For , a few short months I have had a dad again. I am not really sure how it happened but I choose to believe it is the grace of God healing my grieving heart. Only to have it grieve again.
This summer has been an especially difficult one for me. I have felt distant from God. My mind is a jumbled mess of unspoken words. Frustration at home with communication. Self imposed isolation. I have been meeting with two of my friends, working through the Experiencing God bible study by Henry Blackaby. It has admittedly been a struggle for me. Just when I think I know God I come reeling back to reality with the realization that I don’t know Him well at all. I live my life thinking I CAN KNOW Him if I just do a, b, c. But it’s not as simple as that. In order to know God, I must experience Him and to do that I must join Him where He is working. Two days ago, one of the assignments in the study was to take a walk with God and talk to Him. Talking to God has been especially difficult for me lately. For some reason I cannot calm my mind enough to focus on a heartfelt prayer. I used to pray out loud to help me focus and now I cannot. It has been a difficult adjustment. But I took that walk with God. And I talked to Him. When I arrived home, I had a tug at my heart to visit my friend Jim. And another tug to make a meal for his family. I realized that God was asking me to JOIN him where He is working.
Jim has ALS. I met Jim several months ago. It was the providence of God. His daughter, Shelly works at Kaiser and was talking to a nurse about her father’s recent ALS diagnosis. This nurse happens to know my sister (also a nurse) and told Shelly that her friend’s sister had ALS and told her about my Facebook Group. Shelly came home and looked me up and saw that her uncle was one of my Facebook friends. I met her uncle Paul when I was doing Crossfit. (small world, isn’t it?) God had been working on this for years, before my diagnosis was even on the radar. Soon after he put me in contact with her.
As you can imagine, Shelly was overwhelmed with her father’s diagnosis. Jesse and I offered to meet with the family and answer any questions they had about ALS. But Jim and his wife were not ready to meet me. I think they had fear about seeing another person with ALS. I think they thought I would be in a wheelchair and crippled and it was overwhelming. But we continued to text each other. And I invited them to attend my ALS support group with the Greater Sacramento Chapter of the ALS Association. They finally attended one of these support groups and my connection with Jim was instantaneous. Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of being safe with a person who understands your grief and loss and hurt. Jim, like me, has bulbar ALS. From that day on, we became friends.
Jim is 81 years old. About a week after we met, Jim developed pneumonia due to aspiration. This is the major complication with bulbar ALS, when eating and drinking become compromised. Because of his age, I was worried about him. I visited him in the hospital and his face lit up like nothing I’ve seen before. Our friendship was blossoming.
Jim, like my dad, feared a feeding tube. But I had shown him mine at the support group and he saw how unassuming it was. I think it eased his mind. During his stay in the hospital, they were able to place his feeding tube and soon he was on the road to recovery. After he was released from the hospital, I began visiting him at home.
During this time, Jim was still able to speak. As his voice deteriorated, I still had an uncanny ability to understand him. I believe this is because of my own speech loss. As time passed, he needed to use other forms of communication more and more. I understood his frustrations. Technology is difficult for Jim, like it was for my dad. But I showed him my device and he used it when I visited. And every time I visited, Jim’s face would light up with the biggest smile. Being mute in a speaking world is so lonely. And when we are together, we feel whole again. I feel at ease, understood even with no words. We sit and just be. It is marvelous. There are no words to describe our bond.
Jim also became interested in spiritual matters. He wanted to know why bad things happen to good people. He wanted to know why he has suffered so much loss. He wanted to know how to get to heaven. He wanted to go to church. I was able to bring him to church twice. He had questions. He asked my pastor to visit him and we both met with Jim and talked about these things. But there are no answers to our why’s. Jim accepted Christ while visiting church with his brother. He told me he was at peace with dying. He was not afraid. I began to see a settle peace with Jim. A surrender. A letting go.
Well, back to two days ago……I had been camping for several days so when I came in, I asked Jim if he had missed me. His face lit up with a huge smile and he opened his arms up as wide as he could, indicating that he missed me so, so much. I sat with him holding his hand, stroking his arm, massaging his feet. You see, Jim is on his final journey. His breathing muscles are becoming too weak. He could not write. He could not type. But we spoke in our silence. For several hours I sat with him as he drifted in and out of sleep. I was reminded of my fathers last days. In these moments, I realized that I was the daughter he needed and he was the dad I needed. A gift from God in our grief.
Last night, I received a text from Shelly. Dad is unresponsive, the end it near. I went for a visit after my yoga class. He is resting comfortably, breathing shallow….just like my dad. As I sat, stroking his hand, I wished I had the words to whisper to him how much his friendship has meant to me. I wished I could tell him everything is going to be ok and that I loved him. I wanted to tell him to make sure he understood. I wanted to sing to him like I sang to my dad. I wanted to tell him I would meet up with him again in heaven. Oh what a glorious day that will be for us both to have our first verbal conversation!
Shelly told me I am officially adopted into the family. I may not see the total picture and understand God’s ways, but I am so glad that this week I joined Him where He is working. In the life of my new friends. May others see His majesty amidst all this sorrow.
I will be by Jim’s side until he transitions into the arms of Jesus. We are friends for eternity.