This post is one I never dreamed of writing. This is one I truly feel such incredible weight to write, but yet have no idea how to even begin. I want it to truly reflect the greatness of the last days: great blessings, great peace, yet great heaviness and mourning. I want it to reflect my daddy in such a glorious way that every person that ever reads it can see his greatness and how it came from Christ's greatness. However, I know I can never come close to writing what my heart is feeling.
Please forgive the length...I've never been "short" in writing and even I know this one will be novel length. Forgive the weepiness with which it is written and remember that my main reason for blogging from the very beginning was to have an outlet of expression and a mode to remember our daily lives. Forgive the obvious typos that are to come. I plan to write and not correct, because if I read and re-read....I'll NEVER get it done and until I've written this post, I know I won't have any of the weight lifted from my shoulders.
My Daddy lived a short 66 years, 2 months, and 23 days. He was my Daddy for 36 years and 27 days. From the moment that we heard his diagnosis to the moment that God walked him home was only 1 month and 9 days. The initial news of the doctors findings came to us at 7:36 PM on November 14th and he took his first breath in heaven at 8:05 AM on December 23rd. One month and 9 days of unbearable heartache as the strongest man known to us, quickly lost his battle but fought with everything he had in him.
The first thing that made my Dad remarkable in my eyes was that he took ALL responsibility SERIOUSLY. He never let someone else do what he knew was his job. NEVER! He instilled in each of us an attitude of "you start it, you finish it." He is the number one reason that I carry that same attitude. His responsibility was NEVER more evident in the choice that he made to raise us. It's highly unusual for a dad to be the custodial parent in today's society....it was unheard of 35 years ago. He never walked away from us and he worked harder than any other person I ever knew to make sure we had what we needed. There was seldom room for "wants", but he covered each and every need. Even in our most lean times, he made sure that what ever sacrifice had to be made was made. In those times, something else that will FOREVER be my Dad's legacy is that he gave. He gave in lean times and he gave in times of blessing. I can NEVER think of a Sunday that he didn't place a tithe check in the offering plate....no matter how difficult of a struggle we were having.
Dad's legacy of giving is unbelievable. He not only gave of his money, he gave abundantly of his time and talents. There was no better of a fitting Celebration of Life than for Dad's last journey to take him down the hallways and aisle of Strong Tower Ministries. He poured his heart, blood and tears into the building and it's people. Money was irrelevant. He gave of heart and soul. He said often that he had pride in the building, but it was the people that mattered. He believed in supporting youth and giving them a chance to be "something". He was remarkable. I was so touched at the Celebration of Life when Bro. David had those in attendance that had been baptized in Dad and Teresa's pool during the building of the church years and I was stunned as hands all over the building raised. Who could have any more of an amazing legacy?
For those that really knew my Daddy, they know that he was a very private man. He was reserved and even harsh at times. As we were growing up, affection wasn't freely given. It was NOT because he was not a loving man. It was because he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders trying to provide for us. He was strict beyond imagination. I told him in recent years how proud I was of that. For many years, I could not understand why on earth he was so harsh or why his rules were WAY more strict than those around us. Once I became a mother with the pressures of raising children to be great servants of Christ, coupled with the incredible burden of providing for them....I understood it. I told him that and thanked him for it. However, as Dad got older and the pressures began to lighten on him, he became one of the most loving, affectionate men on this earth. He loved his grandchildren like no other. What amazing memories they have of sitting in his lap in his big recliner. He would stop what he was doing and tell them to come sit with him. Even in his very last days, he asked them to climb up on the bed with him. I'm thankful that my children will forever have those last memories.
I can't begin to write about Daddy's going home with Christ without telling about those last hours. As hard as it is to think about, how incredibly personal those moments, they have to be told. My wish is that those who don't believe in Christ or who have turned their backs and walked way could have been in that hospital room during ANY of those last hours.
On Wednesday morning the 22nd, I got the call that my heart was expecting but I wasn't ready for at the same time. There is no more helpless of feeling that to know you HAVE to get home immediately and the fear that you won't make it in time. Because two amazing friends came in and literally took over the packing process, we made it on the road MUCH faster than if I would have had to find the presence of mind to do it myself. Thank you will never be enough for Erin & Elaine (and others as well). Elaine presented me with a precious shawl that she began making soon after Dad's diagnosis and then had friends pray over it. It has since absorbed MANY tears, given much needed hugs and been a beautiful reminder of how amazing friends are. Erin came in and literally swooped my kids away and stocked them with arm loads of snacks, shoes, and even underwear! The funniest scene was seeing her leaning over Kevin's sink giving Peyton a haircut! They took care of all the practical things that needed to be done and I am forever grateful!
