“What do you think of the Bahamas?”
“Honey, if you like it, I’m there. I already talked to Jones. I know I can get that week off.” Ben stood half in the closet securing his vest and backup piece before putting his shirt on. “Sara, we’re going to be married ten years next month. Honey, I want to be wherever you are. The Bahamas sound great.” He finished getting dressed and turned to watch Sara pouring over the brochures on the bed. He loved to watch her after all these years.
“Ben, you look a million miles away. Are you thinking about the Bahamas?”
“Actually, I was thinking about our love affair. Ten years seems like a lifetime, yet it’s gone so quickly. My life with you and the girls is greater than I could’ve ever imagined.” Ben sat next to her on the bed. He brushed away a strand of hair that had come loose from the clip holding the hair in back of her head. “There aren’t words to describe everything I feel.”
He lifted her chin back up to face him. He gazed into her eyes and kissed her. The kiss wasn’t one of physical yearning or token love. The kiss spoke of his true passion and came from the depths of his soul.
When it ended, he held her face in his hands. “I love you, Sara.” He kissed her forehead.
“I love you too. My life began the day I met-”
Their ten year old daughter, Melissa bounded into the room, plopping down on the bed beside Ben and Sara. “Why do you always have to be so sappy this time of year? I know your anniversary is coming. I would’ve figured after ten years, you’d be over this mushy stuff.”
“I’m sorry, Melissa. I thought this was my bedroom and I could share a private moment with my wife. And you should be glad we haven’t gotten past all the mushy stuff yet.” Ben stood up and finished getting ready for work. He glanced at Melissa sternly.
“Dad, you have four daughters. You lost all opportunity for privacy a long time ago.” Melissa smiled, stealing his heart.
“Have you finished your science work?”
“Yes, Mom can check it this evening. I’ve completed all of today’s work. I even worked on my research paper for a little while.”
“Are Julie and Alli still playing with their puzzles?” Sara eased off the bed and putting away the brochures in her night table.
“Julie is. Alli is playing with Lincoln Logs. Can I please go out now, Mom? I want to play with Carrie and Suzy at the park.”
Melissa escaped quickly. “Bye Daddy. Have a good night at work.” She bellowed on her way out the door.
“Honey, I have to get going. I’ll try not to wake you when I come in tonight.” Ben finished lacing and tying his shoes and stood. Sara followed him down the hall.
As Ben reached the door, Julie and Alli ran to his side. “Wait, Daddy, wait!”
“I love you, Daddy. Let me kiss you.” Julie reached Ben first. Ben bent down to hug and kiss her. While he was squatting down, Alli caught him around the neck. He almost lost his balance, but steadied himself.
“My love you, Daddy,” Allie squealed.
“I love you too, Alli. I’ll see you in the morning. Be good for Mommy.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Alli returned to her Lincoln Logs.
“I’ll see you tonight, Sara.” Ben kissed Sara goodbye. She watched him drive away.
“Ah, yes.” Sara struggled to focus on the clock.
“Mrs. Stephens, this is Sergeant Mosley.”
The red numbers on the clock flashed 2:30. Ben’s side of the bed was empty. Her hands shook as she sat up and flicked on the light.
“Mrs. Stephens, are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here. Where’s Ben? Has he been hurt?”
“Mrs. Stephens, Ben’s at St. John’s Hospital. Sergeant Jones asked me to call you. His wife is on her way to your house to watch your girls. He’s also sending Paul over to pick you up. I wish I could give you more information, but that’s all I know. Paul should be there in about ten minutes.” Sara could hear him pause. “Mrs. Stephens, I’m sorry to have to call you.”
“Thank you, Sergeant Mosley.” Sara answered as she hung up the phone. She wasn’t sure what to do. She rifled through her dresser for clothes. She grabbed a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Her mind raced. How bad was Ben hurt? What happened? Why was Jones sending Paul over? Why would Jones bother Steffi at this hour? Is Ben hurt bad enough the children shouldn’t be there? Sara prayed. She prayed for Ben, she prayed for her family, and she prayed for whatever was about to happen in their lives.
