Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Blessing of Time

Our family has been unified in the choice of faith, yet that journey is an individual one as is the process of grieving. This blog has reflected my steps, my discoveries. I am grateful my daughter Megan has allowed me to include this piece she wrote in anticipation of the year anniversary of Harold’s death. She wrote hoping to discover for herself and then to convey to others the feeling she now has about her father’s passing. 

                              The Blessing of Time

Looking back at all the pictures, I see it: the brown spot on Dad’s forehead.

For years it was there, front and center, a foreshadow we all didn’t perceive. We couldn’t have known then that this was a sign of what was to come. The metamorphosis at the cellular level from healthy tissues into treacherous cancer went unnoticed right under our noses, or more precisely, right above Dad’s.

Doctors say that the sunburns you get in youth are what become melanoma in middle age. This fatal gestation lasts a lifetime, or at least as much as you will get. Which sunburn was it that ended up being the tipping point? Was it from hours of football practice in junior high to quarterback the team to the district finals, and then to fumble the ball on the one yard-line? Was it from working out in the fields near El Paso tricking la migra into thinking he and his brother were ‘wetbacks’? Was it from the river rafting trips he took as a teen? Was it from two years spent outside tracting as a missionary first in Chicago and then Sao Paulo?

We will never know what tipped time from counting up to counting down.

There is nowhere to place the blame, and likewise, nothing that could have changed it. Slowly that brown spot on his forehead turned red. Eventually a dermatologist diagnosed malignant melanoma skin cancer. Surgery removed the skin all the way down to the skull, in essence giving him a forehead lift, and removed a lymph node to which that area drained. His prognosis was very optimistic: one surgery and done, no chemo, no radiation. However, this bout with the cancer beast was really just the opening round. A cell or two still lurked undetected somewhere in the margins of the clean area excised from his skin.

The Harold Jones family blossomed over the next few years through marriage, births, moves, and college degrees. In cruel similarity, inside of Dad the cancer reproduced and reemerged. Melanoma intruded into new organs, eating up new tissue, and commandeering more blood supply. First it took roost in his brain, then the liver, the thigh, the back, and the lungs. We couldn’t see this transformation, and for the most part, Dad couldn’t feel it. From his perspective, he thought he was just getting a bit older. The normalcy of daily life ticked by. Dad still woke up at 5:00 am to teach early morning seminary, or when school was out, to play racquetball with his buddies. He worked in the office during the day and built his woodworking workshop on weekends.

That is until the seizures started in his brain.

A seizure is much like throwing a ping pong ball into a room covered with mouse traps. One short misfire creates a cacophony of other misfires and causes chaos in the brain’s circuitry. Though seizures can cause physical convulsions, Dad’s rarely did. His misfires started in the language portion of his brain, with stupors of thought, or gibberish coming out in place of words. They were so minor, so small at first, that not even Dad could tell what they were. However, these disturbances grew in scale until Dad realized it was more than just ageing. Something was wrong. A MRI revealed the terrifying shadows that transformed Dad from a healthy man to a one trying to beat the clock. He had 14 tumors in his brain, two were fatal if not immediately removed.

Returning to the office that March day, Dad pulled the company principals aside.

“I need to meet with you in the conference room.”
“We’re on our way to a meeting,” came the reply.
“I have 14 tumors in my brain.”

A long exhale.

Time froze.

Eight weeks to live. Five days until open brain surgery. A few hours to make plans. Children were flown in. A will was drafted up. Painful phone calls were made. Time had become so very precious, counted out in teardrops, hugs, and heavy sighs loaded with fears.

Faced with the impossible, our family chose to have faith in God. Faith that Dad would be healed. Faith that he would live. Faith in advancements of science and medicine. And buried somewhere deep inside, in the dark hidden places of our souls, a hope of faith that we would be OK even if he didn’t make it.

That first brain surgery was very successful, and we breathed. A severe September seizure sent shock waves through the family, but again Dad recovered. Each MRI showed improvement, but still new brain tumors growing. Chemotherapy helped too, and the tumors in Dad’s liver and lungs apparently disappeared. But those in the brain keep creeping in. Seven intrusive tumor surgeries. Dozens more zapped by Gamma knife.

