Eight Forty

(Part 2)

I share stories of life, and even death, because they come to us all. Some are not fun, some are exhausting, and very painful, but when we witness the hand of God working mightily when things are at their very worst, we can trust our Lord even more knowing that better days are ahead. I began writing this message the very day I said good-bye to my friend Barbara…I didn’t want to forget all the God sightings contained in her story. So, I share them with you here…

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20 (NIV)

Barbara left this earth for Heaven on January 12, 2011. She was normally a very emotional person. She and I had many serious discussions during her long illness, but many times we had to stop a bit short of finishing them because the tears would start to flow, and the heartbreak of perhaps leaving her children and grandchildren behind was more than she could stand to think about. Not today…today, the Lord gave her His peace. I witnessed God’s strength filling her and pouring out her feelings onto her children and grandchildren as she told them how much she loved them, and how proud she was of them. The tears were many on their part, but Barbara remained steadfast, and peaceful. I told her when we were alone what an amazing job she was doing!

Traveling to the hospital yesterday, I was talking with a friend on the phone. I told her that I didn’t know what I was headed into, or what I was to do, I just knew that I was going to see my friend, and let God do His thing. Of course, He had already been at work…when I got to the hospital Barbara told me she was “ready.” I asked her if she was at peace, and she said, “As much as any person can be.” I then asked her if she wanted me to pray for her…she said, “NO! Not yet!” I laughed a bit, and let her know, “It’s not that kind of prayer!” Even though she was ready, she still had some business to attend to with her kids who were on their way, ages 26 & 29, and to wait for her oldest son, age 33, who was flying in later that evening. I prayed a simple prayer of peace and comfort while we waited together.

Because of a tube that was removing anything that entered her stomach, Barbara was now able to drink some Root Beer, some Fanta, and even take a bite or two of green Jello, and a spoonful of chicken broth. Once again, they were amazingly delicious to her, after being restricted to ice chips for the past five days or so. When asking for permission to give her these things, I could see by the nod of the nurses’ head, and by the look in their eyes, her time was very short. It was a pleasure to bring the straw to her lips and watch her enjoy each sip. She also requested hot tea, I joked with her that it’s because she’s English!

After visiting with her kids, and loving having her 18-month-old granddaughter visit her bedside—she literally lit up when seeing her—Barbara ushered all her kids out of her room for the night, still very much the mom! Her fiancé’ also went back to the hotel, leaving the two of us together for the remainder of the night. She joked with me that we were having a slumber party, and we remembered many slumber parties we had together in our teenage years. She told me, “I’m not going to pass tonight.” I guess she could feel certain things. I said, “You can stick around as long as you want.” I wondered how I would remain awake through the night, catching just bits of sleep in the chair by her bed. I am an early-to-bed person. I thought of Jesus’ friends who could not stay awake with Him in His final hours, and I wanted to be faithful to my friend in her last hours. I fell asleep once, for about 45 minutes, but thankfully no one can sleep in a hospital, and the nurse came in to do his duty, and woke me up! When Barbara commented the next morning that I must be exhausted, I told her that just how God had given her the peace to say the things that needed to be said to her children, He had given me the strength to be with her through the night. She agreed it must be Him. God’s supernatural peace and strength is a wonder.

He gives power to the weak and to those
who have no might He increases strength.
Isaiah 40:29

Morning came early, and she sort of brightened as she requested a cup of coffee. “Coffee?” I said, “You want some coffee?” She sure did! The night nurse was a bit perplexed with where to get it at that time of the morning, but Barbara suggested the staff lounge! She was still sharper than the two of us who were watching over her. The nurse soon came back with a steaming cup of coffee that I put a few ice chips into to cool it down so she could drink it safely thru a straw. She commented on how good it smelled, and she loved the taste, offering me the rest of the cup that she could not finish—so I joined my friend in having coffee on the last morning we had together on this earth. God knows, doesn’t He! This is what friends do! Share a cup of coffee, this time, literally.

I was able to read a bit of God’s Word to her in the morning, choosing 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (I told her she was getting younger on the inside.) For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

After just this short reading, I stopped, thinking she had gone back to sleep again, but she quickly let me know that she was still awake, and that the last word I read was “eternal.” We smiled together…in other words, keep reading. So I went on into Chapter five of 2 Corinthians, reading to her about our earthly tent being destroyed, and about how God is building us an eternal house in Heaven, I read to her about living by faith and not by sight, and how we would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. I think she was asleep by then, so I stopped, and just prayed for her…for God’s continued peace and comfort.

It wasn’t long after that, things changed rapidly, her heart rate dropped from about 95 to 48. I knew it by looking at the monitor, she knew it by how she felt, and she immediately said, “Call the kids.” She knew it was now time, and she was having trouble getting enough air. An oxygen mask was placed on her face, and it gave her some comfort. Through that mask she said something, and then she said it again with greater clarity and strength. It was, “I love you, Diane.” I told her that I loved her too, my voice choking, and I just rubbed her arm, telling her to rest, and that her kids would soon be there.

