My Father’s Grip

I grew up in the little town of Princeton, West Virginia.  My Dad worked for the railroad there; first the Virginian, and then Norfolk and Western.  The railroads were a central part of life there in those West Virginia mountains.  It was coal country, and trains were vital for the coal industry.

The sounds of those trains, heard at all hours of the day and night from our home not too awfully far from where Dad worked, were an ever-present part of my childhood.  Even now, the sound of a train will take me back to those early days. 

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Dad worked his way up the “ranks” and eventually became a train dispatcher.  I don’t know how long it was before he one day told us of his promotion to Chief Train Dispatcher.  I didn’t understand much about his job, but I was always proud that he was a CHIEF Train Dispatcher.  He had a very responsible job, working long hours and often on weekends, or getting calls at all hours of the night to go in if there was a dreaded derailment. 

Dad at railroad, 1975

Sometimes Dad would let one of us kids go to work with him on a Saturday, especially if he was only working a half day.  I just loved those Saturdays when it was my turn to go to work with him!  I remember entering the old wooden train depot building, where we would walk up a long set of wooden stairs to his second-floor office.  This old building smelled of wood; tobacco in various forms; pencil erasers; and trains, of course.

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There were crisp sounds of radio static as the men talked to the engineers on the trains; telephones ringing; the staccato ping of old typewriters; and the roar of huge trains when they would pass below us. 

Dad at railroad, early days

Dad would give me some paper and a pencil, and I would pretend to be working just as he was.  I loved watching the lights come and go on the huge control panel behind his desk, showing the progress of various trains that were running all over southern West Virginia. And always, sooner or later, Dad would take me down the hall to the Coke machine and the snack machine.  He would buy me a Coke and a pack of Nabs, and I was in heaven!

What made the biggest impression on me, though, was when Dad would go down those long stairs and outside to the train track, taking me with him.  Sometimes he would attach a paper message to a pole there beside the track, and then we would wait.  Soon I would hear it…the unmistakable sound of a train in the distance, coming ever closer to us. 

The clickity-clack of the wheels, and the train whistle blowing, blowing, blowing in the distance, told me that soon the train would be bellowing past us…right in front of where we were standing!  And suddenly, there it was!  Huge and black and so very loud and terrifying, too. 

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Yet I wasn’t afraid, even though I was so close to such power and danger.  You know why?  Because my dad held my little hand in his big hand.  He held gently yet firmly.  I trusted him totally.  I knew that where we were standing was safe, and though the train was very loud and scary, my dad knew just where we needed to be to stay safe and secure. 

Soon a splash of red passed by.  The caboose!  The conductor stood outside the caboose.  He grabbed the paper message off the pole, waved at us while we waved back, and the train disappeared up the tracks.  All was well.

In the Bible we read about the man named Joshua, whom God told to lead His people of Israel across the Jordan River into the promised land.  It was a daunting, scary proposition.  But as God gave His orders to Joshua, this is what He said: “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.  I will never fail you or forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5) 

Guess what the words “fail” and “forsake” mean?  They mean “to relax the grip.”  And that’s not all.  In verse 7, God told Joshua to be strong, which means to “reach out and grab hold.”

Do you see the beautiful picture that God is giving us?  This God of Joshua is our God today, for those of us who know Him!  And He’s telling us to reach out and grab hold of Him as He extends His hand to us.  Then let Him do the holding, because He promises not to relax His grip on us!

There are some very scary times for all of us in this life.  Sometimes some big, dark, loud problems happen to us.  God wants us to be strong, like Joshua…reach out to Him and let Him hold our hand beside all the issues that scare us and hurt us and threaten us on so many levels. 

I didn’t understand much about trains at that young age, but I knew they were dangerous.  Yet even more than that, I knew from experience that my Dad was wise and loving and would take good care of me.  He knew just how close for us to stand, and with my hand in his, I knew I was totally safe.

Our Heavenly Father has never said we won’t have problems.  In fact, He has told us that we WILL face hard times…times that will hopefully draw us to Him and to His strong hands.  He won’t let go of us.  He won’t abandon us.  He will keep us safe in our very hard times, even when we don’t like those times or understand their purpose. 

And we can say, with total confidence, “The Lord is for me, I will not fear.”  (Psalm 118:6)  

   

 

 

Helping Dad

Gary has been in the process of putting up a small shed in our back yard, one that can hold our garden tools and implements.  Aaron has been very interested in Gary’s work.  Last Saturday, Aaron knew that Gary was going to be once again laboring out in the heat.  He wanted to go out and help Gary, so after Aaron got his morning routine accomplished, he walked with purpose to the shed site to see what he could do.

