Late on that Sunday afternoon in October 2000 the phone rang. My husband, Clyde, had promised to be home ages ago. What now? I thought.
“Maybe Dad stopped to buy you a birthday present,” my daughter, Amber, offered, picking up the receiver. I rolled my eyes. My birthday was still five days away, and Amber knew just as well as I did that Clyde always put off buying gifts until the last minute. I checked my watch. Already 4:30. Typical workaholic Clyde. If he wasn’t logging overtime as a facilities engineer at the local Toyota plant like today, he was working through our church, even spending his last few vacations on mission trips in Mexico and Russia.
Amber turned to me, a strange look on her face, and held out the phone. “It’s Mission Hospital,” she said. “They want to talk to you—about Dad.”
Clyde had been in a car accident. I was praying for him before I even hung up the phone. Amber and I jumped in the car. I rattled off numbers as I drove. Rev. Dudley Bristow from our old church; my boss and good friend, Janet; people from our current congregation. Amber called them on the cell.
Lately it seemed Clyde and I spent what little time we did have together arguing about the time we spent apart. We always kissed and made up in the end, though. After almost 20 years, that simple act was still a powerful reminder of the love that had drawn us together. Please, God, I prayed, pulling up to the hospital, give us more time.
The chaplain came to talk to us. “Your husband has been critically injured and is in surgery,” she said. “You need to get his family here as soon as you can.” We made more frantic calls. Our older daughter, Michelle, at college in Arizona. Clyde’s twin brother, Curt, and their older brother, Jerry. Our family physician, Dr. Pino. One thought kept going through my mind: Was Clyde still alive? In the background the same prayer repeated steadily like a heartbeat: Please, God, give us more time.
By 1:00 A.M. more than 100 family and friends were gathered in the waiting area. Finally a surgeon with blood on his scrubs, his deeply lined eyes just visible over his mask, emerged from the operating suite and took me aside. “Mrs. Dawson, your husband has suffered grave injuries. He’s been lacerated from his ribs to his pelvic bone back to his spine. His stomach, liver and kidneys are badly damaged. We’ve done everything we can, but he’s in a coma. I’m very sorry, but I don’t think he will make it through the night.”
All that got through to me at that moment was that Clyde was still alive. And that meant he could be healed. “I have my faith,” I said.
The doctor sighed. “You’re going to need more than that, I’m afraid,” he said.
I’d relied on my faith my entire life, taking strength in knowing that God could help me through anything. Now my husband was dying and his doctor was telling me not even God could save his life. What if it really was too late? What if there was nothing more even God could do? The prayer circling my mind continued, longer now. Please, God, give us more time. Give me whatever I need to help Clyde.
They let me see Clyde. It was hard to tell where the tubes and machines ended and he began. A tube was down his throat so I couldn’t kiss him, and I had to wear protective gloves just to touch him. When I reached to stroke his brow, the nurse stopped me. “Be careful. His bones are fractured,” she said.
I drew back and choked out, “I’m sorry,” then fled to the waiting room.
I couldn’t sleep, even with a sedative. Thank goodness my sister-in-law had brought my Bible and prayer journal.
The nurses allowed me five minutes of visiting time each hour and, at first, that was all I could bear. During the day Amber or Michelle or a friend from church would go into the ICU with me. At night it was just Clyde and me. The more I sat with my husband the harder it was to leave when the nurses asked. On the third night, I pulled off the gloves, hoping Clyde would respond to my touch. I stroked his cheek, his forehead, the scraggly hair growing out of his chin. “Keep holding on, baby. Only 20 more days till our 20th anniversary.” I even wrote that in my journal.
The fifth day I remarked to a nurse as I sat with Clyde, “The doctor didn’t think he’d make it through the first night. Maybe he’ll wake up soon.”
The nurse reached out and touched my shoulder. “Mrs. Dawson, I think it’s important you understand your husband is still in very critical condition,” she said. “He’s on dialysis, his spleen has been removed, and his other organs are shutting down one by one. I’m sorry, but he’s far from waking up.”
Back in the waiting room friends and family surprised me with a cake. My birthday. How could I celebrate my birth when my husband was dying? I excused myself to talk to Dr. Pino. “Please, you’ve got to be honest with me,” I begged him.
He shook his head slowly. “Genell, you need to prepare for the worst.”
I felt my knees buckle. Only through the most intense prayer had I been able to keep it together these past five days. But things were getting worse, not better. Clyde was still holding on. How would I? God, I don’t know how to pray any harder. Give me more faith.
The nurses stopped asking me to leave after five minutes. I bathed and shaved Clyde as best I could around the tubes and bandages. “You’re wasting away. Wouldn’t you like to wake up and have a chile relleno right now?” I asked. One day I picked up his hand and pressed it to my lips. “You already missed my birthday. You don’t want to miss our anniversary too, do you?” I felt so connected to him that it seemed like his body was an extension of my own, that it was my breath flowing into him.
It was the same way with my prayers. I prayed so deeply that prayer became less of an act than a state of being. And I was surrounded by hundreds of others praying for my husband’s recovery—relatives, friends, our church family, even people in Mexico and Russia whom Clyde had met on his mission trips. We prayed for Clyde’s organs one by one. “Help Clyde’s kidneys work again, Lord. Heal the damage to his liver.” We prayed for his foot and the doctors saved it even though it was broken in dozens of places and had become gangrenous.
Another five days passed, but now I knew better than to think that meant Clyde was out of the woods. Instead I took joy in the little things. Like being able to kiss him again. A tracheotomy allowed the tube to come out of his throat at last. His facial muscles were still tensed up in a grimace so I massaged around his mouth, hoping to ease it into a smile. “I love you, Clyde. I’m sorry about all the times we ever argued,” I said. “Please wake up, baby.” I rested my head on the pillow beside his. And I felt not Clyde but God answer me. Be still and trust me.
On day 21 I went home to shower, but then it was right back to the ICU, to Clyde. I nodded to the nurse and turned to look at my husband. I’d just given him a bath and shave, and he looked rested. I bent down to kiss him hello like always. Just before I pulled away, I thought I felt his lips move. I drew back and stared at him. His eyes were still closed. Again I kissed him. He puckered up and kissed me back! Clyde had kissed me back! And that kiss was a promise, just like the kiss that sealed our wedding vows 20 years earlier. Except this time the promise was not so much from Clyde as from God, that he was returning my husband to me, that he was giving us more time after all.
“Nurse, my husband kissed me!”
“It’s likely just a reflex,” she said.
“No, watch,” I insisted. I kissed Clyde and again he puckered his lips and kissed me back.
The nurse’s eyes widened. “I have to get the doctor.”
I kissed Clyde twice more before the doctor came. Then I kissed him again. He kissed me back. The doctor squeezed Clyde’s hand. He squeezed back.
Later that same day Clyde started to wake up. Two days later, on October 31, we marked our 20th anniversary. “We’ll spend much more of the next 20 years together, won’t we, baby?” I asked. Clyde still couldn’t talk, but for me his kiss was answer enough.
I’d sat by my husband’s bedside those long days not knowing if he would wake up again. The doctor had been right. My faith had not been enough. But all I had to do was reach out and ask, and I received more than I ever could have imagined.