his last day

november home 093b

spoiler alert: 17 years ago today my first true love passed from this earth. one of my daughters asked me last night if i would talk about it here today. i don’t know exactly how long this post is going to be. i’m just going to sit down & begin to write. however, i wanted to let you know before you started reading …i do know that i will share some raw & painful details of that day.

we were always in the palm of His mighty hand & i  hope if you do decide to read, you are still encouraged…

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Sleepless in Seattle was the movie of the night.

it was november 6th, 1996. gregg had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma 8 months prior. barely. we found out we were pregnant the same week he found a lump under his arm.

emily was born in august. the night she was born, he literally turned the corner and seemed to go downhill. the cancer spread to his brain & only a couple weeks later he suffered a grand-mal seizure. gregg was only able to actually hold emily a few times after that day, but as things would be-she’s the spitting image of him & has his very same “never met a stranger, perpetually happy” personality.

we had been in the hospital for several weeks. maybe three. i can’t exactly remember everything. your mind buffers things i believe. he had been a college athlete and in incredible physical health. well. except for that nasty cancer. we drove to the emergency room one day after it seemed he was falling & stumbling and exhibiting several other awful symptoms due to the cancer invading his brain. i needed help. i didn’t know what else to do. emily was only about 7 weeks old, madison was 19 months old and savannah was 3 1/2.

i tell my friends savannah was never really 3 1/2. she was like an old soul back then. it’s like she was a little adult. i often times think back on those days & pray i never caused her to grow up too fast. maybe it’s the first born, independent, strong & responsible way to cope but she seemed light years older. like maybe she 8. that’s still a baby, i realize, but she was keenly aware of exactly what was going on.

sadly i was too. i had gone to nursing school with the distinct goal of becoming an oncology nurse. pediatric. i knew i wanted to take care of these children who would not only need physical care but emotional & spiritual as well. oncology patients, due to the nature of the disease frequent the hospital. as a nurse i developed often times close relationships with these children and their parents. because i was an oncology nurse, i knew enough. i knew enough that god could heal gregg,  but i knew enough that his cancer was very real and very horrific and that, short of a miracle, i was going to lose him.

so here we were at dekalb medical center, about three weeks later…maybe two from that drive in to the emergency room. that nasty cancer was all inside his healthy body. gregg ate organic before it was the hip thing to do. he didn’t smoke, he never cussed ( well, maybe on the basketball court, but that doesn’t count :)), he rarely had a beer, had zilcho body fat and loved jesus. the odds were totally in his favor. right?

but that when Sleepless in Seattle began to play, i knew he would leave this earth that very night.

that was one of our favorite movies. a sappy romantic comedy with heartbreak mixed in. just like my life actually.

gregg was heavily medicated due to the frequent seizures and basically had not been conscious for a while. the doctors told me it was “taking longer” for him to pass due to the athletic strength of his heart and lungs. fantastic. that “he should have passed” days before but was still hanging on.

we were in the last room on the left. a suite. since emily was a newborn, she stayed with me while i stayed beside gregg.  i had worked on that very floor years before and knew several members of the staff and the nursing director for that floor. they took exceptional care of us and maybe allowed us to break some rules as far as visitors. i was breastfeeding emily and had developed horrible mastitis. every lactation specialist, infectious disease personnel and friend basically encouraged me to stop. i was cracked and bleeding. it was  possibly the most painful ( physical) thing i had ever endured. interesting right? physical and emotional pain simultaneously linked. i was not going to give up. i wasn’t. i tried every old wives tale treatment and medication. every one.

we had several of my closest friends and family members with us that november 6th. dan was actually one of the guys that stayed with gregg day after day at the end.( they had been roommates and actually lived together longer than gregg and i did.). but it was dan’s daddy’s birthday ( pop pop would have been 95 today) so he had left to go out to eat with his family. which was absolutely fine. everyone was needing breaks. while we kept an amazing amount of coffee and laughter available, we all knew what was happening.

gregg took his last breath that evening. just a little after the movie ended.

