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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

I’ve told the story “Tears Unbidden” regarding the death of my father, this is the story about Mom’s passing.

Mom passed on Friday, July 21st, 2006. This is the story that led up to her home going.

After dad died in ’77 mom grieved hard, very hard. There were days, that to tell the truth, I don’t know what kept her going. For the better part of the following year, every day I would come in from school and would find her sitting at the dining room table crying her eyes out. I had lost my dad and in some respects I had lost my mom there for a while. Often she would tell me that the only thing that kept her going was me …that if it wasn’t for me that she would just as soon die and leave this world so she could be with my dad and with Jesus, her savior, in heaven. I know that she was trying to give me comfort or something, but the way that she presented it was pretty rough to deal with at that time. So for at least a year it was very sad existence.

She finally decided that she needed to go to work and do something to get her mind off of her grief, because the way she was going was not healthy. She had the skills to work in the office, because that’s what she did before she got married and became a housewife and stay at home mother, but she chose to take on physical work so that she could work herself numb to where she could just come home and collapse. More than once she told me that she chose to do physical labor in the school cafeteria as a way to work herself to exhaustion so that when she came home she would be too tired to grieve. Unfortunately that’s not the way that it worked out she was exhausted and she continued to grieve.

In the meantime, I graduated high school, went on to college, went in the Marine Corps, and got married. The last year of my enlistment I got a call from mom saying that they had found cancer and she was going to have to have treatments. In 1991 the Marine Corps gave me a humanitarian transfer closer to home so that I could be near to help get her to her treatments and doctor visits. That was a fairly rough year on all of us. We didn’t realize the consequences of the treatment that she took and how that would affect her there at the end. The radiation treatments caused arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, from about the middle of her stomach down through her pelvis and down to just above the knee on both legs. She had surgerical replacement of the damaged arteries that would come into play at the end.

Thankfully she beat that round of cancer and was around for many years… so we fast forward to about 2003-2004. This time the diagnosis was lung cancer. Surgery was performed and they took out about half of her right lung in order to get the cancer. Things looked pretty good for a while. Unfortunately lung cancer is a b**** and you may beat it in the lung but it has a tendency to either go up into the brain or down into other vital organs. In Mom’s case it settled in the adrenal gland at the kidneys. Mom quickly developed renal failure and was put on dialysis. I can tell you with out reservation, because mom made it very clear, how much she detested being on dialysis. She got to the point where she actually made me promise her that if things got worse that I would not let her die at dialysis if it was at all possible. She begged me to not let her die at dialysis.

As the cancer progressed, and the renal failure took its toll she began having other complications, namely, that just below the arterial replacement on the left leg her own artery collapsed and her left leg was dying on her. If you have never seen that happen to a person you cannot imagine the amount of pain that they have, because the blood supply is no longer getting to where it should, we literally watched as her foot begin withering and dying on her. By this time hospice and palliative care had been called in to give us a hand but Mom was a very independent woman and she absolutely refused to go into hospice care at their facility. Another conversation that mom had with me was that I was not to allow them to carry her to the hospital or there to hospice care because she wanted to die at home. She did not want to die in a hospital, she did not want to die at dialysis, she wanted to die at home. And to the best of my ability I saw that her wishes were carried out.

After much pleading with the doctors regarding pain management of her left leg the doctors finally scheduled a surgery to put a stint in to open the artery back up so that she would have blood flow restored to that leg. At the time the doctors were not sure that she would even survive surgery but the pain was so bad that surgery was the only option. Mom was given the option of either the stint (the doctor gave it less than 50% chance of success) or they could do an amputation and take the leg off but she would probably still have phantom pain even if they took the leg off. The doctors had serious reservations about her even surviving that surgery. At the time I did not fully understand why they were not helping her more, but looking back I now understand that they just didn’t want to tell me that she was that close to death. The stint surgery went well and she pulled through and did much better with pain management after that. Unfortunately, she had some recovery problems and was in the ICU for a while and that was always fun with mom because she did not do well on high-powered pain medications especially if they were opioids and caused hallucinations …we had some interesting evenings with the ICU staff and Mom.

