Those Last Tenths of a Mile Before Heaven Began

 

before Heaven

It’s the route that we take when we remember those lives before Heaven.

The roads on this route are full of curves and hills. Each homeowner/store owner remembers those days in 1998 and 2011. We do, too.

A few weeks ago when Dave traveled out of town for a meeting, he mapped out the route we’d take this Saturday for the annual Jerrel Good/Paul Slabach Memorial Bike Ride.  (You can read more about the people in this event here.) He stopped at each place we’ll visit and scouted the surrounding area for safety issues for the two dozen bikers who will be on this ride. He’d taken his weed eater and trimmed around the edges of the bank where the cross we’d place a few years ago could hardly be seen for the weeds and brambles.

Dave took the time to cross the road to visit with the store owner – who recognized him and marked his calendar for the event this year – June 17, 2017.

before Heaven

Because he traveled the route alone, Dave had a lot of time to think.  If you know Dave, you’ll know he’s a thinker, and you’ll understand how this route caused him to think. I wasn’t with him, but I am as sure as I can be that he also cried.

On Sunday when he continued his messages on the Lord’s Prayer and shared from Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven,  he shared. That poignant sharing came from the depths of his heart.

We see life on this earth from our human perspective. As parents, we want to offer the best for our kids. We want their happiness, their health, and their success, and strive to help them achieve those goals.  Then, when “bad things happen to good people,” we don’t get it because we’re looking from our perspective as parents and not from the perspective that our Heavenly Father sees. The Eternal View.

“I watched the odometer as I neared the crash sites.  These guys had no idea that they were nearing the place where God would call them Home in a matter of minutes. They had no idea, but God knew. Five-tenths . . .  four-tenths . . . three-tenths . . . two-tenths . . .  one tenth, and BAM!  It was over.”

As he recounted those scenes, he cried. So did we.

“But THEN I remembered that it wasn’t over. It was only the beginning!”

That is why we ride.

This Saturday when we ride, we’ll certainly be remembering. We will remember the ripping rawness, the horrendous ache, the harrowing questions, and definite uncertainty. We will remember asking Why? over and over again.

This side of Heaven, life often doesn’t make sense – and sometimes it’s so unfair. Before Heaven, we wrestle and we groan.

Then comes Heaven – where there are no more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow. Where the old things will be passed away and all things will be new.

I’ve learned that when we answer the questions of our kids – and even questions of our own – it helps solidify our faith. We find answers to our own questions when we have to contemplate the ones others are asking.

This I also know: we can look back and see that God continues to be good, even when life hurts and doesn’t make sense. We know that His will is done here on earth – as it is in Heaven. Truly, reaching Heaven is really what this life is about.

before Heaven

 

So we ride and we remember. We will not forget the ache, the sorrow, or the pain.

 

before Heaven

before Heaven

 

Yet, more importantly, we will remember the faithfulness of the God we serve.

We have traced His hand in the years since Heaven claimed our guys.

This we will remember: that our God has been faithful.

And He is always eternally good.

 

 

 

 

 

Pinterest Before Heaven

Surprised by Grief

grief

Grief hits us sometimes when we least expect it.

There is no easy way to walk through that mountain of heartache and pain. Within a six-week span in 2010, Dave and I became orphans when I lost my mother and he lost his father. That first year, like a tsunami, the waves of grief came and went, leaving us surprised by grief.

This story tells a little bit about our journey in losing Pop Slabach – and what it’s like to experience the faithfulness of God. It was written eight months after we buried Pop. If you’re grieving, don’t be surprised at the grief that hits you from time to time. Like the waves of high tide, grief will hit you full force, knocking you down. Then, surprisingly, the waves will calm down and you will experience low tide again. A few days later, you’ll be knocked down again as more waves invade your soul. Each time, the waves won’t be quite as high or as strong. Each time, low tide will bring respite. In time, healing comes even though the empty ache is always there.

Surprised by Grief

grief

I have been surprised, again, by grief. 

Sometimes I am blind-sided because it is least expected.  Other times, I am more (somewhat) prepared. Like this past week. Prepared? I really thought I was. Surprised again?  Yes indeed. Again.

Three years ago this month, we moved into our new kitchen.  It was a six-month process from start to finish.  In late spring, Pop came from Ohio to help us get started.  Ever since we bought this house, Pop fussed about our upstairs steps. They were too narrow and too steep.  He was a contractor, and he would never have built steps like that.

