We got back from our trip in time for church on Sunday, and that night after church we stopped to see Papaw (and for me to feed him bites of my Wendy's Frosty). He seemed down, but since that was always the case when Mamaw wasn't around, I tried not to worry too much about it. The next day, my aunt mentioned that she thought he looked sick and spent some extra time at the hospice center. Again, I was concerned but certainly did not realize what was actually happening.
Tuesday morning is a time I will never forget. I was at work, sitting on the playground (since we were trying to beat the heat, it was only about 9:00 am.) Aunt Peggy called and, sounding panicked, which is very unlike her, told me that Papaw was very sick and I needed to get down there quickly. I rushed to find Jonathan, grabbed the keys, and sped all the way to Kitty Askins Hospice Center. I can remember it so vividly... in fact, every time I drive past the exit for the center I relive that morning. I pulled in, not knowing what to expect, but when I saw him I knew it wasn't good. He was pale and drawn and looked significantly worse than he had a couple nights before.
Aunt Peggy and I spent the next 14 hours in that room. I think we left a couple of times to get food. I was letting the family know, through lots of calls and mass texts, how Papaw was doing and updating them each time the nurses came to take his vitals. The next day was more of the same, but it wasn't until late Wednesday afternoon that the doctor advised us to call Mamaw to come home. Then, she shocked us by saying she wouldn't expect him to live past the next 48 hours. I'll never forget what I felt hearing those words. I'll never forget my mom and Mamaw walking in after a gruelingly fast trip home and feeling my heart break when they walked in the room.
Over the next 24 hours, I'd continue updating the family when I could, making trips to the airport, and trying to get drinks and anything else to keep people in the room comfortable. (By the way, the hospice staff could not have been more sweet or kind or helpful. They were such a blessing, as were the dozens of friends from church who stopped by and helped in any way they could.) At 22, and the only grandchild living in town, I felt the responsibility of being "hostess" for the family members coming in- making sleeping arrangements, borrowing air mattresses, playpens for the babies, etc. I am so grateful to have been there with Mamaw.
By late Thursday night, we knew Papaw wouldn't be with us much longer. His breathing had continued to decline, his heart rate had decreased dramatically, and the nurses were just trying to keep him comfortable without drawing out the process. Saying goodbye to him, despite his years of illness and the measure of relief that accompanied the knowledge he would finally be "himself" again in heaven, was the hardest thing I've ever done.
Typical "Papaw" and me.
Even though the first anniversary of his death isn't really until tomorrow, it was the a couple of nights before he went to heaven that I, alone with Aunt Peggy in his room, started this poem. I spent the next day getting it just right, and it was printed in the funeral program. These words sum up "Papaw" for me.
As I sit here and hold his hand,
The thought comes to my mind
That sometimes the type of life we planned
Becomes a different kind.
What should have been the golden years
Of travel, fun, and ease,
Instead have brought a lot of tears
And time spent on our knees.
Looking at him in this bed,
It’s so hard to compare
The Papaw who once boldly led
Through preaching and through prayer.
A man so full of life and strong,
His laughter full and loud;
With his quick wit did not take long
To be the life of any crowd.
He was such a funny mix
Of tough and teddy bear;
No problem that he couldn’t fix,
But with a smile quick to share.
He preached without apology
Against every type of sin,
But with a tear he’s humbly share
The work Christ did in him.
But then things changed and no one knew
Just where that man would go;
The problems that they faced just grew
And more began to show.
From month to month and day to day,
Things have slowly changed;
We’ve watched him as he’s slipped away;
Our plans again have rearranged.
But one thing has remained the same,
No matter how he felt;
His wife has never tried to blame
The Lord for what He’s dealt.
Her care has been the very best,
She’s with him day and night;
Rarely stopped to take a rest
From a burden far from light.
Like the lives they’ve always tried to live
Even in these trying days,
They’ve showed the joy that Christ can give
When we trust Him and obey.
I’ve sat here in this room today
And heard news most would call bad;
But knowing Papaw’s on his way
To meet the Lord, we can’t be sad.
There’ve been times for laughter,
And times we’ve had to cry;
But now the time has finally come
For us to say goodbye.
To our Papaw, husband, daddy, friend,
The list goes on and on.
His influence will never end
Even after he is gone.
If he could, I know he’d say,
“Oh please don’t cry for me!
I’ve gone on the Eternal Way
To my precious Savior see.”
“The one I preached about so long
And shared with all I met;
Please let my legacy stay strong;
My message don’t forget.”
As he goes to meet his Savior,
And hear “My child, well done!”,
We’ll thank the Lord the battle’s over,
And the victory’s finally won.
No more suffering, no more pain;
While we’re grieving that he’s gone,
Our great loss is Heaven’s gain-
Our hero’s finally, truly home.
~Ashley Baines McNeese
July 27, 2011