Sacrilege

 

Several authors and editors I respect counseled me not to write the book as quickly as I did; they urged me to wait two or three years and put some distance between me and the expedition in order to gain some crucial perspective. Their advice was sound, but in the end I ignored it…

—Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

 

Those he most loved simply kept repeating into our iPhones, “We love you. We’re so sorry. We love you. We’re so sorry.” We did, and we were.

Charles David Blase died alone in a COVID ICU on February 23, 2021. My father may as well have been on the summit of Everest. On his thirteenth day in what the hospital switchboard operator kept referring to as “the overflow unit,” the decision was made to intubate. An angel disguised as a nurse initiated a video call with my mother and brother in Arkansas (an hour’s drive from the hospital). My brave brother patched me in via cell phone as my wife and I drove reckless from Colorado across nowhere Texas to try and make it back to Arkansas. Something wicked came along during the intubation procedure and dad went into cardiac arrest. He didn’t make it that day. We didn’t either.

From his alienesque masked face to his eerily echoing voice, the final live images I have of my father are like something from a Ridley Scott nightmare. The deafening roar of CPAPs and BiPAPs and God knows what else occupied his windowless room swallowed every other sound and hope. I’ve viewed plenty of those “I made it!” videos from the summit of Everest—jangled, patchy images of human achievement from the earth’s thinnest air. That’s exactly how our phone call felt, except the view held no airy traces of heaven. Hellish is my word for my dad’s last stand.

My father was a Southern Baptist preacher for sixty years. Dad was old school, one of the good guys. Think Shane minus a six-shooter. He played by all the rules—God’s, man’s, Billy Graham’s—and he still died alone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, o ye barkers of the prosperity gospel. Sure, there were medical personnel surrounding him, but not us, not his blood. Repeated requests to visit over those thirteen days were consistently denied due to COVID concerns. As with most things, I’ve no doubt it’s complicated, but at more than one point along the way I felt concerns were greater for COVID itself than the patients and their families.

In Kant’s Little Prussian Head And Other Reasons Why I Write, author Claire Messud remembers with regret the death of her lonely aunt: “I failed to accompany her as far as the gate—which is all, and the best, we can do.” In this life we cannot escort a loved one farther, but we’re supposed to be able to get them to the gate. On that point, I failed. Or the system failed. Hell, maybe we all failed, for dad died unaccompanied. Do I believe God’s presence was right there as my father clawed for his last breath? Yes, I do. But we should have been there too. It’s just not right.

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31 Comments

  1. Diana Trautwein on March 10, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Oh, I hear you. Of so many cruel and jagged pieces of the Covid puzzle, this is, by far, the worst. This indelible sentence of loneliness, this isolation, this lack of physical touch. I am so very sorry. I know enough of your father through what you have written about him to know that he was not alone. But I also know that having his family nearby would have been an enormous blessing. Tears, love, grace, to you and all your family. Weep, wail, shake your fist at heaven – whatever you need. You are not alone, either.

  2. Gretchen on March 10, 2021 at 6:33 pm

    It’s not right at all. And I’m so sorry.

  3. Lynn Bradley on March 10, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    I love you, John Blasé, and I wish I could divide and carry your pain. I can’t. But, I can love and I do.

  4. Angela Holden Garrett on March 10, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    So sorry John. It definitely is NOT right for people to be dying alone. Fear of Covid has thrown out common sense and compassion. 😢

  5. William Gillin on March 10, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    This is definitely not right! I’m so sorry for you and your family. May the Lord comfort you.

  6. Nicolle on March 10, 2021 at 7:16 pm

    Oh John, I’m angry and sad with you. I hate that the brokenness of our world has touched your family so intimately in this way. I grieve with you.

  7. Kelly on March 10, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    I’m so very sorry.

  8. Irv Halter on March 10, 2021 at 7:55 pm

    John–your beautiful and heart-wrenching expression was spot on… Thank you for your courage in putting it all down on paper… God’s blessings to you and the family in this difficult time. Love to you–Irv

  9. Alice scott-ferguson on March 10, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    Oh how heart-rendingly captured. Deepest sympathies through tear-filled eyes! A story that could be repeated oft during this hell of a time. This manifestly overreached response with no consideration for the fallout as you have experienced!

  10. Lisa-Jo Baker on March 10, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    Terrible terrible.
    Sorry is too small a word.
    I wish I had a better one.
    But I’m aching with sorry for all this today, John.

  11. Vincent Crunk on March 10, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    I am so sorry for you and your family.

  12. Janna Barber on March 10, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    Relent, Oh Lord. How long will it be?

    You have raised your lament in the right direction. Praying for peace and comfort for you and your family.