i remembered working on that floor. i was a young 20something year old back then. i remember leaving the hospital at 7:30 in the morning after working night shifts. one time one of my patients had passed away on my shift. i had left his sweet wife to lay with him for a while before i prepared to have him taken to the morgue. he had on purple socks and she laid beside him for a while. i sure don’t remember how long, but i do remember he was young. and handsome. and as i left the hospital that morning and jumped into atlanta traffic and watched the glorious sunrise, i looked around and wondered if anyone on the street that day had a family member dying. i figured probably not. when you’re in your own pain you figure you’re all alone.

well that day in november 17 years ago. i didn’t physically feel alone. and i knew the Lord held me and my little ones in the palm of his hand. but i felt alone. i was 30. widows are old with wrinkled hands and sweet stories to tell about the love of their life who they had shared 50+ years with. not 30. not driving a minivan. not still able to wear a two-piece bathing suit and running shoes.

i remember grumbling one day, to myself of course. i was in the walmart parking lot & i’ll be honest. i was pissed off. how on earth was i supposed to raise three little girls all by myself. i felt like a child myself. when i was little i played with my madame alexander dolls, one of whom was named emily. i played paperdolls for hours and hours. i would cut out pictures from jcpenney’s catalogs and make up families. i felt like i was playing dolls all over again but the real world seemed frighteningly large.

i remember the lord, right there in a crappy walmart parking lot, gently reminded me that He had heard every prayer. ( because sometimes people feel the need to tell you that god ALWAYS heals and that if maybe my husband was dying that i wasn’t having enough faith–that is a lie from the pit right there my friends). He had seen every tear. that He is near to the broken hearted. that He carries the young. i was in the mighty right hand…of HIM.

i can’t fully explain why sad crappy things happen like daddies pass away at 35. and why cancer even has to exist. i don’t want to get all theological and talk about a broken world but what i DO want to say is that we were never, ever alone. i know our loving god did not create cancer. he is good and holy. but we do live in a broken world. where he allows us to chose. and long ago the two people who walked with him in a perfect garden chose against him. that right there. that choice. allowed sin in the world. and with sin comes things like sickness and crappy cancer. He didn’t create robots. He created us with a free will. but there has to be a separation between a HOlY god and sin. jesus is the bridge over that separation. that separation and all the yuck that it holds has a way. and it’s jesus.

i’ve heard folks say they’re going to ask jesus why. you know. why did my husband die. why did hitler exist and why does AIDS take so many. why are there bad people who sell children into sex slavery. why are babies born addicted to crack and why did those people fly in the world trade center. why>

and of course none of us knows exactly what our glorious day in heaven when we finally see HIM face to face will be like. i can bet my bottom dollar i will NOT dare ask HIM to explain himself. i will see HIS glorious face. the scars in his hands where he chose to lay down his life…to make a way…the way of eternal life with HIM possible. i will be busy being in awe of HIS holiness.

i will see gregg again one day. my girls will see their daddy. i know he’s totally going to high five dan and thank him for laying down his own life for us girls. he’ll be fully healthy.

until then i will boast in my weakness. my need for a savior. and i pray that if i share nothing else with you readers that i share we serve a good, loving father. he weeps with those that weep and all the heavens rejoice when one comes to accept his love. the angels gather around him & sing HOLY HOLY HOLY is the lord god almighty.

and one day,

so will we.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

the image above is a chalk rendition of a portrait of gregg & savannah created by my life long friend, kristin. we found out gregg was going to begin chemo and called our family photographer who graciously captured our family before he lost his hair and began the physical transformation.

kristin is running a marathon ( just like gregg. he too was a marathon runner) next weekend & is raising funds to fight cancer….you may read more about how to support her here.

