Friday, January 29, 2016

The "missing" part is slowly coming in like a rising tide that washes away the day's sandcastles.  Each new event that does not include her, regardless of how small, inevitably elbows into that crowded sphere of our consciousness made up of memories and experience. No one wants to be forgotten.  No one wants to forget.  That's why we take thousands of pictures and videos of our loved many that we would never have time to revisit them.  Even so,  by the time we do have time to sit down and reflect months or years later, changes have taken place that make it impossible to recapture our universe as it was that perfect moment,  for our universe it constantly changing. That is the basic nature of time.  I realize I'm sounding like Matthew  McConaughey in a Lincoln commercial.  I get that way sometimes.  But our lives are made up of a long series of "moments" organized, ordered and recorded in our memories.  We are only in any given moment for...a moment.  We have a large canvas portrait of Whitney in our family room. It was a gift from two special friends of Whitney's...of ours.  She's there with her beautiful, bald head and a smile that captures her spirit and the essence of what made her so doggone lovable. When that rising tide threatens to wash away, I focus on that portrait and try to be in that moment with her. I may have to force the smile at first, but her smile takes away all the effort.
It's how I see I want to remember her when she was mine.  We visit briefly...just long enough to resist the tide--a tide that will inevitably return again and again.  But we can't live there. Whitney, and others who have had life cut short, have taught us to love life to it fullest regardless of our situation. We have things to look forward to. We are at our most miserable and love life least when we feel we have nothing to look forward to. It can be a vacation, a date, retirement, or something as simple as a  bag of popcorn and a good movie.  However, we must bear in mind that  whatever it is we look forward to and however far into the future we try to peep, the same inevitable, granite wall arises on the horizon.  But, that's ok.  Whitney's life and faith testified that we don't need fear or recoil from that end to our moments here as we are.
Where she is--where we can be--there are no moments, no need for pictures or videos to remind us of what a wonderful day it was.  We will exist in a perfect day.
 Whitney, in one of her letters to Taylor, said  "If there is any way that I can communicate with you from heaven, I will." I always wondered if heaven may exist all around us...not in a far away galaxy or hiding behind Jupiter. Scientists tell us that, possibly, most of what makes up our universe is virtually undetectable and other dimensions may exist on other planes undetectable to us, as well. So, I have no issue in believing that our loved ones are with God and His presence is everywhere.
 Here I go with another Matthew McConaughey reference.  He was in a movie last year named "Interstellar".  It had a lot to do with time travel and the idea that the only thing that could pass between two instances in time was gravity.  It was how he communicated with his daughter in the past...or in the future of his past...something like that.  Now, I'm sure that God, in His infinite wisdom, keeps a close account of messages from the "other side".  But I would like to think that at those times when we are in His presence--focused in meditation or raptured in praise--and that overwhelming and unexplainable sense of joy flushes through our heart, that same joy is overflowing from our loved ones into us. Perhaps the joy of God's presence, too grand to contain in any dimension or universe, is their way of communicating with us.  I can't think of a more urgent and magnificent message to send.  I can't back that up with scripture, but I find comfort in the possibility.

I'm writing this primarily to those of you who have lost loved ones.  And I know that there are many who may not have the comfort of knowing for sure that their loved ones were "good to go".  I include myself in that group as I have many friends who have passed over the years.  2 Peter chapter 3 tells us  "God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance".  God's Will is that our loved ones are in heaven. His Will raised the mountains and carved the canyons that hold the oceans. His Will brought His Son to the cross to take the blame for our sins. We see firsthand the mass and power of God's creative hand as we marvel at the universe and its vastness in a clear night sky.  I firmly believe that we can apply that same marvel to the vastness of  God's mercy, grace and love.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My wife, my constant, my axis...she was the foundation of Whitney's faith and fight. Ramona demonstrated the driving force that was the core of Whit's counter attack against a disease that tried to rob her of everything.  That driving force is a mother's love...not just an emotion, but a tangible , measurable, observable, umbilical that is as powerful and as gentle as gravity.   As they say, "man, I'm glad I'm a man", but I envy that connection and what a wonder it must be to have life woven from a mother's own flesh and blood.  I believe the only man that could ever understand that bond would be Jesus Christ.  Consider facebook...a perfect example.  Overwhelmingly, it is the proud mothers who fill the pages with pictures and videos and praises for their children and grandchildren.  It was a mother's love that gave Whitney the will to fight in spite of the pain and discouragement of the darkest days.  It was that same force that kept Ramona on her feet through months of emotional, physical, and spiritual "trauma"...I don't think that is too exaggerated a word to use. I could fill pages with stories of her love and commitment. 
When Whitney was at her lowest, when her pain was the worst, when her arms ached most to hold her children, when Ramona's despair was at its greatest,  I asked myself the hardest question.  If I could have caught a glimpse of our future years ago  when I left a Christmas play practice with the nervous intentions of calling the "leading lady" and asking her out for a date, would I still have asked?    You can't tell this from where you are but I am pausing for about 5 minutes to consider............the answer is always "yes'",  and always will be. 

