The night began much like any other. We ate dinner. My husband, Ray, took our oldest to an activity. I cleaned up the kitchen and got the younger kids to bed. Our 8-month-old, fondly known as “Little Man” refused to sleep. Ray drove him around in the car until he finally nodded off in his car seat. Once they were back home, Ray went to a friend’s house for a quick visit.
I was watching the first episode of Call the Midwife when Ray returned. He finished the episode with me, I kissed him goodnight, and headed to the back of our little house to get ready for bed. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, took out my contacts. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go back and give Ray another kiss before going to sleep. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was, perhaps, the most important kiss of my life, the last kiss I would share with that version of my husband.
A light sleeper, I was vaguely aware when Ray got out of bed several hours later. I didn’t think anything of it and strove to go back to sleep. Little Man, still in his carseat in the corner of our room, had other plans, however. Daddy’s movement had woken him, and he was ready to nurse. I noted the time: three o’clock, on the dot. I rose from bed and carried the baby to the family room.
To my surprise, Ray was lying in the middle of the family room floor, in the exact spot where he always cracked his back. That man can fall asleep anywhere, I chuckled to myself.
Unconcerned, thinking he’d simply dozed off while trying to twist his vertebrae back into alignment, I settled into the rocking chair and began to nurse our son. A few minutes passed, maybe more.
KKKRRRETTTCCHH. The sound tore from Ray’s lungs, unlike any I had ever heard before.
Wow, I thought. That must be sleep apnea. I’ve never heard Ray do that before.
Making a mental note to talk with Ray about it in the morning, I rested my head on the rocking chair’s cushion. Sleep apnea being fairly common, I relaxed, still relatively unconcerned.
KUK – KUK – KUK. Turned to a stacatto, Ray’s strange breathing stuttered across the room.
Holy moly. That’s bad. We need to schedule a doctor’s appointment — tomorrow!
Ray was forty-three, though, and seemingly healthy. Other than the ongoing back pain, he’d not complained of any ailments. Still, as I sat there in the quiet, child contentedly suckling at my breast, I realized that I couldn’t see Ray’s chest rising and falling. The lighting was dim, though, and he was several yards away. Would I be able to see the gentle movement of his lungs?
I couldn’t hear his breathing, either. Again, though, he was all the way across the room. Should I be able to hear him? I wasn’t at all sure that I should, and I was loathe to disturb the near-slumber of a nursing babe. Paranoia would be a sorry excuse for the hours of wakefulness that would likely ensue.
Still, the worry persisted. I watched Ray carefully, ears straining for the slightest hint of an exhalation. Finally, I raised the child to my shoulder and stood from my chair. I padded over to where Ray rested on the floor and, using my bare foot, nudged him gently in the side.
No response. That was no surprise, though, given how soundly the man could sleep. I nudged him again, harder this time.
Still, no response.
This time, I didn’t hold back. Using the flat underside of my foot, I pushed hard on his hip bone. His body moved ever-so-slightly, but Ray showed no sign of waking.
In that instant, I understood that my husband, my best friend, the father of our children, and the sole provider for our family, lay lifeless before me. In the same instant, peace surpassing all understanding descended upon me.
God will provide. God will be glorified.
The words, I know, were not my own. Rather, they were a gift of the Holy Spirit, whose spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary, I envision urging Him on. (“Stephanie’s one of mine,” I imagine Mary saying to Him. “Please go take care of her.” And He did.)
The gift-words continued as I hurried to my phone and dialed 911. God will provide. God will be glorified.
The litany played, and comfort and peace remained, as I set our son on the floor a few feet away, as I straddled my husband and began chest compressions.
The 911 operator’s voice pierced the silence from where my phone lay nearby on the floor, set to speaker mode. I gave her the necessary information and told her I had already started compressions.
God will provide. God will be glorified. The surreal background music lilted beneath the sound of her instructions. “I need you to count with me while you do each compression. One. Two. Three. Four …”
“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight,” I recited obediently, pumping Ray’s chest with each count. “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.”
What good is it to count numbers, I realized fiercely. I should be praying. Maintaining the beat as I’d been instructed by the voice issuing from my phone, I changed the words that corresponded.
Hail. Mary. Full. of Grace. The Lord. Is with. Thee.
I don’t remember whether I completed the full prayer, or whether I simply repeated the angelic salutation again and again and again. I know only that I prayed, reaching out to the Mother in whose care I trusted completely, begging her intercession for my husband, myself, and my family.**
The older children came scampering into the room, woken by the sound of the 911 call.
“Mommy! Mommy!” One of them cried. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” I answered calmly. “Get on your knees. Pray.”
With no further questions, the children fell to their knees in a semicircle around their father. “Hail. Mary. Full. of Grace.”
The operator’s voice crackled across the line. The fire truck was nearby.
“Zach,” I ordered our eleven-year-old son, “go unlock the door and make sure the front porch light is on.”
He did as he was told. Concerned that the firefighters would not be able to see our unlit drive on the darkened street, the child, who was afraid of the dark, who generally refused to be alone after night-fall, ran down the acre’s length of our front drive in the pitch-black of night, clothed that cold November morning in nothing but shorts, to stand on the street and flag the firetruck down.
Hail. Mary. Full. of Grace. Before I knew it, a man stood behind me.
“I can take it from here, m’am.”
Still, I pumped, afraid that leaving Ray for even a moment would deprive him of the oxygen I knew he needed.
The man touched my shoulder. “I can take care of him, m’am.”
I rose reluctantly and gave up responsibility for my husband’s well-being. I took a few steps back, and the children rushed into my arms.
“Mommy, is Daddy going to be okay?” one of them asked.
God will provide. God will be glorified. The words, having been silenced by the commotion of the last few minutes, rose again.
“I don’t know,” I answered with certainty. “But you have a Father in Heaven who loves you very much. He will take care of you, and He will take care of Daddy.”
I didn’t know how, or what it would look like, but I knew my words were true. God would provide. And, somehow, some way, God would be glorified.
Has God provided for you or your family in remarkable ways? Have you witnessed Him glorified? Please share your stories in the comments!
Stay tuned for the next installment of the story very soon: The Morning Our Lives Changed Forever
**That morning would have been the worst morning of my life, had it not been for the “peace that surpasses all understanding,” which was given to me in Christ Jesus. Moreover, I believe that I was the recipient of that unimaginable grace not because of anything I’d done or any wonderful faith I’d practiced. I believe it was thanks to my consecration to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In having given myself completely to Mother Mary, that she might make of me a worthy offering to her Son, Jesus Christ, I believed — and continue to believe — that I would be placed under her very special protection. Similar to the Wedding at Cana, she didn’t tell Him what to do, but trusted that, at her request, He would take care of it. He did, and, rather than distress, I experienced indescribable peace. Thanks be to God.
That’s my little push for Marian Consecration, which I hope you’ll prayerfully consider for yourself if you’re not already consecrated. If you are, I encourage you to renew that consecration. I’m renewing mine now, and it’s been the most profound, fruitful consecration I’ve done to date!
I’d also offer up this simple prayer, given to Fr. Dolindo: Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything!