Tuesday, December 10, 2013

His Chains Are Gone

This post is long and full of details regarding my Pappy's recent death. It's really for me to have in my journal, but I hope that it also glorifies God and raises awareness about Alzheimer's Disease.

I've written on here several times about my Pappy (maternal grandfather) and his struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Click on the Alzheimer's Walk link to the right if you're interested. The quick story is this: 

Pappy was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease about 13 years ago. It was a very early detection of the disease due in part to my Aunt Diana (his daughter and my mom's sister) being a leading Alzheimer's researcher in the region. She knew and could easily recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease. Also, we knew that Pappy getting Alzheimer's was a good possibility as his father, brother, and several aunts had it. 

Upon diagnosis, Pappy immediately began several treatments for his disease, and at first it was very slow progressing. In fact, in the early years especially, our family heard from many people that they would never have known he had the disease had someone not told them. We were truly so blessed with many good years with Pappy before the disease took over completely. 

However, slowly but surely the disease did begin to take Pappy's mind and faculties. Incidents began to take placed that were dangerous to Pappy, and Granny - who faithfully stood by his side through it all - started to be very overwhelmed with his full-time care. In September of 2012, they moved together into an assisted care facility and sold the house that Pappy had built with his own hands in the 1950s. 

It was around this same time that I began to experience the horrible encounters where Pappy did not know who I was at all. For several years before this, I felt like he knew for sure that I belonged to him even if he could not articulate my name. And, once in a while, we would still see glimpses of him somewhere in his body. The first time I saw him and there was obviously zero recognition was incredibly hard. It truly broke my heart. In April, we went to see him and it was a good visit. The disease caused some strange behavior, but he hugged me so tightly when I left, and I felt that deep down he knew that time that I was his. I will treasure that memory forever. 

Just a few weeks after the April visit, Pappy had to be moved from his and Granny's shared apartment to a room of his own where he would have more consistent care from trained nurses. Every time I talked to my mom, she would relate yet another event that had taken place. Pappy was still mobile (walking every day), feeding himself, etc. but things were going south at a very rapid pace. I will say though, I think that everyone was a bit shocked at just how fast it got bad at the end. 

I know that many of the family had prayed fervently for Pappy throughout all of this. We didn't want to see this happening to him. We didn't want to see him on bedrest or immobile, and I'm confident that so many prayers reflected that. If you'll read on, you'll see just how those prayers were answered for us.

On the weekend of October 11th and 12th, my mom went to Wichita (Kansas) to visit my grandparents (my parents live about 5 hours away from there). She had made it a routine to go about once a month (maybe a bit less) to support my Granny and spend time with Pappy. After Mom left, on Sunday October 13th, Pappy fell several times (4, I think) and it was clear that he was losing his physical faculties. Well, I say it was clear, but maybe not. We didn't know at that time if this was being caused by his medication dosages being off or what exactly. On Monday, October 14th, he was moved to yet another wing of the care facility where he would be given even more specialized care. This was the wing that my Aunt Diana managed before she passed away from Leukemia in 2009. On Tuesday morning, Granny called (or texted, I'm not sure) Mom to let her know that he could no longer swallow. For those familiar with Alzheimer's, you know that losing the ability to swallow is often the last step before death. We knew then that the end was very near. 

My Mom immediately left work to go to Wichita and be with them. Pappy passed from this life peacefully in the early morning hours (like around 2:00am) of Thursday, October 17th. And finally, his chains were gone.

My little family immediately made plans to get to Wichita on Friday, October 18th. Chris had actually already taken the day off work because our anniversary is October 20th and he was planning to paint our living room that weekend (as a gift to me). I have an aunt and a few cousins who live in Wichita, so my cousin Brett and his wife Christine were gracious enough to let us stay with them for the whole weekend. We got into town at about 6:00pm on Friday, and met my parents and Granny for a burger before going to B & C's. I had told Brianna that Pappy had gone to live with Jesus and that we were happy for him, but that she may see people crying a lot because we'll miss him. When we first saw Mom and Granny, Brianna just stared at them with the funniest look on her little face. I think she was waiting for them to burst into tears right then.

