God sat back in his chair with a calm, but assertive look upon his face. He was looking down upon the earth, glancing from place to place, as if searching for his next miracle. He seemed to be thinking to himself, “Who down there is in greatest need of a miracle? Who could do the most good with my word? Where should I focus my attention tonight?”
The earth looked like one of those pictures you see from the space station point of view at night, where the cities are lit up brightly while the countryside is dark. He was looking at a black planet, lit up by little lights, like small stars sitting unevenly dispersed across a black velvet blanket. Some of the lights were bright, some were dim, and others twinkled. The lights were prayers, and the most desperate ones shone more brightly. As he leaned forward to look down on the earth a little more closely, he noticed something. There in the middle of North America was a light that was brilliantly shining. It seemed to outshine the rest and was almost blinding to look at directly. As God focused his attention more closely on the light, he realized it was thousands of people asking for one miracle…to save Connie. Connie’s friends and family had rallied the prayer warriors, resorted to social media and submitted prayer requests at local and distant churches to spread the word in a desperate plea for people to raise her up in prayer. Prior to this moment, God’s plan had been to bring her home to be with him, but he realized all the wonderful good that could come of her miracle. After all she is beloved by so many. Few people would be more deserving of a miracle. God thought this through and finally said, “Well, if so many people are so desperate to keep her, I will use her as my instrument to save many through her story.” God reached down toward the earth…
The phone rang. It was 5:30am and it was my father telling me that my Mom was dying.
I could stop there, but that is just the beginning of this story. When I went to bed that night, I knew that she was not progressing, but she had yet to worsen. I have to admit reading this dream back and saying it out loud shows me just how small I think our God is. But in that moment in my life, I needed to believe that God was just a captain searching for his next move. Believe it or not, the dream really happened, just as I described. Sometimes it is easy to forget that He has been working toward this plan all along. The timing of it could not have been more miraculous as well. You see, my mother had been fighting for her life all night long and I was not even aware of it. There was not a thought in my mind when I went to bed that I could wake up without my mom. Yet, that was exactly what was going on.
I have written the following account of true events that happened just as it is explained in the story. There are no embellishments. None are needed, the truth is almost unbelievable as it is.
I need to give you a little background on our family for the story to make sense. My name is Evan. I am a podiatric surgeon living in Fort Smith, Arkansas. My wife, Natalie, and I moved from Illinois to Fort Smith with our budding family four years ago. We have expanded our family over the four years in Fort Smith and we now have three kids under 5-years-old and a pair of Golden Retrievers. Yes, as you can imagine, it can be a bit hectic in our house. My parents stayed behind in Illinois until they were able to retire. The plan had always been to have them move to Fort Smith in January of 2018 and we have been counting down the years, months, weeks, and days ever since the move to Arkansas. My brother, Garrett, moved in with us as well, because the plan was to make Fort Smith our entire family’s permanent home. Despite the nine-hour drive from Decatur, Illinois to Fort Smith, Arkansas, our family has always remained very close and our oldest son, Jace, has always had a special bond with his “Nonnie and Papa.”
This story is meant to bring the Mom’s miracle to light. I have to believe that anyone who reads it will be transformed by it. While it was my mother who may have experienced her own miracle, it is the impact her experience had that has ushered in countless other miracles. It is my most sincere hope that we are able to reach many more people through this written testimony. I hope that it will inspire those people to realize our God’s wonderful love for us, and the unbelievable power that lives inside each of us. This is our family’s account of the amazing events that transpired, and the unexplainable turn of events that baffled doctors and nurses, leaving us all in amazement.
This is Connie’s miracle.
Connie was born in 1954. She was raised in “the American dream,” a middle-class family with two older brothers who were ten and five at the time of her birth. This meant she was not only the baby girl, but was also going to have to be a tomboy if she ever wanted to do anything with her older brothers. She often spoke of playing tackle football with the teenage boys in the neighborhood and she proudly admits that she could always hang with them. But she was always her mother’s daughter and learned from an early age what it meant to be a lady. Although she loved sports and athletics, she loved being a girly girl just as much. She was beloved by everyone who came in to contact with her. Keep in mind, this was America in the ‘60’s, there weren’t a lot of girls who could throw a football, do a cheerleading tumble and still be perfectly comfortable in a dress at her mom’s social gatherings. Mom was the total package. Funny, smart, quick-witted, sporty, spontaneous, beautiful, and yet gritty and stern enough to turn away any suitor who was not worth her time. It stands to reason that she had her pick of the boys. Her parents made it very clear that she would marry a VERY successful (wealthy) man. A couple of guys would make a short list of decent suitors, but it was the one her parents did not approve of that caught her eye.
Rennie was the wrong guy for so many reasons. He came from a broken, and borderline impoverished, family. His father was a genius inventor/entrepreneur who had one tremendous invention for which he went unrecognized and never psychologically recovered from it. After divorce split the family and spread them out across the country, Rennie was raised in central Illinois with only a few of his six siblings. Tall, dark, handsome, and athletic he was every father’s worst nightmare for their daughters. Raised in poverty, he never aspired to great things and his grades reflected that lack of ambition. It wasn’t that he was lazy or slow-witted, quite the contrary. He has always been an extremely hard worker who cannot sit down. He just never envisioned great things for himself. That is, until the day met Connie.