We lived on, sometimes with baited breath, sometimes breathing freely.

Blessed with fifteen borrowed months, we had time enough to celebrate all the holidays and occasions knowing that it was something to be treasured. There was time enough for Dad to be with family, to travel, to meet future in-laws, to build a new optometry office, to welcome a newborn granddaughter. Time to be the beloved Grandpa Jones.

Then it came time to say goodbye. “At least you knew it was coming.” “You had time to be prepared,” offered well meaning friends. But it wasn’t true. We held fast to the hope for a miracle until even after his last breath. That dark place inside each of us, the fear that he would not beat it emerged. Confronting that demon was more difficult than watching him pass away.

It isn’t until now, in his absence, that I can perceive that ominous shadow.

The spot on Dad’s forehead marked him for about a decade. Those skin cells slowly mutated to become a nemesis within. The brown slowly, ever so slowly, cell by cell, transformed to cruel chartreuse. Just like you cannot see the shade when looking directly at the sun, Dad’s small faults and foibles were so easily overlooked. Those blemishes were insignificant compared to the joy of living and love he radiated to all those around him.

It took many months after Dad died to understand that we had already been blessed with so much time. Since his initial diagnosis, we forged our own paths and began forming our families. We were blessed to have worked, sweat, and laughed by his side. We were blessed to have Dad to guide us into adulthood and parenthood. We were blessed to create joyous memories of the many lessons Dad taught us.

Blessed with years to soak up his light.

The ultimate blessing is to feel his light shine on us still.

~Megan Kay Andersen, June 27, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

One Year

Friday, June 27th will be the one year anniversary of Harold's death. I started writing a letter to a friend who had sent a card in anticipation of that date then decided to post it here as the sentiments reflect the thoughts I would share with so many of you who continue to reach out to our family in love and service. 

Dear Friend,  
I received your gracious letter yesterday and want you to know it arrived at the perfect moment. My youngest daughter, Rebecca was married Saturday. It was a beautiful, happy event. I had many house guests in addition to hosting the reception, so my home has been a busy place. Sunday my new grandson Conrad was blessed at church followed by a big family luncheon here. The weekend was full of love and family and friends. 

Monday I returned from taking the last guests to the airport and sat down in my quiet house. Quiet house. That’s an adjustment met with both anticipation and dread. I was in the dread part when the mail arrived and I received your card. I wasn't alone. You remembered me. It was very touching that you would remember the anniversary of Harold’s death, an event so pivotal in my life, yet so easily lost to others in the flurry of daily living. Thank you.

That upcoming date had of necessity been emotionally set aside as we celebrated Becca’s wedding and the baby blessing. Set aside but not forgotten. Evelyn and her husband Bruce were here for these happy events; and since Bruce had not been able to attend Harold’s funeral, he also expressed a desire to “see” Harold's grave. Bruce is blind. Still, Bruce wanted to have a sense of this sacred place. There was very little unscheduled time but we squeezed in an hour on Sunday morning.

Visiting Harold’ grave was not something I did in the months immediately following his death. Not out of a sense of denial, but because I didn’t need to go there to feel close to him. I felt him close in my home and at the temple. The cemetery was, in a sense, a worldly place with grand mausoleums and other monuments to prominent Denver society. Yet I felt I should want to go.

Early this spring I went with some of my older grandchildren. The area of Harold’s grave is quiet and shaded. It’s like an open meadow because all the markers are flat. I’d thought Harold would like that. The kids and I cleaned the gravestone and talked in hushed voices. This was a new experience for all of us. It wasn’t so hard to visit his grave after that. I returned another time with a friend who also has a loved one buried there. She reminded me that Harold’s grave site is dedicated ground. A place set apart even in the midst of a large city cemetery. It was a new thought.

Our first family gathering at Harold’s grave was just before Memorial Day. I watched as my younger grandchildren laughed and played on the lawn, delighted to discover this new park. They were fascinated by all the vases of flowers and their parents were kept busy making sure they didn’t “pick” any to add to those we brought to Harold's grave. Ages five and younger, they still remember their Grandpa Jones. Carly, who last year watched so intently as Harold’s casket was lowered into the ground, came to me this time with a big smile and said, “Don’t worry Grandma. Grandpa will be resurrected again.” I hugged her and smiled back. “Yes, Carly, he will!” 

