To the Point for 10/6/05


IT WAS A TYPICAL FRIDAY evening. The work week had ended and my family was looking forward to a couple of days of rest. Saturday was my wife’s birthday, and her brother was coming from Nashville, Tennessee to their aunt’s home in Louisville; and he wanted to take his sister out for a birthday lunch.

With a trip to Louisville in the Saturday plans, I decided that the family would take my wife to Florence for a birthday dinner on Friday evening.

We got things arranged, loaded two of our daughters in the car, and headed down the highway. A little dinner and a little shopping. A typical Friday night. No big deal.

I took for granted that it was just like many other Friday nights that we have had; but the following 24 hours brought the frailty of life into sharp focus.

The cell phone rang, and I assumed it was someone with a happy birthday wish. As my daughter raced down the aisle of the department store, I soon found out that it would be much, much more.

“Grandma’s been in a car accident,” Emily said as she found me. “We’ve got to find mom.”

My wife’s grandmother had been attempting to cross a four-lane highway in her hometown of Stanford, Kentucky, on Friday afternoon. She was going to watch some of her great-grandchildren play in a soccer festival. The evening was warm and she was looking forward to spending time with her family.

But she never saw the truck.

It struck the passenger side so severely that it knocked her car over, finally coming to rest on its side. Her daughter and a grandson were in their car immediately behind her and saw the entire scene unfold like some surreal dream.

Her son, over at the soccer field getting ready to watch his grandchildren, heard the sounds of a wreck and called 911; never dreaming that his mother was at the center of the noises that he heard.

When we got our phone call, Nora Marcum was being airlifted to University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. The normally calm voice of my wife’s aunt shook as she spoke. She used words like “serious” and “critical” as she explained what was going on. We knew that lives were changing.

Into the car, we drove down the interstate and headed south toward Lexington. Our cell phones kept us in contact with family members already at the hospital. Directions to the emergency room came from various messages, and soon we arrived in the parking garage of the hospital.

Walking up the ramp, we found some family members milling around outside; while others kept vigil in the waiting room of the Emergency area.

Spoken words were soft and carefully selected. Her injuries were pretty bad. Teams of doctors and nurses were working just to stabilize her. Family members could go back two at a time to be with her, but she was unconscious and not responding.

Specialists held family meetings and spoke of relieving building pressure around her brain and inserting drainage tubes into her lungs. A grim prognosis was offered in a gentle way.

All night more and more family continued to gather in that waiting room — and waited.

Early morning on Saturday brought news that Nora had developed a fever; reaching 104-degrees at one point. She still wasn’t responding; and by noon it was time for another family meeting.

A tall, thin neurosurgeon with a gentle voice laid out various options for her children. He talked about quality of life and chances for recovery. He spoke of losing his own grandmother earlier this year. He asked what the family wanted to do.

As much as we wanted to keep her here on a human level; her faith and ours knew that we had already lost the person that we have loved over generations; so the decision was made to stop the measures and provide morphine so she wasn’t in pain and wait and see what would happen.

About three hours later, with her family tucked in a small room around her, Nora Marcum went home to Heaven. There wasn’t any sound. There wasn’t any pain. She simply took a breath and didn’t take another; and with that she quietly stepped from this earth and into eternity.

A shaken family stood with her, and after sharing hugs and tears and a few stories; everyone began to head to their homes.

We arrived back in Vevay just about 24 hours from the time that we had left the night before for our trip to Florence.

I can’t help but think of what my expectations were for the coming 24 hours as I drove toward Florence. There were Sleepy Hollow photos to take the next morning before heading to Louisville; and plenty of other things to attend to, as well.

As we all sat exhausted in our living room on Saturday evening; in the span of a single day our lives and the lives of our family members and others who knew Nora Marcum were changed forever.

In just a day.

Most of the time we all take for granted that there will be other days and other weeks and other seasons. We assume that next summer will come and we’ll one day get to retire to a warmer climate and relax.

If those 24 hours taught me anything, it’s that we’re promised only the single moment that we happen to be living right now.

We will miss Nora Marcum; because she taught us many, many things in her life.

And one valuable lesson in her death.