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Aaron doesn’t have great manual dexterity or skill, but Gary didn’t say a word about that fact.  He welcomed Aaron, even as he was searching in his mind for a job that Aaron could help with at that particular point. 

He told Aaron that he could help by handing him the screws when he needed them as he worked on securing the floor to the frame underneath.  But for some strange reason, Aaron said that he didn’t want to touch the screws with his hands.

Hmmmmm……

So Gary told Aaron to hold the box of screws, which Aaron was very happy to do.  When Gary needed a screw, he would reach into the box that Aaron held and get one out. 

Now Gary didn’t really need Aaron to hold the box of screws.  Gary could have easily just scooted the box around and keep it handy as he worked.  But he would never have hurt Aaron’s feelings by not giving him a job to do. 

There Aaron sat, in the hot sun, holding the box for Gary.  And talking, I’m quite sure.  Talking about his Star Wars game…….his Star Trek television show that he is watching……the latest movie he has decided to watch……and any number of other things that really only Aaron is interested in.

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I’m also quite sure that Gary would have much preferred some solitude outside……time to work alone after a long week of endless people and situations at work…….time to hear the birds……time to ponder his own thoughts.  But Gary saw beyond his own desires, and saw Aaron’s.  He knew how much Aaron wanted to help and he knew how much it would mean to Aaron to do so.

I believe, too, that Aaron wanted to do a man’s job.  Time with a man, especially time with his dad, fills a need in Aaron that he probably doesn’t even recognize. 

It did my heart so much good to look outside and see the two of them working together.  It did my heart good because I knew that it was doing Aaron’s heart even better.  And it was very pleasing to Gary to give Aaron that opportunity, but even more that Aaron wanted that opportunity to help. 

Such a simple time it was, and not one that lasted all that long.  But the impact on Aaron was huge, one that will last much longer than the actual helping did. 

Aaron walked inside later.  “Dad said I helped!” he proudly told me.  And I praised him for that, which made him smile and rub his hands together in delight before he went on his way.

Gary and I don’t have all the answers to Aaron’s needs.  On some days and in many ways, we feel like we blow it, for sure.  But I looked at this scene on that hot Saturday and I knew that Gary got it right. 

Being a dad is incredibly important, and for a dad of a child with special needs, it’s also incredibly difficult at times. 

How thankful I am for this man who has stood by my side for all these years!   He has stood unbending through hard times, but he has also bent down plenty of times to meet Aaron where he is. 

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Happy Father’s Day to Gary! 

 

Dad’s Bible

Eight years ago today we got the news that my Dad had stepped into heaven.  And for eight years before that, Dad had fought a hard fight against the cancer that eventually took his life.  So many stories of that time in our family…..so many memories of the month I spent with him and Mom before he died.  I’ve written much about it in the past.

This past Thanksgiving our family gathered in West Virginia, in our hometown.  Some still live there in Princeton.  Others had far to travel.  It was an epic gathering, really, and the first time many of us had seen each other in years.  Mom and Dad would have loved it, we all found ourselves saying over and over.  Wouldn’t they have been so happy that we did this?!

And look how we have grown.  This picture was taken in the mid-90’s.

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The below picture was taken this Thanksgiving.  Yes, we have multiplied!  And we were missing a few who weren’t able to come!

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We had a wonderful time, all too short, of hugs and laughter and lots of talking as we tried to catch up with each other.  The day was over all too quickly.  As nice as it was, though, I felt like something was missing.  It just didn’t feel the same.  I realized, as I thought about it, that the something missing was actually someone who was missing……Mom and Dad.

In the past they were the center of everything.  Stories…..laughter……teasing……singing.  So much of that revolved around them, and now for the first time this very important part of all our lives was gone.  That was the huge difference that I felt.  It just wasn’t the same, and I guess it just couldn’t be without Mom and Dad there as our focus.

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I’ve been thinking today about Dad on this anniversary of his death.  And remembering the very poignant part of our recent Thanksgiving meal when my brother, John, read to us out of Dad’s Bible.  He told us this story before he read Psalm 145.  In John’s own words:

