Sunday, May 26, 2013

Because I Don't Want to Forget

My Dad was incredibly brave.  I never really knew just how brave he was until last week.  I knew he was an incredibly hard worker, devoted father and husband, and very spiritual.  He would joke about life and death and always say he wasn't afraid to die.  He spoke about the plans and wishes he had for his passing.  We always thought him very dramatic and almost a bit morbid.  But did he know something we didn't?

I almost want to say, "Yes!"  My youngest brother and I flew on May 8th from Minneapolis to Atlanta where our youngest sister picked us up in a rental car.  We already had our route planned out to drive from there to Birmingham, through Memphis, on to Little Rock and possibly make it to Oklahoma City.  We finally arrived in OK City at 3:30AM on Thursday morning where we got a hotel room, slept 4 hours, ate breakfast, and headed as fast as we could to Texas to make it to our parents and our childhood home.  While on the road, we prayed an hourly novena to the Infant of Prague to see our dad one last time before he passed away.

We arrived in plenty of time.  But it was what followed that was the most grace-filled and inspiring.  Our dad and mom called us together to pray a rosary before bedtime every night until dad could pray no more.  It was incredibly beautiful to hear him pray in Spanish from memory with his eyes closed because he was so tired.  We knew that not undergoing dialysis for a week, at that time, was only building up more toxins in his body that his one kidney could not filter and eliminate.  We found out later from his hospice nurse that the kidney was only functioning at a GFR of 11.  This meant he was at Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease.  You can read more about that here.  Without dialysis to help filter his blood, it would only be a matter of days or weeks before he would fall asleep and slip away from us.

Every time he closed his eyes or took a nap, we worried if he would wake up.  I kept reading online for signs I should look for.  We watched and waited all weekend after we arrived until Monday evening when he was so very tired.  I encouraged him to sleep and rest, but he wanted to be awake as long as possible.  He said it was so hard to get up after sleeping.  I told him it was ok.  He should rest his body. Tuesday afternoon he slept continuously so we decided to stay up and keep watch over him.  His breathing had changed and I was concerned that he was finally transitioning.  I could only relate to what was going on by comparing it to labor and delivery.  I almost knew intuitively that he would need us to help him in his final moments and usher him through with what he ultimately wanted.

So what did he want?  He wanted so badly to be with Jesus.  His body was so tired that he wanted to rest.  He seemed to be so torn though between those desires and leaving us behind.  He seemed worried that we would be too sad to go on.  He seemed to want to make sure that we had each other and would be there for one another after he left.  He seemed to not want to leave our mom alone.

So we set out to reassure him.  At the moment I thought he was transitioning, I called my mom, sister, and brother.  He waved goodbye to us, cried, and wanted each of us.  He blessed us, told us he loved us, and blessed us one last time.  We really thought it was the end.  I called my other sister and oldest brother who were back at their homes.  My sister came quickly an hour and a half away.  Our oldest brother lives 3 hours away so it was harder for him to get to us.  He and I decided he should wait it out to see what would be the outcome.

But then, Dad rallied.  He wanted to get up and out of bed.  He wanted something to drink and to go the bathroom.  He wanted to change his clothes.  We were so surprised at this sudden change.  Then came the frustration.  He started to fall back to sleep once in his bed.  We could tell he was groggy and needed to sleep.  But he was still talking to us.  He was so frustrated that Jesus didn't take him.  He was angry that he had received confession, communion, and was anointed; but still Jesus wouldn't take him.  I told him Jesus was trying to teach him patience.  He was so frustrated.  So he began to sing, "How Great Thou Art."  He wanted us to sing, too!  He wouldn't let us stop singing.  He told us what he wanted to sing and what he didn't want to sing.  We sang, "One Bread, One Body," "Gentle Woman," "Here I Am, "Amazing Grace."  We sounded like a bunch of drunks singing at 3AM!  But that's what he wanted.  He finally fell asleep, and that was the last time he spoke to us.  Later on, I read the following that made me think of that time we spent with him at the wee hours of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning:
There may be a surge of energy as they get nearer. They may want to get out of bed and talk to loved ones, or ask for food after days of no appetite. This surge of energy may be quite a bit less noticeable but is usually used as a dying person's final physical expression before moving on.
The surge of energy is usually short....
Dad slept all day Wednesday so we kept watch over him stroking his head and arms with a washcloth.  We would change up the cloth and place it on his forehead.  We talked to him, prayed at his side, and ate in his room.  We relieved each other for naps and just to get away for a bit.  Meanwhile, visitors were still coming to see him, pray for him, and drop off food for us.  It was exhausting.

