And somehow during the day I decided to do a little recount of how this all went down...
Back in April, I was getting ready one Thursday evening for a retreat I was going on the next day with my middle schoolers. I realized I put my iPod through the washer for the SECOND TIME (Nanos are too small) and in my meltdown, I texted my mom something dramatic like "My stress is so high. I can't handle anything!" She then responded with "me too. Your grandpa is in the hospital. Headed there now. Text you later."
In the coming hours I was told that he was not in good shape, would probably make it to Saturday. I was also told I needed to come down to see him to say goodbye. The nurses would take him off his sedatives while I did that. I sat on my bed and sobbed. Sobbed because I didn't even know HOW to say goodbye. But also because this was the realization that my grandpa would never officiate my wedding. Something I dreamed of for most of my life.
I still went on the retreat and luckily it wasn't too far from where my grandpa was so I got to go see him in the hospital twice that weekend. And he made this miraculous recovery and within the next week got to go home.
He did really well, but within 2 months things weren't looking great again. I went to visit him on Father's Day. He was in a lot of pain, on some major meds and did not spend a lot of time talking to us because of the change that had taken place. One of the hardest moments I've ever experienced- seeing someone you love in so much pain. Through the last few years he experienced a ton of pain, and there were numerous occasions where I overheard him praying to be taken and put out of his pain. One day (I think it was on Father's Day) he looked at me and made a comment about how the rest of his life he was just going to be in pain. I didn't know what to say.
As we were getting ready to leave, I was already choked up so I tried to hold my composure. I went to go say goodbye, and gave him a hug. He went to put his arm up to hug me, and he knocked a water bottle over and it spilled on him. He got very upset and yelled and I walked out because I was starting to cry. As we were walking out he kept saying "I'm sorry Jessica. It's not your fault." I said "It's okay" but mostly I was just trying not to cry. We got in the car and I cried silently in the backseat.
That was the last time I ever saw him.
It was 10 days before I was to leave for our mission trip to Kent. In those 10 days I told myself I should go visit him, but it's about 3 hours away and between work and getting ready for the trip, I just didn't have time.
A couple days before we left, my mom told me that things were not good and it was likely he would pass away while I was gone. And if that happened, she wanted me to stay on the trip. I prayed and prayed and prayed that wouldn't happen. I didn't want to have to make that decision.
The trip was off to an amazing start. I was having such a great time.
|See... Natural smile|
Day 2 of our trip, just hours before we made it to Kent, we were on a lunch break and my phone rang. And I just knew it was bad. I remember standing in that parking lot, trying to hear the details. The doctors said he had 1-2 days to live. It was a Thursday. As soon as I got off the phone, the other adults came over and I told them the news. We called the youth over and told them what was going on. We stood in a circle, held hands and prayed. And I cried. We were right by a Starbucks, so we went and got coffee (and cake pops... I'm a stress eater) and got back in the car.
|Cake pops. yum.|
I put on some music and just tried to handle what was going on. And the next thing I knew, the kids asked me to look back. And this was what I saw....
The kids were trying so hard to get me to laugh. And if anyone could do it, they sure could!
The next day was emotional. We went to Starbucks in the morning. This picture, I think you can see it.... I'm trying so hard to keep it togehter.
I tried my best to keep my composure as I led this group, but it was hard. Sure I still grieved in front of them, but I was trying hard.
Saturday we did a 5 mile trail run. It was beautiful. The first time in the trip I wasn't actually leading the group. I had the ability to listen to music, run in the forest and just think about everything that was going on. It was then that I thought I would call and try to talk to grandpa on the phone. After the race, my mom texted me saying that my brother had done it and I could if I want, but didn't have to if I didn't feel comfortable. (Note: She did this not knowing I'd had that thought)
I kept putting it off. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to do it while I was around the group. I was just lost.
After the race, we went to Snoqualmie Falls. A beautiful place my friend Cory had told me about. We did a prayer experience there and spent time just taking in the beauty. I am sad that in the picture below, I don't seem genuinely happy.