This was a facebook post I shared a few days ago that most of you have already read.

"Ramona is finally back on her feet. Just two days after the funeral, her back went out so badly she was bedridden for 5 days. She's still not 100%. I actually thought she had slipped a disc. I figured my Golden GIrls  needed a rest and I could handle this. So, I took the week off to "fill her shoes". Don't babies know they should lie motionless when we are changing a poopy diaper? There should be some rules of engagement here. Luke loves to play in the commode. If I could just get him to sit on it. He is a human octopus. Is it really necessary to fold all those towels? So, Taylor's school lunch sandwich has to be cut in what shape? And trim the edges off? Hey, my mama made me eat the edges! Must I sweep before I mop? Does not the dirt get caught up in the mop anyway? Do I have to make Taylor brush her teeth? I mean, she's gonna get new ones. Did I mention Luke is a human octopus? And why can't he wear pajamas all day? Paper plates rock! Had Ramona Cannon Hardee's friends not come to my rescue by day five, I may have stowed away on the next banana boat out of Charleston harbor. But, seriously, she felt it was so unfair to have to lay up for days. But I asked her, what else could have possibly made you get the rest your body so desperately needed after a year of holding our family together? God works in mysterious ways. And, hey fellas, appreciate your ladies."



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

One of the hardest things to watch was Whit's face when she asked when the IV would be hooked up. It was her first evening home from the hospital and she had been unable to eat solid food since Christmas.  We told her there were no plans to hook up an IV unless she requested it.  The reasons for this are complicated and difficult to discuss.  What it boiled down to was that it would prolong what could be an agonizing death.  My God... my daughter was going to starve to death in front of our eyes.  The Bible tells us that God will not place any more on us than we can bear, and I knew that we could not bear to see her waste away.  God bless those who have had to endure their loved ones in that condition. We couldn't let Taylor witness that, but we did not want to send Whitney to the hospice house or hospital unless we had to. Thankfully, that would not be the case. The immediate issue was liver failure. But what we did not expect was the advancement of the lung tumors.  Her breathing became rapid and laborious even with oxygen. It was a relief for the nurses to explain that she was not in any pain. Patrick was making sure of that.
Patrick was changing out her oxygen to use a full mask when her breathing suddenly stopped. It was 9:02 pm. I was standing by his side but had turned away in happened that suddenly.  Ramona and Ryan were there, as were many family members and close friends. I thank them all for being there...we needed them. Somehow, I believe her Spirit had left long before.
For me to actually believe that is a giant step from where my heart was years ago. I am reluctant to share that I was agnostic for about 16 years. I went to church with my family on Sunday mornings but I had lost touch with the faith of my youth. College had a lot to do with it as I was exposed to other religions, philosophy, and all the other -osophies and -ologies.  I would be 44  years old before I re-committed my life to God. But it was a necessary part of my walk because I think I would have become lukewarm if I had not fully committed to God with my heart, mind and soul.  Even in the times I thought I would slip into atheism, I never lost my genuine love for Christ and desire to be a Christian. I know that will not make sense to lots of folks.
Ironically, my anchor through all those years was a healing that I received on the night I got saved. A healing which was eluding my  daughter. It was undeniable...almost scary.  I could not with my best efforts explain it away. It was a gift God knew I needed to keep me when my faith would fail. I hold those who accept God totally by faith in the highest regard.
This is an important fact. Healing did not elude Whitney.  As I have written about earlier, the awful pain and the bout with vomiting blood she suffered in the early days of her diagnosis inexplicably left her days before she began chemo. She had taken herself off the pain meds as they were making her nauseous and unable to hold anything down. The pain, that had grown progressively worse for months, went away. Due to the effects of chemo, she would be tired and anemic in the months to follow but Whitney took absolutely no pain medication--except maybe a Tylenol-- until August when we had to return home from vacation.  Those pain free months allowed her to witness, write, fish, eat, conquer Clingman's dome, enjoy her family, and see Luke take his first steps. It was a miracle that I still can not explain--but miracles, by their nature, defy natural explanation.  These events could be easily overlooked in the chaos of it all as we were looking for the "big" miracle.
As her father, the "big" miracle would have been her total healing.  As a member of the human race, the big miracle would have been a cure. I still pray for a cure... as does everyone reading this, I'm sure. Whitney's story is but one of thousands.  Our story as her caregivers does not even touch the pain and sacrifice of the legion of caregivers out there. God bless the caregivers. And God help those who have no one to give that care.
I'm a firm believer in God's power to heal. But a cure would bypass the "complications" that can accompany  healing. For one, a relationship with Christ that is hinged on miracles is a shaky one.  If one is healed and another is not, we begin to question even more.  Was that one not worthy?  Was there sin?  Did we not do something right?  I can only speak to Whit's situation.  EVERYONE DID EVERYTHING RIGHT. God worked through your prayer. Your prayers healed Whitney in ways you could never know. Your prayers healed my family. Your prayers healed me.
  I've got a lot going on today so some of my ideas are scattered, etc...   Thank you for reading. This is not something I would have ever dreamed of doing had Whitney not started it...but it helps a lot.     