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Regarding Dad’s Bible, it started on Thanksgiving of ’15, when I reached up to a shelf at home to get a Bible to read Psa 145 for our family.  I knew it was Dad’s Bible, but didn’t remember that he had carefully marked his daily readings with the dates on which he read each section (including the introductory notes and the 500 pages or so of study notes at the end).  When I looked at Psa 145, I noticed he had read it on Nov 26, 2000, exactly 15 years to the day before I was set to read it to my family.  There was something about that divine intervention that touched me very deeply.  When I got ready to read the same chapter to our family this year, the thought hit me to check his detailed medical journals to see what he was experiencing at the same time he was reading those passages of praise in Psalms.  He was right in the middle of his radiation treatments from his first bout with cancer.  He had already had the surgery to remove two-thirds of his right lung, and had already finished the grueling chemo treatments.  Now as he took radiation, he was circling verses like Psa 116:6, 116:15, 121:7, 126:3, 127:3-5, 131:2a. 138:8, and 139:16.  What a window into his soul to see the verses that God was using to comfort him, giving him hope and trust in the greatest challenge of his life.  And so characteristic of Dad, he was not talking with everyone about this.  It was a very intimate journey with his Lord that bolstered his soul as his body suffered.  I found myself thanking God for the man he was, and wishing I could talk with him about that journey.  I probably missed him more then than at any time since he had died.  What a treasure, though, to have that record of his triumphant faith in the midst of adversity.

 

Isn’t that amazing?  I’m so glad John shared that with us.  Dad’s “triumphant faith in the midst of adversity” never wavered as his body wavered and finally succumbed to this disease that we all hate.  Dad remained true to the Lord, to Mom, and to his family.

And now today we five children carry with us his heritage of faith, as do many of our children and grandchildren.  I’m so very thankful for that!  Of all the many things to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving Day, that would be one of the biggest.

We miss you, Dad, but we know we’ll see you and Mom again.  Thanks for showing us the importance of following Christ, and for living out your own faith so beautifully and consistently.

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The Nail Trim

I remember climbing on my Daddy’s lap when I was a little girl.  He was sitting in his chair near the fireplace, with his shelves of books on one side and his end table on the other.  His newspaper was on the end table where he could eventually read it at the end of a busy, tiring day on the railroad.  His Bible was also laying there within easy reach.  He read his Bible often as he sat in his chair. He was always ready and willing to listen to my questions about what the Bible said about this and that, especially as I got older.

 
But when I was little and would climb on his lap, I remember the gentleness that he showed.  In the early years he smelled of pipe tobacco and smoke…..that subtle odor that comforted me.  I can still see him emptying his pipe of the old tobacco and then refilling it with fresh, tapping it gently and pressing the tobacco down just right.  I can hear the sound of the pipe stem on his teeth and see the soft, swirling smoke around his head at the end of the day as he relaxed.

Dad was never too tired to listen to us kids as we talked to him.  He was patient and kind, and so wise.  Sometimes when I would climb up on his lap, he would read me a book.  Sometimes we would just snuggle.  And at other times, he would take my hands and check my nails.  If they were too long, he would ever so carefully trim each nail.  I sat very still, watching him take each of my fingers and cut the nail just right.  Then off I would hop and go on my way, not giving much thought to that simple deed that Dad performed. 

Until years later…..many years later.  The tables had turned, as they so often do, and I and my family had become the caregivers.  Dad was in his last month of life as the cancer he had fought for eight years was winning the battle.  I had been able to go home to help Jan and John as they cared for him and Mom.  It was a month of many cherished memories that fill my heart every day, especially during this Christmas season.  It was December when Dad died.  It was December and Christmas that he and Mom loved so much.

One day I rolled Dad in his wheelchair into the living room so that he could enjoy the pretty Christmas tree.  I helped him get onto the couch, his thin body so frail and weak.  Then I sat beside him and snuggled close to his bony side.  Words were few because it took too much energy for him to lift his head and talk.  But he still smiled….that gentle, kind smile that was his signature. 

As we sat there in the soft glow of the Christmas lights, I looked down at his fragile hands resting on his lap.  Hands that had worked hard, disciplined well, warmly hugged, and folded in prayer.  And I saw that his nails were so long.  How had we let them get in that shape?  So I looked in his tired face and I asked him if he would like me to trim his nails.  He slowly lifted his bowed head and gave me that smile as he said yes ever so softly. 

I got some clippers and a nail file, and I set to work on his nails.  I was afraid of hurting him so I worked very carefully, taking each finger and slowly trimming and filing.  He was very still and quiet as I worked.  Finally I was done.  He looked down at his hands and smiled again, and then slowly looked me in the eyes as he thanked me.  For days afterward, he talked about how good it felt to have his nails trimmed as he thanked me over and over. 

And just as when I was a little girl, the significance of that act didn’t hit me until later.  Dad showed me such love in the simple deed of trimming my nails when I was young.  Now it was my turn to show him the same love in the simple deed of doing the same for him in his weakened state.  His strength was mine when I needed him.  My strength was his when he, many years later, needed me.

And it was the love and guidance of Dad’s hands that led me to be there for him at the end of his life.  He raised me and my brother and sisters well.  He loved us deeply, worked hard for us, and led us to know and love the Lord. 

 
It seems like yesterday that I hopped off of his lap after he trimmed my nails, and ended up beside him on his couch trimming his nails beside the Christmas tree.  Now his and Mom’s memorial ornaments hang on my tree, and all I have are memories.  
 
But someday I’ll take his hand again in heaven, and Mom’s as well, and see them both strong and whole once more. 

 

In The Blink of An Eye

I’m thinking of my dad today for some very special reasons.  It’s been 6 ½ years since he went to heaven after fighting cancer for 8 years.  Dad was the one of the godliest men I have ever known.  He was so kind, selfless, and loving.  He was firm in his faith, never wavering through all the ups and downs of life, including his two bouts with cancer which finally took his life.  Yet despite his strong faith and his deep trust in the Lord, Dad seemed to have a great fear of death. 

None of us looks forward to dying, so on many levels we could understand his dread.  As he weakened and the end was coming nearer, he still seemed to struggle more and more with his uncertainties.  Finally one evening my brother John spent some time alone with Dad, talking to Dad about what was on his heart.  It was during this conversation that John was able to gently lead Dad to really express his concerns about dying.  One of Dad’s biggest issues was that he wondered what he would say to Jesus when he first saw Him.  We all just smiled and shook our heads when we heard that.  There he was again, not worried about his own pain but instead concerned about what he would say to his Lord.  And how like Dad that was!  He was always the ultimate planner and organizer, so for him to face this uncertain encounter with no plan or idea of what it would be like was very hard for him to handle.  Plus it very much showed his humility as he felt completely unworthy to stand before Jesus. 

Something else that was heavy on my Dad’s heart was the fact that he would be leaving my mother.  They had been inseparable during the 22 years of retirement they had enjoyed together.  Then when dad was put in a hospital bed, Mom slept in their bed right beside him and they held hands through the rails.  Dad knew that Mom was really showing the signs of Alzheimer’s in ways that we hadn’t seen.  He kept trying to find ways to tell us about it without Mom hearing him because he was so worried about what she would do when he was gone, and he wouldn’t be there to help her.  Part of his letting go was hearing our words of assurance that Mom would be cared for and that he didn’t need to worry about her.

But it wasn’t just that Dad was burdened about leaving Mom alone.  It was also that he was very concerned, almost fearful, of him being without her in heaven.  He was so close to her, so dependent on her in many ways, that the thought of being without her……even in heaven…..was nearly unbearable to him.  So on the night that John talked to Dad, he told Dad to remember that God said a thousand years to Him is but a day.  John said, “Dad, I really believe that when you go to heaven it’s going to be like you blink a couple times and then Mom will be right there with you.”

I don’t know that anything comforted Dad more than those words and that thought.  Later that night, as Mom and I sat with him in their family room, he very softly and slowly shared that thought with us…..and he sweetly smiled as he said it.  His soft, gentle smile….full of the hope that the separation from his Beth wouldn’t be so long after all.  We all know it was that night when Dad felt released to go on to heaven.  He knew that everything would be all right, and that Mom would join him in the blink of an eye.  Several days later he left this earth for heaven.

I’m thinking of my Dad today, and definitely my mom, for another very special reason.  Today my mother also left this earth for heaven.  She and Dad are finally together, whole and healthy at last!  I can’t imagine the joy they’re both experiencing right now to be with Jesus, and to be together for eternity.  Jan told me that Mom opened her eyes, eyes that had been shut for days.  It was as if she saw something.  Then she closed her mouth, closed her eyes, and was gone.  Did she see heaven?  Did she see Dad, grinning from ear to ear?  Did she see her Savior?  What precious and awesome thoughts those are!   

So while we cry at having to say goodbye to our last parent, we can’t help but smile and be so happy for her and for Dad.  Oh my goodness, I would love to have seen that reunion!  Someday we’ll join them there, and we’ll have so much joy and so much fun.  But until then, while we will sometimes weep and we will often miss them both, we can smile at God’s sweet goodness and rejoice over the certain hope we have of life together in heaven.  
 

Hey Mom, you and Dad have a great time up there! 

When we all get there, I do hope the Lord lets us sing “Oh, It Rained, Rained, Rained” again, just to torment dad. 

We’ll all see you in a couple blinks of an eye.    

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Gary’s military career took us to many places over the years.  Many of our family were able to come visit us in the various places that we lived, including Germany.  Fort Huachuca, Arizona, was our last assignment before Gary retired.  We had lots of family and several friends that were able to come and spend some time with us while we were there, but one trip will always stand out as the trip like none other……….the trip that no one would want to re-live.
Our military housing on Fort Huachuca, Arizona
My mom and dad came out to see us in October of that particular year.  October in Arizona is usually a great time to travel because it’s not too hot and not too cold.  Since Dad didn’t like to fly, they drove for several days across country, all the way from southern West Virginia to southern Arizona.  Mom and Dad enjoyed traveling, so the long drive didn’t bother them.  They had decided to just take their time and enjoy each day.
Our backyard view –  Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Now my mother, years prior to this trip, had been diagnosed with a very rare form of colitis.  She would go for rather long periods of time with no problems, and such was the case before they left for this long vacation trip to Arizona.  She had been fine, so she didn’t even think about bringing any of her prescription medicine.  However, on the long drive across the country she began having problems with her colitis.  As soon as they arrived at our place, later that evening, Mom pulled me aside and told me that she would need to go the emergency room the next day to be checked and to see if she could get some of her medicine.  It really wasn’t a big deal, she assured me, and so I wasn’t alarmed.
The following day, I took her and Dad to the ER in the town of Sierra Vista.  She was examined and plans were made to get her unusual prescription filled there in town for her rare form of colitis.  This would take some time, though, so in the meantime the doctor gave her something else to take.  In addition, they noticed that her blood pressure was high……….so the doctor said that she would need to come back the next day to have that checked as well.
Over the next several days, we juggled Mom’s ER visits with our day trips around southern Arizona.  There is so much to see and do there, and they didn’t want to waste a minute.  Mom’s colitis, though, was not getting any better but was actually worsening.  And her blood pressure was still an issue, so back and forth we would go to the ER to have her checked.  We were also dealing with Aaron’s seizures and behaviors……but despite it all, we were having a great time as we saw the sights and went on picnics and enjoyed time together.
One day I drove us all up through the Coronado National Forest.  We ended up at the top, at Montezuma Pass, where we looked out over the gorgeous view.  On the way back to the van from the overlook, there was just a tiny little incline with very small rocks on the ground.  Dad usually took hold of Mom’s arm to help her in an area like that, but this time she had gone on by herself.  Before we knew it, she slid on those tiny rocks and fell down.  We rushed over to help her up, and she assured us that she was fine………except that her lower leg hurt.  As we drove down off the mountain, I heard her tell Dad that her leg really hurt and that she thought she should go back to the ER to have it checked.   Now Dad, who was the sweetest husband ever, proceeded to tell Mom that her leg was fine and that she did not need to go to the ER.  At this point, they had been to the ER so many times that some of the staff knew them by name.  Dad was hoping that their ER days were over, but it was not to be.
Coronado National Forest
As soon as I dropped the kids off at our house and left them with Gary, I drove Mom and Dad back to the now very familiar emergency room.  Dad and I waited while Mom was X-rayed…….and then we were both shocked when the doctor walked out to tell us that Mom’s lower bone in her leg was broken.  Broken?  Are you sure, we asked?  Yes, we’re sure, he answered.  So Mom’s leg was put in a splint, and we were instructed to be seen by a certain ortho doctor on Monday.  This was Friday, so we had the weekend to wait.  And now Mom couldn’t walk……..and her colitis was bad, which meant frequent and VERY fast trips to the bathroom.  Oh dear.
We also, for some reason that I have forgotten, could not get a wheelchair at that time.  So we would put Mom in Gary’s desk chair with wheels, and we would roll her quickly around our quarters to the bathroom when the need would hit…….which as I said, was often.  VERY often.
We also had another little complication on this ever more interesting vacation trip.  Remember that we lived in military quarters.  When the housing authorities decide to make repairs on your quarters, they don’t typically ask if they can make said repairs.  They TELL you when they are making the repairs, and you deal with it.  Before Mom and Dad’s trip, we were told that there would be a certain project that would start on such and such a day on our house.  Just a small project…………putting on a new roof.  Oh, and since they were fairly certain that there was asbestos in the old roof that would be removed, we would need to make plans to be gone from our house on that day.  Gone…….as in gone ALL day……so as to avoid the asbestos.
You can probably guess that the day of the roof removal was on that Monday……….the Monday that Mom was scheduled to go get her broken leg put in a cast.  I had planned a full day trip to Mexico for all of us so we could do what the contractors told us to do……..which was to be gone………..and so we could avoid the nasty asbestos……….and so we could show my parents Mexico and we could shop and we could eat and we could have so much fun.  Instead, we were trapped in our house with Mom in a rolling chair with her leg stuck straight out, careening up the hall like crazy people to take her to the bathroom……and contractors at our door bright and early, asking us when we were leaving.  I explained that we were NOT leaving, and these Mexicans were trying to understand until they saw Mom……….and then they knew.  So they instructed us to keep our windows closed and good luck.
Dad and I got Mom to the doctor, and she came home with a nice new cast…….and still with her colitis, as strong as ever.  I don’t even remember how high her blood pressure was at this point, but I’m pretty sure that Dad’s and mine was right up there with Mom’s.  At least now we also had a wheelchair, and so life was a little easier……..except that our quarters weren’t exactly big enough, especially the bathroom doors, for a wheelchair.  Boy oh boy!
The Mexicans were working on the roof and we had our windows closed, but we noticed the dark clouds that were rolling in over the mountains.  Surely not.  It couldn’t be threatening rain in Arizona in October.  Not with our roof off………not with Mom in a wheelchair and a cast.  Soon our doorbell rang, and one of the Mexican men stood there rapidly firing off his mixture of Spanish and English.  I knew enough to know that he was telling me that they were hurrying as fast as they could to beat the rain, but that most of the roof was still not rain-ready.  And as we stood there, they also told us to move our vehicles because they were spreading tar on the flat roof………and the wind was whipping up because of the approaching storm.  So now we had very little roof and we had blowing tar.  Yes, blowing tar.  The tar didn’t get on our vehicles that we moved, but it blew all over our yard and carport……..and it seeped into our storage room………..and it got tracked all over the inside of the house.
Then the rain came………a hard, blowing rain.  The workers all left………..and we were left with drips coming out of our ceiling all over our quarters.  We used trash cans and buckets and bowls to catch the water.  Which meant that now we had Mom with a broken leg in a cast and with colitis………bad colitis, remember………being pushed quickly up the hall to the bathroom while dodging buckets and bowls and trash cans……….and somehow making it with our help to the toilet.  Soon after this rain fiasco started, I heard Mom in the bathroom laughing.  There she sat on the toilet, with steady drips of water landing right on her head.  Well, at least it was one drip that didn’t need a bucket.  We just kept the toilet lid up to catch the drips, and handed Mom a towel to hold on her head whenever she had to go.
The next day the workers returned and I tell you no lie………the same thing happened.  It rained yet again!  We had to laugh at this point.  I was so thankful for Mom and Dad’s good attitude, especially Mom’s.  Dad was getting a little stressed, of course, as he worried about her and wondered how on earth they were going to get home to West Virginia.  Finally, the decision was made.  My sister, Jan, flew out to Arizona in order to ride home with them.  I picked her up in Phoenix, and on the drive down to Fort Huachuca she asked if I could stop to let her use the bathroom.  On down the road a short way, she asked me once again to stop.  When she got back in the car, I asked if she was OK……..and she sheepishly said that her colitis had flared up.  OH NO!!!!!  She made me promise not to tell Mom and Dad, and she said the next day that she was fine……….and off Mom, Dad, and Jan went to drive back to West Virginia.
From what Jan told us, the drive back across country was pretty much a nightmare.  One day she told me that she stopped counting at 27 the number of times they stopped for Mom’s colitis attacks.  Many bathrooms were not wheelchair accessible.  Some hotels didn’t have any handicap rooms available.  It took at least 5 days to get home………..maybe more………..neither of us can remember.  I do know that Jan said by the time they got home, Dad was totally exhausted and he looked grey.  Poor Mom was wiped out………pardon the pun, but she would totally love that.
But things were not over.  Nope, not by a long shot.  When they got back home, Mom ended up in the hospital with pneumonia!  Yes……..colitis, broken leg, and now pneumonia.  But wait……….there’s more.  While in the hospital with pneumonia, she developed a blood clot and had an embolism.  She was in the best place for that to happen, although it was still a miracle that she didn’t die.  Of all things, this was her second embolism.  She had one years earlier after toe surgery.  She must be some sort of statistical miracle for sure!
This long story is just to show that through it all……….through this absolutely horrible vacation……….Mom and Dad stayed calm and strong.  Especially Mom.  Her strong will and her sense of humor kicked in, and she never acted like she was down or distressed.  She joked about everything and made the whole situation easier.
And most of all, as she lay in that hospital bed after the embolism, she said that God comforted her by giving her the verse that became her verse.  I wrote about that verse yesterday.  Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.”  She said she lay there and just let her mind dwell on that verse.  She knew that God was in charge of all this craziness, and in charge of her health………..and that if she died, it would be fine………..and if not, then she would remember that He is God.
Tomorrow is Mom’s 87th birthday.  She has Alzheimer’s and has forgotten more than she remembers now.   I bet she can’t remember that disaster of a vacation…….and maybe that’s best.  But I’m thankful that the rest of us can think of it and remember what a testimony she was through it all.
We love you, Mom!  And we think of what you always said when you had these colitis episodes……”It’ll all come out OK in the end.”   HaHaHa!  That’s my Mom!

