Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Surgery, Memories, Blessings

My husband, Bill, had a complete shoulder replacement on December 12.  It was done in a same day surgery center. We were told all about it and how it is so much better for the patient to be in his own home to recover than in the hospital for 2-3 days. We agreed and as Bill has had pain for the last 8-10 years he finally decided to have it done. He has done very well and as each day goes by, he gets stronger and in time will be back to "normal" but hopefully pain free in that shoulder. I was not prepared for what was to come.
It was a struggle for me. I wasn't expecting the memories of Amy's last weeks of life to come flooding back to me. The Surgery Center is just like a mini hospital. When I was called back to sit with Bill after the surgery, the machine was there that Amy had  that constantly monitors the heart,  blood pressure,  and oxygen levels in the blood. It was what we had focused on at that time and prayed that levels would go up, other numbers down. I felt my chest tightening up and it was hard to breathe. The nurse we had was great. She was showing me how to use the leg compressors and I told her I was familiar with them and she asked why and I told her that we lost a daughter last year after a 5 week hospital stay. She was very sympathetic. She helped me get Bill dressed (he was still pretty much out of it) and as we were each putting on a shoe, I automatically straightened out his toes with one hand while I held his heal in my other hand. Why? He certainly didn't have his toes curled. He was very relaxed! It was just an automatic thing with me, because I had done it millions of times with Amy in putting on her shoes. She always curled her toes, and I would have to knead them to straighten them before putting on her shoes. I realized immediately what I was doing and tears sprang to my eyes. I had to get out of there! But Bill wasn't doing well. He wasn't able to stand up yet and so they decided to give him another bag of IV fluid and a little more time. I went to the bathroom and cried and prayed. 
It has been 12 days now and each day is getting easier. The flashbacks of  the home nurse coming and just the little things they do, like laying a paper towel under their bag before they set it down on the sofa would bring tears. Even caring for my husband, bathing and dressing, was difficult. It was the memories not the difficulty of the task. The medicine altered his moods and he would get irritable and then his favorite TV channel (Fox News) was taken off our provider and he really became grouchy! I was not handling this well, when God impressed upon me that He had given me a gift this Christmas. He had given me the opportunity to care for someone again like I cared for Amy, to pour all my love into the needs of another. My attitude changed immediately. Now it is not a burden but a privilege to tend to his needs. 
We were able to go to church on Sunday. Bill never wants to miss a service, but the pain and the meds had him feeling so down.    Emily, Tessa and I were singing in the worship team, Laura was singing a special solo and Tessa had the offertory  so I knew he would enjoy going.  I also knew it would be difficult for me because of the memories, but I was again unprepared for the feelings. Laura sang a beautiful song about looking in the newborn face of the Savior and being a new mother herself, brought on my tears. Tessa played a song next and as she was playing the sun came out and light streamed through the windows and sunbeams filled the sanctuary. For the first time I really felt Amy was with us. It was very hard to sing after that, but the song we were singing was How Great Our Joy.   It was a perfect song that God knew I needed at that time. 

Another thing that was unexpected were all the kind cards and letters from others. We sent out over 100 Christmas cards, as we haven't sent any out for a few years. Some people didn't know about Amy's passing as we only write at Christmas. We knew it was time.  
Yesterday we got an email and also a few letters and cards from those that didn't know of Amy's death. Bill and I both cried  reading the letter from a mom of a Rett girl that I first met when Amy was diagnosed. Her daughter was a teenager and Amy was 4 years old. We have stayed in touch at Christmas ever since. Except for last year. I planned to write her many times but just couldn't do it. 
Here is an excerpt from her letter:
"I was overjoyed with a new picture of your family. I kept searching for Amy and then felt fear, terrified to open the letter. And now I weep, heartbroken for all of you. My (daughter) and I would pray daily for her special friends and their caregivers and not knowing Amy was already in His arms, her lessons taught and journey ended." 

Her earthly journey has ended, but her real journey started a little over 20 months ago.  Amy's lessons continue to teach me each and every day.  In the gift of caring for my husband, I see Amy. In holding my new little grandson, I see Amy.  In the way my children are living their lives, I see Amy. In each shining light on the tree and around the house, I see Amy. Sometimes with tears, but more and more with smiles. 

It has been a hard couple of weeks, but our dear retired pastor (the one who wrote "Amy's Story") summed it all up in the one line he penned at the bottom of his Christmas card to us:
"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried." Isaiah 53:4a

Doesn't that say it all?  Jesus has taken my grief and my sorrow on Himself. I can truly say:


Here is the Christmas picture we chose for our card this year.

