Since 1993 the sight of a medical helicopter overhead has gripped me with a paralyzing and stomach-churning fear.
That was the year my daughter Kacey was airlifted from our local hospital on a dreary Thanksgiving evening to a state-of-the-art hospital 200 miles away. She was less than 24 hours old and had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening heart defect.
As I watched them prepare her for flight, I wondered if I’d ever see her again. I begged to be allowed to ride with her but it was against policy. Back in my room, I heard the chopper take off, its roaring sound muted slightly by my uncontrollable sobs.
Released by my doctor shortly after, my mother and I headed south. What should’ve taken four hours took nine with Black Friday traffic and it would be over a decade before I could even leave my house on that busiest shopping day of the year.
By the time we arrived I was frantic. The doctors met me in the corridor and assured me that she was stable. However, they warned, she was very ill. Surgery would correct the defect, though, and she had a 85% chance of pulling through.
Statistics became another thing I hated after her funeral.
I was not comforted by the thought that she was “in a better place.” I didn’t care; I wanted her with me. (Grief doesn’t lend itself to rational thoughts.)
I didn’t want “my own little angel watching over me.” I wanted my daughter back here on earth.
Through the ups and downs of her six-week life, I clung to hope. It was a roller coaster and when she died, the journey was over.
A journey that began on a medical chopper.
A few months later, I had settled into somewhat of a new normal and NBC Thursday nights were all the rage. A new show was premiering called ER, a drama following the ultra-popular comedy block that included Friends and Seinfeld. Back then, we only had three channels so my choices were limited anyway, but I thought I’d like it. George Clooney from Facts of Life would be on it and I’d loved that show.
In the very first opening scene of the premiere, a medical chopper flew through the air and landed on top of the hospital. I grabbed the remote and hit POWER OFF as I raced to the bathroom, losing my dinner in the process. Through its 15-year run, I never saw a single episode, feeling profoundly betrayed by its reminder of my loss.
Real life was no better. My knuckles would turn white as I steel-gripped the steering wheel any time a helicopter bearing that symbol hovered nearby. It was not only my own loss but the deep empathy for the family waiting elsewhere that overwhelmed me. I’d grow silent when visiting a hospital patient if I heard those rotors crank up. In my mind, Medivac choppers meant death.
So yesterday, as I was driving home and saw that helicopter out of the corner of my eye, I expected to feel that familiar sorrow.
However, I was instead engulfed with exceeding joy.
It was nice but it confused me a little.
It wasn’t the realization that she was in a better place. I’d understood that truth after the anger phase of my grief wore off.
Was it because I’ve been seeing things a little differently these days? I’ve been viewing life as one closer to death than birth, not in a morbid doomsday way, but with that oats-been-sowed, no-more-time-to-waste, wisdom that comes with middle age.
Am I excited because seeing her again now doesn’t seem too far away?
I went to bed last night thinking that must be it. I’m going through this “I’m getting older” phase and I must have just seen our reunion as closer than it used to be.
But when I got up this morning, that theory still didn’t seem quite right.
There WAS truth in that and I’m excited about seeing my baby again, but the depths of that joy were almost supernatural. What was I missing?
Then I heard that still, small Voice.
The Voice often has to wait for me to get through trying to figure everything out on my own.
This is the JOY OF YOUR SALVATION.
The truth was magnified and illuminated at once.
I had been given a glimpse into the joy of eternal life. It is a joy my daughter has known her entire life.
It is a joy I knew about, even believed in, but never fully got…until that moment.
That chopper may have initially brought sorrow, but it also led to Heaven’s greatest reward.
I now know that I will spend eternity in that place of unrivaled joy because I chose to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
And my daughter will be waiting for me.