There’s a bus stop in Pensacola.
It sits on the westbound lane of 9th Street at the Beverly Avenue intersection.
It sits in front of the emergency entrance to Sacred Heart Hospital.
I spent many moments during the Thanksgiving week standing at that bus stop and trying to figure out what was the right thing to do.
Praying for an answer.
And the answer came.
Sometimes the answer of a prayer is not the answer that we want. But it’s the answer that we get. It’s the answer that we need, like it or not.
I had flown out of Detroit on the Saturday night before, in a snow storm. The first storm of the season. I had spent the night sleeping in a chair in the Charlotte airport by the American Airlines ticket counter, hidden by a Nissan Sentra displayed in the lobby by a local car dealership. The next morning I landed in Pensacola, emerging in the baggage claim area to find my brother Paul waiting.
We drove directly to Sacred Heart Hospital, to find my sister-in-law Leigh Ann sitting in a chair beside the bed of the intensive care unit room. My mother was sitting beside her, covered in blankets to keep her warm, and wrestling with the grogginess induced by the sedative medicines, an oxygen tube in her nostrils to assist her breathing.
I don’t know if Mom recognized me or not. I thought she did. But looking back now, I think she was too confused.
The next four days were spent at the hospital from the early morning to midnight, and returning to Mom’s little apartment only ten minutes away where I slept until the next dawn.
On the Tuesday morning, as I sat beside her, Mom woke up. She looked at me and her face lit up with a delighted surprise.
“Oh my goodness, what are you doing here?” she asked.
“I came to be with you, Mom”, I replied.
“When did you get here?”
“Two days ago”
“Oh my”. And the happiness remained as she looked around the room and herself, trying to determine the status of her situation. “I have so many questions!”
But she asked none.
So I explained her situation.
“We really need you to cough the stuff out of your lungs” I said. “And we … well … we really need you to … uh .. to poop”.
“Oh, I see. I have so many questions”. She raised her hand and took mine. Smiling as she looked into my eyes. She was actually with me for those moments.
But she wore down after a little while, and she fell back into drowsy confusion.
No questions asked. And the answers I gave were likely not understood.
Over the next hours Mom grew weaker and weaker.
Mom could not cough hard enough to clear her lungs. And she didn’t poop either.
The doctors and nurses asked me to speak to the Palliative Care team.
When I first arrived on the Sunday, I asked the security guard where he wanted me to smoke.
“Go to the bus stop”, he said, “Everyone goes to the bus stop”
So every three or four hours I would succumb to the nicotine cravings and would take refuge standing at the bus stop on 9th Street.
I would stand there and think.
I would stand there and remember.
And now with Mom under Palliative Care, I would stand at that bus stop and pray. Pray for a miracle. Pray for the wisdom to make decisions. And pray they would be the right decisions.
And each time I went to the bus stop, I would be more confused. And the miracle seemed less likely each time. And Mom seemed weaker each time.
Paul and I would discuss the options and agree on our decisions throughout each day.
Sometimes I could get Mom to eat. And I thought she was turning the corner. Then she would sleep. And she would not eat. And that corner seemed to be missed.
On the Wednesday, when feeding her soup, her instructions were simple.
“More”, and I would fill another spoonful and place it in her mouth.
“Done”, and I would cease, clean the spoon, and place it back on the tray.
That day the Palliative Care team asked Paul and I to meet with the Hospice counselors. They said that our only option left was to comfort. Comfort until the end.
And we made the decision.
And I went down to the bus stop, and I asked God if we were right. And he said yes. Not in a booming thunderous roar with lightning bolts. No, he just put the words in my head that yes, this was right, this was kind, and this was love.
God is love, you know.
Not all prayers are answered with the answer we want.
Later that afternoon they transported Mom to the Hospice by ambulance. The place was beautiful. It was out in the country, and her room was spacious with large French doors looking out on the wooded back yard where the gazebo is. It was warm. It was very nice.
In the early hours of Thanksgiving Day morning, Mom passed away.
And the words in my head said “it’s alright” and “she is safe”.
Maybe prayers do come true. But maybe sometimes we don’t know what to pray for.