Tuesday, January 22, 2008


We're home again after our weekend in Michigan with the high-schoolers. It was exhausting and good to be away, all at the same time. I had some goofy time with the teen girls and Jay and Ethan learned to ski. God's presence and grace were with us.

The grief was waiting here for me to return, however, and this morning I am filled with sadness and loneliness. As we got home last night I realized it was at the same time last week that I went to see PaPa for the last time, and as I laid in bed I thought of our last moments together. The dull ache of mourning.

The service on Friday was beautiful. We sat in the same room my PaPa had worshipped every week for over 50 years. My cousin read the scriptures, one of which was the same as Brian had read to PaPa the week before he died (from Rev. 21). Brian said the prayer, I sang--my final gift to PaPa, and my Mom spoke touching words about Gramma and PaPa's love for each other and his devotion to her. It was, I think, the first Catholic service I have ever seen beauty in. It seems the Lord has softened my perspective enough to allow me to see the points of commonality between us, and so as the priest prayed "accept Tom into your kingdom, O Lord, for he was trusting in Christ as his Savior" I shouted a silent "yes!" in agreement.

We left the church in the frigid cold and drove to Fort Snelling. The boys' grief at first was quickly quelled by their delight and fascination with the two motorcycle funeral escort officers. I told them their PaPa had once done the same job, and so we watched with respect as these men raced ahead of our little procession to block intersections and on-ramps, placing themselves in harm's way so we could go by in peace. Once again I was reminded of my PaPa's honor that he would do such a job, and we laughed, knowing that he must have enjoyed speeding around on his cycle.

I will always remember Fort Snelling that morning. The 21-gun salute, the sad and beautiful song of the bugle playing "Taps", the tri-folded flag given to my mom "on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation". Again, the honor was palpable. The cold was bitter and the service kept short. I smiled, knowing PaPa would have ordered us back into the warmth of our cars so we wouldn't freeze our a____es off. As we all took a flower from the arrangement on top of the casket and hurried to our cars, my youngest cousin, Tony, hung by the casket, unable to walk away from the man who walked with him and councelled him for years. I hugged him and told him PaPa would want him to live his life, and live it well. Then, together, we walked away.

So now life continues, somehow emptier and richer at the same time. I still can't believe he's gone, but in a strange way I feel like he's not. His love for us was so strong, his mind so keen, his humor so alive...somehow I can sense the continuation of him, although as the days go by this sense is sadly fading. These next years without him seem so long, but I know they will be only a breath. Then, as I walk through The Gate into the presence of my Savior, I look forward to the one I hope will be there to welcome me Home...my PaPa.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Finally Home

I called Mom this morning to ask how last night at PaPa's had gone, and she told me, "not as I had expected. He passed away last night." PaPa lived his life the way he wanted and pushed it to the very end. He only had one really bad day and then he slipped away in his sleep before the sun came up this morning.

We are holding onto hope that PaPa's trust was in Christ and that he is finally at home with the Lord. Tonight we read some passages to the kids about grieving with hope and how much better it is to be with Jesus. Until then they had been having a very difficult time (especially Jay). But since reading together their grief has been lightened. Still, going through our own grief and dealing with and loving them through theirs has exhausted us. I'm thankful they are in bed now.

Please accept my deep gratitude for all of your words of comfort, love, admirations of my PaPa, and especially your prayers. I have felt connected and supported through all of this because of you all, and it has really helped me to be able to post updates as well as write about my thoughts and emotions through this process. Thank-you so much.

The service will be on Friday and then Brian and I will be heading to Michigan with the high-schoolers and our own 4. We are trusting that the Lord's strength will be with us and that He will use this time that we have together and with the teens. If you would, please pray that we will shine with the light of Jesus as we spend time with our extended family this week, many of whom are deeply hurting right now. Also that we might even have opportunities and strength to share with them about Christ.

God is so good. He gives and He takes away. How blessed I have been to be the grand-daughter of Thomas Arthur Jackson... my PaPa.

He Loves Me

I went over tonight to see PaPa and was shocked to see how much he had declined. Just yesterday he went to church and to see Gramma at the nursing home. Tonight he is in a hospital bed (brought into his bedroom by hospice), hooked up to oxygen, unable to keep even 2 bites of soup down, on morphine, with a tiny frail voice. When I got there he said, "I really went in the dumper today." He was only awake for a few minutes after I arrived, but he told me he loved me, I told him I loved him, and he told me to say hi to my boys. "Be at peace, PaPa. Rest," I said, to which he replied, "I am". It was so hard to leave.

