle had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Statistically, only 3% survivability.
All week we had thought it, but knowing what had happened made us marvel all the more: what if my aunt had been out of town still as she was the day before? What if she had been in the other room when his heart stopped? What if she had been in the very same room but had not noticed him slump a little and then make that sound? What if she had run to the store? What if he had been at the lake? What if? What if? What if?
By week’s end, we had witnessed miracles: procedures that ended with better results than our mortal minds would have dreamed; protection from infection; and the fact not only that he had survived but also that all that was needed after all that was for him to have an implanted defibrillator, tweak some things about his food intake, and have prescribed cardiac therapy. Seriously? The nurses and doctors in the ICU were stunned and jubilant. This was an uncommon result, to put it mildly. We were wide-eyed in awe
I don’t know why that precious uncle of mine was spared in that moment. Almighty God had obviously gone before and arranged everything just so. I don’t know why. Never will. I just know that we are grateful beyond words, that we appreciate the extra time we get with a man who means so much to so many.
And this also I know: there is a ‘Why’ That Diminishes. Were we to look at this entire circumstance with my uncle and know what we know and see how things turned out and yet ask ‘well if He can do this, and He did, then why didn’t He spare that other uncle who died of heart disease years ago’ or ‘why didn’t He heal this particular person on this side of Heaven’ or any other such question, all we would be doing is diminishing our opportunity to marvel, to worship, to praise, to thank, to celebrate. It is hard to express gratitude while we are expressing indignation or entitlement. That’s true of our own children, and it’s certainly true of us as we relate to our Heavenly Father.
He can handle our ‘whys’ and be unharmed, but here’s the rub: the Why That Diminishes really ends up just harming us. And it’s no way to live.
Not when there is so, so much to thank and live for. Praise be to God.