Friday, October 31, 2008

The Ways God Speaks

For years before our 25th wedding anniversary, Vinnie and I dreamed of going on a cruise in Alaska. We knew that a trip of this kind would be expensive so we really never looked into how much a trip like this would cost. We knew we didn't have the money to go but we hoped that as we got closer to the date, maybe we'd find it. When we go to the year before that date, Vinnie had cancer. Medical bills and family affairs gobbled up what money I'd like to think we might have had. Who knows. When we knew Vinnie was in his last few weeks of life, it dawned on me one day that he might see Alaska before me - because he'd see it, if it's possible, from Heaven. I jokingly told him that I was mad at him that he could arrange to see it before me. He suggested that I go to Alaska myself with a small bottle of his ashes so I could say he took me along and then sprinkle some of the ashes in the ocean. My daughter, Shelly suggested to her dad to send me a picture! She's so cool.

I am amazed at the many ways that God speaks to us. The day Vinnie died, we had all the funeral arrangements on stand by. The funeral home and our pastor knew exactly what we wanted. All I had to do when he died was make a few calls, decide on days and times, and that was it. When we left Vinnie at the hospital, we knew the nurses were going to get him washed and ready for the funeral home. We went home to find his tuxedo that he wore to the last wedding he was at. We wanted him to go out in style! He looked so amazingly handsome when we saw him at the funeral home. He was finally at peace, with no pain, no more pain.

When I got home that evening, all I wanted to do was rest. I wanted nothing more than to rest in a quiet space, with no one calling me see how Vinnie was doing - just rest. The nurses warned me to get rest because it was going to be an exhausting weekend and the day after Vinnie died, I had one whole day of quiet. I recall laying on the sofa for a while and could see through the slats in the blinds. All of a sudden my daughter Michelle got excited because there was a hummingbird at the hummingbird feeder on the back deck!

Anyone who's known me for any length of time knows how much I love hummingbirds. My oldest daughter and her husband bought me a hummingbird feeder on their honeymoon. It had been on the back deck for weeks and never had a hummingbird at it once - not once. But that day, the day after Vinnie died, a beautiful little hummingbird came, flew around the feeder, feasted, perched it's little body on the side and hung around for the longest time - maybe five minutes. As soon as it flew away, I cried. I could not help be sense that the little bird was sent to us to be a comfort. When I told my daughter that I thought the bird was sent from Vinnie, or God to comfort us, she agreed; she sensed the same thing. A hummingbird never appeared at our feeder before and never came to the feeder since.

The funny thing is that as I was getting ready to go to the funeral home for the viewing, I could not find a pair of matching earrings. I do remember finding one hummingbird earring that I'd forgotten I had. And would you know - that I suddenly found the other hummingbird earring. It was the one that I could find a match to that night. Maybe it seems that I am stretching the idea that God would use hummingbirds to comfort one grieving widow, but it was a comfort to me just the same.

And I know now that it was God's intention to comfort me in whatever ways it would take. A few days after Vinnie died, my youngest daughter and her husband and I went to pick up my two of my grandchildren to spend the day with them. As soon as my grandson got in the car, he picked up something from the floor, I am guessing. My daughter took it away realizing that what he found was too nice to be played with. She asked me about it but I didn't know what she was talking about. To the best of my knowledge, there was nothing in my car. I'd been driving Vinnie around in my car for months (he was always too uncomfortable to drive) and he didn't like stuff laying around in the car. It had actually been clean for a while! (It no longer is now that he's not been here to stay on my back about it - sorry, Vinnie : ) !)

She began to tell me that it was a calendar with pictures of Alaska, but upon further examination, it turned out to be a calendar FROM Alaska! We were baffled! When I finally had a few minutes to look at it, I cried like a baby because the pictures were beautiful. I was sad that I would never go with Vinnie. I was baffled that the calendar really did come from Alaska, and that it came on a very sad day in our family - my oldest daughter was having major marital problems right after Vinnie's memorial service and we were relieving her of two of her children so she could take care of some affairs. We were all upset and this calendar showed up out of nowhere!

Over time, as I told this story to friends over the next few weeks, it became clear where the calendar came from. Apparently, several months before Vinnie stopped working, a lady at his office went to Alaska and brought back extra calendars with beautiful pictures in it. She asked her fellow workers if anyone wanted one to take home. Vinnie took one of course! He never told me about it. I never saw it before. I guess he either forgot or - well, who knows why I'd never been shown the calendar. I guess the answer to that is God. God saved it, hid it actually, in my car for months, I'd assume, until the very day and time I needed to see it. God comforted me and my daughter with this calendar. I am convinced He knew all along when it would need to be found. And when I thought there was nothing in my car to clutter the floor or seats, my grandson found it in a split second on the day it needed to be found.

Vinnie was right in his favorite saying - "God is good all the time, and all the time God is good." He was not one to have long verses memorized from the Bible but he knew God's Truth and His promises and reminded me of them daily - even after he left us to go Home! God (and maybe Vinnie too?) has remarkable ways of speaking to us. Remember the story in my first post about how God prepared my heart to hear the news of Vinnie's cancer? This too is a way God spoke to me. It's so important that we don't get so caught up in our own emotions, affairs, and problems and listen and watch for God. (I am preaching to this choir!) so we can "hear" from God who does speak to us in a multitude of ways - maybe even daily if we have our spiritual antennas' tuned up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Moving Ahead - Tiny Blind Steps at a Time

This is a photo of Vinnie with a large family gathering in 1994.

Life after death - I don't care how much thought goes into it or how much time there to think on it either, there is no way one can be prepared for the experience of losing the life of a person who'd been part of life for over 25 years! All the things that were planned before Vinnie died, all seemed illogical after he was gone. Our family started unraveling at the seams when he died too. It's like watching the back of a long button down wedding dress get pulled from ends and watching buttons fly off one at at time. Our lives were falling apart.

There are more details to the disasters going on all around me that just can't be shared because they are very private and I need to protect each one's privacy, but let me just say, the next two weeks I wasn't sure I was going to live. My heart was not beating regularly. In fact, some nights, my heart was beating so hard and irregular, it woke me up and kept me awake for the rest of the night! I had never, ever in whole life felt so horrible, both physically, mentally, or emotionally. It was a nightmare. There was no time to grieve except at night when the doors to the world were finally closed and there was time to cry. I cried a river those two weeks.

