Sunday afternoon at 4pm, Aimee's mom, Carol Allen, went to be with the Lord. After a struggle with liver cancer, we watched her condition deteriorate rapidly, literally going from talking about trying experimental forms of cancer treatment to refusing a ventilator in less than a day. Her viewing will be at the Shawnee Chapel of Chiles Funeral Home from 2 to 4pm and 6 to 8pm Tuesday, and funeral service itself will be at Shawnee UMC at 11am on Wednesday.
Today we picked out a casket, planned a funeral service, and made arrangements for a grave. It was a very, very hard day.
Carol was only 65 years old. As late at mid-December she was talking about the promotion the property company she worked for, Pedcor Properties of Indianapolis, was likely to give her after she beat this disease. I think her job as the manager of Willow Lake Apartments was one of the reasons that the last ten years were some of the happiest and most gratifying of her life. You see, until this last job, she had been through countless others. So many that the last few times she was hired somewhere, each family member used to guess how long she'd last before she'd quit and go looking for something else. The winner, who was the person who guessed the longest without going over (ala the Price is Right) would be the winner. I was the winner for what would be her last job, which I gave nine months. I only missed it by about ten years. At Willow Lake she found her niche, and she embraced the opportunity.
As her career finally started to gain some momentum, she also began investing herself in a kind of public service that for her, made sense. When the Master Gardners of Allen County decided to do a Children's Garden at the Allen County Museum, she threw herself into the project. The opportunity gave her the chance to use her creativity and love for gardening (she had been raising her own plants in a greenhouse Bryant, her husband, had built for her for many years) to do something special for the community, manifesting itself in truly a unique and charming oasis in the middle of our town. Pretty much every Tuesday night in decent weather you'd see her down there, taking care of odds and ends, making sure the place her grandkids called "Grandma's Garden" was ready to invite children into it's magic.
It was also in the last ten year that she found her dream home: an old farmhouse sitting on almost two acres of land in the middle of nowhere. A home with plenty of places to put antiques inside, and plenty to places to dig in the dirt outside, all without a neighbor in sight. It was the first time in all the years I'd known her that the house she owned wasn't perpetually for sale. She worked hard to make the place nice, and even more importantly, a little paradise for her grandchildren, complete with a swingset, basketball hoop, bicycles to ride in the driveway, and a slip-n-slide, all so that they'd bug their parents to take them to grandma's house. She was crazy like a fox.
Her life had often been hard, but somehow in the midst of the sacrifices made over time, happiness in abundance came to her in her final years. And I know that between the pending promotion, and our return full-time to Lima next spring (she made me promise we'd come back last summer, and you should have seen the smile when my appointment to Shawnee was announced in early December - I'll never forget it), that the future, in her eyes looked plenty bright. She was looking forward to going with Aimee to find us a house in the spring, excited that some of her grandkids were near-by, and excited that we'd be available to take care of the pets at their house when they left to vist family in places warmer in the winter, and cooler in the summer. She was truly living out her golden years.
I guess that's why it makes her passing so hard to swallow. A person taken at the height of blessing.
I find comfort in knowing that Carol, in this life, had found real peace. Though her life came to an abrupt end, she was so content and happy she wanted to fight death with all that she was until her final hour. I don't know if you can ask for more than a life so good that you literally put every drop of energy into fighting for it until it is gone. That's a life that was worth living, and that is worth celebrating.
And the lives she touched.... there have been so many good stories.
One of my favorite stories I witnessed at 3am on Sunday morning. Eleven hours earlier, at 4pm on Saturday, when Aimee called with the news Carol had 12 to 24 hours to live, I just kind of locked in, and found my way from Houston, Texas to her hospital bedroom by midnight that night. It was important for me to be there. Her husband, Bryant, refused to leave her side. His other kids were on the road frantically trying to get home to say goodbye to their mother. And my wife had to be home that night to be with our youngest, Eli, who just doesn't sleep very well without her. I had to stand-in for Aimee, and as the only pastor in the family, do what I could to ease the fear in that room. I just had to.
Anyhow, it's 3am, Aimee's aunt (who was with us) had fallen to sleep, Bryant was comforting his dying wife in moments she had left, and I had been praying fervently, inviting the Holy Spirit into the room and into our midst - an invitation that, for me, meant a lot of different things. It meant bringing Aimee's brother and sister, who that moment were driving as fast as they dared in the middle of the night to us safely. It meant sustaining the night staff on the floor so that they could continue to ease Carol's pain and the mental burden of those her loved through the provision of fine care. And, to be honest, it meant the actual presence of God in our midst, hanging about us, touching hearts.
"Come Holy Spirit. You are welcome here. I ask in the name of Jesus that Father, that you come to us for you are the author of grace and mercy. You are the God who never breaks a promise, the one who keeps his covenant with his people, and we praise your holy and righteous name. Come so that when this woman decides not to keep you at arms length any longer, she will welcome your embrace, ushering her peacefully into the garden of your heavenly home. Come and ease the burden of her husband who has difficulty believing in that which cannot be seen. Come Holy Spirit. You are welcome here."
I'm drifting between this prayer, occasionally trying to bring a smile to Bryant's face, and catching a couple of winks when I can, when at 3am a nurse from the hospital enters the room. We had never seen her before.
"How is Carol?" she asked.
"Not well. Not well at all. It's only a matter of time." replied my father-in-law.
The nurse began to shed a few tears, went over to take Carol's hand, and kissed her on her forehead. She, whom we did not know, had taken her break to come and visit the woman who worked for her landlord.
"My husband and I live at Willow Lake. Carol's done such a great job for us. I knew she had been sick, but I had no idea she was this bad."
Then, she looks at my father-in-law. "Are you a believer?"
Bryant, who once told me he couldn't believe in that which he could not see replied, "Yes I am."
"Good. Well, then, can I pray for you?"
He nodded yes, and then the most amazing thing happened. She got down on her knees and prayed the most simple, most beautiful prayer, praising God for his goodness, expressing appreciation and love for her landlord (how often does that happen?), and she concluded with these words:
"And finally, come Lord Jesus, take the hand of Carol, and lead her into your arms and into a place without any more pain or suffering. We hate to let her go, but we take comfort that she will now fall into your merciful arms. Amen."
Tears spilt from my aunt, who had wakened to witness the scene. A look of peace appeared, if ever for so briefly, on Bryant's face. And the Holy Spirit poured into the room. Just poured into the room. Ushering eventually all of her family into that room, where Carol quit fighting and started embracing, and we all recounted other promises of God, like all of us being together again in His house for eternity... where now the flowers of heaven are being tended with hands so beautiful their service inspired prayers during a break at 3 in the morning.
And one more word for my Beeson brothers and sisters. It is true that our family's loss puts the blowout of the Bucks into perspective tonight. But I want you to know this... I have been baiting you all, all year and I expect you to give it back to me. Don't be "Christians" about the BCS Championship game.... do what I've been goading you into doing anyway. It'll help life feel closer to normal. Rip me to pieces and make me cringe with laughter, cause I'll take all the laughter I can get right now. Oh... and God Bless you all for being in our lives this year.
And, that dear friend in the blogosphere, goes for you too.