The Best Pain Killer

Dear Lindsey,

“DNR” and “DNI” were in bold letters on the bracelets she wore.

DNR: Do not resuscitate.

            DNI: Do not intubate.

Those seem like easy decisions to follow – the wishes of the patient. Those decisions were made by my mother when she was in good health, and working as a registered nurse at a nursing home. She expressed to all of us children that she did not want to be a body lying in a bed with food going in one end and out the other, with no sign of life but the movement of her chest to the beat of the respirator.

A blood clot that likely escaped her fibrillating heart headed to her brain a few weeks ago, causing a massive stroke. While her first stroke with the same cause eighteen months prior left hardly any residual, this one left life-changing ramifications: paralysis. The initial ambulance trip brought good conversation where she had her typically humorous answers to the hospital staff’s hourly questions:

  • Who is president?
    • The wrong guy.
  • Who is this? [pointing to my brother]
    • The one I am mad at. [haha!]

The following days and weeks were not so jovial. She fell into a deep sleep, where answers came no more. She shouted in her sleep, yet when awake, she mumbled with her eyes closed as if straining to communicate with nurses who asked questions. Sometimes she would wake from slumber for their questions, but the mumbled answers through closed eyes seemed disconnected to the woman I call, “Mom.”

  • What year is it?
    • 2000…no 2005.
  • What month is it?
    • October…must be October.

The clock was ticking toward death by starvation. Two weeks was the maximum that the doctors would allow her to receive nutrition from the NG tube. At that point, if the swallow test was not passed (for which she would not even stay awake!), then a more permanent feeding tube would need to be surgically implanted. Is this what she meant by “no tubes” in her wishes? What about the woman who was joking with the doctors the night she arrived at the hospital just ten days before?!

It is difficult living thousands of miles from my family, but tragedy multiplies that pain. I traveled from North Carolina to Colorado. I knew I was optional; God was in control. My dad and brother could make wise decisions without me. But I knew I would feel better if I saw her.

This is one of those times when “the only daughter” (as I am) has a special role of caring. I figured I would massage her head, wash her feet, and whisper in her sleeping ear. I decided to take Christine (age 11) along, since she would be an added blessing to Mom as well as to me. Besides, I want Christine to have experience in caring for the elderly, since I plan to be one some day.

We entered her hospital room, her 12th day. Her paralyzed left side was obvious, even while she slept, yet my heart was grateful for the glimpse of her.

“Mom,” I whispered in her ear and she jolted, so I know she knew I (or someone) was there, despite her closed eyes. Christine stood by my side, as we stared at her limp body.

After praying over priorities, I cancelled my week’s speaking engagements that had been FullSizeRenderplanned for a year. I prayed the audience would understand and be encouraged to live their own lives by God-given priorities if a moment like this ever arose.

As we sat at the hospital hour upon hour, I realized that my octogenarian dad (as well as my older brother and his wife) had been doing just that for the eleven days before I had arrived! Dad took his seat next to Mom’s bed, with crossword book in-hand, just as normally as if it were his own living room. I am afraid he was used to “his” chair. What a blessing to have a 55-year-old marriage to weather these storms, whether my mother was aware of his presence or not. “A true love story never ends” is a sign on their wall at home.

The next day, Christine was weary of the sitting. “Can I sing?” she asked, so innocently. She has a way with spreading smiles anywhere she goes, and though I honestly wasn’t ready to smile, I knew her singing would give it a nudge in the right direction.

“Sure. That would be great.” I said.

Christine stood by her bedside opposite my father and me. She looked at me, and then toward her sleeping grandmother, then began:

“What a friend we have in Jesus IMG_9239 2

All our sins and griefs to bear.

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer.

Oh what peace we often forfeit

Oh what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer.”

Her voice was angelic. It was so light-hearted, as if she didn’t feel the weight of the situation…as if she wasn’t “needlessly bearing the pain” just like the words she sang.

My father asked, “Is Mother singing along?”

I looked at my mom’s sleeping face. “I don’t think so,” I said.

My father’s hearing problem has probably handicapped his communication, but lack of hearing didn’t mean lack of feeling what was going on.

Christine went from one song to the next into Mom’s sleeping ears. “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace.” It was as though she knew my mother would prefer the older hymns to their contemporary counterparts.

Somewhere in the third or fourth song, I noticed Mom’s lips moving, and even heard a groan of low singing.

“She IS singing now!” I said to Dad.

