This story is by Sue Moreines and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Keep the Faith
“Stop screaming at me Marshall!” Jackie hollered. “I’m just getting started!” he shot back. “I’ll never understand why you’d choose to prolong his suffering when there’s a way to end it! You’re not the only one who has to live with the consequences of your selfish decision. Look at him lying there in perpetual hell since he was six years old, and think about what Devin would want!” As his voice cracked under the strain, Marshall bowed his head and said, “It kills me to see him like this and I can’t endure my own heartache, let alone his.”
My heart pounded and I screamed silently, realizing I had no way out. A horrible accident 10 years ago put me into a coma. My parents were just told they could remove the feeding tube keeping me alive so I could die. The doctors said it was the most humane thing to do, but my mother fought to take me home. There was nothing my father could do to change her mind.
Marshall kissed Devin’s cheek and choked back tears, telling him how sorry he was he never had the chance to lead a normal life. Jackie said, “Devin I know you can hear, and you try to communicate with us by blinking your eyes. I’m determined to find a way to free you from your internal solitary confinement.”
I was 16 and had no say in what was going to happen to me. The truth was, of course I thought about death. It would’ve been impossible not to. Years of lying still, unable to do anything for myself. If they stopped feeding me, how painful could it be before I slipped into the quiet darkness of death? This horrific life would finally be over, but my mother had other plans.
Marshall and Jackie divorced five years after the truck smashed into Devin’s school bus. From the start, Jackie was completely involved in Devin’s daily care and treatment. Marshall was traumatized each time he saw Devin, so rarely visited.
Instead of lying in bed at the hospital I did the same at home, but with more stimulation. There were daily visits from all kinds of therapists, and teachers came to talk to me about things I would have learned in school. Occasionally, a priest stopped by to pray.
Each day I was strapped into a recliner that faced the window. In between blinks, I watched the seasons come and go. Sometimes, I was lucky enough to see squirrels playing and kids riding bikes. One day it was dark and rainy and it was about to get gloomier. Mom came running into my room and sat down on the windowsill across from me.
“Devin! I have something exciting to tell you! I met a really nice guy at the gym today, and he asked me out! What do you think about that?” she asked.
Are you kidding me? If I could have jumped up, I think I would’ve slapped her. I live in suspended animation and she wanted to know what I thought about some guy she met? I could feel myself melting into the back of the chair, hoping it would swallow me so I’d disappear. Thankfully, mom thought I was asleep and left.
The torturous ordeal finally caught up with me and I fell into a deep depression. My father and the doctors were right. They should have ended my misery a long time ago. Nothing my mother could say now made any difference and I stopped responding to everyone else. My father found the strength to sit next to me so I wouldn’t be alone, telling stories about our family. His visits, and learning about my relatives, were the only things I looked forward to while I waited for the inevitable.
After an exceptionally emotional visit with Devin, Marshall had a charged discussion with Jackie, making it clear he wasn’t going to back down this time. Walking into Devin’s room, with Jackie close behind, Marshall said firmly, “Devin, you haven’t made any progress in over 12 years, and I can’t let this continue. You’re coming with me.” Jackie crumpled to the floor and wept uncontrollably.
Even though I didn’t know what was going to happen next, I thought I could feel my entire body fill with hope. My dad picked me up, buckled me into the passenger seat and drove off.
Marshall pulled into the parking lot of the hospital and turned off the engine. He looked at Devin and said, “Son, you’ve been made to live in hell for too many years. You now have the right to decide your own fate, but the choices are the same. You can live out your life in this coma, or you can choose to die. If you’re ready, disconnecting the feeding tube in a hospital will prevent you from being uncomfortable or in pain. But, you have to make your wishes known.” Holding Devin’s fragile hand, Marshall said, “Use your eyes son. I know you’ll find a way to do it.”
I knew that most people chose to live, hoping for a cure. Sometimes miracles happened, or so the Bible said. My mother gave me the chance to wait for mine, but it never came. I couldn’t have been more ready to begin the journey to freedom. I blinked and stared at the doors of the hospital until my father knew I wanted him to bring me inside.
Marshall sat alone in the waiting room after Devin was taken to meet with Dr. Shore, his physician since the accident. Jackie arrived moments later, and they paced the floor together without saying a word. The door opened and Dr. Shore invited them in. She stood next to Devin, hand on his shoulder and said, “We’ve known each other for a long time, and this is difficult for me too. Devin answered my questions by blinking consistently in response to my questions. I hope you’ll respect his decision as he’s chosen to have the feeding tube removed.”
Tears flowed down Jackie’s cheeks, but was able to say, “Devin, I love you with all my heart and did what I thought was right. I’m so sorry my efforts failed, but at least we tried.” Marshall smiled, looked into Devin’s blinking eyes and said, “I couldn’t be more proud of you Devin, and I know you’re going to find your way to peace, love and eternal happiness.”
Everyone agreed with me, and I wished I could have thanked them. I did my best to say I love you through my eyes and received real hugs in return.
Devin’s breathing soon became labored and he rarely tried to open his eyes. Then there was a knock at the door, and standing just outside the room was a pleasant looking woman and a German Shepherd. She said her name was Nancy Carol and her dog’s name was Faith. They were volunteers, and Nancy wondered if Devin would like them to come in. Devin blinked and Faith walked right over to his bed. Marshall put Devin’s hand onto her warm, soft back and watched as Devin’s breathing seemed to improve. Faith turned and looked directly into Devin’s partially opened eyes as if to say ‘it’s going to be ok.’
Nancy spoke up and said, “Faith was mistreated as a puppy and I rescued her. Of course her name wasn’t Faith then, but it fits perfectly now. She’s the most loyal, loving and special dog I’ve ever known. If you’d like, we can stop by every day Devin.” Devin blinked his eyes more than once, making it clear his answer was yes.
Over the next few days, Devin deteriorated quickly. Faith was allowed to lie down in bed next to him and whenever she was there, a sense of calm covered Devin’s body. One day, when the visit was supposed to be over, Devin blinked his eyes a number of times and Faith refused to leave.
Faith, thank you for staying with me. My dad said he hoped I would find peace, love and happiness someday, and I know you’re here to show me the way.
Two hours later, Devin was gone, a guardian angel by his side.
Nancy and Faith went to the funeral home to pay their respects. Standing before his casket, Nancy placed a picture of Faith into Devin’s jacket pocket. Marshall and Jackie hugged them both, grateful that Faith would protect and be with Devin forever.
Then, something surprising happened. Faith sat down in front of Marshall and Jackie. She whined softly to get their attention and Jackie asked, “What is it Faith?” Faith looked up, blinked her eyes and wagged her tail. Marshall knelt down, wrapped his arms around her and said, “Faith, thank you for letting us know!”