i love you friend & thank you for running in his honor

~~~

November 6, 2013 - 8:49 am

ellie - oh paige. i can’t stop crying. it’s not just your story of greg passing – i’ve read it before and never cease to be amazed by how god has held you . . . it’s not even the sleepless in seattle story . . .one of my favorite movies – my 17 year old is named jonah . . .

honestly it is your explanation of god and his great love. i share your theology exactly. and tell people who say that they will ask god certain questions that i will be too busy laying prostrate and saying “holy holy holy”. sweet friend this post is certainly the most important piece of writing you have ever done. i will be sharing it with everyone who asks those deep questions of evil in the world.

praying for his grace to envelop you on this special day.

xoxo ellie

November 6, 2013 - 8:51 am

amy - everytime i read parts of your story it brings me to tears! i especially love the way you describe dan and how he loves you and your girls. he sounds incredible and maybe i speak for other single readers out there…i hope to find a “dan” one day!! ha!

November 6, 2013 - 8:59 am

Kerri - oh my. sweet Paige. I have you read your words so many times telling this story, yet somehow it always feels like it is my first time. The raw and painful truth. Last night a childhood friend of mine posted a picture of herself as a bridesmaid with a beautiful bride. This bride just newlywed in August has lung cancer. Never smoked a day in her life. And now she is struggling to survive. Praying for you, Dan and the girls today. XOXO.

November 6, 2013 - 9:02 am

simone - This was an amazing read Paige, I cried most of the way through it….you are an amazing individual with a very special family.

It might sound ridiculous coming from someone the other side of the ocean to you, someone you’ve never met….but your inspiring attitude to life, your honesty & your “realness” is one of the reasons that I often find myself wondering “What would Paige do….?” as I go about my daily life.

Thank you for sharing this Xx

November 6, 2013 - 9:10 am

Susan - Sweet friend, thankful for you and my Kleenex! Paige, your words are so real and raw and yet, such an encouragement. Wish I were closer to give you a hug today. Praying His love and blessings on you, Dan and the girls.
Love you!

November 6, 2013 - 9:27 am

Paige Wright - Sigh….we have “spoken” before about losing our husbands to cancer at a young age and my friend you have nailed it on the head EXACTLY how I feel and felt when I lost Jeff to brain cancer. I don’t need those answers, just looking forward to being with Christ and seeing Jeff whole again some day. Our Lord is so good even in the most difficult of trials! Thank you for sharing your heart!!!

November 6, 2013 - 9:29 am

Kellie - ” i will see HIS glorious face. the scars in his hands where he chose to lay down his life…to make a way…the way of eternal life with HIM possible. i will be busy being in awe of HIS holiness.”….that literally gave me chills. What a blessing your writing is to those who read. And though we’ve never met sending love to you and yours today.

November 6, 2013 - 9:37 am

Beth - Paige,
I can’t imagine how difficult a day that must have been for you. So much uncertainty about what your life would be like without your husband. What an amazing gift that God gave you the ability to trust in him and know that no matter what, you and your children would be safe in his loving care. I really admire your perspective. It’s not easy to look back on such an incredibly painful and life changing experience and know that there was a purpose for it. As nurses, I know witnessing death and dying changes us. I loved how you talked about leaving the hospital after having a patient pass away, and seeing life going on as usual. Because that is what happens.. Life continues and we have no control and the only way to move forward is to trust that God loves us so incredibly and that our life is mapped out by His plan and that most definitely we will be reunited with our loved ones one day. I’m happy for you, that even though you had to experience such loss, you have been blessed. I think it’s truly a testament to your faith and belief in God’s plan for you..xo

November 6, 2013 - 9:46 am

Michelle Cheney - Beautiful story of one who dared to trust the One who can bring comfort. Thank you for sharing your story. What a wonderful man you must be married to who is secure enough in Christ to let you have the space to honor his memory and never let him be forgotten. I married someone who had three children and we together have one. I am amazed at the goodness of God who can knit families together so closely. You and your girls are in my prayers today. Bask in your memories. Have a blessed day.
Michelle

November 6, 2013 - 10:09 am

Cynthia - Though I have read parts of your story before, you continue to encourage me with your faith! Who knew bloggers and IG’ers

November 6, 2013 - 10:21 am