We watched as Mom mouthed the words along with Christine’s voice, sometimes jumping ahead and saying the lyrics to the familiar hymns before Christine got to them. I was happy to see Mom was still with us.

Tough Medical Decisions

My dad took advantage of the “awake” opportunity. He leaned over her bed in a caring position, and spoke directly into her ear, asking her the tough questions at hand.

“If a feeding tube is necessary for you to live, would you want to have the surgery to implant a feeding tube?”

Yes” my mother’s head nodded.

“What about a respirator?” he asked, since the anesthesiologist had warned of her high risk of needing one post surgery.

No” my mother’s head shook decisively.

To be sure she understood the questions and that we understood the answers, he asked her again, and got the same replies.

Phew. A little peace came into my heart, knowing her wishes more precisely for the situation at hand.

The following day, as they prepared Mom for surgery – I bent down to her eye level. I told

painting in the waiting room

painting displayed in the waiting room

her I loved her and would be waiting for her on the other side (though in my heart, I truly didn’t know if I meant heaven or the recovery room). She opened her eyes and smiled. Her lips didn’t move – not even the non-paralyzed side. But she smiled… deeply…with only her eyes…looking at me. Her eyes communicated a depth of love that can be transferred even through one…deep…look. Her smiling eyes said, “I love you. I am proud of you. I am glad you came,” though her lips never changed their sedentary position. Her eyes said it all, and I drank it in. Then her eyes closed again.IMG_8282 (1)

The feeding tube surgery beat the odds…or God beat the medical odds, and Mom – and her fibrillating heart – came through the anesthesia better than predicted. However, if I had thought she was asleep most of the time before the surgery, now she had gone into hibernation! The pain meds combined with the leftover anesthesia to make a sleep cocktail that ended our ability to converse…for what ended up to be the rest of my stay.

What to do when the going gets tough

“Can I sing for other patients?” Christine asked, a couple days later.

You gotta love the heart of that girl! She went from crying over the sight of “GG” being sick, to wondering what “Pop Pop” would do if GG didn’t make it…to asking if she could sing in front of complete strangers.

I couldn’t think of a better way to ease the pain.

Serving others is always the best pain killer!

While one nurse checked my mom’s vitals, I heard her take a phone call from a coworker down the hall, “No, we don’t have a worship service, but we can have a clergy visit him if he wants.”

The nurse hung up, and I smiled at the coincidence – or God-incident.

“I overheard you say that someone is looking for a worship service?” I said to the nurse. “My daughter here was just asking if there are any patients who would like to hear her sing.”

“That would be AMAZING!” the nurse enthusiastically replied. “I’ll meet you at room 32 when I am done here!”

Christine and I left to find room 32.  We waited outside for a minute, because the patient was settling into a chair.

Dressed as if for church, younger than most of the floor’s residents, the patient looked like a civilian, except for the wires which protruded from above the buttons of his shirt. He had what looked like lifelines connected to the machines that whirred behind him.

“Hello!” he said with force – much more volume than we had heard at my mother’s bedside all week. He must have already heard we were coming.

“I just can’t believe this Bible-believing hospital wouldn’t have a worship service on Sunday morning!” he said. “I mean….I go to church every Sunday, why wouldn’t I go today?! Especially today?!”

Christine asked, “Would you like to hear, ‘Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us’?”

“That would be great!” He spoke with enthusiasm – as if finally somebody was going to do something right around here!

He watched her intently, switching to glance at me a few times while she sang.

Her voice quivered a little. She can sing in front of thousands, but the one-on-one attention made her nervous. I cut her off at the third verse, fearing tedium.

“You give me such hope!” he blurted as if anxious to speak. “I mean, what is our country coming to?! All that has happened this week?! And overseas?! And then I see the beautiful picture of youth in front of me, focused on Truth!”

He went on to talk about politics. (with which I agreed!)

And religion. (with which I agreed)

He spoke of his family.

He mentioned his past…and his future. Christine and I silently listened.

“What a blessing you are, Christine!” he said, as if she had done some major deed by singing one song.

I wondered if the real gift had been in her listening, not her singing.

“You want to hear my favorite song?” she asked. Of course he agreed, and her confidence escalated into What a Friend We Have in Jesus with gusto.

His intense stare made me glad she hadn’t sung more of the other song. He was enraptured. I wondered what “griefs he bore” that the song seemed to be carrying away. His face softened and eyes welled.