Sunday, January 24, 2016

   In the weeks prior to Whitney's  death--wow, that's sobering to type those words, "Whitney's death"-- we had attempted to set a date to have Luke dedicated at our church. However, Whit's deteriorating condition and our work schedules made that difficult.  So, on Saturday we had a short bedside service with our Pastor Chris and his wife, Sister Karen.  There were several family members present, as well.
 I remember when we dedicated Whitney. In effect, we were giving our daughter back to if she was not His anyway. It's a pretty big deal to dedicate your child to God's His service.  It's not just a tradition, it's a solemn offering of the most precious thing in your life. And when that child grows up and surrenders their soul to God,  it becomes a covenant and we must be prepared for the conditions of that covenant whether they bring joy or sorrow...or both. But we take comfort in knowing the eternal results of that covenant. It was important to Whit and Patrick to dedicate Luke. It was necessary.   It was one of the last things Whitney would be fully aware of,  for just a few hours later her condition would worsen considerably.

During the night, her pain level would increase and a general discomfort set in.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Patrick stayed in close communication with the nurses and doctors as we tried to maintain a delicate and dangerous balance between controlling Whit's pain and hastening her death.  He honored the vow "in sickness and in health" to the fullest extent possible. He was there to help attend to her every need. And some of those needs were very personal...very difficult. And I reserve the word "very" unless it is very necessary.  I usually took the night shift as I wanted Ramona and Patrick well rested for Whitney's and the children's daily needs.   It was a long night. Her pain leveled off at about 2 a.m. but I was fudging on the morphine to achieve that...waiting  50 minutes instead of an hour between doses.
 Some minutes later, I noticed Whit's hands folded as she was in whispering prayer. I wanted to lean in and listen but felt I would be intruding on a private conversation.  It was more like a quiet discussion with the only person who really mattered at that time...her Savior. I am careful to assign significance to dreams, but, at that moment I recalled a brief dream I had years ago. It seemed to last only seconds.  I was standing before a mighty and blinding light. I somehow knew it was the  essence of God.  My wife, my children, my job, all things passed before me in a blurring moment. But none of them mattered...only the light mattered.  Absolutely nothing else mattered. I know how that sounds but I think it is a glimpse into the power of the presence of God.  Whitney was about to enter that presence. If you can wrap your head around that--if you can wrap your heart around that--your emotions spin around like the wheel of fortune. But if we can manage to take ourselves out of the equation and truly believe what we profess we hold to be true, then there is joy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Early afternoon of the day Whit was to come home, a dear friend called to share a message from a group of young ladies.  They felt led to organize  a human prayer chain around our home  to pray for Whitney.  They insisted that no one would attempt to come in the house or intrude in any way. I'll have to admit that I was worried about how that might be a little much for Whit if she was still in her delicate condition, but how could anyone turn away what might be a defining act of love and faith.   So, I called back and suggested we do it the next evening when Whit would be settled in better. Early the next afternoon, a few friends began to show up, as did a couple of local news vans.  The news crews--insisting they were not there to intrude in any way--asked me if I wanted to say anything. I responded that I'd just like to thank everyone for all that they had done for Whit.  I walked inside and mentioned my intentions to Patrick and asked if he'd like to say anything.  Patrick can be reserved so I was a little surprised when he replied, "Sure". When the guy finished interviewing Patrick, I just looked at him and said, "I can't touch that, brother." He nodded in agreement.
I don't think they aired the whole statement by Patrick, but it touched on the essence of Whit's message and why it resonated with so many people...even people who did not have faith.  Whitney wanted everyone to share two things with her--faith and  a love of life.
By 5 pm, our yard was full of friends, relatives and lots of folks I'd never met before.  Nevertheless,  every face was somehow familiar.  They came with singular purpose...totally selfless.  They were here for her. Nothing in a Godless theory of evolution could explain why so many would give so much... never expecting anything in return that would contribute to their survival or advantage.  It was an act of love--an act of God.
No one there will ever forget that night. We opened the window and the door as the cool evening air carried  prayers,  songs, and  praise into the front room where Whitney was. She was able to see everyone as they passed by the front window and in the premier moment of  this wonderful, terrible journey, she lifted her feeble hand in praise as she whispered along with "How Great is Our God".  I walked outside and briefly  embraced everyone as they marched around the house. I kinda lost my starting place and probably hugged a few folks twice.  But my efforts seemed incomplete, half-measure...substituted, sorta like my trying to finish Whit's story on this blog.  I asked Ramona what she thought about letting folks walk through.  The nurse agreed it would be alright if everyone sanitized their hands as they came in.  So, we asked Whitney.  She immediately nodded her head as if it was preordained. What followed was pure excellence in full measure.  It was my miracle.  I've never been so proud in my life.  Not just of Whitney, but of everyone there and everyone who was praying where they were.  It was especially powerful to witness  young people and children who held her hand and heard her weak voice tell them to stay the course.  That's got to have an impact.  Whitney glowed for hours after the event. Spiritually, her sails were full.  It was that night she started answering our questions about her well being with, "I'm good to go".   My deepest gratitude to everyone who participated that night..whether you were there or prayed from where you were.

