A trauma surgeon on when letting go of our loved ones is the most God-honoring thing we can do.
His wife found him in the garden. He did not awaken to her touch.
When paramedics arrived, they jammed a tube into his windpipe and supported his breathing with a bellows, shoving air into lungs already taut with scars from cigarette smoke and Allied gunpowder. Most people require sedation to tolerate such tubes, however, he neither coughed, nor flinched, nor gagged. His peacefulness was ominous. Although his heart still beat, his brain had receded into stillness.
In the emergency room, a CT scan confirmed a ruptured aneurysm. Blood crowded out his brain and thrust it downward, through the narrow aperture at the base of his skull. The pressure was strangling his brain.
I met his son in the conference room of the intensive care unit (ICU). Through the window behind him, the Boston skyline weaved a starlit backdrop. He faced me with his arms braced across his chest, his jaw set. Only his thumb and forefinger, grimed from the grease of machinery, worried the weave of his sweatshirt and betrayed his heartache.
I explained that his father was dying. We could not save him.
“The best we can do for him now is to ensure he is comfortable and surrounded by those he loves in his last hours.”
He stared at the floor in silence. “No,” he finally whispered. Then, louder: “Nope. It’s not going to happen that way. Dad’s a fighter. He’s also prayed every day of his life. With God, all things are possible.” When he met my gaze, indignation hardened his eyes. “Keep going.”
Such scenarios, which serve as daily fodder for ICU practitioners, penetrate to the core of our understanding of and relationship with God. Loved ones wrestle with grief, doubt, fear, anger, and even guilt as they …