1 April 2000
April 1, Feast of Fools, 2000
Jeanie Wylie had emergency surgery last night. Her brain was filled with fluid pressure, hydrocephalus - water on the brain. My older brother died of it at two weeks old. She woke up this morning with a shunt draining the excess into her belly and a smile wide as her eyes are bright.
Since the several days of intensive work last month when she put final touches to a discipleship issue of The Witness (with major backside editorial coverage from the staff) I have watched her decline and slow. Progressively nonverbal. At the neurologists office Monday she couldn't add 9+3, draw the face of a clock, say the day or date, or even where we were - try hard as she might. When my bishop asked us to serve communion at a Methodist gathering Tuesday, she offered the cup with a grace not wordless, but
silent. At an Associated Church Press worship service on her behalf in Chicago last week and at the Episcopal Communicators' luncheon (where Lydia and Lucy handed out the awards with a grace all their own) she would tire quickly, fail to recognize friends, lapse into a stare, or merely nod and smile in earnest attempts at conversation.
These weeks have been full of grief for me. I hadn't stopped working or doing the tasks of our life together, I just did them with tears streaming down or cracks in my voice. Dishes and driving, faxing and phone calls. Lydia took it as the first time I had "given up" (and set her hand to encouraging and caring for me). But in truth, not so. It never seemed to me resignation or despair, simply the cleanest and most open response to what was slipping away before my eyes. A yearning for the absent. And the ceaseless prayer which love is.
We returned early from Chicago as Jeanie was requiring constant assistance for the most basic of functions. I'd found myself necessarily holding her fork or toilet paper or shoelace, albeit as loving intercession mingling frustration and grief. We went the next morning, Friday, to the hospital for pictures and tests. In the car on the way she didn't talk, but she was able to sing with me.
The surgery decision was urgently simple and well advised. She looked me in the eye and nodded as I signed consent. (To forego it or delay would have meant quickly blindness, then stroke, then respiratory failure). And yet it betokened and presaged other decisions which one day might forego "heroic measures" and technological false hopes. She made her living will long ago. At the very least, true hope includes not dreading such choices prematurely.
Opening the ACP/EC worship service at the cathedral in Chicago, our friend Herb said, "It is not death which Jeanie Wylie resists, but the power of death. Her wisdom is to show us the difference." She surely does show me.
At the conference (and at the Methodist meeting) people introduced themselves who had previously known Jeanie only in prayer. What an amazing way to meet. In the company of the wide communion of all who have ever prayed and all who will. Thanks for being in that communion.
Sunday morning postscript (4/2): Jeanie, while still a little disoriented and agitated, is talking a mile a minute. Completing her sentences. By afternoon she should be out of ICU and into a regular room. Home, if things proceed as hoped, in a day or two.