Several years ago I worked during the summer as a chaplain in a large hospital in Dayton. Part of my responsibilities was to be “on call” every other weekend for a 24 hour period. We had to remain at the hospital but be available if and when a need arose for a chaplain. Many times the need was because of an incoming trauma case.
They provided a bed and a place to sleep. Sometimes you were able to get some sleep while others you might be up all night. One morning about two, I received a page about an incoming trauma. I got up and went to the ER and got briefed on the case. A young man in his early thirties was found unconscious in a stairway. He was in bad shape and the family had been called. I was to be with the family and help them through the process.
An elderly couple arrived identifying themselves as the parents of the young man. I walked them through the admission process and helped them answer the fifty million questions gaining a little insight into what had led him to this point.
Eventually the young man was taken to ICU after the doctor informed them that things looked really grim. Drug and alcohol abuse combined with the lack of care physically basically wore down his body. His body was filled with infection and seemed to weak even with high potency meds to fight it off. Plus being extremely sick and under the influence, he had collapse in a stairwell hitting his head. While the head trauma was not necessarily severe in his weakened condition, it put him in dire straits.
I sat and talked with this couple. He was their adopted son. They adopted him when he was a baby. They talked about his childhood and the joy that he brought them and the love that he shared with others. He was a good kid with a bright future.
However, during his twentieth year, things changed. And they changed pretty quickly. His moods would radically shift. He came home under the influence of everything imaginable. His demeanor changed. They didn’t know who he was anymore. Finally he was hospitalized that year and they found out the diagnosis: bi-polar. It was explained that sometimes people show no signs but the bi-polar manifests itself in the twenties.
They talked for a few hours about the hell of the last ten years. Up and down. When he was on his meds, they had their son back. But inevitably, he would be doing so well that he would decide that he didn’t need his meds and within a few weeks the darkness would return. He would steal from them and he would disappear for days then weeks at a time.
Finally, a couple of years before this incident, they set a firm boundary. It was the hardest thing they had ever done but they physically, mentally, and emotionally couldn’t take it anymore. If he wouldn’t stay on his meds, then he could not live in their house. Eventually, he went off his meds. And they set him up with his own place paying the deposit and rent for several months.
He of course lost his apartment. They had to change the locks. They loved him and would allow him to visit as long as he was sober but they had to watch him like a hawk. Eventually he began to get in trouble with the law and they wouldn’t see him for months at a time. They hadn’t seen him for about four months before they got this phone call. They had been expecting something like this for weeks. Every time the phone rang, they wondered. They lived with a sense of fear and dreadful anticipation.
Their son never did regain consciousness. They decided to remove life support. It was hard to watch them. It was hard on them. But they expressed their gratitude to me and the hospital for the support. They expressed that even though it was difficult, they felt a sense of relief. The nightmare was over. They could try and move on. They couldn’t finally grieve and mourn wholly because while they knew that they had lost their son years ago, he still wasn’t gone. His pain and torment was too real and painful. They felt as if they died everyday knowing the pain that he was inflicting on himself.
Even though they knew the choices that he made were not God-honoring they still held out hope that maybe in some way, grace had reached him at the end. Maybe in some way, Jesus had been there. They knew that it didn’t seem likely but they also knew that the blood of Christ is such an immense mystery and awesome power that they didn’t want to limit God. Maybe the lessons that he learned as a child and the stories of the mercy of Jesus and love of Jesus that they tried to share with him was not all done in vain. He wasn’t their flesh and blood. But he was their son. He had been adopted. But then again so haven’t we.
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