Rennie and Connie met through a mutual friend at her parents’ front door. That was while my mom was attending college for a teaching degree and my dad was saving money cutting grass for technical school to become a diesel engine mechanic. She will admit that he was the most strikingly handsome man she had ever seen. As the story goes, they spent the entire evening talking by themselves amongst other friends and shared a backseat ride home at the end of the night. As Connie opened her car door, Rennie grabbed her hand and gave it a little squeeze. Mom would say that little squeeze was the moment she knew something was different. Their relationship would take off from there, much to the chagrin of Connie’s mom and dad. He would eventually win them over, of course, as they realized that he may not have been rich in the ways they envisioned, but they discovered he was rich in all the things that matter.
Rennie turned out to be the perfect match for Connie. They have always complemented each other perfectly. He has supreme confidence that things will always work out, the eternal optimist. He is soft spoken, with a quiet strength, full of integrity, and an unbelievable amount of patience. She is the social butterfly who never met a stranger, eager to help others, family centered, loving and always has a sharp comment to keep you in your place when needed. He is kind, generous, and steadfast. She is frugal, worries often and loves deeply. Their marriage was the kind that everyone hopes to have. They lived for each other through God, the way it was intended.
We rented a vacation home for a family vacation in Fort Myers, Florida. Mom had no symptoms. It was the kind of vacation that you dream of. It was supposed to be the first of many similar ones to come over the next twenty years. We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last great family vacation we would experience with Mom.
It is difficult for me to read this timeline now in hindsight. I wish we would’ve had more urgency in the beginning, but you have to remember that she was the picture of health just a few weeks earlier. Headaches and nausea are not normal reasons to call a doctor or go to the ER. Once the symptoms worsened, we had the perfect storm of doctors’ visits, scheduling problems and lab follow-ups that allowed for a delayed diagnosis. Sometimes you just have to listen to your gut and demand for more advanced imaging. But then again, at the time, we didn’t know something was terribly wrong.
August 13, 2017
Mom sends a group text to our family chain that she is experiencing a headache like nothing she has ever had. She was experiencing a terrible pressure and sharp pain in the front of her head along with nausea all day. She had recently had her yearly physical exam and the doctor had just adjusted some of her medications. Thinking that she was just dealing with a side effect of the new medication, she was sure that she could still take care of her obligations. She was the primary caregiver and power of attorney for her mom and dad, but she was unable to help them for longer than a couple hours each day. The rest of the next week was spent in relatively the same fashion. A lot of sleep, over-the-counter pain medicine and rest to try and deal with the pain. Eleven days later, the headache had yet to subside so Mom went to an urgent care clinic. They did some blood tests which came back normal and instructed her to see her primary care physician. Her primary care physician had recently retired and she was not able to get an appointment with her new doctor until September 7th, a long way off when you are dealing with a debilitating headache.
The headache started to subside and actually improved enough that she was able to go on a planned trip, eight hours away, to see her grandkids in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The long drive to Fort Smith was rather uneventful. But, we all noticed something was “off” with mom the minute she arrived. We attributed it to her long trip and being tired. Besides she had just been really sick, so we thought she was just recovering. The next morning, however, Dad asked me to take a close look at Mom and let him know what I thought may be going on because she was just not herself. He was clearly concerned.
She struggled to be herself the entire time she was in Fort Smith. It was like she was in a fog, hard for her to make a decision and slow to get motivated. She did not complain about any pain or discomfort. But she would tell us later that she was hiding the pain because she didn’t want to miss her trip. She had always been excited to get on the floor with the kids, go for a walk with them or obey just about any demand they had at the drop of a hat. We also noticed that our usually perfectly dressed and groomed mother had not changed her clothes or done her hair for the entire trip. It became alarming when she was unable to buckle her own seatbelt. She never got off the couch and she would say she couldn’t find her shoes, even though they were easy to locate.
The moment I will never forget came on her last night there. We were reading books at bedtime to Jace, my 4-year-old son. I knelt down next to my Mom and said, “Mom, I want you to get checked out when you get home. I want you to take this seriously, because I think something might be very wrong.” She simply replied, “You have been the perfect son.” Those words hit me like a sledgehammer. I knew in that moment that something was in fact, very wrong. I knew that God had instructed her to say what was on her heart and not just a polite goodnight. I hugged her and told her I loved her. I walked out of the room, leaving her to sleep next to Jace as she so often did when she came to visit. I looked back at them together in Jace’s small bed and I felt a wave of love and sadness come over me. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last time I would see my Mom as she used to be.
