Monday, July 12, 2010

The Final Chapter

Hello, Anniversary that I've both dreaded and anticipated for a year. Dreaded because of the memories attached to this day; anticipated because it was hard to believe I'd ever be a year down the road from D's death.

Up front, I want to say that I'm not moping around. I'm really using this time to reflect and remember, and there is a lot to treasure in my heart. I've felt for a long time that if I could just finish this year, I could begin to move on. I've celebrated and marked every holiday and anniversary by myself. I no longer have that brittle-as-glass feeling in my heart. I feel more empty, but there is a promise stirring in my spirit that life is going to begin again. That joy is going to invade my life in the near future. The promises of God are "yes" and "amen".

So. I finish my story from yesterday's blog. And then I move on. And if these posts are too maudlin for you, please feel free to skip them. Telling the story via bloggyland has been very healing for me, and I appreciate your patience as I've felt around through life for the last year.

Last year on Sunday, D continued to sleep. Married Daughter and her husband made it in from out of state, so the gang was all there at the Hospice "hospital" called the Christopher House. We kind of took over the lobbies of this peaceful place, having only 3 or 4 people stay in the room at one time. We took shifts by D's bedside, and I usually gave up my place knowing I'd had so much time with him, and many of those gathered needed this last time far much more than I did. We didn't want visitors since our family filled all the extra space, but one sweet friend came by to hold my hand (literally). We should all have a Shannon in our life: she just brings joy and peace into any room she inhabits. I hope you have a friend like her.

As the day wore on, family began to drift out for rest. I had promised D that I'd sleep in the room with him the entire time. There would be no more waking or pacing for him, but after midnight, early Monday morning, his body became very restless. Hospice had been good to prepare us that this was very common, but I didn't want my D to be unpeaceful. I had my laptop and called up YouTube to repeatedly play Chris Tomlin's " I Will Rise" . (You can click that link to hear the song or this link to see the words.) So powerful, so peaceful.

"I will rise when He calls my name, no more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise on eagle's wings, before my God, fall on my knees and rise. There is a day that's drawing near, when this darkness breaks to light, and this darkness disappears, and my faith shall be my eyes..."

D rested peacefully as the music played. He was always so touched by music. At that time I knew in my spirit this was his last day, and time was very short.

I sent out an email at dawn to friends asking them to tell me what was going on in their lives. I needed to hear of life outside those walls, and I'd been isolated from many of them during these last months of terminal illness. An abundance of long, newsy emails began arriving almost immediately, making me smile. And making me so thankful for my friends who truly mean it when they say, "Ask us anything we can do to help you at any time, and we will do it." Well friends, lifting my spirits at that moment on that day was one of your kindest acts of service.

And then another email appeared from a lifelong friend. It was actually an email she'd written for D, and she wanted me to read it to him at his bedside. So I did:

Dear D,

I am writing you a thank you note because I want to say thank you for being the husband that my dear friend deserves. In the past fourteen years, you have shown her that you love her and appreciate all her talents and giftings. You valued her and showed her that she had great worth; I have seen her confidence be rebuilt and grow throughout her marriage to you. Because of you, she got to experience being in love and being loved! I remember R telling me after returning from your honeymoon that just holding hands with you was wonderful and that “fireworks still happen”.

You provided her children with the model of a father and husband that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They saw a man who was dependable and true to his word. They saw a father who loves their mother, holds them to a standard and receives them as his own.

You provided R with a house that you made so beautiful with your woodworking skills and other building talents. Just as important, you valued her input as you shared this common interest in the house remodeling and the Mission style furniture; I know that she sees your love for her with every replaced baseboard, cabinet and door frame.

I am so thankful that God put you in R’s life and she has shared these past 14 years with you. I know she has been amazingly strong throughout your illness, and I truly believe that strength is based on the fact that she knew you loved her and she could let herself love you in return. I admire you both so much – you are both a testament to the faithfulness of God despite difficulties in this life. Knowing that He is enough for you both helps me to know that He will always be enough for me.