Never mind that our house was built in the 1920s and other folks who lived in this house and raised their kids survived those stairs.  Never mind that those stairs never bothered me. They bothered Pop, even if he didn’t live here. Never mind that Dave said he wasn’t going to undertake such a project.  If no one else was going to do it, then Pop would, because somebody had to do it.  And he did.

grief

Tim came from Christiansburg for a week to work for his older brother and help his father. The kids thought climbing a ladder to get to the upstairs would be great fun for a few days. I slept downstairs for two nights because I was not going to climb a ladder to go to bed. Going up wouldn’t have been so bad, but coming down in the middle of the night in case of bathroom necessity was out of the question. Pop just smiled when he saw me come downstairs the morning of taking-out-the-stairs-day with my stash of clothes.

The three stooges ran into more than a few snags doing those steps. (Why am I not surprised?) Fortunately, we were going to lower the ten-foot dining room ceiling anyhow, so the steps could extend into the dining room. Other discussions took place, and once they pulled off the job and worked on something else for a while as they ruminated how to solve problems with those steps. You could see the wheels in Pop’s head just a-turning as he worked out the problem in his mind.

grief

Pop and Tim also took out the four windows in the east playroom and installed patio doors in their place.  Never mind that we didn’t have a deck and wouldn’t have one for another year; those doors were installed as plumb as possible considering the age of the house and the uneven floors and ceilings. Pop’s only regret that week was not having time to help take out the wall between the dining room and the playroom for the new kitchen.  Every time he came to visit, he had to come check the progress. Once I even told Dave that it seemed Pop came more to see the house than to see us!

grief

Born and raised Amish, Pop came from a culture where parents did not compliment their children verbally; to do so might instill pride in their offspring. Yet he’d tell other people about his kids and what they were doing, and we knew he was pleased. The first visit he made after we were (finally) in the new kitchen, he walked from wall to wall, ran his hands up door frames, opened and closed drawers and cabinets, checking for ease and making sure things were level. That carpenter-look was evident as he cocked his head, squinted his eyes, and eye-balled everything. While he never came out and said so, it was obvious he was impressed with the completed kitchen and the fact that his son had done the work — and done it well.

Eighteen months later, he came again — this time to inspect the deck Dave and the boys had built Thanksgiving weekend. Our sons followed him around as he ran his hands across the railing, pushed on boards with his shoes, and listened to them tell their version of helping to build the deck.

And always, there was the discussion about our next project: making a master bedroom and bath out of the upstairs sun porch. Some day.

grief

                                              Pop with his bucket truck.

This past February, Dave decided it was time. We moved everything off the sun porch (my attic) and they knocked off the outside walls and began building the floor. We talked about seeing if Pop could come to Virginia again and help with this project. We knew he would because he had as much as said so. Dave knew his father’s experience would be invaluable and he’d enjoy the work. It would take some engineering to build the floor so no support would be needed below since we were extending the addition.

Before Dave made that phone call to set a date, Pop had a massive stroke.  Nine days later, he went to Heaven.  You know the first thing I thought about when we knew that, barring a miracle, Pop would not get better?  That sun porch addition. How were we ever going to do that without Pop?!

We didn’t — for six months.  The “addition” sat there all summer, covered by a black tarp. We’d pull it up on sunny days and lower it when it rained. Like a massive curtain, we had to find our way through that tarp when we wanted to get inside in pouring rain. I confess I was getting pretty tired of that tarp slamming me in the face when I tried to find my way with bags of groceries in tow.

It helped when Dave and I talked about the reason for the tarp. Continuing the addition was too painful at the moment. Oh sure, Dave could have made himself complete it. Yet waiting allowed him time to process his pain. Dave’s grief was more important than any addition on our house, and I was more than willing to wait.  [It helped that cash flow was a little low at the moment as well. :-)]

I came to realize that the black tarp symbolized our grief. With the loss of Pop, we had lost a dream. Sure, we would miss him as the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of the family.  For the immediate future, we missed his expertise. On “sunny” days, I’d didn’t think about it much and Dave didn’t mention losing Pop.  Then, like a stormy cloud, the grief surge would hit again.  I wondered — some days — if we’d ever get the addition finished when I observed another gale as it sent more grief waves. Yet I knew the question was not if, but when.

grief

And I asked my Father to help me remember to hide under His wings instead of fighting the storm.

A few months ago, that tarp was pulled up for the last time. Walls, windows, insulation, sheet rock, (most) electrical, and (some) plumbing are complete. Paint choices have been made and the floor has been ordered. The job is still not done, but we’re nearing completion.

grief

           The addition that Pop never helped build.

Last week, on October 27th, we remembered Paul (Pop’s middle son) on the 12th year anniversary of his arrival in Heaven. On the 28th, Pop celebrated his first birthday in Heaven. I watched the tsunami of grief hit Dave – and felt its aftermath in me — as my husband finished sheetrock alone.

I have been surprised, again, by grief. How can finishing sheetrock bring such pain?!