But, here's the truth: My Pappy was a faithful Christian throughout most of his adult life. He served as a church elder for 23 years, and truly displayed behaviors becoming of a Christian in his every day life. Was I sad about his passing? Of course. He (along with my Dad) was one of my first heros. I'm still tearing up thinking about him now. However, in the midst of the tears, there is joy. There is relief. He fought and fought that disease, and now he has rest. He's been called home. And our prayers were answered that once the disease got really, really bad, he left us. That's what we wanted, and we thank God for his relief. 

Thus, while we were all sad, there was joy. There was laughter. We played and visited and hugged each other tight and remembered the good times. Pappy left behind his wife, four living children and spouses, 14 grandchildren, and 28 great-grandchildren. And I don't think a single one us doubts the love he had for us, or the great leader he was for our family. In fact, my cousins and siblings are scattered all over the US in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, and California. And EVERY SINGLE one of us were there for his visitation and/or funeral except for ONE great-grandchild. That speaks volumes by itself. 

I will say, the thing that hit me hardest was reading his obituary. He means SO much to me, and it was hard to see his life wrapped up in one little paragraph. I know, though, that my memories of him and what he means to me would blow that little paragraph off the page. And I'm good with that, now. 

On Saturday, October 19th, there was lots of family traveling in so we just spent the day hanging out and waiting for people to get to Wichita. We started the day at B & C's letting the children play (they have 4 year old Alexis, 2 year old Kale, and 3 month old Ellie, so very close to the age of my kiddos . . . worked out perfectly). Then, we went to my Aunt Cindy and Uncle Justin's house and hung out there for a bit with even more family, then back to B & C's to wait for Jeremy and his fam and Scott and his fam to get there. We had pizza for dinner that night (keeping it simple with so many people to feed), then the kids ran wild outside for several hours.

Some of the kiddos eating . . . 

Brenson enjoyed having so many boy cousins around the play with.

Brenson being crazy with Alexis looking on.

Blair and Wes playing ball.

Several of the boys playing ball.

Alexis is used to having lots of boy cousins, so she jumped right in there. 

Kale.

Sweet face :-).

Brenson found the chalk.

Run, Alexis!

This is one of my favorite photos from the weekend. A ball was lost over the fence and the kiddos were trying to find it (William, Alexis, Blair, Kale, Wes, and Bode). 

Trying to look innocent, but who knows what he was up to. 

Brianna was super excited when Uncle Jeremy finally got there (after a 12 hour drive!) 

I thought this was too cute of Brenson hiding in the toy box. 

Two more things that I wish to remember about this day: First, while we were at C & J's house, my Granny came up to me, grabbed my hand, and said, "Now how are you doing? Really?" I replied that I was doing okay, and she said, "Do you lie?" Hahaha! That cracked me up! It was so like her to be worried about how I was doing while she was the grieving wife. Just. so. like. her.

The other thing is that B & C have baby Ellie who was born at the beginning of July . . . right around the time of B3's due date. I had already thought about this and mentally prepared myself to be around a baby that age. One night while we were visiting, Brett asked when exactly B3's due date was and when I answered, he blurted out, "Oh, the exact age as Ellie." Then, there was silence. Chris looked at me and I could tell it was the first time he had realized that and I could see the pain in his eyes. Ugh. However, I was okay. I had mentally prepared for it. BUT, at one point on Saturday afternoon, Ellie was laying on the ground playing, and I looked over at her only to see my two little ones hovered over her kissing her and playing with her. No other littles, just my two. It was then that my heart really clenched, and I had to swallow a lump in my throat. I saw what I thought was my should-have-been and it was hard :-(.

Okay, so on Sunday morning, we all got up and headed to church with my Granny (my cousins and aunt and uncle are members there, too), and we had a pretty large section (like 40 plus of our family) sitting together and it was so comforting. Several of the church leaders spoke of Pappy and there were LOTS of tears shed by our section. In some ways, it felt like his memorial service and I totally was not expecting that. I also sat right behind Granny and could see her being emotional, so that certainly tugged at my heart. After church services, part of us headed to McAllister's Deli to eat, then back to B & C's for {a short} naptime. Oh, and that morning Brianna had woken up complaining that her ear hurt. Brenson was recovering from an ear infection so I was concerned. Fortunately, my cousin's wife is a pediatrician and had some tools with her, so she checked Bri out for me in her van in the parking lot of McAllister's, haha. She did have a mild ear infection but we just gave her a little tylenol for the pain and the infection went away on its own. Of course, we kept a close eye on her.