“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other,
God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”
1 John 4:12 (NLT)

Her family was in a hotel nearby, and arrived soon thereafter, along with her fiancé’. She was able to speak with them just a bit, but then we just sat quietly holding her hand, or rubbing her arm or weeping as the tissue box was passed around between us. The pain medication was given freely, and as her breathing slowed and her heart rate continued to decline, we waited as Barbara left this world for a better One. Her fiancé said, “This is torture,” and it was, really…we knew she was leaving, and there was nothing we could do to stop it. I wondered if we all have an appointment in Heaven, an exact time of arrival, and if she was just waiting in line for hers… “a time to be born and a time to die.” (Ecc. 3:2)

That last hour with Barbara will be etched in our minds for the remainder of our lives, but as hard as it was, it was also very necessary to be with her. It’s what she wanted, to have those she loved at her bedside. Some leave in the quiet of the night, after everyone has gone home. Each of us requires something different, and that’s okay.

Each breath that Barbara took was requiring more effort, but as she exhaled, it seemed to be more of a groaning, not in pain, but perhaps in prayer. It brought to mind the verse in Romans 8:26, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” Maybe, when there are no more words to speak, and no more strength to speak them, the Holy Spirit in us takes over and prays for us in those final moments. From time to time, her eyes would open wide, and she would look up, back and forth, and then close them again. I wondered, was she seeing angels in her midst as Jesus did when He was praying his final prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane?

“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away
from me. Yet, I want your will, not mine.” Then an angel from
heaven appeared and strengthened him.
Luke 22:43 (NLT)

I don’t know if Barbara could see us, but she knew we were there. She didn’t talk anymore, but then we heard a few sounds from her, and she made the same sound three times. I didn’t recognize what it was she was trying to say, but I turned to her daughter and said, “She just said that three times.” Her fiancé’ and her son both said, “She was saying, ‘I’m sorry.’” They were probably right, for that was Barbara, always concerned for those around her, even in her last moments. When her night nurse had brought in the coffee earlier that morning, she said, “He’s such a nice man, isn’t he.” His shift ended right as she was leaving this world…he didn’t come in to say “good-bye.” I don’t think he could, he was touched too deeply, as were all those at the hospital who had known her through the years. Many did come by earlier, to give her a hug and tell her they loved her. It was very sweet. I heard one nurse whisper into her ear, “You will soon be in God’s loving arms.”

We watched Barbara’s heart rate slow down on the monitor, and it seemed to me that when it got to 30, she would be very close. We had all been sitting, but when it got to 29, she made a sound, and I felt the need to stand, it seemed to be Holy Ground in that moment, and surely there were angels all around. I wonder now if that is when Jesus entered the room to take her Home…? The rest of her family then gathered at the side of her bed, as I stood at the foot of it, placing our hands on her where we could. I could see her looking at me through just a slit in her left eye. I didn’t know if she could really see me, but if she could, I wanted her to know that it was okay to go now. I would mouth things to her… “It’s okay.” “Go ahead,” while nodding assurances to her. I put my hand up to the Cross I was wearing, and just stroked it for her to see. I was in a difficult situation, with my believing friend in the bed, and her unbelieving fiancé beside her, shaking his head “No.” I wanted to comfort one, and not anger the other.

I told Barbara two things when I had arrived the night before, I said, “Barbara, when you see Jesus, would you ask Him to please come back soon and get the rest of us?” She smiled, and said she would. And then I told her, “I know you’ll give Phil a hug for me when you see him.” She assured me she would. At 8:40 a.m. on January 12, 2011, Barbara left for Home to fulfill those requests, and to find peace at last after a long journey of pain and suffering. (Barbara had Pulmonary Hypertension.)

This is not the fun stuff of life, and I was so grateful during this process that there is so much more than this to life. I was so grateful for the Eternal Hope we have in Jesus! As her fiancé’ sat by her bed, not knowing Jesus, I could not imagine the devastation that was filling him as he thought about life without her. It’s hard enough for those who do believe. I had told Barbara that when she left, everyone would be looking down at her, but that I would look up, letting her know that I knew she was there above us, on her way to Heaven. I did look up when she left, and I could not see anything, but I smiled through the tears, knowing she could see me. I was fixing my eyes on what was “unseen.”

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know
what will happen to the believers who have died so you will
not grieve like people who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)

This earthly tent is so empty when our soul leaves it behind…what remains is not the person we knew just minutes before. What a privilege it was to be with her through her departure. A nurse opened the door and asked if we’d like a Chaplain—the kids and her fiancé’ declined, but the kids did accept a prayer said by me, as we joined hands at the foot of her bed one last time. I thanked God for His eternal life, for the Hope we have in Jesus of seeing Barbara again, and for His help as we heal from this loss. I had told Barbara that the next time I see her, she will be feeling good…and she is now. No more tubes, procedures or pain, she lives free and healthy now in a Heavenly place that those of us left behind can only imagine.

As I drove the hour home, after very little sleep and grief beginning to fill my heart, a thought came to me…the clock said 8:40! Wow! Is that You God? Barbara and I met in 8th grade, 40 years ago. Once again, I believe God was reminding me that He is in every detail of our lives. Why did I feel the need to look at the clock? I swung my head around so quickly to note the time that even her son seemed a bit startled at what I was doing…I didn’t know what I was doing, but You did Lord! You were honoring a lifelong friendship that was ending on earth, but one that will continue on in Your Heavenly dwelling one day!

“Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can enter through
the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.”
Revelation 22:14 (NLT)

“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Good-bye, my fruit-loving friend!! I know you are enjoying each delicious bite from the tree of life in Heaven!

1974 2009
Barbara - Diane
Diane - Barbara

Barbara Elaine (Bowman) Wallace, December 21, 1956 – January 12, 2011
May you rest in God’s Eternal joy until I see you again,