I wanted to get away so badly. Vinnie and I never made it to the beach in the summer like we did every year. I wanted to go to the beach, just one weekend, before I had to return to work. Two weeks after Vinnie died, I was hardly getting any sleep, but I was being pressured to come back to work! Ugh. I surely didn't want to. I wanted to be left alone for about a month! I was drained and exhausted and stretched to the absolute maximum but I compromised. I agreed to come back to work right away if it could have to part time, I felt I better get my weekend at the beach in while I could. It was a nice weekend away. (This was a moon rising photo taken that weekend!) Then I went to work on Monday! The first morning there, when the first phone call came in, I cried. I wanted that call to be Vinnie. He used to call me almost every morning and said, "I'm just calling to say hello to my beautiful, gorgeous, sexy wife!" (If you saw the size of me you'd know how sweet it was of him to say that everyday!) He really meant it too. He really saw me that way to him. No one has ever loved me as much as Vinnie. Maybe no one else ever will, but I am blessed to have been married such a long time to one who did. I am very blessed.

I got an email around the second week after Vinnie was gone telling me about a new GriefShare group starting up at a church down town. I couldn't go that week but I decided to go the following week. The session started out with a video. Oh my...I thought I'd never get through the session. I may have gone through a half a box of tissues! I felt like no one else was crying in the room. Was this not for grieving people? Well, some people there have been grieving for a long time. I had just lost Vinnie two or three weeks before that. I was still in pieces. I still am in pieces.

But I liked the discussion group. The stories from some of these women my sorry little life at least shine with a silver lining on it somewhere. I had no idea that it's normal for families to fall apart when a central person in that family dies! It doesn't take much for all the witches and goblins to come out of the woodwork when there's an opportunity - and they can come right out from people you never knew could be like that before. They prey on people who are too weak at the time of ultimate grief and attempt to gobble them up. It's sickening - but it's the result of living in a dark world. It's just life on earth as it is now. (We're ready for your return any time now, Jesus!)

GriefShare has helped me understand the grieving process, what's normal even though we all grieve differently. It is one of the best things I've done since Vinnie died. It's helped me remember him well and though sad, I am okay with it. I don't want to forget Vinnie. I love him very much. He was a good man, a good husband, and I will probably never have another. GriefShare helps me see I am not abnormal. It's nice to be given permission to go on, to find joy, to be okay with sadness, in fact, to accept that I'll have it - even for a very long time. I am not getting used to my grief, I am getting more comfortable with it. There is a difference.

I am beginning to move on. It's strange and it even feels disloyal sometimes, but then I remember that Vinnie's new life is not disloyal to me. God has us living on other ends of His world right now. Vinnie is living a new life and I must live one too. I wish so much that Vinnie could live this one with me - that hurts like crazy sometimes. I think he'd be so very proud of me for some of the things I've done since he's been gone. But he's not here and he's not going to be. He is experiencing more joy than I'll ever know here. I am here. I must give myself permission to know as much joy as this world can allow us while here on earth, and keep praying that God will reveal what He wants from my life while I am here. I am taking tiny steps that were once in the dark but they are beginning, two months later, to be steps taken with some glimmer of light ahead. It's surreal but it is happening - the journey is continuing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lord, I changed my mind!

(The pictures on this post are of friends saying good-bye to Vinnie)

Vinnie grew weaker and weaker over the next few weeks and his pain medicine was increased each week, sometimes twice a week. He continued to "travel" daily. In fact, it seemed he was more 'there' than here everyday. He was eating less and less and towards the end, it was even harder to drink. Sometimes he complained that his chest hurt and he could feel the cancer choking his breath.

He also began to do strange things. He was eating imaginary bread from imaginary plates, drinking hot beverages from imaginary cups, and seeing all kinds of beautiful things such as flowered bushes, beautiful children and 'kind people'. He even saw golden retrievers. We didn't know what to make of all this coming from such a logical and level headed kind of guy!

That Friday, Vinnie was weirder than ever. He seemed very restless that day and very uncomfortable that night when we went to bed. He kept getting up. He'd try to rest on the floor, in his favorite chair, in the chair with the massage cushion, but nothing worked. It kept me awake. He was not making much sense at this point, even his speech was not clear. It was getting harder and harder to understand what he was saying. I wondered if cancer was in his throat. So I got up to see if I could help him. He got upset that I was spying on him. He tried to leave but walked out on the porch and stood out there in his bathrobe swaying back and forth. He finally came back inside and started staggering around the room, knocking things over and falling. He got hurt a few times. I thought he might break something or hurt me. I called the nurse on call.

She told me he was experiencing terminal agitation. She said not everyone experiences this but it is not uncommon. She reminded me that Vinnie was not going to live much longer now and that nothing I could do at this point was going to hurt Vinnie. She then gave me a whole list of things to do to try to calm Vinnie down. I started giving him morphine every 15 minutes along with other meds that are supposed to calm a person down. I had to give it all to him in a syringe because he could not swallow very well. I called her another hour or so later and told her that it wasn't was making him worse! She gave me another regimen of things to do and said that if I called her again, she would not hesitate to just come here. I told her I'd try the next set of things to do. I didn't want her to come. It was already 1 a.m. at this point, and she lived almost an hour away! However, when Vinnie started spitting the medication at me, I called and said, "Come! Just come!" She arrived about an hour later.

When she arrived, she asked me to call 911. We were going to take Vinnie to the hospital. He was out of control and I was unable to help him. I knew that was going to make him pretty upset. He didn't want to go back to the hospital. Sure enough...he was really upset! He tried to get out of bed dozens of times every day he was there. This once gentle man was biting, kicking, and punching all of us, especially me! He was very mad at me for this.

Because of his aggressive and unpredictable behavior, the doctor ordered a nurse to stay in the room with him around the clock. The nurses insisted I go home each night and get sleep because I probably hadn't gotten much of it lately and would need it at the end. So I arrived each morning to see Vinnie and stayed all day in the room with him. I loved being there all day. I didn't want to be anywhere else. I could see the blessing too in getting used to being home alone, especially when it was time to go to sleep. God was giving me the chance to get used to being there without Vinnie. Isn't God so good?! It was painful but also a blessing because I wasn't grieving Vinnie yet.

Each day at the hospital, I'd talk all day to the CNA's that stayed with Vinnie around the clock and of course, got to know all the RN's on the oncology floor. As I told stories of our life together, our family, and about all the ways God revealed his goodness even along the sad and crazy journey of Vinnie's cancer, they all began to really love Vinnie. Some remembered him from other hospital stays and already loved him.