I have found that remembering brings healing. I have learned that acknowledging releases pain. I have experienced reprieve as I have hugged the Rock and basked—again—in the goodness of God, even in my grief.

Pop would say, “We go on.” And we do. It still hurts, but we go on. We go on, because the God we serve is a Shelter in any storm, a Haven for any heartache, and a Comfort in every care.

Dave reminded us yesterday that our grief and its aftermath of fear, dismay, and human weakness find a solution in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

On that promise, we walk through our grief even though we continue to be surprised by grief. We go on, and we are not alone.

Pinterest grief

 

Why I Am Wearing Red Today

I am wearing red today* because it was Mom’s favorite color.

Mom Slabach always said she didn’t understand why Christian conservative folks didn’t think women should wear read.

Yes, red was a color often worn by harlots, she knew. She’d been reminded of that many times. She didn’t care if that’s what harlots wore, because she wore red, too.

She’d say, “Red also represents salvation — because

the blood of Jesus Christ, His son, cleanses us from all sin.”

So this wife of a Mennonite minister wore red.

Today I remember Mom. And I am wearing red.

Mom loved –

steaming hot coffee,

wearing red

ice cold Pepsi,

wearing red

fried bacon,

wearing red

and delectable ice cream.

wearing red

Looking at this list makes me smile as I put on my red in honor of a mom who enjoyed life and family fun.

wearing red

I didn’t know much about raising boys because I grew up in a family of girls.  When we started our family, God gave us three of our four boys in a row. I used to think, if I was having a problem with one of my guys, I’d just send them to Grandma. She’d have Sunday school (as her kids called it) and send them back to me, all fixed up. Only thing is, she didn’t get to help raise those boys because she died when the oldest was five and before the youngest was born. I never got to send them to her for Sunday school, but she had prayed for them! She prayed for her kids, her grandkids, and those not yet born.

I wear red in memory of Mom’s Sunday schoolsIn honor of her prayers, I am wearing red.

wearing red

I wear red today for the mom who believed in her son Dave and the spunk he possessed; who always said she wouldn’t give a dime for a kid without some spunk – and then prayed and prayed over that spunk and asked God to use it for His kingdom. I wear red today for the memories I cherish of a woman who claimed me and was glad I was loving her Dave.

I reap the blessings of a life well lived, a character well defined, and a faith well practiced. I benefit from the harvest of her commitment to her family and to God and gladly claim her son as mine.

I wear red today in honor of my mother-in-law, who was not just a mentor, but also my friend. There wasn’t a subject that was unmentionable with her, and she didn’t mind delving into the nitty gritty of life. Even when we disagreed, we were friends.

Although cancer took her life, it did not deprive her of her spirit. That is why everyone wanted to help care for her and be there during those last weeks.  Mom could make a party out of an event, and none of us wanted to miss the party. I am wearing red in memory of those parties!

Twenty-five years ago we stood by her bed and watched her face change from agony to peace, calmness, and rest. We watched her lips change from a grimace into a beautiful smile. Oh yes. She smiled.

Ah, that smile!  I remember it still. When we saw that smile, we knew that Mom had Arrived! She fought the fight, she finished her course, she kept the faith. Mom finished well.

I wear red today because she won the Victory.

Today, I am wearing red, in honor and in celebration.

I wear red today, not with tears, but with joy.

 

Happy 25th Anniversary of your Arrival in Heaven, Mom!

wearing red

Watching Mom fight that dreadful disease of cancer was not easy. Caring for her was a privilege and a blessing. That journey of grief and gallantry is chronicled in the book Aren’t We Having Fun Dying?!.  The title of the book is a direct quote from Mom two weeks before her Arrival.  Each chapter title is a quote from Mom during her last months here on earth. For more information about this book, you can visit this page.

[some wording/quotes come from (my) book “Aren’t We Having Fun Dying?!”

*the anniversary of Mom’s arrival in Heaven is March 16.

Pinterest wearing red

Six Ways To Handle Family Discord When Someone You Love Is Dying

My stressful day in ICU was about to become even more stressful.  My patient was dying.  The doctors, who are taught to help their patients live, had reckoned with the fact that it was just a matter of time. I realized my biggest problem was not the patient or the doctors.  My biggest problem was this patient’s family.

I didn’t know them well, but I’d been around them long enough to feel their tension and discord, especially among the siblings.  Plus, the mom was clueless and helpless when it came to dealing with her adult children.

I can still see the scenario some thirty-five  years later.

