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Friday, October 31, 2008

The Countdown Begins

It was Friday Oct 26th and Andrea and I were at lunch. It was a beautiful Friday afternoon and we were excited for the weekend ahead. My brother Neil was getting married on Saturday and the family had begun traveling to Austin. We were all getting together for a family reunion which was going to end here in San Antonio with my pin on to Colonel on Monday afternoon. Andrea and I were busy planning the event when my brother called and told me our mom had a massive stroke and was in the hospital unresponsive. Immediately we began adjusting our plans, I cancelled my promotion ceremony and took a flight to Dallas early Saturday morning. Andrea stayed in town as some of our best friends; Mac and Lisa were in town visiting. We decided to go ahead with my brothers wedding on Saturday night, and I flew back to San Antonio just in time to change and drive Andrea to Austin for the wedding. It was as beautiful a night/wedding you could ask for under the circumstances.

Andrea and I at my brother Neil's wedding

On Monday we said goodbye to our friends and decided to drive to Dallas on Tuesday to see my mom who had been moved to hospice. We arrived around 10 and I think my mom passed away around 1. I remember the nurses telling us how it would happen and strangely it was going exactly as they predicted. I remember thinking how strange it was that they could be so precise. When she passed I felt as if I had lost my protection, our father had passed away in 1999 and suddenly all of us kids were on our own. As if we had all taken a step forward in life. Even though I was the youngest at age 46 in a different way we were the adults now. I felt a different burden of responsibility as a dad, and husband. I lost my Mom, who would I call for advice now? Who would reassure me when I doubted? She was one of the greats from the "Greatest Generation."

Andrea my brother Pete and his wife Genevieve
in Dallas after my Mom's funeral

Anthony and Andrea in Dallas

I remember seeing Andrea sitting with my Mom is the room. Hospice was our fear, the inevitable waiting to die, hospice was the end, when you are removed from those with "A chance." Like being separated from the herd to die. Andrea and I drove past the hospice in North Carolina on the way to her chemo treatments and I hated that. Most of the time I refused to even look at the sign as if I could avoid the possibility by not acknowledging its existence. So to see Andrea there, praying and holding my Mom's hand just told me again in another way what a special woman Andrea was. She showed no fear, but I'm sure it must have been difficult for her.

We returned to San Antonio on Wednesday as the family began preparing for our Mother's funeral. Andrea and I returned to Dallas on Friday for the funeral. Since I had to cancel my pin on ceremony, and I was wearing my uniform for the funeral, we decided to do it at the Church. So as the funeral home arrived with Mom, and as and I my brothers lined up to be her paw bearers, Andrea, my sister Maureen, and Anthony pinned on my Colonel rank. It was not what we had planned the Friday before. I was shocked how fast life had changed, how plans we thought assured were suddenly thrown aside. Our family reunion was not as we had planned.

My Pin on

The next two weeks were spent preparing for Thanksgiving and Nic's return from school in D.C. Also, The "Chemo Girls" came to visit Andrea. Tanya, Gina, Diane, and Karen had flown in to see Andrea. By now Andrea had begun to show signs of tiring, I think the past weeks were wearing on her. She was using a little more oxygen but still at times could get around the house without it. We enjoyed Thanksgiving as a family and Nic was preparing to head back to school on Saturday. I think it was on Friday that Andrea's two other friends, Leigh and Roz from the Chemo Girls came to visit. Andrea was definitely tired by now but when it came time to go out to dinner, she refused to just stay home. Andrea said, as she always did, "I will not let cancer dictate my life." And I guess it didn't, it did however dictate her death.

Thanksgiving Dinner, 2 days before Andrea went into ICU

Andrea and Nic Thanksgiving Weekend

Our last family photo

"The Chemo Girls"

Left to right Roz, Tanya, Karen, (a friend who I did not know) Gina and Diane

During the night and early morning on Sunday Andrea began having a lot of difficulty breathing to the point she could not get enough air to the point she asked me tom call an ambulance. Thus began Andrea' last 21 days. I will not recount the events of those days, they are already in this blog, as I wrote a day by day account of our time in the ICU. I think I will reread those blog entries each day as I recount those last days with the most amazing woman I had known. I wish I could convey to you the strength I saw in Andrea, or the courage she displayed, or the peace of God that was upon her. Those were days filled with frustration at doctors, sadness, fear, worry, and anxiety, but in the middle of it all was Andrea, smiling when she could, and always reassuring me it was okay. She gave me strength, and a peace. You could not help but be lifted up when you saw her. Even as she slept, she somehow encouraged me and those around her.

So this week begins the beginning of the end, and the last steps on Andrea's journey to healing. Each day of the next 48 days will be filled with special memories. Memories of Andrea, of friends and of God's amazing grace. Memories of kindness like Kathy visiting Andrea and massaging her hands and feet to help reduce the swelling. Memories of my office decorating our home with Christmas lights. Memories of the digital picture frame they bought and loaded with pictures from my computer. I held it up to Andrea and we watched photos of our life flash across the screen. With each picture I would remind Andrea of the moment. I can't help but think she knew this was the end, and watch her life go by. But she only smiled with each picture in her usual example of strength.

So as I enter this time of memories I can't help but remember Andrea's greatest example, her faith which never wavered. And as I think of what I have lost I think of all she has gained. She walked the walk of faith, she completed her race, and she is now rewarded for that. I have no doubt that Andrea did exactly what God asked of her. It was not what we wanted but it was a powerful lesson that God sometimes asks us to to things we may not want to do. He is after all Sovereign. Now Andrea is no longer tethered to an oxygen bottle, or a wheelchair. She is freed from the ICU bed, the hoses, IVs and medicines. She is healed, she has completed her journey to healing. One day I will see her again, and I'm sure next to her will be my Mom. Two women who made me who I am. I miss them both terribly.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jim. I have been thinking of Andrea also. About last year and our trip to SA, about her time in the hospital and our prayer vigils. You continue to be in our thoughts and prayers now and always. She was an amazing woman and her legacy of true faith lives on. Love, Diane