By Wednesday morning, I realized that even though we wanted Vinnie to die at home, God had a different and very intentional plan. He wanted us to be where others would be blessed by the stories of His as His work in our lives over the years. I could hardly wait to tell Vinnie what God showed me. I hoped he would comprehend what I had to tell him. I think he did. He squeezed my hand when I reminded him that we always said we wanted God's will over our own. That meant even about how and where we would die. He was calmer after that.

Each of the children had made a promise to Vinnie before he died. Each one's promise was different and pertinent to their own personalities and needs. One promised to be a peace maker in the family. Another promised to finished school and get her self in a situation where she didn't have to rely on other people for basic survival anymore. I recently learned that even my sister and her husband made a promise to Vinnie before he died. They promised to look after me for him. I am not sure what the other two kids promised him but I was well aware that I hadn't promised him anything. I didn't know what I could promise him that would be significant to him, at least not until that morning! As I told him my revelation about why God wanted him in the hospital, that it was for the purpose of blessing others, it became apparent what my promise is suppose to be. I promised him that his death would not be in vain, that the story of our lives and God's work in us and in his death, would live on and bless others for years to come. I promised him I'd make sure of it. That is the purpose of this blog.

Ironically, that morning I also had another piece of information to tell Vinnie. I got word that Vinnie's mother was coming to see him from Italy. She had seen him at the recent wedding, and he didn't want her to see him when he got really sick. He didn't want her hovering over him carrying on and crying. He wanted her to stay home. I had to tell him that she was going to be here on Friday and that if he really didn't want her to see him like this, he'd have to die, really soon. I leaned over and told him that it was a perfect day to die. I think I told him that every day in his last week. But that morning when I told him, it was as though someone else were in the room reminding him of what day it would be. He ignored me and gave a subtle nod in agreement to the invisible one speaking to him. I am now convinced that he knew it would be Friday. Friday was going to be a perfect day for him to die. In many ways, it was.

That Wednesday I had a good day with Vinnie. I had a good conversation with the nurse on duty. I had a chance to talk to Vinnie without sensing he was mad at me, and Vinnie seemed to be very calm and peaceful that day. I decided to stay the night in the room with him and stayed the next day, Thursday, until about 3 p.m. At that point, I felt the need to go home, pay some bills, clean, and do some laundry. I called the hospital again around 9 p.m. Vinnie was still doing great. He was peaceful and resting. I decided to stay home and go to bed early. The hospice nurse did not tell me that the caregiver (that's me) often times gets a sense of 'housekeeping' like Vinnie had the week before, when the time is near. Thursday had become my 'housekeeping' day; Vinnie died the next day.

I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. I called the hospital and Vinnie was fine. But I felt very sad that day. It was Friday, August 29. I couldn't explain it but suddenly knowing Vinnie was going to die seemed very final and very sad. I cried out to God and told him I was a fake. I told him I only thought I was strong but I wasn't. I told him that I only thought I was going to be okay with Him taking my Vinnie away but I was not! I told God that I had changed my mind! I didn't want him to take Vinnie at all. I told him I wanted to take pictures with Vinnie from the cruise in Alaska we were suppose to go on. I told God I was suppose to come home every few months and show pictures of Vinnie and me to our kids, grand kids and even great grand kids of us standing outside our RV as we traveled around the country site seeing. I didn't want Vinnie to go now. I wasn't ready. I knew God was going to take him though. I suddenly looked in my bedroom and thought, "If you are going to leave me here without him, this bedroom has to become mine, not 'ours' and proceeded to rip all the bedding off and threw it in the guest room! Before I went to the hospital, I bought new bedding with a gift card a friend had given me and put it in the trunk of my car.

When I got to the hospital parking deck, I got a call from the charge nurse asking when I was going to be there. I asked if Vinnie was okay and she said she'd talk to me when I got upstairs. When I got off the elevator, she wrapped her arms around me and told me with tears in her eyes, that Mr. Vinnie was going to die soon. I went in the room and realized it would probably only be an hour or so. I called Shelly first because she lives the farthest way - about an hour an a half. She left right away and got there in record time for there being so much morning traffic. I called Amy next. I knew she would have to find someone to watch the kids. Ironically, her husband had just arrived home after being sent home for lack of work that day. He watched the kids and Amy got to the hospital in 15 minutes (don't tell but it takes a usual 30 minutes!) Christine was scheduled to close on the house that day. We were all proud of her and her husband and I told her to keep the closing date knowing that her dad was so proud and would not want her to cancel. She came around 1 p.m. Michael was working out of state that day but he still made it back in 4 hours! Vinnie died at 11:30 just about the time that the last papers were signed at the closing. Christine was excited that she got to close on her house before her daddy died, just as she had hoped. God's timing in all of it was perfect.

I wanted to be with Vinnie in his final hour and I wouldn't have traded that time with him for anything, but it was very hard (though also surreal). He was having the hardest time breathing. His poor stomach was sunken in from lack of food and basic deterioration. He looked so small and frail. I must have stroked his hair a million and a half times. I told him that he was the love of my life. I told him that I will never be the same because of his life with me. I told him I'd changed my mind about him going and that I wasn't okay with him leaving us. I told him I wish it could have been me that had been sick instead of him so he could stay with his kids and grand kids. I told him I loved him and would never be the same without him. I never will be. In his last few minutes, he was gasping for air. He would take a breath, and it would be another long and agonizing 30 or 45 seconds and he'd take another one. When it was clear that he'd taken his last breath, I noticed that his heart was still beating. It nearly killed me to watch it beating away and he wasn't breathing. It was awful. I put my hand over his heart until it didn't beat anymore. We each suddenly fell apart. There were no nurses in the room in his final hour. A nurse did open the door at the end and I whispered that Mr. Vinnie had gone Home. She left the room. They gave us our time with him. His fight was over. It was over. He was with the Lord. I couldn't believe it was so final. I just couldn't believe it. I had changed my mind but God had not changed His. Vinnie was gone from this life with us. Gone. We were suppose to say, "I'll see you later" but it sure felt like "Good-bye" to me!

The Party's Over - or was he ready for another one?

