Today I share with you the reason I was in Hobby Lobby to begin with: my uncle. My Uncle Jack had received a totally unexpected terminal cancer diagnosis just a month ago and time was drawing close. My rush that day was to purchase the right card ahead of time so I would be prepared to send it to my cousin (Jack’s daughter) when that fateful day came.
The unexpected diagnosis.
While in Ohio visiting Greg’s brother in late September, we received the news about my uncle. Because he was given anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, we immediately began preparing for a trip to Nebraska so we could visit with him. Just two days after arriving home from the Ohio trip, we were on a plane with my dad to spend four days with Jack, my dad’s brother, and his family.
At first, Uncle Jack seemed much the same–a younger version of my dad. And with a twinkle in his eye he greeted us. But it soon became clear that the liver failure was taking its toll. Yellowing of the skin and eyes, weakness in body, and a growing liver that caused great indigestion. He was very sick indeed. But while his body was wasting away, Jack was still busy living.
Each day with him, we went to Panera for breakfast, one of his favorite things to do. The second night there, about 50 people came to a celebration of life party. I didn’t know most of them but it became obvious how much these people adored my uncle. And I thoroughly enjoyed watching him interact with so many who adored him.
Conversations centered on his life, his accomplishments (of which there were many) and were filled with memories. My dad and he would sit for hours talking about old times. Though Dad was 12 years older, there was still plenty to reminisce about and my first cousin and I would smile just watching the two of them remember things in such detail. It was astounding!
Other conversations were about his unexpected diagnosis and about funeral planning. Music is a major love in my family. My uncle, with his beautiful baritone voice, was still enjoying singing into his 80s. Therefore, it had to be a major component of his memorial service.
It was interesting to watch all this—the open talk of death and dying, the funeral planning, time spent going over finances and other concerns, the remembrances. Often, I would just peek in on my uncle visiting with my dad or a work colleague or friend. It made me so very happy to see how joy-filled he was at the moment.
He lived until he died.
It became obvious that my uncle had chosen to live until he died. Yes, his body was dying, but he wasn’t. Every night, with greater effort, he climbed the stairs to his second-floor bedroom so he could sleep in his own bed. And each morning, he used that same effort to shower, get ready for the day, descend those stairs, and make it to Panera for breakfast.
He ate supper at the dining room table as long as possible. A few times he succumbed to the sofa for a much-needed nap. But most times he could be found in his recliner where he was not only more comfortable but could live life on his terms…visiting with others, talking or texting on the phone. Occasionally, he would venture outside to the front steps to enjoy the lovely fall weather.
Our trip drew to a close and the time came for our goodbyes. Our final goodbyes. I had never before experienced this kind of sadness…knowing we would never see him again this side of eternity. That was hard. And tears wouldn’t stop flowing. But the joy that permeated his life this past month has been so beautiful, it’s hard to be sad for too long. And boy, did Jack defy the original prognosis…by two weeks!
And so last night the expected call came. At 6pm my uncle took his last breath and passed away. Both his wife and daughter were with him and the end was peaceful.
The last month was a gift. A wonderful gift.
The gift of time came along with Jack’s last days. Time to visit. Time to prepare. Time to plan. Time to talk. Time to express love. Time to be loved. Time to share memories. Time to show affection. Time to enjoy loved ones. Time to care for others. Time to be cared for. Time to appreciate life’s blessings. Time to be thankful.
This gift of time isn’t always available. So we grabbed it, knowing it truly was a precious gift. Despite the deep sorrow I experienced when leaving Nebraska several weeks ago, at the same time I experienced great joy because that four-day visit with family was one of the best ones we’ve ever shared.
It wasn’t about a grand vacation trip, or a thoughtful present given. It wasn’t about dinners out or exciting experiences. It was simply about being together, about loving each other, about enjoying our precious family.
And I am ever so grateful. For my family. For the lessons learned this past month about how to honor and cherish each member. For the opportunities ahead to show that love to each one.
And for the glorious hope I have in Him, knowing that when He calls me home, I will be ready, my family will be okay, and my eternity will be spent with the One who gave up everything to prove his love for me.
NOTE: A few hours before receiving the call about Jack’s death, I was in my car listening to Chris Tomlin’s song I Will Rise. I knew at that moment that God was letting me know that Jack’s death was imminent but I also knew that God was reminding me of the glorious new life promised and reserved for those who call Him Lord. Read these lyrics and see if you agree.
There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”
Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
I will rise