I quietly sang harmony (below), while lifting prayers (above), deeply worshipping in this stranger’s hospital room.

When she was done, I asked him if he wanted to pray. I honestly don’t know what gave me the gumption at that moment; I am not usually one to hold hands with complete strangers. Nor am I one to put my daughter in front of strangers. I am not a gifted Bible teacher, and don’t feel led to lead men. I suppose the Holy Spirit prodded me to come a little closer…closer to his life.

Christine, the man and I held hands and I spoke words to the God of the universe. What a precious privilege to “carry everything to God in prayer.”

As the short prayer came to a close, I could feel his grasp gain strength while trembling.

“Amen.” I said. I once heard

Prayer is when the weight shifts from our shoulders to His.

I felt that weight shift.

Tears streamed down the man’s suntanned cheeks in giant drops.

“You have blessed my year! I can’t tell you what this has meant to me! What a blessing you are!”

The real message

To recap the message: what a glorious God we serve!

  • “No organized worship service” did not mean “no worship”…and it may have even been more intimate worship the way it happened.
  • The best painkiller is to serve someone else in pain.
  • There are no coincidences, only God-incidents. Without my mother’s illness, we would never have been in this man’s life – nor would any of you know to be praying for him right now.

As for my mom, she has since been released to a skilled nursing facility, where, Lord willing, she will begin her long road to recovery.  Christine and I felt comfortable leaving, and on my dad and brothers’ encouragement, kept our plans for family vacation in Italy the following day. (More on that to come!)

In the mean time, I am looking forward to the next time I see Mom’s smile, while holding onto the memories of many in the past.



P.S. Thank you for praying for my mother, my father and this patient, Tom. There was a similar “singing” story with another patient on the same hall. Almost identically, with very different backgrounds, the other patient, “Chris,” was tearfully touched by Christine’s singing and the prayer.  Please pray for him as well, since he received a very bad diagnosis the night before Christine walked into his room. He trusts in Christ alone, and according to the doctors, will likely be with Him in heaven soon.

Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

P.P.S. My mother went to be with the Lord eight weeks after the stroke. I celebrate her life in a later post here: My Mom.

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Colorado sunset, June 2015

IMG_6358 - Version 2

Mom and Dad with their first great-grandchild, Adelyn. March, 2015


Dad and me, Casey’s graduation, May 2015

66 thoughts on “The Best Pain Killer

  1. Thank you for the opportunity to pray for you, your family, and the other patients. Thank you for the reminder of the best pain medicine. Thank you for sharing your blessing!

  2. I rarely comment on your blog but always read it when you send it out. I can feel your pain and beyond as my mother passed away this past March at 90+ years. She, like your mother, had that look that said all there was to say about her love for all of us. My sisters, their husbands, my husband and daughter will be traveling to the Sault on the 24th to put Mom’s ashes to rest. It will be hard but we are following her wishes with what we will do as we did with her wishes this past year. Prayers of continued healing for your mother, patience from her caretakers and hope.

  3. Oh, Terri,
    How well I remember the road of walking with parents through the valley of the shadow. Thank you for keeping us updated and giving us the privilege to pray for your mother and extended family. Christine’s joyful and giving spirit in the hospital is a true gift, not only to you and your family but also to everyone she meets. I look forward to hearing more about her caring heart and love for the Savior.

      • Terri,
        That was the biggest lesson I got when my father died (as if I didn’t know it already). As believers, we’re never alone. God is faithful to love and uphold us, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are there to show His love for us. Even in the darkest valleys, we’re never walking alone.

  4. Terri,
    Thank you for sharing this story. What a blessing you and your daughter are! You were missed greatly at the Summer convention; however you are an amazing role model in showing us that when God calls we better answer. I will be sure to keep your mom and family in my prayers. (As well as Tom and Chris.)

  5. Terri,
    I am always amazed by you. This had to be one of the toughest times in your life and you handled it with such grace. Your family and Life are so blessed by you and your entire family. I pray that all will continue to improve with your mom and that whatever the will of God is he will lift Tom and Chris up. Have a wonderful vacation.

  6. Thank you for posting this. It hit me right to my heart. I’m still crying. And it has reminded me that all my serving is serving for The Lord. Continued prayers for your family.

  7. That is touching. what a blessing to hear though. my family and I will pray for you and your Mother.
    Thank you for sharing

  8. Once again you have taken your readers gently by the hand and led them through a very difficult time in your life; all the while pointing out the hand of God as the story unfolds. Blessings to you and your family during this time. How wonderful that you have built memories to last a lifetime.