“Jones, what’s going on? Where’s Ben? Why are you sending people to get me? What’s going on?” Sara ran to Jones without waiting for the car to completely stop.
“Sara, it’s bad, really bad. I don’t know what happened. Ben was shot four times. One bullet hit him in the head. The doctors are waiting for you. They want to discuss the options with you. Sara, I don’t know what to say.” Jones rushed through the facts as he dragged her to the elevator. He pushed the 4th floor and the door close button.
Sara could see the weariness in Jones’ face. She’d heard what he said, but it hadn’t registered yet. A terrible sense of dread settled over her.
“Sara, I don’t know anything else. You haven’t said much, but you’re getting pale. Say something!”
Sara had nothing to say. She needed to see Ben. She needed to see he was going to be okay.
The elevator stopped on the fourth floor. Jones stepped off onto the surgical floor. Shocked, Sara stood in the elevator a little too long. Jones pulled her out. They stopped at the nurses’ desk to announce Sara’s arrival. The nurse directed them to a small room where they could wait for the doctor.
Sara hated the room. Four chairs outfitted the room. The door had a small window. The walls were all off-white and bare. Sara wouldn’t sit down. She paced the floor.
“Why do we have to wait here? I want to see Ben. The doctors can talk to me while I’m with him. Why am I waiting here?” Sara continued to pace.
“Sara, the doctor will be right here. They were waiting for you while Paul was bringing-”
“I’m Dr. Miles. Mrs. Stephens, your husband is in serious trouble. He was shot four times. He was hit in the head, abdomen, and twice in his left leg. He was kicked repeatedly in the abdomen and head. Evidence shows your husband fought every strike he received until a final blow to the head put him in a coma. We’ve taken him to surgery to remove the bullets from his leg and abdomen. We cannot remove the bullet from his head. The brain has some swelling. When he comes back from surgery, we’ll monitor him. We want to know if the swelling in the brain that is causing the coma is temporary or permanent.”
“Dr. Miles,” Sara didn’t let him to continue. “I understand everything so far, but how’s Ben doing? Is he going to be okay? How long will he be in surgery? When can I see him?” Sara panicked.
“I think it would be best for you to call family. I don’t know how long he has. We may not get the chance to monitor the swelling. His chances-” The nurse from the nurses’ station interrupted them. Sara watched them as they spoke. Sara’s heart fell into the depths of her stomach as the doctor ran through a set of doors.
“Sara,” Jones put his arms around her and guided her to a chair. “Do you want me to call Ben’s parents?”
“Jones, I don’t know. Did I just hear the worst or is it real?” Sara put her head in her hands. She wondered where the tears were. Shouldn’t she be breaking down now? What was next? What was she supposed to do?
“Sara, I heard what you heard. The doctor said, he didn’t know. I think you should call Ben’s family. Can you do that?” Jones took a deep breath. “Do you want me to do it? Sara, I don’t know what to say. I need to do something for you.” Jones’ body trembled.
“No. I’ll call his parents. I need to finish talking to the doctor. I have to know what I’m talking about. I have to know everything. I hate not knowing. I can’t figure out why I’m not crying. I feel numb inside. I feel like the earth is about to open up. It’s like a rolling thunder and it’s getting louder and louder. Eventually, it will open and swallow us.” She turned to him. “Does Steffi know she’s going to be there with the girls for a while? The girls are going to be upset to know I’m not there and neither is Ben. What is Steffi going to tell them? Ben always told them, ‘Don’t worry. Daddy will be here in the morning.’ I can’t talk to anyone until I know more. Where did that doctor go? He left without finishing talking with us. Why would he leave us sitting here?”
