Monday, October 15, 2012

Such a time as this

The beginning of the end came a month ago.

That's when my father began to rapidly fade from this life. We had pursued every treatment option from radiation and chemo to dietary changes and supplements to drugs still in the trial phases; no stone was left unturned.

After four years, we finally had to face the fact that the time had come for him to leave this life.

Our hearts began to break.

For the next few weeks, friends and family came to visit, to pay their respects and say goodbye. Stories of good times were swapped with dear friends; childhood memories shared between siblings.

 With each story shared, the crack in our hearts grew bigger.

We watched as each morning brought with it a drastic change in his abilities and comfort. We found ourselves getting an education we never wanted in hospice care and nursing. Large hospital equipment filled the home. Meds lined the countertop and filled the fridge. Papers stacked everywhere: spreadsheets to keep track of medicines, lists of doctors' contact info.

We adjusted to the steady hum and click of the oxygen machine.  Days quickly became an endless job of figuring out how to keep him the most comfortable. He spent less time in the living room recliner each day and more time in bed.  Our time was spent doling out meds, peeking in on him regularly, and trying to keep our hands busy and minds distracted.

Each day brought a new development and more heartache.

Our strong, healthy patriarch was now a frail shell struggling just to breathe.  Each night we went to bed knowing we may wake up to find him gone.  Day after day, we sat watching his chest rise and fall, filled with an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

That last week of his life was very difficult for us all.  But at the same time, it was a tremendous blessing.  The time we spent together, my mom and sisters and brother and I, was irreplacable.  I can't remember a time when all of us were together as we were then: talking, sharing, supporting one another, just walking through it together as a family.  Each of us has our own struggles in life right now, but that week we were together for the mere sake of being together, being a family, loving one another, and honoring our father and all he has meant to us.

There are so many moments that I will forever treasure:

~Seeing my 8 year old son handle that week with so much maturity and grace, as he insisted on staying there with me.

~Watching him hold his grandpa's hand and tell him that he loves him.

~Hearing my husband tearfully thank my father for all he was and all he gave to his family.

~My mom, sisters, brother and I all kneeling around my dad's bed in prayer.

~As soon as we said "Amen," my dad speaking up and praying for each of us.

~The time we spent as a family reminiscing as we thumbed through boxes of old pictures.

The outpouring of love and support from friends and family was overwhelming:

~My mom's sister coming from Texas, taking time away from her family and job to just be there with us.

~A dear friend of mine packing up her three kids and driving all the way from Georgia to stay at my house and take care of my kids so that I could be free to stay at my parents' house that week.

~My circle of friends here in town joining together with her to help care for my kids and house.

~All the delicious meals that were lovingly made and brought to us so that we didn't have to use what little brain-power we had trying to figure out what to fix for dinner.

~All the calls and visits from loved ones near and far.

So many blessings to treasure...

It helps to remember those, as I try to process through the difficult memories as well:

~Seeing each new piece of medical equipment and each new, stronger medication, knowing that each one led us one step closer to the end.

~Watching my father drift in and out of consciousness and delirium.

~The sound of him gasping for air and moaning with each breath.

~The speed with which he seemed to deteriorate, even as each day passed agonizingly slowly.

~The contradiction of praying for his suffering to end soon while wishing we had more time with him.

~The permeating feeling of being stuck in limbo, unable to begin the mourning process, unable to move on, unable to do anything but wait for the inevitable.

And then, the inevitable came.  Sunday evening around 6 o'clock, my mom went in to check on him before we sat down for dinner.

He was gone.

Calls were made.  Tears were shed, tears of utter sorrow for us, tears of relief for him.  We watched as the hospice nurse went through her routine of verification and paperwork.  We watched as the morticians wheeled his body out to their van.  We stood on the front porch, holding each other up as they drove away, feeling the reality of the fact that he would never be coming home again.  We went inside and sat in silence.  The moment we all had been anticipating for what seemed like forever had finally come, and it was surreal.

Our hearts were broken.

Then, in the midst of the shock we all felt, my amazingly strong mother gathered us into a circle, and with hands joined, she prayed and thanked our Heavenly Father.  In the midst of exhaustion and sorrow and the myriad of other emotions we all felt, she wanted the first step we took to be one of gratitude to God.

After a long restless night, what had been life in slow-motion quickly became days filled with appointments and arrangements and people and plans.

God provided us with a beautiful day that Wednesday to say goodbye and lay our father to rest.

As we look back on those days and weeks, words cannot do justice to the gratitude and love we feel for all of our friends and family who helped us through them.  We will never be able to repay you all for your gifts of kindness and love.  Many of you said you wish you could have done more.  I want you to know that what you did was such an incredible blessing to matter how little or insignificant you felt it was.  Each phone call, each meal, each card, each prayer, each visit, each card game and coloring page, each moment you spent caring for us in every small way meant the world to us.

So now we embark on the journey of walking through our grief and discovering our new normal, of processing all we experienced and readjusting to life without our father and husband.  We said goodbye to his body two weeks ago...each in our own way.
"Dear Grandpa, We're so happy that all of your pain is gone. But the sad part about it is that we will miss you for our life.
By: Christian Parks"

And we continue to say goodbye to his presence each day.  Each time we are in a situation where he would have been, each time we are faced with the emptiness of something he would have said or done, we must say goodbye again.

It is going to be a long road.

But we have the strength of Jesus to get us through.

And we have each other, the family God gave us for such a time as this.

We love you, Dad.

You will always be a part of us.

Till we see you again...