31: The Hand of Fate

31: The Hand of Fate

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

The Hand of Fate

Everything comes gradually at its appointed hour.

~Ovid

My mother had been in a deep sleep for three days, taking in no food at all and a minimum of forced liquid. A “Do Not Resuscitate” sign hung over her bed. Every time I looked at the sign, I shuddered. The finality of the words chilled me, even though the heat in her bedroom was way too high.

She was eighty-eight years old and had reached the end of a long illness. She still lived in her own apartment, but I had arranged for round-the-clock nursing care; I did not leave her side during those three days.

On the fourth morning, a Sunday, I called my husband and asked him to pick me up and drive me home (some forty minutes from my mother’s apartment) so I could get clean clothes. I had been wearing the same jeans and top for four days, having had no idea when I arrived that the end was so near.

As we drove home that Sunday, my husband and I decided that before we went back to my mother’s apartment, we would stop at the funeral home to make arrangements. The doctor had said she would not last more than a few days at most, and the previous evening, the visiting nurse agreed with his prognosis. We felt it would be better to make the funeral arrangements while we were still relatively calm rather than after the emotional trauma of her death had set in.

I also wanted to stop at the grocery store so I could have some food in the refrigerator for the nurses and myself.

Once at my house, I quickly showered and dressed, then threw a few clothes into a shopping bag. We got back into the car. Suddenly, I told my husband that I had changed my mind about stopping at the funeral home. And I did not want to take time to buy groceries, either. Something inside me told me that we had to get back to my mother in a hurry—before it was too late.

I rang the bell in the lobby and the daytime nurse, Callie, buzzed me in. After the elevator ride up to the twenty-second floor, I saw Callie at the end of the hall, a look of amazement on her face. “It’s some kind of miracle!” she exclaimed. “Your mother’s eyes are open!”

Hurrying into my mother’s bedroom, I was shocked to see that her eyes were open. Propped up in the rented hospital bed, she stared straight ahead. At first, I thought she was dead, and my heart started racing. But then she shifted her gaze and looked straight at me. She had a puzzled, questioning look on her face, as if to ask, “Where am I?” Or, perhaps, “Where am I going?”

Then a grimace passed over her face—a grimace that I have replayed in my mind over and over again. Was it a grimace of physical pain? Of fear? Of sadness? I think by then, she felt no more pain, so it must have been a combination of fear and sadness—deep sadness at leaving, and fear of the unknown. She needed the comfort of being in my arms when she began her journey.

I held her frail body gently, and spoke to her softly, telling her how much I loved her. And then I could feel, and see, that she was gone.

I asked Callie how long my mother’s eyes had been open before I arrived.

“Only a few minutes,” she said. “When I heard you ring the bell downstairs, I said to your mother, ‘There’s your daughter. Now you just hold on there. Don’t you die before she gets here.’ And she did hold on. She waited for you.”

Thinking about the fact that something told me not to stop for anything on the way back to my mother’s apartment, but to hurry as fast as I could; thinking about the fact that my mother opened her eyes when I rang the bell, and kept them open until I got there so I could say goodbye to her, I suspected Callie was right. It was some kind of miracle. It was the Hand of Fate.

~Arlene Uslander

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