Friday, March 1, 2013

Life is a fleeting moment...

It has been a while since my last post...but things had pretty much been the same - which is just fine by me!  I have transitioned off the MediFast foods and am maintaining my weight - feeling great and loving how I look and feel.

Boys are doing well -Tyler was in Godspell and currently getting ready for Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Logan keeps busy being Logan :-) both are great kids and we are truly blessed.  Life isn't always perfect with them but God provides, protects and teaches.  Heck, I am still learning at 39 (yes I am hanging on to that number until I can no longer honestly do so!)

Rob is doing well - he still struggles with back pain but pushes through.  He is really working hard to take care of himself and goes to the gym just about every day of the week and can slay me with one glance of looking at him still.  That's a good thing! 

I am busy as usual with work, being a health coach and also the Women's Ministry Director at church.  All of which of I truly love doing.  My hearts desire for as long as I can remember has been women's ministry and a yearning to be a life coach/counselor - God has me on that path.

I was planning a trip to Albuquerque for work the week of February 18th and was going to head to Phoenix on the 22nd and stay until Monday to spend some time with family.  I was really excited for the end of the trip in Phoenix.

As life does, a major curve was sent our way.  So if you are reading this you may want to settle in with a cup of coffee or tea because this will be a long post...more so I can get my emotions out and down to remember in the years to come.

On Monday, February 11th, I received a call from my niece Nickie who lives in Michigan.  After realizing who it was, I knew it couldn't be a good call.  She had just learned her Dad (my brother Ken) was in the hospital and things weren't looking very positive.  He had been in Michigan since about November staying with his son Kenny's family.  Kenny was in the Marines and in Japan and he was there to be with Stephanie and their 4 boys - I am sure a welcome sight for her to have someone!  Kenny was discharged and came home just before Christmas - what a blessing!

Apparently Ken had been sick for a few weeks and wouldn't go to the doctor (stubborn man!) but woke up on Thursday the 7th and told Kenny and Stephanie he needed to go to the hospital.  Being again stubborn made sure to tell them to tell no one (a very familiar happening and the beginning of the almost duplicate play out from 6 years prior).  By this time Ken was completely yellow and in  liver failure.  We all knew he had been drinking again but still didn't prepare us for this.

Six years ago when he was hospitalized for multiple organ failure (including liver) and sepsis we and the doctors didn't think he would make it through, but by God's grace and provision (and only that!) he did.  There was no medical reason for him to live but God chose to give him a second chance.  He was told MANY times by doctors and family that if he ever started drinking again he would die.  We really thought he would be ok and get through it, but addiction is very strong and something many people just can't understand the pull it has on our lives.  We all tried to help him, encourage him, but when someone is not ready to get the help they need, they just simply won't and won't listen either.  My stance is 'there but for the grace of God go I', too much genetic disposition in our family for addiction. 

So we aren't exactly sure when he started drinking but do know that it was a slow progression - we are all confident that he believed one more wouldn't hurt.  Not sure the "one" that sent him over but it pains, saddens and angers me tremendously. 

So back to the story, Ken was admitted and was quickly transferred to the Critical Care Unit (an ICU step down).  Nickie and Tina live in Michigan as well and were there with Ken alternating days at the hospital checking on him along with Kenny/Stephanie.  The last time he was sick he set up Powers of Attorney so we siblings were scrambling to find those.  He had chosen me as his health care POA so I sent all the information to the hospital and made daily calls to deem when it would be best to travel to Michigan.  We really weren't sure what the outlook was but it quickly became clear he would not recover...his liver wasn't just failing - it had failed.  He was very confused and really didn't have a clue where he was, could really only answer yes or no questions and only knew his kids at times. 

I made the decision to go to Michigan on the 18th (after cancelling my trip to ABQ the week before).  I flew in that evening not sure what to expect really, only images of the last time he was in ICU were in my mind.  At that time he was in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator and so swollen but only yellow on his hands and feet. 

When I arrived and saw him, he was alert and awake and recognized me and asked me why I was crying.  I explained to him how sick he was and that he was in the hospital but he didn't seem to get it...BUT he knew me AND he talked to me.  He even noticed I had lost weight (he said "why are you so gaunt?" oh my that made me laugh so hard!).  I stayed with him that night for a few hours.  He was completely and totally yellow and looked like he was dying.

I left him that evening knowing he would never recover and my heart so burdened.  I was really not sure if he would ever know me again but thanked God for the time I had with him that night and that he knew me.  I was blessed to stay with Nickie and Tina (really this is a HUGE deal - it brought such happiness to me to spend time with them and Nickie's kiddos and getting to meet Kenny's kids for the first time too).  I couldn't sleep and decided to get up and was back at the hospital by 5:00 a.m.  I had told my brothers that I would assess the situation and let them know if they needed to come - I had hoped to speak to the doctor in person but knew before then they needed to come and told them immediately.  They were able to get a flight out that evening (Mike, Jeff and our Dad).

This day was another gift from God...he knew me all day - we laughed, well I guess I laughed mostly at him, in situations like this if you don't have humor you will lose your mind.  I quickly became the mean and crazy sister who wouldn't give him "frozen water", Nehi soda or Faygo.  He was on a very strict diet so he could only have thickened water and very soft food.  He was less than thrilled with the thickened water.  I could only laugh though - especially when he said he was going to get a camera to show people how mean I was for not giving him what he wanted!  Too much!  But he knew me, I read to him from the Bible and talked to him about why he was there.  I know some of what I said he understood and comprehended if only for the moment it was in.  The biggest laugh of the day was when he got mad at me for not getting him a banana split from the tree in the hall (neither of which were in the hall).  He even asked the nurse to bring him one. 

