Counting Blessings

Our first day without Nate has been jam-packed with wake and funeral preparations, trips to the cemetery and funeral home, eulogy and obituary writing, and shopping for proper funeral clothes. All of it reminds us that Nate’s death is the only reason for today’s check list.

The low point of the day was when Van’s Medical Supply arrived to pick up the hospital bed and related equipment. As the man stepped into our front door he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I started to tear up and said, “It seems like you just brought the bed in.”

He looked at the ground and quietly said, “It went so fast for you.”

Watching him break apart the sturdy automatic bed was a symbol of my breaking heart. I could hardly stand it and had to look away. Last night after everyone was in bed, at 4:45 am, I was longing to get my pajamas on and go to sleep but was drawn to the little room where Nate died. The hospital bed was still set up then, although the sheets had gone out the door wrapped around Nate. I climbed onto the bed with my face in his pillows and cried and cried. The plugged-in mattress gently rose and fell as it had when Nate had been lying on it, coming to life with the weight of my body. Oh how I missed Nate, even the Nate in the hospital bed.

As long as he’d been alive, even if breathing ever so slightly, I still had my husband. I was still a married woman. We were still a team, working together to keep him alive. Now he was gone, and his absence was completely final for the rest of my life. I began to understand why people can make decisions to keep their debilitated loved ones on life support, even though brain-dead. A person can still hug, kiss and hold a warm, living body. Caressing the dead is unthinkable.

Nate’s makeshift bedroom was rearranged and put back the way it had been the day the hospital bed arrived, a desk in the middle, computer on top of that, wing chair in the corner, bookshelves again visible. Last night’s atmosphere of quiet worship in that place had dissipated like so much smoke in a stack, and my insides ached to have Nate back.

Lying in bed at 5:00 am last “night” wasn’t peaceful. A thousand thoughts swirled in my brain as I replayed the important events of the 24 hours just past, savoring the memories. Today as I looked at the room where he stopped breathing, the scene reappeared in my mind. But God firmly reminded me of what had happened in the minutes after Nate died.

Our nine kids and kids-in-law had once again squeezed around the bed to say their final goodbyes. After Nate died, no one said a word. Then I began talking about what he was possibly seeing and doing at that exact time in another world, trying desperately to cut through the thick atmosphere of sorrow in the room. No one else spoke, unless choked sobs and teary sniffles qualified.

We all studied Nate’s face, so devoid of life and truly qualifying as a corpse. Our Nate was no longer in the room with us. That wasn’t him. What good would it do to stay focused on him… on that?

The kids and I began talking about the way it all happened. Before too many minutes had passed, we were numbering our blessings. On a busy day like yesterday, how likely was it that each of us would have been in the room as he died? We had wanted that. I had wanted that. And there we were.

There was the blessing of having Nate at home with us, around the clock, rather than far away in the sterile, fluorescent atmosphere of a hospital. There was the totally unexpected outpouring of love from those we know and some we’d never met, everything from checks in the mail to food in the fridge. And there was the mysterious power of prayer, prayed in great volume, bringing our family and our husband/dad into God’s throne room daily. As we named these blessings and many more, we were able to dry our tears and walk out of the room.              blessings pumpkin, half mast flag 004

One of today’s happier tasks was to gather pictures of Nate for poster boards we will display at the funeral home. In a group effort to page through 196 albums, happy memories washed over us like a fresh breeze coming into a stuffy room. Chuckles grew into laughter and then into guffaws as we recalled funny stories the photos told. We studied Nate in all the pictures and our blessings list grew longer: he took us on great vacations, wanted us to have fun, taught us to fish, rode with us on motorcycles, always included our friends. One of the boys said, “Papa was just a legend.”

“I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing.” (Ezekiel 34:26)

Obituary of Willard Nathan Nyman

Willard Nathan Nyman, age 64, beloved husband of Margaret, nee Johnson for forty years; dear Papa of Nelson, Lars, Linnea (Adam) Curington, Klaus, Hans (Katy), Louisa, and Birgitta; cherished brother of Kenneth; loving grandfather of Nicholas and Skylar. Born in Galesburg, IL, on August 18, 1945, to his late parents, Willard and Lois Nyman. Respected Chicago attorney for 37 years, active member of Moody Church and later The Orchard Evangelical Free Church of Arlington Hts. A believer in Jesus Christ, faithful to God and his family. Visitation Friday, November 6, 4-7 pm, funeral Saturday, November 7, 12 pm. at Drake & Son Funeral Home, 5303 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60625. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be sent to  The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, 1330 N. Douglas Ave., Arlington Hts., IL 60004 or Moody Church, 1635 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL 60614 or Pacific Garden Mission, 1458 S. Canal St., Chicago, IL 60607.