We went into Seattle, let the kids go do their own thing and as the adults were trying to figure out where to eat dinner, I stayed a few steps behind them and called to talk to my grandpa. He wasn't responsive, but from what I hear he wiggled his eyebrows as I talked. I said I loved him and that he didn't need to worry about anything, we would take care of my grandma. I think I said something else, but I'm not sure. It was kind of an out of body experience. I wasn't really sure what I was doing.
We went on to have dinner. It took me a while to come back to being myself, but a trip to the first Starbucks (hey... caffeine helps) and then a ride on a giant ferris wheel with my group lifted my spirits.
|Look a genuine smile|
Sunday morning I got up early with some of my youth to do some mission work. During some free time in the afternoon, my cousin David came to the hotel to hang out. We sat on the couches in the lobby and visited for a while. We joked about how he had his flight booked to come to Grandpa's memorial service, but at this rate Grandpa might still be alive! He's a fighter that grandpa of ours. We spent some time reminiscing of the days when we were children and how Grandpa got mad when we would slam the car door or leave the air on in the RV. We caught up on life-- jobs and such. Towards the end of his visit, he got a text from his dad saying that if we were still going to be there for 20 minutes he was going to come say hi. So we stuck around and my uncle showed up. The 3 of us sat there on the couches chatting for a bit and then my uncle told us that my grandpa had passed away. I think we both just looked at him and said "okay". I remember staring at the floor and my uncle giving me a hug. We talked some logistics and after about 10 minutes, they had to leave and I had to head upstairs to get the group ready to go to church....
That was the slowest trip I took. I walked to the elevator and took it upstairs to my room. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to do. I had no idea how I was going to bring it up and tell my group. Yet again, I was lost.
I got to my room and just sat on my bed. Not long after that, Amy came in and I think she sensed something was up and she asked me if I was okay. I just looked up and said "he passed away." Right as we were talking about it, Michele walked in and asked me if I wanted to stay at the hotel or go to church with them.
A part of me really just wanted to stay at the hotel. But we were doing a meet and greet with the other youth group. I'd set it all up and a part of me said that I didn't have a choice. I HAD to go. The kids all came in my room and we told them and you could just feel the mood of the room sink down. I don't remember a lot of that time because I think at that moment, everything was starting to sink in.
We got in the car and headed to the church. I had no idea how I was going to be social but I knew I had to. When we got to the church, my phone rang and it was my cousin Steve who had called to check on me and see how I was doing. It was so great to hear his voice. When I asked how he was doing he said he was fine, that Grandpa was in a better place now and for that he was happy. I understood, but I still was so sad.
We got to the church and I met some of my aunt's friends who had helped me organize the trip and I had to break the news to them. Through dinner I wasn't really present. I was just trying to keep my composure. Mostly because I didn't want to lose it in front of the other youth group. We had ice cream for dessert which was my grandpa's favorite, so I ate it in memory of him.
We went to worship and again... I couldn't tell you what the sermon was about or what we sang. But I do know I cried my eyes out the entire time. At the end, I went up to my aunt's pastor and told him about my grandpa. He asked if we could pray together and I said yes. We held hands and he said a prayer-- again, not really sure what he said. But I cried through the whole thing. I was exhausted.
At devotions that night, when we went around to say our high moment, low moment, God moment and surprise moment, almost everyone in the room said that my announcement was their low moment. And that really surprised me. After devotions the adults had to stay up and write a song. Unfortunately I wasn't much help and fell asleep for half of it because I was just wiped out.
Monday morning we went to the beach to do a prayer experience. We each had to write an inspirational quote on an index card. They got shuffled and we got one. We went on a walk, praying about it. Then we got a new card and went a walk praying about that one. I actually got the same quote both times.
During the prayer walk I kept hearing airplanes flying overhead. My grandpa used to fly airplanes in the Air Force so I really took this as a sign from him. And getting 2 cards that said the same quote... I knew that it was also a sign.