During the car ride home to Illinois, she really started to take a turn for the worse. She laid down in the back seat all the way home due to the severity of her headache. She had an appointment with her new primary doctor when she got home, so she decided she could deal with the headache until then. This is when her symptoms started to change and she started having other problems. She had become incontinent and had trouble walking. Her left arm was always tucked in at her waist and had difficulty using it at all. Dad even found her on the floor twice. Once, when she had fallen out of the bed in the middle of the night, and another when she had fallen trying to stand up in the bathroom. She could not get up on her own either time. Since the appointment with her doctor was the next day, they decided to wait and see what the she had to say.
The appointment with the new doctor had finally arrived, but keep in mind, that they had never met, so this doctor did not know what “typical Connie” was like. Mom was only able to walk with assistance at this point so Dad used a wheel chair for the appointment. The doctor examined her and found she was weaker on her left side. Her new doctor did not feel that her symptoms were severe enough to admit her or send her the ER. They scheduled a CT scan for the next week and made an adjustment to one of her medications. After the doctor’s appointment, Dad went to check on her parents who then called mom’s brothers; both of them are doctors as well. Her brothers agreed that Mom should to go to the ER and they would do an MRI based on her symptoms. They went to the Decatur Memorial Hospital ER about 8:00 PM and had an MRI done right away.
An Anniversary to Remember
Mom and Dad waited several hours for results in the ER and both had fallen asleep when the Doctor came in at 3:00 in the morning. He broke the news that the MRI showed that Mom had a brain tumor and that it was about 2 inches in diameter, roughly the size of a plum. He was also confident enough to say that it was likely malignant and would require surgery.
Dad called me early in the morning to break the news of Mom’s diagnosis. He was driving home to pack a hospital bag since Mom was getting admitted to the hospital. I remember my reaction very clearly to the news because I said a four-letter word that I would rather not repeat and immediately began to search for the right words. Dad and I were both silent for a few moments. Suddenly I heard him breathing a little deeper and I asked if he was ok.
He said, “I’m fine, but I just pulled in to the driveway and there is a delivery on the front porch. Today is our 38th wedding anniversary. I had flowers delivered to the house for your Mom.”
This was the most difficult moment of my life. I had only seen my Dad cry one time and that was at his own mother’s funeral. Hearing it over the phone did not make it any easier.
After Mom was admitted to the hospital, she was given pain medicine and steroids. Ironically, this was the best she had felt in nearly a month since the medications finally gave her relief from the pain, but her function did not improve. Dad would later note that he was the only one showing emotion when mom was diagnosed. Mom seemed to shrug off the news as if it were no big deal. It is not clear at this point if she was losing her ability to process the information or if it was affecting her emotional state.
After a lot of discussions, we made the joint family decision to have Mom transferred to Springfield Memorial Hospital, an hour away from my parent’s home, where a specialist in Glioblastoma Neurosurgery could remove the tumor. The neurosurgeon was out of town for a couple days so Mom was discharged from the hospital that Saturday and sent home with pain medicine and steroids to limit her pain.
The brief trip home was a nice escape from reality and she was able to snuggle with Romeo and Milo, her two-small shih tzu’s. It also gave her another chance to take a nice, long bath.
Mom has always loved baths. When given a hard time about always having to take a bath, she would comically ask us how we were able to get everything clean in a shower. She loved them so much in fact that she renovated her master bathroom down to the studs so that the free-standing tub was the focal point of the room. Dad did this entire project for her and it is nothing short of HGTV worthy. I used to go in there, just to marvel at how perfectly it turned out. Mom enjoyed her bath while it lasted, but the warm water and getting up out of the tub caused her blood pressure to bottom out briefly and she lost consciousness. Dad was there to catch her and revive her, but it served was a wake-up call to the severity and instability of her condition.
She was seen by Dr. Cuzzens, the specialist, in Springfield, and admitted to Springfield Memorial Hospital that day. He explained that there were actually two tumors and both would be removed during the surgery. That evening was spent in prayer, close family reflection, facetime, and goodbyes of all kinds. Of course, my Dad was by Mom’s side the entire time.
In our last conversation before her surgery, Mom said, “I’m not worried about dying. I’m worried about missing everything, and I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.” My Dad would say, “We don’t need to worry about your Mom. We all know she is going to heaven, and she knows it too.”
The five-hour long surgery began the next day at 2:30 in the afternoon. By all accounts, it could not have gone better. The surgeon was confident that he did everything he could do and she even woke up without a problem after surgery. She spent the next several hours that evening speaking with family, even making jokes, most of them at Dad’s expense. She did complain a little about a sore throat, but she was able to drink a little ice water without problem. Mom went to sleep that night without any further problems. It seemed to all of us in the family that she had been through the worst of it, and we looked forward to the future. It was a future full of hope. We had no idea that the worst was yet to come.
The Intensive Care Unit
The next morning came, but she never woke up. The staff tried inducing pain to wake her up, but this elicited only a mild grimace, and she would occasionally posture her arms. Posturing is what the medical community refers to as an “ominous sign.” It is the body’s response to pain when the brain is not able to form and transmit a more rational response. It is usually the first sign that things are not going to turn out well. However, there are different forms of posturing, and we were told that some of this was normal after brain surgery.
