Friday, July 7, 2017

I Feel Like I Failed Him in His Final Hours

I FailedI Failed. How could I fail my love in his final hours? You might be wondering what I could have possibly done or not done for me to categorize this act as failure.

Since Joel’s death, I’ve read several books, including multiple accounts of families ushering their loved ones to Heaven, as they’ve surrounded them while they left this life for their eternal one. I’ve also heard countless stories of friends having similar beautiful stories to share about their final moments with their precious family and friends.

In my experience with Joel, it felt way more chaotic, and looking back now…I feel like I should have done so much more for him in those final hours. I honestly feel like I failed him.

In hindsight, the only answer to my failures is this…I. Was. In. Shock.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my last conversation with Joel consisted of him praying over the situation and praying for me and the children. It was so beautiful, and I’ll never forget that moment. Soon after, he was placed on a ventilator, sedated, and I never heard his living voice again.

I always envisioned if I ever had the unfortunate experience of being in a setting such as this, I would hold my loved ones hand for hours (if that’s what it took) until he either came out of the crisis or went to Heaven. I imagined a room full of people surrounding him with prayer and stanzas from various hymns and praise songs. I imagined talking to him repeatedly…encouraging him to fight and not give up, that we were in the fight with him. I imagined reading scripture over him, allowing God’s Word to penetrate the room and his sick body. Yet…it didn’t actually turn out that way.

Instead, I cowered in the corner of his ICU room, often watching the medical staff work hastily to try different medication combinations and various other procedures, to help him try to turn a corner. I tried to stay out of their way, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. In all honesty, I felt frozen. I couldn’t think. I was literally in a place of shock I’d never experienced before.

I would step in and out of his room to talk with the doctors and nurses or to step in the waiting room to share updates with the latest friends and family who had come to be there with us. And, at one point, the shock took a violent and scary turn for me. I completely lost control. I remember sobbing over a trash can, fearful I was on the verge of vomiting over the trauma I was going through in that place. I remember thinking I was losing complete control over my body. I honestly though I was dying. But, God in His infinite love and mercy, carried me through those dark moments.

After the above episode ended, I felt like a zombie again. Unable to think, process, or even pray, if I’m being completely honest. Thankfully, others around me sustained me through prayer.

I watched, with my own eyes, my husband code for the first time on the attempt to move him for transport to a helicopter journey. The horror I felt throughout my body made my knees feel weak, but thankfully I was already sitting. I wanted to run to Joel…tell him to wake up, to breathe, to fight…he was too young to leave us!!! I needed him here with me. And, yet I was frozen again, watching these medical professionals trying to revive him.

His pulse returned. But, not for long.

Often times, as I replay these events in my head, I feel such shame. If I had done more, would Joel be here today? I know what Truth reveals. God’s Word tells me there is NO condemnation in Christ Jesus. I truly believe these are lies of the enemy trying to still take me out. I’m trying to overcome all of this, and yet sometimes…I’m frozen with guilt.

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  1. Patricia Butler says:

    Dear Leah – You did nothing wrong – absolutely nothing! I experienced the passing of my dear husband seven years ago, but I have peace knowing that I’d done all I could do, and so had the doctors. God in His sovereignty had something different, and so much better, waiting for Joel, as well a for my much-loved Gordon! Of course I miss him terribly, but I remind myself that God has something for me as well. It may be that I’ll meet someone else, or it may be that I’ll spend the rest of my life as a widow – I just have to remind myself that He is in control! May He continue to strengthen you as you follow Him!

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      Patricia – Thank you for taking time to share portions of your own story. It truly brings comfort to me!

  2. Ricci Fender says:

    Leah my sister Cheryl went through a similar situation when her husband died from a botched appendectomy. You beat yourself up over what you should have or could have done differently. You did all you knew to do at the time. You were taken by surprise as it was not like he had a long term illness that you were expecting him to go to his heavenly home at any moment. I’ll never forget the doctor coming out and telling us her husband didn’t make it. The feelings we went through were overwhelming and hard to bear. Through God’s grace we made it. It will be 10 years for her this month. God will see you through this.

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      Ricci – Thank you for sharing that about Cheryl. I had no idea she lost her husband that way. Your encouragement is incredible! Thank you!

  3. Nancy Howell says:

    Leah, Your dwelling on those final hours serves no good purpose. Believe me, I know. I spent the last 16 hours of Mark’s life by his bedside as he’d slipped into a coma, singing, praying over him, talking to him in one-sided deep, meaningful conversations. I had 16 hours to tell him goodbye.

    Hindsight is always 20/20. This kind of hindsight hinders you from the healing that God wants for you. As hard as it is for me to admit, I believe that July 30, 2011, was the last numbered day for Mark in God’s book. It certainly wasn’t the last day I wanted for him, but it was “his time.”

    Early on in my grief journey, after journaling and blogging and praying and talking to my counselor, I decided that, although I knew my mind would wander back to those days, especially the last, and replay all those events in painful accuracy, I could no longer say “what if I had done this” or “what if the doctors had done that.” It was finished. Mark was gone to be with our Father. No matter how much time I spent wringing my hands, crying out to God, nothing would change the outcome.

    It is what it is. All you can do is hand it over to Him, every single time the devil puts those doubts into your mind. Because that’s exactly where they’re coming from. He wants you to doubt. He wants you looking back.

    God wants you to look around and see the blessings you still have, most especially your babies, big and small.

    Time won’t necessarily heal, but taking active steps towards healing will. You and your family are in our prayers constantly, and on our church’s prayer list.

    Oh sweet sister, how Joel still loves you. You did everything you humanly could during those last hours.

    Love you…

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      Thank you for your wisdom Nancy! Everything you said is “spot on”. Sometimes it simply takes other eyes seeing for me when I’ve become blinded (albeit temporarily) by lies. Love you lady!

    • Deborah says:

      Thank you for sharing this with Leah, Nancy! This is helping me, too! I have been dealing with all the “what could I, should I have done” to change the outcome of my brother’s death. Yet, my situation is different because he took his own life in September.

      • Leah Stirewalt says:

        Deborah – I understand that situation too (unfortunately). My prior husband (before Joel) committed suicide. I’ve been down that “what if” road too, but for some reason, I was able to accept the fact I couldn’t have changed that outcome much quicker than this time. Being widowed twice in six years was almost more than I could bear, but God is so much bigger than my pain! Still clinging to Him…

  4. I am so sorry you feel this way. You have been through a personal war, and while it may not seem like it now, you will triumph.

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