I hate cancer.
The morning of October 28th we were eating breakfast at the kitchen table when my husband received a text that changed our lives. We found out that my father in law, Ned, was in the hospital. He had been acting confused and was having a difficult time speaking. My heart sunk. In the back of my mind I was hoping and praying that it was a minor stroke… it couldn’t be anything too bad, after all he only 59 years old and so healthy.
|My favorite picture of Ned with my daughter|
We rushed to the hospital. When I saw Ned’s wife Shirley I knew it was bad. My heart sunk even further. She encouraged us to go back into the small ER room and try to hold a conversation with him. I remember seeing his face- misshapen from brain swelling. He knew us- he answered our questions. I tried to be happy and positive but he was different and that was so hard for me to come to grips with. A few hours after we arrived, Ned was moved to a hospital room. It was in that room that we got the official diagnosis “stage 4 brain and lung cancer”. We later learned that it was metastatic melanoma. I remember watching Ned’s face as we heard the news. The sadness was overwhelming in his expression. I watched as my stoic unemotional husband put his head in his hands and cry. Words of encouragement were whispered in between tears. Ned was given a blessing at the hospital… the only thing I remember hearing is that this was not his time to go… that he was needed here. The Lord had different plans for Ned.
The days and weeks that followed were a blur… I couldn’t believe that such a healthy, vivacious person could have cancer. I watched as cancer and the various treatments took things away from Ned- his hair, his appetite, his energy. I researched online about metastatic melanoma and sobbed. I had come to the realization of the potential prognosis we were facing. But I was so, SO hopeful. We all were… cancer just couldn’t take our Ned away from us.
The evening of December 30th we had a family meeting. Ned and Shirley told us that he had 6 months but they were praying for a miracle. This was the first time we as a family discussed the inevitable death. It was so uncomfortable and hard. Nobody wanted this outcome.
|The night we heard the prognosis|
We plowed along in our cancer journey. There were good days and bad days. Days when Ned would seem more like his old self. Aaron decided he wanted to do something really special for his dad and came up with the idea to fold 1,000 paper cranes. It is said that if you do this you are granted a wish. Of course his wish was for his dad to beat this cancer.
|Spending time with Ned|
My husband was going to be speaking at a Linux conference in California and my daughter and I had planned to go along and play at Disneyland. I used my trip planning as therapy to help me cope with the heartache of everything that was going on with Ned. 5 days before we were supposed to leave for our trip the reality of this ugly cancer entered our unprepared hearts.
Ned had collapsed by his car the morning of February 12. Aaron told me to get to the hospital as soon as I could. I quietly cried the whole way there. I met up with Aaron at the hospital entrance and we quickly went to ER. I remember seeing Logan, Aaron’s youngest brother. I could tell by his eyes that the news was bad. We were told that it was time to say our goodbyes. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to someone I loved so much. Even though we knew this was the outcome of this cancer I still felt completely blindsided. Aaron was on the phone with his mom just sobbing. I heard him try to tell her to come to the hospital because his dad wasn’t going to make it. I hugged him and realized that I was going to have to be strong for him. In the middle of all this my cute little daughter was asking me when Grandpa Ned was going to wake up and tell her “hi honey”. Just when you think your heart can’t hurt anymore you find out you were so wrong… It seemed so unfair to me that my little girl would grow up and not remember this wonderful man that loved her so much.
A small miracle happened that night however… his heart stabilized. It looked like he was going to be with us for another couple months. I was so relieved but so emotionally exhausted. After debating on whether or not we should go on our trip, we decided it would be best for us to go. We needed some rejuvenation.
|Playing Valentine games in the hospital waiting room with Grandma Shirley|
When we got back Aaron was immediately there for his dad. He was able to work from his house twice a week. He sat next to him on the couch and watched countless episodes of family feud. I brought my Boo over as much as our schedule permitted… I wanted to be there with him. But at the same time it was still so hard for me to see him like that. One day that we came to sit with him I brought my camera and asked him to share some advice for his family. I told him that this would be the first of many videos I was planning on doing. It ended up being the only one. I had no idea at the time that he had just 12 more days with us.
March 2 was a beautiful day for us… the one great thing that comes out of these hard trials is the overwhelming generosity and the outpouring of love from others. A very special organization, Anything for a Friend, held a large fundraiser/dinner that celebrated Ned’s life. In fact I was in charge of putting together a slideshow of Ned. Every time I sat down at the computer to work on it I burst into tears. I saw so many pictures of him healthy and happy and it broke my heart because I missed that Ned so deeply. I saw in pictures how cancer had changed his appearance so quickly. I spent so many emotional nights working on that movie and I am so thankful that I had that opportunity. I felt like I was being productive and helpful and it allowed me to do something for Ned to show him how much he means to me. It was so humbling to see so many people come out to show their love and support. My daughter told an old friend of ours that she was going to try really hard to make friends so one day she would have as many as Grandpa Ned.
|Ned at his Anything For a Friend event|
5 days later, March 7, we got another text that we needed to go see Ned. He was losing his speech and motor skills. When we got there I saw him sitting in a recliner in his bedroom. He was so frail. It was so painful to watch him change as the cancer spread. Near the end of his life things we take for granted- walking across a room, talking, eating.. had become so hard for him. After that we went up to his house every day. Aaron spent most nights up there too, since Ned needed a lot of help at night. We watched Silverado- an old western- a lot. Aaron worked hard on folding cranes. He knew we didn’t have much time.
Sunday, March 10 we had a family gathering at Ned’s house. All of Ned’s six kids were there as well as his brother, some aunts and cousins. Aaron was able to finish the cranes and hung them up next to Ned, who acknowledged them by pointing at the finished product.
|1,000 paper cranes|
I remember at one moment he woke up, looked at me, and reached out his hand. I didn’t know what or who he wanted but I jumped up and came and held his hand. I was there holding his hand when his brother Rick came over. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I heard this tough man tell his younger brother “Hey buddy. Mom and Dad are waiting for you and welcoming you with open arms. You fulfilled your mission here.”
It was a very emotional and spiritual experience as we sat around Ned’s recliner and listened as some shared their love of Ned and their testimonies of eternal families. This was another moment where I listened to Aaron sob. It was a beautiful, raw emotion hearing him speak about his dad being his best friend and how much he was going to miss him. He also said that he knew his dad was going to be busy on the other side and that he knew this church was true. My daughter rushed up to whoever was crying the loudest and gave them a hug. She told us all that she wished she brought Stuffy, her stuffed dragon, because Stuffy always makes her feel better when she is crying.
Aaron was able to give his dad a blessing that night. It was touching to watch and absolutely beautiful to hear. He cried bestowing the blessings of comfort, peace, and no pain. He blessed that Ned would be alert to the end, that the departure would not be scary, and that he had nothing to worry about on the other side, or about those of us he was leaving behind. In his blessing Aaron also expressed to his dad the love we have for him and how much he was going to be missed.
Monday, March 11, Ned passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. It seems so weird that I am writing those words… like it couldn’t of really happened. I just can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it.
We knew what the outcome of this cancer battle would be and we tried to prepare ourselves. But you are never prepared for a loss like this. After the viewing and funeral were over- and we were back at home- I realized the void that was now part of our lives. I try to fill the void with tears. Amidst all this sadness I have come to be so grateful for the wonderful memories I have of this great man. He took advantage of every opportunity- he never wasted a moment to work on a project or help out a friend. He magnified and excelled in his callings at church, especially with the scouts. He loved my daughter immensely and that meant so much to me. I am also grateful that with everything that cancer took, that it never took his mind- he was mentally there with us until the end. It also didn’t take his determination.
I know that there are still rough moments ahead of us. There will be difficult times when the ache seems unbearable. I am hoping for the time when I can go to a scout meeting and not feel like crying, or watch a grandpa play with his grandkids and not burst into tears. Until then I am reminded of the words that became a theme for Ned’s fundraiser:
|Our family right after Ned’s diagnosis|
We CAN learn to cope with such a deep loss. We CAN use this experience to strengthen our testimonies and try that much harder to make those choices that will reunite us as an eternal family. Together, as a family, we can do this hard thing.