Turning off the machine that goes ping.
I’ve stood there only twice and both times half of me wished to be anywhere else in the world and the other half knew I had to be there. Where is there? There is at a bedside in an Intensive Care Unit, with a grieving family and a dying person. I can never get over the bravery people show at these times and how these families cope with the unbelievable strain the loss of a loved one puts on them.
One day in November over a decade ago there I was standing ‘there’, by the bedside with a family gazing down at Rachel, a 24 year old woman with major injuries from a car accident that wasn’t her fault. The family had just listened to the doctor be ever so nice but however he phrased it we couldn’t escape the fact that he was saying that he was sorry but Rachel was clinically brain dead and it was just the machine keeping her breathing. We couldn’t say she was alive as technically she wasn’t anymore, Rachel had gone it was just the machine that goes ping keeping her lungs going and the only sound in the room was only the machine that goes ping, going ping.
The family were being as good as it is possible to be in such a terrible situation, crying quietly, talking softly and being so exceptionally brave it made me want to weep even more just watching them. We had said our prayers and our goodbyes and now the machine that went ping needed to be turned off.
The family knew it had to be done, but brave as they were they couldn’t do it, but they didn’t want the nurses or the doctors to do it, they were stuck, in a stasis that they couldn’t break. They were the ones who had to do this, not the staff, it was a very personal thing.
I knew the family well, very well. I’d been their minister for over 5 years, played rugby with their son, driven Rachel to University and helped them move her into her new digs, eaten at their table, laughed with them, sang with them, prayed with them and now I was crying with them. I knew what had to be done, I looked at the weeping mother, the father with the red eyes and grim smile and then the son, my friend, my fly half, the one who knew from my look if it was a pass or a kick that was coming, who knew the plays I wanted to make by the way I looked at him. He just nodded, it said everything that needed to be said and that was all that was needed. I turned and press the sequence the nurses had shown us and the machine that went ping went ping no longer.
I turned to walk away, to leave the family to their grief, “Thank you, please don’t go, you’re family too.” was all I heard before it hit me.
Looking back, if I had expected the Godsmacking, I expected it when we were told Rachel was gone, or maybe when we turned the machine off. Not when the family, in their moment of deepest grief asked me to share it with them.
But it was then that I was Godsmacked, then when the Almighty reached out and shook me by the spinal column, then that a verse of scripture jumped into my head. It was not a verse that, in hindsight, I would ever have thought of as appropriate in that situation. There are many that are, that can bring great comfort in times of deepest trouble , but 1 Corinthians 13 v. 7 isn’t one that I would have thought of at such a time. (I know now that it’s 1 Cor 13 v. 7, guess what, I looked it up again),
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The love they had, for Rachel, for each other, for me and for God was indeed bearing up under the worst of things. The love they had wasn’t questioning why God had done this, it still believed. The love they had knew that God was at the centre of the grief and was not the cause and it was this that gave them a hope to go on. Their love was enduring, enduring the most terrible of losses and carrying on and so were they.
It was through this situation that, Godsmacking as it was, I saw the power of the love of God. We sat, a little group and one more person joined our huddle, we didn’t see him come, we didn’t see him there but he was as present as any of us and his tears were as wet as any of ours, his love as genuine – bearing, believing, hoping and enduring. He does that all the time, what ever the situation, whether we feel that love or not. Godsmacking isn’t it?