4/25/2015

Mom and Dad

In May of 2002, just four days before I left to begin work as a missionary for my church, my father, who was also the Bishop of our congregation, was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He was told he had three to eight months to live.  This news was devastating.  But our faith was strong and we could not despair.  We felt the Lord would take care of him.  I left for the mission field with thoughts of concern for my father, not knowing if I would ever see him again.  I was leaving for 18 months.  I loved serving the Lord and the people of Virginia!  I began to gain new knowledge, more faith, and a love for the gospel I never imagined I could have.
The day before I left.  We had just received the news of his diagnosis a few days before.   I remember feeling how proud of me my Dad was.  

Throughout my mission I received much encouragement and support from my family and loved ones at home, and often my mother would update me on the condition of my father.  As his only daughter, I cherished his letters and the advice he gave me as both my dad, and my Bishop.  Miracle after miracle occurred and that “three to eight months” had gone by with a newfound hope that maybe he could endure this dreaded disease.  Everyone was amazed at his ability to go on despite his pain and discomfort.  I was informed by tapes, letters and pictures of the miracle that the Lord blessed him with more than the expected three to eight months.  

Below are some of the pictures I received in letters. 
Even starting treatments, he was smiling.

The grandkids shaved their heads to be like Grandpa!  When I saw these pictures of him, I panicked.  I didn't know he had lost his hair and was surprised to see him so sick looking.

My youngest brother, who was 12 at the time.

With six weeks left in the field my mission was winding down and thoughts of home crept into my mind often.  Especially thoughts about returning home to see a super cute boy I had been writing every single week.   I loved serving, and loved being a missionary!  One day in late August my companion and I were having a quick lunch break before going back out into the humid heat of Virginia to find more people to teach.  The phone rang and it was our Mission President calling.  He informed me that he had just spoken with my mother and that after much prayer she felt it very necessary for me to return home early.  The condition of my father had weakened, new complications had taken over and he wasn’t expected to live much longer.  My mother had told my mission president if I wanted to see my father again, I needed to come home.  I was shocked!  I hung up the phone and immediately asked the Lord for his guidance.  Many questions flooded my mind but in the back of it, I felt confident knowing my mother had always known best and always sought the Lord’s will.  I was on a flight the very next day.
I was scared, worried, and confused, but the Comforter I had depended on for the last 16 months was again right there with me as I boarded the airplane and left for home in Arizona.  Although I was returning to my family who loved me, I knew I was going home to the reality I had always dreaded from the day my dad was diagnosed.  My family greeted me at the airport and we immediately headed for the hospital where my dad had been for the last week.  My mother tried to prepare me for how different my dad would look since the last time I had seen him and she sputtered medical lingo at me that went right through my head.  Everyone else in my family had been with him through the whole experience and although I had received occasional pictures I was not prepared to see him so differently.  I hesitated to enter the room, but my oldest brother put his arm around me, assured me it would be alright and walked me in.  Nothing could prepare me to see my father, whom I remembered as an agile, friendly, healthy person, now in a hospital bed, bald, thin and pale.  It was difficult.  I didn’t quite know what to think, how to act, or what to say.  I took my father’s frail hand and as my mom announced to him I was now right there at his bedside, he opened his eyes.  Immediately he smiled, teeth and all, a smile mom later informed me they hadn’t seen in weeks.  With all the strength he had, he lifted both arms and motioned for a hug.  “Oh Hillary”, he said, “It’s so good to see you!”  I was in his arms again.  Although this time they were not as firm and strong, they still held bundles of love and fatherly protection.  As I began to release myself from him to stand, he again motioned for another hug and held me tight to him.  

Just a few short hours later, family members and friends gathered in the hospital room to sing hymns both comforting my father and ourselves.  He took his last few breaths, just 12 hours after I returned home.
When I look back on the experience and the timing of how everything happened, I am amazed at the blessing of having the Gift of the Holy Ghost.   Although his passing was difficult, I can only imagine how much harder it would have been for me, had I not been there with the rest of my family.  I am grateful I could have that spiritual experience with them.  My father's life touched so many people and I truly believe the battle he fought was not in vain.  Even though he wasn't victorious, everyone in his life had experiences that made us all stronger.

