My grandparents walked by, but when I tried to follow them my Grampa turned around and said “where we are going, you can’t follow”, and left.
As I watched them walk away, I so wanted to follow. I hadn’t seen him since he died when I was a child and I hadn’t seen my grandmother in the few years since she died. She didn’t even turn around. All I saw was her distinctive red curly hair, as she walked beside Grampa.
Why couldn’t I go? Why couldn’t I follow?
I looked up and saw a nurse empty my bladder bag into a styrofoam cup and poor it into my feeding tube bag. She looked me in the eye, and continued.
I floated up into the next level and looked down on myself and the nurse. Two nurses who couldn’t see or hear me stood beside me. One said to the other “Welcome to the ICU. We allow urine feeds here. It’s a good way to slowly kill the patient without being caught. Just don’t do it when you think you’re watched by someone who won’t understand.”
I wondered down an empty hall. Where was I? Was I dead? Why couldn’t I go with my grandparents? Why did I have to stay here, were time didn’t exist, and hope died? I prayed but God didn’t answer. For the first time in my life, God wasn’t there, when I reached out to him. I looked for him, but I couldn’t find him, I couldn’t hear him, and couldn’t sense him beside me.
And it hurt. A lot. Alone and hurt, I couldn’t decide if I was in heaven, hell, or purgatory? Was there even a purgatory? I didn’t think so, but maybe this was it? Was I dead? Was I alive? I didn’t know.
Note #1: This still hurts. I believe I did die for a short time or came very close to it. My doctor said I got as close to death as one could go without dying, and my parents said I crashed on Christmas Day.
I think this is when I crashed. I still feel the pain of not being able to follow my grandparents, and I believe it was really them.
Since that time, I have mourned my grandparents again. I have cried over their deaths more than once, and felt their deaths as if they were fresh. I know they both love me, and I have been forgiven for all the little things I felt guilty about after they died.
Note #2: Where was God?
It’s a question I can’t answer. Why wasn’t he there? Why was he so silent? I don’t know. And that still hurts too. It hurts very very much.
It hasn’t weekend my faith. I don’t want this to become a religious discussion of doctrine or hatred, but I also don’t want it to become an example people point to, to say “there is no God”, or to say that God is a figment of imagination and once imagination was gone, so was God.
I mention it because it is part of the story. I want you to know the entire story. But I don’t want my story to ever be used against God.
I want you to know that sedation temporarily removed my sense of self. I didn’t know if I was male or female, I existed in a place without time or hope, I couldn’t find the God I knew from childhood, and all of a sudden, everything I believed about the equality of humans, went away, and I believed I was racist. Everything familiar, that I knew about myself was gone. And it seemed like it was gone forever. I lost the very essence of me.
And it still haunts me, and leaves me with questions I can not answer.
Note #3: To balance the discussion of God, I’ll tell you one of my experiences of God, that I can point to in my life and say “yes God is real”. I don’t want people to think I’m putting God down, and I don’t want my ICU experience to be used against God.
The following has nothing to do with my ICU experience. It happened when I was 7 years old. You can read it if you want to.
I stood in the dark, beside the train station with my mother and brother. The parking lot was empty, and my mother was trying to get into our locked car because my father left on the train, with the keys in his pocket. There were spare keys in her purse, but that was in the car.
Two men stopped to help us, and they and my mother tried everything they could to get the doors open. After one of them said they did everything they could, and were out of ideas, my 7 year old self said “let’s pray”. One of the men scoffed. I was determined that it would work. After more insistence from me, my mother said “ok let’s pray”. She took my brother and I aside, and held our hands, and I asked God to unlock the car doors.
While we were all watching, the car door locks raised on their own, without any human intervention. We opened the car doors. One of the men said something about rethinking God.
Mom, my brother and I drove away.
And because I have seen things like that, I know God is real.