The decision was made to intubate mom that afternoon when she started showing signs of saliva accumulating. It is common to do this at the first hint of a problem so that the patient does not get fluid into their lungs which could cause pneumonia or a lung to collapse. To counter the posturing and brain swelling they inserted a device called an External Ventricular Drain, or EVD, to help drain the fluid and decrease the fluid. This is done by drilling small hole in the skull and inserting a small tube deep into the brain. This also allowed them the ability to monitor her intra-cranial pressure. She neither improved nor declined the rest of the day. This continued into the next morning. Dr. Cuzzens, another neurologist, and the nursing staff continued attempts to wake her up. The only response they could get was more posturing of her arms. They would yell at her, do sternal rubs, pinch her, poke her with sharp objects, and yet we only got the scary sight of her posturing. This went on every other hour for two days and yet she remained asleep.
My Aunt Cindy was there with my Dad through all of this as well. She is my Dad’s elder sister, separated by just one year. She left her life in Houston to help wherever she could. To say that she answered the call would be selling her short on so many levels. She was the angel that Dad needed in every way. Her willingness to drop her life in an instant for her younger brother is a kindness that I will never forget, and I’m sure my Dad will never be able to repay. She exemplified the love we should all have for one another. By handling all the small stuff, she allowed him to focus all of his attention on the only thing that mattered. But it was her being present at the right time that made all the difference in the world.
Every night leading up to this one, Cindy had gone back to Decatur to care for the dogs so that Dad could stay with Mom. She decided to stay this time and was able to call a neighbor to care for the dogs. She would later say that she just had a feeling; this was going to be a hard night. “Something” told her that she needed to stay, and that Dad would need her that night more than ever.
Intensive care unit nurses are usually highly qualified, passionate people who truly love their jobs. They are also faced with difficult situations all the time. We were fortunate to have Chelsea, actually a pair of Chelseas, who alternated day and night shifts and they were amazing. This was especially true that evening, when they made sure that Dad was not only taken care of, but also well informed. It was night shift Chelsea who woke Dad up at 12:30am to let him know that Connie’s heart rate had suddenly fallen to 40 bpm and her blood pressure was dangerously low. Her face was so swollen that her facial features were unrecognizable. Her right eye had swollen to the point that her eyelashes were no longer visible. She had begun posturing more frequently and now with both her arms and legs. Chelsea recognized that her condition was quickly worsening. Dad quickly woke Cindy, who was sleeping in the waiting room and called Connie’s brother, Dan. Dan and his wife, Lisa, came immediately, and they were there together during the early morning hours. They stayed up all night and prayed while intently watching Connie and all the numbers on the monitor. The ICU doctor informed them that Connie was now considered critically ill.
Chelsea was able to keep Dad informed regularly of what was going on. Dad asked the question, what happens with her now if she does not improve? Chelsea conveyed the seriousness of Mom’s current condition as she told him that Connie was the sickest person in the hospital, and she had never seen anyone recover from a coma this critical. She told him that it did not look good and that he should prepare himself for the worst.
At this point, I was blissfully unaware of all the critical things that had happened. From my perspective, I went to bed with Mom stable. We were concerned but optimistic. It was at this moment that I believe God stepped in. I had been having a very vivid dream about God looking at the earth. You know the one. He was searching for a miracle and appeared to have chosen my mom when…
The phone rang. It was 5:30am and it was my father telling me that my Mom was dying.
It was the most difficult phone call of my life, even worse than a week earlier, when I found out about the tumor. I was filled with confusion, sadness, anger, and disbelief. I had too many questions for my Dad to answer so he put me on the phone with Chelsea. She explained that Mom had been posturing all night and that it looked like Mom could worsen at any moment. I don’t remember the exact words, but Chelsea gently conveyed to me that she was unlikely to survive. I got back on the phone with my Dad, told him that I loved him and hung up the phone. I sat back in shock, not knowing what to do. After gathering myself, I broke the news to my wife and we cried together. I woke up my brother, broke the news and we shared a long hug. I remember thinking, this is probably the only way I will ever be able to hug a part of my Mom again.
I had surgeries scheduled that day, one of them was urgent and could not be postponed. My wife was 39 weeks pregnant, and had been having contractions for several days. So, taking a flight to Illinois was not just inconvenient, it was very risky. My perfect wife told me that I had to go be with her as soon as possible. She promised that she would be on bedrest until I came back. I was able to book the first flight, which still allowed time for me to do the most urgent procedure on my case load and reschedule the rest. I was still cutting it close and literally had to run through the airport terminal to catch my flight. Because I was traveling, I was only able to speak to my Dad a couple of times during the day, and I was fearful of what I would hear each time I picked up the phone.
The neurologist, who was following mom in the ICU, asked my Dad a strange question. “What do you perceive her condition to be?” He then stated, “She is in a coma and will not improve.” The news was devastating. It was not until later in the process that we would learn that she truly was in the worst kind of state. Her Glasgow coma scale was a 4 (3 is brain dead) which means she had less than a 5% chance of ever waking up.
