For some totally odd and unknown reason I have had the lyrics from the theme song of the 80's sitcom "Facts of Life" playing in my head. You know what I'm talking about? "You take the good, you take the bad, you take 'em all and there you have the facts of life." Weird. I know. As I have contemplated these very deep words I decided I wanted to share some things with you. Yesterday I sat down and wrote out the story of the first few days in the hospital with my Dad. It was hard and yet therapeutic. I didn't feel ready to publish it though. I may never. It may be just for me. But today I decided that even if I never share the horrific details of that week with you, I need to share the many ways that we were blessed and experienced God's presence.
The first incredible blessing we experienced was the presence of my Dad's brothers and their families. My Dad had a twin, my Uncle Reggie, and he and his wife got to the hospital at the same time I did. He asked the hard questions we were too emotional to even think of and stepped in and provided the guidance and leadership for me, my Mom, and my brother and sister that my Dad would have normally provided. He kept us entertained with stories from their childhood. He called in the troops, his 3 kids, Katie, Clint and Drew, to provide support. And man, did they provide support. Drew is a medic and he answered MANY medical questions we had. He and Clint also provided a listening ear and tons of support for my brother. Katie and my Aunt Trish cooked a wonderful supper for us one night and baby-sat when needed, including spending Christmas Eve with mine and my sister's babies. Yes, Christmas Eve. She spent Christmas Eve with my kids and not her own. It still blows my mind the sacrifices they made with their own families to be their for us. My mother in law had also fixed us a big pot of spaghetti and a plate of cookies. She made cookies and let the kids decorate them. She also made cookies for the kids to leave for Santa, something I obviously wasn't thinking about that night. She also baby-sat my kids and my nephew Luke. He is 19 months and you should see he and Kate together. They are quite a pair. :) As if that is not enough to nominate her for sainthood she also took my 3 kids to the Christmas Eve service at church. If you've read my blogs about my church experiences with them, you know what I am talking about.
We actually made the extremely difficult decision to take my Dad off of life support on Christmas Eve. In addition to my Uncle Reggie, Aunt Trish and my cousins, my Dad's older brother Uncle Jamie and his wife Aunt Kat had driven in from Texas. They had bought us lunch and provided so much support for us. Especially me. Uncle Jamie's prayers and hugs meant a lot to me. Not only was our family there that night, but Bro. Randy, the pastor that married Josh and myself and ordained Josh in the ministry, and his wife Mrs. Kathy were also there until probably 11:00 that night on Christmas Eve. My brother's friend was also there with his girlfriend and mom. There are no words to describe the pain of that night, and I feel like there are equally no words to describe my thankfulness for the people who "mourned while we mourned". Josh always gives me a hard time about never deleting my e-mails, but now I am so thankful I have so many still from my Dad. Just a couple of days ago I read one from a time when we were concerned about a family member who was going through a difficult time. He had sent me an e-mail and his exact words were "he is surrounded by family." Oh, how I pray that my Daddy knows how surrounded by family he was. Not just physically, but in spirit as well. I had Josh's blackberry and I was constantly getting messages on Facebook that were so encouraging. I know a lot of times I feel like my words are empty when I tell people I am thinking about them or praying for them. Believe me, there were no empty words. Those sweet words were feeding my soul as I watched my Daddy die. While the whole night was hard, there was a particularly rough time when we had to make, yet another very hard decision. Shortly after we got the news about that I got this message from my Dad's cousin, Al : "Wish I knew the magic words Emily....only one that does is up above, and you know how to contact HIM....prayers are all we can offer right now Dear, and they are out pouring." I don't know if it was the timing or the words. Probably both. I was at a point where I literally needed someone to remind me that I did know how to pray. I just can't explain it, but I truly felt like those people who were praying were there with us.
Earlier that night, soon after my Dad was taken off of life support, my Aunt Trish came back to the room to share something with us. She had been getting some coffee in the waiting room and an older man approached her and told her that he had been watching our family all night. He said that he had lost a twin brother (remember, this is the wife of my dad's twin brother but she hadn't told him that) and that he had also lost someone on Christmas before. They talked for a minute and then Trish asked him who he was there for assuming he had a loved one in ICU. He answered, "Oh, I'm just here for y'all." We never did figure out who we was and we never saw him again.
Another overwhelming moment for me was Wednesday night. We had still not gotten the official news from the neurologist, but the cardiologist had given us the warning that it did not look good. I posted something on Facebook asking other believers to say a special prayer at 8:30 that night. When I got to the hospital that night I had seven friends from our home church in Panama City waiting. They did more than say a special prayer at home. They joined us in the hospital. They held hands with my family (and spiritual hands with my cousin Marla who was on speakerphone from Texas) and we had prayer over my Daddy. I've never experienced anything like it. When I saw them waiting in the waiting room it was like Jesus personally put his arms around me and told me he cared. Although our prayers for physical healing were not answered, I have never felt the presence of God so strong. We had church. In that moment I knew that that was the compassion and love Jesus calls for. Thank you Bro. Randy, Mrs. Kathy, Mr. and Mrs. P, Rob, Jessica, and Brady. I call you by name because while I may have been an emotional wreck the night you were there, I did not, nor will I ever forget that you were there.
My friend and blogging buddy, Philip, showed up a little later that night and spent a good deal of time with us. He had already been by earlier in the week and gotten on his knees in the waiting room to have prayer with me, my Mom, and Jenny and Philip. We went to high school together but never really talked until we met up in the blogging world. I had learned a few months back that he lost his mother not very long ago to breast cancer. I had "accidentally" ended up on a blog post that was a year earlier than what I thought I was reading. Philip had already been faithfully praying for my Dad and visiting him in the hospital during his previous health problems. I have no doubt that God ordained our friendship as I now have someone who understands completely the grief I am feeling. On a funny note, Philip is also a minister at a church in Panama City and my Uncle Reggie teased me at one point saying that I am a preacher magnet. What can I say? I need more spiritual guidance than most. :)
Wow, who knew there were so many good things to write about from that time? I could keep going. Little stuff like the girl at Chick-Fil-A who just gave us a meal when me and Philip forgot to order one. We didn't even explain that we had just made the decision to take my Dad off of life support and that we were picking up food to try and feed my Mom who was too grief stricken to eat. She didn't know. She could have huffed and puffed about us holding up the line and then charged us. But she didn't. She smiled sweetly and told us not to worry about it. Little stuff like that matters in times like those. There was also the day after Christmas when our dear friends, Mrs. Cathy, Kim and Jonathan came to visit. They made a 3 hour trip just to check on us.That is real friendship. And bless their hearts, I hope we weren't totally rude, I don't know if any of us were even coherent that day, but we appreciated them coming even so!
I can't forget to sing the praises of my hubby or my brother in law, Dillon, who I consider just my brother. I had not spent much time with Dillon as he is in the military and he and my sister moved off to Alaska shortly after they got married. They've recently moved closer (another blessing) and I really enjoyed spending time with him. Those boys cooked Christmas lunch for us, they wrapped us in their arms during the most difficult hours of our lives and they held down the fort with 4 kids under the age of 7 and 2 dogs. My Daddy just glowed with pride in the two of them while he was here and I know that he couldn't be prouder of the strength, compassion and love they showed us. Dillon even helped me shop for shoes for the funeral. Somehow we ended up in the shoe department alone and I asked if he thought the shoes I was looking at looked like grandma shoes. He assured me they didn't look like any his grandmother had ever worn. :) Dillon is 5 days older than me, so I feel like I have finally gotten the "older" brother I always wanted.
I know now that I am going to forget somebody and something that happened. Maybe that is good. Maybe it will be good for me to keep remembering more things to be thankful for. I can't end this without telling you what arrived in the mail the first day I was home after the funeral and after our return trip to P.C. I got an envelope and inside was this picture that my friend (and another blogging buddy!) Amber had printed out of one of my Facebook albums and framed in a frame that says Daddy & me. Can you believe that? Is that not the most sweet, thoughtful thing you have ever heard of??
This last week has been really hard for me. So much harder than I anticipated. I have been so tempted to take up residence in self-pityville. It's a minute to minute struggle to be honest with you. And I've decided that's okay. It's just going to take time. And my Daddy deserves for me to grieve over him. He was a HUGE part of my life. But I want to thank all of you who have shown so much love to me and my family. If I have to take the bad, it sure helps to have so much good with it. Thank you.