So many thoughts. It’s hard to know where to begin.
Corey spent all day Sunday breathing on his own. Darryl, our night Respiratory Therapist switched him from breathing on his own back over to the machine about midnight, not because he necessarily needed it, but because he wanted him to have a restful night knowing we were going to try more waking trials Monday morning. We both slept well Sunday night and I was anxious for what Monday would bring.
When Megan, one of our amazing nurses who has worked a lot with Corey over the past two weeks, and Crystal, our amazing Respiratory Therapist switched Corey back over to breathing on his own Monday morning, they noticed right away that something wasn’t right. They ordered some tests and started looking into whether there were any neurological reasons he hadn’t been waking on his own, despite being off all sedatives for 48 hours now. Valerie, the nursing supervisor and one more member of this amazing care team I’ve come to love and appreciate deeply, had cautioned me, as had other members of his care team, that Corey had been on very heavy sedatives for a prolonged period of time and there was always a chance that there could be some kind of neurological impact. They continued running tests all day Monday and into Tuesday morning, doing everything from MRIs and CT scans to a lumbar puncture so they could collect and inspect his spinal fluid. In the midst of all these tests they discovered that Corey had a partially collapsed lung so they had to insert a chest tube to keep his lung inflated. By 2 AM Tuesday when they finished working on him I was exhausted, mentally, emotionally, physically, and I was so very sad for what his poor body had been through. It was about 2:30 AM when I dozed off and I woke up about 6:30 AM to hushed voices preparing to shift from the night team to the day team.
Tuesday morning brought more tests, including a visit from Dr. Singh, a specialist in vascular neurology and, in particular, a stroke specialist. He was a very kind man, brilliant, obviously, but also with great bedside manner. He explained some of their concerns and said he would let me know his findings when he was able to review all the tests and get a better sense of Corey’s overall picture. Dr. Singh and several other members of Corey’s care team found me late Tuesday afternoon to share what they’d learned.
The review of Corey’s tests results, and in particular the MRI, showed that Corey had had several massive strokes over the past handful of days that had not just traveled into the brain and damaged one area in particular, but had “showered” into his brain, affecting all areas of the brain, from the top to the base, and all over both sides. They also believed these strokes were toxic, meaning that infection had entered his brain as well. In short, the multiple massive strokes had caused irreversible, permanent neurological damage and there was little to no neurological function left. And, with Corey’s neurological standing, chemotherapy was no longer an option for treating his cancer. So at this point, any efforts they were making to help Corey were now standing in the way of the natural progression of the end of life.
The funny, independent, jokester, hard-working, vibrant Corey Grant we’ve known and loved was no longer with us. What was left was a broken shell at the end of his medical road and the right thing to do was to remove all current treatment and let nature take its course.
I asked his parents and his brother and sister-in-law who are local to meet me at the hospital that evening so I could share the news with them, and asked his other brother to come from Coeur d’Alene that night. We planned a family meeting for Wednesday morning so the whole medical and care team, including a palliative care physician and chaplain, could share with the family Corey’s medical outlook and the options we were facing. I knew in that meeting we’d have to make the hardest decision of our lives.
The meeting lasted nearly two hours and the care team was great, walking us through the MRI in detail and answering all of our very hard questions. We cried, we laughed (this was Corey we were talking about, after all) and we made the united decision to remove all the medical devices and place Corey’s care in the hands of our Savior. If the Lord wanted to raise Corey up and perform one incredible miracle, He could. But if He chose to take Corey home, then that was a decision that was firmly out of our hands and we would accept whatever He chose to do.
Faith is not about hoping for what you want and accepting the outcome as long as it’s what you’ve hoped for. It’s about believing in God’s sovereignty and accepting that His purposes are higher and greater than ours, even when things don’t go our way.
The single hardest moment of my life was delivering this news to the kids. We sat in a crumpled heap on the living room floor and cried our eyes out. We wailed, we wept silently and everything in between. I answered the hardest questions I will ever answer in my life and I swore to them that I would spend every moment for the rest of my life making sure they had the best life possible. That even if we were one short we were still a family and that we would have the very best guardian angel ever if the Lord chose to take their dad to Heaven. I explained to them that this is why it was so very important to walk with Jesus every day, because life in this body is fragile and you never know when your time is going to be up. God alone knows the number of our days. Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” God, the Creator of the universe, knew Dad, and Dad knew God, and God alone knew how long their dad would be with us on this Earth. He knew that Corey would be my husband and their dad and that we would be a family. I also told that them God knew that we would be strong enough to face whatever this life would look like without Corey if He chose to take him home, so now it was our turn to “be strong and courageous” and do our very best to spend the rest of our lives making both God and Corey proud. We cried some more and eventually Abbie said, “I want you to stay here with us, but I think you need to go back to the hospital in case Dad needs you.” It was such a kind-hearted gesture and so typical for this girl who loves her daddy. I stayed with them at the house until they were tucked into bed and the tears had subsided and then I went back to the hospital to spend one more night with my husband.