I struggled tremendously with the loss of my dad.  I had never experienced death in such a personal way.  I had faith in Christ and knew there was a plan, but still, there was a hole in my heart.  I couldn't get out of bed.  I didn't care about anything or anyone.  Reality was a fog to me.  I even felt like I couldn't feel as close to the Lord as I once had been.  I can remember one particular day, after months of feeling numb to the world, I told my best friend, (and now husband) I thought there was something wrong with me.  I had always thought of depression as some kind of funk people needed to just get out of.  After meeting with a therapist and doctor to treat my particular issues, I slowly, over time emerged from a dark place I never want to return to.  But it wasn't just the medication or the therapy sessions that did the trick.  I learned about the Atonement of Christ in a very real and personal way.  Sure I knew I could overcome sin through His sacrifice and I knew He could heal me of other imperfections.  But through this experience of immense mental pain and sorrow, I learned that He knew me.  I learned that His Atonement also covered my heartache.  He was the only one who knew of my suffering.  And when I realized that and turned to Him to take it from me, He did.  

A few months after this, I can remember writing a letter to a friend who had just lost her mother to cancer.  I was just trying to be Christlike and give her some words of understanding.  I told her I more or less knew how she was feeling, but I also told her, as hard as it was losing my father, I didn't know what I would do if I lost my Mom.  A girl without her mom is like a....well I didn't want to know.  My mom and I were the best of friends, more like sisters really.  I couldn't imagine the loss my friend was dealing with.

In the midst of this "recovery", 6 months after my father died, I married my sweetheart in the Mesa, AZ temple.  He was the one anchor I had.  I can remember many sleepless nights asking him over and over why he would even want to be with someone as messed up as me.  He was patient, and understanding.  He prayed for and with me.  I will admit that first year of our marriage, I was a mess.  And he knew it.  But he didn't give up on me.  We moved to the Bay Area while he went to school and started our family there.  Our oldest 2 children were born in California and we had such great experiences while living there.  After three years, we moved back to our home state and began his future practice and my life as a mother.

Incredibly, just 6 years after my father passed away, we received news that my mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  My third child was just 3 days old.  This news was heart breaking.  I had overcome depression, post traumatic distress, and anxiety after watching my father die.  The same dreaded disease we lost my father to, now took hold of my mother’s body.  Although the doctors were somewhat hopeful, all I could think of was cancer = death.  Thoughts of losing her caused me anxiety.  With a newborn and two more young children at home, I couldn’t spend all the time I wanted to with her.  But my church family stepped in and organized a babysitting schedule.  They took turns watching my children while I took my mom to her chemotherapy treatments, doctor appointments, or even just to take her shopping. 

 For a year my mother went through radiation and chemotherapy and all the while she did it with a smile on her face.  Never once did I hear her complain, (you can read her journey here) even when she lost her beautiful dark hair. After just 11 months, her body succumbed to the cancer and she too, passed away. 

How could this happen.....again?  I dreaded the depression I knew was coming.  I worried I would go back into that dark despair.  A place I never wanted to be again.  I prayed and prayed.  I begged the Lord to help me through.  And He did.  I can honestly say, that losing my mother was one of the hardest things I have been through.  She was my closest friend.  People knew our relationship more as sisters.  But the Lord helped me through.   
 My brothers and I at Mom's funeral.
   
I can't even begin to explain the way the Lord carried me.   The reason I share this with you is not for sympathy, but because I want to share what I have learned through it all.  I have learned that there is no greater blessing than an eternal family.  Having a knowledge of a Savior, an older brother, who sacrificed all so that we could gain eternal life with our families, is what gives me peace and hope and the will to continue.  Do I miss them?  Everyday.  I think about them constantly.  I have wished they could be here to kiss the cheeks of all my babies, and to come to all their t ball games, or orchestra concerts.  I have wished I could just pick up the phone and brag to my mom about the latest potty training success or cry to her about the loads of laundry that are never ending!  I have thought about the projects I could ask my dad to do around the house and the building knowledge and talent he had.  I have wished he could have been here when our oldest was baptized, or when our youngest took her first steps.  But they are not here.  And I have come to the point in my life where I am ok with that.  Because I know one day, this life will seem a memory and the reality of a new life, one with no death or sickness or pain or sorrow, will trump all.  

This is how I picture Mom and Dad now.  This pic was taken just days before his diagnosis.  

3 comments:

  1. I love how raw and real you are in your writing Hilary. I wish I could give you a big hug.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello, I just discovered your blog where you were mentioned on The Lettered Cottage. Wow! I can't imagine losing both my parents so close together. They look so young in the photo before your father's diagnosis. In the valleys of depression and grief are where we really learn about the deep reality of loss. It's a place of deep mourning. I found a blog called griefwords by Dr. Wolfelt that really helped me understant what I was going through when I lost my mother and father. Your blog and home are beautiful and your faith is inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hillary, I had no idea you lost both of your parents. I am bawling my eyes out reading this. I cannot imagine how incredibly proud your parents must be of you. I know for sure that you have two guardian angels watching over you and your sweet family at all times. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story. You have truly touched and strengthened my testimony of the Atonement.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...