Thursday, December 28, 2017

Our first holiday without them....

2017 has been a terrible year for our family. 

Yes, of course, good things happened for each and every one of us along the way, but those things were overshadowed by the daily journey we walked with our dad this year, watching him slip away from us little by little. 

2017 was a year of questioning.

  • It was a year of heartbreak.
  • It was a year of resurged optimism that THIS time we could beat that same repugnant disease that had stolen our mom from us only 4 years prior.
  • It was a year of fighting and pushing forward.
  • It was a year of learning things about home health care and feeding tubes and medicines that I never dreamed I would have to know.
  • It was a year of experiencing the amazing gift that Hospice offers to families like ours.
  • It was a year of tough conversations that no kids should ever have to have with their parent.
  • It was a year of verbally releasing our dad from his fight so that he could go and join our mom in heaven.

But more than anything 2017 was a year for our Tribe of 9 to grow into a UNIT OF ONE. We had to. It became necessary the closer to death that he got. It was a choice of either bind tighter together or lose what little family we had left. And as I am writing this post on December 28th, I can assure you....all 9 of us chose to BIND.

We are not perfect and some days, lord, we drive each other crazy, but the 9 of us recognize that FAMILY comes first, above ALL else. 

And now, just a little more than 2 months since Dad was taken from us, I sit here, at my sister's house in Crested Butte CO and realize that we've done exactly what we set out to do as he passed away from us on October 19th.

During these last 2 1/2 months, our Tribe of 9 has been under the same roof so many times-- from dad's funeral to packing up his estate to Thanksgiving to Jess' graduation from Sam Houston State University and now Christmas. 

We have CHOSEN that although cancer has robbed us of both of our parents in the last 4 years, it will not rob us of the chance for our tribe to come together every time we possibly can. And as the oldest one left in our family, it is my responsibility to make sure that we don't forget that. 

2017 might have sucked the life out of us again and again, but I am pushing forward to 2018 determined to push the Shawshank adage of GET BUSY LIVING back into us....and even more so, back into myself.  

Was Christmas hard without Dad here?
Hell yes, it was.

Have we all had moments when we just wanted to quit and crawl into bed so we could wallow in the loss that has become ours recently? Oh my god, yes.

Have we questioned the grand plan of life and why this awfulness has besieged our little family AGAIN? You better believe it.

But through it all, our tribe persists. 
We love each other fiercely.
We protect each other without fail.

And we commit that 2018 is going to look far different than 2017 did.
One foot in front of the other.
One breath at a time.
And cherishing each moment as the next comes our way. 

Life...or perhaps the universe...or maybe some great cosmic power that is running this show...all attempted to knock us down in 2017, but that time is over. 

9 separate individuals cannot do much on their own, but 9 bound together as 1 is almost unbreakable.

So as we Henry David Thoreau our way into 2018, we determine that It. Will. Get. Better. 

In fact, I believe we aren't due for it to just be better. 

We are overdue for some abso-fucking-awesomeness in our lives now. 

The suffering is done. The living starts now. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Distinct Honor

Last night at about 11:30PM my dad took his last breath in his home in College Station. He was released from the pain and the suffering that had ravaged his sweet little body for too long. 

Death is hard.
It's especially hard on our kids because they just don't really quite grasp the concepts of suffering and palliative care. This is even more true when we have kiddos who have not had any up close and personal experience in their relatively short lives. They see someone they love suffering and it they just don't understand why it has to continue day in and day out. 

A year ago I would have said that exact thing about my 2 kids. Yes, Jess watched my mom decline in the 256 days she lived with pancreatic cancer, but because we all lived so far away from her, it was not something that confronted us each and every day. 

When we moved my dad here last year, I knew that this would be a double-sided experience for Jess and Jacob. Yes, they would get to have amazing moments on a very regular basis with their Pa, but they would also have to watch his body break down a little more each day, until finally he just was not able to fight that disease any longer. 

On Sunday night, as 9 of us gathered around the dinner table for a big pot of gumbo with my dad lying in his bed in the next room, Corrie said, "MoMo, Pa can't eat dinner with us because he's getting ready to go to heaven to see Granny."  Precious words from my precious girl. She got it. In her very simple way, she totally got it. She was not bogged down in the hours and hours it was taking for his body to give his spirit permission to go; she was merely recognizing the fact that his chair at the dinner table was not needed any longer because he was going on to something better than we could even imagine. 

So yes, the last year was filled with precious moments for my kids--moments they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.  But there is one moment in particular that I could not have planned. The beautifulness in how it happened is what I am most thankful for as I sit and reflect on the last 24 hours.

Since my sister and her family flew back to Colorado on Tuesday, Jacob knew I would be sleeping over at Dad's. It's only 9 houses down from our house, so I told him he could just go home each night and then I would come and wake him up for school the next morning. But he insisted on staying there with me on Tuesday night. We were up really late as Dad was incredibly restless that night, and I was so thankful he was there. It was not that he DID anything; it was that he put my care above his own and stayed.... 

It was hard on him at school the next day, so last night, I told him around 10:30 that he could just go on home and get a good night's sleep. But he said NO. I didn't even have to ask. He made the decision to stay.