Dad begins taking longer pauses between breaths.  He is struggling for air so we increase his oxygen.  Pain medication is given, again, for he is in obvious discomfort.  When it appears he is going to take his last breath, his wife collapses in the recliner provided in the room.  His daughter proceeds to throw up in the wastebasket, and the son storms out of the room, slamming the door.  It appears he is angry with his mom for fainting and furious with his sister for throwing up.  And, except for the lone nurse in the room, the patient dies alone amid the sounds of machines beeping, a door slamming, and a daughter’s tears mingled with vomit.

I wasn’t sure who needed my help the most.  The patient was, after all, my charge.  Yet caring for him also meant caring for his family.  The only problem was, they didn’t want my care because they had it all figured out.

That was the problem: each of them thought they were completely right and everyone else was wrong.

We shouldn’t be surprised when families face stressful times that unresolved conflicts of the past rise to the surface.  Somehow we revert back to how we acted as kids – or how we disagreed as kids.  We revert to being the bossy oldest, the spoiled youngest, or the misunderstood middle child. Before we know it, we’re back in sibling squabble mode instead of acting like mature adults.

 

Here are some suggestions for you to consider when someone you love is dying:

DON’T:

 1.  Don’t try to fix your siblings or parents. Recognize that the traits in your siblings that irritated you as a child will be exacerbated during this tempestuous time. This is not a time to try to change them and make them into the person they should be.  Certainly, you should encourage positive steps; but correction is not going to be accepted easily when a sibling is under duress.

Since you know which sibling will irritate you the most, you might need to take steps to “stay away from” that sibling when you are feeling vulnerable.  Leave the room for a bathroom break or to get some coffee and put some space between you until you can calm down.  While you might be able to work at the relationship, this is not the time to try to bring up old hurts or try to fix them.

2.   Don’t insist (since you’re the oldest, the one with the most medical knowledge, the one closest to this parent, the one who took him to all the doctor appointments) that your way is the right way. There are many ways to cope with grief.  There are many ways to care for someone who is dying.  There is no right way, so your way can’t be the only way or necessarily the best way.

3.  Don’t tell someone else how to do grief. Each of us deals with grief in our own way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  What works for me might not work for you.  Allow your siblings to grieve differently from you, and don’t try to tell them how to do grief.  You can’t demand that they adopt your way of grieving because they are not you.

DO:

1. Acknowledge that conflicts will happen, especially during stressful times. At the same time, this moment is not the time to cause undue stress for the one who is dying.  Put up a united front so the one who is dying can experience some semblance of peace with the family instead of feeling compelled to diffuse arguments.  You may actually be more right than your siblings, but this is not the time to say so.

Consider that, even though your siblings or parents may have hurt you, there may well be things you’ve done in the past that have caused them pain. Whether it is the places you go, things you eat or drink, what you wear or don’t wear, or how you raise your kids, there is likely to be a source of disagreement somewhere if you experience conflict in your family. (For that matter, the shoe might be on the other foot.  You might have the issue with a sibling instead of him having an issue with you.)

2. Focus on what draws you together and don’t accentuate your differences during this time.  Do what you can to bring harmony and not discord.  Your family has a connection because you are family. Use that connection to forge a bond, even if it’s just a temporary one.  Maybe, just maybe that bond can become something which lasts even beyond this stressful time. Help build a bridge instead of a wall.  Be the first to lay a brick that helps build the foundation of that bridge.

3. Recognize that expressing appreciation for a sibling or parent can go a long way in making them feel important and worthy of thanks. Don’t praise a martyr complex, but do give recognition to those who are carrying the load when you’re not there.  Granted, when there is conflict, the last thing we want to do is applaud someone who is grating on our nerves.  That’s exactly why it’s the first thing we should do.

When you as a family can present a united front, let go of past failures and hurts, and allow each other to do grief their own way, you’ll find that you can walk through this together.  Sometimes a family meeting might be in order, where siblings can raise concerns, ask questions, and give affirmation.

When you bury your loved one, you’ll want to know you did everything you could to bring harmony instead of conflict.  You’ll want to know the freedom of having no regrets.

If the family of the patient in my care had considered what their spouse/father wanted most, they could have – for part of the day – put their differences aside and presented a united front.  They could have supported each other and shown care for each other in front of their dying family member.   When the moment came that he breathed his last, at least one of them could have been holding his hand. He could have seen them with arms around each other instead of watching as each one went his own way.

As it was, the only person holding his hand as he breathed his last was the nurse who barely knew his name.  It could have been so different, but it wasn’t because being right was more important (to them) than being there for their family member who was dying.

During times of stress, we need to consider which is worth most: staking our claim or working together. Building a bridge is easier now than it will be to tear down a wall later.

 

It is never easy to watch someone we love die.  Every journey is different – and each person responds differently. This story is about my mother-in-law’s journey following her cancer diagnosis – from earth to Heaven.  If you want more information about this book, click here.

book aren't we having fun