Eight years ago today I held you in my arms for the very first time. These days you don’t fit into my arms quite as well as you used to, but that doesn’t stop you from crawling into my lap and showering me with cuddles.
As I sat outside this afternoon watching you play Simon Says with the neighbor kids from a quarantine-able distance, my heart sank for you. When we talked about your birthday weeks ago I was secretly planning how we could get together with friends to celebrate the amazing kid that you are and then over the course of the past week our lives took an incredibly drastic turn.
I don’t know what the end of this looks like. I don’t know how long this will go on. Weeks? Months, maybe? In the meantime, I want to remind you (and me too) that nothing that happens in our lives ever catches God off guard. He is never surprised. He is never reactionary.
He is just. He is loving. He is fair. He is kind. He is holy.
If there is anything I can teach you in the months and years to come, I hope it is this… Jesus is all you need.
No amount of striving will save you, nor good deeds, nor pure thoughts. No amount of ignorance or apathy can pardon you. Only the death and resurrection of Christ can do that. So my prayer each day is that our Lord draws you ever closer to Him.
When my father came out of the hospital at the end of January 2019, it took him a little while to gain traction with his recovery, but little by little we began to see improvements. And then something amazing happened… the days got longer, the weather got warmer, and my father got stronger. As winter melted into Spring and then Spring blossomed to Summer, I was in awe of the progress he made. He started going back to work every day and not long after that he began driving himself to and from the shop. It seemed we had finally gotten over the hurdle of his mistreatment.
He really did have a good summer. He was stronger. He put on weight.
It wasn’t long after the start of autumn that things started to unravel. He was placed on some new medications, which wreaked havoc with his system. He stopped eating as much. Then he started losing weight. All of his hard fought progress wasted away. It was difficult to watch.
Weeks later, as the days got shorter, my ectopic rupture happened and suddenly everything seemed to spiral out of control. I laid on the couch recovering as I watched my father shuffle around the house, trying to gain back his strength, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it this time. I could tell he was getting tired. As I sat on the couch I thought, let’s just make it to spring. He’ll feel better in the spring. The longer days and the warmer weather will rejuvenate him once again. The winter will be hard, but if we can just get him to the time change, he’ll be ok.
A few short weeks later I sat next to him in the ICU holding his hand. I asked him to say hi to my babies in heaven, told him I loved him, and then, dear friends, I watched him die.
When I left the hospital that afternoon, the sun was already starting its descent. The weather was pleasant, an unusual December day, it’s warmth mocking the frigid weight that had settled on my mind. My father was dead.
Spring had been a goal too far. In the end, exhaustion had won. Sickness had attacked a body that had fought so hard and so long. With no reserve, his body finally gave out, and while he never said it in the weeks leading up to it, I think he knew. I’m almost sure he did.
Tomorrow the sun will set later. The weather is starting to get warmer. The trees are budding. The flowers are pushing through the thawed soil. Spring is almost upon us.
How I wish he was here to see it.
I miss him each day- more each day if that’s possible, but I can say with absolute confidence that given the choice, he would stay where he is, in the presence of his king, and in the arms of the ones who went before him.
Nearly every night I have variations of the same dream. I’m back in the hospital, in Room 12 of the ICU, watching my father die and being powerless to stop it.
One of my most important roles over the past year and a half was being an advocate for my father. Once during that time I had a nurse take me aside and tell me that I needed to stop researching things on the internet and leave things to the professionals. “He’s weak and frail, honey,” she said with a syrupy southern accent, “so you need to stop it. You are just upsetting yourself.”
“I know that one day I won’t be able to advocate for him. One day he will be too weak and too frail, and there will be nothing I can do to help him. But until that day, I will do whatever I can to get him the care he needs. Now call his doctor and have her look at this!” I responded while handing over an NIH study I had tracked down online that was a verbatim explanation of my father’s condition that the doctor’s had yet to pinpoint. A half hour later his medical team was onboard with what I had discovered and within 48 hours he was home.
Having spent a lot of time around hospitals in the past year and a half I have learned a very important lesson- you have to advocate for your loved ones. If it hadn’t been for me, my mom, or my sister stepping in on multiple occasions, my father’s story would have ended much sooner.
We watched doctors make some pretty bad decisions. We educated ourselves and we intervened whenever necessary. We asked questions, we demanded answers. There were times when we barely stopped doctors and nurses from giving my dad medicine he was allergic to. We pushed for nutrition and hydration as doctors shrugged their shoulders and wrote him off. We didn’t carte blanche accept their explanations just because they had fancy degrees and high paying salaries. We knew my dad. We knew what was normal and what wasn’t. They didn’t. They saw him in a vacuum and treated him accordingly. They didn’t see him.
That may sound unfair. In fact, most of the doctors and nurses that we met were amazing and helpful and kind. But when you have a bad doctor or nurse, the result can be dangerous. We met several callous and unfeeling doctors that nearly cost him his life on multiple occasions- the ones that read the word ‘cancer’ on his chart and never bothered to read further down where it said the cancer was completely under control. Instead they took one look at him and said, “Call hospice.”
So we fought back. We stepped in and protected him, the way he had spent our whole lives protecting us. Because that’s what you do when you love someone.
Deep in my heart I had hoped he would rally. I would have gone on fighting for years to keep him at our side. But he was weary of the battle. His body had gotten too weak and too frail and in the end, I think he was ready.
The night before he passed, my sister and I sat in his room and held his hands. It was the only time during his stay in the ICU that all of his vitals looked perfect. His breathing rate was spot on. His heart rate was where it should be. His blood pressure was steady. As I watched him with his eyes closed I saw the briefest of smiles cross his face. I’m not sure what he was seeing, but I know in that moment he wasn’t afraid. He was ready for Jesus and Jesus was ready for him.
Dear friends, advocate for your loved ones. Don’t assume the doctors know everything. They aren’t looking at the big picture. They don’t know your loved one’s ‘normal.’ Fight for them while you can with everything you have and when they are ready to go, hold their hand and tell them you love them.
I started scrolling through the photos on my phone this afternoon, looking for pictures of my dad. I have a lot of them over the past one and a half years, but most of them are in the hospital. I was disappointed that I didn’t have any good ones more recent than early November, but when I alighted on my last non hospital picture of dad, it was perfect. It was a picture of him and Tim at the shop. In the photo, they are in the spray booth. My dad is holding a spray gun and giving Tim instructions about something. I think it was the last time my father held the gun. We often joked we would bury him with it.
The next day my dad went to the hospital, and so began a series of reactions to medications and what I would mark as his obvious descent, however it was only really obvious in hindsight.
It’s only been four days since my father died, and yet how can that be? Is time moving slower? I’m sure the world outside my window has not slowed down a bit. Life goes on as it always has.
They don’t know they’ve missed the passing of a truly special man.
The most unexpected symptom of my grief is the overwhelming fatigue that follows me throughout the day. Sleep is the only thing my body craves, and yet in the middle of the night, with the moon shining through the windows, I am denied even that.
I’ve been at staring the photo of my father… the one where he looks healthy and happy, and absolutely the father of my memories. I stare at it to burn it into my mind in order to supplant the image of his final moments.
Oh how I miss him.
My dad was an artist. During the last couple of decades of his life, he dedicated much of his time to his art. He easily did hundreds of paintings. Some he hated, turned over, and used the other side. Others found their way into the dumpster. But the ones he liked, he kept. And he liked a lot of them. There are piles of paintings at the shop, and many hanging on the wall. Here at home, we have several proudly displayed, and a mass of them sitting in the basement. He did commissions as well, and it makes me happy to know his art is still out there, being enjoyed by the people he loved. He made me several pieces, which are among my prized possessions.
He was a talented man.
I’m thankful my children knew him and knew him well, and I’m glad they knew him before his sickness, the time they refer to as ‘Strong GP.’ Baby E is convinced no stronger man ever walked the earth. I’ll allow him that.
I miss his quiet sense of humor and his quick wit, which turned any family meal into a playful banter. I miss the way he used to call me on my commute home from work to read me his latest poem. I miss the way he would gather the family to unveil his newest painting. I miss the way he would dig through the recycle bin to take out any containers he thought might be useful at the shop. I miss his ingenuity that could conquer any problem set before him.
I really, really miss him.
Thankfully I know where he is, and it makes the hurt bearable. I’ll never stop longing for one more hour to hold his hand or hear his voice, but our lives here on earth are but vapors, and soon we will meet again.
I love you, Dad.
Today marks the end of another journey. Five years ago I made a commitment to blog every single day for a year. That first year turned into two and eventually into five. Every single day. Five years. 1,873 posts.
I had little imagined the stories I would tell- the raising of my children (nearly the entirety of Baby E’s life), the loss of two babies, and the death of my father. At times it has been a devastating journey.
Many of you have been here since the start. Thank you for that. Thank you for the words of encouragement that you have showered on me over the years. I have not always responded, but I have read each one of them and treasured the person who left them.
So this is the end… A soft ending, actually, because old habits die hard. I’ll be back. Maybe every day, but probably not. I’ve made no commitment to myself.
I think I’m ready for a new adventure and perhaps a new adventure is ready for me.
These past two months, grief has been my constant companion- awakening me in the middle of the night, shouting at me in the silence and darkness of my room, staring back at me from the scars on my stomach.
It’s been in the sound of hospital alarms and the ringing of my phone that lurched me from my hard fought slumber.
It was in the anesthesia fog that marked the passing of my child. It was in the way the ICU nurses stopped asking what room I was going to visit, and just started saying, “Come on in, honey.” It was in the tears of the people around me. It was in the familiarity of the hospital hallways. It was in the holding of my father’s hand, feeling its warmth, and watching that fade.
I’ve lived a lifetime in the past two days, and even more in the weeks before.
This is hard. So unbelievably hard.
But in the midst of my tears, when everything seems like tatters in my hands, I am reminded of my hope.
I need Christ. Not the meek, quiet Christ of children’s Bible stories. I need the turning over tables, walking on water, weeping at graves Christ. The Christ that hates sin and death more than I do, the one that vows it isn’t forever.
I need the Christ that carried a heavy and bloodied cross through the streets of Jerusalem stumbling, and gasping for breath. I need the Christ that hung on a tree under a sun scorched sky, sipping vinegar, and struggling to breathe, while the blood poured down his face from the crown of thorns on his brow. I need the Christ that endured the absolute judgement of God in heaven – my substitute, my proxy.
I need the one the grave could not hold, the one who conquered death, so that death could not conquer me.
I need Christ.
And I have him. Through my tears and in the depths of my grief, I am not alone. I am never alone. And the peace that passes all understanding gets me through each moment. The joy of the Lord makes it possible to face another day. What freedom there is in Christ, what lovely freedom.