Dr. Cuzzens was called in to assess her, and he made the recommendation to remove the skull cap and check for pressure on the brain despite her intra-cranial pressure being normal. He stated that the pressure readings had to be wrong, and that was the only explanation for her symptoms at that time. He then talked to Dad about the risks involved, but he felt it was worth the risk, especially since she continued to posture continually.
I boarded the plane with the knowledge that she was being taken down to surgery. The plane ride to Illinois was filled with emotion. I found solace in prayer. I begged and pleaded with God to allow me one moment with my Mom. I remember thinking I had the best chance of being heard if I prayed in an airplane. I asked him, “Why had I seen the vision the night before if he was just going to take her away the next day?” I vowed that if he would work just this one miracle, I would no longer doubt Him; I would live for Him, and I would profess my faith openly, honestly and boldly. I vowed to make her story known if he would just save her.
Doctor Cuzzens removed her skull cap while Mom’s brother Victor, Cindy, and Dad waited anxiously. Cuzzens told them he removed the skull cap and found no swelling. He had even called in the neurologist in to the operating room to show him that there was no swelling. They re-secured the skull cap and installed two more EVD tubes to help with drainage as well as monitor the pressure in her head. He was confident that she would recover since there was no swelling but he could not say why she was posturing. She was brought back to ICU with her head wrapped again and intubated. She was essentially still in the same condition upon returning from surgery, but everyone noticed that the pressure on her eye had decreased and she had stopped posturing. A sliver of hope remained. She stayed that way all day. She would only posture when they attempted to wake her up, but made no other significant improvement.
I arrived in Springfield that evening and my Aunt Cindy picked me up, informing me of what was going on. She told me that Mom was still alive, but had not really improved all day. Upon entering the ICU, I said hi to my Dad and my Uncle Dan. Remember, at this point she had been in a coma for three days, only becoming increasingly more critical. While the realization of almost certain death had been clouding the entire day. The room felt alive with anticipation. No one knew what it was, but we could all feel it.
We were all still standing at the foot of the bed finishing our greetings when I looked at Mom and said, “Hi Mom.”
Mom opened her eyes.
She opened her eyes!!!
It was only for a second, but everyone in the room agreed that it was in direct response to me. Tears of joy started flowing. It was like a bad, predictable scene from a Lifetime movie. If I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t believe it myself. It was so unbelievable that we all asked each other if that really happened! I held her hand and told her I loved her.
It was in that moment that I knew, God had worked his miracle. He had done as my dream predicted and showed his love for us through Mom. God answered our prayers, giving Mom a miracle, but it would take several more months for our family to see the impact in our lives. It turns out that her miracle was the paradigm shifting event that turned our lives around. I am still unsure as to whether it was really her miracle or ours. Now it was up to Mom to put in the work, and withstand the challenges to make it back to her old life. It would not be easy, and she would have to suffer, but she was up to the task.
The Hard Road Home
I knew my role that night was to give my Dad a break. He needed a break from the stress, a break from the constant interruptions of the nurses all night checking on mom, and a break to get some sleep. He told me he had only slept four hours in the last three days. With me sleeping in the recliner next to her, he was able finally relax and get some sleep. I think he only got about three or four hours of sleep, but it was more than he needed.
My Dad and I were talking early the next morning about what we had just experienced when the nurse came in to do her normal assessment. Every time they came in prior to this one, we were always a little let down. They would come in, hurt mom, she would posture and they leave. Nothing exciting there, just more deflating disappointment. But this time caught us all off guard. Chelsea, on the night shift again, asked Mom to squeeze her fingers. Chelsea, very excitedly said, “Very good Connie!”
Dad and I sat up quickly and watched as she repeatedly squeezed her fingers on command and wiggled her toes on her right foot. We nearly came unglued when she gave us a thumb up! It was the first sign that Mom was there. She was still with us!
Later that morning, the neurologist arrived. I was in the lucky position to overhear his conversation with his resident. They were discussing the overnight events of all the patients for morning rounds. When she said, “Next is Mrs. Young, she had…”
He interrupted, “Wait, she is still alive!?”
The resident physician could hardly contain her own excitement as she continued on, telling him of her opening her eyes, squeezing fingers, giving us a thumb up, etc.… I delighted in watching his face as she described the proceedings. He could not believe what he was hearing. The ICU nurses overheard them talking and they came over to chime in. Chelsea was there and she would repeatedly say, “I’ve never seen this before. She is truly amazing!”
My brother, Garrett, arrived later in the morning. He was not able to catch the same flight and had to wait until the next day. It was nice to have the original four of us in a room together again, even though we would never ask for these circumstances. Garrett seemed to give Mom another boost, and she continued to show more strength in her squeezes and more motion in her toes.
Over the next 24 hours she gained the ability to nod and shake her head which was helpful because she was able to tell everyone when she had pain or when she needed to be moved. She still had not opened her eyes again, and had to have constant maintenance to her body since she had to stay in bed. She had boots on her feet to keep them from getting stiff and keep her heels off the mattress. She had compression pumps on her legs, and an injection in her stomach to prevent blood clots. The nurses come in every other hour to turn her in bed to switch up pressure points in her back and clean the sheets. Her mouth had to be swabbed with a sponge to clean her teeth and mouth, and the nurses had to move her tongue from one side to the other so it would not get an ulcer from the respirator tube. While on the respirator her tube needed to be suctioned constantly, and they also had to push a suction down her respirator tube/throat to clean out excess fluid, causing her to cough and gag. Once the initial joy and wonder subsided, it became painful to watch all of this, but it was all necessary for her recovery.