 

What Dad Taught Me in Death

 

I’ve heard it said that our parents are the most important teachers that we will ever have.  I would agree with that statement, for as we grow we are constantly watching our parents……..listening and absorbing and learning through their words and deeds.  Hopefully the lessons learned are good ones.  My parents were very beneficial in my life in more ways than I can count.  Yet some of the lessons that I treasure the most are the lessons I learned as I watched my dad live the last month of his life on earth.  What were some of those lessons?
 
1.  Know When to Ask For Help
 
Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000, and with liver cancer in 2004.   In September of 2008, dad was put into Hospice care.  We knew that no more could be done for him medically, so as he declined I told him and Mom to let me know when they wanted me to come and help them.  I got that call on November 2, and in a few days I was on a plane headed home.  I was fearful of what I would find and how I would handle all the emotion of what was ahead, but I was very thankful that I had the opportunity to go and help my dear parents.
 
2.  Don’t Stop Thinking of Others
 
Dad had always been very kind and sweet to others, and loved reaching out to help people.  This continued even as he deteriorated.  I quickly learned that the real reason he had wanted me to come was that he was  worried about Mom.  He knew that she was physically more frail than she had ever been………..emotionally drained………and that she was showing signs of progressing dementia.  He was more concerned about me helping her than of me assisting him.  In fact, when I first arrived he resisted my help in several ways.  I understood this about him……his independence and his desire to maintain his privacy.   She was his first concern, even though he knew he was losing his fight to live.
 
 Later, when he finally allowed Jan and I to assist with his toileting needs, I found him crying one day as he sat in his wheelchair.  I knelt down and asked him what was wrong.  Through his tears, he told me that he was sorry to have to make us help him in that way.  I was so amazed at him…….at his selflessness and his kindness.  I assumed he was crying from embarrassment, but his tears were not for him…….they were for us.  He told me that he was sorry that he had to make us do this……..sorry for any embarrassment that we might be feeling, but not feeling sorry for himself.  I have never seen such love and concern as I saw in him at that precious moment. 
 
3.  Keep Your Routine
 
For as long as he could, Dad continued to get up early in the morning and to stay up as long as he could.  He needed help but he did not want to lay in bed all day.  He wanted to eat at the kitchen table, sitting there in his wheelchair and eating oh so slowly, often with his head bowed and his eyes closing.  Mom and I would speak to him, and he would perk up, slowly raising his head.  He would manage another few bites and some soft, slow conversation before slowly nodding off again.  Yet he was determined to keep going and to keep his schedule for as long as he could.
 
He also wanted to read the mail and the newspaper every day even though his eyesight was failing.  It was hard to see him struggling to read but he was not to be deterred.  He finally had Mom make an appointment with his eye doctor, even as we knew that this doctor visit would be impossible.  We didn’t tell him that, though…….we wouldn’t take away that hope that he had.
 
We would watch Little House on the Prairie videos at night.  Dad wanted to still be in charge of the remote – just like a man!  He would slowly push the volume button but he had a hard time controlling his movements, so the volume would shoot up sky high.  As he tried to correct it, the volume would go to mute.  He was frustrated but finally relinquished the remote to me and Mom. 
4.  Pay Attention to Details
 
When I first got to their home, Dad was managing to walk with his walker.   He was very, very slow…….walking with me by his side, ready to steady him when he faltered or wobbled.  Dad was always very meticulous about things and this trait continued.  He wanted his sweater on and liked it when the sweater matched his pajamas.  As he would slowly walk from room to room, he would sometimes stop and just stare down at the floor or the carpet.  Then he would ask what that spot was on the carpet, and as I looked down, sure enough I would see a bit of a leaf or a string.  I would laugh as I bent over and picked it up, and Dad would smile as I teased him about being so picky.  Yet those small details were still very important to him.  
 
5.  Mind Your Manners
 
Dad was always polite and proper, never crude or inappropriate.  I guess that’s one reason why the five of us children enjoyed teasing him.  He was great fun but he did have boundaries.  One morning as we ate breakfast, Mom……….well………..she had some gas.  She laughed and said,  “I farted!”   Dad very slowly raised his head, looked at her, and softly said,  “Passed……..gas.”   Mom and I cracked up, and Dad gently smiled – satisfied at his correction and realizing the humor of it.
 
He was always careful to say thank you when any of us helped him in any way.  Close to the end, after I had gone back to Kansas, Jan was rubbing his back and very quietly he said to her, “Do…..not…..do…..that.   Please.”   He didn’t let his situation rob him of his manners.
 
