Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Macey



Wow. I can't believe Macey is turning one already. The last year flew by so fast! I know part of it is the fact that her first four months of life were so crazy with my dad being sick.

In some crazy ways, Macey saved me more than she will ever know. When I would come home from a long day at the hospital with my dad, there was this tiny little baby reminding me that I had something else I needed to focus on other than my dad's illness. And when my dad passed away, I had this little baby to remind me that there is life after death. Having her in my belly all the months that my dad were so sick, kept me sane. I had to stay healthy and calm - for her sake.

Macey's personality is totally evolving! She is going to definetly be a little stinker!! She now can walk, and she has two new shiny teeth. She is such a little cuddler. Loves to snuggle up. When she sees strangers, she'll hold out her arms and wants to go by just about anyone. I've really enjoyed this past year watching her hit all of her milestones, and experiencing all the firsts with her.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dream

I had the most amazing experience last night, and I am sure when I share this, there are lots of you who may think I am nuts!

I had a very "real like" dream about my dad. I can't remember what he said or what he was telling me. But I remember it was something important. And it was something about death and his death. It's driving me nuts that I can't remember more of the details.

But all of the sudden I jolted awake, and I was literally sobbing and crying. My pillow was wet with tears.

I called my mom this morning to tell her about it, and cried the whole time. That's how real it was.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Random Memory

Meeting Macey



In honor of Macey's birthday, this is my random memory for the week. In all honesty, I really hate looking at this photo. My dad looks so fragile and sick. This is also around the time we began to realize that my dad's cancer was way more serious than we thought.

In this photo, Macey is a couple days old. My dad had just been discharged from the hospital a couple weeks before from his perforated bowel surgery. He was too weak, and his immune system too compromised to come to the hospital to meet Macey. So we made a special trip over there the following week she was born so my dad could meet her.

As I placed Macey into my dad's arms - for a brief moment it looked like every worry melted away. He was just so elated to meet his newest granddaughter. I know it was a bittersweet moment for me, because deep down, I knew my dad wasn't going to be able to hold her much, or get to know her, or watch her grow. But I am thankful that my dad was able to meet her and that I have this picture to share with Macey someday.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Letters from the Heart

Before my dad passed away, he wrote a letter to my neice Taylor and nephew Trenton. It was agreed that the letters would be given to them on each of their birthdays. My nephew celebrated his birthday on Saturday, and finally got his letter from Papa.

I think what the letter contains is a true testament to my dad's character. He told Trenton to be a leader and not a follower. To help people and treat them good. To do well in school. To listen to his mom because she always wants the best for him. He told him that he enjoyed taking him on the four wheeler.

I haven't read the letter since my dad passed (he let me read it as he was writing it) and I don't think I am ready. As Trenton was telling me the contents of the letter, I got really weepy. But what a great thing for Trenton to have and hold for the rest of his life. I am kind of sad that my dad never got around to writing my girls' letters. He just got too bad too fast. But I know it wouldn't mean as much as it will to Taylor and Trenton, because my girls sadly will not remember him.

In some ways I am glad that we knew my dad was dying ahead of time. Because he was able to write these letters, and tell us everything he ever wanted too. And I think that has been one of the greatest gifts he has given any of us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What We Can't Explain at the End of Life: Who and What You See Before You Die

This article which is also written by David Kessler and featured on Oprah.com, gives me so much hope and joy - knowing I am going to see my dad again. I think we lose focus about that fact not long after our loved ones die. I think we get so wrapped up in grief, and we forget that beyond this life, there is a spiritual life waiting for us. This article reminded me of that fact.

Throughout my years of working with the dying and the bereaved, I have noticed commonly shared experiences that remain beyond our ability to explain and fully understand. The first are visions. As the dying see less of this world, some people appear to begin looking into the world to come. It's not unusual for the dying to have visions, often of someone who has already passed on. Your loved one may tell you that his deceased father visited him last night, or your loved one might speak to his mom as if she were there in the room at that time.

It was almost 15 years ago that I was sitting at the bedside of my teacher, Elisabeth K├╝bler Ross', when she turned to me and asked, "What do you think about the deceased visiting those on their deathbeds to greet them?" I replied quickly, showing my knowledge back to her: "You're speaking of deathbed visions, most likely caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain or a side effect of morphine." She looked at me and sighed, "It will come with maturity."

