This post is dedicated – first and foremost – to Jesus, Who is the love of my life. It’s also dedicated to another man I loved, who showed me a lot about the way Jesus loves. At its core, it’s the story of a wait no one ever wanted, though it’s also a little bit more about that man, a woman he loved, their family that loves them, and a God who loves them all.
Anticipation and Dread
I found myself running late. As usual. Driving north with guilt and pain and trepidation pulsing through me all at once. Too much anxiety, depression, and sadness had been springing up for way too many months prior. Too much to absorb fully in my own life, much less overcome and work through before I had to get where I was going now.
To you lying in a hospital. But, you know all about what’s going on. In my life and your own. All too well, honestly.
Because this life can seem all too much at times, can’t it? And it can feel like, as the years tick by, life keeps handing out harder, deeper, and darker pain, brokenness, and defeat. In our own lives and in the lives of those we’ve grown to feel we could never live without. And who in the world wants to keep taking on pain like that? Accepting hard like that? So we often bury it or just our heads, at least. Ignore, distract, and distance ourselves from its effects.
Lately, though, I keep having this odd vision of me crawling around like a baby. With what feels like a heavy, yet invisible, weight on my back. Barely inching along as I keep wondering, “Why?” Why is everything so hard? Why so much pain in our world? Why must we simply endure? Why can’t we rise higher and see the view from above the clouds? Heaven’s view? God’s very own view?
Your view, now.
Like, is it even possible to find joy in the midst of heavy clouds and all their cover? Right in the middle of the sorrow and undoing??
All those “Why‘s” will have to wait now, though, because driving ahead is a must. And this drive… well, it’s only because of love. Isn’t that why we really ever do anything good, anyway? You were so good at that, too. Loving in hard times. Loving at all times. So forward I go, towards a hard and heavy and wholly unwanted destination, which will have an ending. And likely not the one anyone’s wanting.
But honestly, hard things are really the last things I ever want to do. I crave comfort. I crave easy. I rarely grab onto the harder things in life with any amount of gusto and positive attitude, empty of self-consumption. Even if it’s all and only about another. It’s usually more of a slogging ahead in dread.
Living and Dying
Yet when it comes to living and dying, somehow we carry on, don’t we? Again, likely because of love. But, I’ve been dreading these days I’m driving toward for months now, also because of love. I’ve been praying and believing for something more. More time. More healing. More miracles. Actually it feels much like that time not so long ago when another someone’s life on earth was ending and answers to prayers didn’t seem to go the way we’d hoped, leaving us sad and wanting more.
And as I follow the highway further north, I spend some time catching others up on the reality I’m driving towards. Sadly the earthly life of one I love dearly is likely coming to a quick, undesired end. And life for all who love him won’t ever be the same.
In between these conversations, though, my mind wanders and winds about wildly, like a mountain road. Memories flood over me, scenes flash quickly by. The first time we met. The many days we shared life and stories and secrets. The ways we both shared love with each other and others. The funny, touching, tender, and bittersweet. The totally boring, even. Your voice. The name you call me. What you look like when you speak about those you love so well. How your countenance beams at the mere mention of their names. How proud you are of all their accomplishments. Your stories of youth and quiet escapades. How you lived to fling someone off when you were towing them on a tube in the lake. Your hats. Your slippers. Your robe, chair, and gaming tablet. How you like coffee lukewarm, black, no sugar and can’t talk until you’ve had at least one cup. Your smile. How you tear up all the time because that’s what your heart looks like, overflowing and softer than any heart I know.
And yet, sadly, it’s now this same heart that’s also sick. Incapable of functioning for too much longer without intervention. You’re tired of intervening, though. Tired of fighting for life on earth when eternal life in heaven is so near. So you made a decision. Called your family to you. Shared your plans and spoke words of life and love over them. Poured out all the love you have for them.
Decide to spend your last days on earth, living for others.
And driving northbound on this day, I’m a few days into this decision you’ve made. Selfishly, I’m praying I get there in time to say words I need to say. See your face one more time in the land of the living. Hug you and hold your hand. But mostly, I’m driving forward to be of some help to the ones that love you most.
I don’t make it, though. At least not in time to see you that day. Hospital visiting hours are over and I’m crushed, but try and trust God’s plan. The next day will have to do, so I do my best to love and support those you love that night. I wake on the fifth day of your final week and have my coffee and time with God in your chair. I cry a little, missing you and remembering our talks right in this spot, then get ready to go see you.
Now, rarely are we ever prepared for moments like these. Even after warnings and pictures shared. There’s no way to see what we haven’t yet. And I want to be strong and not make it harder or all about myself, but when I walked into your room, a dam of tears just burst. I turn and try to hide it. Gather myself, quickly recompose. I turn back around to see your smile. It’s still there. Of course, it is. It’s what I know and love so much about you.
You tell me, “Hey, gurrll (in your mountain accent and because that’s how you always greet me)… it’s okay.” I hug you and choke out, “I love you so much.” You hug back, but you’re in pain and look so thin and tired. I sit and you hold my hand and share words I need to hear. You ask about your grandsons that aren’t blood, but no one would ever know that if it wasn’t spoken. I tell you they love you. After a while, you say you always hated the word “step” and that I’m your daughter. I can barely contain myself.
Loving and Rising
For most of that day you rest, holding both the hands of your beloved wife, my own momma, and mine, calling us your, “Pretty Gurrlls,” because that’s another thing you love to say. Then, like a down shift straight from fifth to first gear, the pain becomes too bad to bear any longer. Your care by the medical team is intensified and comfort becomes top priority. Words are done and resting will be all that follows. And two more nights total are spent with loved ones who wouldn’t leave your bedside if someone tore them away. Prayers and whispers, sobs and songs, are spoken and sung over you for the remainder.
