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…
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