How he died

     By all accounts, Devon’s last day of life was pretty glorious. He was on the island of Kauai for a destination wedding with people he barely knew, which is typical of Devon: he met complete strangers, everyone loved him and they became friends. He had met a young woman on a dating app who was going to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. Devon had previously lived on Kauai, so he knew Kauai like a local and was able to show everyone all of the island’s lesser-known gems, which is also typical of Devon- knowing the best places. 

     The wedding was on Saturday night and the pictures are fantastic. In the pictures, everyone has great big smiles and Devon checked off one last thing on his bucket list – he danced. He could never be talked into dancing, but I have pictures of him dancing at the wedding until he was soaked in sweat. The next day, Sunday, would be a day of packing but first, one last time at the beach. The sun, the sand, the surf, the mountains – it just doesn’t get any better. As they were leaving the beach, I am told that Devon said to everyone, choose a rock. Let’s put our cares and worries and anxieties into our rock and toss it into the ocean; leave them here on the island, don’t take them with you. The ocean will cleanse them for us. This is the penultimate picture that I have of Devon – he is throwing the rock, along with all of his worries and anxieties, into the ocean. I feel like he purified his soul before death, and that brings me some comfort. 

     The last picture that I have of Devon is from the back. He is standing in his bathing suit taking a picture of the island he loved so dearly. He had lived there, he had thousands of pictures, but he was so appreciative that he paid homage to the beauty with just one more photo.  Someone who was above Devon on the climb back to the house they stayed at took a picture too and he included Devon. I think it is the last picture of Devon. How funny life is; we just don’t know when it will be the last time we get to do something. In the picture, Devon is tanned, in his bathing suit, and the scenery is lush. And this: next to him, off to his right side is a green orb. Orbs are said to be spirits; of course, skeptics claim they are dust. The person who sent the photo to me said there weren’t any orbs on any of the other 1,000 pictures he took that week. I like to think that a spirit was there – God, an angel, my mom – to guide him to the next life. I like to think that someone waits for all of us, and no one dies alone. ( I have had some experiences with that- see my post on my mother’s death.) 

   To the house they went. Everyone wanted one last swim in the pool that night. Young, happy people laughing and having fun – what could be better? There was a contest of who-can-hold-their-breath-the-longest while swimming underwater. Of course, Devon could hold his the longest; as a scuba diver, he practiced it often.  It was so casual, I am told. There wasn’t a splash, or a fuss, or bubbles, or anything; Devon just stopped moving. In front of 15 or so people, in five feet of water, my son stopped moving. We get it, someone said. You can hold your breath for a long time. Stop it, someone else said, it isn’t funny anymore. And then someone jumped in and chaos followed. CPR was done and an ambulance was called. They worked on him for hours in the ER but Devon could not be saved. 

     My beloved son was birthed into the afterlife that he believed in from the warm water of the pool on an island he loved. 

     Here is what I could not get over for a long time: I am an ER nurse. I practice safety relentlessly. Seatbelts swim lessons, child-proof everything. Junior lifeguard classes every summer for weeks in junior high school, every summer, where my three children learned how to survive a sinking boat, how to do CPR, how to take off a pair of jeans to use as a flotation device. I taught my children so much safety, but I was not a match for an underwater arrhythmia,  the kind that takes you by surprise, and makes you gasp underwater. The kind that makes you drown in front of fifteen people. 

     We initially thought that Devon died of a pulmonary embolism; he had traveled extensively recently and it seemed logical. He was healthy, we thought, so what else could it be? On autopsy, we learned that he had horrible heart disease. His major coronary arteries were extensively clogged, the medical examiner, my son’s last physician, informed me. By holding his breath repeatedly he induced an arrhythmia. Being underwater made it fatal. If only he had had the arrhythmia one minute later, or three minutes sooner? If -only and what- if plague us parents whose children have died before we have. 

     I believe Devon chose to die in water-he loved it so. I believe he had a wonderful last day– may all of our last days be so good.  I believe he did more in his short life than most do in decades- he was curious, outgoing, loving, and adventurous. Devon seemed to be in such a hurry to experience as much as he could that I wonder if he knew, on some level, that he would die young.  Catholics, which Devon was, pray for a happy and holy death. I believe that my son had a happy and holy death. I believe I see signs that he is with me.  And I believe that I will see him again when my time on this planet is over. Until we meet again, son. Mommy misses you very much.