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Grief Begets Gratitude

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”And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.” – Maya Angelou

My April 30th

For the past 20 years, April 30th has been a day of deep reflection for me.  A day that always brings back memories of one of my worst nightmares.  The day I would no longer hear you call me your baby girl. The day the child became the parent telling YOU it would all be okay and it was time to let go. The day I saw and heard someone I love take their last breath. The day that left me with such a big hole in my heart.  The day my life changed forever.  The day that I truly realized how precious life was and how there are certain parts of it that we have no control over.  The day that taught me to celebrate life in every way.  The day that I learned to not take anyone or anything for granted. The day that left me in awe of the life lessons that can come out of the darkest times.

I went from grief and despair to hope and gratitude all at the same time during and after watching my Dad die. It was the only way I knew how to make sense of this totally miserable situation. For the 24 hours leading up to his death I held his hand and talked to him. I only took breaks to go to the bathroom and jam something into my mouth.  I could tell the end was near based on his labored breathing.  I woke up my brother and his girlfriend and made the decision to sit at his feet and let them hold his hands.  My bond with my father was very strong and I finally realized he was holding on for me and as much as I loved him even more for that I knew it was selfish. Within 10 minutes of making this decision he crossed over while sitting in his favorite recliner as the sun came up on April 30, 1999. He was only 49 years old and he had so much more living to do. And I had so much more to share with him.  I had to make this awful situation matter somehow. I had to give it meaning while never forgetting the feeling. I had to honor his life and most importantly the life he did not get to live.

Five days earlier

We were told there was nothing more the doctors could do for him. The asbestos induced lung cancer had ravaged his body beyond repair and it would be a matter of days. I was trying to take in this unfathomable message while sitting outside next to the hospital fountain and the emotions consumed me. Just 5 days earlier my electrician father was standing on the hospital bed changing the light bulb and now he couldn’t even talk to me and I didn’t know what to do or how to help him! I was crying uncontrollably and I was not even aware of my surroundings. A sweet lady walked over and sat next to me.  She said in the kindest voice, “it appears you got some bad news, how can I help?” I am not sure at this point what I said to her but she was so calming to me. She was Jean and she volunteered with hospice and gave me her card to call if I needed her. I hadn’t even considered hospice because I was still in shock. After we consulted with the doctors we brought Dad home from the hospital on April 25th.

I quickly jumped into my hardest life role as primary caregiver with the help of hospice angels (Jean was one of them) and eventually my brother and my Dad’s girlfriend.  We cared for my Dad around the clock for 4 exhausting days. We barely slept or ate and just kept going.  You get this adrenaline and even though you’ve never been through anything like this before you know what to do and you just act.  It’s all about taking care of your loved one with respect and dignity during the little time they have left.  I would talk to my Dad a lot in these 4 days.  I told him stories, I recited memories we shared together and I told him everything I wanted to say even though he couldn’t say anything back.  We knew the end would come and he had told me everything I needed to hear before this and he said all he could with his eyes in these last hours.

He did it his way

I really believe that although my Dad had no control over his illness, he truly controlled the moment of his death. You see April 30th was not just the end of his life but it had been the beginning of my Mom’s life and his girlfriend’s life.  They both had the same birthday – April 30th.  My parents had divorced when I was only 3 years old but they still had love for each other and my Mom visited him a couple days before his death.  I remember her saying, “I hope he doesn’t die on my birthday. I don’t think I could handle that.”  Well my Dad had his own plan and he did just that at sunrise on her birthday – he did always worship the sun especially from his boat.  I remember relating to my Mom later that he gave her a birthday gift that day even if she didn’t see it at the time.  He was in so much pain and suffering and it was all over now.  He was at peace in God’s Kingdom and that was the greatest gift she could ever receive for her birthday.

I’ve had so many mixed emotions about 4/30.  Most times I try to celebrate my Dad’s life on this day along with my Mom’s and now my Mother-in-Law’s birthdays (yet another connection to this date) but there are times when I’m not as strong.  Grief is funny that way.  It creeps up on you when you least expect it and can still bring you to your knees even 20 years later. I’m grateful for my tribe during my low times. Sometimes all it takes is a thought of how grateful I am to pull me through my momentary lapse into despair. Are you going through a difficult time?  If so, what are you grateful for?  Focus on that to help ease the pain if you can.