As Dr. Miles approached the room for the second time, he observed Sara Stephens for a minute. She finally sat down. In her chair, she leaned against the cop. He knew she didn’t realize there were two rooms full of police officers waiting for word of their brother or hoards of media waiting in the front of the hospital for a report on the injured police officer. He hated this part of his job. It was never easy to talk to family about the condition of their loved one. He knew she was waiting for answers, but he didn’t have all the answers.
When Dr. Miles opened the door, they turned to him. Their eyes spoke for them. He struggled to focus on them.
“There was some excitement during the surgery, but he’s stable now. He’s still in a coma. By stable, we only mean his heart is not in immediate danger of stopping, nor is he in immediate danger of bleeding to death.” He inhaled and exhaled deeply. “Mrs. Stephens, it is unlikely Ben will survive the night. I’m sorry. We’re making him comfortable. When he’s ready, he’ll be moved to a room in ICU. You can see him for a few minutes. Mrs. Stephens, I’m sorry.” He started to leave the room when the wife grabbed his arm.
“Dr. Miles,” She pleaded. “Please do everything you can. If Ben has a chance, please give it to him.”
“I promise, Mrs. Stephens. We are doing everything we can.” He left the room with a heavy heart.
When the doctor left the room, Sara’s world crashed around her. The earth hadn’t opened yet, but it felt close. She retreated to feeling desolate. She leaned against the wall behind her, but the wall didn’t support her. She felt Jones grab her as they both slid to the floor. Sara began to cry a silent gut-wrenching sob.
After a while, Sara pulled herself together. She realized she would never be the woman she was yesterday afternoon, but she had to go on. Sara unlaced herself from Jones. She stood and decided she would survive for her family, though her family may be short one person soon.
Sara walked to the phones. How did she do this? She hadn’t prepared for something like this. Ben and Sara had plans for the unthinkable. But those plans were for finances and the children. There was never any “this is how to call my parents” plan.
Sara sat and stared at the phone. She knew her in-law’s number. Her fingers refused to push the buttons. She looked down at her watch. In her haste to get dressed, she forgot to put it on. A quick glance down the hall at the nurses’ station showed a clock. 5:50. They would still be sleeping. Sara picked up the phone, put it to her ear, switched ears, and hung it up again. She wondered how to tell Ben’s parents they may never see him again. How was she going to tell the girls? How was she going to tell them Daddy had been hurt or worse, he might not… No, she wasn’t going to say it. If she didn’t say it, maybe it wouldn’t happen
Sara looked at the clock. 5:58. She picked up the phone again. This time she dialed their number. Mary Stephens answered the phone on the third ring.
“Mom, this is Sara.” Sara took a deep breath, exhaled and took another.
“Sara, is everything okay? Are the girls alright?” Sara could picture her mother-in-law starting to sit up in bed. She probably was reaching for the lamp at that moment.
“The girls are fine, Mom. I’m calling, well, Mom, it’s Ben.”
“George, pick up the phone, Sara’s calling us. She said it’s about Ben. George, go get the phone in the office.” Sara could picture Mary pushing George out of bed. He picked up on another line.
“Sara, it’s Dad. We’re both on the phone. What’s the matter, honey?”
“Ben…Ben’s been hurt. Well, it’s more than that. I think you…I mean you need to come here immediately. He’s at St. John’s Hospital.”
“Sara, what’s going on? What do you mean Ben’s been hurt? How badly is he hurt? What happened?”
“He was shot. The doctor said to call the family.” Sara didn’t want to say too much over the phone, but she knew they wouldn’t let her off without as much information as possible. Sara hadn’t fully organized all the medical information herself. “The news is not good right now, but I don’t have all the information. The doctor emphasized the need to call you. When can you be here?”
“We’re on our way. Where are the girls?”
“The girls are at home with Steffi. I was called to the hospital during the night. They’re still asleep. They don’t know anything. Mom, I haven’t called Stacy or Matt yet. Could you do that? I want to go back and wait for the doctor. Ben should be going to a room soon. I want to be there.” Sara started to hang up the phone, but quickly drew it back to her ear. “Mom, please get here soon.”
Sara hung up the phone. She felt bad about asking her in-laws to call Ben’s brother and sister, but she used all her energy to call them. The thought of repeating this was unbearable. Sara thought about calling her sisters and brother, but she couldn’t do it. She would ask Jones to call them. Sara realized Jones wasn’t with her. She wondered where he was. He had always been wonderful to Ben. They were good friends.
Sara walked back to the waiting room. Before she reached the room, she spotted a police uniform through a window. A normal curiosity to police officers drew her closer to the room. As she approached it, Sara realized it was full of police officers as was the room next to it. Sara recognized a few of the officers, but most of them she had never seen before. Jones stood in the first room. While the room was pretty quiet, the din decreased as officers saw Sara come closer to the room. The few officers that Sara recognized came to her, hugged her, and offered support. The other officers stood around. Jones rescued her and brought her back to the private waiting room.
“Jones, would you mind making some phone calls for me in a little while? Actually, call Steffi and ask her to call my sisters and brother for me. I can’t handle anyone right now, including Drew. My in-laws are going to call Ben’s brother and sister. Now it’s all a waiting game. I’m so tired. How is this all going to work out? Do you think the doctor is right? I mean. I know the doctor is right, but just thinking maybe he isn’t, keeps me functioning. I guess that’s what they call denial.” Sara sighed.
Jones’ nudge shook Sara from her thoughts as Dr. Miles entered the room. The doctor’s expression was the same as it had been earlier.
“Mrs. Stephens, Ben is in a room in the ICU. Before you go see him, I have to explain some things to you. We removed the bullets from his leg and abdomen. None of these bullets caused serious damage. We did not remove the bullet from his head. This bullet is lodged, but did not cause permanent damage. However, the beating his body suffered has caused irreparable damage. The trauma his head sustained caused swelling in his brain. The fluid leaking in his brain cannot be drained.” Sara glared at him. “Mrs. Stephens, your husband brain dead. There is no chance he’ll ever wake up or breathe on his own. I am sorry.” Her expression remained unchanged.
Sara could see the doctor, but she wasn’t hearing him. She decided he was being cautious. He wanted to tell her how bad Ben looked to prepare her.
Sara was wrong.
The body lying in the bed bore no resemblance to Ben. The blanket was tucked in the bed. Through the blanket the bandages on the man’s leg could be seen. His arms were bare with the exception of the IV. His slightly exposed chest was covered in wires and patches. Tubes ran through his nostrils and mouth, making it difficult to see his face.
Sara inched closer to the bed. She convinced herself it was a dream. She would see this man’s face and know it wasn’t Ben. She could tell everyone this was a big misunderstanding. This man wasn’t her husband. Sara’s conviction of the truth grew weaker and weaker as she stepped closer to the bed. The awful truth invaded her world. This was Ben. The hand lying on the side of the bed where she approached was the hand she slipped a ring on ten years ago. The hand she held for years during their friendship and marriage. The hand that caressed her hair during her pregnancies and rubbed her feet when they hurt. This man was her beloved Ben, her friend, her lover, and the father of her children. The tears rolled down her cheeks before Sara realized she was crying. The silent racking sobs began again. The doctor and nurses left her alone in the room. The sounds of the monitors and ventilator echoed. Sara continued to sob as she stared at the monitors and the body. She knew this was Ben, but she struggled to acknowledge it. She wondered how life would go on. She stared and sobbed for a long time.
Sara could feel Jones approaching behind her. “Sara, let’s go back to the room where we can talk.” She remained standing beside the bed.
“What more could there possibly be to say? Dr. Miles told me he doesn’t think Ben will ever wake up again. He thinks this is it. This is the rest of our life.”
The doctor interrupted them. “Mrs. Stephens, I need to discuss your husband’s living will. In his will, he states that he doesn’t want any drastic measures to preserve his life if he cannot survive on his own. Mrs. Stephens, your husband cannot breath on his own. Those machines are breathing for him.”
“I can’t make this decision. That may be what he wanted when he was healthy. How do I go and tell his daughters I decided to end his life. I can’t do this.” Sara struggled for control. She could feel it slipping away.
“Sara, Ben named me as executor of his living will. He left a note with the will. It’s what he wants. Dr. Miles and I will let you read the note in private. You know how much Ben and you and the girls mean to me and Steffi.” Jones handed Sara an envelope. They left her alone in the room with Ben and his letter.
Sara looked at the letter. This was her last communication from her husband. He wrote this knowing this could happen. Anger crept up on her. Sara continued to look at the letter. Opening it meant admitting there were no options for Ben. She wasn’t ready for this, but ready or not, this was her world. She had to read the letter. Jones and the doctor were waiting for her.
Sara opened the envelope and unfolded the letter. She smiled for a brief moment. Ben’s writing was atrocious. She would recognize it anywhere. She’d been reading his letters and notes for almost twenty years. Sara prayed for strength and courage. Prayers were all she had at the moment. Finally, she read the letter.
If you have this letter, then I know my nightmare has become yours. Steve Jones is the executor of my Living Will. I love you too much to leave that to you. Jones will make it all right. He’ll follow my wishes. He’ll make sure you and the girls are okay. He can do this. Honey, if my body and my mind are not right, let me go. If I cannot be who I was, you have to let me go. Know that I love you. I’ve loved you since I met you. You are the greatest friend I could ever have. You are my treasured lover. You are an amazing wife and an incredible mother. Our lifetime together has been so wonderfully blessed.
Please know I’ve had an amazing life because of the love you’ve brought to it. You and the girls have fulfilled me in ways I didn’t know possible. Always tell the girls how much I love them. I’m sorry for the pain we suffered when we lost our babies. I would have done anything to spare you the agony of those miscarriages. Have peace knowing when Jones is ready to make the decision, I’ll be going home to our babies. You have the privilege to take care of our children here. Take comfort, knowing I’ll get to take care of our children in heaven.
Sara, I love you. You and the girls are my heart.
Sara closed her eyes. This is what she had left. She knew what Jones was going to do. Her family of six would be a family of five. It would be just Sara and the girls. She would have an empty side of the bed. How was she going to tell the girls? They would be waking up shortly. Ben’s family would be here soon. Steffi should have called Sara’s brother and sisters by now. There was no one left to tell except the girls. She would have to leave the hospital to tell them. Sara didn’t want the girls to come here.
Jones and Dr. Miles returned to the room. Jones offered arms of comfort, but Sara was unable to be comforted. Sara knew what Jones was going to do. While she knew she had no right to be angry with him, she was. She was angry this was it.
“Sara, I’m sorry, but I will follow Ben’s wishes. I’ll do everything I can for you and the girls, but the doctor has assured me Ben’s life is over. He can’t wake up. His brain is dead. Sara, I have no choice. I have no…” Jones’s eyes welled with tears.
“Jones, can you wait until Ben’s family gets here? They should be here shortly. Please let them say goodbye.” She withdrew emotionally. She removed herself for her own peace. She could be strong this way. She could fall apart later.
Jones looked toward the doctor. Dr. Miles signaled with a nod.
Jones left Sara alone. He called Steffi. He told her he would bring Sara home in a while. She had to be the one to talk to the girls. He walked to the waiting rooms where the fellow officers sat waiting. He informed them that they would be losing a brother. He asked that they clear the hospital for the family’s sake.
Sara remained in the room as her and Ben’s families arrived. She stood by his side while each person came to say goodbye. After Ben’s parents said their final goodbyes, Sara stayed behind to say goodbye alone. She asked to be present when they turned off the life support machines. Sara held Ben’s hand long after the monitors stopped, long after the nurses left the room. She didn’t cry. She didn’t get emotional at all. The emotions would come later. She needed to be with him while he passed from this family to their other.