I head back to your house alone that second night. I can’t imagine being there without you. I grab a Popeyes chicken sandwich to eat in the car and call my guy to share all about the day. He’s been so worried and sad. He guesses what I’m eating and teases me because he knows I need junk food when I’m emotional. I also need his humor. Before bed, I watch House Hunters and eat a nutty buddy bar in your chair upstairs just because you love those silly things (plus it’s chocolate and peanut butter and I’m still emotional, you know). I laugh at the husband on the show. He’s a trip and I imagine you’d appreciate the loving quips and sweet humor he and his wife share. I cry harder then, too, thinking how it’s all way too soon and sudden and not fair for anyone, especially your family, and how it just hurts way too much.
But, there’s no stopping the ending of our earthy stories, is there? The end comes for us all. Jesus tells us He’s gone to Heaven to prepare a forever room just for us to spend eternity. You’re now prepared to meet Him there. We should be happy for you. And we really are. We’re simply sad for us. Your love makes saying goodbye the hardest thing.
You know Jesus is waiting, though, and we know we’ll meet again soon. But it doesn’t feel soon enough right now. Even one day apart can feel like eternity.
And watching the end of living can offer it’s own level of eternal, so I can hardly bare the thought. Especially your ending. Yet, I head back to the hospital two more days in a row to do just that. To wait and watch and watch your loves watch you. And I want to run away the whole time, truthfully, because some things feel impossible to endure.
Yet, for hours I sit and wait. Provide updates to those who can’t be there. Watch you breathe. Wait. Weep. Wait. Wonder when. It can’t be that much longer, right? I know you’re ready to go. We all know it.
Your last day is halfway through now, and it’s like something heavy has come over the hospital room. There’s just a kind of *knowing* that’s let itself in. Plus, I’ve begun to see physical signs, yet keep it to myself. Because it’s all a mixed up bundle. We want your relief and don’t want to let you go, all at the same time.
I watch as Mom clings to you, the love of her life. She’s been hovered over for hours, holding on, and broken like I’ve never seen her. I know it would wreck you. She’s the tough one of us all. The one that holds us all together. And she’s breaking. I see it and can do nothing about it. No one can. Your other loves are breaking, too. The toll is taking us all out. Wearing us all down.
God’s timing is perfect, though, and I keep reminding myself of this between prayers for you to be taken to your heavenly home with a quickness. I’m also playing music. Some of your favorite melodies and a few of ours, too, because we all need comfort. It’s like a soundtrack of God’s good and perfect promises, filling this space of suffocating pain, reminding us of your future and our ultimate purpose and the whole point of life.
Jesus, The Savior you’re heading towards.
And the minutes and breaths tick by at a snail’s pace, as I watch this scene I’d rather not be staring in. Wishing I were any place else on the planet because there’s nothing I can do to take the pain away or make it stop. Yet, I know you would never leave and so I will myself to stay. It’s an honor.
Five whole hours pass by like this. Writing about it now, I’m reminded of the verse that talks about our troubles on earth, how they’re light and momentary compared to the joy in heaven for all eternity (my paraphrase). In those moments though, it didn’t seem one bit light or momentary and I can’t grasp onto any comforting verses to help cope except one, “Well done good and faithful servant.” So I keep praying that God is ready to speak that one over you each minute that goes by.
And then, just when it seems we collectively can’t take any more, one of your loves starts telling you how much she loves you out loud. Then she continues naming each of your children and grandchildren and the spouses who also love and adore you, then looks to me to continue the names on our side and, as if on cue, just after the last name is mentioned, you take one last, beautiful breath and a small tear appears in the outside corner of your left eye then slowly rolls down your face, and that final breath leaves your body, as your spirit is finally raised to Heaven.
And we all burst up suddenly from our seats, simultaneously crying and rejoicing at what we’d just witnessed, hugging each other, and shouting out our amazement of the moment.
I know you got to see us, too. It was quite the scene and you wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
And your broken wife is immediately renewed both physically and in spirit, praising God and celebrating your new life, now in the presence of your Savior. I can imagine she’s envisioning the meeting taking place. How you’re finally out of pain and seeing Jesus face to face. And then your medical team comes running in because they’ve heard us, of course. Quickly, however, they’re rejoicing, hugging, and crying with us because we share the story and they’d fallen hard for you, too, after all your visits there.
Well done, Servant. You made it!
Waiting and Wondering
And today, after some time has passed, I’m simply waiting until I can see you again. And wondering what heaven’s really like and about how happy you must be. And I’m also kinda dying to know how you did it. How you loved so well. How you made everyone you loved feel so loved! And how you still loved us, even while rising from our presence and into God’s, by giving us such a personal message, helping to make the whole, unbearable and unwanted week and awful final day feel a little less painful.
We knew immediately, too, that your tear was your last gift to us because you always cried when talking about those you love. Each name represented a face and relationship you treasured and you wanted us to know that even in the end. You wanted us to know you heard our love for you and tell us about your love one last time on earth.
You always did love when you didn’t have to, didn’t you? You loved children that weren’t biologically yours. You loved your whole, huge family. You loved your country. You loved all you could your whole life, then said goodbye in the same way.
Our own love itself was always uncomplicated and easy, too. Something I never dreaded. Like my relationship with Jesus. And you will always be a treasure I never knew I needed, also like Jesus, since for so long I tried to live and love without Him. We both know that’s impossible in the end though, because He is Love and we only love because He first loved us and knows us each by name.
And so, Harry Hall, I will look forward to the day I hear Him call my name in heaven and speak out your name in my presence and finally hear, once again, you call me by the name you called me for so long, “Hey, Gurrll.”
Until then, Sweet Harry, I’ll do my best to remember to love like one of the best that ever lived 💛