Go ahead & grab some....I'll wait....Ok, ready?
This is going to be a very, very, very long post. Please keep that in mind as you continue to read.
I feel like I need to share the final moments I had with my beloved husband & why they are so precious to me. I feel like I need to open up that part of my heart so people can understand what I experienced & how it has changed me. I have made myself transparent on this blog for a reason - partly because it is one place I can share my thoughts & feelings openly. I know that if people have an issue with what I say, they don't have to read my blog anymore.....I won't be offended by that. I have also made myself transparent because I know there are others going through the same things that I have gone through, am going through right now & will go through. I feel that God has given me this platform as a way to reach others for Him, point others to Him & glorify Him with what I say. I am also transparent as a way to keep myself accountable for my words, actions, behavior, etc. Yes, I can go back & delete posts that I feel shine a bad light on me or something, but that would be untrue. I want to be open, honest, raw & unfiltered to keep myself on track.
With that said, let me start at the beginning of the end.....
On Friday, July 8, 2016, I received a phone call from Daron's doctor. I remember that I was at church setting up decorations for VBS which was starting that Monday. The doctor wanted to let me know that Daron's nutrition intake had declined quite a bit since April & he was having more issues swallowing food - he had gone from taking in 70% down to about 40%. Because of this fact he had dropped 12 pounds since April. I wasn't too worried since he had put on some weight over the years & was still at a healthy weight. She was thinking of starting him on a steroid burst to see if that would help & wanted to get my opinion on it. I told her that I would be ok with it as long as she kept an eye on his behavior & alerted the staff to how the steroid would effect him. But as we talked more we decided against putting him on the steroid & would see how he did over the weekend.
On Monday, July 11, 2016, the doctor called me again & said that his nutrition intake had declined even more over the weekend & that he was only taking in about 5-20% each day. That was a huge drop in 2 days. He wasn't even eating a full meal & was maybe only eating one meal a day. She said she was ready to put him into hospice care if I was ok with that. This would give them a little more freedom when it came to oral medications - they could switch them to injection form & remove the ones he didn't really need at this point. I took a deep breath & agreed to that decision. When we got off the phone I called his parents, our pastor & my brother to let them know what had been decided. I remember that after the last phone call I took a deep breath & prayed "Ok God, please let Daron hold on until VBS is done." I know it was a selfish prayer, but I didn't know what else to pray at that point. I sat down at my computer & made sure that I had everything printed off & ready for the rest of the VBS week just in case I needed to leave at a moments notice. When I got to church the next morning I didn't say anything to anyone. I had put it on Facebook & decided I would wait to see if someone said anything. Since no one did, I kept the information to myself. I did talk to the other VBS directors & showed them what I had put together so they were prepared. That was it. We didn't discuss it further & we let things happen as they would. I did fill in the VBS staff on Friday when everything was done so they could be praying over the days ahead.
My in-laws & I went to visit Daron throughout the week. My brother went with Taylor & I one day as another source of support so Taylor could say goodbye. I didn't like that I felt I was forcing him to say goodbye, but I didn't want him to regret it if he didn't. Each visit was bittersweet as Daron became less verbal. I waited until his brother here in town could go see him while he was still alert & for his brother in Florida to talk to him on the phone. On Friday, July 15, 2016, I asked the doctor to fully medicate him so he was comfortable & relaxed through the end. She agreed that it was a good decision & put the order in right away. That was the last time any of us heard his voice this side of Heaven.
I continued to go to Battle Creek with my in-laws through the next week so we could all see how he was doing & get regular updates. Taylor & I went to visit on Friday, July 22, 2016 & it wasn't a pleasant experience due to the way one of the nurses interacted with us. Taylor wasn't bothered by seeing his Dad again since Daron was sleeping & he didn't seem to be in pain. Thankfully I have blocked out the details of the visit, but I remember it wasn't a pleasant one.
