Wendy and Art were a couple like many others in their mid 30’s. They had two small children, a son in first grade and a daughter anxiously awaiting pre-school the next year. Busy people with young children and all the challenges that go along with life at that stage; though they loved one another deeply, they’d become a bit disengaged in their relationship.
On this Wednesday, Wendy was feeling particularly stressed. Art hadn’t cleaned the kitchen to her liking the night before, nor had he taken out the trash. She entered the kitchen at 5:30 am to find garbage strewn around the kitchen floor and a sick puppy laying beside the mess. By the time she finished cleaning up and putting last night’s dishes away, she was in a foul mood.
Art saw the look on her face as he raced in to grab a cup of coffee and knew he would be wise to exit as quickly as possible. As it turned out when their son Sammy asked if Dad was going to take him to T-ball practice after school and Art had to say “No”, it was the fuse that lit the burning tender of Wendy’s anger. One of those inflammatory arguments erupted that really isn’t about what it seems to be about at all. But today, Wendy just wasn’t having Art’s usual way of making light and cracking jokes to get through a tense situation.
She turned her head away when he tried to kiss her good-bye and refused to answer his “I love you” as he dashed out the door. In a flash her attention turned to getting breakfast dishes in the sink, Sammy’s lunchbox closed and a snack finished for Kelsey’s play date snack.
Turning out of the school parking lot, Sandy turned right instead of left to Kelsey’s play date as she could see the congestion and red lights of emergency vehicles about a block or so ahead. This way took about 5 extra minutes, so by the time she turned into the driveway of Kelsey’s friend’s house, she was fuming. There was so much to do this morning, and she was still behind on yesterday’s assignment with the medical coding job she did from home.
She ignored her cell phone ringing on the front seat and headed up the walkway with Kelsey. By the time she got back to the car she had three missed calls. The message on her phone stated that Art had been involved in a head on collision and was seriously injured. She was needed at the hospital as soon as possible. She raced back inside to get Kelsey and realized as she drove back to school that the emergency lights she had seen must have been for Art’s accident. Sammy was full of questions for being picked up so soon, and he thought something exciting must be going on. Sandy’s mind raced as she rushed to the hospital about Art’s condition and if it was right to have the children with her.
A social worker appeared moments after an ER nurse came out to the waiting room to tell Wendy that Art was critical and may not survive. The children were taken to another room as Wendy was led into Art’s emergency room cubicle. The ER doctor explained that immediate decisions needed to be made and forms needed to be signed. Art had coded on the way to the hospital and was currently intubated. He had suffered major head injuries and needed brain surgery to remove part of his skull to assess the damage and allow his brain room to swell. Art needed surgery right away, with an unknown outcome. Did she wish to bring her children to see their father first? She cowered against the wall, undecided about what do to. She kept trying to make her mind embrace what Art would want. She just couldn’t follow one thought through to the end. Her mind was whirling and she couldn’t make sense of anything. As she looked at the doctor and nurses with a terrified look on her face, a nurse took her arm, and said gently, “It may be too hard for children so young to see their father this way.” “Yes, of course, you are right,” Wendy said, “Maybe after.”
She tried to find a place to touch skin on his body amongst all the equipment and bandages, so she just touched the back of one of his bloodied hands. “Arty, I’m so sorry honey. I’m sorry I wouldn’t tell you I love you. Can you hear me, Art? I love you. I’m sorry. You have to be ok….” The medical staff moved her aside as they rolled Art out into the hallway to surgery.
As Wendy turned, she heard voices shouting and realized they were shouting over Art’s body. He had coded again on the way up the hallway. She was ushered back out into the waiting room to wait what seemed an agonizing forever. Finally, the doctor walked toward her with a wearied expression. “We are sorry to tell you, Mrs. Jessup that despite our best efforts, your husband died from his injuries before we could get him into surgery.”
They walked her back to a small emergency room that looked like a war zone. Art seemed to have shrunk in size since she saw him last. She was afraid to touch him because she couldn’t bear to feel his skin if it was cold. A nurse edged her closer and encouraged her to touch him….his skin was still barely warm, but he looked gray and somehow older. She realized in a surge of emotion that Art wasn't there, this was just his body. What to do now? Should the children see him? Would they be haunted by seeing their Daddy’s dead body, or haunted by not? She turned to the nurse sobbing and asking what people normally do.
Months later the overwhelming concern for Wendy was still about her decisions made that day. So many questions about what she decided in the blink of any eye. Were they the right decisions? Were they what Art would have wanted, and were they the best for her children? Though she was still very new in her grief, her discomfort and despair about the events of that day almost palpable. Her last words to me were these, “How I wish I could have seen into future, how I wish Art and I had discussed possibilities that we never even wanted to think about. It could just as easily been me in an accident and I hate to think now, what I would have put him through.”
It’s these stories and the stories of others who have been directly affected by not knowing what their loved one would want, that were the first seeds of my book, "I Want You to Know”, a heartfelt guide to gathering information, and documenting your wishes to prepare for serious illness or injury, end of life and final disposition.
I am starting a movement….a movement to help others create a legacy of love by documenting all their end of life wishes. Won't you join me?
“I Want You to Know” will be available at Noon EST September 1 in digital format. For 24 hours only, it will be available as a free download!