The family is gathered in a hospital room on a day when the heat makes stepping outside feel like being pulled into a steaming sponge. Randa and I are here as pastors and friends, joining the brothers and sister, granddaughter and other relatives of an eighty-seven-year-old woman.
Her husband is attended to at their home thirty miles away. His dementia keeps him from any awareness of this that could last more than a few moments but the rest of the family is keenly cognizant of the situation. Her age, her history of colon problems and her recent episode of sickness have made her too weak for surgery. But her condition has worsened to the point that surgery is a lesser risk than the other. Such situations force families into decisions that twist head and heart around each other, leaving neither at ease.
Randa and I wait in the corridor, talking with one of the sons while the anesthesiologist finishes examining her charts and medical history. The surgeon has already advised the family that their mother has only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the procedure. The odds of surviving without it are zero, though, and they have given the go-ahead for the intervention.
Just before she is wheeled out for surgery, the family asks us to pray and we step into the room. I move beside the bed and one of the sons introduces me to their mother. His sister steps beside me and we all join hands.
There is an intimacy in this, a drawing together that transcends the visits and conversations, goes beyond the talks and jokes, quips and teasing. It is a humbling thing to be asked into this circle of love and life. It is an honor that I do not deserve but an opportunity that I willingly accept.
I pray for the doctors, the nurses, the attendants, for everyone who works together for her good. I pray for peace and trust.
Having seen the gauntness of her face and the thin trace of skin over her wrists, I cannot help remembering Hansford Doron and Gene Prescher, Scotty Burleson and Doyle Ussary and a number of other men that I watched waste away in slow agony, whose families endured their pain faithfully with them. In honor of them and in love for this family, I add another element to this prayer; I also pray for mercy and compassion.
And in all these things, ask that we yield to a greater wisdom than we can fathom, a greater love than we can imagine.