 One of my best friends, so impacted by the event, felt compelled to  return the next few mornings to walk around the house and pray. I usually did not even know he was there.  His wife and daughter came one morning and Whit's dog alerted me to their presence. She was following them around the house barking all along.  When they finished, I asked them if the dog was praying with them. They laughingly replied she was until she started running down the road. I told them, "Of course,  she's Pentecostal".

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The last weeks.
 I believe we spent at least one night in every room of the cancer unit at Trident Hospital since September.  The good days became less and less frequent as Autumn set in,  as if her body was synchronized to the seasons.  During December she would ask for her phone on several occasions but lacked the strength or presence of mind to write like she wanted to.  I believe she was waiting for some good news to kick off another round writing.  The first round of chemo back in the Spring had been like a sledge hammer on her tumors. However, successive attempts to control the tumors had proven lacking.  We traveled to Charlotte to consult with  a specialist about immunotherapy. It is a promising new field in cancer fighting drugs that takes the brakes off the body's own immune system. There was one recently approved drug--of which she took one dose--and several phase 1 and 2 drugs she could try.  But we knew time was the enemy.  We read of new and exciting new cancer therapies almost every week, but the trick is to stay alive long enough to try them.  Whit's cancer was so aggressive it would never allow her that precious time.  She has posted on facebook that the only thing she wanted for Christmas was time.  But the painful irony would be that on Christmas eve her hourglass would shatter...all the sand running out at once.  I was working nightshift and my wife called at 5 am. Whitney was in such severe pain they could not get her into the Patrick's truck.  They called EMS as I immediately left work for home.  Thirty minutes later I would be jumping into the back of the ambulance as Patrick followed us on the 20 minute ride to Georgetown.  The ride was excruciating for her. When we arrived they took her back and performed an x-ray. They suspected a perforation of some sort in her abdomen, but the x-ray did not support that theory. However, a later CT scan revealed that something was, in fact, leaking into her abdominal area.  So, it was another hour long ambulance ride to Trident for surgery.  We were blessed to have a  very good surgeon --even for the night before Christmas.  Whitney's oncologist had requested him.  He explained that Whit  had a fist sized tumor literally explode on her duodenum. It is a short segment of bowel between the stomach and the small intestine.  The tumor was actually dead and was empty.  This was probably due to it outgrowing it's blood supply.  He observed smaller tumors on her liver but none appeared to be significant....for lack of a better word.  The next ten days would be very challenging as she still had to finish radiation treatment for her 4 brain tumors.  Standing and walking was extremely painful.  I thought I had witnessed the maximum pain a human could endure without losing consciousness.  I had not.  Whitney later said that  the pain was so bad  she was sure her heart would stop.  Ever increasingly,  our goal, which was to see her cured, was re-negotiated  backwards to mere pain management. Cancer does not negotiate. It sets the terms--physically, that is.  On a spiritual level, Whitney set the rules. She never lost control of her situation.  I'm not making her out to be some kind of "miss-siah", but her faith never failed.  It was like her faith was some sort of basic element out of the periodic table that could not be reduced.  No one who knew her could not be affected by that faith.
After about 10 days it became apparent that the healing process was not taking shape as we had hoped. We thought that, with the largest tumor out of the way, the smaller tumors would give us time to get rolling on the immunotherapy.  But, inside the liver, the tumors were advancing at an alarming rate.  We would take her home for what would be her final week of life.  Patrick, her husband, was an amazing caregiver.  Whitney actually became terrified of the pain coming back at the level it had the previous weekend.  Patrick assured her that that would not happen.  He rode home with her in the ambulance and never left her side.  Patrick was constantly talking with nurses and doctors to make sure we administered the proper amount of pain medicine.  It was a delicate and dangerous balance between controlling her pain and contributing to her death.  But, once again, cancer had to settle for Whitney's fragile body. It could not take her soul.  A group of prayer warriors would help make sure of that the day after she got home....