His kids came by through the day to visit him and his recognition was poor as the day grew on - when Nickie came by, I even became Patricia - who the heck is that?  He would get so mad at me for asking him who I was or who someone else was - but I kept telling him how important it was for him to say the person's name.  He also seem to be "living" in different time periods.  He was talking fine to me one moment and then fell asleep and woke up and asked me when was the last time I saw Bubba.  Bubba is our oldest brother who died 27 years ago.  I told him that and he had some recognition and just went back to sleep.

I was finally able to speak with the doctor that evening and he confirmed what every other doctor and nurse had been telling us, we needed to think about hospice because he would not recover.  No one could give us a timeline though - liver failure is one of those things that no one really knows how long.  And Ken also had double pneumonia and trouble breathing so it was hard to say if another complication would arise.  We had also been told he would be moved out of the Critical Care Unit because there was nothing further they could do for him medically in that high level of care.  We made an appointment to meet with the hospice team the following afternoon.

Dad, Jeff and Mike made it in late that night and we all went to the hospital the next morning.  By then he had been moved (we were miffed by this - no one had even told us this would happen so quickly - we assumed it wouldn't be till at least after we met with hospice).  BUT - he knew us all AGAIN!  And he knew us well - even jabbing at dad the way only he would.  He also asked about Rob and the boys which was nice for them to hear.  This day was to be his true "rally" day but we didn't know.  This is the day he even knew his kids fully and spoke about their kids and asked questions.  At one point he told all of us (me, Jeff, Mike, Dad) to leave him alone for 5 minutes - to get out.  THAT is Ken!  It was a good day for closure for us.

That afternoon we met with hospice - we decided to keep him at the hospital but look for hospice facilities in case he would need care after a week.  He was moved to a private room that evening (thankfully - the room and floor he was on was NOT good) that was much more comfortable.  By that evening he had become VERY restless and agitated.  We thought it was a result of the days activities and the Ativan they had given him.  It wasn't - they were all signs and markers of approaching death.  But he settled down by about 4:00 am (Jeff stayed with him that night) and he rested comfortably. 

When we all arrived the next morning he was still resting comfortably - breathing was very calm and rhythmic.  All the grandkids were supposed to come that day to say good bye and we were going to skype in Jeff's kids and mine as well.  We asked the nurse to back off some of the meds so he could awaken - should have known something was up at that point as she was VERY leery to do so.  Me, Jeff and Mike left around noon to go look at a facility since he had been resting so well and we didn't see much change.  We literally drove the 10 minutes to the facility and were getting out of the car when my dad called and said the hospice nurse had been by and would be calling me and that he only had a day or two at most.  The nurse then called me and told me that there had been drastic change since the day before and confirmed that he really had no more than a day or two.  So we promptly loaded back up and went back to the hospital.  It surprised us all to see how much he had changed in the 20 minutes we were gone.  It quickly went downhill from there.  And I do mean quickly...I was texting the kids it seemed every 30 minutes with you may want to get here by the end of the day to you must come now. 

Kenny, Stephanie and two of their kiddos were able to come and see him for a bit.  Tina and Nickie also made it.  Jackie lives out of state and it was just too quick to get her there before he passed. 

At 6:10 p.m. Ken took his final breath on this earth and his first breath in heaven (I am just sure of this!), he was surrounded by love in the form of Tina, Nickie, myself, Jeff, Mike and Dad.  It was truly a peaceful passing which is what I had prayed for (on top of being quick and painless).  God was merciful to take him in that manner and to provide us the time we needed as a family.

We had a very nice service/viewing for him on Sunday with many friends and family attending.  It was truly a celebration of his life - what he would have wanted.  No big fuss and no long funeral sermon.  Rob shared and I shared.  It was very nice.  The service ended with the same song we played at Mom's funeral (we didn't choose for Ken - funeral home just played) and it was perfect - Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone by Chris Tomlin.  Jackie was able to make it in for the funeral - what an answer to prayer - as I said amidst the sorrow and pain there was much joy as well.  We had such a good time reconnecting with everyone.

We were surrounded by love, prayers and thoughts the entire week and are so very thankful for that. 

Now we move on to life without him, we all still are wrestling with feelings of anger and sadness but I do know God will provide - He is good and He is faithful. 

I provided below what I shared at his funeral - my thought is to live a life without regret - forgetting what was in the past and pressing forward to what lies ahead.  I also added a picture - the best one we could find, Emmy (Mike's fiance) actually sent over to me this week (Ken is on the far right, Mike on the left and Dad in the middle).  All the other pics we have of him look like mug shots! 

Don't take one day in this life for granted - we don't know when our last breath will be taken.  Love those around you, don't live in bitterness and devote yourself to living a life Christ would be proud of.  Stay connected to family and love deeply.

This has been a difficult week for us all, but we push on hanging on to God's promises.

I was blessed to be this man's sister.

Philippians 3:13-14
Now, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

We all have done things for which we are ashamed, and we live in the tension of what we have been and what we want to be.  Because our hope is in Christ, however, we can let go of past guilt and look forward to what God will help us become.  Don't dwell on your past.  Instead grow in the knowledge of God by concentrating on your relationship with him now.  Realize that you can be forgive and move on to a life of faith and obedience.  Look forward to a fuller and more meaningful life because of the hope Christ offers.

The Dash - By Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone,
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before. 
If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?