Honoring my Dad through travel

In early April, one year ago, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room near Houston, TX. We had been staying on Galveston Island and were set to leave the next week.  My husband Craig was having some medical symptoms and after several tests they had discovered two masses in his bladder.  He was having these masses biopsied and there I sat in a strange city waiting, worrying and praying by myself. I thought a lot about my Dad during that time.  I really felt him there with me.  I thought about how much he would have loved Craig because they had so much in common. What would I do if I lost Craig? The thought of it was too much to bare and I told my Dad that if there was ever a time to intervene on my behalf with the big Guy, now was the time!

I was also thinking about the fact that our next 2 scheduled stops to San Antonio and Santa Fe would most likely be canceled as we awaited biopsy results. This had me looking forward to our Grand Canyon trip at the end of the month. Craig had said that no matter what we were going there and would schedule any treatments after that if needed.  It was something we both looked forward to and I knew there was no changing his mind. While researching “things to do in The Grand Canyon” I kept coming across helicopter rides at first thinking “they are so expensive”! Something kept nagging at me and drawing me towards this adventurous opportunity.  I was hit with many “what ifs” as I worried about what results might come from the biopsies. What if we have to stop traveling when we were just getting started.  This was one of the main reasons we started this journey, to live our best life while we were able and healthy! As I started getting emotional I knew I had my answer.  We had to take this once in a lifetime opportunity and I had to schedule it now without consulting with my husband – something we never did.  I decided it would be a surprise to celebrate the “good news” we would get.  I started putting positivity over the negative vibes that were trying to take over. I scheduled the trip for April 30th! It was a way to not only celebrate our life but also the life of my Dad in a big way.

Grand Canyon Sunrise – April 30, 2018

A new day

At 3:30 AM on April 30, 2018, we awoke so we could arrive at The Grand Canyon before sunrise! This would be a celebration of my Dad’s life and his passing at sunrise. It would also be a celebration of the biopsy news we received.  Craig DID have bladder cancer but thankfully after 2 weeks of anxiety we found out the margins were clear. They got it all! Thank God! We had so much to be grateful for yet again.

As we walked up to this massive breathtaking marvel in the dark I was overcome with emotion. I had so much to be grateful for! So many lessons I had learned through grief and adversity. The most important lessons are to always tell people how much they mean to you and don’t put off doing what really matters to you. Tomorrow could be too late.

The helicopter ride was everything I had dreamed of. Even though I am extremely scared of heights I pushed myself outside my comfort zone to be present in the moment and really experience it.  It was so exhilarating and the views were breathtaking!  I thought it was a sign that the seat next to me was empty because of weight distribution. We saved you a seat Dad!

It’s very fitting that I finished writing this post at sunrise this morning, April 30th!  I try to honor your memory every day Dad. Until we meet again please know that I will always be your baby girl!

 

 

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22 Responses

  1. Gail Dampman
    | Reply

    Tina, thank you for sharing, raw and real. Such a beautiful tribute from a loving daughter. My dear Daddy passed two years ago today – April 30. The vigil is one of the most painful experiences anyone who loves someone transitioning. As I stood at his grave today, I thanked him again for being such an awesome Daddy – truly the most honorable men I have ever known. While my heart broke at his passing, he was a strong Christian and was ready for his eternal home. I take great comfort in that. My heart is with you. Enjoy the journey.

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      I remember when your Dad passed and it was on 4/30. After seeing the bond you had it gave me chills that he died on the same day. We were so lucky to have them. Wishing you much peace today and thanks for sharing! ?

  2. Kimber
    | Reply

    Tina, absolutely beautiful ❤️. Life hands us many obstacles to overcome, you do it so well?

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Thank you my friend! I have been meaning to write about this experience for 20 years. The time was finally right. ?

  3. Dorothy
    | Reply

    A beautiful reflection Tina.

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Thank you Dorothy! You were definitely there for me during that difficult time and for that I appreciate you! ?

  4. Edie
    | Reply

    What can I say… Beautiful, Tina. Beautiful and sad and uplifting… and did I say Beautiful?

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Thank you my friend! And thank you for being one of my biggest cheerleaders! ?

  5. Jonathan Kile
    | Reply

    Beautiful story. Thanks so much for sharing. It often takes something tragic to bring a person clarity as to what is important in life. But conveying that message to others can be difficult. You capture it here.

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Thank you for your kind words Jonathan! It was very emotional to write so I am happy it touches others.

