Working critical care meant more often than not, I would be faced with life or death situations. The one thing I would always hear constantly is how Jesus would work a miracle and their family member would walk right out of the hospital. There were many times that this miracle would occur and we were transferring patients out to less critical units. A few times, the patient would walk in several months later and say thank you. However, there were those moments this was not possible.
Watching families grieving was heart-wrenching. No matter how professional one can be, you could not put away the human aspects of empathy and sympathy. There were many times that I would have to hide in the supply closet so I don't show the family my tears. What I grieved aside from the loss of the families is the moments when they could not let go. It was more difficult to watch my patients' prolonged suffering because of their loved ones' inability to consider a world without them. There was a time a patient had coded more than once and one of their family members said "If God wants to, He'll take him." My coworker responded, "God did take him. We brought him back."
Her response stuck with me. Yes, God gave us the knowledge, the intelligence, the tools. But there is a fine line between saving someone's life and playing God's hand. What is more, there were times that the prolongation of life was against the wishes of the patient. I saw children of patients beg their parents to reverse the "Do no resuscitate" status, even when you could see the patient was ready to let go. They did not want to suffer anymore. They did not want to feel pain anymore. They were ready to let go. They were ready to go home.
Too often I watched as my patients organs began to fail. They could not breathe on their own, completely dependent on the ventilators. Their body could not handle the amount of medications and fluids that their bodies began to swell, sometimes leaking the fluid from their pores instead. In order to keep their blood pressure up so there is enough flow to the brain, we needed to give them medications that would cause their blood vessels to constrict; from this their fingertips and toe tips would turn blue because of decreased circulation. You began to see their heart rate slowing down. Once they coded we would work on them, sometimes for two to three hours, doing chest compressions, risking trauma to their ribs and sternum, giving them more medications, more toxins, more fluids. Despite the minutes and hours we labored, the interventions we did, our efforts seemed futile.
Yet the families would still want us to keep going; the families that would gather around and pray for a miracle. The families that would proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. There was a song and now a book called Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die. How could we proclaim God's saving grace, the eternal life we all look for, but when we're faced with that moment, we deny God what we have all worked our lives to achieve: eternal rest with Him? By continuing the life support, by continuing the medications, by continuing the invasive procedures, we are taking that decision away from God. We are playing God’s hands. They seem to forget that “what is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” (Luke 18:27) It does not matter how many breaths we give them. It does not matter how many heart beats we give them. It doesn’t not matter what we put into their bodies. Because if God wills it, that is what will come to pass. All we have to do is have faith that God will work his miracle. Whether it be here on Earth or in Heaven, “Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:9)
For those who are faithful to God, death is the ultimate miracle. For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3: 16). Jesus gave himself as ransom for all (1 Timothy 1:6).
Heaven is defined as "the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness." (CCC 1024). Why would we want to continue our family members' suffering on earth and deny them this happiness that God has promised? In the Gospel of John, Jesus Himself said, "If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?" (John 3:12). He points out the lack of faith Nicodemus had. He told him "What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit." Holding on to the bodies of our loved ones, we are born of the flesh, giving in to our earthly desires and not allowing the spirit of our loved ones to reach their ultimate destiny.
However, it is okay to grieve. Jesus Himself wept and grieved for Lazarus (John 11:35). Ultimate fulfillment for our loved ones in Heaven does not take away the loss we feel. It does not diminish our pain having to endure without them. One thing we can all hold on to is that one day, we, too will be united in Heaven with all of the faithful departed.
Angelica Delallana, MSN, RN