Precious in God’s Sight

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Today was a holy day as Nate stepped out of this world and into the next. The members of our family (as well as Mary and several Hospice staff) had kept a vigil around Nate’s bed for three days, not leaving him alone for a minute. The nurses had helped us learn how to manage his pain with helpful drugs. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most painful cancers that exists. We learned to read Nate’s body language carefully, even while he was unconscious, watching for signs of discomfort and anguish. If he paddled his feet, pinched his shoulders together, furrowed his brow or shifted in his sleep we knew he was struggling and needed help.

Yesterday morning Nate hit a new low. He was in tremendous pain, which yanked the rest of us into it with him. A nurse guided us by phone on how to escalate the meds, finally arriving in person to help us. Nothing we did seemed to settle him. The combination of drugs had gotten complicated, and we were keeping a desktop record of what we gave him, when we did it and a schedule of next doses, but even with that it was becoming more and more difficult to keep everything straight. When the drugs weren’t “getting” his pain, we were devastated.

Hospice offered to send a nurse who would stay with us through the evening and overnight. Her main function would be to manage the complicated medicine, although she would also be there to help if he passed away on her watch. We gratefully agreed.

By 5:00 pm yesterday, Nate’s pain began to subside. The added pain patches wouldn’t kick in until morning, but the increased morphine worked its magic, and he began to settle. We learned later that the orange-sized tumor in his lung had ruptured during this time, causing tremendous pain he could not tell us about in words. Later that evening fresh blood would flow from his nose, and brown fluid would spill from his mouth. Both seemed mysterious at the time, but later the puzzle pieces fit together, when the rupture was identified. From that point on, he was breathing with one lung.

Nate could no longer talk to us with his voice but spoke volumes with small facial expressions we carefully looked for. All 11 of us squeezed around the bed in his tiny room to express love, each one taking a turn with their father/father-in-law. Tears flowed and great things were accomplished. Gratitude poured from the hearts and mouths of each person. I, too, spoke love and thanks to Nate. We repeated Scripture to him, sure of his hearing. Mary and I sang all three verses of his favorite hymn: Blessed Assurance.

Nurse Sonia arrived at 6:00 pm and made an assessment of his condition, concluding he probably wouldn’t live til midnight. We braced ourselves and spent every minute with him. His makeshift bedroom was filled: the hospital bed, the big oxygen-making machine, extra oxygen tanks, a desk covered with medical supplies and as many chairs and stools as could be wedged around the bed.

At about 10:00 pm it looked like he was slipping away. His breathing became more shallow, each one spaced far from the next. He was in a deep unconscious state but was, at long last, resting without any signs of pain or even discomfort. His hand was relaxed as I held it. I sat on the edge of the bed and put his warm hand on my knee, a gesture very familiar to the two of us. For a flash it was just like old times, before pancreatic cancer.

I began singing quietly again, and Mary joined in. Nate, a non-musical person (except for Elvis Presley songs), had often mentioned his favorite hymns: “Blessed Assurance”, “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “A Mighty Fortress”. We sang them all, and gradually each of the kids drifted back into the room, lit by a dim green lamp. Some of us were softly crying. We quoted Nate’s favorite Scripture passage, Hebrews 12:1-3, about running life’s race. I told him, nose to nose, that his race was almost over, and he was close to the finish line. He was worn out and would soon be able to rest. We told him how proud we were of him in his running and his strong perseverance.

Despite the click-click of an oxygen machine, the little room became a sanctuary of worship. We lovingly spoke to him, caressed him, loved him. I talked right into his ear and said, “The Bible tells us an angel will escort you to Jesus. Do you see the angel yet? Its time to stop running. Just walk into heaven. No more pain. No more work pressures. No more trouble. You can leave us any time now. You’re ready to go, and we are ready to let you go.”

These words were difficult to say, but God kept my voice strong despite tears plopping on his t-shirt. The kids moved forward and said more nourishing things to their dad. Many of them broke into spontaneous prayer. The Holy Spirit was hovering over our little group, working his wonders in every heart and mind.

Finally we were quiet, listening to Nate’s erratic breathing, focusing on his face, waiting for the end. Every so often the nurse would move through our ring of protection to take his blood pressure or listen to his heart. “Not long now,” she’d say, slipping quietly into the background again.

