The Need For A Redemptive Savior

Mr. Johnson rarely spoke.

Once, when he threw up, he told me he was sorry. I just patted his shoulder and cleaned him up, reassuring him it was okay; that it was better, in fact, to get it out than to have an upset stomach.

Another day, he pointed at his watch and I leaned over his frail frame in that hospital bed and read him the time. When I turned to leave, I heard him try to say something but I couldn’t really understand him.  I think he was trying to say thank you.

When a person lives as long as Mr. Johnson, time has a way of being measured less by the ticking of the clock and more by the ability to take another breath.

The next morning, Mr. Johnson wasn’t himself.  He desperately clutched at the blankets and tucked them under his chin when I tried getting him up for the bathroom.  His eyes stared back at me, vacant, scared, as I tried reasoning with him.  Finally, he let me help him but then he yelled at me, just an awful low-pitched wail when I put a new gown on him after cleaning him up a bit.  And after I put on his watch, he kept trying to take it off.

I left it on the nightstand, puzzled a bit because he always, always wore his watch.

But the day Mr. Johnson died, he wasn’t wearing it.

In the medical field, we’re taught how a patient’s gut feelings are often correct long before those feelings become a reality and maybe Mr. Johnson knew; just maybe he knew his time was going to run out that day.

After he died, I took care of him for the last time.

I closed his eyes.  I changed his diaper.  And I put his leather watch on.

Just when I was finishing up, his daughter arrived.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said, “I’ll give you some privacy. I’ll be outside if you need anything.”

“Please, stay…” She isn’t looking at me but now she has crossed the room and is holding her dad’s hand within her own.

The tears start then, deep sobs starting slow, then faster, until she’s rocking back and forth so I put my arm around her.

Five minutes pass and neither of us says anything.

Finally, she smiles up at me.  “Thank you.” I watch as her fingers caress her fallen tears off the face of the watch. “He always wore this watch. Even now, it’s kinda funny, he’s wearing it.”

I don’t tell her he wasn’t wearing it when he died.  But then I also don’t tell her when a person dies, they often lose control of their bowels.  Or that their eyelids stay open.

My shift ends and I drive home to my little apartment.  And when I’m inside, after I’ve locked the door, I just can’t hold it in any longer and suddenly, its hard to breathe.

I just want to wash away the day, wash away how awful it was, all the sadness, all the hopelessness. So I slip out of my shoes and climb into the shower and the water is cold but I don’t care.  It soaks my scrubs and I slide down the shower wall and pull my knees to my chest and just cry.

I don’t pray.  I don’t ask God for strength.

But eventually, I find it within me to stand so I peel the wet clothes away and the spray is bitter against my skin but I’m alive, I’m okay, and what happened with Mr. Johnson isn’t awful anymore.  Instead, I feel honored to have been there; honored to have helped in those last few hours.

Stepping from the shower, I glance in the mirror at eyes red with tears and I’m staring straight into God’s plan for my life.  Here, in this holy moment, I pray.

When I tell people this story, their normal response is, “God bless you” but I’m here to tell you, there is no amount of good in a person that displaces the need for a redemptive Savior.  And at the hospital, when I sling my stethoscope around my neck at the beginning of a shift, I close my eyes a moment and remember.

I remember from whence cometh my strength.

[photo: alexkerhead, Creative Commons]

  • Zee

    Good that you were there for Mr. Johnson, but even better you were there for his daughter.

    I’m honored to know you, Duane, even if it’s only online for now.

  • Sandra Heska King

    This made me cry. And reminded me of the first patient that died on my watch as a student. For Mr. Johnson, for his daughter, for me–thank you. Thank you for beating with the heart of Jesus, for bleeding His compassion.

  • Jenn

    You captured this so well. Sometimes I”m conflicted by the draw I have for the hard things. I feel the tension of the honour and the desire to avoid it altogether. When I think about what it is that draws me to the difficult things in life, I think it is because it reminds me that I need God and that I can’t do it in my strength at all.

  • Martha Orlando

    A most beautiful and touching story . . . And, yes, our strength is definitely in the Lord.
    Blessings, Duane!

  • kingfisher

    “there is no amount of good in a person that displaces the need for a redemptive Savior.

    I remember from whence cometh my strength.”

    You’re right. All of us need a Redemptive Savior, always! Oh, how we need him! So glad that HE gives us strength to go on living even if we struggle with a hard life, and he comes to help us when it’s time for us to go home to be with him forever. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  • Connie Mace

    Tears here…thanking GOD for the compassion He instills, for the redemption He lavishes, for the raw moments you shared with Mr. Johnson and his daughter.

  • kelliwoodford

    This is holy and eternal and profound.
    Maybe drawing near to death has such an effect on us all . . .
    But you, Duane, have been given such riveting words to wrap around all this immensity.
    I leave here sobered and small. It’s a good place to be. Thank you.

  • Sandy Sandmeyer

    I believe one of the most precious memories of my mother’s best friend, Janet, was that I was able to be with her to help usher her home to be with Jesus. It was a beautiful moment and I felt like it was a great honor for me to be there. Duane, if there was ever a question of where you needed to be, it was at the place, in that moment, with Mr. Johnson and his daughter. You have such a gift and are such a blessing.