  6. Beth
    | Reply

    Tina,
    I sit here with tears in my eyes as I read your recount of all you went through emotionally during your Dad’s final days. Beautifully written my friend and I can so relate to the feelings you expressed.
    As I look back on my own Dad’s passing and all the emotions that are still in play even years later, I am touched by our shared pasts. Sometimes it feels like it happened just yesterday and there are things we will never ever forget about that particular time and how we felt.
    I was 19 when my Dad passed from Lung Cancer. He was diagnosed 2 months earlier after a work required physical. They performed surgery on him and removed his left lung.They gave us hope that they had removed all the cancer but to no avail.
    He was 53 years young when he passed and left behind a loving wife Wanda ,48 years old, a son John, age 10, myself and my sister Diane, age 24 who was just married for a short time.
    There was no Hospice then to help a family heal from this painful and unexpected loss so we all dealt best we could with our emotions. It brought us even closer as a family but we didn’t talk about it much at the time because we didn’t want to upset each other. Not a good approach as we now know, there are much better ways to deal with such a loss.
    It’s important for me to express this loss at this time since our Dad would have turned 100 years old next month on May 20th. He was a good son and brother, a great husband and father, a soldier for 4 years in the Army during WW II, an Elder in our church and a true and great friend to so many. I know in my heart had he lived long enough to know all of them, he too would have been an awesome grand-father and great grand-father. Just breaks my heart that he never got to know all of them.
    Other wonderful attributes of our Dad was he was funny, told some great and colorful jokes, well respected by friends and family, could play a cool harmonica, and most importantly, he was our Rock!
    We learned so many down to earth life lessons from him one of which was “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”
    Thanks for the special opportunity Tina to speak of my Dad and to acknowledge his life and upcoming 100th Birthday.
    Love you and hugs to you for putting a positive spin on some bad life situations that you’ve managed to work through and I know in my heart of hearts, your Dad would be so proud of the woman you’ve become.

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Beth, my friend, thank you for pouring out your soul here as well. It’s so important to not forget and to honor those who meant so much to us. I loved reading about your Dad and all the reasons you loved him and I know where you got your sense of humor. 😉 Happy 100th Birthday in Heaven to your Dad. And thank you for all your kind words! Love you! ?

  7. Claudia
    | Reply

    Okay, I read it and I’m still crying. You are such a strong beautiful daughter! Love lives on from one generation to another! He will never be forgotten. Love you Teeney Weeney.
    It was such a beautiful piece of your heart. Love Mom

  8. Candy Wingrove
    | Reply

    You are such a beautiful writer. I have tears running down my face as I remember being with both my Mom and Dad in their last hours just a few years ago. My Dad was also an electrician and had a huge asbestos mass on his lung, but it was his Parkinson’s disease that got the best of him. I admire you for taking this adventure and love reading your blogs!

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Thank you for the kind words Candy and for also sharing your story. I had no idea we had so much in common with our Dads!

  9. Cindy
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing this story, Tina. We went through a similar situation with Barrett’s mom last year, so there were moments in your storytelling that could relate to so strongly. Seeing her pass at such a young age was a big part of what finally shifted us into RV life. I’m so glad you signed up for that helicopter ride! What an amazing way to remember him!

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      I am so happy I took that ride too! Sorry you went through something similar with Barrett’s mom. I am glad you embraced the grief and make such a big life change in response too. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Melissa
    | Reply

    Grief does beget gratitude. I am glad you shared your story. I too lost my father to lung cancer 20 years ago. He was 8 days from 49. He was diagnosed, operated on, underwent treatment & died all within 4 short months. It was a surreal, whirlwind at the time. Hospice came & he was gone after 8 days with them. Hospice for us as well was a phenomenal experience. I was with him when he passed. Profoundly sad & profoundly transformative. My 3 kids were all under 6 & besides them my dad was everything to me (I was never close to my mother). I have always tried to honor him with my life. I know your dad is with you & so very proud of you. Again, thank you for sharing Tina!

    • Tina Klinefelter
      | Reply

      Thank you for sharing your story Melissa. So many similarities that it gave me goosebumps. It’s so sad to lose our parents when they are so young but like you said we have to honor their lives in some way to help us heal.

  11. Alowetta
    | Reply

    This was a beautiful and painful story, Tina. Thank you for sharing it in such a real way.

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