Sunday, January 14, 2007

Facing Mortality

When I was growing up, my dad would occasionally talk about death. He would joke that he “wanted to go first,” because he didn’t want to be without Mom.

My dad lived a very hard life. His mother died when he was sixteen. His father, a gambling-addicted alcoholic, would steal money from Dad, which he earned with a part-time job at a grocery store, to go gambling.

My grandfather gambled so much money away that there wasn’t enough to pay for household bills, like heat or electricity. My dad spent his teenage years taking cold showers and studying by flashlight. There were no Merry Christmases or Happy Birthdays. Those days were gift less and cheerless.

After a year or so, my grandfather remarried. My dad’s stepmother made Cinderella’s look like a saint. She had two teenage sons of her own and provided for them, but not for Dad. She kicked Dad out several times, when he was only seventeen, throwing his things out in the street. My dad would have to gather his clothes and beg his father to let him back in.

Dad’s life turned around at eighteen when he met Marilyn. She was a sweet Christian girl who Dad dated briefly. She was the one who led Dad to the Lord. Thanks to Marilyn, Dad met Pastor and Mrs. Rowe, who helped send him to Moody where he met Mom, and (long story short) eventually they married and had me.

Dad had purposed in his heart not to be like his father. And, as his daughter, I can tell you that he was nothing like my grandfather.

Dad was an amazing, godly, father and if I had all the words in the world they could not convey the love, gratitude, respect, admiration, and devotion I have for him.

Due to his hard knock life and his mother’s early death, Dad assumed that he was not long for this earth. He often talked about it with Mom, but she (understandably) did not want to talk about it. No wife wants to think about life alone, without her best friend.

So, when Dad did die, from a heart attack at age 53, Mom and I speculated that “Dad knew.” It would comfort us, that knowledge that Dad was not surprised. That his death had been at the forefront of his mind, he’d been aware of the possibility.

We were grateful his death had been quick and painless. Our hearts were able to accept that we weren’t able to say any “good-byes.” And, of course, as Christians, we knew he was in the perfect place, the happiest he could be, and that we would eventually see him again.

I’m not saying it was easy. Those years were, without doubt, the most arduous of my life. The deep sadness in my own heart from the loss of my father and the excruciating pain of watching Mom deal with the emptiness and heartbreak was almost unbearable.

But God was gracious as only He can be. He provided the grace we needed.

Dad’s attitude toward death, his untimely death, and the realization that death is unpredictable – all of these came together and helped me understand the fragility of life.

I thank God for all this, because I, too, now feel that I am not long for this earth.

Oh, I know that “my times are in His hands,” and I’m not being presumptuous enough to assume that I KNOW God will take me home while I am still young. The rapture may take us, or I may live 100 years. But…I have had a feeling. That’s all it is, but I imagine it is the feeling Dad had all those years.

My feeling became more of a reality to me this past Friday. I went to the doctor because of a persistent pain in my right ankle. While I was waiting for the doctor, the nurse took my blood pressure. She looked at me, frowned, and took it again. She shook her head and said, “It’s high.”

My doctor came in, examined my ankle and ordered some X-rays. Twenty minutes later, we learned I had a separated bone in my foot that was causing the pain. The nurse helped me get an air cast on with orders to wear it for the next two weeks.

Then, the doctor told her to take my blood pressure again. She did. This time, she looked even more startled and remarked that, “It’s even higher than when I took it last time.”

She went back out to the doctor’s station and told the doctor. My doctor came in and decided to take my blood pressure reading herself. She took a reading on each arm and then went back out in the hallway to consult the nurse.

I couldn’t hear what they were saying, just that their tones seemed urgent.

When my doctor came back in, she told me that my blood pressure was 156 over 96. It was hypertension. My heart was in serious jeopardy. With my dad’s history of heart disease, the same disease that killed my grandmother and grandfather, my doctor was extremely worried.

She immediately prescribed heart medication and gave me strict orders not to do any exercise or get upset and risk raising my blood pressure even one degree higher. She told me that if my blood pressure goes to 160 or 170, I will have a heart attack and die.

I am 28.

I think I just sat there in shock. Dying from a heart attack before I reach thirty wasn’t something I’d envisioned, even with my thoughts on an early death.

I told her I was on Weight Watchers and eating much better than I had before. She told me that was great and not to stop. But, she said that genetics play a more important role than weight. She told me that even if I stay on Weight Watchers (which I am) and lose my excess weight, I will probably still be at high risk for heart disease.

Together, we marked out a plan. I’m going to keep eating healthy, but I’m not allowed to exercise until my blood pressure is closer to the 130’s – 140’s. She put me on heart medication, and I’ve got an appointment to go see her next week to monitor any changes to my blood pressure.

I will stay on the medication until there is a change, and then we may try to decrease the meds, but she told me there is no guarantee.

She was so glad we caught it when we did, especially since I was just there for my ankle. But, I suppose, God knows why He brought me there.

While I am on medication, we are not supposed to try to get pregnant. This particular medication can put a fetus at risk. So, there goes another couple of months.

It was startling, and both Mom and Brett were worried when I told them. But, as I said earlier, my times ARE in HIS hands.

God led me to the doctor and this diagnosis. It is a little déjà vu since Dad visited the doctor and was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medication. Three days later, he died.

So, as my family and friends, I would just ask that you pray for me. To be obedient to God’s will, to use my time wisely, and to live the life I’m meant to live.

I’m so very glad my times ARE in HIS hands.

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