Our move to the apartment was interesting to say the least. Hospice sent a hospital bed over to our apartment right away. It adjusted at the head and feet which was great for Vinnie since it was so hard for him to get comfortable. He 'slept' most of the time but it was a restless sleep; he usually tossed, turned, and got up often. He was given an air mattress which moved under him as he did. It made a lot of noise at night. So did Vinnie. These are not good for someone (like me) who learned after 24 years of being a mother, to be a light sleeper. (Photos are more of Vinnie with friends and family at his celebration party)

Vinnie was not only making a lot of noise at night by tossing and turning and getting up to sit in a chair which I had put a massaging pad on, or to sleep on the floor which he did often, he was also talking and "traveling" as the hospice nurse described it. Before our move to the apartment, Vinnie had a vision on night that baffled him (and me). He was reaching for something in his sleep and moaning like he was trying to talk. I was trying to get him up to go to work. He was acting weird. When he was finally up, I asked him about the dream. He said there were angels 'there' and they wouldn't talk to him. He later said, "I just can't figure out what they were doing and why they wouldn't answer me when I talked to them!" He also asked me if I saw them. They were so real to him that he couldn't believe I hadn't seen them too. I hadn't.

The hospice nurse described this as a normal event for someone who is 'traveling'. Traveling for the terminal patient is going in and out of this realm on earth and the one to follow. As a Christian, we knew his visions and 'travels' were of Heaven. As time progressed, he had more and more dreams. One morning while his sister was visiting from New York and having a difficult time accepting that she would have to say "good-bye" to her brother, he asked her if she remembered what he did when their dad passed away 25 years ago. Apparently, while their dad was in a coma for almost a month, and their mother cried every day, Vinnie decided to do something to make her laugh. He propped their dad up in bed, put his glasses on his face and a newspaper in his hand. He yelled for his mother to come because his dad was asking for her. They all hit him of course, but it made them all laugh. (Remember from a previous plot that I mentioned that Vinnie was a real joker?)

He asked her this because he had encountered a visit that night from
his dad. He saw his dad and he was reading a newspaper and turning the page! This made them both cry together. She was then able to understand that it was okay for him to leave. She told Vinnie it was okay to 'go home' and be with Daddy. The really COOL thing is that I was in the room when he told her this. He got up a few minutes later and went back to bed. His sister came over to tell me what Vinnie had said. I told her that I heard what he said. She asked, "You understand Italian?" I said, no he was speaking English. She heard the story in Italian and I heard it in English! It makes sense that he would have said it in Italian. Her Italian is better than her English. The story took place in Italy, with his Italian family, and he was telling the story to her. He wasn't talking to me but God wanted me to hear the story and allowed me to hear it in English. For all those who think that God doesn't do things the same way He did in Biblical days, think again!

After we moved, many of Vinnie's visions were of parties, feasts, lot of company and people. There were cute children, golden retrievers, and 'nice people' everywhere. He ate, drank, and got ready for big parties with lots of food (we all love a good meal out!). It didn't seem that Vinnie was reliving his Celebration Party. It seemed that Vinnie was preparing for another one. One we would not be eating at with him. Everyday it seemed he was more "there' and less and less here and we wondered each day if it was his last. We just didn't know what to expect.

He was getting stronger and stronger doses of pain medicine prescribed each week. His pain was almost unbearable. But one day, out of the blue, he got up and was full of energy. He ate all day long - real meals and snacks and drinks. We hadn't seen him like that in months! He took care of the bills, put the computer together, moved some furniture and had an accountant come over to
hand over one of his accounts! To top it off, he hadn't taken pain medicine all day!!!! He thought that maybe there had been a miracle and he was healed. He was determined to call the doctor in the morning and demand another scan. He really thought his cancer had been taken away. We weren't sure what to think. I had read that a person who is close to death will often times have a day near the end when they are full of energy. It is a symptom that is sometimes called, 'housekeeping'. It's sort of like the maternal instinct that a pregnant woman experiences a day or two before she gives birth. The hospice nurse continually referred to the death process like that of childhood backwards (although I thought that for a Christian it might more accurately be described as one preparing to be born again into the next realm of life - after all, they leave a place of darkness and go where there is light) This was a clear indication that Vinnie was sure to be going Home soon. The night of his "hopeful healing' he was in agony and couldn't get enough pain medicine. He died 10 days later.

The hospice nurse explained this phenomenon as spiritual energy.
The body is preparing to separate and experiences a surge of energy often expressed by the sudden urge and ability to 'tie up lose ends". Hospice staff see so much of this experience every day that they have drawn some pretty fair conclusions according to the similar experiences and description of the experiences they hear and see from their patience, even though each person's experience is unique. It was hard to not imagine that Vinnie was getting ready for another party - one that we weren't going to be at with him. That was a very sad thought for me; but a happy one for him. (This picture is of the standing ovation Vinnie got at the end of his celebration party! It was awesome!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Celebration of Life-"We'll See You Later"

(All the pictures here are from the Celebration of Life party- Vinnie with friends and family)

As I wander around by myself in the kitchen, wondering what in the world I should eat for dinner, I once again break into with tears wishing my Vinnie was still here. I know he's happy. I know he's at peace and he has no more pain. I know that also means I don't have to run down to the bedroom anymore because he needs me, I know it means I don't have to run to the drug store for laxatives, or cough drops in the middle of the night. But I still miss my sweet Vinnie.

I look in the refrigerator for the sixth or seventh time and finally decide on scrambled eggs which I will prepare with left over pieces of shrimp and a few slices of delicious Vermont cheddar cheese. I know this might sound weird but it was actually pretty good. It was quick, easy, and good too. I ate it with oat toast and raspberry jam. It was good. I sure do eat strange things these days.

When Vinnie and I went to our last visit to the oncologist office, we were pretty sure we were done trying to get treatment for Vinnie. We were tired of all the running around back and forth, all the disappointments, the pain, the whole thing. After all, didn't the doctor say he was going to die anyway? This is not what we wanted his death to be like. He wanted to die at home. All the running around was wearing us out! But when the doctor finally came in with the results of the blood test they took, his kryon count was hire than ever before! (see previous blog about kryon function of the kidney) This was the straw that broke the camel's back. We knew right then that we were at the end. We had a long talk with the doctor and he had us talk to the woman in charge of the hospice group at Duke right away. After talking to her we were sure we were doing the right thing. The doctor guessed that Vinnie would have two months to live. The doctor was pretty darn close! We received hospice care right away. Once people start hospice care, they are no longer focused on making the patient live longer; they are focused on making him or her be as comfortable in the process of dieing. Vinnie was really going to die - soon. I was sort of prepared but it also seemed surreal. This couldn't really be happening, could it?

Back in March, shortly after Vinnie got off the wound vac, I was in church one morning by myself (Vinnie wasn't feel well that morning) and I felt like God told me that Vinnie was going to die before my 52nd birthday. I believed he would die in August. So even though I felt hopeful all along, I also knew that these could be his last days. Also in March, I attended the memorial service of a sweet friend's mother. Various family and friends stood up and shared a memorable moment about her. I thought to myself then, that if the doctors did tell us that Vinnie would die, I'd want to throw Vinnie a party to celebrate his life and for him to know how much people loved him.

