Sunday, May 26, 2019

Do the Next Thing

I've always liked to detect possible challenges and find a solutions to avoid future problems. I like to think that trait is an asset, though it probably caused a lack of sleep in the last months.

I've had several scenarios surrounding Ed's impending death rolling around in my head these last weeks. Now when I look back I see that some of the thinking and discussion with others allowed events to glide smoothly.

I had hoped that Ed could be part of our family life as long as possible. We place his hospital bed in our dining/living room right by the window to the back yard. I'll always cherish the memories of that last week when we pulled the rocker and the loveseat by Ed's bed and filled them full of friends and family. Almost never was Ed alone, day and night. Until the last day he still had a firm grip in his right hand and often someone was beside his bed holding his hand. In his last minutes on earth both his brothers were by his side.

I have regrets in life, but not about how Ed was cared for in his last days.

On Monday I took the children in to the funeral home to have a private viewing. I had worried that the three-year-old would be upset with burying Ed's body. I had told her several times that Daddy's body was sick, and God would give Daddy a new body in heaven so he wouldn't need his sick body.

The casket was a great curiosity to her. She kept standing on tiptoe and peering in at Ed. I heard her say to herself "That is Daddy's sick body."  I know she understands very little about the impact that Ed's passing will have on her life. Right now she does know what she lost. But I was relieved that she wasn't upset at the funeral and burial.

I had thought (worried) a lot about the viewing. I knew there would be many people who would want to honor Ed and his family by attending the viewing. I've stood at the funeral home when long lines zig-zagged across the room and out the door. I dreaded the stress of greeting friends while knowing that a line waited.

Ed's brothers and I had numerous discussions on how to best arrange the viewing. With the help of the funeral director we chose to have longer viewing hours and arranged the room to keep the line moving.

Six hours of a viewing is a long time. The children soon tired of standing next to me shaking hands and joined their cousins. Ed's family and my family were spaced around the room, but I was alone by the casket. I didn't mind. I wanted to stand by Ed, and, in a small way, still be a couple one last time.

I was humbled by all those who made the sacrifice to attend the viewing and funeral. Church family and friends who have supported us through these last two years by their presence and prayers. Old friends and neighbors who knew Ed as a child. My parents' cousins. My cousins. Ed's cousins. Ed's cousins' children. My fourth-grade teacher who saw the obituary in the newspaper. Several of Ed's grade-school teachers. Blog and email friends who know me only by written words. Childhood friends who have known me since birth and could tell my secrets. Ed's work and business associates. Widows who also lost their husbands to brain tumors who have encouraged me through their phone calls. Ed's school friends who helped make him into the person I knew. Friends of Ed's siblings. Friends of my siblings. And Many More.

But never was there a long line. If I wished I could chat with friends knowing there wasn't a long line behind them. When I was leaving the funeral home I stopped to thank the funeral director for how well the evening went. He asked me if I knew that we had 900 people through the line. I was shocked. And thankful. All the planning had paid off, and I wouldn't have changed a thing, even though my eyes felt red-rimmed and scratchy, and my body sagged.

The funeral on Wednesday also went smoothly. It was held at my parent's church since our church is too small. I sat on the front bench at exactly the same place Ed and I had sat at our wedding. Hearing old familiar hymns sung by a full audience and hearing words of worship to our Sovereign God were soul strengthening.

The burial was hard. The finality of the grave could not be ignored. I have no idea who attended the burial. I stayed composed only by not looking at anyone. I knew if I saw tears, my own would flow.

The meal after the burial was a beautiful example of love. Many women from various churches worked together to prepare the meal. Again I was surrounded by the love of family and friends. I enjoyed hearing their stories about Ed and their reminders of God's grace at work in their own lives.

My parents brought us home from the funeral. My dad saw my terribly weedy garden that I've been ignoring and got out the tiller. I typically enjoy gardening, and we spent the rest of the evening pulling weeds. It felt so good to do something with my hands instead of my head and heart.

That night I slept better than I had in weeks.

What does a widow do the day after her husband's funeral? I didn't know the rules, but I jumped into Thursday thinking I would return my house to order just like I had my garden. The house was generally under control (constant company made sure of that), but the corners and cupboards needed attention. Every May when school ends I have a desire to declutter and organize. This year that desire was magnified ten times. Maybe because house cleaning was something within my control. Maybe because the house has been so neglected the past months.

Then my brothers were rained out of their barn painting project and decided to work on our AC project. Replacing our AC means pulling everything out of our attic to remove the old insulation. Soon my dining room was covered with boxes and the house with a layer of insulation dust. It was almost laughable.  My house had went from generally clean to disaster. I started sorting and organizing, glad that at least I was in a decluttering mood. Nothing like a funeral to make one willing to get rid of Stuff That Won't Go With Us.

In desperation to not trip over boxes for weeks, I looked for any empty spots - not easy in a rancher that contains six children. I opened Ed's half of the closet, pulled out clothes, stuffed them into bags, and carried them to the van to give away. I never would have chosen the day after the funeral to put away Ed's clothes, but I would do it sometime, and it gave me a place to stuff boxes. It made sense even if it was crazy.

When I told a friend how I spent the day after the funeral she said that in a thousand years she'd never would have guessed cleaning insulation debris and bagging clothes.

Elisabeth Elliot suggests, "do the next thing," when faced with hard life circumstances. I guess that is what we did.

But the weekend wasn't all work. The children and I planned a short camping trip for next week. Ed's brothers helped us plant a memorial tree. We enjoyed cookouts with various friends and family on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. Volleyball, S'mores, mountain pies, banana splits, discussions on heaven, and more.

Do we feel relief, grief, or something else all together? I don't know. I won't attempt to figure out the jumble of my emotions. Just holding on to the promise that God doesn't forsake the widows and the fatherless and doing the next thing.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ed's Obituary

Ed's death was so expected, and I had wondered what I'd feel after he was gone. Not shock, obviously. Relief that Ed is no longer suffering. A little bewildered as I often think I need to go check on Ed. Of course there is grief. But since I've been grieving since October, relief is greater than grief right now

Yesterday all my family gathered at our house. Since I'm the oldest of nine and have over a dozen nieces and nephews, it made a crowd. The weather was absolutely perfect. Originally we had planned to be at our homeschool field day on Saturday so the men must have been in a sport mood. While we women sat under the trees and watched the little ones, the men played hard games of Ultimate Frisbee and Spike Ball with the older children. My children were sun-burnt, grass stained, and weary by the day's end.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog you may remember the sudden deaths of my father-in-law and brother-in-law. I well remember the stunned emotion while sitting in the living room with family planning funeral arrangements.

Ed's brothers had done so much work the past week that most of the funeral details were already made, and there was no panicky decisions to make.

You may read Ed's obituary.

I know that some of you who are my real-life friends are trying to decide if you should make the trip to the funeral. I won't tell anyone not to come, but there will be a crowd, and I won't be able to spend with each friend that comes.

So if you decide to send an email, write a card, call me on the phone, or stop in for a visit, instead of attend the viewing or funeral, I won't be offended.

Thanks so much for all your support and prayers. I feel nearly embarrassed by the flood of riches I've been given through your love. I'm sorry I cannot personally acknowledge each of your kind notes.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Safe

This week we've listened to one of Ed's favorite recordings many times. ("Heaven" by For Hymn) I don't know if he could hear or understand the words, but I could.

Today, in the early morning hours, I turned it on again. At 2:30 a.m. Ed breathed his last breath of earth's air while the song "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" was playing.




Thursday, May 16, 2019

730 Days

730 days. 104 weeks. 24 months. 2 years.

Two years ago today Ed had surgery to remove the brain tumor that was causing intense headaches. The preliminary test during surgery showed that the tumor was the feared glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) an aggressive cancer with life expectancy of not more than a year. A week later the pathology report would confirm the diagnosis.

Throughout the last two years with radiation, chemo, radical diet, more surgeries, and clinical trials, Ed was blessed with many good days. We were able to take family trips, make memories, and squeeze the joy out of ordinary days.

But there is no respite from a diagnosis such as GBM. Never do you forget that without a miracle, your days are numbered.

We all know we could leave this earth at any time. I've heard numerous times, "I could be in a car accident tomorrow and die before Ed." I've probably said it myself. And this week this fact became true for the mother of a dear friend.

But I don't live like I expect to die tomorrow. I've watched Ed this past two years and saw the difference in how a GBM diagnosis affected his life. He wasn't morbid, but every decision from buying a new pair of shoes to planning a vacation was affected by the facts of his disease. Sometimes I was surprised by how well he was able to set aside the diagnosis and enjoy the moment, but I know it was never far from his thoughts.

