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.
            

Quilted With Love

Some of my earliest memories of my mother revolve around her amazing skills as a seamstress.   I remember being very young and seeing Mom sitting at her sewing machine, turning out something beautiful and seemingly perfect from all sorts of fabrics.  She kept us girls busy in those early years while she sewed by giving us pieces of felt in various colors.  From this soft felt we fashioned  clothes for our little troll dolls, cutting and fitting each ugly troll as if it was a priceless and beautiful doll.  Mom provided glitter and sequins and odd buttons for us to glue onto our awkward handiwork.  We stayed busy for hours laboring over our important creations.  I don’t remember all the mess we must have made, but I do remember laboring over our little troll dolls while Mom labored over her more important sewing jobs.   Mom made small, meticulous Barbie doll ensembles which she sold in a local craft store, and also made some for us to keep.  Yet her most loving works of art were the countless pieces of clothing she made for her girls to wear.
 
Every Easter we had new Easter dresses.  I especially remember the Easter that she made all of us girls pink gingham dresses – and then made one for herself, as well.  I thought it was wonderful to not only match my sisters, but to also be dressed like my mother!   I remember the trips to Penny’s in Bluefield, the bigger town that was near our hometown of Princeton.  I loved the escalator ride down to the bottom floor, where we would choose patterns and fabrics and buttons for our new clothes.  Never did we go to the ready-made clothes upstairs or enter a dressing room.  Our clothing was there amongst the bolts of fabric, waiting to be matched to patterns and later sewn into pretty dresses and jackets and blouses.  I do believe that I took the longest to select the fabric to match the patterns as I had such a difficult time seeing the finished product in my head.  I would stand there, rubbing the fabric between my fingers, trying to visualize a finished product that somehow wasn’t materializing in my mind.  I can imagine Mom’s frustration as I lingered there trying to make this important decision………..as well as the rolling eyes of my sisters who had finished this process long before I did.
 
Mom worked full-time after we were all in school, yet still managed to sew all of our clothes.  She was a natural at this art, yes, but it still took lots of time.  She would sew late into the night, her dedication undeterred by her tiredness.  I never gave enough thought to how tiring this effort must have been to her until I had children of my own.  How did she do it all?  I have no idea, really, but she did.  Her work was not only beautiful with matching plaids and perfect zippers and flawless fit, but each stitch was filled with a love that wasn’t recognized by us until years later. 
 
One of my most special memories was of the year when we were teenagers, and Mom made us skirts for Christmas.  I don’t know how many skirts she made, but there were quite a few.  Then she not only began looking for matching sweaters to wear with each skirt, but matching knee socks as well.  She did not give up this quest for the correct colors of sweaters and socks until each skirt had what it needed to make it a perfect ensemble.  We learned about this later, from Dad, who accompanied her on many of these trips.
 
Dad, who was color blind and absolutely no help when it came to matching colors of anything, would patiently take Mom on many of these shopping trips.  I can still see him standing silently on the sidelines in the fabric stores, hands behind his back and a sweet smile on his face.  He never rushed Mom or any of us, but stood there until we had come to the point of methodically selecting every button and every spool of thread.  I can still hear him say, “Did you know that there are 53 light bulbs in this ceiling?”  Or, “Did you know that there are 271 zippers in that display?”  Dear, sweet Dad!
 
John and Jeanie’s Quilt

When Mom and Dad both retired, Mom only continued her sewing.  She had sewn for her children, for grandchildren, for friends, for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, and who knows what else.  Upon retirement, she decided to take up quilting.  Of course, she was a natural at this skill.  She practiced by making her and Dad a lovely quilt, and then took up the goal of making each of us five children and spouses a quilt.  These gorgeous works of art were each sewn entirely by hand with no sewing machine used.  She had us each pick our pattern and our colors – there I went again, having to make this difficult visual choice!  Mom never wasted a minute in any day, and before long she was completing our individual, personal, gorgeous quilts.  Dad took her to countless stores and quilt shops, patiently waiting over and over again as she selected just the right fabrics.  Each stitch was a labor of love……….each completed quilt a perfect picture of her devotion to her children.  I keep my quilt hanging in our kitchen area so that we can see it every day and enjoy its beauty, and bask in the warm memories that it evokes. 