That night, we decided to keep vigil in shifts.  We would not leave his side.  We kept his little light on over his bed just to keep the room lit for reading and praying.  I did a horrible job of keeping watch.  I fell asleep twice and finally slept from 2-6AM .  Thursday morning, I woke up, showered, and made my breakfast.  I ate half of it with my mother.  My oatmeal, I ate at my dad's bedside.  I prayed and cried and prayed some more.  I finally decided to take a nap at 9AM.  I put my headphones on and napped in a recliner in the living room.  Two hours later, I was up and my sisters called me to dad's room.  We were all there.  He was having a harder time breathing as more mucus and now a tinge of blood was building up in his mouth.  We knew it would be no use to aspirate him.  My sister and I took turns wiping his mouth.  Finally, I told her I couldn't do it anymore.  I was in so much mental anguish over seeing my daddy slip away.  I grabbed his prayer book and started to pray his prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I kept praying and praying through all those shallow breaths....gasps really as he was slowly suffocating.  We cried and stroked his arms and head.  He looked just like a little boy sleeping on his pillow shallowly breathing.  His body was working so hard.  I kept talking to him telling him what a good job he was doing and how proud I was of him.  I tried to hold him and stroke his head.  We all did many affectionate things to let him know how much he was loved.  They say hearing is the last sense to go so we made sure he heard nothing but positive things as he went away.

Finally, he was gone.  We cried, held each other, made calls, and sobbed.  I felt so I would lie down on the ground and never get up again.  I was seriously overwhelmed.  But I had to get up and go to my mom.  She was so devastated.  She felt so alone so we had to reassure her that she wasn't. We were now at recovery.

You finally get tired of crying so you stop.  It was then that we sat in the room watching dad and just being still.  We started to talk and laugh and just watch him.  We were waiting for the hospice nurse to get there.  She was an hour and a half away.  She would be the one to pronounce dad.  The time that will stay burned in our minds is only significant to us.  No certificate reflects that time.  That is our gift. We were there when he passed.  That is our gift.

These are the things he knew that I thought I did and probably didn't.  Dad knew that this life is only temporary.  He lived that belief and died believing it.  He knew what it would be like, and he embraced it.  He went bravely and never fought against it.  Some may say that he couldn't fight the inevitable based on what was happening with his body.  But I think he didn't fight because he knew Jesus was waiting for him.  After a life of studying Scripture, prayer and meditation, and knowing God personally; Dad knew this could not be the end.  I want to know that reality.  I want to embrace eternity with my feet in the world, but my heart in heaven.  Oh, that I could know what he knew.  How I long for that grace.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Jane's 5th Birthday Party

We decided to wait until today to celebrate Jane's 5th Birthday.  She turned 5 on Tuesday but because I wasn't here, I didn't think it right to order everyone around from TX in what to wrap, buy, and bake for her special day.  And although the older girls did most of the work to prepare for her birthday celebration, I was happier to be delegating from here rather than from out of state.

Jane is still very much into Disney princesses so this was our big chance to FINALLY try to make a doll cake.  Woohoo!

Milah, Grandpa Ben, and Grandma Carol were our special guests.  We didn't have dinner together....just cake and opened gifts.

Love this shot of Jane blowing out her birthday candles!

Ripping open gifts!

Happy 5th Birthday, Jane.
We Love You!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Fine Line

I've wanted to blog every detail of my time here in Texas. Oh, yes, I should catch you all up.....I'm still here. I've been away from Paul and the kids and Minnesota since Wednesday, May 8. I am actually headed back today with my youngest sister and youngest brother. It was an incredibly grace filled two weeks.

Our dad passed away last Thursday peacefully in our home surrounded by four of us kids plus our mom. Here's what I read at the rosary on Sunday evening before his funeral:

Two weeks ago, we all received calls saying our Dad had been hospitalized for chest pain which later made known increased fluid around his heart and a touch of pneumonia. We were used to getting calls like this one as our dad had battled with a progressive case of diabetes with all the ramifications of that illness. We saw him go from an active father and grandfather, apostle and evangelizer to a tired, man who was fighting to stay strongly alive for all of us. When we finally were faced with the decision to have him begin dialisys two years ago, we didn't know what to think or what his options were. He said that even our oldest brother, Ruben Jr., knew then that he didn't want to undergo dialysis sessions three times a week. But he did it. He decided to give it a go and try to see if his quality of life would improve. It went well for a while, but slowly his eyesight started to fail and his knees worsened until two weeks ago he made the decision with all of us to discontinue dialysis.

With all of us spread out all over the country, he had one last lesson to teach us....compassion. Did we have the capacity to be compassionate? Did we have the strength shored up to endure the inevitable. These days almost nothing can surprise you. With the internet and social media, cell phones and ipads we'd become so interconnected and yet widely dispersed. Now our dad was calling us to take time out of our busy schedules to be instead of do. And yet we tried to "do". Some of us flew and some of us drove, we cried and prayed and sat and laughed. We spent days and a good solid week with him. We dug up old hurts and tucked away feelings just to honor him and his wishes to let go and let God. And finally, we had to sit and be with him. We watched him, held vigil with him, ate our food at his bedside, and prayed for peace. We administered medication to him until he could swallow no more. And we finally prayed for ourselves to see him slip away. Slowly he slipped out of our arms into the arms of Jesus.