I thought to myself: "Maturity? What did maturity have to do with anything?" Now, years later, I look at the events we still can't explain that happen at the end of life and realize what Elisabeth was saying. It would be arrogant to think we can explain everything, especially when it comes to dying. My mother died when I was still a preteen. My father remained an incredible optimist his whole life, even when he was dying. I was busy trying to make sure he was comfortable and pain-free, and at first didn't notice he had become very sad. He told me how much he was going to miss me once he was gone. And then he mentioned how much he was saying goodbye to: his loved ones, his favorite foods, the sky, the outdoors and a million other things of this world. He was overcome by sadness I could not (and would not) take away from him.

My father was very down-hearted for the next few days. But then one morning he told me my mother, his wife, had come to him the night before. "David, she was here for me," he said with an excitement I had not seen in him in years. "I was looking at all I was losing, and I'd forgotten that I was going to be with her again. I'm going to see her soon." He looked at me as he realized I would still remain here. Then he added, "We'll be there waiting for you." Over the next two days, his demeanor changed dramatically. He had gone from a hopeless dying man with only death in front of him to a hopeful man who was going to be reunited with the love of his life. My father lived with hope and also died with it.

When I started compiling examples to include in my book Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die, I was surprised by how similar they were. In fact, it was hard to pick which ones to use because they were all so much alike. Now I realize the very thing that makes them repetitious is also what makes them unique. As someone who has spent most of my life writing, teaching and working with the dying, I can't prove to you that my father's vision was real. I can only talk about my experience as a son and about countless other occurrences that take place every day. I used to believe the only thing we needed to alleviate was the suffering of the dying by providing good pain management and symptom control. I know now that we have more—we have the "who" and "what" we see before we die, which is perhaps the greatest comfort to the dying.

Some interesting and unexplainable items about deathbed visions:

Visions people experience at the end of life are remarkably similar.

The dying are most often visited by their mothers. It shouldn't be too surprising that the person who is actually present as we cross the threshold of life and take our first breaths once again appears at the threshold as we take our last breaths.

Hands passionately reaching upward to some unseen force is witnessed in many deathbed encounters.

Visions mostly occur toward a corner of the room.

Those family members at a deathbed are not able to see the vision or participate in the conversation.

Visions usually occur hours to weeks before death.

Visions don't seem to appear in other frightening situations where death is not likely, such as stuck in an elevator, lost in a foreign city or lost hiking.

If you find the concept of a dead loved one greeting you on your deathbed impossible or ridiculous, consider what I finally realized as a parent: You protect your children from household dangers. You hold their hands when they cross the street on their first day of school. You take care of them when they have the flu, and you see them through as many milestones as you can. Now fast-forward 70 years after you, yourself, have passed away. What if there really is an afterlife and you receive a message that your son or daughter will be dying soon? If you were allowed to go to your child, wouldn't you?

While death may look like a loss to the living, the last hours of a dying person may very well be filled with fullness rather than emptiness.

The morning my dad passed away, he was reaching up at the ceiling towards something. That was a moment in my life that I will never forget. I just wish I knew who he had been reaching for!!!

Why Birth Is Not a Beginning and Death is Not an End

I found this article on Oprah.com this morning. It was a reawakening to me. I wanted to share it. Hopefully you will find it as insightful and inspiring as I did.

As John Adams, our second president, lay on his deathbed, his last words were, "Jefferson still lives." What he didn't know was that our third president, Thomas Jefferson, had died a few hours earlier. Both men died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. You may think this is about to become a history lesson, but it's not. It is a discussion of the afterlife and an exploration of the question: "Do we really die?" Many believe that for Adams there were deathbed visions of a world yet to come. As we die, the veil between life and death is lowered for the dying. You would be surprised to look into the afterlife and see someone there waiting whom you thought was in our earthy world of the living. I believe, as many others do, that John Adams saw his friend waiting for him and realized not only that death is not an ending, but that we continue to live. Jefferson lives!

