About the same time that L.B. (little brother) was married, we found out that my Dad had some sort of growth on his lung. He had not been well for several months and finally Mom talked him into seeing his regular physician. At first the doctor thought the pain was coming from acid reflux or some such thing. When the pain persisted, Mom got him back in to the doctor. Two days after my Dearest Daughter turned 18, we found out about the growth after Mom showed Doc a picture of Dad taken at Christmas. His health had so declined from December to March that Doc was taken aback and realized what was likely going on. A tumor. All of Dad's other symptoms (pain, sleeping often, loss of appetite, etc) suddenly made sense.
I tried not to cry and was fairly successful. Even when I told The Brood (my five kids). I just couldn't cry when I didn't know for certain what was happening. Plus, there was just too much happening. The Chick Magnets (my twin sons) were turning 16, Dearest Daughter's prom and graduation were in the very, very near future, and there were scores of other activities to think about.
To make a long, drawn out story as short and painless as possible, I'll just go ahead and tell you that Dad had non-small cell cancer. It is likely that it was caused by smoking, something my dad had done since he was 14 years old. It took both a lung and liver biopsy to get a definite diagnosis. There were also a few scans. In the end, the cancer had spread to his liver and the exterior of his stomach. His oncologist, a very kind and compassionate man, gently explained to Mom, L.S. (little sister), and me that there was no cure for Dad, only chemo to ease his pains and improve his quality of life for the few months he had left. Hospice was an option as well. Dad chose the chemo that Wednesday, but on Thursday morning his pain had increased significantly, causing him to ask Mom to call in hospice instead.
So, we called them in and got Dad everything we thought he'd need for what we had concluded would be about a two-month ordeal. They brought a shower chair, a potty seat, portable oxygen, a wheelchair, and a hospital bed. The only thing Dad got to use was the bed, and that was only for one night.
That Friday was the baccalaureate service for Dearest Daughter's graduation, but L.S. called that morning to ask if I could come over because Mom thought I needed to be there because Dad had had a bad night.
After going to a hair appointment, I headed over there with enough outfits to last through the weekend's activities. Namely, my daughter's graduation. I had no idea what would happen that weekend, but when I got to my parent's house things were worse with Dad. His breathing was labored, and his pain was intense. We called hospice for oxygen, which Dad had refused the day before, but clearly needed now. If nothing else, it would help him relax and rest a bit better.
I had left my boys with Mom the night before because Dad was having a hard time getting around. I knew that if he had to get up, she would never be able to help him in or out of the bed. L.S. and one of the boys had gotten Dad up that morning and could not get him back in the bed. If it was not enough to tear my heart out seeing Dad nearly immobile, hearing my sister tell me that my 16-year-old son had tears streaming down his face because he had to help his granddad out of the bed . . . well, it's just not something you ever want to experience.
I had asked Mister (my husband) that day to pray for God to spare Dad through the weekend. When he asked why I didn't want my dad to live longer than that, I told him that I knew in my heart it was Dad's time, but I could not possibly choose between my oldest child's graduation ceremony and being with my family at Dad's side. And my prayer's were answered, though not in the way I thought they might be. At exactly 4:00 p.m. on Friday, May 18, 2007, one day before my parent's 43rd wedding anniversary and two hours before the homeschool co-op's baccalaureate service, my Dad went to be with the Lord. Although Dad's immediate family were there, two of his sister's and his only brother arrived about ten minutes after his last breath.
I can't even really begin to tell you all the emotions that flooded over me during that time. In some ways, it is all very vivid, even a year later. In others, well, I just don't remember. Even though there were many emotional situations happening within about a month's time in my life (kids turning 18 & 16, oldest child graduating, a dad who might die), and, more specifically, within a three or four day period, I think it helped to have something to focus on other than Dad's illness and sudden death.
That weekend was an odd mix of jubilation and deep sorrow. We made it through the baccalaureate service that Friday, visited the funeral home that Saturday morning to arrange for Dad's viewing and service, rejoiced with the other parents at the graduation that evening, visited and served guests at Dearest Daughter's graduation party, and sat through homecoming services at church Sunday morning. Monday evening we held Dad's viewing, and Tuesday was the day of the funeral services.
One thing my Dad wanted was for all of the family to ride together in a limo from the funeral home to the cemetery. The company he had worked with for fifteen years paid for us to have that, and I must say that it is a memory I'll keep forever. All of the adults were in the front car, and my brood rode in the second car with my brother's and sister's children.
Life has been a constant change since that time, but I won't bore you with all the details of all that's happened. Though we all really miss Dad something terrible, I would never wish him back. He knew where he would wake up and was ready to go. God answered Dad's prayers . . . and ours . . . by not allowing him to suffer month's of constant pain . . . and days of being doped up on morphine.
Not many people understand that sometimes God's mercy is allowing someone to leave this life a little earlier than we'd like them to leave. But you could never convince me to try to get him back, even for a minute. I know that one, someday soon, I'll see him again.
One thing I learned during this difficult time is that God's grace truly is sufficient. Losing a loved one to death is something I have dreaded my entire life. Up until that time, it was difficult to imagine what it would be like to live through something like that. Well, I learned that you can live through it, survive it, and grow from it. The day Dad went Home I came across a verse that has stuck with me since that time.
Psalm 73:28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.
Three important truths jumped out at me in the verse:
- Drawing near to God is a good thing; to make it though all that we went through at that time, I had to!
- I was not in charge then, nor have I ever been in charge of my life. The sooner I learn to trust God in every area of my life, the sooner I will be able to live in peace.
- Even in the hard times, God is at work in my life and I will tell others!
If you are going through hard times, draw close to God (it's a good thing, Martha Stewart!), trust God, know He is at work in your life, and tell others about it!
Dad, I love you and miss you.