Thank you for being the man you are. My friend R will be blessed all her days by your life. I hope my life will make an impact on those around me like yours has. Thank you. P

D was in a deep sleep as I read this, but I believe he heard me because he became so peaceful. I talked with him and prayed with him, and I thanked him for the time we had together. I told him I knew this the day he would leave the earth, and I was ready for that. And I felt something settle into my spirit: the grace I'd need for the day. This last day.

The family began trickling back in for the morning, and after taking shifts to go get lunch, we were called in to D's room: he had about an hour left. Well. How do you respond to that?

We just encircled the bed. I sat in a chair and held his hand. I stayed quiet for a while, asking the others if they wanted to talk or pray. No one seemed able to speak at that time. I didn't fault them for that: I'd had far more time than the rest to work through the reality of this situation. So, I began telling D how much we loved him. That we believed that all that needed to be said or done had been said or done. That a terminal diagnosis had given us the gift of loving good-byes. That we appreciated he'd bravely fought the cancer for 7 years, and during that "extra" time we saw all four kids graduate from high school, then enter college. One was now married; one was in graduate school. He had made it through some of the most important times of their lives. And now it was OK to let go of this world and pain, and to go to God. And he did. And we all prayed together one more time, and tried to figure out how to leave the room and resume our lives.

I've had several people ask me if I felt anything during that last hour. My answer? Absolutely. God manifests His promises through His presence. There was such peace, grace and mercy in that room. It was a real Presence. It is no mistake that the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter: I like to see that as a quilt that is just laid over me. And it was.

To be honest, I have no memory of how I got home from there. I know Married Daughter took my phone and began making calls to my friends. I know the pastor and his wife were at our home almost immediately. Friends from out of town (I love you, Patty and Chris) came over as soon as they could. The memory of The Day is very raw. But the memories of the friends and family members who surrounded me and my children are full of love to the point of feeling like my heart will burst with joy.

And so I cross the line into a new year. The most important lesson I learned is simply: God is enough. I've heard it said that the base of all fears is the fear of death. I ask, like the letter to the Corinthians, "Oh, death where is your victory? Oh, death where is your sting? But thanks be to God that He gives us victory over sin and death through the Lord Jesus Christ."

Pressing on to a year filled with victory, and a journey back to joy.


Dawn said...

"The promises of God are 'yes' and 'amen.'"

I love that!

I'm thinking of you this morning - prayerful thoughts for joyful memories and joyful anticipation of the future.

Be blessed, friend!

Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing your journey this last year. I am so blessed to have found your blog, actually I believe the Lord led me to your blog. I'm going to send an email because I want to say much more than I can write here. Be blessed my friend the Lord's promises are most definitely 'yes' and 'amen'.

Sarah said...

I am moved beyond words by your family's story. God is gracious. What a beautiful testimony you and your family are.

susan said...

thank you for your strength and faith and love. I have grown in many ways because of the grace you show and share in your blog.
Dave still lives in our hearts and minds. he was the very best of men. I am a better person for knowing him. rejoice on this day for his life.
bless you and your family. keep sharing your joyful journey.

Susan Ramey Cleveland said...

God bless you as you live this day. I continued to be amazed at how much our journeys run parallel. In about six weeks or so, I'll be experiencing that dreaded one-year anniversary. I hope I can do it with as much grace as you have. How unfair that we had them for only those few years. But oh how amazing that we've had God to make sure we made it through these empty months. Thinking of you and praying for you.

Anonymous said...

This testimony of your Godly marriage is precious to me!

V....Vaughan said...

Hi Rayeanne...I came here to check is a beautiful tribute and "timeline"...July 13 is my David's birthday, and we were in Colorado this time last year...headed there tomorrow EARLY....Ithink of you SO by ALL the time, but you seem to never be there when I drive by...P l e e e e se let me take you to breakfast or a walk or a little day trip at the end of July!!! How about Fredericksburg on July 26? I have som biz to do that day and would LOVE your company....I am caught up with some news, now, after spending the past 2 hours looking at Katie's blog and now yours :) Love you, friend!