Monday, March 30, 2015

The Last Goodbye

Mom and me and the canary in Brooklyn, age two

Three nights ago, I re-ran a devotional I wrote in August of 2006. It was called The Living Years and was based on two themes.The first was a surprise celebration of my folks' life put on by their congregation in St. Louis, spearheaded by their dear friends, Jeanette and Don Gartner. The second was the song the entry was named after by Mike And the Mechanics. The message was that there will come a point in time when it is too late to tell somebody what they mean so we better do it while we have the chance. This morning, there was an e-mail in my box from one of my favorite people, a former student and basketball manaer, whose friendship I treasure. Reprinted with her blessing, it read:
Thank you for sharing, Coach.  That song always moves me to tears.  Dennis and his father hadn’t spoken for 7 years before his father passed away.  It always makes me think of that song.  However, Dennis did end up getting to be with his dad two hours before he passed.  His dad was an alcoholic his whole life.  He ended up getting throat cancer in part due to his smoking and drinking habits.  He was on his death bed and the doctor said he should have already passed.  The doctor then asked if maybe he had some unfinished business.  At that point, the family called Dennis.  We immediately drove to Huntingdon, TN (about 3 hours away).  Dennis got to be with his dad for about 2 hours before he passed.  He got to tell his dad “all the things I had to say”.  He always doubts if his dad knew he was there or knew what he was saying.  It is my belief that he did, and that in those final moments, a peace came over them both. 

Thanks for sharing, as always.  Love you, Coach!!  You make a difference every day!!  J

I was touched by what she shared about her husband and it especially got to me because I was in the same boat six years ago tonight. It wasn't exactly the same boat- the circumstances were vastly different - but it struck a chord. You see, Mom was dying. She was in a nursing home in Wichita, Kansas just blocks from the homes of my brothers, Dave and Scott. The day before, the doctor told them the end was near. Being the professional that I am, I had to get all my ducks in a row. Karen Keese, head of our art department at WCS, urged me to go ahead and leave. Karen's mom had died from ALS when she was in high school and she knew the value of being there at the end. But I had to make up one last quiz, one last study guide, one last set of instructions for my subs. So, I waited to fly out until early the next morning. My flight was to Oklahoma City where I rented a car for the two hour drive to Wichita. Right outside the airport as I made my way up I-35, Dave called and told me that Mom was gone. I don't recall pulling over but I do remember tears streaming down my face. I was just a couple of hours too late.

You know, the funny thing is that Mom had been unresponsive for days. Her body had shut down, just given up. Dad had died the previous April, the result of a stroke we believe was at least partially caused by his non stop caring for his wife, our mother. I read a blog this afternoon, the gist of which was the most overlooked characteristic of a spousal choice is how they might respond to that line in the vows, the in sickness or in health one. We watched Dad die and I am convinced his last thought was of his beloved mate. I was the one who went to the nursing home in St. Louis where Mom was temporarily being cared for to tell her. She had no reaction and never comprehended she was a widow. That summer, my niece Karis and I drove Mom from St. Louis to her new home in Kansas, a facility she would never leave. I spent quite a bit of time with Mom that Thanksgiving and Christmas, sitting by her bed and at the dinner table with her. Incredibly sweet until the end, the doctors assured us our mother was in no pain. The pain came for me in that I didn't get to hold her hand one last time or kiss her forehead or whisper, 'I love you, Mom' before the final breath. I don't feel guilty but I do feel regret. She was there when I was born but I wasn't there when she died. I can't turn back the clock but I can make the most of future chances. Jesus loved His mother until the end- so did I even if I came up several hours short to tell her in person. Hug your mom if you still can and do me a favor. Hug her once for me.

Applicable quote of the day:

Every kid needs to say, 'I want what my mom and dad have.'

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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