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Monthly Archives: August 2015

It’s His Party, and I’ll Cry if I Want To… (Part 4)

Randy ref

<– Go back to Part 3

So what do you do when the man at the center of your life is gone from your world? You plan a party, of course! Well, sort of…

Parties. We were not “party-ers”, those people who make the rounds looking for lively experiences to escape their mundane existence with drink and loud music. But we did love a good party. In fact, we met at a party.

It was the 4th of July, 1985. I was staying at my parents’ house for a few weeks while taking classes at a local university, and my folks were having their annual church Independence Day celebration. Kids splashing in the pool; food platters being arranged on tables; deep pit-meat roasting in the ground; people milling around laughing and talking.

One handsome well-tanned guy, hands in pockets, looking like a tennis star, stood alone in the center of everything. I kid you not, it was like a beam of light was shining down on him from above. I was in the house helping my mom in the kitchen when I noticed him through the window. My heart skipped a beat. Literally. And then it began to pick up its pace. I scanned the area around him. He appeared to be all alone.

“Mom, who’s that guy?” I knew most of the people there because I’d been a part of that church for a good chunk of my life, and that good-looking one was not part of the usual crowd.

My mom glanced up, realized who I was talking about, and said, quite emphatically, “Him? No way! Don’t get interested in that guy!” She even made slashing motions back and forth with her hands. Being the stubborn gal that I am, that only added another layer of intrigue to the mystery of this man.

So, to cut to the chase, Randy and I began a relationship that night. The fireworks shooting off sparks were no match for the blaze being stirred up between the two of us as we sat in lawn chairs side by side watching the show. I found out Randy had three kids and was going through a rough divorce. Aha. That explained my mom’s adamant reaction.

We dated for a few months and married the following March. Our life together was far from easy, but those tales will wait for another time. The bottom line was, we loved each other, and we managed to weather some pretty fierce storms.

But back to the party theme. Yes, we met at a party. And we threw a party every year on Super Bowl Sunday. These were the events people wished they’d be invited to. Our little house would be brimming with sixty-some people, families with kids of all ages, and decorated to the point that not much empty wall space could be found: pennants, posters, and random football-themed items hung everywhere. Pretty much every room had a TV in it, even the bathroom. It was a crazy, exuberant, noisy, fun madhouse. Each year was better than the year before. Lots of family and friends, enough food to feed an army, Super Bowl cake, and somewhere in there, a football game!

Randy super bowl

Yes, we threw a fabulous Super Bowl party every year, until the last handful of years that Randy lived. His pain level had grown to the point that he didn’t really want to be around people much. Our world grew smaller, more secluded, and seldom included dates on the social calendar.

There were other parties over the years: some pretty awesome birthday parties, the annual Allee family Christmas Eve brunch, graduation parties… But none of them had near the attendance as the birthday celebration of 2009.

Randy died on August 16, 2009, five days before his 58th birthday. When I sat down with the four kids and Randy’s mom, we began to discuss how best to honor this larger-than-life guy we all loved. And that’s when it hit us: let’s have his memorial service on his birthday! That may seem an odd day to some, but we knew that Randy would have been the first to suggest it if he could have.

We met with the pastor, made all the arrangements, ordered a special birthday cake, and turned a day of mourning into a celebration of a truly unique life. The church was packed wall to wall, and anyone showing up late had to park way down the street. When I turned around in my seat to survey the crowd, I realized that no other event had filled the building to this capacity. What a testament to the impact Randy Allee had on other people! Each of the kids shared something special: Joel sang a song and Janelle, Michelle, and Mike all spoke about the larger than life man they called Dad. There were some tears shed and lots of laughter, with many hugs and exclamations of “That was the best funeral I’ve ever been to!” when it was over.

After the service, we had a meal in the fellowship hall, with the birthday cake on display. When in the hospital, Randy had talked about going fishing with Jesus, and the cake celebrated that theme.

Randy birthday cake

As I think back on that day exactly 6 years ago, I can imagine Randy watching the event from heaven, enjoying the celebration. And when it was all over, I can see him turning to Jesus and saying, “Hey, wanna go fishing?”

Read Part 5

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Posted by on August 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

I’ll Fly Away (Part 3)

bird flying 1<– Go back to Part 2

Randy was a bird man. I don’t think he started out to be one, but he most definitely became one. After his back injury, his physical activity slowed down quite a bit, even to the point that he wasn’t able to work. What does a man who thrives on physical activity do with his time when he can’t work? In the case of my husband, he took up bird watching.

It started in our backyard with a little red book open to the bright, full color photographs of the birds Randy saw there. His trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds rarely left his hands as he sat looking out the sliding glass door at the birds flitting about the trees and hopping in the grass. “See that one with the little white stripes on its head? It’s a White Crown Sparrow. And those birds diving around in the sky? Swallows.” He worked to attract as many types as he could, providing thistle seed for the goldfinches and nectar-filled feeders for the hummingbirds.