 
Mom made many, many quilts during the next few years.  She made quilts for missionaries; she made a special quilt for a dear friend who had no mother of her own to make her one; she made a quilt for the Prophet’s Chamber at church where missionaries 
stayed when visiting; and she made a memory quilt that has special fabrics and mementos from each of us children and our children.
 
 
Bob and Jan’s Quilt
Jimmy and Kathryn’s Quilt

Mom has Alzheimer’s now and lives in an assisted living center.  Tomorrow she will celebrate her 86th birthday.  Dad knew that Mom was showing distressing signs of forgetfulness before he passed away nearly four years ago, and he worried so about her.  He would be happy with her living arrangement now and with how well cared for she is.  She doesn’t sew at all now.  She’s even forgotten how to put her jigsaw puzzles together that she loved so much.  Sometimes she doesn’t remember all of our names, and definitely not the names of all the grandchildren and great-grands.   But she is sweet and she is happy and she still seeks to serve others.

Bob and Mary Beth’s Quilt
Gary and Patty’s Quilt

And just as our keepsake quilts will always be an heirloom to pass down to our children, even more so are the pieces of our lives that she shaped and fashioned together with her tireless love and effort.  She took care of us, providing the atmosphere of a happy and warm home to treasure as she sewed and cooked and played and laughed.  She made sure that we had family devotions every morning before school because Dad was at work and so it was up to her.  She took us to church when Dad was working late, and didn’t just drop us off – she was there, too, worshipping and serving.  She  showed us how to love and how to work and how to pray and how to laugh and how to persevere through hard times.  She exemplified great care in how she took care of her mother for 14 years, as well as her mother-in-law for part of that time.  And she loved Dad, totally.  She never left his side, especially for the eight years that he fought cancer.  Even when they no longer could share their bed they had slept in together for 59 years, she slept right beside his hospital bed, her arm and hand resting on him between the bed rails. 

These traits of our mother are the stitches that are sewn into our very being.  The pieces of our lives were begun by her, thought-out and cut, measured and pieced, day by day.  As the years marched on, the shapes of our lives began to unfold.  The beauty of the various patterns began to be seen.  These are the treasures that are eternal.  These are the heirlooms that have more value than any quilt will ever possess.  And while our mother may not remember much anymore about the details of the past or the present, we have the evidence in our lives of her love and her faith…………a beautiful quilt of a life well lived.

Count Your………Our………..MY Blessings!

It’s been one of those mornings.  You know……..one of THOSE mornings.  I went to bed bothered by worrisome issues that I should not go to bed being bothered by……….those worrisome issues.  Can’t end that sentence in a preposition.  🙂    I went to my new location in Andrea’s old room that I’ve set up for myself……..a new desk and an alone place to have my quiet time.  The new location didn’t seem to help.  I felt stifled and ineffective in my time with the Lord this morning.  Distracted…….and thinking that I needed to dodge my prayers that were bouncing off the ceiling, going no where.  Is Satan unhappy about my desire for a more intimate time with the Lord?  Perhaps.

Later, I looked at the weather forecast and the upcoming week of temps above 100 and no rain only increased my weariness.  Our scratchy dog with allergies; laundry waiting to be washed or put away; dishes to take care of; even a Supreme Court ruling and an election in Egypt that I don’t agree with were piling up in my mind.  Talk about taking on the cares of the world.  Come on, Patty.  This is really ridiculous!

After my shower, I heard good old Aaron in the hall.  “Mom?”  I told him that I would be out in a minute.  I could tell that I would have very little patience with him today………shame on me.  He thumped downstairs to take his pills and thumped back up to see if we could now talk.  I again told him to wait……….and when I did open my door, he was in his room and promptly told me to come look at his finger.  He held it up for me as I walked in, and there it was………….his index finger, all wrapped up in a bloody band-aid.

