When We Ran Out of Miracles.

Posted by Mary Marvella | 9:30 PM | 6 comments »

Author's Note: This is a very emotional piece for me because it is true. I don't usually write inspirational articles but I entered this in a Southeastern Writers Workshop in the Inspirational category and was a finalist. It helped me heal.

My sister Carolyn and I stood in the small dark chapel of the Medical Center in Macon, Georgia. We’d spent Thanksgiving day in the hospital. Mama had sent us there to pray.

I'd spent plenty of time thinking during the two-hour drives from north of Atlanta to Macon, then back every two weeks the year before we moved Daddy to a personal-care home. For the nine months he was there I visited often. I thought about how long my parents had been together and how hard it must be for Mama to leave him in someone’s else’s care. I thought about what his illness would do to him. Our miracles had run out.

I'd shed tears already. Mama and I had discussed every aspect of his Parkinson's Syndrome and Alzheimer's, his dementia, and every cleanup problem he caused. She also shared each cute or funny story. We'd go over anything as often as she needed, thought sometimes I wanted to cry instead of laughing. She liked to laugh.

I'd prayed during the hours of traveling and every visit. I'd asked God to make Daddy’s passing quiet, quick, and painless. Daddy had been sleeping most of the time and was usually disoriented and lost. Nine months didn't seem quick, but I knew some people had been in personal care homes for years. Pneumonia, which had put him in the hospital this time, wasn't painless.

We were with him at the end, touching him, talking to him and reassuring him, even when the only response was a grimace on his face or moan of pain.

Carolyn and Mama kept saying Daddy might get better. Not a chance. He was down to less than one hundred pounds and had pneumonia for the second time in three weeks. I think God had decided it was time to take him home. We authorized every miracle of medicine available to make him more comfortable.

Carolyn had mentioned miracles. Maybe the part of the miracle was that I could take time to stay with him since my daughter was grown by then. Maybe part of the miracle was the strength my sister found, in spite of her own physical problems. Maybe part of the miracle was that Mama was able to endure the long hours we devoted to being there for him.

I felt we'd had our share of miracles. Besides, what miracle was there to ask for him? A recovery wasn't in the cards. Recovering from the pneumonia to go back to a nursing home to hurt and become even weaker wasn't what I'd ask.

So, why were we in the hospital chapel? To please Mama. It was just a place to me. I did have an eerie feeling being where people came for peace from their despair. We signed the book, in case Mama checked.

People had written their names and prayer requests and more. Finally I knew what to write.

"The family of James Overby has had more than our share of miracles. We ask that God will grant a miracle to someone who needs one more than we do, maybe a family whose loved one has not yet lived a full life or who has young children." That certainly activated my allergies and put a lump in my throat. Lack of sleep for four days and nights could have caused the same symptoms. We won't even mention the grief.

How can I not feel another miracle was due? There are surely miracles I hadn't heard about, but there were plenty I had. They weren't accompanied by flashes of light or thunderbolts or bright lights or angelic voices.

Fifty-four years before seventeen year old James Overby was scheduled to go to Germany with his military unit in world War II. He was honorably discharged when his mother wrote his commander that he wasn't eighteen yet. Most of his unit didn't return.

Six years later I visited my daddy in a VA hospital in Augusta. He was in for tests, then sent home with months to live. The dark spots his doctors had seen on his x-rays had disappeared two months later, after no treatment. He lived to raise three children, go back to school, even with only a sixth grade education, and become a minister and a teacher.

Ten years later, Daddy was chaperoning high school seniors at Tybee Island, near Savannah, Georgia. On the first day of the trip his excited charges were caught in an undertow caused by a whirlpool. Daddy had driven the bus and was tired, but he went into the water and saved the frightened students.

He pulled the last one into shallow water, then collapsed. Students pulled him the rest of the way out. Surely God gave him the strength to save his students and to survive nearly drowning.

In 1964, while he was on the way to graduate classes at University of Georgia, a car accident nearly demolished his car but left him unscathed.

Ten years after one heart bypass surgery Daddy had another which didn't go so well. We learned, after it was all over, that the doctors and nurses hadn't expected him to live. I think God wasn't ready for that my dad to leave the earth yet.

Fifteen years after that, we learned Daddy had Parkinson's syndrome, and Alzheimer's. Mama had retired from her job at the Mercer University library at seventy in February. Daddy was diagnosed later in June.

On February 16, 1998, his birthday, my gentle father became violent and we had to call for help and put him in the hospital for evaluation. Mama would have to let someone help her take care of him. Where's the miracle here? He wasn't hit by a car, lost, or harmed. He could find the car keys but couldn't unlock the car or start it.

Before Daddy was hospitalized, Mama had two heart attacks she didn't recognize. She took his nitroglycerin, as a last resort, and stopped the symptoms. During those times Daddy didn’t burn the house or wander off as he could have. He took his medicine without a hassle, ate foods he could open and eat uncooked, and lay beside her to comfort her.

More miracles? Once Mama adjusted to the changes, she organized an Alzheimer's support group at her church. Their group grew, reached more people, year after year. People in her church became involved and inspired by her dedication.

Daddy lingered long enough to get his family together and for Mama to make burial arrangements. I felt his last breaths and his passing was gentle and peaceful.

Seventeen year old James Overby from Enterprise, Mississippi, found seventeen year old Mary McKeown in Augusta, Georgia, I'd say God sent a miracle. She said it was the other way around.

Not all miracles are big, or impressive, or recognized as miracles. There may be no choirs of angels singing or glowing lights. I haven't seen any. The miracle may not be what we requested or what we thought we wanted or needed.

Just when I think I've run out of miracles, one slips in and surprises me.


  1. Beth Trissel // August 25, 2007 at 9:14 AM  

    This was a very touching story, Mary. Particularly that you gave that last miracle to someone else.
    Thanks for sharing this.


  2. Anonymous // August 25, 2007 at 12:00 PM  

    Thanks for sharing this story. I'm sure it speaks to many people in many situations.

  3. Mona Risk // August 25, 2007 at 3:53 PM  

    What a great story Mary. It touched a sensitive cord for me as I was repeating all last week. "it's a miracle." We almost lost our 3-year old adorable granddaughter as her life-saver ring flipped over in the ocean. I was ten steps behind her while she was heading out. Still when I saw the ring upside down and I didn't see her, my heart stop. I screamed my husband's name. He was close by too and we rushed. He caught her before me and I disentangled her from the ring. She was crying, but otherwise she was fine not even coughing water. I kept saying Thank God.


  4. Cinthia Hamer // August 27, 2007 at 8:44 AM  

    Mary, thanks for sharing this story. I remember when this all happened and couldn't believe how strong you were the entire time. I would have had a major come-apart.

    Mona, I'm so happy your granddaughter is okay. Just recently a writer friend lost her 5 year old in a ripcurrent. Such a sad loss of a beautiful vivacious little girl.

  5. Mary Marvella // August 29, 2007 at 1:40 AM  

    Thanks for the comments, ladies. Thank God for my friends!

  6. Karin Tabke // August 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM  

    mary, what a wonderful tribute to your daddy.