    • Thank you. Each day feels like a page of His story, and I look forward to seeing what He is in mind for the rest of the chapters…God bless, Terri

  9. Terri~
    I’ve been checking periodically for an update on your sweet mom. I’m glad that you found peace is visiting her and sharing those nurturing moments as your daughter watched and learned. I believe in angels, seen and unseen, and know that your precious daughter is an angel here on earth. What a beautiful gift you both are to so many. Sending prayers and a peaceful heart your way.
    With love~

  10. Thank you, Terry for sharing your story. It was a hard one for me to read since my Dad went to heaven this past Feb. and my favorite Uncle (Dad’s last living sibling) joined his family and Savior a couple of weeks ago. It’s made it a hard year, but the assurance of knowing Christ as
    Savior does soften the pain. I am glad your Mom is recovering and will be remembering her and your family in my prayers. God’s blessing on you and Christine for touching the lives of others when you were in a tough spot yourselves.

    • I am sorry for your loss(es). It is so tough, and yet, it is such a sweet reminder to be thankful for each day. Thank you for your continued prayers. -Terri

  11. May we all take Christine’s example of innocent servant-hood & a willingness to “bloom” where she was “planted” even if only for a short period of time. Oh, how much-needed comfort & a sweet-smelling aroma we could leave behind! Very precious memories for those whose lives have been touched!!

  12. Blessings on you my friend. Was thinking of you today and wondering how your mom was doing. Thanks for a wonderful, thought provoking post. Will be praying for your mom, Chris, Tom and you. Miss you.

    • Thanks, Ev. Thank you for caring…and praying. There are so many living similar lives today. I hope they know the One in control. Blessings! Terri

  13. Beautifully written, Terri. Thank you for sharing. We will continue to pray for your mom and your family. Have a wonderful time in Italy! Looking forward to your next post. Perhaps it may be a sequel? Italy: Month Two, vacation from a wife’s point of view! 😉 Thanks for all you do!

  14. Terri,
    Tears stream down my face as I picture your sweet, freckled-face beauty Christine, singing her heart out to your mom… and then to TOTAL strangers in need of her vocal gift!! God just knew Christine should be right there with you! Praying fervently my friend.
    Love ya!

  15. Beautiful. I miss that sweet smile-spreader and her influence on my girls so much! xo

    Only by Grace, Elly

    So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9


  16. Good morning Terri!

    Beautiful post from a beautiful heart which left mine full today!

    I am thankful for the progress with your “momma” and grateful for the words you’ve penned and the life you live. I have often heard we do LIFE so that we can live our priorities and not our obligations and this posts is a “Special” reminder that that is sooooo very true!

    Loving You and praying too my sista’

  17. Terri, you have a beautiful way of communicating with grace and dignity in the middle of your pain and sorrow. My heart is broken for you, but prayerful and hopeful that God will restore the laughter, heal the infirmity and unite the hearts of a family under the mighty hand of God. Thank you for yours and Christine’s example of service, faith and love! What a touching account of a very difficult moment!

  18. Thanks for this beautiful testimony to your love for God and your mom. I experienced something similar with my Mom before she passed away in 2009. Only by the grace of God do we get through these situations. We missed you at the Major but you were in the right place with your Mom. My prayers are with your family & your mom. Have a wonderful time in Italy.

  19. Terri,

    I always enjoy Letters to Lindsey. I want to thank you for sharing this story about your mom. What a true blessing you are in my life. You for sure have paved the way to what a leader of God should be like. You painted a great picture in my eyes of what I want my children to be like. My prayers are with your mother and family. May God be with each of you and continue to Pour blessing. Love ya Terri

  20. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful, heartfelt story. It is such a blessing to have these as reminders to serve others despite our circumstances. Prayers for you and your family for strength and healing. God Bless You and all you do Terri. Thank you.

  21. Blessings Terri , what a wonderful testimony of your faithfulness and love for Christ and your mum, family. I was blessed as I read your blog .Christine was a blessing, Christ through her. I cried as I read the hym “what a friend we have in Jesus” Joy and peace fill my hart. The Lord bless you and keep you. I continue to keep you and your family in prayer. I so I pray for the brother in room 32.

  22. I need to learn to not read your blog while I’m at work. It’s embarassing to be wiping away tears while sitting at my desk. Thank you for the wonderful example of following Christ you set, and encourage and teach your family to set.