The neurologist decided to see if Mom could breathe on her own and began to allow the respirator to only provide breaths if she slacked. She did well and did not rely on the vent for more than a few breaths each hour. The neurologist began to be more optimistic, and Dr. Cuzzens was confident that she would improve greatly from this point forward.
I had to return to Fort Smith so I could make it home for the impending birth of my third child, but what a different feeling it was to board a plane knowing that Mom would make it. I was able to focus all my energy on my new life. I was born again and would never be the same. I had been praying for months that God would remove my doubt in Him. He came through for me in the only way that could permanently remove any shred of my doubt.
The day after I left, Mom started focusing on people when they lifted her eyelids. Garrett was able to say goodbye the next day with Mom looking into his eyes, and he caught a plane home. She continued to improve over the next few days. It started with her opening her own eyes for periods of time and she would be awake for a few minutes at a time. This was just enough time for Dad to try and update her on everything in those brief moments.
A few days later, the doctor decided it was safe to remove the breathing tube. However, it was not long before she started struggling to breath. She needed it re-inserted and the damage it did to her vocal chords would never fully recover.
Mom’s 3rd grandchild arrives!
My son, Connor Rennie Young, was born at 2:30am. Mom got to see pictures of him and facetime with us early that morning. The decision to name our child after my parents seemed like the only logical thing to do given the current circumstances. My amazing wife was gracious enough to agree. I’m not sure if the thought of a new grandbaby energized Mom, but it seemed as if she really started gaining momentum at that point with only occasional setbacks.
The next day, the nurse removed Mom’s central line and two EVD drains. The day after that, they removed her breathing tube successfully for the last time. She still had damaged vocal chords, requiring a feeding tube and she developed a bed sore as well. Luckily these setbacks did not slow her down.
My Dad had never left her side. He spent two weeks sleeping on cots and in recliners while nurses constantly interrupted his sleep. All the while, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m still amazed at his ability to keep a positive attitude in the face of immeasurable tragedy and with so little hope to cling to. It speaks to God’s power to ease our pain when you have true faith.
Mom was discharged from the ICU and she was transferred to the neurology wing of the hospital. We hated to leave the wonderful staff in the ICU, especially the two Chelseas, and the close attention that comes with being there. We had grown to know and trust the staff in the ICU. I remember the ICU Neurologist coming in on several occasions, and while standing at the foot of the bed, looking at Mom with astonishment. He would simply stand there and shake his head with a small grin on his face. We could tell that she had made an impact, especially on him.
She began intense speech therapy, but while her speech improved, it became apparent that she had a long way to go in many other areas. She didn’t know the date, time, or place. She confused her birthday with other family members, used her maiden name as her last name, and she said she lived in Bloomington or Springfield (she lived in Decatur). She grew frustrated easily with these questions and would close her eyes when she was done. Sometimes this was only a few minutes into a therapy session and getting her eyes open again was very difficult. She had long periods of time where she would keep her eyes closed even though she was awake. Aunt Cindy worked hard with Mom every day to make sure she knew the answer to the questions. This not only helped in Mom recover, but also helped keep her engaged for longer during therapy.
A week later she was transferred to the rehabilitation floor. Over the next week, Mom made some good strides. She walked assisted with parallel bars, played connect four, and worked on speaking in a louder voice since she could only whisper at this point. Mom asked about her parents often, especially her Dad, since she had been caring for them right up until her diagnosis. That responsibility had fallen to Mom’s brothers and she had to be reassured often that they were taking excellent care of them. Her worry and concern for others despite her own struggles further demonstrates her amazing spirit of love.
Mom was able to take her first shower since her surgery a month before. She started laughing again, especially when watching Modern Family. She began to be increasingly aware of Dad’s absence during the day and asked where he was often. Dad was only at home for 15 minutes a day for a quick change of clothes and shower. He spent all of his time at work or with Mom for weeks on end. Cindy picked up the slack at home, caring for the dogs and keeping the house running. She even brought Mom’s dogs to see her at the hospital. A week later, Mom developed a blood clot in her right leg and had to have her blood thinner dosage increased. She started riding a stationary bike in addition to walking with parallel bars.
Dad brought Mom’s parents to see her for the first time since surgery. This was no small task since they were in their mid-90’s. Grandma suffers from Alzheimer’s, and she was not able to comprehend what happened. She was very confused and kept asking what happened to her daughter. Occasionally, Grandma would get so confused that she thought Mom was her sister and not her daughter. I’m not sure if that was her way of coping or if she was not able to grasp the reality. Grandpa suffers from Parkinson’s, but is mentally strong and he would kiss her forehead and tell her he loved her repeatedly. He now loves to tell her how much she spoiled him when she was the primary care taker.