Eventually, she was well enough to come home and the pain was manageable, she was no longer in that awful moment by moment pain that she had before. But she took constant care, I had already been living over there at night and Tammy was dropping the kids off at school and coming over and helping her out until time to go get the kids from school and then we passed in the evenings and she went home to take care of the kids as I got off work and took care of Mom. That’s just the way mom wanted it… she didn’t want non-family taking care of her… that’s just the way she was. And when she would talk to other family members she was very chipper and she played her pain and her her problems very close to the chest, if you just talked to her on the phone you wouldn’t know that she was in the pain that she was in, and… you wouldn’t have known that she was as close to death as she was.

Which brings us to the evening of Wednesday June the 19th. The hospice nurses had told us that week, if Mom did not want to go to dialysis that was fine, because it was her choice and that she shouldn’t be made to go to dialysis if she didn’t want to. We didn’t realize things were so close to the end. I did not read between the lines and understand they were saying things were really close now.

That Wednesday evening mom spilled her drink sitting on the couch and got it all over herself and the floor, I knew something was up. Looking back I’m fairly certain that she had a stroke. We cleaned her up and we were able to get her back to bed and let her get some rest and sleep. The next morning she didn’t wake up normally and as we were talking to the hospice nurses they said that it’s time to call the family in. So I started making phone calls to let everyone know that if they wanted to say goodbye to Mom they probably needed to get here. Kasey and Daniel were on a church youth trip and we got a hold of the youth pastor and let him know that they needed to be brought back home as soon as possible. They made it back that afternoon of the 20th. The friends and family there on that Thursday got to see her rally. Sometime after noon, when everyone was in the room, she woke up. The kids were there and she was telling everybody that she loved them and it seemed like she was in good spirits but the hospice nurse told me on the side, that this is a rally …this is her saying goodbye to her loved ones. In fact she was in such good spirits that everyone left that evening thinking that there would be more time.

About 1:00 in the morning the hospice nurse came in and woke me up. She said that it was about time, that mom was having a very hard time breathing, her heart rate was all over the place, she was very agitated, very labored, and if I had anything I wanted to say I should say it.

The hearing is the last thing that we lose just before death, no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. I went into the room and her breathing was very labored and she was fighting …you could tell she was fighting, so I started talking to her and knowing that her favorite song was, “Amazing Grace” I began singing it to her. The hospice nurse joined in and we sang “Amazing Grace” to Mom.

(Whew, this is tough to get through, I can’t see the keyboard)

By the time we got to the third verse, mom’s breathing changed, it was much less labored and she was no longer fighting. We sang it again along with several more songs that I knew she loved (I can’t remember what they were now but we just had Church right there that evening.) The Spirit of God with there in that room, that’s the only way I can explain it. That evening I was able to say everything that I needed to say to my mama, there were no shoulda, coulda, woulda’s. One of the last things I told her was that she could go ahead, it was time to let go, there was nothing holding her here and she can let go of this world with all the pain, all the suffering, all the heartache… and she could go home. That no matter how long I had left on this Earth, I’d be along directly. That I would do everything I could to make sure her grandchildren came along as well. At that moment I knew she had peace. I gave her a kiss, and told her I loved her. It was about 3:00 in the morning and I was wore out so I went and laid back down for a little while, then about 6:00am the nurse came back in and woke me back up, telling me, “your mom is gone.”

Mom had gone home to be with her Lord and Savior. For those who didn’t live that last year with mom, especially those last six months, you could never understand my reaction to Mom passing. I was glad for her! She was beyond the pain, the suffering, and the hurt of this world. Yes, I was rejoicing about her home going because I knew what it meant. I couldn’t cry then. That moment she passed from this world she was truly alive… More alive than she’d ever been in her life and I could not grieve that. She went home and I celebrated that. My tears flow freely now, but even now the tears of joy out number the tears of my loss.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

(if you want to know more about this peace, this joy, and the reason I celebrate my mom’s passing with joy I’d be happy to talk to you about it. It’s all about the Good News found in Jesus, the Christ. )

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It was like going back in time, that’s only the 2nd time I’ve been back there in 38 years.  The memories were so thick I couldn’t process it all, I was overwhelmed. Standing there on the soil that had shaped so much of my childhood.   I could hear the sounds of days gone by, smell the hot dogs cooking at the snack bar, hear the banter on the fields, feel my cleats digging in at the plate, the pitch, the swing, the ring of my favorite old red, aluminum bat as it made contact,  the feel of it, knowing I got all of that one as I head down the line towards first.  So many Saturdays were spent on those fields. I got choked up seeing they honored my old coach, Bob Dalton, by naming the complex after him.