Later that day, we got some time to go explore Seattle. Michele and I just went on our own and it was nice to just wander the two of us. I had some time to talk a little about my grandpa. It was therapeutic. But I was still exhausted. We ended up meeting with some of the youth by the Space Needle. It was also the first time on the whole trip the sun came out. I laid in the grass with the girls and just relaxed. For the first time on the trip since I got that phone call, I felt like I was actually present with them.
Tuesday morning it was time to load up the expeditions and head back home. As we were leaving, I texted my uncle.
"We are in the expeditions leaving Kent. Thanks for being there on Sunday. See you in a couple weeks. Love you <3"
He responded: "I love you too Jess! Be safe and know this beautiful sunshine is your grandpa looking down on you. Come back soon, UM."
Cue the tears.
And that was that. I was heading home to what I feared would happen while I was gone. When I got home, a lot of new pictures of my grandpa had gotten there. With every picture I saw, knots formed in my stomach and I could feel a lump in my throat. I sat and talked to my dad for a little bit and then I went upstairs and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed until I could sob no more. Through the night, I wasn't feeling well and when I woke up I had a fever, my stomach hurt and I ended up throwing up.
My theory is, I finally was able to just let all those emotions go after a week of trying to hold them in and be strong in front of my group. I didn't have my appetite for a long time, and that is how I got to this lovely little depression I seem to be in right now.
It was my first trip as youth director. I so badly wanted this trip to be amazing and I know the youth had a great time, but I can't help but feel partly like I "ruined" the trip. There's a theory out there that he died while I was on the trip for a reason. Maybe he didn't want me to see him die. He wanted to spare me. But now, as things are unfolding maybe it was so my youth could see what grieving looks like.
As I started seeing what the girls were preparing for Youth Sunday, I honestly was shocked and very touched that they would even think to mention what I went through. They never met my grandpa, yet seeing how he had impacted me impacted them. And that brings me to this....
Dear AVUMC Youth,
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being such amazing people. I would not rather be with anyone else while going through one of the hardest things of my life. Thank you for letting me be real with you. For praying with me. For grieving with me. For letting me grieve. And for making me laugh. I honestly can't even begin to tell you how much it means to me.
Julia, Bailee, Taylor, Ashley and Tom-- you guys were with me from the beginning of all of this. Thank you for being such great youth who I knew I could trust while I had to go to the hospital and for being there for me during that time. And then again in Kent.
Melanee and Bailey-- For mentioning my grandpa in your testimony and sermon. I was deeply touched. You both did an AMAZING job today and I couldn't be prouder.
Tatum, Rhys, Clark and Hayden--- For the hugs, laughs, Frozen sing-alongs, flowers and understanding. Thank you.
Michele, Amy and Mark-- Thank you for supporting me in the decision I made to stay on the trip. For offering to lead things in my place. For letting me talk and helping me laugh. For providing guidance and helping me understand things a little bit better.
I could not have asked for a better group of people to surround me with love. I know that God had a hand when he made me your Youth Director, in us going to Kent and going through this journey together.
You all mean the world to me,
I still feel like I'm in an adjustment period. Not really sure if it's set in yet. I don't know if it ever will. I look at pictures of him and can't believe he's gone. But with every day that passes, I know it's a day sooner to me getting better and healing. I know that he's with me every step of the way. He sends us clues here and there. I would have loved to have looked out in the congregation today and seen his face, but I know he was shining down on us, telling us he's okay and giving us strength.
For the slide show, I decided to put in his favorite hymn, "How Great Thou Art". It was my way of remembering him since he had such a big part in our experience.
Today at my aunt's church in Kent, the scripture that was read was the same scripture he picked out to be read at his memorial service.
And at my cousin's church in Utah, they also sang "How Great Thou Art" and my cousin also said this: "... Which surprised me as it's a very contemporary church and I've never seen a classic Hymn done at my church. Not at all a coincidence."
So there you have it. 3 different churches. 3 different states. And all of them had a piece of Grandpa. Just like we all have a piece of Grandpa.
It's been a long 6 months and I'm sure it's going to be a long road to recovery as well. But, as my cards said....
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"
To Better Days