In the spirit of “Waiting Room”, my family and I have been in one lately. My mom had a stroke a few weeks ago, followed by several more strokes which left her very disabled. She was hospitalized twice. She yesterday had another massive stroke and is in the hospital again. She is not conscious or expected to survive.

I traveled to see her the last two times she was hospitalized recently. I knew she was at very high risk for more strokes, and I knew the last time I saw her during her second recent hospitalization that it was probably the last time I would see her alive…so I made sure to tell her I loved her and goodbye then.

I feel sad for what she has suffered, that she had become disabled and
intermittently confused related to her stokes. She had also become very depressed as a result of her recent traumas, and I know personally that the emotional struggles are the worst part of any physical illness. But as she is in the last waiting room of her life, I really do not grieve for her, or for myself. I am sure some would see me as callous. But I know when she leaves this world she will finally be at her real home, and will be whole and happy and will have many to greet her. She will never hurt or struggle again. I would rather see her there than enduring months, maybe years, rehabilitating from her stokes in a nursing home, away from the home she loved and the things she loved to do. I will miss her, but only for awhile, it’s a temporary separation.

Being in the cancer community for so long, I have seen very many lose their battles. Many who were young and still raising children, many who had careers they loved and goals they wanted to achieve in the remaining decades they thought they would have. I was recently in contact with a family who lost their 23 year old son to a cancer similar to ours. I’ve communicated with a 19 year old appendix cancer patient. I worked once with a family who had lost two children both in their early twenties to two different types of cancer, brain cancer and lymphoma over just a two year period. A five year old at our church died of brain cancer in spite of overwhelming prayer support.

I had trouble dealing with all of that for a long time, so read many books about heaven and the life after this one. I also worked for a hospice as a volunteer for many month in trying to come to terms with it. I talked to many patients about their feelings about their impending death. Their fears, their hopes, their struggles. Patients who were relieved to finally have someone they could talk to about their impending death.

As a nurse, I’ve held the hands of many who were actively dying as they have passed from this life into the next, some who I think waited for family members to leave as they didn’t want to put their loved ones through the trauma of witnessing their death. I’ve let patients who were barely living know that they had permission to leave, to move on to their next life, to stop suffering and lingering in the dying state…that it was okay, they could go home. I’ve also asked families to give their dying loved ones that permission. I’ve supported families who have chosen withhold food and hydration that would only prolong death and not life in a person who was at the end of their journey. So I am very familiar with end-of-life issues.

Once when I was waiting in the “CT scan waiting room” wondering if I had an impending death sentence, I met a woman, now 70, who in her 20s had a near death experience when she was very ill. She told me in detail about the heaven she went to during that experience. She said when she woke up in a hospital room later, she cried for three days because she so wanted to go back, she preferred the heaven she had experienced to living in this world, even though she was a young mother with small children then. Now at 70 she still longs to go back; she’s been waiting for decades, but decided she must have work to do here, that she has been in this life’s waiting room and not where she feels she really belongs for a reason. She told me not to be nervous, I had nothing to fear even if my CT results were not good.

In the end I developed a profound belief in heaven. A surety that life doesn’t end here, that this life is only a short and temporary one in comparison to the eternity we will one day live in. Death isn’t an end, it is a transition. It’s a transition all of us will one day make. I personally, though I believe in heaven and a life after this one, still fear the unknown of that transition. But I now think it will be like many other transitions in my life that I was fearful of that turned out in the end to be enlightening and empowering. Transitions I’m so glad I made.

Interesting thing,the five year old in my church who died of brain cancer….he’d become physically but not mentally disabled. When he was in a wheelchair, he one day told his mom “Look over there, Tyler is back!!”. Tyler was a dog they had put to sleep six months earlier. He then had a very animated conversation with someone no one else could see, and he smiled during that conversation. Shortly after he lost consciousness; he died a few days later. His transition. Many in hospice had similar experiences, many saw people they knew coming to take them home near the end.

For those who are at the crossroad of this transition, I can recommend several of the books I’ve read during my sojourn:

In Light of Eternity, by Randy Alcorn
Crossing the Threshold of Eternity: What the Dying Can Teach the Living, by Robert Wise
Heaven…Your Real Home, by Joanie Erickson Tada (who has been unable to move her arms or legs for four decades after a swimming accident as a teenager)
On Life After Death, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (who spent decades working with those who were dying)
Heaven and the Afterlife by James Garlow
The Shack, by William Young
When There is No Miracle, by Robert Wise