Last week, I published a tribute that my wife, Georgette, had written about her father, Dumit Ghantous. Georgette’s dad passed away on January 19, 2016. I met Dumit on August 4, 1978, when I was 21 years old. I remember the date because it was the same day I met Georgette. We met in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the Midwest Federation Lebanese Convention. From the moment I met Dumit, he treated me like I was a member of his family.
Dumit was a very unique man who was blessed with the ability to connect in a special way with everyone he met. He was very outgoing and was energized by being around other people. He had a way of showing people that he genuinely cared about them. He was a master at making people feel good about themselves.
Dumit was a tailor by trade. He loved to sing, dance, and play his oud. An oud is a pear-shaped stringed instrument that is most commonly used in the Middle East. Dumit had the ability to pick up his oud and while playing it, create a beautiful love song out of thin air about his wife, one of his children, or one of his grandchildren.
On the morning of January 6, 2016, one of Georgette’s sisters called her on the telephone and told her that Dumit’s heart had stopped beating because of a sudden cardiac arrest. One of the family members had already called 911 and there were paramedics at Dumit’s house attempting to revive him. The paramedics were able to get his heart going again and he was rushed to the hospital.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Dumit was hooked up to a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that is designed to mechanically move breathable air into and out of a person’s lungs. It is used on patients who are physically unable or incapable of breathing on their own.
The same day that Dumit was admitted into the hospital, Georgette posted a request on Facebook for prayers. Within hours, word spread throughout the local Catholic and Lebanese communities, as well as the worldwide Lebanese community. Georgette heard from relatives from different parts of the world, including California, Australia, and Lebanon. Our best estimate is that there were over 1,000 people praying for Dumit and his family.
During the first 10 days that Dumit was in the hospital, he was not able to communicate with us in any significant way. There were occasions when he followed commands to squeeze someone’s finger or move different parts of his body. There were also occasions that he opened his eyes and looked at us, but there was no way for us to confirm that he recognized us. During the first 10 days, the hospital staff attempted to wean him off the ventilator, but each of the attempts failed.
Because of Dumit’s lack of progress, we were concerned that we were either going to lose him or that he was going to have to endure an extended period of suffering. My daughter, Laura, traveled from her home in Colorado to Peoria so she could spend time with her grandfather, and my daughter Maria traveled from Chicago to Peoria with her 7-day-old baby to see her grandfather.
On Saturday evening, January 16, Dumit’s children and several of his grandchildren gathered in his room to pray. I was in the room with them. Several of the women in the room sang songs to Dumit. At one point, we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
About a half hour after we prayed the chaplet, Dumit opened his eyes and recognized the people who were talking to him. He was not able to speak, because he had tubes that had been inserted into his mouth and down his throat into his lungs and stomach. We knew he heard and recognized us because of the expression on his face and his hand gestures. When my oldest daughter, Anna, talked to him, he did all he could to pucker his lips so he could kiss her. He did the same for my youngest daughter, Teresa.
Because it was late in the evening, each of us said goodbye to him and told him that we would be back the next day. Before I left, I looked into his eyes and said, “Dumit, we’re going to get you out of here, but we need to get you better first.” He looked at me with his loving eyes. He was completely at peace. There was no anxiety. He always trusted me and I felt that he knew from our past history that I would keep my word and do whatever it took to get him out of the hospital. I repeated the same statement again and then I said goodbye and told him, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As we were walking out of the hospital, we were filled with joy and hope. All the members of our family who were able to interact with Dumit went home thinking that he had turned the corner and was on his way to recovery. As Georgette and I got ready for bed, we discussed how we still had a long road ahead of us, but we both felt that her dad had turned the corner. We went to sleep hoping that he was on the road to recovery. But that was not God’s plan for him.
At around 4:30 a.m., we received a telephone call from our daughter, Laura. She and her cousin, Mike Alwan, had taken the night shift to keep an eye on their grandfather. When Georgette answered the phone, Laura told her that Dumit’s heart had stopped beating during a routine test that the nurses had been performing. Since there was not a “do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order” in place, the hospital staff immediately went to work and were able to get his heart beating again.
After the second event, it became clear to the family that God was calling Dumit home. He had been deprived of oxygen for several minutes the first time that his heart had stopped and was again deprived of oxygen during the second event. Dumit’s doctors told the family that he was quickly failing.
For the next two days, Dumit continued to deteriorate. On Tuesday, January 19, the family gathered in his room to pray and to sing to him. As we were praying, it occurred to me that we had not yet asked the Divine Mercy to intervene. I asked my daughter Laura to do a search on her cell phone for the Litany of Divine Mercy. We then all joined in and prayed the litany. About a half hour later, while we were praying the Angelus, Dumit took his last breath.
The reason I’m explaining the details of what we went through is because I wanted to encourage you to develop a devotion to the Divine Mercy. I also wanted to share with you how our merciful Savior prepared Dumit’s family for his departure. If Dumit had died on the morning of January 6, the trauma to the family would have been unbearable. Our Lord allowed him to live so that each of us could prepare in our own way for his death. In addition, by allowing Dumit to live, hundreds of people were called upon to pray for him and his family.
The other point I wanted to make is that from a medical ethics standpoint, Dumit’s family would have been justified in putting a DNR order in place after the first event. If that had happened, we would have lost him at 4:30 a.m. on January 17. Because such an order was not in place, the family had two additional days to prepare for his death and we were allowed to be with him in prayer and song before he departed from this earth.
There is a strong trend in our culture to immediately put into place DNR orders and to withdraw life support as early as medically and ethically possible. While such conduct is sanctioned by the Catholic Church if certain conditions have been met, my preference is to not rush the process.
During the 13 days after the initial event that caused Dumit’s heart to stop beating, an Orthodox priest and three different Catholic priests gave him the Sacrament of the Sick. He also received blessings from two additional Catholic priests and a Lutheran pastor who was a close friend of the family. In addition, during the 13 days, there were thousands of prayers that went up to heaven from hundreds of people. Those prayers not only benefited Dumit and his family, but also benefited each of the individuals who said the prayers. In addition, all of Dumit’s family members and friends were allowed to mentally and emotionally prepare for his death.
Dumit’s death has created a huge void in the lives of those of us who knew and loved him. Even though his 85-year-old body finally wore out and died, his youthful and vibrant energy, enthusiasm, and magnetic personality will continue to live in our hearts forever. The worst part about growing older is having to see the people you love suffer and die. May he rest in peace.