Once we arrived at the hospital, I can't tell you the immediate fear I had when the elevator doors opened and my family all around began to openly weep. I was so paralyzed in that moment thinking I had not made it in time. However, I did and the hours that followed were ones of extreme heartache but unspeakable beauty.
A few minutes after arriving, the staff let Kevin and I go back to be with Dad even though it wasn't official visiting time according to CCU policies. Though the things that were said in those moments and the raw emotions are ones I don't want to relive at this moment, I do have to tell of what my Dad told us. He told us over and OVER by pointing up, saying I'm going home, I'm ready or similar statements.....but the most beautiful thing in those moments is that he told us VERY clearly and VERY adamantly that He had seen Jesus. Jesus was waiting for him. He was at peace and he was ready to go. With many tearful kisses, we left the room thinking that our final goodbyes had been said. We were given another 12 hours.
My sister and I were the ones that stayed with Dad through the night. Others out of exhaustion and their own physical issues, went home. My sister was prepared to stay alone, but I made a promise that I would stay with her until the end, no matter what we were faced with. Kevin took the kids to another floor and they slept on the floor as much as they could. I will NEVER regret that decision because those hours created bonds that will never be broken and let me see God in a whole new way. Death is truly just an entrance into eternity for those that believe. There is nothing more beautiful than to see a family gathered around a hospital bed talking their Dad into heaven and for him to be telling what he is seeing. I'm thankful for two special nurses that walked us along that journey. David---came by and prayed with us in the minutes before Dad gained victory. He was my care pastor many years ago. Wendy---was another blessing to have in the room with us. It was comforting to have a familiar face that so lovingly cared for Dad in his last minutes and then with dignity prepared his body for other family members to see after he had passed. She later told me what an honor it was to witness such a beautiful entrance into heaven.
Those last hours were horrible to say the least, but the beauty totally outshines. My sister and I vocally and tearfully pleaded with God to take Dad home. We constantly assured him that we loved him, but yet we were ready for him to walk with Jesus. I remember the great torment it was to watch his numbers decline and celebrate, but yet be angry when they would rebound. That was a feeling that I wasn't expecting. We just wanted the suffering to end and his passing to be quick. Nicci and I lovingly talked with him and cared for him the best we could and he was STILL doing everything in his power to comfort us. I remember telling him that we were only holding his hands so he wouldn't be alone, but we weren't holding him back. Many times he would take our hands and hold them next to his heart and say "my girls". Even up to the last second, his grip was still strong and his heart was still huge! Though many things happened in his room that night, some I want to erase and some I want to never forget, the one that I will forever cherish is the moment in which he was ready to walk in victory and he wanted his arms held high. His body was too weak, but his heart and soul wanted them raised to God. With each of us on either side, we held his arms in Victory as my very reserved father wanted to praise his heavenly father that welcomed him home. That was huge. Normally the best you might get would be tears and a thumbs up, but he wanted his arms HIGH!
I remember blogging about Moses and how Aaron and Hur held his arms up when he could no longer do it. I wrote that blog about how I would be holding the arms up of those around me and that others would be doing the same for me. God had revealed that passage to me and the meaning was so great at the time. Now it is completely priceless. Us telling of that image also led Bro. David to speaking about it at Dad's service.
Dad's service was the most beautiful I have ever seen. In Southern speak----we had church! It was truly a time of celebration of a life well lived. I thought Teresa was actually going to shout and I would have been about 2 seconds behind her. It was truly that moving and amazing! Though the weather prevented some family members from arriving, it was unbelievable the turn out. Though the crowds at the actual service are a blur at this point in my memory, there was a moment on the way to the burial that took my breath away. Usually a grave side service is small and since the weather was so bad, I didn't expect more than just immediate family to make the processional. Peyton asked us to look back at one point when we made our last turn and as I did, I saw cars as far as the eye could see....from hill to hill....from one horizon to another. That spokes volumes about the man I called Daddy!
Thanks so much to the Rippy Family for singing our two favorite songs fitting of the situation. Not only did they carry deep meaning, we know that you not only sang with pure talent that comes directly from God but with love in your hearts for all of us as well. Dana----oh Dana----thank you so much for fulfilling mine and Nicci's wish of having you sing "Father's Eyes". You know the meaning the song has for us and I hope that I can continue to have eyes that reflect both my heavenly and earthly father.
Another memory that stands out from those days is the moment that we sat around the massive oak table at the funeral home making arrangements. That is a moment that can only be understood by someone that has walked that path. It felt completely like an out of body experience that I know that it was only by the Holy Spirit that we made it. All I could think about was the pride with which Daddy would have had to see all of us sitting at HIS table again. With us living so spread apart, those days were very rare. Dinner growing up at our house was a family affair. It was ALWAYS at the table and the rule was that we ate together if at all possible. Dad and Teresa had an oak furniture business for many years and our table was a great source of pride for us. Life happened around that table. Families if you don't gather round your table to eat....start now. Give your children that amazing time together with you!