Kitti Murray - Oh, sweet Paige… this is so beautiful and so real. I remember sitting in a J Alexander’s in Nashville with my alive and cancer-free husband when you called to tell me Gregg’s cancer was not the kind my alive husband had, but that it was something more insidious. We cried and prayed throughout our dinner. I remember so much of this story as it unfolded and God unfolded his glory in you. Thanks for the reminder of our never-leaves-us-alone God. You tell that story so well. I love you.

November 6, 2013 - 10:26 am

becky - beautiful paige! you nailed it! isn’t it amazing that almost instantly after going through tragedy you feel His presence stronger than ever?!? you my friend, you are truly an inspiration! thank you!

November 6, 2013 - 10:28 am

cynthia - cont…
your story is so familiar, my best friend died just over 2 years ago. metastatic melanoma, lived not quite 3 months after diagnosis, time spent at Emory and Dekalb Medical as well and i remember wondering if “other people” were going through the same thing as i was?
Her last night on earth was spent in a hospital room, her breathing was so labored andwe knew it wouldnt be much longer. i remember praying throughout the night, in that cold room for Jesus to hurry, take away her tumors and make her knew again. I KNEW that her last breath on earth would be her first in Heaven. It was the hardest thing ive ever done but i knew it was so much better that her life in that hospital bed with a nasty cancer throughout her body.
I don’t think i’ve asked “why”…thankfully, i know “why”. I miss her terribly but i know that one day i will see her again with her brand new body! and i know she can’t wait either…

thank you Paige, for sharing your story and encouraging others as myself! your are so strong and honest and real and that speaks volumes

thinking of you today

November 6, 2013 - 11:03 am

D'Nese - Such a sad story, but so beautiful at the same time. You offer such encourgement, Paige. Your words are beautiful. Your story is equally beautiful. I love that Dan the Man stepped in when the time was necessary and that you have this story to share with us today. You aren’t bitter, you aren’t angry, you speak so real and so full of faith. That is amazing to me. Wow! So powerful. Your message hits it spot on. Don’t ask the “WHY”, but just put the faith in the God and trust. Love it!

Biggest of hugs today. May God bless you all.

November 6, 2013 - 11:10 am

Lori - Paige, my sweet, strong, healthy husband also died of Melanoma cancer on June 23, 1998. He was 45, I was 43 with 2 girls, one 7 and one 9. So much of what you described happened to him as well. My crappy moment was sitting in my car as I was getting ready to go into the Social Security office to begin the process of receiving the widow pension. I, too, believed that widows were sweet, little old ladies that had shared 50, 60 years with their husbands, their children were raised, happily married with children of their own. God showed up in my car in that parking lot in Colorado Springs. I will never, ever forget the tangible presence of my Papa sitting right beside me telling me, “I’ve got this. I am carrying you and those precious girls.” Thank you for sharing the raw reality of cancer and becoming a widow and most of all God’s faithfulness!!

November 6, 2013 - 11:12 am

gloria - Beautiful

November 6, 2013 - 11:25 am

Susan R. - my dear friend:
coming from someone who lost their father at 5 years old, I know that despondent, broken heart feeling and I also know the feeling of God’s almighty hand in the healing of such pain. my father was 34 when he died and had finally learned to accept Jesus into his life and his heart.sometimes that knowledge is the only thing that gets me through the tough times. i definitely don’t know why such bad things are allowed to happen, but i don’t ask those questions anymore. i know my father had a more important work to do in heaven and he was called home to continue his work. i have to believe your Gregg was also called home for something very special. may God continue to heal your hearts and may he continue to bless you.

November 6, 2013 - 11:36 am

Kailey Murphy - Paige, you are so eloquent with your words. this was beautiful and had me in tears. I have dear, albeit vague, memories of playing with your precious girls when shannie would babysit and running around the soccer stadium with them when Gregg was coaching. Thinking of you today

November 6, 2013 - 11:37 am

Laurie Overholtzer - All I can say is wow! I love it that Dan was there with you all along, and he loved Gregg. What a profoundly heartbreaking and joyful story your life is. The Lord has continued to show you His mercy and love, and through it all you are a woman blessed in all ways.

Thank you for sharing your heart with us. God bless you Paige.

November 6, 2013 - 11:47 am

Amanda - Beautiful. Love you sweet friend!!!

November 6, 2013 - 11:54 am

