Years ago, back in the mid-70s I think it was, my beloved Godmother had a heart attack and flat lined on the table. She miraculously pulled through and lived many more years. She had always been a fragile sort, not much of a fighter, and had many health issues. Without ever saying, I always supposed that John, my robust Godfather, a Lithuanian who could hoist the world upon his shoulders, would long outlive her.
But if there is one thing I know for sure, and I for sure only know one thing, it is this: God decides the number of our days. We knoweth not the hour or the day.
Year’s later, after my Godfather had passed away from stomach cancer and my Godmother was in assisted living, we spent an afternoon on her sofa holding hands and just visiting as she drifted in and out of sleep.
In between naps, she told me the story of the day she was on the operating table and how she saw her mother standing in a bright light, calling to her in French, “Rose! Venez! Venez avec nous!” Come! Come be with us!
She said she longed to run to her mother. But she couldn’t. “I can’t go now Mom,” she called, “I’ve got to take care of John.”
As ridiculous and unlikely as that seemed at the time, that Rose would outlive John and would need to care for him, that is exactly how it played out.
My Godmother passed away a number of years ago but it is one of those conversations that I have replayed in my mind many times, particularly of late.
In the past several months, we have had to transition AD’s mother and stepfather into assisted living after George got really sick. George has a long and complicated health history, so when he got sick it was not a complete surprise. But then while he was recovering in rehab, Cleo got really sick, which was a surprise, and neither of them could get well enough to live on their own again.
While George was sick, we braced ourselves for the worst believing that what remained of his life could be measured in days. But George has made a full recovery. And as of this writing, it is Cleo whose days seem to be numbered.
When George was sick, I sat by his bed wondering if this would be our last visit. Flat on his back, with his eyes closed, he lay in his bed in a pitiful unshaven and disheveled mess, the picture of a man waiting for that one last clear call.
In a raspy voice, he struggled to tell me how Jesus had come to him in the night and given him permission to let go. He said he had never been so sick in his whole life and he longed for the discomfort to end. “I told him, Lord, if you want me, I am ready,” he whispered, “But I need to stay to take care of Cleo.” Then a tear escaped and zigzagged through the stubble of whiskers into the pillow.
At that moment, the idea that he would recover to care for Cleo seemed to be a machination of delirium. He was flat on his back and she was ambulatory. But that is exactly how it is playing out.
Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day with George as we sat by Cleo’s bedside. She is mostly in a catatonic semi-sleep like state, mumbling and thrashing. At times, she would reach out her hands, to whom? Is God near? Is he giving her permission to let go? Does she feel His breath on her neck? Is her mother calling to her, “Come Cleo! Come be with us!” Does she have a reason to stay?
Throughout the day she would occasionally pop her eyes open and have several minutes of clarity, recognizing Sean and AD. She would chat as best she could with a lazy and thick tongue. In one awakening, she reported that a pilot flew her up to Tulsa, where she lived as a young mother when AD was three. And then just as quickly as she comes into our world she is off again.
Who is this good pilot who takes my beloved mother-in-law joyriding through the days of her life and gently touches down so she can chat for a moment or two before whisking her off again?
And when will he take her off to be with those we too long to see some day?
We knoweth not the hour or the day. But we know Him, the one who numbers our days.
And that’s all we need to know.