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One Woman's Opinion

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Reflections on a Near Death Experience

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— I recently wrote of our 44-year-old son’s near-death experience last month. He was on life support in ICU in a hospital in Newport News and hovering near death for over a week.

Parents are steeled for the loss of parents, which is bad enough, but finding yourself at the hospital bedside of a child that is barely managing to hang onto life is beyond imagination. Yet many parents suffer the death of a child. How they find strength to endure such grief is almost beyond imagination.

Wake is back to work now and slowly regaining health. He wrote a moving email to his friends sharing some of his reflections after surviving the ordeal. Some of his thoughts are the following:

“The downright shock of it all: Who, me? Die? You’ve got to be kidding! One day to be young, healthy, busy and completely engulfed in work, church, family and friends and then to find yourself in the hospital desperately ill and clinging to life. How could such a thing happen? A life support system is terrifying because the equipment thrust down your throat stops all communication. At this point you are totally helpless and alone and, except for the hum and beep of the machinery, one is connected to as they pump food, fluids, medications and oxygen in and out of the body, one is totally cut off. You can’t even call for your mother.”

Not being prepared for death: Wake had not given authority to any other person to make decisions for him if he could no longer do it himself. It was such irony. An estate planning attorney to be caught in such a position. In spite of his drawing up hundreds of documents for others, he had not signed his own advanced medical directive. Like a dentist who had never had his own teeth checked and suddenly found he had a toothache, Wake was not prepared.

He was so young: only 44. Who thinks of dying at age 44? Yet, without a living will, the hospital could do as it wished. Family members are totally helpless. In Wake’s case, dear old Dad rushed to the office, created the necessary document, and sped down to the hospital so that Wake could sign the authority over to him. It was fortunate Wake could still sign the document. If his condition had worsened and he had passed into unconsciousness, he could not have signed anything.

Feelings of gratitude: Wake was one lucky man (those who suffer lung collapse experience 90% fatality) because he survived. Virus and bacteria can strike anyone with lightning speed. None are immune from disease. His message: No matter what your age, be prepared.

Faith in God was a major support: He was fortunate that he had a strong faith in God. He advised others to get right with God now as one does not want to be trying to sort our spiritual beliefs while on life support. At that point, beyond the masked doctors and the blinking computers, God is the last source of hope and strength.

Get right with your family. Many go through life in constant turmoil with parents and siblings. If you are estranged from family, seek reconciliation now. If you have wronged others, seek forgiveness and atonement. When you are near death and you can’t even call out for help, it’s too late. The regret one must feel for things left undone as the darkness of death closes in on the last moments of life must be the greatest human tragedy of all.

I’ll never forget one of my visits to see my son during that week. He saw me and his face immediately flooded in tears that streamed from his eyes. If he could have spoken, what must he have wanted to tell me? Indeed, what do we want to tell our loved ones when our last day may have come?

I will never forget that image of tears swelling from his eyes. I thought of the major theme of T.S. Eliot’s poetry and his message from the last century to all of mankind . . . that is, man can certainly speak, but our speech is so often shallow and filled with nonsense and trite. We cannot seem to tell others how we really think and feel. And so I saw my son’s inability to speak, his tears so copiously shed for his mother, was his best and last expression of love.

One of his friends responded to his email with this message: “We juggle many balls in life. Some balls aren’t so important. But some balls are. The three most important balls are made out of crystal . . . they are God, family and friends. We may drop many balls along life’s way. But we had better hold on to these.” Amen.


posted 10.03.2013

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