If you have been following my blog for some time, you may have noticed the last 6+ months I have slowed down in writing my own posts. While I have written some like the ones about updating my front porch for the summer, Easy To Make Built-In Shelves, Fun Times at the Go Cart Track & Arcade, and Why You Should Visit Silver Dollar City During December. There’s more on the way soon about our living room update last year, changing my son’s room from a little kid’s room to get ready for the teenage years, and a delve into what in the world are glucose levels and why are they important.
But before I can crank out more fun and interesting content, I’d like to explain what’s been happening in my extended family since around mid summer last year and leave you with hope for your life no matter the circumstances. If you are on my newsletter list, you’ve probably read about what is happening. I still want to encourage you if you are going through a hard time as there are ways to be thankful in everything – even terribly sad times. I’m also writing this because I don’t want to forget things and want to be able to remind myself of this tough year but also the blessings that were hidden between the minutes, hours, and days that made up the last 12+ months.
Last year at the end of June 2020, my entire family (sisters, brother-in-laws, niece, nephew, myself & hubby, & kids) all went to our parents’ house to celebrate my dad’s birthday and one of my sister’s birthday. It was such a great weekend. While we were there, dad mentioned that he had gone to the doctor for a routine check and they thought they might have found something, but he wouldn’t have results until the next week. Thankfully during this time we had no idea what was coming so we all enjoyed spending time together. Watched them open presents, blow out candles, and my mom made my dad’s yearly fried chicken meal which was delicious as always!
Now, at my parents’ age, getting a check up for this or that is standard care. But this time, my dad seemed a bit worried which was not completely uncharacteristic of him but there was just something in his voice that bothered me.
Like, this somehow was going to be bad bad news and he just somehow knew.
Sure enough after a great weekend with my family (and my mom’s once a year delicious birthday meal of fried chicken that my dad loved), my parents found out the news that my dad probably (and did) have colon cancer. In my heart and hopes, all I could think of was, well the man has had 2 or 3 other cancers already and they were caught early like this one has been caught early so there is definitely hope. I mean who in the world survives melanoma for goodness sake!!!
Then came the chemo and radiation.
Like the usual cycle of cancer therapy after a few weeks my dad’s body started getting mad about what was happening to it. I mean ANGRY. And my dad was a bit angry but who wouldn’t be while in so much pain?!
We were all still hopeful though.
My mom stayed by his side faithfully, helped him through his day. She did more than anyone could to get nutrients in his body while he just couldn’t stand eating, or sitting, or laying down, or sleeping, or being awake, or just living. Cancer can be a relentless jerk.
I got to visit back in October 10-16th. I felt pretty useless but felt so thankful to just be with my dad. To hear his voice, listen to his thoughts and dreams, watch my mom with her devotion to the man she was married to for 54+ years, watch my dad worry about her future and grasping at how in the world he could protect her and love her even after he reached the other side. Her heart breaking as she watched him getting sicker and sicker.
It was heart breaking but what a blessing to be with them during this time. Seeing what true love really means.
Then came Christmas.
I’m so thankful, so so thankful, to have gotten to be with my whole entire family in a happy moment for one more time. My kids were good (and sometimes loud) distractions to cut through the silence of not talking about the elephant in the room. My dad got up and hung out in the living room with us which was a big deal since most of the time he had trouble just using his walker to get from the bedroom to the kitchen table. I don’t remember much about this past Christmas except feelings of happiness. Watching the gentleness of my brother-in-laws accommodating my dad by helping him open presents. My mom’s business of cooking and tending to our family and my father. My dad smiling at the legacy he has left in our hearts.
January was a cold month.
He started going down hill even more after we had all left. But I still prayed and prayed and hoped and hoped, as did my mom, sisters, and even dad. He had lost so much weight. Even more than before.
My sisters visited for a couple weeks. I visited for another week and just laid on the bed next to him. We would talk for about an hour; looked through the scrap book my parents put together from my dad’s time in Vietnam and those stories and hardships; sometimes laughed, sometimes cried, sometimes just reminisced about life; and then he would be exhausted and need sleep. His sleep schedule was all jacked up; so my poor mom’s sleep schedule was all jacked up. Up for 30 minutes, asleep 30 minutes, up for 30 minutes, asleep for 2 hours(for the longest stretches).
I hope my mom gets to sleep for 10-14 hours stretches this next year just to catch up on how little sleep she had this last year!
