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The Unsung Heroes

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 2:31 AM CDT

Let me first say, this entry isn’t for everyone. I’m going to talk about some of the less pretty aspects. I’m going to talk about the hard work of dying. It’s not easy to write, and I imagine it won’t be easy to read.

It finally dawned on me why it’s been so difficult for me to write about Dave’s memorial service. It’s because it’s not finished. We gathered together, we celebrated Dave’s life, we honored his memory, his accomplishments and recognized what a fine man he was and how many, many gifts he brought into this world. It was a beautiful celebration of a life well lived, and a great tribute to a great man, and also to those people who helped him become that man, and supported and loved him throughout his life, his parents, brothers, family, teachers, coaches, students and friends, also me & our kids. All this was mentioned.

I’m going to talk some about what wasn't mentioned much: his death, specifically the process of dying. And recognize some of the people who were there for him during the darkest, hardest times. People who didn’t shy away, people who shouldered the work that needed to be done, the physical work and the emotional work. People who hurt terribly to see a strong, vibrant man in such a weakened state, but didn’t close their eyes or turn away.

The lion’s share fell to me. I need no recognition, and have in fact, received far more than I deserve. I describe my share, to help you better understand. I was honored to be able to be his partner, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, until death parted us. I walked beside him, and I did not falter. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I looked death in the face, and knew its sting would be unbearable, but temporary. I held our children while they cried and realized that their father would die. I told Dave everything in my heart. I soaked up every second with him that I could, even when people told me to "get some sleep!" I realized that because of the way that Dave loved the people in his life, that this process was bigger than me, and I opened our home and shared my last days with him with other people who needed to touch him one last time, when part of me wanted him all to myself. I did the best that I could to honor Dave every step of the way. He told me he wanted to fight, and I gave him those chemo pills until he simply could no longer swallow them. I made the hard decisions alone when he could no longer make them with me. And when it was time, I told him that it was okay to rest. I told him that he had done well, that his children were strong, because they were of him, that they have learned so much from him, and promised that I would make sure they would be okay. I gave him permission to leave, reminding him that he was no less a fighter, no less a warrior, that it was time to lay down the sword and receive the crown. I did it with honor and dignity, and I know he was grateful. It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

Here is the key. I didn’t do it alone. My mom and dad were here, 24/7 for the last three months. Yes, three months. They never wavered. They never faltered. Not once. My dad told Dave, “I love you as my own son.” And he did. Mom, too. They gave him medicine when it was next to impossible, they changed bed linens, they turned him to prevent bedsores, they held him while he threw up, they wiped his face, they fed him, bathed him, they brushed his teeth and swabbed his mouth. The list could go on for pages. My dad would help transfer Dave from bed to wheelchair, holding him up, hugging him, saying, “This is my favorite part, you know you were the one who taught me to hug.” He held Dave securely, talking Dave through it, keeping him safe. Mom played back-up, reading what we needed without us having to ask. This strange dance, this odd synchronicity, not what we wanted, but what Dave needed. They shouldered a burden they did not have to. They did it with grace and love. They never complained, or even acknowledged how much they were giving up in order to be here for me and for Dave.

When I reached that point, the nadir where I was certain I could not go on, that I could not see this through to its inevitable conclusion, I called my sister, Denise. Without a second thought, she dropped everything and came. She stepped in when I was exhausted, she stayed awake all night, she sat with me as the reality that Dave was truly dying crashed over me. She reminded me that I had the power of love, that I could do this. She was covered with puke and pee and sweat and never flinched. She soothed us both with gentle strokes and reassuring words. Darren was apprehensive, but came anyway. He faced this full-on and came to realize the honor in the part we had no choice but to play. He learned that it would be okay, if Dave died when he was alone with him. Like the rest of us, he worked through fear, because of his love for Dave, and found strength he didn’t even know he had. He stayed the course and took up the yoke, easing my burden.

I'll touch on just a few others. Jeffery, who didn’t say, “Call me if you need anything,” but came on Tuesdays and said, “Go, I will be here.” He walked through the valley with Dave.

Jim, who tenderly wiped Dave’s face and held the bucket for him as he threw up for the 10th time that day.

Skip, praying with us every day, bringing peaceful music, helping with bathroom duty in the hospital.

Matt, whose heart broke every time he came to the house, who continued to come anyway, unafraid to feel, unafraid to love, showing us strength and courage beyond his years, pitching in, facing the hard parts, telling Dave he would be there for his boys, knowing this was the greatest gift he could give.

Amy, who is only 15, and was losing a man she has loved for most of her life, a man who thought of her as his little girl. Amy, braver than most of the adults I know. Being here, facing death, even when she was unsure.

And Deb, who put her own life on hold to be a second mother to my children.

These are people who loved Dave in life, and continued to love him in death, who loved him enough to not be afraid, and to find courage even when they were. They helped me help Dave with the work of dying. They didn’t fall apart, or focus on how hard it was for them, they just did what needed to be done as Dave died. It’s not as pretty or uplifting or encouraging as all the magical things that happened when Dave lived, but they are no less important.

There are others, and of course, Dave's family was here often, and supported us, too, but as I said, they have already been recognized, honored and thanked, publicly and privately. Most people are aware of the ways his family has loved and supported him and what wonderful people they are. The service was beautiful, and an incredible life was celebrated, along with the simply amazing people who made it possible. Their love and support have been beyond measure.

But it’s time for me to also recognize these other people, the ones who were my rock and my fortress, the ones who held fast during the ugliest, most horrific hours and helped me make something beautiful of the worst thing in my life. The ones who made it possible for Dave to die the way he lived. The quiet ones in the background, who aren’t being acknowledged or sent sympathy cards. The ones who didn't fall apart or shy away or get stuck in their own pain. I know Dave would want me to thank them. I know how grateful he was. I saw the way his eyes searched for my dad, the way he visibly relaxed, knowing my dad was here. Along with me, my dad was the one who stepped into the gap the most. I’m more grateful than I can even tell you.

I can rest now. I’ll try to update about the service tomorrow.

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