The visitation was from 3:00pm to 5:00pm that afternoon, so we headed to the funeral home around 3:00pm. As we were walking in from the parking lot, we ran into my paternal Grandpa. We rarely see him, so this was a special treat. This was the first time for him to meet Bren, so I was sure to take a few photos (Bren's middle name, Charles, is my grandfather's first name. It's also my dad's first name, so that's who Bren is really named for, but also for Grandpa).

We had a short chat then headed into the funeral home (Grandpa was on his way out).

The funeral home was pretty small and there were a lot of people there (just the family was a TON). It could have been total chaos with allllll the littles, but someone brought a tv, some dvds, and designated a kid room. SMART THINKING! The room was super-crowded but the chaos was mostly contained :-).

I also want to add, the visitation had more laughter and visiting and noise than any one I've ever been to! Not in a disrespectful way, of course, but in confidence knowing that he is better off. He is healed. He lived his life with purpose and conviction, so we rejoiced for him. Were there a few tears? Of course. But, there was also JOY. You just can't fabricate that.

That evening, several of us headed back to B & C's for sandwiches and more playtime for the kiddos. Jeremy and family were also staying there, and my sister and Brett's brothers and families were also there. I rarely get to visit with my cousins, so this was special, special time.

The funeral service was at 10:00am on Monday, October 21st. We had to take a few photos of our little dolls before walking out the door! They all looked SO cute! As a side-note: Lisa's Chloe Jo was sick most of the weekend, so Lisa was in Wichita by herself. However, Russ and Chloe met us at the church building in time for the funeral, so that's why she's not in this pic.

Once again, the church building didn't feel like a funeral atmosphere. All the family gathered in a room before the service, but we could hear people visiting and laughing and telling stories about Pappy in the lobby. It was really beautiful. Isn't that how we all want our memorial service to be? It was truly a celebration of his life.

Some of the church members graciously offered to open the nursery and keep the kids during the service. We were so thankful! I think we left about 19 of the great-grandchildren in there, haha! Most of the greats are 8 years old and under (with the exception of my brothers' kids and just a few others), so having an open nursery was perfect. Incredibly thankful for that!

There weren't many flowers because Granny asked that donations be made to a Bible TV program in lieu of flowers. 

After the service, the family picked up our kiddos and headed out to the cemetery. It was a crisp, but cloudless and beautiful day. We all caravanned out there in a huge, escorted line of cars.


My grandparents have 6 grandsons, so they were the casket bearers. The guy in the hat is the funeral director, but those carrying the casket are my brothers and cousins. And, for the record, they are six BIG men . . . lots and lots of height in my family.

Following the quick cemetery service, we headed back to the church building where there was a meal for 90 people prepared. And it was delicious! Don't you love my daughter's face and wide-open mouth? *Sigh* The little blonde boy next to Brianna is my cousin's son, William. He turned 4 in October and had a little thing for Brianna. He told his Mom that she was his "best girlfriend" and he insisted that he sit by her at the dinner. However, word on the street is that he is quite the ladies man and has many girlfriends :-). The funniest thing about this is that his dad (my cousin) was one of my first little crushes as a little girl. Weird, I know. But I was very little and didn't know better! 


We left for home not too long after the dinner concluded. Words can't really express how good it was to be with ALL of our family. We have big family events every so often, but it always seems like someone is missing. It was comforting for us all to be there with each other.

I also can't express how blessed I am to have had such a strong male role model in my family. I know not everyone has that, and I am forever grateful for the influence Pappy had on my life. I'll love him forever.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chelley,

I want you to know how much I love you and so VERY proud to have you as my daughter in law. But at times I think you are my daughter, I love you so very much.

cassidy adams said...

So sorry for your loss Chelley. I lost my papaw to Alzheimers Disease last September as well. But what a comfort it is to know we will see them again:) Brenson is a doll. Prayers and thoughts at this time.
Cassidy

cassidy adams said...

Brianna too of course! Thought I had her in there:)