The Last Adventure

Life can be filled with adventure. Or it may be spent quietly at home, in a gilded cage of routines and responsibilities. We get to choose how we live. Eventually, however, we run out of choices. We face the last adventure: Death.

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

I haven’t written any blog posts in the past six months. It felt like I had little to share. I wasn’t pursuing epic adventures nor was I making much art. I was staying involved with my folks as my Dad’s time here on earth was coming to an end. His heart beat its last rhythm on April 28, 2017

It felt like this was a time of small deeds, of simple words, of loneliness and isolation. Looking back, however, I realize these same things are elements of what makes an adventure “epic.” It is in overcoming obstacles large and small that humans are stretched beyond daily routines. According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, an epic adventure is “any task of great magnitude.” Looked at through that lens, these past six months have indeed been a big epic! What can be greater than helping a loved one move on to the next world even while helping oneself and others grieve that loss here on earth?

My dad lived a life filled with adventure. He traveled many places around the world, both for pleasure and to help others. He adventured on the water and on long road-trips across the United States. He finally fulfilled his dream of taking epic motorcycle trips—to all four corners of the USA and even in the back country of The Gambia, West Africa!

In the past year, Dad gradually lost mobility. Other health issues limited the time he could sit in a plane or in a car. His last trip was to visit family in Montana (my son and his brother) and in Idaho (his nephew). He treasured the memories of that adventure, even in his last few weeks.

Although his health was declining rapidly, Dad enjoyed a family gathering at the end of the year. He was “tickled pink” to welcome a new grandson-in-law to the family and meet the fiancé of another grandson. A few weeks after the party, Dad realized his prayers had been answered: he had the opportunity to see his family members all together one last time.

During the winter, Dad’s world continued to shrink. He could no longer go to the airport to say hello or goodbye to traveling family members. With the cold weather and his limited mobility, Dad enjoyed the few days that were sunny enough to sit outside. Eventually, even getting to church became too much for him.

I sat with Dad weekly through the winter and early spring. Talk meandered here and there: sometimes reminiscing, sometimes talking about practicalities of medical issues, sometimes just sitting together in silence. I treasured those times…and so often I cried myself to sleep on those nights. How can you bear seeing your dad struggle more and more with life? How do you say goodbye to your dad?

In the last ten days of his life, Dad’s world closed in around him, even though he was still at home. He was confined to bed. He needed help to eat or drink. He couldn’t even move without assistance. My siblings stayed at the house twenty-four hours a day, helping Mom to care for Dad. I came in each day, to give the caregivers a break. During this time, my sister and I spent hours playing his favorite hymns. He took comfort in the music just as he found moments of calm in prayer.

And there was waiting, lots of waiting. Dad dozing and crying and begging for the waiting to be over. His family staring out the window, taking walks, seeking the comfort to be found in nature. All of us asking God for hope and comfort and a peaceful passage for him into the next world.

At one point, near the end, Dad asked “When will this trip be over?” Finally, he took his last breath, and started his new journey. We are still grieving his loss…but this photo summarizes the last adventure quite well:

The mighty tree has fallen…new life begins…

Surviving Epic Tragedy

We tend to think of an “epic adventure” as something life changing; something we dream of for years; something worthy of being included on the “bucket list.” Sometimes, however, the big epic that changes our lives is a tragedy. No matter how prepared we like to think we are, we will never be ready for certain experiences. It is impossible to control every aspect of life and guarantee safety. In the aftermath of epic tragedies, it is often the small things that help us survive.

(Stick with me here…there are fun discoveries at the end of this post!)

Eight years ago, one of our teen sons died unexpectedly. Yes, that rocks one’s world (and not in a good way, of course!) I’ve learned a few coping skills: focus on the next breath, and the next breath, and the next one. Interact with God (or beliefs that are bigger than yourself). Find friends who will sit beside you in silence and let you grieve. Listen to the stories of others who have survived similar losses…and eventually share your own story with the world. (I have most recently written about this HERE and HERE.) James n Jill_the Rock_silly

It is a challenge each year to figure out what we want to do on the anniversary of James’ graduation to heaven. Looking back, it has been different each year. Since our son was full of mischief, loving to tease and make others laugh, we usually choose to pursue small things that bring us pleasure and that will make us smile. We want to focus on his colorful life, not dwell on the agonies of our grief.

This past Friday was a good example. Hubby took the day off work. We knew we couldn’t bear to sit at home and stare at the walls. So we hopped in the car, with youngest daughter in the back seat, and took off for a long, meandering drive. We enjoyed discovering old houses in older towns, relishing those that have been well-cared for, saddened by abandoned, falling-down shells. We cranked the music and sang along. (Gut wrenching but also made me laugh when a song played at son’s funeral unexpectedly came on.) We talked and we rode in silence. We ate fast-food supper, and then started a search for dessert. Oh my! Just LOOK at the wonderful place we found in a small rivertown.

There was a little sign by the side of the highway for Griffith & Feil’s Soda Fountain. We went on a search for it. And found this gem in the historic downtown area of Kenova, KY.  The atmosphere was delightful. The history was intriguing. The staff was friendly. And the treats were “dee-lish.” old-time drugstore_checking out history

old-time drugstore_soda fountain

old-time drugstore_soda fountain2

Old-time Drugstore_historic

We will certainly visit this little treasure again. Now we have happy memories to layer onto this oh-so-difficult day on the calendar. Sometimes it is indeed the small things that move us from survival to thriving again after an epic tragedy.