  13. Tim Cremins on March 10, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    John,
    You do not know me, but know that I will be praying for comfort in this horribly painful but temporary absence of a great Father in your life. It may sound hollow now but all of your Dads lessons and character
    will live surely and clearly within your character, thoughts, words and actions. An excruciating privilege to lose the presence of a Faithful father. I hope in some in some small way Gods hand will comfort you as
    as a life lived exceptionally well continues to guide you.
    Blessings and prayers from this stranger…Micah 6-8

  14. Michael Easker on March 10, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss, John Blase.

  15. judy a burke on March 10, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    John, Your words were that of so many – I had to stop 3 different times as I could not see for the tears flowing as they have in the last few months. As David in his messages at times would say WILL BE A QUESTION I want to ask someday for the pain in the end to such a loving, giving, smiling, give you his shirt if you needed it person why and for the Family that treasured and SHARED HIM with the World leave them with such added pain. Hold Miss Anna, the Rose close as her hurt fills her every fiber of her body and see that she gets to the doctor that she will most likely say it can wait I just can not take anymore-
    But to go to the ER twice in one week – it has to still be there. All the smiles in the pictures of each of you I know you will but just do not want her to let anything get any worse. I look forward to your books and in time go back and listen as I have to Cousin David’s messages little by little I pray you find the answers to help all of you in this time. Blessings Judy Tindle Burke

  16. Jacky on March 10, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    Oh oh oh, my soul.

  17. Marcia on March 11, 2021 at 1:32 am

    Oh, John, my heart aches for your family’s loss. My father stopped being a father when I turned 16. All I ever wanted was to have a father. Take comfort in the memories and for the blessing of having your father in your life.
    Why can’t family members be allowed to utilize PPE— just as the medical staff do– so that they can be with their loved ones in the final moments?

  18. Noelene on March 11, 2021 at 3:34 am

    So deeply sorry for yours and your family’s pain and sorrow, John. In Africa, we say “I am sorry” as an expression of “I feel your pain”. Peace and healing prayers for you all.

  19. Kay Hanevik on March 11, 2021 at 6:45 am

    Is there a point where compassion should take presidence over Covid? I sure think so. My heart aches for your family. Your dad has found his place with the angels singing praises and giving thanks to our Father for all the blessings in his life. Remember the good times. Tell the stories. Live, love and laugh over them. Keep loving those you love.

  20. Duncan on March 11, 2021 at 7:15 am

    Thank you John. I’m grateful that you didn’t wait to write this.

  21. Deborah Nottingham on March 11, 2021 at 7:59 am

    John,
    I have loved your writing for years. This one made me suck in my breath. This disease has taken so much from us. Your race to be there, the horrible intubation experience, and your inability to escort him to the gate were moving and incredibly sad. May you be comforted by the knowledge that perhaps his last breath here was his first breath in Jesus embrace. It doesn’t make your journey any easier but know that even strangers send you their sympathy.

    • Meri on March 15, 2021 at 9:38 pm

      My son is an icu nurse who has been the stand in for family. He agrees with you. This is just not right.

  22. judy a burke on March 11, 2021 at 8:30 am

    Ms Nottingham your words were Angel sent so sweet and tender just as this family needs

  23. Mel on March 11, 2021 at 8:47 am

    So very sorry. Sacrilege is definitely the right word.
    You’re very right about accompanying them to the gate.
    It breaks my heart that people were denied that.

  24. Caroline Starr Rose on March 11, 2021 at 9:56 am

    I’m so sorry, John. I have only a small inkling of your pain (my dad was hospitalized with COVID for two months), and I’m so sorry your father passed away without family near. No words but heartfelt sorrow.

  25. Carol Vinson on March 11, 2021 at 10:18 am

    John, your words are beautifully sad. Thank you for honestly sharing them without all the Christian niceties often associated with death. Damn Covid. Sending love and holding space for your pain today.

  26. Abby on March 11, 2021 at 11:24 am

    “At the temple, there is a poem called “Loss” carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.”
    Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

    John, having never seen your face, nor hugged your neck, I am nevertheless holding you and your family with wide arms and tender heart.

  27. Annie B on March 11, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    I am so sorry.

  28. Chuck Cook on March 12, 2021 at 8:06 am

    I’m so sorry John. I join you in your anger and frustration! I take comfort in knowing you will be together again with your Dad – but like you said, the way our system has taken away our right to choose for ourselves if we want to be with our loved-ones in their time of need – “it’s just not right.”
    Love you my friend!

  29. Susan on April 4, 2021 at 9:15 am

    John I’ve loved your writing for years, but have never commented. I felt compelled to join others in expressing my sorrow for what you have experienced. There are no adequate words for this. It is a sacrilege. I feel it deeply because my own father is nearly 80 and was a southern Baptist minister for 40 years. I have to believe that the Lord Himself walked your father to and through the gate because you weren’t able to. Prayers for your wounded heart.

  30. judy burke on April 4, 2021 at 10:31 am

    I wanted to hear last week’s sermon and for some reason could not so gave up and just chose one out of the listing Nov. 11 2020 Speaks of loss of a loved one and I could only hear in my ears David saying no it was not right nor right for an y of the family I have held funerals for but grief is part of this and will be forever and YES hold on, answers will be given someday. So comfort for all those around you . And as unlike a Christian I have kicked the can until I ruined my shoe and oh my toe hurt with tears flowing but in some way it helped.

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