On Wednesday, July 27, 2016, my mother-in-law went with me to a Care Team meeting for Daron. It wasn't a normal meeting - but it was nice to see all of the staff & hear from them. We were told that Daron had a slight fever, his heart rate was very rapid, but he appeared to still be hanging on & doing well. I thanked the care staff for all that they had done over the years he had been there. After the meeting we went to see Daron again. This time, for some reason, I couldn't hold the tears back as well as before. I think at that point I knew something was going to happen sooner rather then later. My mother-in-law & I headed back home & then got lunch with my father-in-law, Taylor & my nephew. When I got home my gut was telling me something that I needed to listen to. I was trying to fight the feeling to go back to Battle Creek as soon as I could. I called the doctor & asked if everything she had told me that morning meant we were coming to the end. She said she was just about to call me & tell me I should return as soon as I could. She didn't expect him to go more then 48 hours at that point. The next hour or two are still a blur. I called my sister-in-law to see if Taylor could stay with them, packed a bag for me & a bag for Taylor. Talked to my friend, talked to my mom, talked to my pastor, talked to my mother-in-law again. Just after I got in the car to take Taylor to my sister-in-laws I got a text from my mother-in-law asking if I wanted her to come with me. I picked her up after I dropped Taylor off.
We got to Battle Creek to discover that the staff had set up the room with a fold out bed & a comfy chair. We settled in & passed the time talking that night. My father-in-law came a few hours later & then my pastor came around 9pm. We all talked & laughed for awhile before the two guys headed home. I slept in the chair next to the bed with my hand on his chest all night. His breathing was rapid & shallow & his heart was racing. I wanted to be able to feel his chest rise & fall. The next two days, Thursday, July 28 & Friday, July 29, 2016, were filled with staff coming in to say their goodbyes to Daron & talk to us for a little while. It was a blessing in disguise as I look back now. It was wonderful to hear how he touched so many different lives in the 5 years he had been there. After the third person came in, I wasn't sure how I would be able to handle anymore, but God gave me the strength I needed. Each story has stayed with me & I am grateful they were willing to share. The staff was amazing during this time as well. Each person who stopped in asked if we needed anything or if they could get us anything. I am so thankful for each person who worked with Daron over the years.
Thursday also brought a visit from Daron's two older boys so they could say their final goodbyes. They stayed for about an hour & we just talked about random things. Friday brought a final visit from Daron's older brother & sister-in-law who live in town. They brought supper & we talked, laughed & remembered. Daron's dad decided he would stay that evening (he had been going back home each night so he could get a decent night sleep & then coming back the next day). Since we thought he might pass soon, he wanted to be there. The next morning, Saturday, July 30, 2016, he went to get breakfast from McDonald's. We had noticed a slight change in Daron's breathing, but it wasn't drastic. After breakfast, one of the nurses asked me if I wanted to take a shower. I jumped on that offer quickly & was thankful to be able to step out of the room for awhile & clean up. Daron's dad decided he was going to head home & get a few things just in case we needed to stay a few more days. His mom & I sat & talked some more, read our books & she made a few more phone calls.
During a phone call to Daron's oldest brother, we saw his breathing really change. It went from shallow to really paused in between breaths. I asked her to hit the call button so we could alert the staff to the change. I knew there wasn't anything they could do, but I asked anyway. They got him some medication to help calm him just in case. We were worried that his Dad wouldn't make it back in time when he called to say he had just pulled into the parking lot. His mom went to meet him at the door & I had a few moments alone to tell Daron I loved him, he could let go, I would take care of everything, that Taylor loved him, that we would be ok & I would see him at the Pearly Gates. I raised the bed up as high as it would go so I could lay my head on his chest & listen to his heart beat. That was something I had missed doing for 5 years. I always fell asleep listening to his heart beat. I just wanted to be able to hear it again so it would be fresh in my mind.
