I’ve always loved the number 7. As a young girl in Sunday School, I learned that God set aside the seventh day as a day of rest, a Sabbath day, a holy day. Everywhere I looked in the Bible, I saw the idea of the number 7. It is also considered the number of completion, and with this seventh post in this series of blog posts about my life with Randy Allee, I am bringing our story to its conclusion.
As I look back upon those last two weeks of his life, two weeks of focusing on the most important things, the necessary things, so many bright moments emerge in my memory.
There was the awful first day of knowing about the cancer, and calling Randy’s mom and each of his children to come down to the hospital to see him. I waited until each one of them arrived to pull away from the group, to let him or her know in private that Randy had cancer and that he wouldn’t be with us long. Each individual conversation was heartrending, but each also had an element of beauty as the family drew together in unity on behalf of the man we all loved.
The doctor had asked me not to tell Randy about the cancer but that he would do so. At first, I was relieved, but then it became agony for the next two days because all of us who knew the truth had to put on happy smiles and chat about things we hoped to do after he recuperated. But on that day of the surgery and the cancer discovery and the heartbreaking revelation to the family, we stood in our strength as one.
The memories from that handful of days are still fresh:
…Randy’s reaction when the doctor revealed that he had a deadly form of cancer–he smiled and nodded knowingly, then said, “I’m a Christian, and I believe it’s my job to show people how to die”…
…The softening of his heart toward people he had once deemed his enemies, welcoming the visit of our pastor…
…His patience with the nurses and his camaraderie with the doctors, demonstrating kindness and consideration for these people who were doing their very best to care for him, even when what they had to do hurt or made him uncomfortable…
…The way he conversed with the other person who shared his room, showing a heart of genuine concern toward him…
…Our kids spending as much time as their schedules allowed, laughing with their dad, brightening his days just by being there…
…My daily visits from the start of visiting hours until their end. I had no other place I wanted to be but with this man I loved, listening to him breathe during sleep, and chatting with him when he was awake.
Our goal that first week in the hospital was to get him on his feet so he could get home, but a second surgery was needed to repair a tear. A nasogastric tube was inserted, traveling into his nose and down to his stomach, which kept him bedridden. A bit of a setback to our plans, but we were still hopeful. Then he began having trouble breathing, and one morning I walked into his room to find him gasping for air. I called for the nurse who called for the Rapid Response Team who arrived in short order and began their work on him. I moved out of the way, my heart in my throat. Randy called out to me, “I love you and I love Jesus!” just before they inserted a tube down his throat to help him breathe. He thinks he’s dying right this moment! I was sent to the hallway and stood in shock, leaning against the wall. Was this the end? I wasn’t ready, not by a long shot!
Randy was moved to the ICU, where he received constant attention, but was frustrated with the tube and his inability to talk and his hands tethered to the bed. But he was alive, and I was thankful for that. Three days of time that we might not have had otherwise. And then the day of the tube removal and the joyous gathering around his bed, so thankful for that gift of time and sharing and laughter and loving him. And then the next two days…his descent into an unconsciousness he would not waken from…our vigil in his room, knowing he could leave us at any time…our drawing in, drawing closer, drawing together as a family…
And in it all and through it all wove a ribbon of HOPE. Hope that had begun with plans to take him home so we could make a few more memories as a family that changed into hope for his just making it home to die because he had expressed that desire. And the most important hope that Randy had grasped with all his heart from the moment he knew he had cancer was the hope of heaven and eternity with Jesus, and the hope that all of us who loved him would be with him there someday.
When I walked into his room moments after his last breath, I leaned over him and laid my forehead against his still warm face. “It’s okay, it’s okay. I know where you are and I’ll see you again someday!” I looked up to see Joel on the opposite side of the bed, his eyes brilliant with tears. “I’m jealous of him right now!” he exclaimed. I laughed and said, “Me too! Can you imagine all that he is experiencing already?” HOPE.
Over the next few weeks and months, I survived by taking baby steps, allowing myself time to heal. I took a leave of absence from work, adjusting to life in my house with just me and my dogs. I learned to take care of things that Randy had been responsible for, and I sometimes chatted with him as if he were hanging out in the room with me. I was attending church again, and spending time in worship was like rain on the parched desert. My heart was still broken, but my HOPE was in Jesus.
