Shift Change (and Only Four Hours)

The entire room seemed to swirl round and round just then. I felt myself being sucked into the sea of despair.

I would not go down, though.  I wouldn’t allow myself to sink.

So I anchored myself at the end of his bed and could not move.

It was over now.  This part at least.

Those two sweet nurses who stood on each side of him…the ones who held his hands as he took his last breath…well, they looked over at me with such interesting expressions on their faces.  I guess they wondered how I’d react.  I guess they felt real bad for me.

We tried to call you, was what they said.

Yes.  Thank you.

And thank you for holding his hands.  Thank you that he was not alone.

They smiled sweetly at me and as they walked away, they both stopped to hug me. Tight. Told me how sorry they were.

I remember telling them that I told him not to leave until I got back…

And wouldn’t you know my son defied me to the very end.

We all laughed about that.  Tears in our eyes…but we laughed.

One of the nurses told me that I had four hours.  Only four. They would take him out of the room then…and the idea as to where overwhelmed me.  I would not allow her to say the word.  I would not allow myself to think…


I could not move.  I was frozen.

I watched as my sweet, sweet daughter broke down.  Walked up to the side of the bed, took a look under the sheet as if to see if he was really dead somehow and then broke down and cried. Wailed.

And I stood cemented to the floor…not able to move.

I was trying hard not to break.  I needed to remain grounded.  Connected to what was happening. Strong.

I was trying to will myself to stay present.  There were things to be done.  I had to move forward.

I finally picked up one concrete laden foot, stepped it forward, and then slowly the other. Each step seemed impossible. Painful and slow.

You’d think that when I saw my daughter crying there…I’d run to comfort her.  I wanted to, yes.  More than anything.

Yet everything in those few minutes seemed to be slowed down to an excruciatingly slow and painful effort.

I managed to move toward my daughter and comforted her the best that I could.

Then told her that we had things to do.

Sweet Girl, I need you now.  There are phone calls to make and you have to drive to the hotel and pick up someone who is waiting.  Yes, please do that. I will try to take care of the rest.  I will call this person, that person…will you call a few and tell them to call a few…and so on.

I gave her keys and she collected herself and left the room.

Then it was just the two of us.  Michael and me.

I remember so vividly looking at his face.  I touched his chest. He was still warm.

Maybe he was still hovering.  Maybe he was still waiting for me.

I kissed his face and as I lifted my head…I could see the color leave him.  I watched as the last pink of his lips evaporated into white.  Like wax, I thought.

Just then I heard a knock at the door.  A woman came in through the curtain, Bible in one hand, papers in the other.  She introduced herself as Chaplain so and so.

Yes, Chaplain. Of course.

I don’t know if you were told, she said.  You have only four hours and they will take him from the room.

Yes.  I was told.

She came to the head of the bed…stood opposite of me.

I then started talking.  I swear to you…I do not know where it all came from.

I wanted someone to know.  I wanted to tell this Chaplain who I thought could understand and embrace the story the way I thought it should be embraced.  After all…she was one of God’s chosen ones…right?  With a title like Chaplain, I believed so.

I had a burst of adrenaline and I wanted to tell her.  I wanted to tell about what I just experienced…how amazing and beautiful it all had been.

How my son’s life down to the very last second was so precious.

I started telling her how powerful this all was for me.  How I felt such supernatural strength and how the power of God surrounded this entire situation…how this and that and the would you believe’s…

And as I looked at her face, I found her eyes glazed over.  She had mentally checked out somewhere just past her telling me I only had four hours.

I looked over at the clock. Shift change.

Time for her to go home.

I then asked her if she had been there all night.  Yes, she had been.

At that I smiled.  Asked her what she needed to tell me.  Why was she there?

She had it down to the last seemingly scripted word.

Here is a list of funeral homes for you to choose from.  I will leave you now so you can sit with your son awhile.

She left then.  Picked her Bible up from the counter and walked out the door.

Without a single prayer.

I was slightly stunned.  Slightly disappointed.  And even so, I understood that it would be hard working all night long.  How she must have secretly whispered a holy expletive under her breath when she got the phone call of my son dying on 2nd floor room 252 during the last few minutes of her shift.  She was probably gathering her things to leave when her phone rang with the news.

As I stood there it became strikingly strange for me.  The curtain was still drawn and I could not see through the wall of windows that faced the hallway. I couldn’t see how the night shift nurses were finishing up for the night and the day shift nurses were checking in for the day.

It all now seemed so hauntingly quiet.

No more machines blaring.  No more monitors glowing.

No more nurses standing at the now shut down computer checking all the notes and doing all the necessary things to keep my son alive.

No more doctors and their students standing outside our door in that U shaped conference discussing our case.

No one coming in to check on us.

No more struggle.

No more breathing.

No more roaring of my precious, Sacred Bull.

The night shift was over.  A new one was beginning.

Time for me to change gears, too, I thought.

Time for me to make a shift change of my own now.

Into what, I wasn’t sure.  What next?

So I closed my eyes, took a deep breath.

And picked up my phone.

After all…

I only had four hours.

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