6.  Keep a Sense of Humor
 
Dad loved to laugh and smile.  He was a delight as he loved to tease in a kind way, and also was often the willing recipient of much good-natured ribbing from all of us.  Shortly after my arrival, we had to get him a hospital bed.  He was not happy about this and was especially unhappy about having the bed rail put up at night.  We had to insist, though, and he finally resigned himself to this fact.  One night as I raised the rail, he told me, “Don’t put that rail up.  I’ll remember you in the hereafter!”  And then when I walked in his room to help him out of bed in the mornings, he would greet me by calling me his prison guard or the great emancipator or other funny names having to do with my control over his freedom. 
 
One day he jokingly said, “I’m sorry for every mean thing I’ve ever said about you.  I have to stay on your good side!”  And when we bought him silly pajama pants he went along with the fun.  One day when Jan and I teasingly asked him which of us was his favorite, he immediately looked straight at his hospice nurse, Amy.  Every day there was humor from this wonderful man, even as he was suffering.
 
7.  Show Love
 
Mom and Dad were very close, especially after they both retired.  They were hardly ever apart.  When Dad had to start using the hospital bed, it was the first time in nearly 60 years of marriage that they had slept in separate beds.  We pushed his bed very close to their bed, and at night Mom would lay there with her hand between the rails of Dad’s bed.  They held hands or she would rest her hand on his arm…….still together and still close despite this circumstance. 
 
There were times that I would be holding Dad up as he stood, and there would be a pause.  I would turn to look and find that he had put his frail, skinny arm around Mom’s shoulders and was pulling her close to him.  I felt like an intruder to this moment of intimacy, and the tears would spill down my cheeks as they embraced.
 
In the midst of these days, there were times of stress.  One day Mom and Dad were facing one of those frustrating moments.  I waited in the living room until it was time for me to help him to the couch.  I sat there and laid my head on his shoulder, telling him I was sorry for how hard it was at that moment.  He smiled his sweet smile, very slowly raised his head, and said, “Smooth………it………over.”   I’ll never forget those wise words. 
 
8.  Always Pray
 
Dad continued to pray for as long as he could.  His walk with the Lord all of his life was of primary importance to him, and that never diminished even as he was weak and full of pain.  One of my dearest memories of my time there was of his quiet, halting prayers before meals.  He continued to lead us in prayer for as long as he was able.  He rarely asked anything for himself, but thanked the Lord and then made requests for others.  When my niece, Ruth, had a tumor removed from her spine, Dad was heart broken for her.  He would always pray for Ruth, sometimes with tears.  Always thinking of others………..that was my Dad.
 
9.  Be Ready to Go

 

Dad was afraid to die.  This fact puzzled me at times, although I do understand.  It’s just that Dad had such a close walk with the Lord and I was surprised at his fear.  However, as we talked I realized that he was afraid of leaving Mom…….both for her sake and for his………both of them without the other for the first time ever.  He was looking forward to seeing Jesus, but wondering what he would say to his Savior.  Dad liked having everything thought out and orderly, and this dying process was anything but orderly and known. 
 
Finally one night, John spent some time talking alone with Dad…….assuring him of things about heaven and answering his questions.  This comforted Dad greatly, and later that night Dad shared these things with Mom and me.   Our hospice nurse had told us that often a person needs to be released to die, so that night through our tears we told Dad that it was all right for him to go on to heaven……….that we would be fine and most important, Mom would be well taken care of.
 
 
A few days after that conversation, on Dec. 4, I tucked Dad into his bed at night.  I adjusted his oxygen and did  all the other things I had done so many times over that past month as I got him settled.  But this time was different.  I was leaving early the next morning to fly back to Kansas and to my family.  Dad knew it was time for me to go, but I think he was afraid.  Jan and John would be there, but I had been with him full-time for a month and he had come to depend on that.
 
As I leaned down to tell him good night, the tears fell.  I kissed him, and then he asked me if I would come back after Christmas.  I assured him that I would, even as I knew that it was unlikely he would be there at Christmas.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to kiss him that last time and walk out of his room.  I went home to Kansas the next day, and Dad went home to heaven five days later.  Oh, we miss him! 
 
But I am ever so thankful for that month with him and with Mom, and for so many special memories shared and lessons learned.  What a hope we all have, too, as we know that we’ll all be together in heaven one day.  I didn’t get to see Dad again as I assured him I would, but I do have the assurance that I WILL see him again………..for eternity.
 
And I want to thank him for all that he taught me in life, but especially for what he taught me in death.