April 20, 2014
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #327: Sad Days of Joy
April 14 was supposed to be a day of celebration. Since Joe and I are both on the kosher meal plan and attend Messianic Jewish services every Saturday, we’d been looking forward to the biggest celebration of the year—Passover.
For nine days, we will be served Matzo bread at every meal, and lots of fresh fruit like apples and apple juice and even a banana. But the best part of the week-long celebration is the Seder, the Passover meal itself. Due to a clerical error, I wasn’t on the list to participate last year, so my last Seder meal was at my home church years ago. I was excited to go through the “aliyah,” or “going up” process of the fifteen steps of the Passover Seder, which correspond to the fifteen steps in the second Temple leading to the Court of the Israelites.
But early Passover morning, Joe and I were awakened by one of the chaplains at our door, telling Joe that he needed to call home as soon as possible. It is never a good thing when a chaplain has to deliver a message from home, so we both knew what this meant. Immediately, Joe began questioning. “What?!? My mom? But why? I thought she was doing fine!”
I didn’t have answers, so as we quickly got dressed to leave with the chaplain I just kept saying, “I’m sorry, Buddy,” and telling him to wait and see what the news was.
The chaplain took us into an office with a phone as he tried for several long agonizing minutes to get the hospital on the line. I kept trying to calm Joe down, but the unknown was too much for him, his face steeled to hear the worst, his whole body shaking. Our hearts were in our throats. Every second crawled by, and as the chaplain struggled to get the call connected, I read what he’d written on the paper in his hand: “Mom on life support.” I leaned over and told Joe, “She’s not dead, Brother. She’s on life support.” A small consolation, but we could breathe.
The hospital staff was fairly clinical at first, saying Karen is on life support, but she is “comfortable and stable,” which was only more confusing. As we asked questions, the severity of the situation became clear. “She wasn’t able to breathe on her own, so we put her on life support. If we hadn’t, she would have already passed.”
And just like that, the ton of bricks dropped. The walls of the tiny office seemed to press in, and we had to leave. We had to go anywhere, and yet nowhere. The phones in our pod stared blankly at us. Our only connection to the outside world of voices full of love and hope, they had nothing to say. Not today. Not now. Hope was not possible. The hope that Joe would be able to be with his mom when he leaves this place of separation was dying. “Why?” we asked no one, we asked God, we asked inside.
“Seven months!” Joe cried out. “I was going to see her in just seven months!” His grief came pouring out in great sobs of agony. We sat by the silent phones that never ring, crying.
I called my dad, so he could connect me with my mom, visiting my dear Auntie Barbara in Nevada. She’d been asked by Joe’s grandma to tell Joe about his mom, but we already knew, so tears were all we really needed. We then called Joe’s grandma, who said that she planned to go to the hospital with other family, hopefully within a couple of days, to remove Karen from life support.
Back in our cell, Joe let out his frustration, the loss almost unbearable. We talked, recalling his mom’s words to him the last time they spoke: “I love you … You’re my heart. Joe, because of you, I got closer to God.” She’d told him how much she loved God. She’d told my mom that every time she prays, God answers. Was this her acknowledgement that she was leaving? We had to recognize that she was finally ready to meet her Savior.
In prayer, Joe thanked God. On what seemed to be the darkest day, he thanked God for taking care of his mom and for the beautiful privilege of knowing she was headed home. Shock and disbelief faded into the Peace that Defies All Understanding, flooding through his heart.
The Seder was special. The leader cried as he spoke of Joe’s mom, so recently freed from her own land of bondage, headed for the Promised Land. These are tough days in a wilderness for us, indeed.
Thank you for your prayers and notes of support.