Death, Dad and Hysterical Blindness

Tomorrow I will not blog.

Tomorrow I will be thinking of my dad.

Twelve years ago tomorrow he breathed his last in this world.

Norman William Brenton was the very definition of meekness. His picture should appear next to the word in illustrated dictionaries. He was the third-most humble person, I believe, to walk in this world. Though he was never tempted to strike a rock rather than speak to it, nor to overturn a moneychanger’s table, he did once get out of the car and scold a drunk driver who had hung up his ride on a high curb after nearly hitting ours as we drove to church. Yet for that instance, there were probably a dozen in which he warmly greeted a tipsy, rheumy-eyed visitor to our inner-city church and escorted them to the benevolent room for a fresh change of clothing.

Dad had some sort of coronary episode on the first day he died. Mistaking it for indigestion, my mom dashed to the store for milk. She found him dead when she returned. EMT medics resuscitated him, but his brain had been starved of oxygen too long.

He remained in a coma on life support as the family gathered. We faced the worst. We prayed for the best. For a miracle. We knew he had a living will and we knew what it said, yet my mom and older sister and her husband could not find it in the safe at home, even after looking several times.

This may have been an instance of that peculiar phenonmenon called “hysterical blindness.” It has little to do with out-of-control emotions; it describes the suppression of visual information due to shock.

(I experienced it once, having happened first on the scene of a single-car accident; an old station wagon driven recklessly by a young woman who had just passed me too close on the expressway then plowed through a guardrail and rolled her car several times down an embankment. When I peered into the upside-down car, I couldn’t see her. Another fellow walked up. “Is she already out of the car?” I asked. “Could she be under the dash?” He looked at me like I was crazy: “Man, she’s all over the place.”)

Though my family didn’t see Dad’s living will in the safe, I found it in moments. It said that he did not wish to have any heroic measures taken to prolong his life in this situation. We prayed again. We asked for him to be removed from artificial ventilation, but to retain intravenous nourishment. We put it in God’s hands.

Dad breathed on his own for a couple of weeks, never stirring from the coma, and at last expired. Twelve years ago tomorrow.

It gave time for all of us in his family to get used to the idea that he would be gone.

I don’t know whether his Lord gave him that choice when coming for him the first time, but I know what Dad would have said.

The very different tragedy currently playing out within the family of Terri Schiavo has brought all of these memories fresh to my mind. (You can read a fine recap of the situation at Believer Blog.)

I’m reminded that I have a responsibility to my family that I need to attend to. I have checked the little box on my Arkansas driver’s license that expresses my desire to be an organ donor. I’ve told my family about it.

But I don’t have a living will, spelling out what I would wish for them to do in catastrophic circumstances.


Could it be that – when it comes to the matter of my own demise – I have a case of hysterical blindness?

7 thoughts on “Death, Dad and Hysterical Blindness

  1. Keith, thanks for being transparent and sharing with us your thoughts and hurts and love concerning your dad and his passing. My dad is not in very good health, and even though I am trying to get ready for his passing, I know I am not there yet. Your thoughts prompt me to do that.

    May God bless you during these days of reflection.

    Your brother,

  2. I do not know if the words” Thanks for sharing this with us” is appropriate, but I feel privaleged to hear of your father. From your explanation, he seemed to be a wonderful father and man of God who left a strong mark. My family and I will pray for you, your family and your siblings as you reflect on your Dad, May God continue to bless you Keith.
    I will pray for your father as well, I am sorry that he is not doing so well just know that some little ol’ christian and his family in New Jersey is prayin for you.

  3. I just got off the phone with my mom. Every time we say good-bye, I imagine if it could be the last time I hear her voice?
    Something as simple as a single breath makes a world of difference.

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