Once we stopped running around to doctor office visits and hospitals for more tests of some kind, we saw how quickly he was deteriorating. I felt like we needed to have that party soon! So a couple we are very close to offered to put the party together for me. We decided on pot luck after church. We had the party the Sunday in August and I am so glad we decided to have it at the church. There were at least 300 people there! It took a long time for everyone to get through the food line!

We started the 'ceremony' with one of Vinnie's favorite worship songs, "Here I am To Worship". Then people were given a chance to get up to the microphone to share how much they love Vinnie and/or how he's impacted their lives. Many people could not get up and share. They were too heart broken. There was not a dry eye in the place. Vinnie was a grand man in the lives of many! I was so proud to be his wife. We ended the sharing time when our worship leader sang, "I Can Only Imagine". I wasn't sure he'd get through the song; it brought him to tears. It brought us all to tears. Our Vinnie was leaving us and going to Heaven. We'd have to imagine it but soon, he would not be imagining it anymore.

It took over a half an hour for people to say good-bye to Vinnie that day. I think many of them knew they might not see him again. Many of them didn't. He lived three and a half weeks longer and spent most of that time in bed. It was sad to see my Vinnie so sick, so unable to get around, having such a hard time walking, talking, and breathing. Cancer is a terrible disease. It's awful. But Vinnie got to leave this stage of his life, earth, knowing that his life made a difference to others. It's all we ever hoped for. He could leave fulfilled. He could leave with peace. We got to tell him how much we love him. Cancer is terrible but it does give us time we need to say good-bye and let go of the one we love with peace and no regret. That part of cancer is a blessing. It's also a blessing because it gives everyone who is dieing because of it the chance to get their souls right with God. Vinnie's soul was right with God. We knew he was going to be Jesus in Heaven very soon. I can't imagine how hard this journey would have been if we were absolutely sure of that! Our time apart will only a season, not forever.

The next two and a half weeks were busy - VERY busy! Our daughter Amy and her family were living in our house. Vinnie and I decided to take an apartment where it was quieter and less labor intensive. Amy & Mike were going to rent our house. It seemed a very good idea at the time and the hospice staff was very positive about it so we did it. We had dozens of people from our church help us move, pack, unpack, clean, and fix us meals. It was awesome.

As soon as we got in the apartment, visitors started coming. They came every day - people at the office, the church, and even from out of state! They came from New York. We got calls from people in Atlanta, Charlotte, and even Thailand! It was non-stop. Everyone wanted one last time with Vinnie. Unfortunately, Vinnie didn't have much energy left. But it was closure for everyone who came. It was sad, but it added peace for them. Every day he got closer and closer to death. I still wondered what it was going to be like when he actually died, but this time I knew his time was near. I would sometimes watch him for hours in the night wondering if I'd wake up in the morning and he'd be gone. He kept holding on. We kept kept holding on. Eventually the wait became agony for all of us - his family anyway. But we tried to enjoy what ever bit of company we could keep with him. We didn't want him to leave, but we didn't want him to suffer anymore. We were ready to let him go.

At the Celebration of Life party we threw for Vinnie, people also had the opportunity to write their thoughts on cards so we could keep them for ever to read. Amy wrote a letter to her dad. Towards the end of the letter she said, "I'll never say good-bye to you, Daddy, never good-bye. I will only say, "I'll see you later." It became our motto..."we'll see you later."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Love is Patient, love is...

Scripture is so convicting! You've all heard that passage at just about every wedding you've ever attended, right?
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud." 1 Corinthians 13:4

(The picture below is of Vinnie with his four grown kids. Left to front: Amy, Michael, Christine & Michelle (Shelly)

After Shelly's wedding, Vinnie and I took a little vacation in the mountains of Tennesee. We never made it to Alaska liked we talked about for years before. It was our dream to go to Alsaka for our 25th anniversary. We never got there. I joked about seeing mountains and water in Alaska and that we'd get to see the same in TN! But Vinnie was in so much pain and so exhausted from the wedding. He slept most of the time we were away. He had little energy to take walks or even take a drive through a drive-through natural park! I did all the driving there and back. It was a lonely "vacation" for me, really. And he was always struggling with pain. It didn't make much sense to me that he was suppose to be cancer free but he seemed to be more uncomfortable than ever! He was taking strong pain medicine but it never seemed to help. The pain medicine also caused him constipation which caused more pain. He asked me about every hour (I am not exaggerating!), "What should I do now, take more pain medicine or a stool softener, or a laxative?" It required SO MUCH PATIENCE! Wow...I really needed that passage - daily! Love, love, love, is what? Oh yeah...patient and kind. Talk about a need for God to take over! He has the love, He has the patience. I needed it for mine was wearing thin even though I did love him (and still do!). Such is the struggle of selfish people who wrestle with the Holy Spirit who can help us be like God & live with His heart. I have a good friend who lives by the words, "...all for our good and His glory." I cherished those words and leaned on them to help me remember that God had a purpose even in all this!

His pain worsened every week we were back home, and he seemed to sleep all the time. He would try to get up some mornings to go to work, but would often times call me an hour or two later with barely enough energy to speak. He'd tell me he could not make it through the day and was going home. One day after being home all morning sleeping (pain kept him up many nights) he attempted to go to work in the afternoon but ended up coming home around 4 p.m. He drove himself home. It was pouring rain. I suddenly heard a car horn that would not stop blowing. I looked outside and found Vinnie doubled over the steering wheel of his truck.

I ran out to see what he was doing. He told me to call 911. He felt like his stomach was about to explode where the stoma was. He was scared. He had had to pull off the road on the way home too, because he thought he was going to pass out. We went to the ER via ambulance and spent a good portion of the night there but no one could figure out what had happened. I think it was another week or two before we discovered that the cancer was back, but watching him was getting more and more scary and each day was becoming more and more unreliable.

It was a Sunday morning; Vinnie was in bad shape, barely able to walk. We went to church and left immediately after. He was going to meet his son and son-in-law at the home of a friend to show them what needed to be done to finish a ceramic tile job he'd been doing for her. With Vinnie out of work so much, we were not getting his full pay and the side job was vital for us to pay all these doctor visits and prescriptions. He was supervising this job. That afternoon, while trying to show the guys what to do, he laid on the floor curled up in a ball with pain. Once again I took him to the ER.

