Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saying Goodbye...

This is a long post for my little life.... 
It feels so overwhelming to begin writing on my blog again. So much has happened and so many feelings have passed through my heart. I don't really know where to begin, what to write or how much I am even up to writing.  I hope that just by beginning somewhere my answers will come. 

Young Tim and Lisa arrived on December 23rd to spend Christmas with us in Kentucky.  We were so looking forward to their visit since we hadn't seen them for over a year and a half.  We picked them up from the airport and after a stop at Wendy's for some food we went to see "Light's Under Louisville" which will be a blog post of its own in time. (Hopefully before next Christmas!) :)

It was Christmas Eve day that the call came from Minnesota that Tim's dad had passed away.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer in August and by Christmas he was gone.  We were happy that in August we had made an impromptu trip to Minnesota to see the family as it proved to be the last time we saw Tim's dad.  The morning of his passing Tim talked to his step-mother, Phyllis, and asked her if she could hold the phone to his father's ear so that he could talk to him.  Phyllis did that so Tim could say goodbye to his dad.  When Phyllis came back to the phone she told Tim that his dad had heard him.  She knew it because when Tim talked to him he stirred in his bed. It was only 3 hours later when the call came in that his dad was gone. 

On Christmas Day we spoke with Jordan in Brazil.  It is one of two phone calls we have each year and it broke our hearts to have to share anything other than happy news with him but we had to tell him of the passing of his grandfather.  We also had to tell him that his other grandfather, my father, also was not well and he probably wouldn't make it much longer. It was not the news we wanted to share but news we had to.

Plans began to take shape for travel to Minnesota.  With Tim and Lisa in town until January 1st, they offered to stay with the kids so Tim and I could drive to Minnesota.  The funeral was on Friday, December 31st so we left on Thursday morning and headed north.  Without the kids and the dog we made the trip in 14 hours verses the usual 16.  We arrived Thursday night for the Friday morning funeral. 

It was a snowy Friday... fitting, I suppose, for Minnesota. The last time we were in Minnesota in the winter time was for Tim's grandmother's funeral some years ago. We arrived at the funeral home early and admired all the lovely flowers that were sent in honor of Donald Valenta, the mayor of his Minnesota city. He was greatly honored just by the sheer volume of flowers, the number of people that came to the funeral and the presence of the Minnesota Patriot Guard. What a moving demonstration of honor both to our country and to Tim's father. 

My emotions were close to the surface as only 2 days before I had gotten word that my father had only days to live. He had not been doing well for a number of weeks.  He was extremely tired, very weak, his coloring was terrible and he felt bad. On top of that he was down over 20 lbs. in just over a month's time.  A few days before Christmas the nursing home, where he resided with my mother, called me to prepare me for the reality that he was failing. I stood in Walmart taking the call to hear them say, "We don't know what is wrong but something is going on." His lab reports showed that his liver enzymes were high so they ordered an ultrasound of his liver where they found a mass.  With the ultrasound results it was recommended that he have a triple CT scan to see other areas.  I was called on December 28th (the day before we left for Minnesota) with results of that CT scan and it was not good. They confirmed that he was full of cancer -- his liver, his stomach, his lymph nodes.  There was a nodule on his lung that they also suspected was cancerous. It became apparent that his time was very short. 

I had been in contact with the nursing home multiple times a day for a week or more as they called me with updates. With about 20 minutes before the funeral was to begin for Tim's dad I saw that there was voice mail on my phone.  I had no reception in the building so I went outside to the back of the building and walked until I had a few bars of cell reception.  I listened to the message thinking it was the nursing home updating me again but it wasn't the nursing home but rather it was from one of my father's doctors.  He called to verify the instructions he had.  Because my father had a pacemaker and defibrillator I had to give the okay to deactivate the defibrillator.  As his body failed his heart would stop but the defibrillator would try to do its job and restart the heart with a jolt. If that happened it would cause him a great deal of pain so to avoid that I had given permission to have his defibrillator deactivated so that he might have an easier passage from life.

I stood there in the cold of that sad Minnesota day with tears streaming down my face. We were there to say our goodbyes to my father-in-law while at the same time confirming the deactivation of the device that had the ability to keep my father's heart beating.  I never questioned deactivating the defibrillator, but it seems like such an awful thing to have to confirm as I stood in the cold and snow outside the funeral home that day.  I was put through to the doctor and spoke the confirmation -- yes, deactivate the defibrillator.  When I hung up I cried in the cold.        
Tim was asked to give the eulogy at his father's funeral. That is a hard job to do no matter who you are speaking about but it is particularly difficult when it is your dad.  There was a minister who directed the funeral and offered a timeline of his life -- where he was born, how many siblings, his time in the Navy, etc. Then it was Tim's turn. True to his character he brought honor to his father as he spoke about the difficulties that his father had overcome in his life and of the things that were so endearing about him.  As we listened to Tim speak about his father we laughed and we cried and we were all reminded of why we loved him.  After Tim finished, the minister stood up and in response to Tim's words said, "I have been doing this for a lot of years and I have to say that is the best I have heard!  I think he (meaning Tim) deserves a round of applause."  He began clapping and was joined by all those in attendance. Leave it to Tim to be applauded at a funeral! I am sure his dad was smiling. :)

The next morning (New Year's Day) we were up before the sun and back on the road to home. At about 6:30 am I called the nursing home to check on how my father had done through the night.  The nurse said that she had just come from his room where she had gone in to give him his medicine.  She whispered to him and asked if he was comfortable.  He said that he was so she said she would let him sleep and come back to give him his medicine later on. At 9:30 I called the room and talked to my mom.  She said that my dad was still sleeping and that he didn't wake up to have breakfast.  We talked and I told her that I would call her again in a few hours.  At noon the call came from the nursing home that he had passed away.  