Corey’s family arrived a little bit before the meeting Wednesday morning and had an opportunity to cry together and pray at his bedside. After the family meeting they had a few hours with him to grieve, say their goodbyes and spend some time praying, laughing and reliving stories. I gave them a lot of space that day and mostly stayed out of the room. I’ve lost a brother and my parents have lost a son so we knew what they were going through and it broke our hearts. My dad and sister had come from California and my mom had brought the kids from home and we tried to offer the support we knew they needed and give them the space that we knew was important. Our families have a great relationship so we all wandered in and out of Corey’s room and sat in the ICU lobby together, laughing, crying, praying and telling stories. Pastor Rob came by the hospital several times, offering support and guidance and being a strong support for us all.
My mom brought the kids to the hospital early that afternoon so they could have some time with their dad and say their goodbyes. It was the worst moment in a series of worst moments we’d walked through together over the past 12 hours. Abbie wailed and Jayden cried silently, and they kept saying, “I love you Daddy, you’re the best Daddy in the history of the world” over and over. Pastor Rob came in and hugged and cried with them and we prayed and cried some more. The last words their dad spoke to them out loud were when he was on the gurney being taken for a procedure 14 days before. We’d prayed together in his hospital room and as he was being wheeled away he said, “I love you guys, see you later.” Now, in his ICU room, saying goodbye, Abbie cried that it was going to be “a really, really long time” until she got to see her dad again. We all agreed that when Dad did take his last breath, it would likely be very peaceful but that this right here was pretty much the worst moment of our whole lives.
Jayden said his goodbyes, telling his dad that he knew he would see him again in Heaven and that next time he saw him there would be no breathing tubes or IVs, that there would be no cancer in his body and that he would be totally whole. It was beautiful and sure and heart-wrenching. Abbie wanted to stay a little while longer, crying and telling him over and over how much she loved him. There are just no pieces of my heart left that aren’t completely shattered.
As Abbie and I were leaving Corey’s ICU room to go out and visit with the family in the waiting room, one of the amazing nurses who has taken such good care of Corey told us to go look out the big windows at the end of the hall. There, bright as could be, was a double rainbow. What a gift. I told Abbie that was God’s way of telling us that He and Dad would always be with us, that there was one for her and one for Jayden and that every single time we saw a rainbow for the rest of our lives we would know they were both watching over us.
Even in the midst of the worst grief imaginable, God is a good, sweet, caring God who takes the time to show us He sees us and is with us.
Corey’s parents came back in to say goodbye and his mom prayed the most heart-wrenching prayer any mother could ever pray. She prayed for a miracle and told the Lord that she “was laying Corey gently in His loving arms,” believing He would do what He saw fit with her son. If there were any unbroken pieces of my heart left, they broke then.
Eventually everyone left to go home and I was again alone with my husband of nearly 14 years. My sister stayed with me and was so sweet and strong and brave to walk with me through what was going to be the most awful night of my life. Darryl, the night Respiratory Therapist and Cecillia, the night nurse, removed Corey’s breathing tube and unhooked all of his IVs so we could let nature take over. It was 9:11 PM.
Corey took his last breath at 6:11 AM on Thursday, April 19th, 2018, just as the sun was coming up. A couple seconds after the line went flat and the monitor read 0, Corey gasped in one last breath of air, like one would when they were seeing a big surprise. His eyes opened partially and I said to my sister, “He has just seen the face of His Savior and Redeemer and has just seen Heaven for the first time.” I’d give almost anything to have seen what he was seeing at that moment.
After spending some time alone with him, I said my goodbyes and headed home. Broken. I waited for the kids to wake up and prayed for the strength to deliver the news to them. Jayden woke up first and came downstairs, where I was sitting in front of the fire on the floor. My dad and mom and sister were there and we were all praying for those precious kids. Jayden came and sat with me and we said our good mornings and, after a few quiet moments, he said, “Dad’s in Heaven now, isn’t he, Mom?” I said yes and he said, “Yeah, I knew it last night.” It was peaceful and reserved and intimate. We all talked and had a special time together.
I heard Abbie stirring about half an hour later and I went up to her room. She said, “Good morning, Mommy” and I snuggled up next to her in bed. After a quiet, snuggly moment, she said, “Dad’s in Heaven now, isn’t he, Mom?” just like Jayden had. I said yes, he was, and she said, “Yeah, I know.” Again, it was peaceful and intimate and so full of the grace of God. I was surprised at how these two moments had gone, and grateful beyond measure that the Holy Spirit had visited and prepared these kids during the night for what they would wake up to.
Today was a new day, the sun was shining, which I told them was Daddy’s first gift to us from Heaven, and we were taking the very first steps down a new and uncharted road, but we were taking them together, as a family. Our family looked different than it did the day before, but we were still a family, we were still unshaken and we were going to make it.
And we are.