This time when the doctor in the ER saw how much pain Vinnie was in, he knew Vinnie's was going to have to be admitted so they could figure out how to manage his pain. He had been given several shots of morphine and it was the first time in a long time I'd seen Vinnie seem himself again - no pain! The doctor wanted to know what was causing all the pain so he was sent up to get another CT Scan. He was admitted and I went home to get a little sleep and bring back some clothes for him in the morning. We figured he'd be home in the morning. But I no sooner got home and Vinnie called me. His doctor came in around 11:30 p.m. to tell him what was going on. The cancer was back. It was in the liver, lungs, and traveling to the other kidney, as well as all over the lymph nodes in the back. I went right back to the hospital. We talked and cried for hours. The nurses let me stay in the extra bed in his room that night.

His oncologist came in in the morning to talk to us both. We were told that the cancer was aggressive and that he would get Vinnie set up for chemo but there was no question, Vinnie was going to die. The doctor knew that he would not be able to save Vinnie. It took another 5 days before the doctors were able to get the right combination of pain meds to control the pain. Shortly after he went home, we started going to the doctor to prepare for chemo but each time, there was a hitch...the kryon count in the kidney was too high to do chemo successfully. If I understand it, the kryon is a measure used to determine how well the kidney is draining.

After a few weeks of waiting for the kryon count to drop, the doctor decided should have yet another operation. This time he wanted to open the uterer with a stint to get the kidney draining better but the doctor performing the surgery realized half way through the procedure, that there was no blockage! So he woke up from surgery and was sent home! Talk about patience. We were both being asked to have so much of it! We were both becoming worn out and ready to stop. A week a later, we finally made that choice.
(The picture on the left is of Vinnie with his sister, brother, and sister-in-law.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Weddings and A Memorial Service

By March Vinnie was off the wound vac and returned to work. He was referred to an oncologist sometime in March or early April. The oncologist investigated his health record and was alarmed. Vinnie options for treatment was going to be a challenge; he was limited in the types of chemo he could have. The fact that he had hepatitis could cause a problem if one type of chemo was used. The fact that he had only one kidney presented a problem if the other type chemo was used. The latest CT Scan showed no signs of cancer so Vinnie and I opted to do nothing. We didn't see any reason to make other parts of his body sick when there wasn't even something to be targeting - there was at that point, no sign of cancer.

Early in the year we also pulled together plans for my oldest daughter's wedding. (See Amy and her dad on the right.) We were busy putting flower arrangements together and sewing wildly. But in spite of Vinnie's good report from the doctor, he was still very tired and in a lot of pain. We just thought he was still recovering from the extensive surgery he'd had in January. After all, getting all those organs out is no small thing! He barely lasted through the wedding, and since we did the entire reception ourselves, all the decorations, and food had to be packed up and taken home. He was so exhausted! (Well, we all were!) But it was a lovely wedding.

We soon got the news that she was pregnant - with twins! It was pretty exciting to think of having twin grandchildren! But Amy's pregnancy was not an easy one. She had constant cramping and was often times in paralyzing pain. In spite of several visits to the doctor and even emergency rooms, no one could tell her what the pain was being caused from. By the time it became apparent why she was having the pain, it was too late. She had been taking Tylenol for the pain. Tylenol also brings down fevers. One morning she realized that she had a low grade fever so decided not to take Tylenol until she could see if the fever would rise without it. It did. She was off to the ER again. This time, because of the high temperature and a high white blood count, she was admitted. It was also discovered that she was in labor. At 17 weeks she would lose the babies if they were born so she was quickly given high doses of antibiotics. In spite of the antibiotics, her water broke and the babies were born around 1:30 in the morning. They were alive when they were born, wiggling in her hands, but they died while she was holding them. They never had a chance. I don't know if I was sadder for my daughter's loss or mine. It was one of the saddest days of my whole life, at least up that point.

Amy was allowed to keep the babies with her in the hospital. The staff was very sensitive to her need to have closure. We gave Logan and Lauren a memorial service that Thursday. The next day was rehearsal dinner for my youngest daughter's wedding! Oh my...what a month! Vinnie had another CT scan that week too - it came back "clean". There were no signs of cancer. We could move on to happier events. Looking back on it, I can see that God did not allow us to see the cancer that I believe was still in there lurking and growing in Vinnie somewhere. God wanted us to marry our daughter without thinking he would not live much longer. Now that is grace!

Shelly's rehearsal was actually the weekend before the weekend of her wedding. (I highly recommend this! It gives a lot more time to rest before the wedding and takes a lot of stress off of the two affairs when they are back to back!) Shelly was getting married on our 25th wedding anniversary. She would carry on the tradition of celebrating her marriage on our date. Because it was our 25th, we incorporated the event into Shelly's ceremony by renewing our vows first! We each wrote our own vows to each other and kept it a secret. Only Shelly and our pastor knew what we each had written! We each said something in our vows about keeping our vows for as long as the Lord would allow us to remain together. I couldn't help but wonder if Vinnie felt like I did, that our time wasn't going to be much longer but I didn't ask him. I never asked him. In spite of the recent good diagnosis, I just sensed he knew too. I was more right than I could have imagined I'd be.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Twist of Events

Waiting for Vinnie's surgery was awful. The holidays were a struggle. (See Vinnie on the right on Christmas opening presents with his grandchildren.) Vinnie was so uncomfortable. He wasn't his usual funny self, his patience was a tad bit shorter, and he was tired. But eventually, January 31 came. We drove to Duke and signed Vinnie in for surgery. The waiting room was only supposed to have 2 visitors in it. It was crowded and there were four of us in there-my two daughter, one of my future son-in-laws, and me. We hoped the nurses would not ask some of us to leave. I had a bad feeling about this day but I didn't want the kids to know. I appeared hopeful, expectant, and very positive.

About an hour into the expected 6 hour surgery, we each began to confess that we each had a "bad feeling" about the surgery. We could not say why, or what we thought was going to happen, but we sensed it was not going to be as smooth as we were told it could go. Ten minutes after that, we were asked to go into a consultation room to get an update on how the surgery was going. It was not a good report.

The cancer had grown quite aggressively. It had destroyed too much of the uterer to save what was still a perfectly good kidney but without a uterer, it would have to way of draining. It had to be removed. So Vinnie would not get a reconstructive bladder; he had his left kidney removed, his bladder, prostate, and lymph nodes. The surgery took 10 hours.

