How He Died
A HAPPY, HOLY DEATH
By all accounts, my son 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 would be a bridesmaid at a wedding on Kauai. Devon had previously lived on Kauai, so he knew the island like a local and was able to show everyone all of its lesser-known gems. Knowing the best places was also typical of Devon. The young woman said yes, come along, so off he went to his favorite island.
The wedding was on Saturday night and the pictures are fantastic. 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. I feel like he pretty much crossed off most things on his bucket list. Except for marriage, a family, and a long life.That was not to be. Before packing on Sunday, one last time at the beach. The sun, the sand, the surf, the mountains, being young; a glorious day. As they were leaving the beach, I am told Devon asked everyone to wait for a minute. Choose one of the rocks here on the beach, he said. Let’s put our cares, worries, and anxieties into our rocks and toss them 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 I have of Devon; he is throwing a rock, filled 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 I have of Devon was taken from the back, as they were all walking back to the rental house. He is standing in his bathing suit taking a picture of the island he loved so dearly. He had lived there, and he had thousands of pictures, but he was so appreciative of the beauty that is Kauai that he stopped for a picture. Someone who was above Devon on the walk back to the house stopped to take a picture too, and this included 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 in his bathing suit, tan from the sun, standing in the lush land of what is called the Garden Island. And this: next to him, off to his right side is a green orb, which some say are 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 hundreds of 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 believe that someone waits for all of us, and no one dies alone. That comforts me too.
To the house they went. Everyone wanted one last swim in the pool that night. There was a contest of who-can-hold-their-breath-the-longest while swimming underwater. It was so casual, I am told. There wasn’t a splash, or a fuss, or bubbles, or anything; he just stopped moving. In front of fifteen or so people, in five feet of water, my son stopped moving. We get it, someone said. You are a scuba diver and can hold your breath for a long time. Stop it, someone else said, it isn’t funny anymore. And then someone jumped in to check on him 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 a pool on the 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, 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.
And so my son’s life ended. I received a phone call at 6:00 in the morning from my daughter. I called the ER on Kauai and was put through to the doctor.
“We have been working on him for hours. I have tried everything. My staff is exhausted; please tell me we can stop.”
“Stop doing CPR on my son? You want me to tell you to stop? Not in a million years. Get another crew. Get housekeeping or grab someone from the waiting room- CPR is not rocket science.”
“Let me try one more thing. I will call you back.”
When the doctor called me back it was to tell me that it was over, that my son’s life was over. Time of death: 3:06 am Hawaii time on 2/21/15.
I believe Devon chose water to die in-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.
(note: We initially thought that Devon died of a pulmonary embolism; he had recently traveled extensively and it seemed logical. He was healthy, we thought, so what else could it be? It took six weeks to get the autopsy report and that is when we learned Devon 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.)