So many memories both good and bad flood my head.  The feelings that accompany those memories are coming at me to fast to process.   I stand there under the now giant oak trees and remember they were only saplings back then.   My dad stood along the fence over there and…  I have to leave before I start crying.  Everyone knows there’s no crying in baseball.  phillips-bridgeIt’s all I can do to choke back the memories, and the emotions that accompany them.

To my son, I apologize for being so damned selfish, and disguising it as righteous holier-than-thou religious bullshit in not allowing you to have the memories I have from playing baseball. I hope you can forgive such a selfish old man.

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April 2, 2021
It’s been 44 years since dad passed now. This day, Good Friday, marks the 44th Anniversary of his passing. Dad has now been gone as long as he lived. I was planning to write another essay but the words wouldn’t come.  I’m fifty-seven years old now, and I still feel that little boy who took on manhood that day, and remember every emotion of those moments. Today I remember, and I view them in light of what happened to Jesus that first Good Friday.  Because of what Jesus did I have a sure and certain hope of seeing my loved ones, who have gone on before, having professed faith in Christ. As much pain as I felt that Good Friday in 1977, I know it was a momentary affliction in light of eternity, but it still brings tears unbidden.

Ten years ago I wrote this.   Here on the 40th anniversary of my father’s death I will re-post this in memory of that day.

 My father went home on April 8, 1977.  The date has passed, but I always remember it on Good Friday.   It was Good Friday 1977 the day he passed, he was only 44.  I’ll turn 54 this year (the same age as his dad, my grandfather, was when he died)  ten years older than my dad made it.  

 

Tears Unbidden

Why now, why here? Why this way?

More questions and less answers. Instead of growing I seem to be regressing.

What took place those many years ago that haunts me now with these and other questions.

College? No, not far enough back. The memories of college are rife with these same feelings.

High School? No, even then the conflict was raging and the ill-prepared adolescent I was, was already wrestling with the fall-out of the original issues. I know what the two main issues were and can only bring myself to talk about one of them. (The other will have to stay buried for some time to come)

We will start with Easter Weekend, 1977.  I was just a dumb thirteen-year-old kid, what did I know?  But, even now I can see it so clearly. I can hear it in their voices. I don’t understand what they are saying but I hear the panic, so I begin to move.

“Something’s wrong with Don!”

What did they say?

“Donny, something’s wrong with your daddy!”

Daddy, what could be wrong… my feet are already moving in the direction of the commotion.

“What is it?”

I remember voicing those words.

The reply did little to prepare me for what was to follow.

I descended the steps in two, or perhaps three leaps, pushing myself off the door jam as I rounded the corner, through the door that led to the garage. I was in the garage and could see mom on the back of the truck where I had last seen daddy. I ran around the front of the truck and down the passenger side and there he was, lying on the tailgate of the truck. (Until now that has been buried deep in my memory, Why now? In such vivid detail, why?)

His head was facing the passenger side. I could hear mom screaming, “Don! Don!”

The next twenty minutes were an eternity. Alternating between a furious attempt at CPR and utter physical exhaustion. Mom did not know how to do the respirations correctly and my chest compressions were weak attempts to what was necessary. Between the two we only succeeded in making daddy throw up. We kept on until we were completely exhausted.

Later, I was told the blue discoloration of his neck probably meant that it was massive and quick. They told us that he probably never knew what hit him and he probably was dead before he hit the tailgate. They were probably telling us that to make it easier on us; so we would not feel we had not done enough to save him. An attempt to save us from a load of future, self-inflicted guilt. (It didn’t work)

After the Ambulance arrived (it actually took them twenty minutes to get there) and loaded daddy, my mother went with them, I was left to deal with what I had just experienced. I ran outback and across the creek, up the hill a little ways and at stump I knelt to pray. I wanted God to save my daddy’s life. I called out to God to save his life and I begged God to let him live. Even as the words were spilling out of my mouth I knew that God was never going to answer that prayer. I knew my daddy was dead.

For years I have buried the memory of the events of that day. My mind just could not wrap around the reality of my own reality. Ok, so what!? That is part of life. We are all under a death sentence, it’s just a matter of time before the icy fingers of death touch us all. As much as we fear it, avoid it, deny it and disregard it; death is as much a part of the human experience as birth, growth, pain and joy. Yet for all the philosophizing and rationalizing I do, here I stand, the same age as my father when he died, and the memories of that day come rushing over me and I wipe away, tears unbidden. (more…)

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