And then after a few weeks, doubt began niggling at the edges of my heart. Memories of Randy’s dark years began to replay in my mind, and I started to wonder if he was really in heaven. I tried to shove the thoughts away, but they came to me at unexpected times, catching me off guard. I prayed that the Lord would help me to see the truth, to bring me peace.
When I found out that my dear friend Bonnie Floyd was going to be the speaker for the Peoples Church Women’s Retreat, I registered to go. It had only been seven weeks since Randy had died, but I hadn’t seen Bonnie in years, so I decided to surprise her by showing up. I sat in the second pew and when she was introduced and came out from backstage, she saw me instantly and she came down to hug me before she began to speak. I felt so blessed and loved by this wonderful woman of God.
The next morning after the service, the director of Women’s Ministries instructed us to go somewhere alone to have some quiet time with the Lord. I didn’t feel like wandering around and finding a rock to sit on, so I headed back to my room. I had reserved a single room in one of the nice hotel-style lodges, and I was thankful now for that place of solitude, knowing that I could weep if I needed to without feeling self-conscious. I sat down in a chair and began to pray, allowing the Spirit of God to fill me with His presence. After a time, I looked up, focusing on the decorations in the room for the first time since arriving the afternoon before. Everywhere I looked, there was something to do with fishing: a net, a fishing pole, a tackle box, and even a sign that said “Gone Fishin'”! Randy had expressed the desire to go fishing with Jesus when he lay dying in the hospital, and here were all of these messages to my heart that he really was there in heaven, doing that very thing! I had a little praise revival right there in my room! And just to confirm that it was unique to my room, I asked several ladies who had rooms on my floor. None of them had fishing-themed rooms. I felt like God was hugging me close.
Shortly after I returned home from the retreat, my mom and dad called to let me know they had gone into a Thomas Kinkade gallery and noticed one of the featured paintings. It depicted a beautiful stream surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and a man stood on the bank, fishing. They thought the man looked like Randy. And the name of the painting? Almost Heaven. Another hug from God!
That spring, a pair of house finches built the sweetest teacup of a nest on a light fixture outside my bedroom window. Never in all our years of living in this house had that ever happened. Randy had managed to attract goldfinches and house finches to our yard with special feeders, but none had ever stuck around long enough to actually nest. I was so excited. It felt like a piece of him was there, lingering under the eaves. Three tiny eggs hatched into three chirping babies and once they were able to fly, the whole family fluttered away, never to return. Once again, I felt like I had a special hug from God.
My precious friend Diane asked me once why I stayed with Randy through those ugly years, enduring the harsh words and the heartache. I don’t remember how I answered her then, but as I consider back to those hard days, I know part of me stayed because I had been married–briefly–once before Randy, and I didn’t want to be called a two-time loser. More than that, I did not want to put my kids through another divorce. The three older ones were my cherished step-children, yes, but they were still my kids. Janelle and Michelle, Randy’s first precious birds, adored their bigger-than-life crazy dad. And Michael, his firstborn son was in many ways a chip off the old block. They had already gone through divorce and I knew it would just cause more damage to bring it on them again. And Joel. The child I had carried just beneath my heart for nine months and who had spent more constant and consistent time with his dad than any of his siblings. I couldn’t bring his world crashing down. So I stayed. But the biggest reason I stayed was that I had HOPE. God had given me a promise that He would make the ugly ashes of my marriage into something beautiful, and He did. I would have missed out on the fulfillment of that promise if I had walked away.
As I draw this series of blog posts to a close, six years after the events they describe, I cannot stay silent about the idea of HOPE. We can place our hope in so many things: hope in our government, in our education, in our jobs, in horoscopes or tea leaves, but there is no real HOPE without Jesus. It is because of Him and in Him that we have the HOPE of eternity. Do you know Him? There is coming a day, and that day is not far off, when the answer to that question will be all that matters. Are you ready for that day? If you are not, you can be!