Tuesday, March 15, 2011
One week ago today, I sat by my Papaw's hospital bed holding his hand as he was welcomed into the arms of Jesus. There are parts of that day that are forever seared in my memory as if it were slow motion. The day before, I had gotten a call that my grandpa was back in the hospital. It seemed his 17 1/2 year battle with cancer was starting to get the best of him. It was his second trip to the hospital in less than a week's time. In the quiet of my spirit I just knew I had to go. He lives more than 3
hours away. I quickly made the two meals I had promised to friends for the next day, farmed out all of the kids to other friends over the next few days, called my husband to tell him I needed to go and showered and threw clothes into an overnight bag and was on my way in less than 3 hours. It wasn't my need to feel needed or my need to protect the ones I love, this nudge I felt to go was from a deeper part of my soul...a nudge to just go and serve. I had an overwhelming desire to be their for others. I love my Papaw deeply and am very close with him as I think all of his grandkids would say. But this urge to go there was to lessen the burden from my aunts and uncles, his children and wife so they could just sit at his feet and BE with him. I simply told them all to be with him and I would do all the running, cooking, cleaning that needed to be done so they could truly focus on loving him in those moments.
My sisters and I had talked about this for a long time that when it came time to say goodbye to our grandparents how difficult it would be and how unbelievably sad it would be for us. I made a conscience decision on the way to southern Indiana that I was gonna praise God anyhow. In the midst of my fear and sadness, in the midst of my Papaw's pain, I was going to focus on the glory his life had brought to Our God and his undeniable faith. I put my praise music on and for 3 and a half hours I had church up in that little car. I raised my hands and sang til I was hoarse and tears rolled down my cheeks. I smiled and sang and cried and sang and all the while prepared my heart to serve my family however they needed me. I got pulled over for speeding in Terre Haute and for the first time in my life, I got a warning instead of a ticket!! I might start having church in my car more often!!
When I walked into my Papaw's room late that night, his eyes were still smiling. I made a joke with him that I heard he'd been asking for his favorite grandchild so I had come quickly. I kissed his bald head and hugged all my aunts and uncles. I got to speak with him a bit but his breathing was taking all of his energy and he only spoke when you asked him a question. He looked frail for my grandpa. He looked tired. He looked drastically different from when I had visited just one month before.
The following day after taking my grandma to the doctor for her blood pressure I brought her into the hospital and came in to see him. He had a rough night. My mom had stayed with him and I could see her concern. His breathing seemed a bit more challenging but his eyes were still smiling. He was completely alert still and knew I was there with him. I left the hospital to go and make lunch for all of the family at the hospital. I did some cleaning and made the meal and felt this overwhelming urgency to get back to the hospital. On my way, I recieved a text from my dad saying he did not know how much longer my Grandpa had. I ran from the car on the third level of the parking garage carrying a cooler, a paper grocery bag, a carrying case with a huge crock pot of chili and my purse....the paper handle broke and I was sweating and running and had chili pouring down my side. When I came around the corner into his room, each of my aunts and uncles were standing there with my Mamaw. They were in a half circle standing around his bed. No one was touching him. No one was saying anything. Everyone just stood quietly weeping. I think they were in shock. It had all happened so fast. I told my mom someone should touch him. I asked her if I could say something to him and she said yes. I went to my Papaw and I held his face in my hands. I touched his bald head and kissed his forehead and the words just came as the single tears turned into a continous fountain of grief. "Thank you, Papaw. On behalf of all of your grandkids, thank you for doing what was right instead of what was easy. Thank you for loving us through our teenage years with green hair and tattoos and our bad attitudes. Thank you for leading our family like you have and for being the kind of man that lived his life in such a way that we don't have to question where you are going. You have led us well....this whole bunch of kooks. Thank you for your faith. And I know 30 years ago you never dreamed you'd have 10 black great grandbabies but you love them all the same and I love you for that. Thank you. Thank you. I love you so much." I may have said more. That is what I remember saying.