My patience was even less now.  “Mom, last night I had some loose skin and so I used my knife to cut it off.” Oh Aaron.  We’ve heard this story before and I knew what was coming………..and it did.   He wanted to know if he should have used his little pocket knife to cut off the skin; why not?; what would I use?; that he couldn’t help it that the knife slipped, etc., and etc.  I removed the band-aid and saw the raw wound where he had cut or pulled off his loose skin.  I could feel my irritation increasing.  I told him to go shower…………his whole body, by the way, not just his finger!  I know how he thinks.

Aaron showered and then came to my bathroom, where I further cleaned and medicated and dressed his wound.  He could sense my mood and so he scurried on downstairs, deciding to get his own coffee and carry it to his room himself without bothering his moody mom.  Soon I heard, “Mom, I spilled some coffee but I’ll clean it up.”  Oh goodness, Aaron!  Where did you spill coffee?  “On the stairs.  I’ll clean it up!”  No, Aaron…….I’ll get it.  All the while, I was muttering under my breath about how this is the last thing I needed and why did he have to carry the coffee up himself when he’s so shaky and of all mornings…………

Then I saw the spill, which looked more like a gushing of coffee.  It was splattered on several stairs, but one stair in particular was soaked with coffee.  Oh Aaron!  Look at this mess!  Next I saw coffee on the living room floor, so got the Swiffer and mopped that section.  I headed for the soppy stairs, with Aaron saying, “I’ll clean it up, Mom!”  But I grabbed towels and began the clean-up, while Aaron then said, “Here, I’ll help.”  He proceeded to carry a wad of paper towels from the kitchen into the living room and instead of heading for the stairs where I was, he started wiping off the piano.  WHAT??!!  Sure enough, some coffee had splattered onto the piano and Aaron was working to clean up the brown spots…………….while he stood on the still-wet floor.  I went from unhappy to unhappier, all the while muttering about how my nerves couldn’t take much more and of all mornings and please, Aaron, don’t talk right now………..

I continued my shallow thinking as I realized that I would indeed have a bad hair day, no matter what I did to try to improve the mess on my head.  The clothes I chose to wear today didn’t help any, nor did the sandals.  No time to change all that now.  Of all days for me to have a doctor appointment, I moaned to myself.  Little annoyances for the remainder of the morning reminded me of my misery.  Aaron and I hurried out the door, stopping at the grocery store on our way to meet his group.  I had promised him a Cheddar Pasta Salad to take to his group.  Of all mornings to need to leave early, I grumbled.

At the deli counter, as we waited to be served, Aaron began to notice all the dishes.  He leaned over and oohed and aahed over the Deviled Egg Potato Salad, The Layered Salad, the Fruit Salad, the German sandwiches, the Spaghetti Salad…………and his joy over simple food began to silence my distasteful attitude.  He had moved beyond spilled coffee, bad hair, wounded finger, scratchy dog, and hot temps.  He noticed the good things before him.  As we walked out with not only his Cheddar Pasta Salad, but also a bottle of flavored water and some Skittles, he chattered happily about anything and everything.  If I wasn’t listening, I would have missed his observation that the entrance sidewalk at the Warren Theater is, in his words, “…….twinkle stone.  Does it have jewelry in it, Mom?”

I had to pause in my heart and smile.  As we drove to meet his group, I told him that I was sorry about my attitude that morning.  He didn’t say a word, but I  know he filed that apology in his mind.  I needed to say it and he needed to hear it from his grouchy mother this morning.  Later, at Sassy Nails, I sat across from a stranger – another mom – while our toes dried.  We talked and she shared how her sister had died of cancer, and how through it all she had blessings to be thankful for.  This woman, this mom, this sister, had no idea about how much I needed to hear those words.  How easy it is to let the slight troubles of my life ruin my disposition and take my mind off the Lord!

