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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All that's new in 2011

It's been awhile since I posted anything, and I am very happy that a few people have mentioned that fact. Every time I thought about writing and updating this blog, I got distracted. Yes, I know it's hard to believe that I ever get distracted . . . four boys under 12 years old, several teenage girls, more dogs than many people will have in a lifetime . . . but, yes, I do often get distracted. But aside from the usual madness in the Line Castle, we have recently had some other situations that diverted our attention, and rightly so.

First of all, we lost John's precious and devoted father, Jack, on January 5th. Jack was an incredible father, husband, grandfather, church leader, friend, and neighbor. He and my sweet mother in law, Fran, are a gift from God, something I never expected to find in another family. It seems that God doubly blessed me when he sent John into my life, because I not only got a wonderful husband, but an equally wonderful second family.

John's dad had several small strokes in 2010, the most recent one causing him to lose his speech. Communicating with Jack was hard, and you could sense his frustration, though he was always gracious and glad to see us and the children. Jack's health was progressively deteriorating for all of the last year and a week before his death, he took another bad fall in the house, resulting in some bleeding in the brain. On Sunday, January the 2nd, John's brother called to say that Jack was not doing well and that we should come down to the hospital. Jack had stopped breathing several times, and had to be intubated. Fran and the guys explained to the hospital that Jack never wanted to be kept alive this way. Jack had signed a DNR order with his attorney three years prior, and had always been adamant that he never wanted to be hooked up to machines in the hospital. So around eleven in the morning that Sunday, Jack was taken off all the machines. His breathing was labored, and although he did open his eyes at times, and would even squeeze your hand, he was fading away. John and his brothers stayed right by Jack's side through the entire ordeal. On Sunday night, the Dr. advised to move Jack to Odyssey house, a hospice facility nearby. For the next three nights, each of Jack's sons took a turn staying with him all through the night, talking to him, playing his favorite bluegrass and gospel music, and making sure the football games were always on the television. Fran brought Jack's Georgia Tech blanket and covered him and Georgia and I stayed as long as possible Sunday and again on Monday. On Tuesday, the kids returned to school, and by Wednesday when I returned to the hospice facility, Jack was barely hanging on. John had been there for several hours that morning already, and decided to go over to his parent's house to shower. Fran and I took over by Jack's bedside, and we tried to talk to keep our minds off the difficult task of watching Jack leave this world. John had plugged in Jack's laptop and turned it to a Pandora station that featured all bluegrass and country gospel. A few times that morning I heard Elvis or Johnny Cash singing an old hymn and I smiled when I heard "The devil went down to Georgia," sharing with Fran about the time when Mitchell decided to sing it for my entire family. After a short time, I stood up and crossed the room. I found the Gideon Bible in a drawer and opened it to Psalm 91, laying it on the bed at Jack's feet. While Fran held her husband's hand, I touched his feet and prayed for God to take him gently, and without any suffering. His breathing was devastating to hear, and many times I had to get up and pace the room to keep from falling apart. Fran patiently and tenderly spoke to Jack, reassuring him that she was there by his side. When he stopped breathing, Fran suggested I go and find a medical staff member to come see him. When I stood up, Jack took one more breath and then he was gone. I hurried to the nurse's station, and felt the tears in my eyes. "I think my father in law is . . ." and I couldn't even say the words. Two nurses and a technician followed me back to the room. Fran was still holding Jack's hand. One of the nurses listened with a stethoscope and used a small blood pressure cuff, then nodded to the other nurse. It was so quiet, so final. We sat for a moment without a word, until I realized what was playing from the laptop, "In the sweet, by and by . . . we shall meet on that beautiful shore." Fran turned and looked at me with tears in her eyes and said softly, "we had 53 and 1/2 years."

Explaining to the kids that Grandpa's life is now in Heaven but his body remains on earth is a difficult task, especially with a five year old. Jeremiah's questions ranged from "Will Grandpa be old in Heaven?" to "Will I be old and die?" Georgia had a very hard time and expressed her emotions openly. Mitchell grieved in his very own way, as did Samuel. Peniel told us in the van that saying goodbye to Grandpa was "saying a happy goodbye," because we know we will be together again one day.

Following Jack's death, relatives from Michigan, Florida, and Ohio filled John's childhood home with food, photographs, and warmth. The kids and I spent the weekend with these wonderful people, many of whom had never met me, and most who had not seen the children in several years. We talked of how Jack was reunited with his son, Mark, John's brother who died nineteen years ago, and with his own parents and brother. My mom and Uncle put together a bluegrass band to play "I'll fly away" at the Saturday funeral, and Samuel got strep throat in the middle of all of it!

One of the most precious things that happened after Jack's death was when Fran gave John his father's wedding band. John has been without a wedding band for about 6 months since his was accidentally destroyed. He hasn't found another ring he liked as well as his original one, so he has been without a ring. Following Jack's death, Fran gave John the ring his dad wore for 53 and 1/2 years. I can only hope and pray that we will have as long as they did, and that we will love each other as completely and honestly as they did, sharing joys and sorrows and a house full of memories.

The day after the funeral a great snowstorm hit us! John told the kids it was "Grandpa's snow," a beautiful, thick, pure white snow blanketed everything you could see, from our yard, to our street, even our cars. The snow in Dahlonega was about seven inches or more and fluffy. It was like a gift in many ways: it forced us to stay home and spend time with each other, and we enjoyed our gas fireplace logs that Jack and Fran had given us for Christmas! The snow afforded us some extra time to love on each other, gather around the fireplace and enjoy chicken and dumplings. Cody and Samuel built a fantastic snowman, Hannah built an igloo that unforunately collapased, and we had hours of snowball fights and sledding. Pork Chop donned her Harley Davidson sweatshirt and chased the kids around in the snow, jumping up and down with excitement.

School was closed for an entire week - for most of north Georgia. The kids became stir crazy and a little grumpy around Wednesday, and with a snow shovel and ice-scraper, John had to return to work and open his store. I was able to work from home, and catch up on some phone messages and emails from the week before. On Thursday, I went into the office for a little while, being that we only opened for a few hours that day, and had the chance to stop and help a college student who had run off the highway into the median. God protected us and our cars throughout the icy week, and the weekend came and went. Now I am back to work, and the kids are back to school. It's time to get back into the routine of life, although life is different now. My husband's father is gone. He lives on through John, and through his brothers, and through all the grandchildren, but he resides no longer in the flesh and on this earth. He reigns with God, maybe he talks about math with God, maybe he square dances, or listens to Elvis and Johnny Cash - live.  Most of all, I like to imagine him at peace, happy, whole . . . and I pray that he found my little babies, and told them I can't wait to hold them . . . one day.