Saturday, March 15, 2014

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today would have been the day my dad turned 66. It's hard to believe that a little over 2 1/2 months has passed since he left his cancer filled body and was healed forever. I'm sure some of you have noticed that I haven't blogged in awhile. To be honest, life has been busy, but it has also been difficult to process this huge loss in our lives. If you had asked me a year ago if I had thought this was where I would be, I would have said "no way!"

Around April of last year my dad was told that his cancer was back. I happened to be there for that first chemo treatment and it was HORRIBLE! He had done chemo treatments before, but this time was just terrible. I knew that we were headed down a very scary road. Over the next couple months my dad fought so hard to beat the cancer, but it just wasn't working. In October I received a call I never wanted to get; "Sheri, you need to come home, dad is not doing well." I scrambled and got there as quick as I could. That weekend was one of the most painful and heart wrenching moments of my life. He had lost SO much weight, had quit working, sold his business, and was using a walker to get around. But I was so blessed to be with my dad and spend time with him but I knew I couldn't stay forever. He was on a feeding tube and we were starting to discuss hospice. That time was so difficult for all of us to admit that we had done all we could and God was just saying "no." I knew I had to return home, so I said THE hardest good-bye I had ever faced, not knowing if I would see dad again.

We were so grateful that after I left, he seemed to rally a bit. He stopped losing weight at such a fast rate and seemed to just maintain a new norm. He did decide to go on Hospice and they were doing a great job of managing his care. We decided that we were going to spend Christmas with my family and knew that it could be a possibility that we had to go early. But God answered our prayers and we were able to see Dad again on this earth. God blessed us with an incredible 2 1/2 weeks together that I will never forget. These weeks were some of the toughest, most stressful, and emotionally charged weeks. It really didn't seem like Christmas, but we were still able to create some beautiful memories together.

When I look back, I will forever remember the precious moments God allowed us to share: my dad being able to see his last grandchild baptized, opening Christmas gifts one last time as a family, setting up my dad's Christmas village with him so that we would always know how to set it up, watching old slides of his Vietnam days, digging through boxes in the basement to locate pictures, memorabilia, and old toys of dad's. We spent a lot of time reminiscing of when we were little and the fun things we did as a family. I remember painful moments of helping him cough, giving him ice chips, swabbing his mouth when he wasn't able to drink anymore, helping him get comfortable, and trying so hard to let him know how proud we were of him. I remember moments of helplessness when he would look at me and say, "Why am I still here? Why is this taking so long?" He was so ready to be free of this world.

I remember joy filled moments when my dad (who had been staring at the same wall for days) asked his OCD daughter (me) to help him (who also was OCD) to rearrange the books and pictures on the wall so they were straight and symmetrical. We had some great laughs as everyone poked fun of us and thought it was so silly what we were doing. I totally understood though and I was often called back in his room to fix a book that just wasn't right! :) I remember some tear-filled moments as we sang (or attempted to sing through the tears) by his bed. There was one incredible moment when I was sitting in his room and he just started waving. I asked him what he was waving at and he said "I see heaven!" Oh the mix of joy and pain that brought, but to know that my dad was ready and so close to experiencing the wonder of heaven. It was a few days after that when he said to one of my sisters that he heard God call his name. Nothing can explain the feelings that brings and the mix of emotions that come with that. We were praying so hard for God to release him from this earth, yet clinging so tightly not wanting to say good-bye. The unfairness and questions we asked God during this valley was a daily struggle. Why did dad have to suffer and leave us now? Why couldn't he have 20, 30 more years left with us? Why him? Why now? Why?

The day before dad passed away, we were finally all together as a family. People had been coming and going over those 2 weeks, but we were finally together again. Dad had some spells where he thought he was dying and he would call all of us in his room. He would count the grandkids as they came in and tell us exactly how many hadn't come through yet! That accountant mind was always working! That night before he died was horrible. My mom hadn't been getting much sleep and my dad was really struggling with getting comfortable and managing his coughing. My sister Lisa and I decided to take shifts being in his room. When it was my shift my sister said that he was just really struggling and hadn't gotten much sleep at all. We finally decided to call Hospice to come and help him. They spent 2 hours stacking his meds so that he was able to sleep. This was the last time that he was awake. The next day he was sleeping very deep and we tried to stay out of his room to let him sleep. In the afternoon, the dad's took all the kids swimming and it was only my mom and us 4 girls (and the little babies) that were home with dad. We think that he was waiting for some peace and quiet! I had just gone into my dad's room to see if he was awake. He was sleeping very deep and I tried calling his name. He didn't wake up. So I just whispered to him, "I love you dad" and quietly left. About a half hour later my mom went in to give him some more meds and she came and got me and asked me to check him as she didn't think he was breathing. My heart stopped and I ran in there. NOTHING can prepare you for the moment of death. We knew it was coming, we knew it was for the best, and we knew he was completely free of cancer and we knew where he was. But to have death stare you in the face was heartbreaking. As a family of 6 we gathered in there and cried for our loss, we cried for the man we loved so dearly, and we cried for the unfairness of life.

Looking back, we see all the ways God's hand was in everything. One, that we were able to be there just the 6 of us and say good-bye first without our kids there. Two, that we had all been able to see him before he left us. And on and on and on the blessing went. God is always with you, even when you feel overwhelmed by sorrow, He is in the plans and the details. When the dad's came back with the kids, we took time as families to go in and say good-bye to our Dad and Opa. Nothing prepares you for how to talk to your kids about this experience. I was so blessed by Ryan's insight and ability to handle their questions. It was so good for them to see our grief and sadness. The other moment that will forever stick with me is this: as we are standing there by his bed saying good-bye and the tears are streaming down my face, I told my kids that the ONLY thing that matters in this life is that they love Jesus. I told them that it didn't matter what Opa was wearing, or how much money he had, or what toys he had. The only thing that mattered was that he loved Jesus. And if they wanted to see him again, they needed to follow Jesus and love him with all their hearts. That is what Opa would have wanted. What an experience as an adult to be faced with the shortness of life and that we can work so hard for stuff, status, wealth...and for what? To die young? We are working hard as a family to remember that moment, and to remember what's important and what we need to trim from our lives. All that matters is Jesus.

Thanks to those of you that stuck with my novel. It's been therapeutic to process my experiences. These 2 months have been hard. The grief comes in waves and random little things set it off. Church is a difficult time for me as music is what speaks to me. To hear songs we sang at his memorial service, and to remember the pain of those moments is so difficult. We so appreciate all your support in so many ways. Please keep praying for all of us as we continue to live day to day in the new reality of life without dad. We loved him so dearly and he left an amazing legacy of God's faithfulness. Our prayer is that we continue this legacy for generations to come. Happy Birthday Dad! We hope you are having the best birthday party ever!!!