Getting late. I'll continue soon. Thanks, Stacy

Friday, January 15, 2016

I'm sharing this in response to several messages from friends who are having trouble with Whit's passing as it relates to their faith, I love them dearly.
My family and I have received so many encouraging messages and comments that it is a bit a very good way. But, speaking for myself, I must confess that I have been bitter. I have been angry. The live oak in my front yard bears a few heel marks from the times when I could not make Whit's pain go away. For weeks I couldn't even listen to Christian radio as I lacked the will or desire to praise God. I felt neither blessed nor highly favored. I lost my "song". I feared that if I lost Whitney, I could never really sing a song of praise again. And, if I did, I would have to "fake it" so my brothers and sisters in Christ would not worry about me, I even strongly considered resigning my position as a church board member as I felt I was losing my compassion, During the worst times, the only way to maintain your ability to function as a caregiver is to somehow "unplug" your compassion for your loved one...not react to the awful pain they are feeling, or find the strength to turn them in their bed to avoid bedsores knowing it is you who is inflicting the pain. If you aren't careful, you can become indifferent to everyone's pain.
But something happened the morning Dr. Saylors came in to give us the dreaded news. At the worst possible moment of all the "worst possible moments", God gave me peace...not a little, but total. It is said that we can find peace as Christians. But I say that peace seeks us out--His peace finds us. We only have to let it in. And I know it's real for even in her pain, even in her last hours, throughout the visitation and funeral... I had that peace. What was most remarkable was that after the funeral, as we sat around the living room, Ryan and Patrick walked in discussing how they experienced that same overwhelming sense of peace as Whit was laid to rest.
I am blessed and highly favored. I held my beautiful daughter for over 28 years. Many parents have never known the wonder of holding their unborn children. I was able to say goodbye to my daughter--to drink her in for a full year. Many never had a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones who were taken too quickly. I have no regrets. Many have lost loved ones before making things right. I have two beautiful grandchildren who are part of who she was. And, most importantly, I know she is in heaven. If you are a Christian, tell your loved ones often that you are --to quote Whitney-- "Good to go". If you are not a Christian, consider listening to what your heart tells you when you all other noises are silent.
So, there you have it---I ain't "all that". But, I think it's okay to get angry with God. He's a big guy. Just never allow yourself to become indifferent to God. So, if you see me singing a song of praise, I ain't faking it. I got my song back. And you guys have everything to do with that.
I hope this helped someone out there as much as so many out there have helped me.
Thanks, Stacy Hardee
Too sleepy to proofread.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Our family would like to thank you all for your constant prayers, love and support for Whitney over the last year. Not only did you share in the light of her faith and courage, but you shared the burden of her darkest days.  So many times when she would retire to her room--our best efforts at lifting her up having crumbled under the weight of our own heavy hearts-she would pick up her phone or laptop and almost instantly be elevated by your messages, responses and phone calls. Whitney touched so many lives only because you allowed her into your hearts.  You didn't join her on her journey so much as allowing her to join each of you on your own personal, unique journey as we all face life's battles.  You were her army. An army of God that appeared out of the bleak horizon and carried her  when she could not carry herself.  Now she has finished her tour. Not without injury or scars, but with a final victory nonetheless. Now we turn our hearts back to the battleground that we so easily forget is raging. Not only to comfort others in need, but to take new ground in faith and courage. We have all gained ground.  We have all grown by the light of her love for Christ--a love light that only radiated more and more... even in the last hours.

Try not to question or doubt  why Whitney was not healed in this life.  Our faith and whether we believe in God's power can not rest on her shoulders. Only Christ could carry that burden.  Whitney's purpose may have been just to confirm in our hearts what we already know to be true.  Only by faith can we embrace the miracle of Christ and the power of His blood.  And only by letting our light shine can we  realize the  fullness of the joy of sharing that miracle. Thank you, Stacy Hardee