I can’t even really remember February but during March 9-17 my little family did some traveling around during our spring break time. My husband got assigned to a new jobsite up in Pennsylvania so to get to spend time with him while he was away my little family took a trip up the East coast. It was a bitter sweet trip for me because my dad was originally from New Jersey. My parents would take my sisters and me to visit anywhere from every year to every other year to see his family. I have so many good memories from those days and exploring places like NYC, D.C., Annapolis, and more.
My aunt and some cousins still live in New Jersey so it was great seeing them. We missed getting to see my uncle in Annapolis though. One of the things I was most thankful for on the trip was seeing Joey. Let me tell you about this guy… He was one of my dad’s best friends. When I was a kid, they met when Mr. Joey’s pizzeria was less than half a mile from my aunt’s house. I was so thankful to get to take my kids and husband to their new restaurant spot in Boonton, New Jersey. Joey and his sweet wife are authentic Italians – first generation. I’ve talked about this sweet family to my kids since they were babies; and my dad had talked about him to my kids as well through the years. It was so great to go with my husband and kids and their great-aunt to my favorite restaurant in the world to introduce them to Joey and Rachel.
We got back from that whirlwind trip on a late Wednesday night.
By Friday, March 19-21, I was back in the car to see my dad. It was bitter sweet. My dad knew or felt that time was drawing nigh. His health was turning even more for the worse (if that could have even been possible). Dad asked my mom to put out the “call” for everyone to come visit. He had friends and family near and far to stop by. From what I remember my aunt from New Jersey came, my dad’s best friend from college made the drive from Memphis, my uncle from Annapolis flew in (his only 2nd time to visit Arkansas since my dad moved here 55+ years ago), and many more people showed their love and respect for my dad. It was such a blessing to see how many people have loved him throughout life and were impacted by his love as well.
What a great thing to be thankful for -My dad made a difference in so many hearts!
He taught me to love fiercely without worrying about how other people respond. Taught me so many good things. And because of the amount of people that came to say good bye to him and the people that packed the church during the funeral, it was amazing to see that this man, my dad, really lead an amazing life. He wasn’t a famous person; he didn’t make millions of dollars; he wasn’t what this world would call extraordinary. But he was so much more than that. His accolades didn’t come from those frivolous things that don’t matter in the end. His trophy in life was loving and being loved. What purpose is there in life to want more than that?
What a blessing he was to so many.
Then came a respite for my heart and mind with a trip to New Orleans to full-fill a life long dream with my life long best friend and our kids.
I drove back to our house late Sunday night and hopped back into my car with my kids that Monday morning to full-fill a life long dream with my best friend. Let me tell you about my friend that loves others unabashedly. She has a heart that fills up her whole being and I’m so thankful for her. Back in 2020, we had mulled over the idea again that we have been talking about since we were 15 years old… 30 years prior! A trip together to New Orleans. So by December we were planning out this trip. I still had hope for dad to pull through by some miracle from God.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the timing of this trip.
March 22-26… It was spring break time of year for her daughter and I just flat out took my kids out of school for a week. This trip was too important to let education get in the way. LOL Well, let’s face it going to New Orleans means they would be getting somewhat of an education. ha! My BFF had lost her dad 11 years ago now. We were both very pregnant with our girls at the time of the funeral. So our girls have known each other since before birth! Another thing to be thankful for. Lynn has been by my side physically or metaphorically for almost my entire life and this trip was no different. She drove hours and hours from her home to come to my dad’s funeral to comfort me when he eventually passed about a month later. I love her so much and appreciate what an amazing friend I have been gifted in life. She was so so so good medicine to my hurting heart during our epic trip to NOLA. Hoping some day to go back with just her some day and maybe be dorky and get matching tattoos. (For realz BFF, we might have to do this!)
After our wonderful trip to New Orleans, the kids and I loaded up and headed back home for an overnight pitstop at our house to pick up my husband and continued the journey up to NW Arkansas on Friday, March 26. That was a heck of a drive over 2 days but necessary. Dad had asked all of us daughters and our families to come up to the house one last time to all be together. Ouch, such heartbreak.
But… I’m so thankful for that weekend.
