Thursday, April 17, 2008

good grief

well, it's been a while. where do i begin? do i start with the obvious? i guess so...i mean, where else is there to begin? ok then, john's mom died. looking at those words on the screen in black and white is stranger than i thought it would be. even typing the word "died" is weird. as you prepare to put those four small letters up there you start thinking of all the nicer ways of saying dead...passed on, passed away, passed, and so on and so on... they all seem to imply that i can't take the fact that she's dead- or that i'm somehow deluding myself into thinking that she's something other than dead. but she's not- she's not on vacation, she's not taking a nap, she's not living in another town- she's really gone.

sandra died on march 7th somewhere between two and four a.m. i last saw her at midnight when i tucked her in and kissed her good night. did i know it was the last time i'd see her on this side of heaven? i don't know- if you'd have asked me then i don't know if i'd be this sure, but today i'd say that i did know and that i prayed that it would be. she'd gotten so much more sick in the last 24 hours of her life that i was glad to know that she wouldn't be suffering long. the only part of it that still makes my head spin is how fast it all happened. she died on a friday. wednesday the week prior, john and i attended the funeral of a woman who left behind two sons and a husband. it was especially poignant because of sandra's cancer- but not because we had any inkling of sandra's impending death. we knew her death was out there on the horizon- but we had no thought that it was that close. thursday the week prior, sandra and i were heading to her weekly chemotherapy appointment. she looked yellow- really yellow- which i thought they'd resolve with some medication or another and get her back on track and we'd continue chemo. boy was i mistaken. we waltzed into the office to looks of concern and received not chemo but a directive to take ourselves to the ER. about six hours into the ER visit, a nice-enough doctor walked into the room and very tactfully delivered the news that we ought to be thinking about not treating the cancer anymore. wow- seriously- what a shock that was. and the funny thing was that he said it as though we must have known, but were fighting to keep treating a cancer that was obviously beyond treating. we had no clue. doctor #2 came in the next day, after she'd been admitted, and told us her cancer had annihilated her liver, was getting into her spine and was probably in her spleen and elsewhere and that we should get hospice on board and that she should "get her affairs in order." ok, so at that point we knew she was terminal. that was friday. she spent the weekend at the hospital in relatively good health. she was in good spirits, received her multitude of visitors happily and was able to get all of the things in order that needed to be done...including hospice. at that point, at least to me, hospice seemed like a formality- just getting the ducks in a row so that "when the time came" we'd be ready- we wouldn't be scrambling. she came home on monday night, and tuesday she was up early and spent the day recalling the people and details from old family photos with her cousin connie & family. wednesday she was up early again, sitting in the green chair in the living room reading while i made her breakfast. she went down for a long nap and i left for work. i guess that evening was when it hit me that things were going to happen quickly. john came home to collect some clothes and told me that she'd only gotten up for an hour that night and had gone exhaustedly back to sleep. still though, i thought it would be weeks. thursday morning, i called john (he'd stayed the night with her) and found out that she was still in bed. i collected the kids and we hopped in the car- made a pit stop at wagon wheel for a to-go order of some pancakes for her- and came over. her condition had really declined in the 24 hours that had passed since she was sitting up in the living room, eating eggs and toast and reading the paper with me. hospice came by and evaluated our situation and sandra's condition. while i was walking her out, i asked the "burning question" - how long did they think sandra had? answer: a week. sandra died 12 hours later. she spent that last day with john, mary, the kids and i. john spent the day in the room with her, reading to her and singing hymns to her. pastor ted came by and read to her and prayed with her. evening came, mark & michele and other loved ones came to say goodbye and spend time with us. it was truly a lovely day. i know that must seem strange, but really it was. it was, and is, a privilege to have been a part of this whole process. to watch a person dying who has no fear, who is in fact so excited at her future. to watch her husband and her children cheer her on. not because any of them are nuts- because all of them know with certainty where she's going. it's humbling.

and then, around midnight, i kissed her forehead and gushed for a moment about how much i loved her and how much i missed her and then i prayed that the Lord would take her home that night- peacefully in her sleep. and He did. i know people always say that someone went 'peacefully in their sleep', but she really did. when i saw her the next morning, she was in exactly the same position i'd left her. she had not stirred one bit. she did not struggle, she was not scared and she was not alone. Jesus was with her. He was with her because He, fully man, knows what it means to die and because He, fully God, is the Great Comforter. He walked her every step of the way to Heaven.

i bet you're reading this and thinking one of two things. a) i'm totally morbid or b) i'm totally weird and in total denial.

can i be partially part a of b?

i know i'm not morbid. i don't think i'm in denial (does anyone?), and i guess i am blunt but i think i'm ok. not ok in the sense that i don't miss her ALL the time. she was one of my closest friends, so of course i miss her. she was the person that i spoke with on the phone daily, who i saw almost daily and who was there with me through some pretty hairy times and some really good times. she was such an amazing person, so full of love and delight that it was hard to be near her without feeling more loving and delighted yourself.