Last weekend when we were able to spend time as he tried to recover from his only chemo treatment, the kids were not able to see him. It was too dangerous for him since his white count was so low. They made a banner that said "Go, Fight, Win....Victory: Team Grandpa" and it was covered with scripture of healing and victory. (It was also purposely in Alabama colors....Roll Tide also was placed on his pall arrangement!). It hung at the funeral home and at first I thought maybe it would be seen as a failure. NOPE! He did get the ultimate victory! We mourn not for him....we just mourn for those of us left behind.
Daddy asked for 20 more years. He said he wanted to see my children grow up because he wanted to see what amazing things they were going to do. He was one of my greatest supports in homeschooling. He was not the typical supporter of non-traditional methods, but once he saw how they were growing and maturing he was such a support. Though my heart aches for my kids, I know that Dad is still going to see them grow and he is going to be still leading me in teaching them. He taught us well. I will do everything in my power to continue the legacy he began in us.
Daddy made Kevin promise that he would always take care of his little girl. He leaned in our car door just before we pulled out from our wedding and reminded him of that promise. Kevin reconfirmed that promise to him and they exchanged some words about that in his last days. Though I don't know exactly what was said, I do know that Dad told him he had done a good job and to continue to do so. I promised him that I would take care of our kids, that I would remain strong in my faith and not blame God, and that I would do everything possible to help Teresa. I told him that no one ever could be as special as she has been to all of us and that I would honor her to my dying days.
The hurt I feel is real. The emptiness is drastic. The reality is harsh. I have many breakdowns ahead. However, I can not thank you enough for the extreme blessings that have been poured out on my family and especially on me. God has met every need so far from SOMEONE. Many of you have gone above and beyond in blessing us. Money was slipped in my wallet to help us with expenses of all the traveling we had done. Money was sent in the mail with "Merry Christmas". Friends and family have carried us. I have a list of rain checks waiting to be redeemed when I have a melt down and need space. Food has been overflowing and friends have lifted me when I haven't been able to breathe. There hasn't been a moment that someone hasn't blessed us. Kathleen---one of my most precious friends----brought us dinner on HER birthday and her husband and family cleared our driveway of massive snow amounts. Family has taken care of the kids when we've needed space. We've been carried in the most tangible and intangible ways. I was blessed to have a very healing hug from someone so dear to me. Her hugs have carried me through so many things before and for her to come deliver me MANY of them just made my heart overflow. BJK---I love you so much and no one would have ever dreamed we would both have taken this journey together so close in time. Thank you. Thank you to all of you.
Christmas was expected to be different this year. WE wanted it different and we made many great efforts to change it. However, I never dreamed it would change this much and we would be gathered around my father's "treasure box" (as Bradlee lovingly calls the casket!). It definitely became a holiday of celebrating Christ and I hope that we continue to carry that in our hearts. My heart breaks that I haven't been able to finish my gifts and that some things we planned to do didn't get done, but please know that as time allows we will get to it. Right now, it's still just very overwhelming and sometimes even simple tasks are monumental. We have many gifts to finish and MANY thank you notes to write.
In closing, we included many special sentimental touches to Dad's service. I spent hours digging through pictures that my sister spent COUNTLESS, sleepless hours combining them into a beautiful slide show of our lives together. My siblings, Teresa, and I wrote TINY private messages that were placed in a prayer box that was buried with Dad. As a last statement, I am sharing what I wrote for the insert that is being placed in the DVD jacket of the slide show. Hopefully it reflects the love I have for my dad and the gratitude I have that he showed me the way to my heavenly father.
I can only imagine what beauty and blessings you have been experiencing since the moment that you walked home hand-in-hand with Jesus. Though my heart has a hole that can never be filled, I know that you are receiving the ultimate gift of being with Christ. I've never been more proud to be "Daddy's little girl" and you taught us well. The legacy you left behind in each of us will never fade away. I'm forever grateful to have been blessed by such an amazing earthly father that showed us the majesty of our heavenly father. May I always have eyes that reflect both of you! I'm holding on so tightly to the amazing glimpse of heaven that you gave us as you told Kevin and I of seeing Jesus, your constant assurance of the home you were going to, the desire you had to hold your hands in victory, and of how you held mine and Nicci's hands to your heart and said "my girls". Forever grateful, forever blessed....and knowing that one day you will welcome me back home and our family circle will again be complete. Until that day, I will be seeking to continue your legacy and fulfilling the promises I made you. I know Christ welcomed you with the words "Well done good and faithful servant." WELL done, Daddy...well done!