Friday, August 30, 2013

It's rough, this end of life business

Published on KSL - HERE's the link

Me and Dad
“You have multiple blood clots in both lungs and need to understand that if you go to the wedding, there is a high likelihood that you won’t make it back.  You’d have to be okay with that.”

It was one week before my niece’s wedding in Oklahoma City, three hours away from Dallas, where my parents live.  We all knew that Dad’s lung cancer was in its late stages, but until we heard those words from the doctor, we hadn’t even considered that he wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding. 

In fact, because we have literally experienced miracles with Dad’s cancer – i.e. a four month remission, unheard of with such an aggressive cancer – we were shocked that the end was actually here.  No more miraculous delays, only weeks left.  We’d had 14 months to prepare, but we weren’t.  I’m not sure it’s entirely possible.

So four days before the wedding, Dad was transferred from the care of his oncologist to hospice home care.  How does one react to such terrible news?  Well, here’s what my parents did.

First they cried, and then they moved forward.

Mom skipped the wedding dinner the night before but attended the wedding itself without Dad.  And Dad spent the day with two of my siblings, who traveled from out of state to be with him that day.

Sisters Rachelle, Debbie (mother of the bride), me and my mom at the wedding

Aside from the void left by my father’s absence, the wedding was wonderful and beautiful and practically perfect.  The pictures, in which we were smiling with genuine joy, don't adequately capture the full range of our emotions.  Essentially, we were celebrating the beginning of Alex and Judson’s new life together while mourning the end of my parent’s life together.  Here on earth, that is.

Alex and Judson Waltman
More poignantly than ever before in my life, I experienced both true joy and true heartbreak at the same time.  They are not mutually exclusive, as it turns out.

It’s now six days after the wedding, and I’m sitting with Dad in his home while Mom drives to the airport to pick up another brother.

It’s rough, this end of life business.

I cry sometimes.  And then I dry my tears and move forward.

My dad, my mom, my siblings and I, we have been experiencing joy.  We listen to Dad reminisce, understand what a great man he is and feel abundantly blessed.  We look at old pictures, tell silly childhood and crazy teenage stories (with such a large family, we have loads), make fun of each other, laugh.  Sometimes, we laugh until we cry. 

Our entire family on a cruise we took at the end of June.  It was fabulous!
The day we returned, we discovered that Dad's cancer was no longer in remission,
My dad, my mom, my siblings and I, we have been experiencing heartbreak.  Mom and Dad have to “get their final ducks in a row,” painful necessities like signing a Do Not Resuscitate Order and choosing burial plots.  We talk about life sans Dad.  No one knows, or wants to know, exactly what it will look like -- he’s always been around. 

One sister and I live here in the Dallas area.  My other siblings have made or are making their way here from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Houston and California to visit Dad for the last time. I’ve already hugged two of them goodbye; the other farewells will be sooner than any of us want.

While packing up her car to drive back to Utah, one of my sisters said, “How am I going to be able to just drive away, knowing this is the last time I’ll ever see him?  How can I just leave?”
Dad with Jenny, one of his precious granddaughters.
Our heartache at how much we'll miss him is very real, very much on the surface. But our joy is also real (although not so much on the surface -- yet), knowing that Dad will soon be in a much better place.  And that we will see him again; forever is a long time.
It’s rough, this end of life business.

And I’ve never loved my parents or siblings more.  We’re facing it together, head on, and managing to embrace – albeit tearfully -- both the heartbreak and the joy.


  1. Susie- my sister Sarrah, sent me your link. May you be given strength, from our Heavenly Father and from all of your family, during this time...especially your sweet mom. I have so many found memories of your dad... his big smile and infectious laugh. I know I am joined by all the Hurst Siblings, in saying, we love the Boyce family and we will be praying for you! I will be sure to share the update with my mom, Joy. Like all of us, she has a soft spot for your family. May Heavenly Father bless you, during this time. What a legacy he has left, in this world! I know he must be so proud of each of you. Prayers for the Boyce Family....
    With love, Lyz Hurst Metcalf

  2. Hugs and prayers for you and your family. Your dad is amazing and happy and has brought so much joy to so many. Your mom is one of the happiest and modest people I know. You are a great example of love. May His spirit continue to permeate each member of your family. Hugs. We love you all.

  3. During visiting teaching yesterday, we were giving a lesson on the Relief Society and I shared how my mother (Arlene Williams) had cancer and the relief society sisters took our whole family under their wing. I remember vividly riding in Joy Hurst's van as she took me along on her errands or took me to primary while my mom was undergoing treatments. I remember the Boyce family and the Morrill family and many more taking turns making sure we got to primary or bringing us to their house to play with their kids so my mom could rest. You all have the most special place in my heart because of your selfless service to us. I became active in the church in my late teens in great part because of your kindness and the kindness of others who have touched my heart and my life. Thank you so much!!! Susie, I love you and your family and you will be in my thoughts and prayers.

    Sherry Williams Kramer

  4. This is beautiful. Thank you for being brave enough to share. Prayers are with you.

  5. You are so blessed to have such a strong, close family. Your dad sounds like an amazing person who left a beautiful legacy behind. God bless your fmily at this time of pain and joy.

  6. I read this on KSL and had to find your blog. My Mom passed away a year ago from Lou Gerighs Disease and I know what you're going through. It is a horrible part of life but an amazing way to learn about the Plan of Salvation first hand. Embrace the pain: don't block it, that's how the Atonement can take it away. I hope that you are comforted at this time. Even though I don't know you, I have so much compassion for you and what you're going through.