We checked on dad several times before we got ready for bed and each time, he was lying there in his bed, fighting for each inhale and exhale... I firmly believe he knew we were there. Even though his heart had slowed quite a bit from the rapid beats it had been pumping the last several days, I thought we still had several hours ahead of us, so at about 11:20, I went into the living room to put the sheets on the couch for Jacob while he was in the bathroom finishing up his nightly routine.  

A few minutes later, the preparations were done.
We were about ready to turn in as I looked at him and told him how glad I was that he decided to stay with me. And then I went in to check on dad one more time before brushing my teeth... and I discovered that while we were doing those other things, Dad had taken his last breath. Jacob must have heard me start to cry because in just a matter of seconds, he was standing there with his arm around me, just holding onto me.... 

We stayed that way for just a little while, each of us stroking dad's hand as his body very quickly began to turn cold...  A few minutes passed before it registered that I needed to start making my calls to our Hospice nurse, to my sister, and to Jess. The Kelli that everyone knows and loves went into action mode and attempted to do what she needed to do. 

But that kid... the one who has never really had any personal experience with death before now... just stayed there with me. I made my calls; he stayed. My tears flowed like he's never seen before; he stayed. I attempted to close my dad's eyelids as he lay there; he stayed. I would compose myself for a few minutes and then crumble again; he stayed. I went to go and unlock the front door for all of those who would be arriving shortly; he stayed right there so that dad was never alone for a second.

And it was not until our Hospice nurse, Chester, walked into the bedroom, that Jacob moved. He honored my dad by being there through it all. As the nurse took his vitals and pronounced his death all the way up until the funeral home staff wrapped dad up and wheeled him out from the bedroom, Jacob stayed. I was never alone, but all I could think about was how only an hour before, I had tried to send him home to sleep. I don't know if he had a sense about something? Or if just out of sheer love and worry for me, he made that choice not to leave. 

Finally, a few hours later, the house was quiet, so we made the decision to go home to our house to try and sleep. But before we left, my sweet son did something he has never done before in all the years we have been together...He put his arms around me and hugged me in a way that truly symbolized what our life has become. I may not have given birth to him, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loves me in the very same way that I loved a precious man who was not a part of my birth either.

Once we got home, I talked to Jacob about how this was more than him just being there to support me tonight. I told him that he just experienced a most DISTINCT HONOR that the majority of people do not get the chance to ever do with their loved ones. He got to be there, in my dad's home with him, as he left this earth and went to reunite with my mom. We talked about how even though death and being present with someone who has died can be scary, tonight was not a scary thing. Rather, it was a precious moment that he and I got to experience together; those hours represented a true ushering in of the challenge we now have to honor that moment and live the legacy my dad has instilled in each of us. 

The next days will not be easy. There are plans to be made, details to be considered, and emotions that will crash into us when we least expect it. But our family is strong. The 9 of us have walked this path right alongside my dad for months and now that he is gone, the 9 of us will continue to walk it as the powerful tribe that we are. We have a heritage to live out because of what Mike Rogers gave to us and I can assure you that we will not disappoint him.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Waiting for death...

This is the man I call Dad. 

He is truly the picture of health, happiness, and life.

He is a provider and he is a protector. 

He is the one who gave his name to me, a scrawny hell-on-wheels 3-year-old, more than 44 years ago. 

He disciplined me (some years more than others).

He taught me the lessons that a daughter is supposed to learn from her dad. (But it should be noted that he NEVER made me change my own tires because he thought that was his job to do those kinds of things FOR us!)

He encouraged me and he supported me in every crazy idea I had over the years, without question and without judgment.

He was there for me as the ONE CONSTANT MAN in my life for the last 44 years.  Husbands and significant others may come and go throughout life, but a daughter's daddy? Well, that is something so real, so lasting, that only death can take it away...

But the man lying in front of me, moaning as he gasps for breath every 30 seconds or so, is not this man that I have described above.

You see, my dad already told all of us goodbye.
He held each of our hands, he looked in each of our eyes, and he made sure that he knew that each of us was going to be ok once he was gone. 

He was at peace.

But that was last Thursday.

Those were the last words he spoke to any of us.
On Friday he slipped into a coma-like state so that now the only way we know he is still physically there is through the sound of his constant gasps and rattles as he grabs at those precious vapors of oxygen.

His eyes are fixed.
He doesn't see us anymore.

His body is contorted in what looks like pain, but we are learning from our Hospice support team that it's his body's way of finding physical comfort.

I massage his hands.
I rub his feet
I touch his forehead and I clean his matted eyes.
I continually tell him that I love him and that it's ok for him to go to mom now... I encourage him to stop fighting this... I actually plead with him to find rest. But here we are, 6 days later, and he is still lying in that bed, doing his best to cross over from this life to the next.

I. Am. Helpless.

I stay busy. 
I sort through old photographs and organize details for the service we know is coming soon. 
I answer messages and phone calls to give the same update each time on his condition.
I organize paperwork that we will need once he is actually gone from us.
I cook.
I clean.
I just stay busy.
And I do my best to keep this picture of him in front of my mind... because this is what my DAD looks like. I just have to keep reminding myself of that each time I walk in to sit by his side...