It was not until my mid-30s that I realized numbers identified interstate exits. Exit 139 is the one I take when returning home from the Upstate. When I was growing up, however, I identified it as the “Road 22 exit.” Or, as I return from the Lowcountry, I take Exit 155. In my younger years, I would have said the “Highway 301 exit.”
It was my 4-year-old daughter who taught me that interstate exits had numbers that matched the mile markers. You can only imagine how stunned I was to learn that she understood this concept at the age of 4.
Signs. Whatever they say, they point us to something or to do something. While traveling in New England recently, I commented to a friend that I never saw billboards -- signs.
“They are illegal,” she replied. What I did notice was the beauty of the world around me as I drove, not distracted by the distracting pollution of billboards. It was refreshing.
The New Testament Gospel of John uses the words “signs” to describe Jesus’ miracles. The signs point to who Jesus is and also to who God is through his son, Jesus, according to Cliff Barbarick of Abilene Christian University. Jesus, the Messiah, after all, is God’s son, sent to provide through his own death and resurrection the atonement for your sins and mine. He is the one way for man to be reconciled with God. Whatever we call them -- miracles or signs -- they point to the one for whom we wait during the Advent season.
In their book, “Final Gifts,” hospice nurses Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley describe their experiences with the dying and the various ways that patients face and embrace what they know will be their ending of life on earth. I read the book over 15 years ago, never realizing that Thurston and I both would benefit from the care of compassionate hospice nurses as he approached death.
Callanan and Kelley draw from experiences during which patients wait until someone arrives before passing away and from those during which patients wait for people to leave. Dying, as living, is an individual experience, and in the case of prolonged illness, patients often provide signs that they know the end is nearing.
As I reflect, I think of two things.
Thurston detested cleaning out. He put off cleaning out a closet, a drawer, his desktop or his tackle box as long as possible. I didn’t care about the tackle box, but I’ll admit that I nagged him everything else -- usually to no avail. When he finally thought it needed to be done, he did it.
Eight months before Thurston died, he had lost almost 40 pounds, down to a weight of 145. He decided he needed to try on his clothes and donate what no longer fit. Stunned as I was, I agreed to help him. It took several days due to his health, but at its finish, his closet and drawers were bare. He had given me a sign and a “final gift.” There would be no closet cleaning for me after his death.
On Friday, July 28, he rang the bedside bell to let me know he was awake. I greeted him with a smile as he asked, “Is Laura on the road?”
“No, honey, she’s working today,” I replied.
Later that day, he could not hold his weight as he tried to return to the bed after a bath. He awoke Saturday morning confused and unable to speak clearly. Soon enough, Laura was “on the road,” as he had asked. Another sign.
I know now that he knew and that he was telling me to watch the signs. He was preparing to go. And his final gift to me is that because he knew Jesus’ signs and believed who Jesus was, I know where he is. He is no longer waiting -- he has arrived.