My family has always meant the world to me. I have always known that I have a wonderful family. I have always known that we can count on each other during the good times and the bad. Thankfully up until 2012 almost all of the times I've been with my family have been good times and the happiest of memories. It's not even September yet and 2012 has been the biggest year of loss my family has experienced in the almost 26 years of my life. In April, we lost my Aunt Wanda (follow link to previous post), and it devastated me that the world lost such a free spirit.
Now, I want to share with the world what a wonderful, Godly man my Pawpaw was, how great my family is and how difficult this journey was on us all...
September 2010 the doctors found an extremely rare tumor in the direct center of my Pawpaw's brain. He was 70 years old, and they decided the best course of treatment would be radiation to keep the tumor from growing instead of removing it due to its location and his age. Radiation was not a permanent fix though, and July 9, 2012 he was admitted into ICU because this rapid growing tumor had started growing again. A new doctor had seen his case since 2010 and was willing to try surgery because the tumor was now terminal and radiation was no longer an option. There were great risks with this surgery. My Pawpaw knew them all and as a preacher of God's word for the last 35+ years, he had already made his "peace" with God and knew whatever the outcome, it would be better than what he was experiencing. Surgery was scheduled for Friday, July 13, 2012. I was supposed to start 13 days of vacation the next day. Thankfully my employer and coworkers worked it out so that I was able to join my family during the surgery. I arrived at the hospital that morning prior to them taking him back. We were able to pray with him and each other. He told us he loved us (a memory I will cherish for a lifetime). We cried. We held one another. They came to take him and wheel him to the operating room and we followed him until we weren't allowed any farther. The aching in my chest that he may not make it out of that surgery was one of the most real emotions I've had in my life.
Something I'm not sure we are ever ready for is to see the people we've looked up to our whole life in tears. It is an awful feeling in your core when you see your Daddy holding onto his sisters and mother as his Daddy is being wheeled away to a risky surgery on a terminal brain tumor. It is heart wrenching to think about the worry in their souls, and to see the sorrow on their faces because it is out of their hands. Seeing the strongest people I know at their breaking points was quite possibly the most humbling experience of my life.
I learned a lot about myself and my family that day. It seemed like he was in surgery for an eternity. We sat in silence a lot. Mostly though, we enjoyed each others' company--despite the circumstances. We laughed more than we probably ever thought we would. We laughed til we cried.Then, we cried til we laughed again. I know that God had his hand on us that day (as He does every day) because He was preparing us for the longest journey we've ever endured as a family.
My Pawpaw made it out of surgery 8+ hours later. They were able to remove most of the tumor, but he never really woke up from it. He was barely conscious for the next 13 days. Then, on July 26th, they took him down to insert a drain tube in his head--he already had a shunt, it wasn't working, it was not supposed to be a major event. Most of the family wasn't even in town (he was in the hospital 2+ hours away from where we live), let alone at the hospital when this was taking place. While they were performing this mildly routine procedure, he had a hemorrhage in his brain which sent him into a deep coma, and he was placed on a ventilator. After running tests that weekend and letting him rest, it was determined that next Monday, July 30, 2012 that there was nothing else medically that could be done. We were able to have him transferred back to our home town, they removed the ventilator between 5 and 6 pm that day, and we waited. And we waited. And we waited. We had just thought the previous 3-4 weeks had been exhausting, but nothing could've prepared us for this.
Something I had never honestly thought about in my whole entire life was what happens after "life support" is removed. On TV they make it seem so sudden. They remove the ventilator and then the crying starts, then the flat line and then they raise up the sheet and call "time of death". Well, I'm a television medical drama professional--House and Grey's are my favorites--but this was nothing like that. It was on the verge of torture sitting at his bedside or in the hallway because at times you can't bare to sit and watch him struggle for each breath.
It was emotionally draining to pray and beg God to either let him stand up and walk out of the hospital or go to heaven to meet Him. It was gut-wrenching to watch my grandmother--his wife for 47 years--sleep in a hospital "recliner" next to his bed every nite.
It was torture to have to go to work and be on edge all day because at any moment you could get a phone call telling you to leave and come back to the hospital because "it's time". Well, after the longest week of our lives a little after midnight on the morning of Monday, August 6, 2012, my Pawpaw finally got his peace. The fight was over. He met our God and has been dancing on the streets of gold ever since.
The funeral was a beautiful remembrance of his life. It was a celebration because of his 2 favorite things--God and his family. A close 3rd was his love for Yankees Baseball though lol.
This experience through the loss of my Pawpaw has taught me several things:
- Family will always stand by my side no matter what.
- I have wonderful supportive friends that held me up when I didn't feel I could stand.
- My employers are great because they gave me all the time I needed with my family--no questions asked.
- Love does exist--my grandparents were living proof of that.
- I need to get back in church because that's where God and my Pawpaw want me to be
- AJ is one of the most supportive, loving men I've ever met in my life and I am thankful for him.
- Sometimes it's okay to laugh even when all you want to do is cry.
- Sometimes strong people feel weak too--and that's okay.
- God has a plan through it all... even when we can't see it.