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."


carol at A Second Cup said...

I am typing through the tears. You are eating some strange things for dinner!

And I see you figured the comment thing out!!

Gailie said...

Hey girlfriend...we eat because we have to, right? I have no one telling me that it's weird so I'll consider my new diet plan - experimental! It's workin' for me!