He loved to take walks with me along Fancher Creek near our home. We would stop often to watch the birds flitting about the bushes that grew along the banks. There was one tiny bright green bird that we never could figure out. It darted about rapidly, diving in and out of a bush whose leaves nearly matched its feathers.

But Randy’s first love when it came to birds had nothing to do with feathered creatures. Those objects of his affection were his four children, the ones he called his “birds”. He had a uniquely wonderful view of parenting: we raise our children to lose them, to essentially encourage them to fly away. He was always teaching them things he believed they needed to know in order to survive in life, and as I look at them now, I think they may have been paying pretty close attention.

On this date six years ago, right about this time of day, I sat in a quiet hospital room, curtains drawn across the windows, my family around me. Randy was propped up in the bed, the only tube connected to him a saline drip with pain medication. At this point, there was nothing being done to prolong his life, only to keep him comfortable.

My brother Jeff, a doctor from southern California, had examined Randy and thought his blood gasses were good and it looked like he could go for several more days. He talked to me at length about the positive aspects of hospice, and based upon his recommendation, I let the nurses know I’d like to make arrangements to take Randy home the next day. I’ve read that people who are in a coma, which Randy basically was at that point, can hear what others are saying to them. And I wonder now if my conversation with Jeff was being listened to by the man in that bed, because what happened shortly after that changed everything.

It was dinner time, and though I wasn’t particularly hungry, I had been forcing myself to eat at mealtimes to keep up my strength. I knew it was important in order to make it through everything that was still to come. The rest of the family rose along with me to head to the hospital cafeteria for a brief break, except for Michael. He didn’t want to leave his dad, so he stayed behind.

Mike later described what happened next. He was playing games on his phone when the battery died. What could he do now to pass the time? He decided to sing worship songs. A few songs into his repertoire, he began to sing “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” while leaning over his dad, singing directly to him. It was in the middle of that song that Randy exhaled a long breath–and was gone. Joel walked in at that moment, knew his dad had passed away, and called Janelle to tell her. She came to get me and we all hurried back to the room. I was so upset that I hadn’t been there, but both Janelle and Michelle consoled me, telling me it was okay, it was going to be okay. And I realized then, Randy had done it his way. He didn’t want to go when all of us were hanging out in the room, and he didn’t want to put me through the hassle of getting hospice arranged and having him moved home. He waited until the room was almost empty, and then he left us while Mike’s beautiful voice ushered him into the arms of Jesus.

When I think back on that day, I can’t help but think of birds, the freedom their wings bring them, soaring above our two-legged limitations. There’s an old southern gospel song that comes to mind, “I’ll Fly Away.” Randy flew away from us that Sunday evening, and like the song says, “Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly, I’ll fly away…Oh how glad and happy when we meet, I’ll fly away…To a land where joys will never end, I’ll fly away.”

“I’ll Fly Away”
Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on Gods celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away
I’ll fly away

Read Part 4

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

I’m Ready (Part 2)

i'm ready<– Go back to Part 1

I woke up early this morning as I typically do these days. And also as I typically do, I took a look at my Fitbit app to see how well (or not) I had slept. This morning indicated nearly 9 hours of sleep, which was way beyond my typical 6 to 6 and a half hours. But I also happened to notice that my Fitbit battery was low, so I plugged it in to charge it.

I spent some time editing my first blog post from yesterday and posted it to Facebook, all the while conscious of the gravity of Randy’s final hours six years ago. I realized that the days of the week this year match the days from then: August 14th was a Friday then as it is this year. That realization brought the memories into sharper focus for me.

My morning was spent doing laundry and a little computer work, and then I remembered that my Fitbit was still plugged in to charge. I unplugged it and quickly looked at the little message it flashed on the screen. It always gives me some kind of brief motivation, like “LET’S GO” or “IT’S ON!” when I remove it from the charger. Today’s message was so fitting: I’M READY. I couldn’t help but grin at the timing.

Yesterday I was writing about Randy asking me 6 years ago if I was ready. Ready for his death, ready for the responsibilities that would come crashing in on me afterward, ready for life without him. While none of those things were true at the time, God did carry me through every step of the way. Even though I responded “Yes” to Randy’s question, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t. But I did make it. One day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, with God at my side.

On Saturday, August 15 of that year, I remained at his side all day. I hadn’t even gone home the night before as I had every other night of his hospital stay. I knew the end was near and I wanted to be with him as much as possible. The kids and I had been given a small room outside the ICU to rest and sleep, and from time to time, I slipped in there to doze.

Much of Saturday was spent greeting people who had stopped by to visit Randy, though he was unconscious by this point. His breathing was more labored and his organs were shutting down. We knew he didn’t have long. He was being kept medicated so there wouldn’t be any pain, and for that I was thankful.

As I think back on the day prior to that, the day when Randy’s blue-gray eyes drilled into mine, I can’t help but think there was another meaning to his question to each of us: Are you ready? Are you ready for this, but also, are you ready for the day when it’s your turn? Will you be ready to face God, to not hide your face in shame but to run into His arms? Will you be ready to face death without trepidation because on the other side of it is eternal life? And to those questions, I can confidently say, “I’m ready!”