Her sense of humor was really starting to return at this point. She called the tech that changed her bed pads the “pee monster.”
We made the decision to bring Connor to Illinois so he could meet his Nonnie, and vice versa. We brought the whole family on a VERY long road trip.
The next day, she was moved to a rehabilitation facility across the street to continue therapy. From my perspective, this was one of THOSE days. You know THOSE days. They are the ones you will never forget. They start off just the same as any other, but something happens, and you just know that you will never forget it. You know that the memory of that day will shape and affect you for the rest of your life.
We had been taking all of the kids over to Springfield from Decatur each evening just to spend an hour with Mom and then drive the hour home. This trip was very taxing on the kids and it made for a chaotic visit. The kids did not do well on the drive home each night and bed time was a nightmare. Since this was our last day in Illinois, I decided it would be easier if I just took the oldest child, Jace. This would give me a chance to spend a little more time with her since Jace is an easy travel companion. Plus, he and his ‘Nonnie’ were so close that I hoped he could bring more out of her.
I walked into a situation I did not expect. Mom was laying in her bed in an uncomfortable position, staring at the ceiling. I’ll admit, it scared me. I immediately got Jace set up with an iPad to keep him occupied, and I was able to get a nurse to move her to a wheelchair. I was able to have my first one-on-one talk with her since her surgery. It was painfully sad to see Mom’s expressionless face looking back at me as I cried. My mom was always the bubbliest person in the room, always the most joyful person, and it always showed on her face. She was always full of empathy and she would look at you in a way that made you know that she understood. The tumor had removed one of my favorite things about my Mom. I apologized to her. I don’t even know why or what I was apologizing for. I was about a minute or two into losing it when a rather rude nurse walked into the room and said, “Time for dinner! You coming to the dining room or do you wanna eat in here?”
Wiping the tears from my eyes with a stern voice, I said, “I’ll bring her down to the dining room.” In hindsight, that nurse coming in was actually a blessing. Sometimes we don’t know why things happen the way they do, but God has his plan. If He had not come in just at that moment, I would’ve completely lost it. He was able to snap me out of my own self-pity and bring me back to the reality of the situation. I pulled myself together, got Mom dressed for dinner, and picked out a nice head cover since she had very little hair at this point.
Jace, his Nonnie, and I went to dinner. We were in the dining room for about five minutes when I realized, this was not the place for Mom. We were surrounded by confused seniors who had clearly been long-time residents. They would come up and ask strange questions like, “Did you take my shoe?” The next table over had a mentally and physically handicapped middle-aged man, who needed help with every aspect of life. This place was a breeding ground for depression and a lack of motivation. Yes, mom was sick. Yes, she needed to attend a rehab facility. But this was a nursing home for impaired people, and I began to plot Mom’s quickest route to a successful life outside of this place.
I had been considering Mom’s plight and trying to keep Jace occupied while still enjoying my last few moments with her, when my Dad walked in. My Dad. The man of my mother’s dreams, my hero, and Papa to my three kids. He came in like a super-hero and sat down with us, smile on his face and gave a few encouraging words to Mom. Over the past 6 weeks, he had been told his wife had terminal brain cancer, waited anxiously while she was in surgery twice, told she was going to die, witnessed her miracle survival, spent weeks of exhausting time at the hospital and made countless late night and early morning long drives just to be by Mom’s side through it all. He did this despite the fact that she was very seldom aware of his presence, and he never lost sight of what was important, to remain hopeful. He remained steadfast in his faith and love. Like I said earlier, he is rich in all the things that matter.
Mom’s dinner arrived and she was eating while Dad and I began discussing our plans for the next few months. After Dad and I had what we thought was a pretty good plan, we made sure Mom knew what we were expecting. We told her that she would be coming home in a week, then start her chemotherapy/radiation and she would make it to our house in Fort Smith by Christmas.
Mom looked right at Dad and said with a quivering voice, “You’re a big dreamer.”
Dad leaned in with a smile on his face, supremely confident and without pause said, “Yep.
Mom replied, “Well I guess that’s how you got me.”
They both smiled and he kissed her. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. It was my Dad being the perfect husband, and my Mom admitting that she needs him while showing she was still just as witty as always. Jace and I drove back the hour back to my parent’s home that night and I couldn’t help but think of the love I had experienced that day. I thought about how I grew up in the presence of that love, but I never felt the depth until that day. I can only hope that my son picked up on what he was a witness to. I know I will never forget it.
Radiation and chemotherapy began. Mom tolerated it well and continued her physical, occupational, and speech therapy sessions each day. By the end of the week she was allowed to go home. Two long and grueling months were finally coming to an end.
Over the next six weeks, Mom continued to show steady improvement. She went to Springfield five days-a-week for radiation treatments and took her chemo pills every day. She gained the ability to walk on her own with a walker. She regained the use of her left hand. She still struggles with multi-tasking and short-term memory, but we talk often about old memories. She remembers things vividly that I only vaguely recall. That is one blessing that we have clung to. Her voice got stronger, but she had to really concentrate on speaking loudly to be heard.