 And here are two photos from Amy's last Christmas with us.
Amy loved candles

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Shadow of Sadness--20 months

"The eighth of every month will always hold a shadow of sadness for Tessa and I."  That's what Emily told me this morning as I tearfully told her that I felt like no one remembered Amy yesterday on the 20 month of her passing.
A shadow of sadness. That has been my last few weeks. 

We celebrated Emily's birthday and Thanksgiving on the evening before the big day as it was the only time we could all be together. It had snowed all day. It was beautiful outside, but my heart was still heavy. Another celebration gathered around the dining room table with no Amy. Bill lightened the mood a little as he thanked God for the sacrifice of the turkey's life so we could eat it. Something very unusual for my hunter husband to acknowledge, especially since I purchased the turkey at the grocery store!
On Thanksgiving day Laura, Emily and I got all the boxes of Christmas decorations out. Right on top were Amy's little boxes of her Tinkerbell ornaments. I couldn't handle anymore than just putting all the boxes on the dining room table and leaving them there. That was hard enough. So I didn't do anything that day except ignore them as best as I could.

Saturday we all gathered again to get a family Christmas card taken. I had this all planned ahead of time. I decided to add a little humor by wearing winter hats, with Bill and I wearing Christmas hats. I'm glad I decided this early, because the day was extremely hard for me to hold it together and even  just smile. I was screaming inside for Amy to be there.  I'll share the picture we decided to use a few days before Christmas.

I finally made myself decorate.  I just felt the need to GET IT DONE. No joy,  just a necessary thing to do this year. So I  just wanted to get it done and be finished.
Amy's last Christmas with us I had purchased a small artificial tree in the after Christmas sales  to use as a Jesse tree with her in the years to come. A Jesse tree is like an advent calender with an ornament pointing to Christ each day of the month. This is something I had done when the children were little and I had missed doing it the last few years. Now what was I to do? Save it in the  special box of decorations that were Amys that I had decided to set aside to use when the grandkids were older? Then I had an idea. I would make a small memorial tree to Amy. I would put her special Tinkerbell ornaments on it and butterflies. 

A olive wood nativity that I brought home to Amy after my trip to Israel in 2001 sits in front of the tree  beside a picture that Amy made for us as a gift a few years ago.

When I had gone shopping with Tessi  I had purchased a few extra boxes of lights in case I decided to put them on the bushes at the back entrance as we have done in years past. A beautiful tree topper angel also caught my eye. We have always had a star on the top of the tree. Always. For thirty-seven years we have had a star on the top of our Christmas tree. But I was in the mood to change things this year. Tessa mentioned I could put a butterfly where the angel was holding a candle. That sold me on it. We now have a beautiful angel on top of our small tree. 
I say small because, owning a Christmas tree farm and selling trees, we always have a wide floor to ceiling tree. Sometimes I could hardly get Amy's wheelchair by the tree and out the door, it was so large!  This year, I just wanted something small. I also discovered I had thrown out the lights for the tree from the years before.  The lights go on first, so.......I had the boxes of lights I just purchased to use outside. Those would be great!

Amy's beautiful  memorial angel.

Our small Christmas tree.

I also used an extra strand of lights to wrap around Amy's picture. Emily gave me a pretty frame with Amy's picture for my birthday and Tessa gave me the lantern she used in her wedding. I just wrapped a strand of lights around this and it sets it apart and is a special area to me. 

So the Christmas season is upon us, the picture is done, the decorating is done and all of my presents are wrapped and boxed up that I have to mail out to family tomorrow.  Although it was hard for me, I see God's hand in every step of the way.  He provided me with a daughter-in-law who is a photographer and a willing family to look goofy for a Christmas card. He provided me with a unused tree to use as a memorial tree for Amy. He impressed upon me to buy extra lights so I could get my decorating done. He knew I didn't have any left to use and this avoided another trip to the store. God's hand is in every step of our lives, if we only look and see it. 

Yesterday I wasn't looking for Him, I was only sorry for myself. I had to go to the hospital for some routine blood work and I only saw death in that place, I didn't try to see the smiles or the Christmas season joy. I was letting the sadness of the day engulf me. My daughter reminded me this morning that it is only a shadow. Just as this life is only a shadow as CS Lewis has said and written about. I forget sometimes and I don't see it and it doesn't fill me with immediate joy, but........
 He is with me.  He is still writing my story. That is enough. 

Tomorrow we will be going to the school where Amy attended to share in their Christmas party. It will be another hard time, but God has a plan in this also. I spent a few hours making 28 sock snowmen for her class. I think Amy would have loved them!

Sock snowmen for Amy's classmates.  

Then we plan on stopping by the cemetery to decorate her grave. 

Praise God  because of Him I know she is not there but dancing with her Lord.