Read Part 3

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

“Are you ready?” (Part 1)

are you readySix years ago today, I stood in the ICU at my husband Randy’s bedside. A few tubes and wires trailed from his body to the machines at the head of his bed, but the hated breathing tube that had kept him alive for the past three days had been removed.

Two weeks before, the word “cancer” had never entered my head as the possible cause of his pain. Randy had suffered from back pain for years due to a work-related injury, and the recent intensification of his back pain seemed to indicate there was more damage there and possibly more surgery needed to relieve it. But then he started feeling intense pain in his abdomen.

That prompted a trip to the emergency room and exploratory surgery and the discovery of cancer. A lot of cancer. Pretty much everywhere the doctors looked. They believed it had started in his pancreas (which explained the increase in back pain) and spread from there. On that particular day, they did some repair work but essentially told me that he wouldn’t have long in this world. I was shattered.

Randy and I had recently begun planning for our 25th wedding anniversary, discussing ideas for how we wanted to spend it. We were still 18 months away from celebrating it, but we knew we wanted to make it special. We were pretty sure we wanted to go on a cruise, but to where? That was where we were stuck. Alaska? The Caribbean? Mexico again? We had already taken one 4-day and two 7-day cruises to our southern neighbor, so we thought something new would be better. Unfortunately, that ugly monster Cancer got in the way. There would be no 25th anniversary celebration for us. We knew that now.

On this date exactly six years ago, the doctor met with me along with our kids, Randy’s mom, and my parents. Randy had been intubated three days prior to that because he was struggling to breathe, essentially being suffocated by the fluids that were building around his lungs. What did we want to do about the breathing tube? Leave it in and prolong his time somewhat, but also prolong his discomfort and frustration? Remove it and possibly hasten his death but allow him time to talk to us before he died? The doctor left the room to allow us some privacy to make our decision.

I looked around the table at the faces of my cherished family: Randy’s mother who was still in shock that her middle child was nearing death; our four children, all adults, all strong in their individual ways, and yet all breaking apart on the inside with grief; and my parents, the ones who had propped me up during many difficult times in my life, but more than ever during this most recent heartache. I asked my mom to pray, and though I don’t remember the words now, I remember the sense of peace that settled upon the room as the Lord filled it with His presence.

In one accord, we decided to have the tube removed. We all knew it was what Randy wanted, and our hope was that he would be able to speak to us afterward. We waited outside his room, the curtains drawn, as the medical staff performed that task and readied him for us to come in. I was impatient to hear his voice again, to be able to talk with him, not just to him.

Finally, the curtains were pulled back and we hurried in, our smiles growing as we saw him grinning at us from his bed. The head of the bed had been raised some so Randy was able to look around at all of us as we surrounded his bed. We had a wonderful time of laughter and sharing as we chatted with him. Though his voice was raspy and his sentences short, he was fully aware and his characteristic humor shone through. At one point as I stood next to him, brimming with love for him and gratitude to God that we were able to have these moments, he looked at me and said, “One book for you.” I must have looked puzzled, because he repeated himself, “One book for you… Get it?” And then I realized what he meant: he wanted me to write about this, our story. I nodded, and said, “Yes, I get it!”

I stepped from the head of his bed and let some of the rest of the family get in close for a few minutes of personal time with him. My mind began to focus in on some critical things that needed doing, the most urgent being that of contacting Randy’s close friends to let them know he wouldn’t be with us much longer. I knew I couldn’t make those calls myself, so as some of the family members left the room to leave just the kids and me with him, I turned to Janelle for help.

Janelle. Randy’s oldest child, my much-loved stepdaughter. First-born strength, Type A, one who is always doing, like her dad. I needed help and she willingly accepted the task. She took her dad’s phone and started calling people from his contacts, people who really needed to know right now. She stepped out of the room to make the calls while the other three and I gathered around their dad’s bed.

Randy looked at each of us in turn, his eyes still bright but growing heavier from fatigue. His gaze turned back to me and he asked, “How long?” I responded, “Not very long, honey. Maybe a day or two. Your cancer is really bad.” He nodded and then asked me, “Are you ready?” I didn’t hesitate, but my insides were in turmoil. “Yes.” Such a short response, spoken firmly because I know he needed to hear that answer of yes and not the one my heart was pounding within me: No, no, no. Don’t leave me! I’m not ready!

Randy looked at Michelle and Mike and Joel in turn and asked each of them the same question, “Are you ready?” They each bravely answered “Yes”. Then we all asked him, “Are you ready?” and his response “Oh, yeah!” was confident and firm. The look on his face was one of certainty, a peace I had not seen in years. He knew he didn’t have long, and he knew where he was headed. Death, yes, but also life, forever. Death was just the door to the Life, the Real Life, that awaited him.

Read Part 2

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized