Gabriel had the first seizure in April of 2012. We had just come back from my church’s marriage retreat, and we were excited about what God was doing in our lives. We stayed up into the early hours of the morning talking about how we thought God was going to use us in ministry. I am an ordained minister and my husband was a minister of music. We had aspirations of pastoring a church together. We finally went to bed around four in the morning.
A few hours later, I just happened to wake up. I looked over at my husband, and he was having a seizure. I had never seen anyone have a seizure before, but I immediately knew what was happening. I jumped out of bed and dialed 911. The seizure lasted what seemed like forever. While my husband seized, I tried to move him, but he grabbed my arm with such force that it scared me. My husband was 300 pounds. He rolled out of bed and almost pulled me to the floor with him, but I managed to pull my arm from his grip. The ambulance arrived and rushed him to hospital because he didn’t have a history of seizures. When Gabe finally regained consciousness, he didn’t know what happened. Immediately, he started crying. The episode reminded him of when he was hit by a drunk driver at 18. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for weeks. All he remembered from the accident was waking up in the hospital. He was afraid now because he didn’t know why the seizure happened.
The doctors in the emergency room sent us home with no real explanation. They said anyone can have a seizure at any time for any reason. Even though we weren’t satisfied with their explanation, we went home. He had another seizure that night. I called 911 again, and this time he was admitted to the hospital for tests. The doctors no longer deemed the seizures a freak occurrence. He was diagnosed with Epilepsy and put on anti-seizure medication. After a host of tests, they concluded my husband developed Epilepsy from the traumatic brain injury he sustained as a teenager. As a result, he would always be susceptible to seizures.
After the diagnosis, our lives immediately changed. We had a one year old son who he could no longer watch alone for fear of a seizure. Gabe could not drive. We had to figure out a way for him to get to work. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the anti-seizure medication, which is also used to treat behavioral disorders, had negative effects on my husband’s mood. He became extremely anxious and irritated. I would later find out he was also depressed. His quality of life greatly declined in the year leading up to his death.
When my husband had the third seizure in December of 2012, we had just found out we were expecting another baby. Although, the Epilepsy constantly hung over our heads like a dark cloud, we were excited about expanding our family. The third seizure was dramatic – the paramedics had to call the police to restrain Gabe while he was coming out of the seizure. But, we were at a place where we thought we could manage the disease. We had no idea a seizure could kill him.
The day my husband died was like any other day. In the month leading up to my husband’s death, the Lord led me to read the entire book of Isaiah. On that day, I landed on chapter 38. In Isaiah 38, God tells Hezekiah to set his house in order because he is going to die. As I did like every other day, I shared with my husband what I learned from the text. He was growing increasingly discouraged because he could not find a fulltime job. I told him we should set our house in order because God wanted us to be better stewards of our money and time. My husband didn’t respond. He just listened to me.
I worked mostly from home at the time so we had lunch as a family. We took our then 2-year old son to the Dutch Market and had a good time. After we returned home, I went to work, and my husband went to rehearsal at church. Months prior, I connected with the Epilepsy Foundation for information about how to deal with the seizures. For the first time ever, I decided to attend one of their support groups that night. I left the meeting feeling very encouraged. I met people who had multiple seizures a day, and they had spouses, jobs and children. I called my husband on the way home and told him that if he only had three seizures a year, then we could handle it. I asked him if he wanted to attend the next meeting, and he said yes.
That evening, my husband settled in and watched the NBA finals. He asked me if I wanted to watch the game with him, and I said no. I planned to wait up for him after the game, so we could spend some time before bed talking and cuddling. I was seven months pregnant so I went to bed early. After the game, my husband plopped in bed with a plate full of tacos. I looked at him and said, “Gabe, don’t eat those tacos in bed.” He smiled and went into the living room. I didn’t know it, but that would be my last time seeing my husband alive. Regretfully, I fell asleep before he returned to bed.
As with the other seizures, I just happened to wake up in the middle of the night. I looked over and saw my husband having a seizure. The seizure didn’t look more violent than the others, but I still called 911. I also called my husband’s best friend Tyler to help me bring him back to consciousness in case he was violent. I was afraid to come close to him because I was seven months pregnant, and I didn’t want him to grab or fall on me. The seizure didn’t last long, and my husband seemed to be coming out of it like the others.
“I’m right here Gabe. I’m right here Gabe” I yelled to my husband as I stood by the bedroom door.
My husband was still breathing heavily just like when he came out of the other seizures, so I thought everything was OK. However, his breathing suddenly stopped. I started yelling at the operator.
“He’s not breathing! He’s not breathing! Where are they?”
No sooner after that, the paramedics arrived. They rushed into our bedroom and rolled my husband over. When I saw his face, in my spirit, I knew he was gone. There was no sign of life. The paramedics proceeded to do CPR on him. Shortly after they arrived, my husband’s best friend came through the door.
“Tyler! He’s not breathing. He’s not breathing! What am I going to do without Gabe? What am I going to do without Gabe?”
“You don’t know that yet Lauren” Tyler said.
Tyler tried to console me and calm me down, but I kept screaming and crying. The paramedics kept working on him. They worked on Gabe while they loaded him into the ambulance. Tyler and I packed up my son, and we followed the ambulance to the hospital. While at the hospital, they walked me into the room where they were still working on Gabe. In my heart, I knew something was wrong because usually they don’t allow family into the room until the patient is stabilized. I knew the doctors allowed me in the room so that I could accept that my husband was gone.
I sat by his side while they continued the compressions on his chest. His eyes were glassy, and I saw his fingernails turning blue. I just kept praying and saying, “Gabe, we need you. Don’t go. We need you.”
After some time, the doctor said to me, “Mam, we have to stop now. Even if he came out of this, he would be severely brain damaged. We have to stop.”
I knew he was gone, but I couldn’t believe it. I went into shock. I sat there holding my huge belly in shock. The nurses had my son in another room. I said to one of the nurses, “What I am going to tell my son? He’s a black boy and he doesn’t have a daddy. What am I going to tell him?”
Some of our family members started showing up at the hospital. My mother called my aunt who lived nearby. Tyler called my brother-in-law. I had to break the news to them that Gabe died. We couldn’t believe it. He was only 28 years old.
After we made arrangements for his body to be transferred to the medical examiner’s office, my family and I returned to my house in shock. In only hours, my life was turned upside down. Just two days earlier, Gabe and I had celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Now, in addition to preparing for the birth of our daughter, I was planning Gabe’s funeral.
When I returned home, all I could do was lay in bed. More family members arrived at the house. As the sun came up, wailing broke out in the house. Hearts that were filled with so much hope and expectation, were now shattered and shrouded with unimaginable grief.
Lauren will continue her story on Friday. Please join us.
Lauren Jones is an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and serves in the Washington, DC
metropolitan area. She blogs about her life as a minister and widowed mother of two at www.throwupandtheology.com. When she’s not preaching, writing or changing diapers, she raises awareness about epilepsy and volunteers as a speaker for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). She self-published “I’m Singing This Song to You,” a letter to her children in honor of her late husband available for purchase on Amazon.