For the last week we have sat in vigil around the hospital bed set up in the living room. Our family surrounds us with their love and presence. My brothers and Ed's brothers take turns staying with him at night so I can sleep. We try to keep Ed comfortable with the help of morphine and oxygen and the advice of our home-care nurse. Sometimes his breathing is labored, but in the last 24 hours he seems to be resting peacefully. Only rarely does he open his eyes, and he hasn't spoken for days.

Life flows around Ed. We sit by his bed and watch out the window as the children play volleyball with their cousins. We pull out the table, fill it full of people, and enjoy my brother's omelets. We gather around for bedtime stories. We laugh, cry, and discuss the latest book we are reading. We say good-night knowing that if Ed would wake in heaven it would be his gain and our loss.

730 days of knowing that this good-bye was coming. I'm not sure if it makes it easier or harder.

But I know we've had 730 days of God's grace, and we haven't used it up yet.

 2 Timothy 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
 Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
 1 Peter 5:10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

On Zion's Glorious Summit

In the last post I said I wish I could write a different ending to our story. That wasn't exactly correct.

I do wish I could write 2019 differently. I wish I could grow old with my husband. I wish I didn't have to watch Ed grow weaker every day, spending more hours sleeping than awake, barely aware of his surroundings. I wish I didn't have to order a hospital bed, discuss advanced directives, and figure out how to explain to a three-year-old that their daddy is going to die.

But I love the ending that God has written.

I've been reading through the last chapters of Revelations, and I copied few excerpts here for my reminder of God's ending to our story.
I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away...
I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain...
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new...
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son...
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof...
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb...and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life...
And there shall be no more curse...
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
(Revelations 21:1,3,4,5,7,22-23, 22:1-3,5)
A few months after Ed's diagnosis he found a new-to-him hymn. It was so meaningful to him that he made copies of the hymn and took them to church so our congregation could learn it. I think now is the right time to share this hymn with you.

I imagine that Ed is hearing the song and longing to join the redeemed around the throne of his king.

On Zion's Glorious Summit
by John Kent
On Zion’s glorious summit stood
A numerous host redeemed by blood!
They hymned their king in strains divine;
I heard the song and strove to join,
I heard the song and strove to join.
Here all who suffered sword or flame
For truth, or Jesus’ lovely name,
Shout victory now and hail the Lamb,
And bow before the great I AM,
And bow before the great I AM.
While everlasting ages roll,
Eternal love shall feast their soul,
And scenes of bliss, for ever new,
Rise in succession to their view,
Rise in succession to their view.
Sanctus (after last verse)
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of hosts, on high adored!
Who like me Thy praise should sing,
O Almighty King!
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of hosts, on high adored!
Holy, holy, holy.

As usual, you can listen to the song through the video below, but if viewing this 
post by email click over to the blog.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

In Slow Motion

A friend described my life as a nightmare of being stuck on the railroad tracks while a train bears down on you - and you can't move.

The description fits. I wish there was a way to escape this story. Can't I write my own ending? 


(Photos on this post are from my  walk "around the block." Watching spring emerge these last weeks has been restorative.)

Ed's MRI this week showed significant growth in the new tumor in the center of his brain. Because of the physical and cognitive decline we've watched this last month, I wasn't surprised. Still, it is hard to see confirmation of our fears.


Old barn covered in wisteria

Ed's seizure on Monday left him even weaker on his left side. At first he could not move his fingers or lift his arm. He has regained a little movement, but still can't use his left side much.

My brothers and Ed's brothers take turns coming every morning and evening to help Ed dress and shower. With the children's help, I can move him from his wheelchair to the recliner, but it isn't easy. I'm so glad to have the help of family.






Road-side poppies

In the past two years we've thrown a lot at Ed's cancer including multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation, diet, and experimental treatments. We knew Ed had the most aggressive form of glioblastoma multiforme, which has dismal statistics. But Ed had nearly two years of good quality life after his diagnosis, for which we are thankful.

But now we feel it is time to change tactics. We've stopped all treatment and are focusing on caring for Ed. Brain cancer patients rarely experience pain, and Ed appears comfortable and worry free. Our palliative doctor and home-care nurse have been helpful in giving us the needed equipment and information.



I don't know what the coming weeks hold, but I know that we'll need to hold onto God.

      Abide With Me

      by Henry F. Lyte

      Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
      The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
      When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
      Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

      Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
      Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
      Change and decay in all around I see;
      O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

      I need Thy presence every passing hour.
      What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
      Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
      Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

      I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
      Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
      Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
      I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

      Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
      Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
      Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
      In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
      If reading by email, click over to the blog to listen to this hymn.



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