I stopped by Helen’s room one evening to see how she was doing. I didn’t expect to talk with her. After all, when I had last seen her a day earlier, she wasn’t very conversational. She was barely alive.
Helen was a DNR, “Do Not Resuscitate”. It means that a person or their legal representative has decided to not have compressions if their heart stops. That seemed to be a clear decision of the patient. Until she went into cardiac arrest. And her nephew, when called, said that Helen’s mother wanted to keep her going. In her eighties, Helen’s mother wasn’t accepting the DNR. She wanted to see her daughter one last time.
A nurse and I looked at each other. But mom’s wishes won. And I stood next to her bed as the mask went on, praying.
I think that I asked God to work in her life, to make decisions clear.
Helen’s best friend came up to see her. They had met more than five decades before during naptime in kindergarten. We talked. I learned that Helen’s daughter had died a few years before. It had shaped Helen’s life. We prayed. I prayed for Helen, and I prayed for her friend.
And I left.
When I stopped by a day after all that happened, I was surprised to see Helen sitting up. I introduced myself. She was glad to see a chaplain. She wanted to talk about her near-death experience. I told her about praying for her during the compressions. And she told me about being so close, about seeing her daughter waiting for her, and of coming back to the room.
I smiled a lot, and teared up a bit. It’s not often that you are praying for someone at the same time they are sensing death and return.
She didn’t live long. Her body had more wrong than her heart. And her deceased daughter was still waiting for her.
I still don’t know whether her wishes should have been respected. Her relationship with her mother had always been complicated. I’m not sure how much that was clarified in her additional last couple of days. But I do know that her friend had one last opportunity to rebuild a bridge of caring.
And I know that I have another image of the mysteries of praying and of dying.