Daron's parents came back into the room & I think we got 5 or so minutes with him before his final breath on this earth. I kept my head on his chest, asked God to take my heart beat out of my ears, & I listened to his heart slow down. I heard his heart beat for the final time & his parents saw him take his final breath. I didn't move for what seemed like an hour just to make sure his heart was done beating. We pushed the call button & informed the staff that Daron was gone......2:27pm July 30, 2016....
Things were a blur again. His parents & I made phone calls to let people know that he had passed. The Medical Officer on Duty came in to pronounce & ask the questions that needed to be asked. The chaplain came in & asked if we wanted a verse read & then prayer. We asked him to do what they normally do when a veteran passes away. He excused himself & went to gather the staff so they could say their goodbyes. The staff each shared something they would miss about Daron or a good memory of him. We cried together & laughed together. Then they played Taps on the CD player......I couldn't hold it in anymore. The wave of grief that crashed over me was to much to contain & I sobbed from the depths of my soul. I collapsed & thankfully the bed caught me & I sobbed. When Taps was done, the wave subsided & we thanked the staff for everything. They told us to take as long as we needed with Daron, but we were ready to leave. We said our final goodbyes & I gently caressed my husbands arm for the last time on this earth. The sound of that door closing behind us seemed louder then usual. To me it sounded like it was slamming shut on my life with Daron. It sounded like it echoed down the halls & to the very depths of my heart. I gave hugs to the staff as we left & thanked them all again for everything.
Leaving Battle Creek that day, I was numb. I remember leaving the grounds, yelling at the radio when they played 'Just Be Held' by Casting Crowns - I was only 5 minutes from the VA - & then I was pulling into my driveway at home. I don't remember anything about the hour drive back. I went into auto pilot on the drive home & thankfully arrived safely. I got changed, let the dog out & then went to my brothers house. I cried on the shoulders of my brother & sister-in-law & received big smiles from my nephew & niece. My sister-in-law made sure I ate something & we got to talk for a little bit before Taylor realized I was there. They offered to let us spend the night, but I just wanted to be in my own bed & so did Taylor. I was pretty weepy that night at home. Taylor gave me lots of hugs & we snuggled for awhile. When I knew he was in bed, I cried myself to sleep. I cried myself to sleep for the entire week between Daron passing & the funeral. I still have nights where I dry myself to sleep.
The week between his passing & the funeral was intense. Thankfully I had already pre-planned the funeral, so I just had to go in & sign papers. Taylor & I got new outfits & he got his hair cut before the funeral. I went in to church & got the photo boards ready on Thursday, August 4. My brother helped me set up for the funeral on Friday August 5. He made sure Daron's uniform looked it's best & was properly displayed. We laughed at the pictures & I shared some memories behind some of them. I remember that I didn't want to go to sleep that night. I thought that if I stayed awake the funeral wouldn't happen......it didn't work.
On Saturday, August 6, 2016, we had Daron's funeral. Taylor & I had a few moments alone at the front of the church to just be together & calm ourselves before what was about to happen. I remember looking at my son, looking so grown up, & telling him that he didn't have to be the man of the house. I told him it wasn't his job & that he just needed to be a kid. Then we went out to meet with family & friends. I was amazed at how many people came to say goodbye to Daron & to be there for us. There were just over 200 people in attendance that day. We held a visitation before the funeral & then the family went to pray together five minutes for the service started. I still remember that when my Pastor said Amen my body froze & the tears hit me. I didn't want to get out of my seat, I mumbled "I don't want to do this. I'm not ready yet." Everyone waited on me to get up so we could go in. I didn't want to.....I didn't want to say goodbye.....I didn't want this to be the end already. I wasn't ready. But, ready or not, I had to force myself to stand up & walk into the sanctuary. My brother held my arm & stayed next to me the whole time. We had a lovely service for Daron - most of it was a blur & I have a CD recording of it if I want to go back & listen to it. People came up & hugged us during the luncheon. When everything settled, Taylor & I packed up & went home to change. Then we went to my brothers house for the afternoon. We had one more thing to do before our goodbyes were over.
