The next day, I called the nurse’s station for an update on my ex-husband’s status. She politely informed me that I had been removed from the “family” list and could no longer receive information about my ex-husband. “Who made that decision?! I may not be family, but our son IS!” I retorted. “I’m sorry ma’am. The patient’s brother has requested that you be excluded from any communication.” Initially, I was angry. Hurt. Offended. Who did he think he was?! This is my son’s father we’re talking about! We may have had our differences in the past, but my ex-husband had recently said repeatedly, “You’re family, Susan. I don’t care what anyone says. You’re the mother of my son. You will always be family.” And now his brother says otherwise. With a simple word, I’m cut out.
But then I realized something. My ex-brother-in-law was in the midst of the most terrifying and unmanageable situation. His little brother was on life support, fighting for survival. There was nothing he could do to control what was happening. But the one little thing he could control was who had access to the information. It was an exercise in futility. But it was something.
I only had this realization because I was simultaneously up to my eyeballs in a Step Study with Celebrate Recovery. It was through that study and the amazing support I found through Celebrate Recovery that I was able to process any of what was happening. Celebrate Recovery taught me how to understand the human reaction to an unmanageable situation: grasping at control. Most of all, I was ready to make amends and able to hear God’s voice throughout the coming days.
Six days passed with no word. No updates from my ex-husband’s family. No phone calls to my son. Nothing. I was talking to a dear friend and mentor when I voiced my concern. I needed to know what was going on for my son’s sake. She encouraged me to be a “mama bear.” She said to call and don’t take “no” for an answer. So I did.
I called the nurse’s station and said, “I know I’m not on the list and you can’t give me any specifics. But can you tell me if I should prepare his son for the worst or can we look forward to seeing him in a regular hospital room soon?” The nurse whispered into the receiver, “Don’t break any laws, but get here as soon as you possibly can. They are taking him off life support right now.”
I obeyed all traffic laws and quickly drove to the hospital. I marched my son straight to the ICU room where his father lay with immediate family around the bed. No tubes. No IVs. No machines.
I stood in the doorway and looked to my ex-mother-in-law for permission to enter. She nodded and gestured for my son to enter the room. My seven year old son bravely, but hesitantly approached the bed where his father laid, gasping for air and still in a coma. He held his dad’s hand and said, “I love you, Daddy. I’ll see you in heaven someday. I’ll miss you.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. My son literally said goodbye as his father breathed his last breaths. I am so grateful that he will always have that moment to look back on and know that he was able to have closure.
Late that night, when we got home, my son asked if he could sleep in my bed with me. Of course! How could I refuse? I held him tightly as we wept together. When he finally spoke, he said, “I’m so afraid I’ll forget my dad! I’m so young. What if I lose all my memories of him?” I assured him that I would help him remember and we could talk about his dad any time he wanted. We hugged and cried together. I mourned for my son’s loss. I am so proud of how very brave he was that evening.
Several days later at the funeral, I had prepared a little eulogy. I knew I needed to get up in front of all the former family and friends. These were the people who had primarily only heard his side of the story over the years. I was nervous as walked to the podium. I could feel their eyes boring into me. I trembled as I took out the notes I’d prepared. Then I looked at my son’s big, brown eyes. This was why I was standing in front of a room full of people who were not my supporters. For my boy. He needed to hear these words. He needed to hear me honor his father’s memory.
The journey since that day has not been easy. Parenting a child through the loss of their other parent is the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced. Knowing that my son will not have his father at his graduations, his wedding, or his children’s births is heartbreaking. Not having his father as he approaches adolescence is confusing. Walking my son through the stages of grief when I cannot possibly comprehend what he’s going through is overwhelming at times.
However, through it all, we have a faithful heavenly Father. We have had many opportunities to discuss the steadfast and immeasurable love of God. And while statements like, “God will be your Father,” feel less than helpful now, I hope that one day my son will comprehend how deep our Abba Father’s love is. Someday, he will look back and see that God’s love held him up through the most difficult and trying time of his young life.
As I reflect on that last week of my ex-husband’s life, I am overwhelmed by how clearly God was in control. From allowing me the opportunity to be alone in that hospital room to pray and make amends with my him, to pushing me to call and arrive at the hospital just in time for my son to say goodbye without traumatic machines present. In the midst of an unmanageable situation, God was in complete control. A moment which is filled with pain; God redeemed for hope, peace, and mercy. My son now lives without his earthly father, but he has comfort in the knowledge that his daddy is in heaven with God the Father.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a