Kim Henderson: An hour in an ICU

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 3rd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. When the end comes for you, as it will for each of us, I hope you have someone who eases your way. WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson tells about the opportunity she had to be that person.

KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: At 8 in the morning on what would be one of the most significant days of my life a thought crossed my mind. Hospital visit. Yeah, I had wanted to see Mr. Bruce for nearly two weeks. Here was my chance.

Now, when I use the word “chance” I’m thinking opportunity, not luck or random fate. I lean more on the word “providential” to describe the circumstances of this life, like when at 12:15 I rounded the corner by the nurses’ station and met the sound of labored breathing–the rattling, chest-heaving kind.  

There had been a turn, according to my fellow church member standing on the other side of the bed. He was a soldier in uniform, choking back tears, and the nurse had given him a hard imperative: Tell family they better come now.

So he did, and the soldier and I stood surprised and shaken by Providence there at University Hospital—a sprawling complex filled with the state’s best medical teams, none of whom could help Mr. Bruce now.

We would not leave him to die alone. This was a man whose hand had shook mine for six years’ worth of Sundays. He was the kind of guy who took the church trash to the dumpster and came early to sweep the porch. He was a man who prayed long for lost family members (naming them all) every Wednesday night. And he was only 64.

In our sanitized world, death is usually tucked away, denied. But the sights and sounds of a physical body shutting down moved the soldier to pray out loud about an incorruptible body and a finished fight with sin. It moved me to lean down close to Mr. Bruce’s ear and try to sing:

Face to face with Christ, my Savior, Face to face – what will it be? When with rapture I behold Him, Jesus Christ who died for me? 

The nurse kept looking at the monitors. The soldier held Mr. Bruce’s hand and told him there was a mansion prepared for him.

I bent down and spoke of relations: You have been a good son. You have been a faithful father. 

We held vigil as the time between breaths lengthened. I thought of Oswald Chambers’ wife and the four-word cable she sent when his emergency appendectomy went bad: Oswald in His Presence.

In His Presence. 

That’s the last thing I told Mr. Bruce, just before he left this old world behind and as the song says, flew away. 

For a while there was a holy hush in that room, like a radio broadcast with unexpected seconds of silence. Then the soldier announced, “He’s gone,” and we could suddenly breathe again. I found my way into the hall where I sat on the floor next to a medicine cart and cried my heart out. 

Later, I overheard the soldier say the death date came as no surprise to God. (He believes in the providence thing, too.)  

But I have to tell you, for weeks I could hardly bear to look at the pew where Mr. Bruce always sat.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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