I learned more about him tonight as my mom, step-dad, uncle, and three cousins sat around looking at old photos and talking. My PaPa once held the door open for John F. Kennedy, and hung out with one of his former Secret Servicemen. As an employee of Honeywell and the director of their transportation, he worked on projects for the Air Force and NASA and subsequently met several of the Apollo mission astronauts. And he loves the TV series "24" (Brian and my favorite show).

Why is it that we only find out how amazing someone is when they are leaving? Why didn't I pay more attention to all of his stories? Why didn't I spend more time with him as I grew older? How did I miss the fact that he is so remarkable?

Brian will be going over tomorrow morning, and beyond that, I don't know. I don't even know if he will make it that long.

But I do know he loves me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Final Days

We've had a little time to breathe the past couple of days, but I think this is it. My mom just called to say that PaPa has taken a turn for the worse. He is very weak, has a terrible headache, digestive difficulties, is short of breath, and can barely walk. He now needs 24 hour care. My mom has been with several people at the end of their lives and she says she doesn't think he'll make it more than 3 days.

On top of this, my grandma needs to be moved ASAP to the Alzheimer's floor of the nursing home. She has been wandering into other people's rooms and having accidents on their furniture. The "Fourth Floor" is not a pretty place to be, being filled with residents who are all end-stage Alzheimer's sufferers. We were hoping she could stay a while longer on the normal floor.

A few bright spots: PaPa went to see Grandma yesterday and had a good visit with her--probably his last. He is happy that she is in a good place and knows that we will take care of her. Also, my brother came home from England and was able to see him over the weekend. Lastly, when the hospice nurse asked PaPa if he wanted the chaplain to come over to talk with, PaPa answered, "I kind of liked talking with Brian". How neat is that? Hopefully we'll be able to make that happen again.

So, I thought I would be able to get out tonight for some "me" time, but I think I'll be heading over to see PaPa. We would very much still appreciate your prayers: for PaPa as he heads into his final days, that he would be further drawn to the Lord and find total peace in Him; that my family will be able to juggle the needs of caring for PaPa 24/7 and moving my Grandma to a different floor; for Brian and I, as we decide whether to take our boys to say good-bye...is that a good idea?; and for us as we are leaving on Friday (with all four kids!) for a ski retreat with the high-school group in the U.P. of Michigan...this timing could get very bad.

I feel the weight of the darkness pressing down again, like I did at first. I don't want to head back into this grief, but I have no choice. Thanks be to God, whose love is deeper than any sadness. I know He will meet me there.

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Baby Girl

Just about one year ago exactly my precious Caitlyn took her first breath after a few hours of easy labor, a few minutes of hard labor, one crazy ride to the hospital, and 45 minutes of really-not-fun-pushing. I was amazed and thrilled that God had given me another girl. Our bond was instant and strong.

To say that this year has gone by quickly would be an understatement; it has been the fastest year of my life. And, as a deeply sentimental person, I shed some tears last night as I contemplated my last baby's farewell to her first year. But I promised myself in the hospital not to miss out on her life by dwelling in sadness, trying in vain to keep her from growing up. I decided then and there to celebrate her life and enjoy her for who she is everyday, and that's what I'm going to do today.

Who is Cait? She is a bright, lively, affectionate little girl who loves to snuggle with her mommy and daddy. She can often be seen touching her forehead to someone else's whom she loves-- her big sister or brothers or even our new kitty. She crawls and babbles, rolls a ball back and forth with a willing playmate, loves pears and blueberries, signs "all done" when she's finished, and hates wearing her winter coat with a passion. She is God's precious gift to me, the child whom we had debated whether to try for and for whom I prayed earnestly when Brian wasn't sure he wanted to go for #4. Pure blessing from a good and boundlessly loving God, she is and always will be, my baby.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Where He Stands