Friends and family were still coming and going at this time. My aunts were cooking up a storm and filled all the countertops for all the visitors to have comfort dishes to choose from; food is a major love language in my family. 🙂 I think my aunt(dad’s sister) was still visiting and also my dad’s cousin from Arizona that weekend. My sweet cousin was toting them around picked them up at the airport and to my parents’ to make sure they could see my dad. Eventually, we shoo’d everyone out of the house except us – his kids and grandkids. Dad had his son-in-laws and grandsons with just him in his room to talk with them and hand down things. We all took turns being with dad. We all laughed and cried and stayed up late and hugged and cried some more and told dad we loved him and listened to him and just sat with him or laid beside him on the bed and just soaked up minutes and seconds and memories.
What a blessing to have that time and any time in life that we are blessed with.
One of the biggest blessings for me during that weekend was my last few moments with dad. A couple weeks before this I was hanging out with one of my neighbor-cousins. (We are like one big family on this street and I love it here because of these amazing people I’m luckily enough to share this cul du sac with. So they are unofficially my cousins now. LOL) Unfortunately, she lost her dad about 2 years ago and told me the hardest thing she had dealt with since is worrying about forgetting how his voice sounded. I’m so thankful she shared this with me and encouraged me to record my dad talking. So that weekend while all of us were visiting at once, I slipped back into his room just before everyone including my family was leaving. I shut the door behind me and said, “Dad, can I ask you for one last favor? Would you mind?” And what does my daddy say, “Of course, I’ll do anything for you.” I asked him to just say a couple words for mom while I recorded with my phone – just whatever he wanted to say so she could hear his voice afterwards. And of course, so I could too. He left my mom a simple but sweet message.
It’s so hard to write about this because it is so bittersweet. But I just want to pass along this advice that has brought me solace to be able to play back several times since my dad passed away. Be sure to record some conversations with your loved ones or just ask them to say a word or two. This was the sweetest advice I have ever been given and now have a snippet of time I can replay over and over and can hear his voice.
Something that I will be forever thankful for.
We left that weekend with heavy hearts – thankful hearts. My little family returned home. My kids went back to school; my husband back to work; me back to blogging and painting. Little baby turtles invaded our little street; Easter came and went; I had a giant fish painting commission and taught a workshop about mail art; our neighbor had a crawfish boil. Then as I was driving back to our house on a Saturday, April 17th, while running errands.
I got a call.
They didn’t expect him to make it through the night. My sisters had already been there for a week or more. I could here it in my sister’s voice on the phone there wasn’t much time left. I called my husband on the way back to our house and he arranged to work from home for as long as I needed to be at my parents’. No complaints or seeking when he could go back to work or anything – just support and love and gentleness. I’m so thankful for my husband.
I quickly packed a bag including funeral clothes even though I knew he was still will us. It made me feel guilty or ugly or something to have to do this even though with all my heart I wished him to be better. To be up and about eating good food, taking the 4 wheeler on a spin, cracking jokes or doling out life lessons. I miss that. Still I packed that black dress and drove reluctantly to what I knew would be the last days of my father’s life.
About 2 hours into the 6 hour drive I stopped at a gas station because I could feel myself going downhill mentally. But let me tell you about these angels that were waiting in the parking lot for me and they didn’t even know it. In my mind, I resolved to buy a pack of cigarettes to make it through the next week even though I only smoke one cigarette every month or so. Two of the people that worked at the gas station were on break in the parking lot and so I asked if I could buy a cigarette off of them and they said, “No, honey, but we’ll give you a couple.” And then the other lady shared some donut holes with me. And with tears I couldn’t stop running down my cheeks, I blurted out how much their kindness meant to me because I was headed to see my dad and all the sad news. These two women were such a blessing and they shared their experiences with parents passing or taking care of them getting and how hard it is emotionally. They gave me hugs and compassion in the Exxon parking lot to this crazy girl. I’m just so thankful for them.
I made it to my parents’ Saturday evening. I can’t remember if it was dark out yet but there was definitely a dark cloud hovering over the house. Dad and I laid on his bed and I had sweet precious time with just me and him and am again thankful. I’m thankful for him sharing his heart with me, talking about how he was glad mom would be taken care of after he was gone, how he had lead a good life, and how he loved me and was proud of me and my sisters. I told him how much I loved him too and didn’t want him to go but also didn’t want him to be in pain.
Then he was so tired. Dad couldn’t stay awake much longer. The next days seemed to go by so slow but also so fast. It seems like either Sunday or Monday he finally relented and decided to get into the hospital bed that had been setup in my parents’ bedroom. My family said he was just waiting for me to get to come back before he let himself go. He waited for one last talk with me.
I miss my Daddy and how he loved me.