  23. Terri you are an amazing woman! Loved reading this and will share with Daddy. Know we love you and all the Estes and Brady’s. Hope Sudie and your Dad find ease and peace.
    Much love♥♥♥

  24. Such a beautiful blog. Thank you for updating us and for sharing the details as it was such an encouragement. Children are definitely a blessing to us and as the Lord said we need to come unto Him as little children. I love that Christine ministered not only to her own family but felt led to minister to others. Shows the blessing she has in parents that have raised her to love the Lord. That same painting you referenced was in the hospital that I went to when my Mom had surgery a few years ago. It so ministered to me and gave me peace in the storm which has since passed, praise God. You are an amazing woman and thank you for all you do for us in Life Leadership and beyond. Love you.

  25. What a beautiful post Terri! I’m in tears and in awe of our Wonderful Lord whose timing is ALWAYS perfect!! Thank you for sharing your life with us and thank you for allowing the Lord to work through you to bless others. You inspire me. I adore you. God bless you and your entire family. You have been a HUGE blessing in my life!

  26. Terri, Thanks for sharing so openly your relationship with Christ and your family. What a blessing to have an example like yours of how to lead a Spirit-led life. Will continue to pray with you from Wisconsin.

  27. We lost my Granny a year ago. She too had a few awake moments but then seemed to slip inside herself. My mom, and two daughters (11 & 6) spent much time by her bedside. It was beautiful to honor her, gut-wrenching to watch her slip away, but absolutely wonderful when my then 5 yr old would sit on her bed, hold her hand and sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace”. We all sang too but watching the heart of a child so purely love God and her family was awesome. Thank you for sharing your story. Praying for your family and those gentlemen you met.

  28. Thanks for sharing, Terri. I got to read this to my mom last Friday as she was being prepped for her 3rd brain related procedure this year. It gave us something to pass the time and both my mom and aunt were encouraged.
    On the note of “DNR”, my mom has a strict DO Resuscitate order. So when they went over her wishes again I joked with the nurse that if he didn’t resuscitate her, he was the one who would need resuscitating. We all got a good laugh out of that one, I think he knew I was kidding! 🙂
    My mom came out of everything great and we are hoping after a few more appointments, we can put the doctors and appointments behind us for a while.
    Both your book and this blog have been encouraging and inspiring. Thanks again!

    • Thanks Teesa! Praise God that your mom came through the three procedures so well! I wish you, your mom and aunt many more years of laughs together!
      God bless,

  29. What a beautiful story of how God places people before us and allows us to be His light in their life, even if it is just for a moment here on earth. I have never thought of singing to people because I really don’t sing well, yet I was touched by your story of how natural it was for your daughter to do that for your mom. Just under a year ago, a friend who was a pastor suggested that he, myself and two of our children sing hymns to my husband to bring joy and comfort into his life during a similar situation as your mom. My oldest daughter then came home from work, not knowing that we had just said prayers and sang hymns to her dad, and asked to sit by him for a while alone. I eventually peaked in on them because I heard her singing to him – something that comes very natural to her. A few moments later, he took his last breaths and entered the kingdom of Heaven. We never know how our actions will be used by God! I love your stories and pray for your family often as you seek to serve Him in all that you do. Blessings, Lisa

    • I am sorry to hear of your loss; yet equally joyed to hear of your husband’s gain. Your faith in what must have been so difficult blessed him, your daughters, the pastor and now all of the readers of your comment. Thank you for sharing. We head back to Colorado tomorrow, taking more kids this time and Christine has already requested that we sing some more:) I am grateful for the natural joy she seems to receive in the giving. God bless, Terri

  30. Pingback: Sue Estes - Show your love - share your faith - spread a little kindness!

  31. I am reading this as I approach the one year anniversary of my mom’s passing. Tears rolling down my face as your story brings all of the memories back to the forefront.
    She was in assisted living with Alzheimer’s, congestive heart failure, and afib. She went into a coma-like state the morning after her 86th birthday…and after the first time my brothers and I were all together with her in a long time.
    I spent the night with her on what turned out to be her last full night here on earth. One of the sisters (the facility had been a convent in the past and some of them still worked there) came in and sang a beautiful hymn ( the name I wish I could recall). Although my mom was unable to speak, I knew she was hearing this.
    She passed later that evening with all of us by her bedside, and with me telling her it was ok to go be with my dad and Jesus.
    Thank you for sharing your experience!

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