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A Holy Horror- in which the brutality of death collides with the mercy of Christ

I expected labored and slowed breathing. I expected the meds to be pushed to their legal limits to keep my husband comfortable. I expected pain and suffering. I expected a slow fade. I expected death. I expected God to be present. I thought I was prepared. I'd been present during the holy moment of passing before.

Not all deaths are alike.

I didn't know how brutal and horrifying the death process could be- nor was I prepared for it. I didn't expect a surreal horror show.

I've written a bit about the difference between what my husband was experiencing and what his body was going through. (Scroll back a few posts.) Today- I need to write about what I was experiencing.

A Holy Horror.

While Kyle was peaceful and comfortable and yet some how lucid- his body was anything but peaceful. I'm going to go into some details that are disturbing. There's no sugar coating it- death? Is disturbing. Why am I going to share these details? Because someone else will experience a Holy Horror and I want them to know they're not alone. Possibly even to know that some deaths are truly grotesque physically and still beautiful spiritually.

First- when I arrived home and found my husband unresponsive- he was also seizing and struggling to breathe. To see him slumped over, physically locked up and sounding like each breath could be his last- was truly horrifying. I screamed. I shook him. I begged him not to die. I cursed at him and demanded that he come back to me. I scream-prayed and beg/demanded that God do something. The rest of that day was spent intubation- ventilating him, accessing more and more veins to administer more and more meds. He stabilized, and as I wrote before, he chose to have the ventilator removed late that night.

The next couple of days were spent knowing this was the end. However he was breathing on his own and able to talk. It was a Holy time of loving him and him loving others. They removed most of the ivs and just did what they could to make the dying process as comfortable as possible.

Then, things changed. I noticed a strange stain growing on the sheets under his left arm. Fluids and toxins were no longer being effectively eliminated from his body and had started seeping through his skin. I had no idea that this could happen. There's nothing to fix it- just change the sheets.

I kept telling myself it was something that spilled, or some other bodily fluid because stuff seeping through skin was more than I could handle.

Until the coughing started. I was expecting a death rattle to signal a nearing of the end. I did not expect huge clots of gore to need suctioning. I had no idea they could become too large for suction and need to be "caught" and carried to the trash. I felt like I was carrying pieces of my favorite person. I feared it was parts of his lungs. I refused to ask. I just carried on.

It's important to know that as fluids seeped and gore was coughed up- Kyle was still responsive and saying "I'm doing great. I'm having a great time." Something I can only ascribe to the all surpassing peace of God being gifted to him
In those final hours. Unfortunately, it was not a two for one deal on all surpassing peace. While he saw everything happening to his body and was fine with it, even joking (At one point he was impressed with a chunk of gore and said: "That's a good one." Yes. He really did.) I saw the brutality, and I was not.

Kyle's bone marrow had stopped producing platelets in the weeks before his death. And what happened next is attributed to that. He started to bleed out.

First it was his nose. The nurse and I could hardly keep up with the fountain of blood that it became. Then it was other places. Even knowing he was dying, seeing blood under him when they changed his sheets was still horrifying.

Through all this- I kept asking if he needed more meds- and he said he was fine. I asked the nurse more than once if I could have his dose, because I. Was not fine. I. Felt trapped in a horror movie where the bad guy was invisible, slashing and attacking from within and winning. All while I scooped the gory mess he left behind.

Then, things slowed down. The bleeding. The breathing. And time. But time did not slow down enough. Not enough for my favorite person to remain in his body.

I told him I loved him. He said he loved me. And in two breaths, he was gone. No lengthening pauses between breaths that eventually stopped. He was simply: gone.

The horror show was over. In my mind the credits rolled. I thought of all the things we'd been through up to that moment. Surgeries. Drug Treatments. Radiation of all kinds. Side effects. Neph tubes. Morphine. Dilaudid. Broken bones. Depression. Amazing compassionate Doctors. Nurses. Centers. Parking attendants. Clergy. It was all: over.

Finally.

It's hard to wrap my brain around the traumatic experience of the horror and brutality of Kyle's death. It's also hard to wrap my brain around his peacefulness and comfort in the middle of such a tornado of brutality ripping through what was left of his body.

I'm reminded of Jesus sleeping in the boat during the storm that so scared the disciples. I have a feeling Kyle was in a boat with Jesus calming his storm eternally while we stood on shore watching it rage around him.

It was truly a Holy Horror.

One- I'm thankful for. Maybe it's only in light of the brutality of death that we can truly understand Christs overcoming of death. Maybe it's only in the times of our greatest horror, that we can experience His greatest peace. If not in ourselves, in those how are taking the direct hit.

