Looking Death in the Face and Surrendering

May God bless us all on the journey to heaven and lead us to surrender.

Tyler (left, in the life vest) and his family
Tyler (left, in the life vest) and his family (photo: Photo by Patti Armstrong)

Not knowing if our son was dead or alive was a horrifying moment. My body shook uncontrollably as I prayed, “Your will be done, Lord, but if it’s possible, please save him.” I knew God could do anything. What I did not know was if our 10-year-old son Tyler was already with God. It seemed possible. The thought flashed through my mind. “But I didn’t even get to say goodbye,” I cried.

We had gathered with our then-six children, my husband’s parents, and two brothers and their families on a lake in Minnesota for a family reunion. It was the end of the first day … night by now, actually. And it had been a very long day. We left for the six-and-a half hour drive before the sun was up. The day was filled with getting re-acquainted with relatives, swimming, fishing and barbecue.

Mark awakened me yelling, “Something’s wrong with Tyler. He’s not breathing! I’m going to get Scott!” His brother in the cabin next to us was a doctor.

Our oldest, Aaron, was sharing a bed with Tyler when he noticed his brother struggling to breathe. “Tyler!” he yelled, wanting the suffocating sounds to stop. Instead, they got worse until they ceased. Tyler had stopped breathing. Aaron yelled for help. Mark ran in and carried Tyler to the floor. He was turning blue. Still no breathing. That is when Mark yelled for me.

“I can’t remember how to do CPR,” I cried, desperately.

“I remember from Boy Scouts,” Luke, two years older than Tyler, said and stepped in. But it seemed his airways were blocked. Aaron and I shook and prayed. I yelled for Scott to hurry, despite knowing Mark was over there. It seemed an eternity.

When Scott ran into our cabin, Tyler had begun gasping for breath. As he struggled to suck in air, his color returned until finally the breaths came easily. We took him to the emergency room at a hospital 30 minutes away, but they found nothing. And so, we returned to our cabin trying to shake off the anxiety and to get some sleep. “Thank you, God, for giving us Tyler back,” we prayed. “Help him to be okay.”

There was fear in not knowing what had stopped his breathing. Could he pass out on the boat and fall into the lake or have a reoccurrence while swimming? But he felt fine and spent the week binge-fishing with Luke and their cousin Joey.

Later, back at home, an electroencephalogram showed that Tyler likely had a type of seizure disorder that could hit randomly, most likely at night when asleep, and is usually outgrown by the age of 14. It never did happen again. He is 32 now.

But our family had experienced death that horrifying night. And life. We were given a gift. Not just Tyler’s life but the experience of how quickly life can be gone, without warning. How often do we live like that will never happen to us? We had a glimpse of that now.

The next day, I learned that while Mark pounded on his brother’s cabin door, he and I were united in prayer. He too thought that maybe Tyler was already with God. He too understood it was God’s will, not ours, that mattered. But if it’s possible, please save him! he had prayed.

We have nurtured a faith that precedes us. It guides us through fears, emergencies, good news and bad, conflicts and blessings. Life has taught us that we are not in control. Even at times when we said that we knew we were not in control, we have had to learn it better. Perhaps our biggest lesson in life has been the need to surrender. It is hard to do but makes life easier. Yet, it’s a lesson that needs continual learning.

Mark and I continue praying with one mind and heart for a life or death situation. We pray for our all our children—the youngest just became an adult— for them and their own families to have life and to have it abundantly. We have had to surrender and recognize that our control begins and ends with our own spiritual lives.

We often pray novenas, surrendering our lives and our children to God. One that has become a favorite is the Surrender Novena written by Servant of God, Father Dolindo Ruotolo. It helps us to abandon everything to the care of God. At the end of each day’s prayer, you pray 10 times: “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” Even when we aren’t praying the novena those words have become our mantra.

Father Dolindo also wrote a “Rosary of Abandonment”:

  • God come to my assistance... Lord, make haste to help me ...
  • Say a Glory Be, Our Father, Hail Mary.
  • First Decade: Jesus, You take over! (10 times) ... Glory be ...
  • Second Decade: Mother Mary, guide me (10 times) ... Glory be ...
  • Third Decade: Jesus you take over! (10 times) ... Glory be ...
  • Fourth Decade: Mother Mary, guide me (10 times) ... Glory be ...
  • Fifth Decade: Jesus, you take over! (10 times) ... Glory be ...
  • In conclusion: Hail Holy Queen ...

May God bless us all on the journey to heaven and lead us to surrender.