The following is a handwriting exercise that was done by my oldest daughter, Daddy's granddaughter, Monica, when she was in 4th or 5th grade. I keep it taped to my refrigerator door to remind me what life is really about:

Our life is a path towards paradise, where we will be loved and will love forever in a complete and perfect way. We are born only to go to paradise. The thought of paradise must make you strong against temptations. If you are united with Christ, you will triumph over every difficulty. I pray the Blessed Virgin to accompany you with her protection. Look upwards. Look up to Jesus and to those who really know Him, love Him, follow Him! Look to Jesus who is Truth, Love the Example that illuminates, attracts and convinces! Every hope of yours is satisfied in Him! Jesus taught not only by word, but also by His actions in helping others. You have followed in his footsteps. He will surely reward you and fill you with His blessings. -Pope John Paul II

The following was the prayer we prayed as he breathed his last breath. For all of you who are feeling even the slightest bit distraught because he can't sit with you or talk to you or smile at you anymore, this prayer is for you....

Jesus, Help Me!

In every need let me come to Thee with humble trust, saying, Jesus, help me!

In all my doubts, perplexities, and temptations,Jesus, help me!

In hours of loneliness, weariness and trials, Jesus, help me!

In the failure of my plans and hopes; in disappointments, troubles and sorrows, Jesus, help me!

When my heart is cast down by failure, at seeing no good come from my efforts, Jesus, help me!

When others fail me, and Thy grace alone can assist me, Jesus, help me!

When I throw myself on Thy tender love as Father and Savior, Jesus, help me!

When I feel impatient, and my cross irritates me, Jesus, help me!

When sickness and loneliness overcome me, Jesus, help me!

Always, in weakness, falls and shortcomings of every kind, Jesus, help me and never forsake me.

Evening Lenten Sky copyrighted by Catholic Tradition./

These are some of the highlights from our time in Texas....

lots of visitors while our dad was sick,
Tons of food during his illness and after his death,
People who would stop to pray,
Comforting visits,
Masses offered,
Money given,
So many people who attended the rosary and funeral,
An incredible funeral director who knew our dad personally,
Lots and lots of flowers,
Two concelebrating priests for the funeral Mass,
An all night vigil the night before the funeral and people who sang and prayed unceasingly that whole night,
Finding out just how spiritual and loved and what an incredible inspiration and example our dad was,
How strong our mother is,
What a holy death looks like,
How much me and my siblings love each other and how varied our talents are,
What a loving parish community is like in a small town....

These and so many other graces were ours for the time we spent while watching our dad go from this world to the next. I am so grateful for my faith, the Eucharist, and the love of family. Without these, I would be so lost after all the pain I experienced in losing my father and seeing my mother left alone.

Yes, Lord, I do believe.....I really do believe!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why I've Been So Quiet....

I've been making preparations.  Preparations for the kids and Paul and packing a bag, making phone calls, finishing up last minute details, and buying plane tickets.  I've wanted to sit and breathe and cry.  The next few days will test my resolve.  I'm headed back to Texas with my siblings for one last goodbye.

Please keep my family in your prayers.  The following song has been playing in my head over and over and over.
Shepherd me O God beyond my wants, beyond my fears from death into life.
The gospel reading for today made me cry....
I am going to the one who sent me....grief has filled your is better for you that I go.....because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me;
And this has been taped to my fridge since Monica did it as a handwriting exercise in 4th or 5th grade:
Our life is a path towards paradise, where we will be loved and will love forever in a complete and perfect way.  We are born only to go to paradise.  The thought of paradise must make you strong against temptations.  If you are united with Christ, you will triumph over every difficulty.  I pray the Blessed Virgin to accompany you with her protection.  Look upwards.  Look up to Jesus and to those who really know Him, love Him, follow Him!  Look to Jesus who is Truth, Love the Example that illuminates, attracts and convinces!  Every hope of yours is satisfied in Him!  Jesus taught not only by word, but also by His actions in helping others.  You have followed in his footsteps.  He will surely reward you and fill you with His blessings.    -Pope John Paul II

St. Joseph, patron of fathers, please pray for my 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Sweetest Things

Today the boys were home from school because of a stomach virus.  They seem to be fine now, but it was a horrible night last night for sleeping.  Paul and I were up quite a bit with Lucas, and Gabe was a wreck this morning.

Angry Birds Centerpiece for Gabe's 7th Birthday Party/Dinner

I didn't feel great at all because of the lack of sleep.  I managed to get Monica to a class and make a few meals, but nothing too exciting.

Angry Birds Cupcake Toppers Used on Brownies picked out by the Birthday Boy!

The one bright spot in my day was a journal entry Gabe made.  It was very sweet.  He took a little notebook, a teacher's gift for me from the Religion Coordinators for teaching 4th grade this year, and a red pen and showed me this....

At the beginning of my life I knew I would have a good education and have good friends.  A good life is a treasure thought I, beautiful and kind friends are the best!  such as my family.
Is that sweet or what?  It made me think of a little note Monica gave me while in first grade....

Mama I wish I could be home but I have to go to school.

It was then that I knew I had a purpose in life to be the best mother I could be.  I don't always hit the mark, but sometimes.....sometimes I receive these little consolations that maybe, just maybe I do!

The One and Only....Gabe, the 7 Year Old Birthday Boy
 All Photos Were Taken by Maria, the designated photographer for the party!
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