Yes. There was horror. And yes. It was Holy.

If you've experienced the death of a loved one, I hope you find empathy here. I hope you know you're not alone in struggling to deal with the experience.

In trauma studies, its proven that talking about what you've experienced is helpful to a point, but continuing to rehash the trauma can actually cause it to take deeper root.

So this is it. My one time to write about the trauma. In hope that someone else may know better what death can be like, and that they're not alone in struggling with both the horror and the holy.

Dear Jesus- I can't pretend to understand what happened during Kyle's death. But I know you were closer to him then, than ever. I saw him transformed for fearful to peaceful, and I will forever be amazed and grateful for that. Please God, help all of us dealing with the trauma of a loss. Grant us peace in the memories. Help us to deal with the images and the feelings they provoke. In Jesus, name. Amen.

7 thoughts on “A Holy Horror- in which the brutality of death collides with the mercy of Christ

  1. Oh, dear Tracey. My heart is aching for what you went through as you watched Kyle die. Your words are hard to read but your bravery shines through. Thank you for scraping off the sugar coating that we apply to death when trying to comfort friends or family who are confronting the end of life, either themselves or someone they love. Along with you, I pray that God will grant you peace in the good memories of your life with Kyle.

  2. Tracey – I had no idea dying and death could be so horrific. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so transparent and descriptive about Kyle’s dying process. It is an eye opener. I thank you for the example you are to those of us privileged to know you and perhaps even those who do not know you. Prayers for you, my sister.

  3. Tracey,
    I didn’t hit the little blue star indicating that I “like” this post.
    I’m not sure I can say I “like” it.
    I respect it.
    I’m thankful, once again, for your gut-level honesty.
    I read every. single. word. you wrote about the Holy Horror your experienced … and your faith shines through.
    Much love, my friend.

  4. Hi Tracey! Thank you so much for sharing this experience with the rest of the world! I felt like I was right there with you as you were going through this horrific time with your husband. We all hope and pray we’ll never have to go through something like this, but if we know the Lord, He gives us the strength we need to get through it and come out stronger when we do.

    I’ve had horror in my life as well. Not in the same way as you did, but I did live through two years of what you might call hell on earth. The only thing Holy that came of it was my salvation and deliverance. I’d like to tell you more about it if you’re interested. Actually, I’ve needed someone to talk to about it for so long, but haven’t found the right person to share it with who could understand and relate to it on some level.

  5. Thank you Tracey for sharing your experience. You’re absolutely right. Death is horrible and Holy. My husband has been gone 17yrs and there are still times when the memories of his passing come flooding back.

  6. It is truly possible to have peace in the storm. What a tribute it is to those who can enter in. I have been through several traumas in life. The death of loved ones is on the top of the list.

    Anticipating the physical symptoms can be helpful for a realist like me. The more I know the better I feel prepared. Even so, some circumstances are impossible to gauge as with aggressive brain cancer as I faced with Mom.

    After experiencing both–quick and lingering passing, I know witnessing the horrors of the physical breakdown of the body is enough to cause post traumatic stresses. Though it can be bittersweet, it’s a type of grief with complications.

    I highly recommend seeking help from a licensed mental health counselor specializing in grief with complications. I got a referral from my church pastoral care pastor. It was a huge help in processing the traumatic aftermath after witnessing the ravages of disease on a loved one who is taken from you a little piece at a time.

    I am praying for you. Thank you for sharing. I also need prayer as I have the opportunity to serve at a local hospice for the care of one of my long time clients who now needs oncology massage. She is at more peace than ever in her life.

    I have served in varying capacities in home hospice but never in a facility providing oncology massage.

  7. For those who are brave enough to read your post in full, it provides a way to help them better understand how deep grief recovery can run. Our culture tends to send messages that grief healing should be done in a couple months or so. Medical records show it’s the average period of grief processing is 2 – 5 years. In many other cultures, it’s formally recognized and respected for the first year–the worst season of grief.

    https://www.griefshare.org is a great ministry that supports people in grief. It is a national organization. If anyone is unsure whether they are ready for it, a Greif Share rep will be glad to help you determine if you’re in a good place to receive this type of support.

    Massage therapy is also a great comforting tool in grief work for most people. As a community service, I offer a 30-minute complimentary massage to local people who are in grief. https://www.restoredbytouch.com/ If you are in grief and in my area, just call and let us know you saw the invitation on this post.

    Thanks again for sharing such a difficult story–Holy Horror for sure.

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