The Day Lew Died: February 4, 1998, 5:30 p.m.
“Your son, Lew, is very seriously ill. We need for you to come to the hospital.” It is a female doctor at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville. We are at home in Lexington, 85 miles away.
“On a typical day we could be there in an hour and a half…we can’t even get out of our driveway. We already have a foot of snow and more is coming.” The roads and airports have all been closed by order of the Governor.
“Let me pass the phone to our social worker. He’ll make the arrangements.”
He tells me that every sworn peace officer in the state who has a snow plow and a car phone has been impressed into service. He will find someone to come pick us up.
“Get ready. Pack a bag. Someone will come.”
Bob gets in the shower. Judson goes out trying to walk the dog. (Have you ever tried to walk a dog in 12 or more inches of snow?)
I remember a conversation I had had with someone at the The Home of the Innocents about some paperwork they have wanted me to bring. I call HOTI to get clarification about that since we were coming anyway.
“Hello, Home of the Innocents. “
“Hi. This is Lew Moore’s Mother.”
“Oh, Mrs. Moore, I’m so sorry.”
“You’re telling me that Lew has already died….!”
“Oh, I’m SO sorry! I thought you knew…”
This is how I find out Lew has died. Suddenly I am comforting HER. (Thinking back I think I “should” have known. I know that hospital staff usually don’t tell family members on the phone when their loved one has already died. They don’t want another death if the family member has a heart attack or wrecks their car on the way to the hospital.)
After I hang up, I wonder (for about two seconds) whether I will tell Bob. I go to the bathroom door. He is out of the shower and is shaving.
“Lew is dead,” I say. He holds me. Shaving cream in my hair.
“Do we still need to go?”
I love that he doesn’t question this. (He tells me later that he considered that I was the “expert” because of my training as a chaplain. If I say we need to go, we need to go. What a gift.)
When Judson comes in, we put him between us on the white sofa in the living room and tell him. We hold one another for a long quiet time.
I call my friend, Kate Adamek, to tell her. Kate lives in Louisville. I spent one night a week at her house while finishing some seminary hours in 1995 and 1996.
Over an hour later two guys in a jeep with a snow plow arrive. They actually work for the animal shelter! But they are sworn peace officers with car phones and a snow plow. They take us to the Fayette County line where a state trooper meets us. The trooper is driving a large, brown, extended cab truck. Jay asks about the smell. Yes, the trooper says, it is a truck used in marijuana eradication. (Later I wondered just how Jay, who was 14 at the time, came to know what that odor was…) When we get to the Jefferson County line, a Jefferson County policewoman meets us. She looks at Jay who is already almost six feet tall. “I was told to expect two adults and a child. I don’t have enough room for the three of you and your luggage.” She opens her trunk and shows us it is full of crowd-control equipment. The state trooper says he will take us on to Kosair Children’s Hospital and he does.
I love that downtown Louisville looks like something, some time out of the Twilight Zone. Deserted. Black and grey. Snow falling. The sounds muffled. The whole state seems to be mourning the death of our beloved Lew when we arrive at Kosair Children’s Hospital at about 9:30 p.m.
I am glad I already know what we are going to find. I actually am grateful to have had the hours of the drive to begin to get my head around the idea that Lew is dead. If we hadn’t known before we left the house, we would have had a sense of needing to hurry - to get there because Lew needed us.
I lead us into the ER and tell a staff member we are the family of Lew Moore. ERs and hospitals have become my native ground. I take the lead. She points toward the door where Lew’s body is lying. Paul Jeanes, chaplain at The Home of the Innocents is there. Lew’s body is cool. When I put my hand around his upper arm, I am surprised to feel warmth on the back side of my fingers; his core body temperature is warmer than the extremities. His hair looks the same as always. He seems to be asleep. Each of us kiss Lew good-bye. Paul (I think) says a prayer. We are in that early stage of the grief experience typified by numbness. Certain images are burned in my mind and other things are just gone. I remember a nurse giving me a direct and compassionate look as we filed out of the ER.
Paul or someone from the hospital tells us that Kate has called and left a message for us to come spend the night with her. Paul drives us to Kate’s house.
At every moment of this day there are people there to care for us. At the very end soup and warm bread and beds welcome us.
Cherry Winkle Moore is a visual artist and a retired hospice chaplain. Cherry has a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting, drawing and printmaking from the University of Alabama. Later she completed a Master of Divinity degree with an emphasis in pastoral care. Cherry sometimes says that in her case the MFA stands for Minister of Fine Arts and the MDiv stands for Making Divine Images Visible.View All Post