Brian spent several hours with PaPa today. The first was spent listening to a lengthy rendition of PaPa's memories and looking for a good point to ask about his faith. As they sat and ate lunch together, the topic finally did come about. Brian did a lot of listening and asked lots of questions, seeking mostly to understand and clarify how my grampa sees things, rather than sermonize and "set him straight". Through their discussion, Brian says he became "more encouraged" that PaPa has a simple faith in Christ. PaPa spoke of changes he had made in his life because he realized that he was not "honoring God" (PaPa's words) and his speech had many references to the daily place of God in his life. He did mention that he hoped he hadn't done anything too bad to not go to Heaven, to which Brian questioned him on whether anyone could be good enough. PaPa knew no one could. Brian kept restating the simple truths of the gospel throughout their conversation, and said that PaPa seemed to "get it", even if rather simply. PaPa also said he is very much at peace with his impending death and that he is ready. The only real question he asked of Brian was "what comes next?"...he said his priest never talks about what the afterlife will be like. So Brian read Revelation 21 to him and told him about Heaven and the New Earth and how we won't just be flying around with wings and harps but will probably live lives somewhat resembling our lives on Earth. Throughout the conversation Brian asked several times, "are you trusting in Christ and his death on the cross?" to which PaPa answered, "of course I am."

I am encouraged by most of this. It's not the "home run" that all of us have been hoping and praying for, with a clear-cut answer to whether PaPa is trusting solely in Christ and not in his own goodness or religiosity. And yet there seems to be evidence of fruit in his life (the conviction to change his God-dishonoring ways) and he professes faith in the cross of Christ. In my staunchly Protestant theological mindset, hearing him mention his hope that he hasn't done anything too bad to lose Heaven freaks me out. Is there still the chance that he is putting his hope in his own works? It seems there is. But I wonder if there is more common ground between us Protestants and Catholics than I care to admit...could it be that sometimes we are talking about the same thing in a different language and not realizing it? Brian reminded me of how Pastor Gregg used to say that when he gets to Heaven he'll be surprised by three things: 1) the people whom he thought would be there and aren't, 2) the people whom he didn't think would be there and are, and 3) the fact that he himself made it there--only by the grace of God, of course!

Thank you all for your prayers for my sweet PaPa. I will continue to hope and pray that our coming goodbye will not be the end, but that the Lord will use every minute of PaPa's time left on earth to drive him closer to Him. My God is a God who saves. May His powerful and sovereign grace be real and effectual in my PaPa's heart for the glory of His Name!

An Opportunity

Brian called PaPa this morning and said that he was available to come over today if he wanted to talk with him. PaPa said that would be fine, so B is headed over right now (10:30am Thursday) to see him. Please pray that the Spirit would fill Brian and give him discernment into where PaPa is at with the Lord. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

PaPa Update #2

A lot has happened in these past couple of weeks. We moved Gramma into Presbyterian Homes, Arden Hills, two days after Christmas. It was a gut-wrenching day seeing my PaPa break down as he watched his wife of 65 years walk out the door, and holding my sweet Gramma as she cried and pled to go home after we told her she would be staying at the nursing home. I am glad that day is over, but I am so glad that I could be there to help with the transition for both. PaPa initially was having a very difficult time, feeling guilty that he couldn't care for Gramma anymore. We have told him over and over that he is taking care of her--just in a different way than before. Since that first day, Gramma has done very well in the nursing home. She is friendly (not even one report of combativeness, praise God!) and does not cry when we leave. We are thankful that the Lord has provided such an excellent place for her to be.

Gramma and I at Pres. Homes before we broke the news to her.

PaPa is still fighting, but it won't be long now. His platelet level is now at 7,000. Normal is at least 140,000, and anytime someone's level goes below 20,000 they are at risk for spontaneous bleeding. This could mean that he will just start to bleed and not stop until he's gone. It could happen at any time. My brother just flew home tonight from England where he's been studying abroad, so he can see PaPa and spend some time with him. We've had some good time with him recently...the boys and I went over last Friday and spent some time looking through a pictoral account of Guadalcanal (his first Pacific battle) with him. What an amazing time of hearing his stories and memories! I learned that my grandpa, standing in as a rear gunner, once had to jump out (there were no ejection seats back then!) of a plane at 5,000 feet after it was hit by a shell! I am hoping he will be able to make it to Cait's birthday party on Friday, but at this point it's day-by-day.

Please pray that we will be able to have the opportunity to talk with PaPa and learn more about his faith. Brian might be going over tomorrow for that reason, after we heard from my Mom that PaPa mentioned wanting to speak with him about faith matters. The Lord has comforted me that He does not need me or anyone else to work in my grandpa's heart, but if we've still got the chance, we're going to take it.

Thanks again for your love and concern. I am grateful that I can post this information on here and know that my fellow bloggers are praying. Thank-you, sweet family!

PaPa and me--Dec. 28