she could rattle off the name of any plant (or bird for that matter) from memory; she could explain to you what it meant that someone was your first cousin once removed and not your second cousin; she'd sit there and let me rattle on about some biology thing or another that i'd found interesting; she'd listen to me regale stories of the silly little things in life; she was always up for a sit down at the wagon wheel or a late night white russian over some spider solitaire (or a telenovela...); she took care of me while john was gone and i was sick; she was my constant companion when he was gone too; and she prayed for me and helped me to try to be the wife and mom that i want so much to be- both by her example and with her good and loving advice.

sandra's the first person whose death has immediately effected (?affected? those two always screw me up) my daily life. and not just mine, but the lives of everyone i love. poor little ella has lost so much in losing her gramma so young. those two were like two peas in a pod. and john of course, i can't even fathom what it must mean to lose your mom. if it hurts me this much, i can't even imagine.

the good news is, she's in Heaven. and i don't mean heaven, i mean Heaven. she's there because she put her trust in Jesus and He brought her home. am i mad that God gave sandra cancer, and took her from us at only 65? no, i'm really not, i'm grateful. i'm grateful that He thought enough of me to bring me into her family and into her life. i'm so grateful for the unbelievable mercies that He showed her, throughout her life and while she was dying.

as far as i can tell, the death part of the equation isn't His fault- it's ours. hers and mine and yours. He just condescended to make it right- to take her soul to be with Him in unimaginable glory until He resurrects her in a body free not only of cancer, but of sin and every one of its ravages. thank you, Lord. thank you for all of that, and for giving me absolute faith in its truth.

who on earth could be mad at that?

i do miss her terribly, but i don't want her back. every time i think of her, all the things she must be feeling and experiencing, i'm so happy for her. i wouldn't even think of wishing she were still here among the mud pies. and although i'm sad for me, for john, for ella and josiah, for dan, for mark & mary and for the innumerable people whose lives were touched by her life and saddened by her death, i am comforted- really, really comforted- by the fact that i WILL see her again.

p.s. if you want the link to pics & more of sandra:


Bre said...

Wow, Crista!!!

Thank you for what you wrote. If I can see my computer screen through the bawling mess you have made of my face, I would like to share with you the fact that I was not priveledged enough to really know Sandra (other than just meeting her a few times and seeing her at church on Sunday mornings). I can still remember how moved I was, though, when pastor Ted announced that she would be going home to be with the Lord very soon. I don't think you had to know her to know the profound impact that was going to have on the life of our church and on so many lives. Knowing of her was enough.

I felt every single word you wrote in this post. Believe me when I say that we will be praying for you, John and the kids, as well as your extended family. And, I am so thankful that, someday, I will get to know your dear Sandra. It's not too late for those of us whose hope is in Him, is it?

Thank you for your heart.
Bre (Silas's mom)

Josh and Sabine said...

I was so sad at reading the news. I have flashbacks of experiencing the same thing with my mom dying unexpectedly of cancer and all the emotions I felt around that time. Thank you for such an uplifting testimony. I wish I had had the same attitude as you instead of being so overly emotional and such a mess after my mom passed away. You guys are definitely in our prayers.

Bethany said...

Thanks for writing this, Crista. I wish I could have known Sandra better because I know that Evan loved her so much. I still vividly remember the first time I met her--Evan had been so eager to introduce me to your whole family, and we dropped by the house unexpectedly one afternoon. Sandra was at home alone with baby Ella, and she was so loving and gracious and made me (and I know everyone else who knew her or even just met her) feel so at ease, so loved, really.

So I was thankful to read your account of her final days. I looked at the pictures a few days ago and cried and cried. Her love for her family is so apparent in those pictures--and in the way that she spent her last days.

And, no, I don't think you're morbid or weird. My grandfather passed away similarly--so quickly yet so peacefully. And it was so sad to say goodbye to him, but it was so wonderful to be with a person who was unafraid to die because he looked forward to Heaven. I really appreciate that you took the time to write about Sandra's death--it's a testament to the power of God's love in her life. Our prayers are with you and your family right now.


Caleb and Jennifer said...

Crista-Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings so honestly. I already thought so highly of John's mom after hearing the two of you speak of her (and meeting her very briefly in Atlanta), but your words are such testimony to what a wonderful Godly woman she was and what a wonderful mother-in-law she was to you. I'll be praying for you all and the rest of your family.

Rachel said...

Beautiful. I loved her so.

Mrs. Fix said...

Right on Crista. I too can't wait to see her again!

Mel said...

Crista, I'm going to be sure my mom and dad both read your post about Aunt Sandra; they'll appreciate it so much.

...Sometimes it's so difficult to not selfishly wish for Aunt Sandra to be back here with us. I'll have to read and re-read this post whenever I'm faced with that struggle.

By the way, I didn't notice the title you gave this until I started writing this comment. Now I'm teary eyed. What a PERFECT title! I can just hear her saying those words now. ...I wonder how many times she's uttered the words "oh, what FUN" since she left us!? ... oh, the memories!