Minutes passed, then an hour. Nate’s breathing didn’t change. Sonia was replaced with Dee at 11:30 pm, and as she stepped into the room to make her own assessment of Nate, our kids began easing out of the room. They stoked the living room fire and settled into chairs, talking quietly, waiting, until they drifted into sleep. No one wanted to move too far away.

Mary and I settled into our sleeping chairs on either end of Nate’s bed for the third night of watching over him. Dee stayed close, too, and we grew to love her tender care of him through the night. Once I opened my bleary eyes and saw her reading my Bible in the dim green light, sitting in the corner on an 18” stool.

When morning came, Nate’s blood pressure was 63 over 38, unchanged from the evening before, but his heart had weakened significantly, beating irregularly and “far away” as Nurse Dee put it. We continued to wait. Dawn came. Coffee was made. The little ones began their chatter, and life moved forward one more step. Dee shook her head in amazement as she listened to Nate’s heart.

“I can barely hear it at all,” she said. “He’s keeping himself alive by sheer will power.”

“He has a special heart for those whose husband/father has abandoned them,” I told her, “and he’s trying not to abandon us.”

“Better release him again,” she said.

Nate has always been a list-maker, so I made an audio list for him, coming close to his face. “Your taxes are paid. You have provided for me with life insurance. You have put my name on your bank account. You have completed your cards for the kids. Your children and your two brothers-in-law are going to take care of me. Your clients all send their love. Your business is being cared for.”

I listed every specific detail I could think of and then said, “And now its time for you to leave these things behind and go. I’m going to say goodbye now, and I’ll see you later. You’re so blessed to be going to heaven now. You’ll actually get to meet and talk to Jesus! I’ll be right behind you, and when I get there, I know you’ll welcome me.”

I kept one hand on his chest which was moving up and down ever so slightly with an occasional deeper breath. But he chose not to “go”. By 6:00 pm, although he had no pulse, he was still breathing. In the rest of the house, life kept happening. Two people left to pick up Chinese food. Two more walked Jack. Someone else took the little ones to the playground. Animated conversations were in progress.

Mary and I based at Nate’s bedside, marveling at how he continued to cling to life. Dee had used the word “rare” in reference to him being a pancreatic cancer patient able to hang on so long. She also told us it was unusual for pancreatic cases to die without intense pain, yet Nate’s face was peaceful and smooth. Dee said, “As I studied him during the night, it looked like he was getting younger and younger.”

We told her of all the prayer that was going up to God on this specific issue, a peaceful passing. She nodded like a woman who knew all about it.

At 7:20 pm, Dee was long gone, and we were wondering if we should call for another night nurse to help us. Mary said, “Well, go get your plate of food. I’ll watch.” But I hadn’t been in the kitchen 20 seconds when she came running. “You better come. It’s happening,” she said,” and I dropped my plate and ran. The kids set their plates aside and followed.

Putting one hand on his chest and one on his face, I felt him take three more slow breaths as I spoke my goodbyes and I-love-you’s into his ear, and he died. Our beloved husband and dad had finished his race. And he was healed of pancreatic cancer.

Passing the box of tissue back and forth across the bed, we all wept freely. I continued to hold onto Nate, caressing the arm, hand and face of the person I loved so much. But he began to cool off immediately. His face and lips turned ashen beneath the yellowed skin of liver failure. Within minutes his body was stiff and cold. The real man had departed, and it was obvious to all of us.

We stayed in our little womb-room and talked of how Nate had not so much died as been born to eternal life. The kids surmised about what he was doing “right now.” Through tears we smiled. And we prayed together, trusting God’s Word to be true and claiming every promise about heaven.

Nelson quickly stepped into his father’s shoes, calling Hospice and then the funeral home. Within a few minutes a nurse arrived with her stethoscope, listening to Nate’s heart for the full legal 60 seconds before pronouncing him dead. But one look at his body could have made that pronouncement.

The funeral director and his assistant arrived and wrapped his body in the sheets from the bed and simply carried him out of the house. I told all the kids not to look as they walked by, but I had to see. One man held him at the shoulders, one at the hips. His legs stuck straight out as if he was still lying in the bed. How quickly our “shells” become useless baggage once the God of life and death removes the real us.

After they’d gone, I said, “Now. What would Papa want us to do next?”

Several of the kids answered in unison, “Eat our Chinese dinner.”

And so we did.

“We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:2 & 8 )

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)