Requests for prayer went out to most of our church family and the church members where we each worked, days before he went in for surgery. But this twist in events got urgent prayer requests sent out immediately. So many pastors and church leaders came to see us that afternoon! The funny thing is that not one hospital staff person said anything about the number of visitors we had there that day. They knew our beloved Vinnie was not doing well, that we were in shock, and that we were well loved by many. They even gave us access to the phone in the waiting room in pre-op until the call came that he was sent to ICU. We were finally able to see Vinnie nearly 12 hours later. He seemed barely alive, connected to tubes all over him. He didn't respond for days. It was scary. Once again I began to wonder if this what it would be like when Vinnie died, but it was not to happen now.

He was finally brought up to a room and we began the cumbersome task of learning to change the urostomy bag. There is an art to this task! It has to fit exactly right, the skin has to be completely dry (in an area that is not prone to be dry!), you have to learn to shave the skin without soap, lotion, or other products that can infect the stoma, and it's important to get a good seal unless you want to change sheets and wash laundry all day long. Right after surgery the stoma is at it's largest so it takes even longer to learn how to do it because the size and shape changes so much until it heals. Ugh! It was a frustrating task. One day I could not get it right. I went through all the remaining six bags and finally took Vinnie to the hospital to see the ostomy nurse to show me how to do it all over again. He went with a roll of paper towel on his belly! Oh my goodness. What a fiasco!

Even though we were told he'd be in the hospital for 10 days, Vinnie was sent home 6 days after the surgery. He hadn't been home two days and we noticed that fluid was dribbling down his belly from along the incision. When I took him to the ER, they realized that the stitches in the under layers of skin had come apart. He needed a third surgery! This time all the stitches had to be removed. He was sent home a few days later with a wound vac. A wound vac is a cumbersome battery operated vacuum that sucks fluid from a sponge system taped to the opening in the skin until the skin grows enough for the wound to close on its own. He could not go anywhere without taking the vac with him, and then either couldn't stay long or we'd have to find an electrical outlet to plug him into. He had to wear this thing for almost two months!

The spongy dressing had to be changed three times a week and each session took about an hour because it was such a large wound. I can still remember hearing the nurse saying, it's a pretty wound, Mr. Vinnie, a pretty wound. What? Pretty? It was interesting maybe, but pretty? Only a nurse could say that. Sometimes we'd get a different nurse. It was fascinating to see how differently each nurse repacked his wound. Sometimes the vac would get strange suction through the sponge, usually at night of course, and would make a lot of noise! That was so annoying and we'd get little sleep. It was like having someone trying to start up an old car right in the bedroom!

Winter is a hard month for me. I don't like cold weather. I don't like days of less sunlight either. And that winter was the longest of my whole life I think. I had to learn to change an ostomy bag, I had to take care of very sick man who was always in pain. And in the midst of all this, my daughters were beginning to think they should bump their wedding dates up! I had just started a new job just before Vinnie got sick so I was still working, taking care of Vinnie, and planning two weddings! We had to adjust to the fact that Vinnie would not get a reconstructed bladder and that life for Vinnie would never be the same again! I had no idea that January 31 would mark the beginning of so many twisted events - events that would not only change us forever but end Vinnie's just months later.

Friday, October 10, 2008

It Really Wasn't Funny!

Vinnie was a joker; he loved to make people laugh. If we were ever at someone's home, a party or some kind of social event, Vinnie always had a joke to tell - or several jokes! He had a closet full of riddles he'd pull out to keep kids busy (and grown up kids too). He loved to joke around. (This is Vinnie joking around with his mother.)

After Vinnie's surgery, he was kept overnight and wheeled up to the fifth floor. All the kids were there by the end of the day and we all waited in his room for him to come up. We waited almost an hour, if I remember correctly, for him to come out of anesthesia. I'd never seen Vinnie so quiet! He almost looked dead and I remember wondering if he'd look like that when he'd die but today wouldn't be the day. Today he'd wake up and be okay.

It seemed a long time before he began to show signs of coming around from after the surgery. He suddenly opened one eye. He rolled that eye around and took a picture in his mind of each one of us in the room. After assessing his company, he slowly opened the other eye and again, glanced a moment to take inventory of each person watching over him. I was there with all four of Vinnie's grown up kids. He said nothing for several minutes and then he opened his mouth. Out popped that crazy joke he read to me early in the morning from the magazine! I couldn't believe it! What did he do - go over that joke a hundred times in his mind all through surgery so he wouldn't forget it? Was he prepared to make this sober bunch of family members quickly get over their fears by telling that dumb joke? It made us all laugh. I still didn't think the joke was that funny but I thought Vinnie was. There was and never will be another guy like Vinnie.

The next morning the doctor came to see Vinnie with results of the pathologist report. He had cancer and the doctor hadn't removed it all. Vinnie would have to have surgery again, and his bladder would have to be removed. The doctor spent some time with us both explaining what that would entail and what Vinnie's options were for this procedure. We had no idea that people could have bladders rebuilt inside and no one would ever know that the bladder was gone. We had hope that the bladder would come out and that he would be able to eat, drink, sleep, swim, and do all the normal things he'd always done even without a bladder! We were relieved.

(To the right is a picture of Vinnie goofing around with one of his grandsons.)

Recovering from this "simple" procedure of removing the tumor was a taste of what was to come for us. Vinnie experienced more pain than he had before the surgery. At first this seemed normal because, after all, he was recovering from surgery. But over the next few weeks while we waited for an appointment to meet with the surgeons specialized at reconstructing bladders at Duke University, his pain seemed to grow and grow. By the time we finally got to the doctor's office to meet the next surgeon, he was in terrible pain. We were told that because he cancer was so invasive, he would have only a 50/50 chance to survive the cancer, with or without any of the choices he'd make as to the type of reconstruction he would decide on. That was scary news to me. This doctor was a straight shooter. She told it like it was, not like we would hope it would be. She wanted us to know the facts. We were stunned.

Not only were we stunned about his prognosis, but we were also disappointed to know that he would not even be able to get the surgery until January 31! We would have to wait almost two months for this surgery! The doctor suggested it would be best to have chemo first for six months and then do the surgery but Vinnie was in too much pain to wait six months. He opted to get the surgery and have chemo later. We had no idea that the cancer would grow so fast.

We waited two agonizing months for the surgery. He was in constant pain. He was always uncomfortable. He was not himself. My Vinnie was deteriorating before me. I just didn't know it. He was beginning to change, slowly change, into someone I never knew before. My Vinnie and our life together was changing and it was becoming less and less funny.

A Bumpy Ride

That's my Vinnie on his little green scooter. He loved that little bike and that crazy red helmet! He was one of a kind, that man. He road the grandchildren around on it and drove it to work. He was so proud to be saving so much gas money on his new wheels!