So I have counted my blessings for the rest of the day:
1.  The spilled coffee matches the carpet, especially in the dim light.
2.  A coffee smell on the stairs beats a dog smell any day.
3.  The living room needed to be mopped anyway.
4.  My new pink toes hopefully took the doctor’s eyes away from my bad hair.
5.  I do have hair.
6.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have working AC inside.
7.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but I don’t have to be outside working.
8.  It may be 107 degrees outside, but we have water for our thirsty garden.
9.  Our neighbors have to  move for various hard reasons, and the man taking pics of their house this morning wasn’t taking pics of our house.
10.  I have a faithful God; loving husband and children; and Aaron to remind me of what’s important.

And I have forgiveness – God’s forgiveness – and even Aaron’s forgiveness……..unspoken but there none the less.

Lessons From the Loaded Truck

Gary and I appreciate how our neighborhood association has a designated clean-up weekend twice a year. The association rents a huge dumpster and puts it in a field that’s just around our circle from us. It’s the perfect time for us to unload any large unwanted items that are allowed in the dumpster. Our big goal, though, is to cut and trim many of our branches, bushes, and trees that have gotten out-of-hand or have died. This last clean-up time a couple weekends ago was no exception. The weather was perfect in every way for Gary and I to head outside and begin our chopping and sawing. It wasn’t long before the piles were growing all over our couple acres. It was time for the dying cherry tree to go, as well as an old long-dead spruce. Our huge Crepe Myrtles needed to be cut down low, and the violet bush badly needed some work. Off came the bottom branches of our evergreen that we lovingly call our Gumdrop Tree as we try to save it for one more year of Christmas lights. And there were many, many other branches and limbs and parts of trees that needed to be sawed down and disposed of.

We used to use Andrew’s old truck for these days but now that he’s off to college we pile the mounds into Gary’s truck. What a blessing to have this means of hauling all that mess down to the dumpster! We drag and lift and load over and over again. It’s amazing how many loads we haul away! The truck is filled as full as it can be with each trip, that’s for sure. Gary has it down to a fine art of how to load the truck and it works very well. We pile it high, and then Gary uses a rope to tie it down before he drives off around the circle to unload. I either ride down with him to help unload, or I stay back at the house to do other things until he returns. One thing I’ve never done is to run along behind him, yelling for him to stop so that I can take some of the load off and carry it myself; or telling him that I need to rearrange the load; or offering to ride on top of the load to help hold it down. No, that would be silly! The truck is able to carry the load perfectly and the rope holds it secure. I have every confidence in the ability of Gary’s truck to do the job and do it well.

As we loaded Gary’s truck, I was reminded of what I had read in Isaiah 46 recently. God began that chapter by talking about how the Babylonians would load their false gods onto donkeys when they were being attacked. However, soon both the donkeys and the false gods were taken into captivity. Neither was able to help the other. Then in verses 3 and 4 God reminded Israel: “…….you have been borne by me from birth and have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you! And I shall bear you and I shall deliver you!” What an amazing promise that is true for believers today as well! It’s true for me and for you! God will be the same for our entire lives, from birth til death. He desires to bear me and to deliver me! He wants to carry my loads and bear my burdens! Just as I could trust Gary’s truck to carry the weight and the amount of our limbs and branches, so I can trust God to carry all the weight and the amount of my troubles and my burdens.

Peter said in I Peter 5:7: “Casting all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.” This carries the idea of throwing my cares upon God. Just as I threw those branches and limbs on the truck, so I can throw my cares upon God. And just as silly as it would be for me to chase Gary around the circle and try to carry the limbs myself, so it’s silly for me to throw my cares upon God but then try to take them back. Yet that’s exactly what I’m doing every time I pray but still worry and stew over my problems. Why is it so hard to just leave my burdens on the God Who WANTS to bear them for me? Why do I think that by losing sleep, or talking and talking about my issues, or continuing to try to solve my problems myself, or reading the next self-help book – that I can in any way accomplish any more than the donkeys and the false gods did in Isaiah’s time? Oh God, may I throw my worries and hurts and fears and pain upon You, fully upon You, and allow You to bear them and to carry me and deliver me!

Just like Gary’s good old truck!