Then my mom came and each of my aunts and uncles and then my Mamaw. We circled him tight and touched his feet, his legs, his hands. We held on to each other and my dad started the rosary. I was raised Catholic and my entire family still is. My Papaw said the rosary countless times a day, often sitting on his front porch overlooking the land he farmed. In the middle of our prayers, I overheard my Mamaw say to her husband of 60+ years that it was okay, he was on the porch saying his rosary and it was okay. My shoulders shook and the kind of tears that come from somewhere deep within fell down my face and the amount of love in that room was palpable. The nurse taking care of my grandfather quietly took his pulse as she wept. My Mamaw held one hand and I his other. I just kept rubbing his hand and watching his face. We took his oxygen mask off. On the fourth decade of the rosary, it's focus is the assumption of Mary into heaven when she is reunited with her son again. It is said for the grace of a holy death and it is when my dad's voice broke announcing that section of the rosary that my Papaw took his last breath.
I have seen my own children be born and two of my sister's children. In an odd way, It felt similar. I was indeed in the presence of a miracle. I felt the love of Jesus engulf that space and I felt as if I had truly been given a gift to be there and release my Papaw to the arms of Our Heavenly Father. It was beautiful. I don't know if I've ever witnessed such love. It was such a divine moment that I've struggled to write about it because no earthly words are good enough.
My Papaw had 8 children, 7 living. He had been married to my Mamaw for over 60 years. That committment shaped him. His first children were twins, my mother being one of them and the other, my Aunt Doris with severe special needs. He carried her everywhere she wanted to go until the last year of her life when she fell into a coma and died at the age of 16. That loss shaped him. He saw the world when he fought in World War II and that is where the asbestos from the hull of the ship he was on sat in his lungs and eventually took his life. The service shaped him. Je spent most of his life farming the land and raising his livestock. That hardwork shaped him. He ended his formal education after the 8th grade because he was needed on the farm. That sacrifice shaped him. My family is from a small farming town where real men drive trucks and the ladies drive smaller trucks. That community shaped him. But most of all, he was a man of faith. He believed in God and his son Jesus. He understood suffering and grace and mercy. He loved big and was a man of character and integrity and honor. His faith shaped him. He had 26 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. His family shaped him.
And all of that....his entire journey....shaped me. Shaped my mom and my dad and our family. He led us. He showed us. He was stubborn and old school and lived in the same small town most of his days but this man wasn't confined by that. He did it by choice. It offered a sense of family and faith and values that he cherished and fought hard for. He did the right thing even when it was hard and he valued his word and committment. I watched at his funeral as close to 1000 people came. I watched as 90 year old men wept and spoke of his light. I watched as the 5 and 6 year old neighbor children sobbed because they will miss their talks with him on the porch. I watched as so many laughed about stories of his stubbornness or humor or his love of life. My Papaw was the kind of Papaw that taught me how to fish and put me on his lap on the tractor and drove 5 hours to see me in a play in high school. He told ya when ya did right and you heard about it when ya did wrong. He was funny and full of life and loved family and the earth and learning new things. He went white water rafting when he was 82. He lived a good good life. He was blessed. We were blessed. I am so honored to be a part of his legacy. I am so thrilled for him that he is cutting up a rug in heaven, playing cards and driving the combine in the fields of golden wheat. I cannot wait til I see him again. I am so thankful for the promises of our God. And I am sad...Unbelievably sad for the loss my family feels....for my mom and her siblings...for my cousins that saw him on a daily basis and have farmed with him...for my children that are so young...and most of all for my mamaw that has lived most of her life with this man and now at the age of 82 has to adjust to life without him. This will shape us. It's time like these that example he gave us of family and faith will shine. Thank you, Papaw.
As my mom whispered to you last Tuesday right before 2:00pm, "i have no doubt you will hear, Well done, good and faithful servant." Well done.