Jeanne - Dear Paige, I have followed your blog for years so I have known about your sweet Gregg’s passing, well before my own DH’s passing almost 3 years ago. I can’t tell you how it felt to read your beautiful post. So many thoughts went through my head while I read it. So much of what you said about Gregg was practically word-for-word like my George, so it really hit home for me. I’m so happy you shared this part of your life with all of us. You have a beautiful family and a beautiful life with your second true love, Dan. I do believe you are a glorious example of what a strong and everlasting faith in The Lord can mean in a person’s life. Thank you so much for writing this post for us all to read.
xo
jeanne

November 6, 2013 - 12:05 pm

Erin - Thank you.
Very God Honoring.
Perfectly giving Him praise.
I Thank God for you and your family in the Cantrell’s Lives…

November 6, 2013 - 12:15 pm

Jill - Oh, I had no clue, Paige. The tears are flowing. You are such an incredible person….such strong faith….wow, I don’t know how you do it all. Hugs to you.

November 6, 2013 - 12:48 pm

Robin - So many others have commented exactly what is in my heart for you and Dan, and your girls. What is also in my heart is a longing, to have your peace and conviction. Although I am a Christian and profess my faith, I am weak and scared. Thank you for showing me His strength and grace.

November 6, 2013 - 2:00 pm

chrissi - sweet paige, you continue to amaze me. while i thought i had read the best of you, you do more. you break my heart and make me find joy all in the same post. thank you♥.
i lost my mom about the same time you lost your husband. she was young and lovely and knew that the Lord was healing her by bringing her home. despite the chemo and meds and all of it, my mom glowed. she was more beautiful than ever and i have to think it is because she knew she was on her way home.
one day, when i go home and hug my mom, i hope i can meet your greg and thank him for loving you so well that you too glowed. without such love you wouldn’t of been able to carrying on with your girls or find happiness with dan or even keep loving the Lord. what a wonderful man.

November 6, 2013 - 2:19 pm

Sara - Thank you for sharing this story and for the reminder that we are never alone. I needed that today.

November 6, 2013 - 2:21 pm

Bonnie Solid - What an honor to read this & to know you & your loved ones.
It’s just one of those God stories I love to hear.
I’m so sorry for your pain & loss, yet I celebrate the good our good good God made of your story.

November 6, 2013 - 2:30 pm

Kimberly - Thank you so much for sharing, a true picture of beauty from ashes. I am in the middle of a study right now on Job and suffering. It shows how God never answered the “why” question but instead answered it with “Who” He is instead and how explanations are ultimately a substitute for trust and faith.

November 6, 2013 - 3:31 pm

Laurie - Paige~
Although we have never met, I’m convienced you would be the friend I’d find myself sitting on the porch with enjoying fellowship and a ice cold glass of lemonade. Your written word draws me in and gives me the feeling of seeing into your soul…Feeling the loss and sadness of a “first true love” makes my heart heavy, however knowing the GOD has a purpose and a plan for such a loss makes my heart sing. Much love and happiness to you, Dan and the girls.

November 6, 2013 - 3:45 pm

courtney defeo - simply beautiful. God’s work in your life is beautiful. your grace in this story. the way you so eloquently honor Gregg and Dan is breathtaking. I love you. I love your family and I’m honored to be your friend.

November 6, 2013 - 3:58 pm

Peggy - Paige, darlin’, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Yes I sit here with tears in my eyes. your words resonated deep in my soul, not “just” your words but words given to you by a glorious and gracious savior! I thank God daily for friends like you… mentors, lovers of Christ, not perfect but definitely forgiven, loved and lovers of others, broken hearted and compassionate, so thank you my dear sweet friend… for being vulnerable, honest, and allowing God to use you in great and mighty ways that are far more reaching than you can ever imagine! as i’ve said before.. i love you girl, and i thank God for you! whether we ever meet in person this side of heaven’s gate doesn’t matter. i am blessed to have “met” you, nevertheless.

November 6, 2013 - 4:08 pm

natalie stanfield - thank you for sharing your story… beautiful and heartbreaking. so thankful that our God is faithful to hold us in His hand.

November 6, 2013 - 5:16 pm

Kitty - So beautiful and sweet, tender and raw. The Lord is mercy and grace. Always. Thank you.

November 6, 2013 - 5:31 pm

Amy Avery - My dear friend,
Each time I hear your story, I see God’s love shining through you to so many, and although I do not know the same kind of loss, I do understand the faith, and trust that it takes to put your trust in God to let him turn such a tragic loss in to a way to show HIS glory. And you did exactly that and do exactly that each day that you live. Your story could have gone a different way, but because you allowed God to take you in his hands, he turned it into the beautiful family you have today. Your courage to share this story blesses so many. Thank you for allowing God to shine through your heart and your story.