It was hard to believe that all of this was happening...Tim's dad passed away on Christmas Eve day and now my dad passed away on New Year's Day.  

Plans were made to leave for New York three days later. We got on the road and drove another 16 hours but this time it was with three of the kids and the dog.  Tim and I are pretty convinced that we've ruined our kids desire to ever go to McDonald's again (not a bad thing!) since we ate off the dollar menu all the way to New York and back again!  We weren't going for healthy, just cheap. :)

Once in New York we stayed with Carol and Cal who I have known since I was 16. When Cal owned his own business I worked for him and in later years he and Carol became good friends with my parents. Since then they have been caretakers in a sense as they have visited, called, cheered, and comforted them.  It has been of great comfort to me that they have been so wonderful about making time for my parents.  They are like the many other people who are friends to my parents who have been there when their immediate family hasn't been.  Distance, in any form, is a difficult thing for all involved.   

The funeral service came together quickly and it couldn't have been a more fitting tribute to him.  Cal (whose house we were staying at) spoke first, followed by a group of men singing, "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" which was my father's favorite song.  My mother wanted to use that song as an opening song but it just struck me as odd to open a funeral service singing, "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go".  In fact, I found it not just odd but outright funny!  :)  (Sorry Dad!)  When the suggestion was made to have the men sing it in the middle of the service I was relieved!  After the song it was Tim's turn.  All though Tim didn't get around of applause, (they are a tough crowd in NY!) he really did an outstanding job.  I am sure that my father was honored by the service.   

After the funeral service we traveled quite some distance to the Saratoga National Cemetery where my father was laid to rest. The service there was very short but a site to behold.  It began with Tim dedicating the grave site then went immediately into a rifle volley that consisted of 7 rifleman shooting three times. (The tradition of the three volleys comes from an old battlefield custom. The two warring sides would cease hostilities to clear their dead from the battlefield, and the firing of three volleys meant that the dead had been properly cared for and the side was ready to resume the battle.)  The volley was followed by the playing of Taps and then the presentation of the flag that was draped over his casket to my mother.  Three of the shell casings that were fired (representing 1 for each rifle volley fired) were also presented to my mother.  The three casings stand for Duty, Honor and Country.

My mother thinks that the playing of Taps is so final.  It does sound final with the melancholy strains of a lone bugle but do you know the words?  I didn't until I looked them up. There are no "official words" and there are few varied versions. This is the one I liked best.

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lakes,
From the hills,
From the sky,
All is well,
Safely rest,
God is nigh.

Fades the light,
Dims the sight,
And a star,
Gems the sky,
Gleaming bright,
From afar,
Drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Thanks and praise,
For our days,
Neath the sun,
Neath the stars,
Neath the sky,
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh. 

A military funeral is a very moving and emotional experience.  It is short and yet filled with symbolism.  When Taps is played the echo lingers in the heart long after it has ceased to play. I don't know if there is a person in attendance that didn't have a lump in their throat or tears in their eyes.

So both my father and Tim's are laid to rest.  Both Veterans.  Both received military honors at their passing. Both 83 years old.  Both leaving a wife behind.  Both making a difference to the people who lives they were a part of. 

"As we go, this we know, God is nigh."  And He is. 

"The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth." Psalms 145:18


Patty said...

A Beautiful Tribute. May they feel peace and rest in the next life.

Debbi said...

I have said it before are an amazing writer. The words that I would struggle to find seem to simply flow out of you. I have to say that you and Tim are amazing people. You both have so much strength and I know that it comes from a higher power. Tim did do an amazing "job" with Dad's eulogy. I told Tim we should have recorded it...he has a way with how he "tells a story". Again, I have to say that both Tim and yourself are amazing people. Thank you for sharing your emotions with us. Rest in Peace Mr Valenta and Dad.

ionamin-W8FW8 said...

Beautifully said, Loretta! God IS near, and may His peace continue to comfort you and your family. Diane J.

Montereymom said...

Oh Loretta, how many memories you brought back for me with the details of your FIL's and Father's funerals. Bless your heart, you had a double whammy and it seems you have come out of all this stronger, setting an example, using your faith, supporting your husband and family, being the good daughter and DIL that you are and such a beautiful person. Thanks for sharing such intimate feelings, I loved reading your words, your choice of words paints pictures for the reader. Hugs

Don and Robin Cooper said...

As I read your words, tears streamed down my cheeks. You are a wonderful person and you give so much to so many. Thank you for being you. So sorry for the pain you both felt. You and Tim help each other, lean on each other, and love each other as no other could. I'm sure both your father's are smiling down upon you both.