Vinnie has his first surgery in early November. I went to the hospital with him early in the morning. Besides having our babies and being at the hospital for our oldest daughter's babies, neither of us had ever been to a hospital since we knew each other. The kids were all planning to come later in the day but none of us were concerned. Vinnie seemed unclear about whether the tumor that was discovered in the bladder was cancerous. The doctor told him that it was a simple procedure and that it would be treated and he would be fine. So we sat in the waiting room reading magazines waiting to be called into pre-op. Vinnie read a joke to me that he found in a magazine. I didn't think it was that funny, cute, but not that funny. He said he would tell the kids; they'd think it was funny. Then he got called in to pre-op, all the kids arrived by the time he was taken up to the operating room, a procedure that was out-patient surgery. We gave him kisses and waited in the waiting room.

It was suppose to be no more than an hour procedure. I began to wonder if something was wrong when it took almost two hours long. Finally I saw his urologist. He looked concerned and started telling me that it was very invasive and he wasn't sure he "got all of it". He said he'd have to wait to hear what the pathologist report would conclude. He just didn't seem sure he had helped Vinnie. Not having been convinced that Vinnie had cancer, I looked at the doctor at one point and asked, "Does my husband have cancer?" That poor doctor was so sorry to have to tell me, "yes. I thought you knew."

Ironically, when Vinnie and I were about to be married, he told me to prepare myself to be a young widow. He could not tell me why. He just had a sensing that he would die young. I never forgot that. Once, when his GP was concerned about his liver (he had hepatitis B) I thought maybe he'd die like his father did, from that. His dad's liver failed to function, he went into a coma and died almost a month later. His dad died at age 62. But then Vinnie pulled through a period of low liver function. I had hope that maybe he wasn't really going to die young, that we'd grow old together and travel alone in our RV visiting America. It was our dream.

Here I was, now being told that my husband had cancer - for sure - and that the doctor wasn't sure they "got it all". Was this it? Would cancer be the cause of his suspected early death? The doctors continued to give me hope that he was still young, strong, and would easily make it through this. I was given hope that he's make it even though they told me the next day that they didn't get all the cancer and the bladder would have to be removed. My heart sank for a moment but I wanted the fear in my heart to be wrong. I wanted to know that he was going to be okay. I wanted to know that we were not going to go down a long, hard road of taking care of a very sick man. I wanted to believe that he would be okay and we'd get an RV and travel one day. I wanted to believe that after all the hard years of marriage, we were going to get our sweet time ahead of us. I wanted to believe it. The doctors seemed to believe it, but I knew deep down in my heart that it was a real possibility that he wasn't going to make it. I kept hoping anyway. I wanted to hear that crazy green bike come chug on down the driveway once more. He never road that bike again after his surgery. Never again. But we did travel a bumpy road - for many, many months, we were to travel on a very bumpy ride.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Journey Started

Do you know how many times I've heard people say, "It seems like only yesterday"? I hate that phrase and yet in my case, it is true. I remember so many details of the day it's scary. It was October 21, 2007. I was on my way to my church and it was rather early for a Saturday morning. We were hosting a "Women's Day" at the church and I was teaching a session. I left the house around 7:30 a.m. to get my classroom ready. On the way there, I turned on the car radio...which I rarely do, by the way - I don't like radio "noise" first thing in the morning.

The radio is always tuned to K-Love (unless one of my grown daughters borrows the car and changes my channel). A woman was talking about how she had survived cancer and had prayed that God would provide her with enough income to enable her to minister and encourage other cancer patience. Her prayer was answered in an amazing way - her oncologist called her and offered her a full time job to visit his patience to pray with them!

As I listened to this story, it dawned on me that I had not really known anyone close to me with cancer. I worked with two different women who had breast cancer but they were okay after chemo and I wasn't exactly close to them, if you know what I mean. I felt compelled to pray that God would prepare my heart to one day hear the heart breaking news one day that someone I deeply love is diagnosed with cancer. After all, I am getting older and odds are I'd know someone soon who would have it. I thought deep down in the quiet place of my mind that it might one day be my mother. Little did I know that God was preparing my heart right and then to hear the news that afternoon!

After Women's Day, my husband Vinnie arrived to help a crew of other men move chairs back and get the worship center ready for Sunday morning. He stopped me before he entered the building. He casually mentioned that his urologist called him earlier that day. He'd been referred to a urologist when a seemingly stubborn bladder infection would not go away. It had been causing Vinnie discomfort for almost a year! The doctor called him that morning with the results of a recent test - he had a tumor in the bladder and it was cancerous!

As horrible as the news was, I was also overwhelmed by the fact that God, my Heavenly Father, was so gracious and kind, that He (the Holy Spirit) prompted me to turn that radio on earlier that morning and compelled me to pray for my heart to be prepared. The whole time God was doing just that! What a loving God! Perhaps there are some people who would have been mad at God for allowing their spouse and friend of almost 25 years to get cancer in the first place, but I never saw it that way. I know people get cancer. It's one of the results of living in a fallen world, a world far removed from the utopia we were meant to live in. And if Christians can't be light in the struggle of cancer, how will anyone else see God when they need to most - when they may be close to the end of their time on earth?! No, I wasn't upset that God let this happen. This stuff happens. I will never forget how very blessed I felt that God prepared me to hear this terrible sad news.

I knew we were in for a long journey. I do believe deep down in my heart I knew Vinnie would die from the cancer but I didn't know when, and I was given hope several times from doctors and thought many times that I was wrong, that he would survive it. He didn't.

I am terribly sad to no longer have my sweet Vinnie here with me. I miss his crazy voice and that Italian accent of his! I long to hear it sometimes, and though it makes me cry like a baby, I listen to his voice that I have on a CD sometimes. I will always have his voice to listen to. I'd like more than that most of the time, but I do have that and I am thankful for modern technology for this.

My pain, sorrow, and sadness are still quite raw and I am still trying to figure out what my life without Vinnie is suppose to be like. I guess I will have a different lifestyle now. It is hard to accept the title of widow but that is what I am - a widow. It will be long road to travel, an adventure I don't really want - but I am still here and I don't want to live without joy. So I look for ways to experience joy - with family and friends. Will you take the journey with me? I'd love for you to "meet" my Vinnie; TONS of people of just loved him to pieces. I know you will too. I also hope it will encourage you - after all, I have an awesome Shepherd who will be holding my hand as I walk it, and some pretty awesome people in life helped too. I'll tell you all about it and with Him in the lead, it is sure to be awesome trip!