  • Jen Gunning

    My mom has been a care nurse on dementia units for almost 20 years now and the stories, like yours, that she tells us are soul-shattering and/or soul-lifting. She loves doing the work, despite the intense physical work and feelings of helplessness that accompany it on most days. She has taught me and my brother that there is no expiration date on the need to treat others with dignity and love, regardless of how they are able or choose to treat you in return. In her current workplace, they have a cat that starts to spend time with residents who are nearing their end. The nurses know, despite how healthy a resident may seem, that when the cat starts sleeping in a certain room, time is wrapping up. Mom says that although not everyone appreciates it, most residents and family members consider it a blessing as they count precious the time is being spent together. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve seen my mom fall apart after particularly difficult days, but the overriding peace that comes, as you said, with staring straight into God’s plan for your life, brings peace that soothes through the pain. God HAS blessed you.

    • Shalom

      Like your Mom, my Mom works in a palliative care/long-term unit in a hospital here in my city. Like what you said, the work is not only physically demanding, it is also soul-shattering. Even though she wouldn’t admit it, I know that that is the case.

      I pray everyday for her. In fact, I pray everyday for all caregivers like her – like your Mom and Mr. Scott. Our God has conquered the grave 2,000 years ago. Let’s not forget that. In Him lies our hope.

  • bethany

    Very much how I felt the morning that my mom died. Death is a horrible, ugly, nonsensical thing. So hard to process, and so unnerving. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt God’s presence in my life so much as I did those days just before and just after she died. Just acknowledging our mortality opens our hearts to our need for Him.

  • Steve Martin

    We’ll all be where Mr. Johnson was that day.

    I pray that we have someone as caring as you to help us in our last moments on earth.

    Our Lord loves fresh dirt. He loves to raise people from the dead and give them brand new life.

    He has promised to do so for me…and for you. I am counting on it.


  • Diana Trautwein

    It is holy ground, isn’t it? It’s hard, sad, demanding – but holy. To be there when this life ends is a gift, much like being at a birth in some ways. And some labors are longer and more difficult than others. Thanks for being there for both of the Johnsons, Duane.

  • Phaerisee

    The GOP leadership assumes the catholic vote is a slamdunk. I believe this will be the deciding factor in Obama’s victory. The electorate was stunned to watch the improprieties that took place during the GOP primaries. Despite being outspent in Romney’s home state of Michigan by a factor of 52 to 1, Santorum only narrowly lost. That should speak volumes.

    The GOP strategy of holding catholic voters hostage with the pro-life card no longer works either, because Romneycare provided for abortifacients. Many poor catholics have lost family members because they could not afford health insurance. Now they will be able to afford it. When all is said and done, I would rather stick with Obama, who says he is a christian– rather than a guy who believes that black people are cursed and we are all from the Pleiades Star System. If you are catholic, you DO NOT have to vote for Romney!

  • David Rupert

    I have many members of the medical community in my family. They would talk knowingly, haltingly among themselves about the dying and the dead.

    I never understood the emotions — and perhaps never will. All I can say is thank you for what you dao

  • Lori

    Oh Duane, every time I read about death I see how wrong it is, and how it was never meant to be! I am so glad you were there for Mr. Johnson and his family. You are a treasure and this story was poetry!

  • Lynn Mosher

    Your compassion is so sweet and touching. Those in your care are blessed by your presence and care. Beautiful, Duane/

  • davis rosback

    i have not not witnessed a death yet. but, i have been present at a birth other than my daughters.

    it seems like it would be a privilege in a strange kind of way to be present with someone as they pass away. but, i really don’t know.

  • Patricia Spreng

    Thankful for you, Duane… and the words you found to describe this. It is holy ground, isn’t it? Like soldiers who go to the front lines, I know the health profession has folks like you on the front steps, at the door to a new life. And oh, yes how we need our Savior to open the door! Whether it’s intuition, a spiritual knowing, or a highly sensitive cat, I think the glory on the other side is so close, so magnificently brilliant, it must somehow seep through to this life and touch those of us who are nearby.
    I will be reading your post to my next class of hospice volunteers with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart for you.

  • Shannon

    Oh dear one, I hope when I can no longer care for myself, if my girls cannot and my lover has gone I glory ahead of me, that someone who loves HIM cares and loves me too. Praying for you dear!

    • Duane Scott

      God will be there.

      And that’s more than enough. :)

  • Shelly Miller

    Oh my, you have moved me with your words. Captured the emotion often so elusive to those walking down sterile halls. I’ve often wondered how death affects those who witness it more often than the ordinary person. And to see it from someone whose soul sees from the perspective of the eternal is, well, holy ground. You’ve taken us to the altar Duane, thank you.

  • trammell

    This made me think how over and over I’ve experienced things in my life that required strength to get through them. I thank God for being there for each and every one of them. This was a truly beautiful and heart felt story. May God continue to work in our lives.