It was so painful for him during his last days (and months) but he didn’t want to let go. His soul just wouldn’t let us go for as long as possible. The hospice nurse even said something about this and how even though the last 3 days of his life when he couldn’t speak, see, or hardly breath, he was holding onto life harder than ever because he didn’t want to leave us. And we surely didn’t want to let him go. But the pain he was in was just awful and we did want to let him go so he could be free from the pain of this life. I know I will see him again some day and there will be no more sorrow and no more pain.
Praise the Lord!
The day or so before he died, there was a crazy snow storm in Northwest Arkansas. This was the 3rd week of April!!! A peaceful, quiet blanket of pure snow was as far as we could see. (And from their porch you can literally sometimes see Missouri when the sky is clear.) But there it was just a sheet of stark white in the middle of April in Arkansas. As fast as it was there, either the next day or maybe several hours, it was gone and my dad soon after. The hospice nurse reminded us that even after death that it is believed from science research that a person can still gather sound and hear for up to a minute after death. We surrounded Dad and told him that we loved him and cried and let out sighs and sobbing and just set him free in each our own way. My sweet dad. He truly loved me and my sisters and especially, especially, loved my mom fiercely with all of his heart.
And now as I finish writing this post that was started over 2 months ago, my heart is still broken. So are my sisters’ hearts. And his friends’ and extended family’s. But nothing like my sweet mom’s heart. They say grief is like a series of waves throughout life. At first it is a storm that you just about drowned trying to survive from. Then the waves, although almost all typhoons still, don’t come as frequently and you can catch your breathe. Then the waves start to become calmer and calmer except every once in a while they crash all over you and you find your face drenched with your own tears all over again.
It’s only been just about 4 months since my dad died. I’m still crying but not as often. He’s starting to feel like a dream in my memories now and that hurts. I’m clinging to that last video that he let me record of him. I want to call him up. I want to give him a hug or hear him say a funny joke or give me advice. But I can’t.
So how do I still stay thankful?
It’s not easy since I just want my dad back. But I also know that God has a plan for all of time. He says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) My dad dying didn’t catch God by surprise. God has known the number of days my dad would have since before the Earth was even formed. And we know Philippians 1:21 says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Death in this world is not the end of our story.
Death is a passing from this world to the next. And your eternal destination depends on whether or not you have decided to follow Jesus and repent of your sins and follow Him. I believe my Dad believed in Jesus and repented of his sins and gave his life to Him. I believe he has found what it means in the verse that says, “…to die is gain.” My dad is no longer in pain or sorrow. He is rejoicing in Heaven and someday I will see my dad again and even better I will see my heavenly Father.
Saturday, exactly one week since my very last talk with dad, the funeral was held at the local church. It was literally packed. People from all over came to pay their respects. The service was just sweet and lovely. So many kind words were said by the pastors and one of my dad’s lifelong friends who is also a pastor. There were even more people that sent their regrets as there were some cousins/friends that were having health issues(in hospital) or the drive was just too far for their age to feel safe to drive. The ladies of my mom’s church cooked up a storm for this big crowd and it was comforting for all that attended. My parent’s have touched so many lives in just daily living. They have been thoughtful and loving and just fun to be with for many people.
My favorite thing to remember about my dad and mom too is how they loved caroling during Christmas. I can remember as a child how my mom would bake about 1 million cookies and make a bazillion cookie plates to take to friends all over Cross County Arkansas when we were little. We would pile into the station wagon and spend what seemed like all night to visit their friends and stand in their front doors singing We Wish You A Merry Christmas or Silent Night while sometimes my dad would be playing the flute or singing along as well. What great memories!
They continued to do this until Christmas 2019 but by Christmas 2020 my dad was too weak to hardly walk outside their house. So one night all the doctor’s and dentist offices they used to carol at the VA medical center surprised them. They planned one night to all hop in their cars and drive all the way out to my parents’ house in the country and drove slowly past my parents as they stood on their porch and watched the doctors, nurses, administrators, and more drive by with stereos blasting Christmas music and singing their hearts out to my parents. What a wonderful tribute. And what a sweet memory for my mom to hold in her heart about how much their loving others has made such a difference in people’s lives. I’m just so thankful for my dad and mom and learning about love from these two.
What a blessed life I have lived and how can I not be thankful in everything even when losing my dad.
Revelations 21″3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
If you are feeling down or depressed for more days than not, please seek medical attention. If you are feeling like you cannot go on, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat here>>> https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ Or visit the suicide prevention lifeline at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/