The Military Honors burial service was held on Monday, August 8, 2016, at Fort Custer National Cemetery. I asked that just family be there so we could grieve privately together. We met with the cemetery escort who explained a few things to me that I had to do over the next few days. Then he talked with my pastor about how things would go. When he got back to his vehicle, my heart tightened up. The cemetery sounds bells when a procession is coming through to let others know that there is a service taking place. That sound is still fresh in my heart. Seeing the flag at half staff still brings me to tears. We were led to the committal shelter where the honor guard was waiting. A gentleman approached me as two men in uniform carefully removed Daron's urn from the hearse. He told me his name, but I don't remember, & he was my escort into the shelter. I was seated in the middle of the bench - Taylor was on my left & my brother was on my right with the rest of the family surrounding behind me. The military honors service started - kind words were said, the 3 volley gun salute took place - shaking me to my core - & Taps was played. It was during Taps that I realized Taylor was crying next to me - I put my arm around him & gave him a big squeeze. After Taps, the two men in uniform unfolded & refolded the flag which was then presented to me. I was also presented with three gun shells & a scroll with the history of the flag on it. It was then time for my pastor to say a few words -- I still don't remember what scripture he read or what exactly he said. My brain & heart had gone numb. We were then led to the site where Daron was to be buried. His urn was carried to the workers & my brothers surrounded me to hold me up. When he was placed in the ground my heart sank to my feet & I couldn't breath for a few moments. I'm certain that half of my heart is buried with Daron. The sound of them tapping the dirt into place still haunts me. They let us approach the grave & my brothers led me there to make sure I could walk. I crouched down & touched the dirt covering my husband & said one last goodbye. When I stood up, Taylor wrapped his arms around me, buried his face in my chest & cried. I just held onto him for I don't know how long.
I remember hugging my pastor & our new youth pastor, both of Daron's brothers, his parents, his older sons, my step mom & both of my brothers. Daron's mom wanted a photo of the grand kids since they were all there. Then we decided to go to a restaurant that had Pasties from the UP. Daron loved eating those growing up. We enjoyed some time together & then we headed our separate ways. Taylor & I spent some time at my brothers place that afternoon just to get our heads back on straight before going back to all the memories at home.
That day closed the book on my life with Daron. It is still so surreal to think that he is gone. I still find myself thinking that I should go visit him. I have found myself heading to Battle Creek when I go to run errands. Thankfully I catch myself before I get to far from home. Over the past few months, we have taken a few trips to the cemetery. Here are a few of those photos & memories......
Taylor & I went back to the cemetery a few weeks after the burial to make sure his headstone was in place & put flowers on his grave. We didn't plan on bringing flowers. We had to run to the Meijer a few miles away to get them once we saw the headstone was in place. Taylor picked out this beautiful orange roses.
The VA held a Memorial Service in honor of the veterans that had passed recently. Below are a few photos of the program & bookmark we received. There were not a lot of people there, but Taylor & I were grateful to have the chance to go. The VA did so much for Daron & they continue to check on us regularly to see how we are doing.
I went to the cemetery for a little while when I was at Gull Lake for a Widows Retreat. I was thankful for some quiet time on a beautiful fall day. There are quite a few trees around Daron's resting place, but this one tree was absolutely beautiful with the changing colors.
We went the day before Veterans Day to place flowers. The red & white roses were a nod to our wedding & the blue flowers were part of the floral spread at his funeral. It was odd to see the start & end of our marriage together in one floral arrangement, but the flowers were perfect.
In December, we went with his parents to place a wreath for Christmas (I didn't get a picture of it). It took us a little while to find his headstone under all the snow. We also stopped at the VA before placing the wreath to take them some fudge (inside joke).
Thank you for reading this long post. I know it was super emotional. I hope it made sense considering I am writing with tears streaming down my face. The emotions surrounding this time frame are still at the surface 6 months later & they come without warning when I talk about it. Thank you for reading my raw, hidden moments. Each day gets a little easier & I know that is only by God's grace.