We have all been taught that, if nothing else, death is the end—our end. Death is a broad traveler in our society today. It is sometimes the result of violence, sometimes a kind act of nature, sometimes the end of a long disease. We watch it in our homes on TV, we pay to see it on movie screens and we play with it in video games. Perhaps we hope that the more we view it, the less we will fear it. Albert Einstein pointed out that time is not constant, it's relative to the observer. For now, we can only observe time and the dying. As my work has brought me closer to this unwanted visitor, I have found more peace in death, and I have come to know on a very personal level that it is not an ending.

We live in time and die in time. While we inhabit our bodies, time is a useful measurement. Yet it has only as much value as we give it. Webster's Dictionary defines time as "an interval separating two points on a continuum." Birth appears to be the beginning, and death appears to be the end, but they are not—they are just points on a continuum.

Two weeks before my father died, I moved him into my apartment. I had a hospital bed brought into the living room. There he would receive one visitor after another. In the evening, friends and family would pull up chairs surrounding his bed. In illness as in health, he was the center of attention. The circle of loved ones remained right up to his death. After he died, we spent time with him, but we suddenly realized his body was no longer given any attention. His body was no longer the center of attention. We were still talking, crying and laughing, but our body language and our focus was now on his spirit and not his body.

If you have been with a loved one who has died, you quickly see that his spirit has left his body. That spirit that is beyond description that made our loved one who he is—a father...or a mother—is forever gone from its earthly body. The spark of life has left. Before us lies the body, like a suit of clothes he wore his whole life. We love it. We are familiar with the look of it, and yet we know that who the body is...is so much more. And that "so much more," also known as his spirit, no longer dwells in the body.

None of us knows what will happen after death, but I believe—if you look deep inside, deep in your soul—you will know you have always existed and always will. Spirit is eternal. If you think back, you'll remember you never felt as if you didn't exist before you were born into this life. Rather, you felt as if you always existed and always will. That's why this death will not be an ending. You may not have life as you know it once you die, but you will continue. If you have lost a loved one, he still continues. The dying still exist. Now when someone I know is dying, I don't say goodbye anymore, I just say...until we meet again. Marianne Williamson always reminds those at her lectures about A Course in Miracles that birth is not a beginning and death is not an ending. There is a shift from the body identification to the spiritual identification.

I was so gratified after the last article I wrote about how many people were willing to share their stories about deathbed visions on Oprah.com, Facebook and Twitter. These people who decided to share their stories online are a validation that our loved ones live on. And for each person who shared a story online, there were probably hundreds to thousands who have stories they didn't share.

We must continue to examine the meaning of death because death is central to the meaning of life. If death is an enemy that triumphs over us when our lives end, if death is a horrible trick of nature that defeats us and our health, then our lives are meaningless. But if we understand that we are born, we flourish and when our time comes we die physically but not spiritually, we will live our lives from a meaningful place and live our deaths in a meaningful way.

No one can really claim to understand death, unless they have actually died. We're only observers until our time comes. What I teach about death is what I have learned from it. While my medical training touched on the subject, I learned most of what I know about death from the countless people I have had the privilege of caring for, and sharing with, in these most precious, final moments. What I know for sure is that love is a house that even death cannot knock down.

David Kessler is the author of Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms (May 2010).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happy Birthday McKenna



Happy 3rd birthday to my wonderful princess McKenna!! I can't believe she is three years old already. Where does time go?

McKenna will never understand how much she means to me, or how much she saved me. She was the sunshine for me after a long rainstorm. I didn't replace Nevaeh, but McKenna came at a time that showed me that it was possible to love another child, and that life had to go on.

McKenna reminds me so much of my dad. She has this little spirit that is so energetic and bubbly, and she is so funny! She definetly loves to be the center of attention.

I am sad my dad is not here to witness McKenna's birthday, but I know he is here is spirit, and definetly looking down on us.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Memory

McKenna is Born



In honor of McKenna's third birthday this week, I had to post this picture. I remember how proud and happy my dad looked when he held McKenna in the hospital for the first time. I think it was especially happy for him, since he was with me the day Nevaeh passed.

I remember my dad was suppose to have a work meeting, but he called and told them he was not going as he had to meet his new granddaughter. My dad was such a great PaPa. Him and McKenna really had a strong bond. I am sad that he is not here this year to see her another year older. I know how much he would be enjoying her right now - and how much she would love him.