Mom completed her chemo and radiation treatment. The following day, Mom, Dad and Cindy moved down to Fort Smith so that Mom could be around her grandkids full-time. Christmas was a big celebration this year. The plan we had laid out so many weeks earlier had come to fruition. Nonnie was finally home to stay.
It has now been 5 months since Mom’s surgery.
She did well, as well as anyone could, given the circumstances. One tumor returned and grew in size quickly. After we were told that it was inoperable, we started focusing less on the quantity of life and more on the quality.
Mom was amazing. She never did become who she used to be, but she did get to a level that made life enjoyable. We got to talk a lot about long lost memories. She seemed to remember more about her past than any of us. We had a lot of discussions that included her reminding us of our own embarrassing moments. We made some priceless memories in just a few short weeks.
She was still just as spunky. One night, for instance, Garrett and Dad were encouraging her to take her eleventh pill of the day and they were a little impatient about her getting it down. That’s when she cracked a wry smile and stated, “You guys are driving me nuts.” To which we all had a great laugh.
Another day, she read Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” She replied, “If three people show up here, I’m going to wonder which of them is God.”
The last week of February, Mom took a sudden turn for the worse. She started struggling to stay awake, had difficulty eating and lost the ability to walk. She said her last words to us just before bed on February 28th. She would not open her eyes again. Early in the morning, on March 3, 2018, Mom lost her battle with cancer. She was surrounded by her family as she took her last breath and we held her as she faded peacefully into Jesus’ waiting arms.
I have been in deep reflection over the events of the past fall on many occasions. It’s easy to lose yourself in the why’s and the what if questions. I often ask the most difficult question, “Why she didn’t get to do the one thing she always wanted, to be Nonnie to her grandchildren?”
This is the part of the story that becomes somewhat cathartic for me. I get so angry when I think about how close we were to the life we had all envisioned. My Mom was so central to everything I became. I’m sure that most people feel this way, but I was one of the lucky ones. I had that Mom. The one who was both loving and stern. You knew she loved you and yet you knew she would not hesitate to swat your butt with a wooden spoon. I guess I feel cheated that my kids will never know her that way.
I got caught stealing a pack of baseball cards when I was 12 years old. I was with my Dad at the time and he took me to the county jail to ask if they could lock me up for a few hours. The sad thing is, I was never worried about him or the jail. I was worried about what would happen when Mom found out! Yet, I never questioned her love for me. I guarantee that my brother and every single one of the kids she taught in her classroom felt the same way. She was always my biggest fan, and she was always in my corner, but she never stopped pushing me to be better. She instilled in me a desire to be the best man I could be. She challenged me to be like my father.
We got to experience that blissful life for a brief moment on our Florida trip this last June. It was a life where my kids grew up knowing that Nonnie and Papa loved them just as much we did. It was a vision of golf cart rides with the kids to and from our house or dropping them off last minute for a quick Mom and Dad date night. It was the vision of Nonnie picking them up from school and taking them out for ice cream. It was always perfect and it was always full of love. It was the vision of a life that will never be. A vision that was ripped away from us in an instant. And worst of all, it was taken away from us just weeks before it was to be our reality.
But that is what I have learned from this most of all and it’s not a new lesson. Life is happening now. Your plans for tomorrow may never come, so enjoy the moment you are living in. Live for God and express your love for others as he loves us. Don’t waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them. If you take nothing else from this story, just remember that you are not in charge of your destiny. Make the most of what is happening in the present. Live in each moment, good and bad, for the bad makes the good that much better. Don’t waste time living in a future that may never exist.
Mom overcame immeasurable odds and got to experience a miracle on earth. She not only solidified her place in Heaven, but also made sure that everyone she cared about did as well. Our family got to see God’s power first hand and we are now changed.
You could debate where the miracle took place. Was it her waking up from her coma? Was it the fact that she got to have her wish to spend her final days with her grandchildren? Was it the paradigm shifting change that she created in all of us? Is it the legacy she will leave behind from her story? Is it the one person who will be saved by reading her story?
I’ll let you decide which one is the greatest miracle. For me, the miracle is the immense power of our amazing God to create wonderful things out of the worst possible tragedy. I will no longer question my faith and although it is difficult to remember how I came to that realization, I know that I will spend eternity with my Mom because I have complete faith in my God. For that, I am forever grateful.
If you wish to take this story one step further, I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to look at your life through God’s eyes. What parts of your life would make Him smile? If you can’t think of many, then you may not be living the life you were called to live. Spend some time reflecting after you are done reading this. Meditate if you can. Focus on your life. What is important to you? If your first thought is your house, car, dog, spouse, money, job or kids, then you have missed it already. God is what is important and he makes all those other things in your life so much better. He can make those things glow in your eyes the way he sees them.
Find God’s plan for you in this life. Live it every day. Make plans for the future but don’t live in them and don’t live for them.
Ask God for a direction. Ask Him for a sign. Ask Him for a miracle.
You just never know when he will be looking for his next one.
Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny… -C.S. Lewis