November 6, 2013 - 6:11 pm

Jackie Kirsche - Paige–Thank you for sharing all of this. I knew some of your story already, but to read these words today is so moving. I share your sentiment–that our God is good, He is always with us, & will carry us when times are hard. That we live in a broken world, that things are not as they were intended to be. I know that the cancer Greg had, just as the ovarian cancer that I have, was/is not something we can understand. But I do understand God’s nearness and the tangible love of family and friends. I’m sure that November 6 will always be a ittle raw, but I’m thankful that you can look back over the years and see God’s faithful hand at work in your family’s life. I pray that all of you feel God extra close to you today!

November 6, 2013 - 7:44 pm

debby messner - I know that God was by your side and he comforted you. Your life was blessed with Dan and your beautiful girls. But, when I read about what you went through it is just sad. Makes me and probably everyone else cry. I am at a loss for words but I am glad that you shared this day with all of us. xo

November 6, 2013 - 10:02 pm

Jen Pighini - At a loss for words after reading your beautiful words today. Thank you for being so real and so honest and for honoring Him with your story. Hugs to you and your girls today!

November 6, 2013 - 10:12 pm

Destiny - For the first time in a sweet forever I’m speechless, with the exception of adding that I feel like singing the hopeful songs of Easter, really loud and maybe a little off key, as praise…

Because our precious Jesus lives, we are able to experience comfort and peace during our hardest days and hope for all of our, unpromised, tomorrows.

Bless you, Dan and each of your beautiful girls; you truly are a family born and raised from love.

Thank you for sharing. I will hold your story in my heart.

November 7, 2013 - 9:52 am

LLH Designs - One of the things I love most about you is how you show up with your heart. You are brave, my friend. You are honest. You are true. You are tested. You are REAL. Thank you for sharing your story. May it never get old. Love you.

November 7, 2013 - 10:29 am

Lindsey Smith - I love this. So much. The beauty in these words is breathtaking. What a blessing to know that through it all, the Lord had you in his hands. I can think of no place I would rather be. Thanks for showing such a vulnerable party of your heart and story. I know that many will be encouraged by your faith through the hardship…I certainly was!

November 7, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Susan W - Thank you for sharing your personal feelings with all of us that have never met you in person. Even though times can be so difficult and we do question God it is comforting to know that everything happens for a reason and exactly as you said more faith is needed to trust that he is watching over us, always.
Have a blessed day Paige!

November 7, 2013 - 9:37 pm

tara - we all have to come face to face with that truth….that he is with us no matter what we’re going through..no matter how hard or tragic or desperate.

his presence is undeniable.
a dear friend is walking through chemo…2nd treatment is tomorrow.
I stood with her while she combed her fingers through her hair today and a gob of it came out between every finger.

yet, she knows…she knows…she knows that God is with her.
she can say without hesitation that he is standing with her and strengthening her.

to God be the glory forever and ever.

November 8, 2013 - 9:10 pm

JuliaW - Thank you so much for your testimony. My husband had cancer a few years ago and I truly felt the Lord’s arms around me, protecting me and lifting me from despair. He is doing well now and I am so very very thankful, but I hope to never take it for granted. I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to share your very personal story. God is so good, even (and especially) during the darkest days. Many blessings always!

November 9, 2013 - 9:32 am

Kim from 3 peanuts - Paige,

I am writing through tears…not of sadness but of JOY! Joy that your faith will help so many people. This is so beautiful. I cannot imagine the pain and fear that you faced all those years ago with Gregg. And I am sorry that you had to walk through that. I do know your life now and it is so beautiful because of your faith in the Lord. Really, words cannot do this post justice…just know that it blessed me today. I have been talking to a good friend about these very things and you summed it all up so well.

Love you all.
Kim

November 12, 2013 - 5:56 pm

Mimi - No words except thank you for the blessing of your post

November 17, 2013 - 9:08 pm

patty - very beautiful, paige. xo