This year has brought births and baby blessings, weddings and receptions, repairs and remodels, farewells and reunions – all the stuff of life. It has been a time of discovery and adjustment. I received another card yesterday that speaks to this: “Life is a delicate balance between holding on and letting go. Easy? No. . . "

No it hasn’t exactly been easy but it has been doable. I remember writing a year ago about the events leading up to Harold’s death and the days immediately following. Then I asked, “How did we get to today? Looking back I realize my answer would be the same as it was then. “It’s simple. We were carried.”

Who’s doing the carrying?

People like you who remember and reach out to lift.

I believe we are also carried by loved ones from the other side of the veil. We don’t necessarily see them or feel their presence yet reason says they would continue to have a strong interest in our behalf. Eternal marriage continues beyond the grave. The calling of father or mother is eternal. No releases there. So I’m assuming Harold and my parents and his father and other loved ones continue to lift and carry us in ways we may or may not recognize.

We are protected and sustained by our Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ who so graciously offer to carry our burdens if we will allow.

Yes, we are being carried and I’m grateful.

I’m heading out in the morning for Girls Camp. The next four days will be an adventure supervising twenty young women ages twelve through eighteen. It’s been a long time since I pitched a tent, put on a back pack and hiked, but I’m sure I will be carried through this too, though I hope that won’t be literally necessary.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Choose Faith?

It’s been exactly two years since our family made the decision to choose faith and posted it on this blog:

"We know Harold’s diagnosis is very grave. We also know there may yet be a work for Harold to do here. We Choose Faith. Faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Faith in our Heavenly Father’s plan and faith that He knows our needs and fulfills his promises in His own way.
So perhaps we need a miracle . . . but if not, the Lord's will be done. We Choose Faith."   March 18, 2012

We made that choice and I’ve renewed it every day since. Why? 

Because faith gives me hope.

Faith gives me peace.

Faith gives me purpose.

And ultimately faith gives me knowledge.

By holding tight to that faith especially when times are hard, I’ve had a chance to test the words I’ve been taught since childhood. I’ve come to know my Savior's words are true. I don’t need to see him to feel his love or experience the peace he offers. I don’t need to see my Heavenly Father to know he is real and has a plan for me and for each of his children. I know he cares and is aware of my unique needs. I have witnessed that caring through miracles small and great.

Life is different and yet life is good. In November I was asked to be the president of the Young Women's organization at church. In December I was asked to house the missionaries. My quiet life has turned in unexpected new directions. 

Our family had a joyous holiday season marked by three special events. Kaylene and Rebecca both became engaged to wonderful young men. Weddings are planned for April and June. We celebrated Harold’s birthday by the arrival of a new grandson, Harrison Clive Jones. 

Spring approaches, coaxing winter to give up its fury. It was warm enough last week to work in the yard. It felt good to trim the overgrowth and clean up the matted ground. I noticed tulips breaking through the soil, as if checking out the weather. Despite the threatening snow they didn't retreat but resolutely  held their ground. I'm going to do the same. I choose faith.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Change the Light

Part of my coping strategy has been to fill my days with work. I came to a point recently when I wanted to have some fun. I needed a project – something fresh, something creative. I decided to tackle the basement. Two weeks later I’m almost finished and I think I’ve had enough fun.

I felt excited last night as I stood back to survey the newly painted walls, but that feeling evaporated as I realized the room didn’t look right. Way too yellow. This paint color has looked fine in other areas of our home, but not in the basement.

I spent hours trying to figure out a new color scheme and trying to convince myself to repaint. Then I had an idea: change the light bulbs. And just like that the walls turned a soft cream. The natural spectrum bulbs produced a truer light. Whew.

It is amazing how much the right light can improve our view. That got me thinking about another experience this week.

Sunday was my birthday and it was a joyous day. I enjoyed my time at Church and the association with friends there. The Primary children sang to me, then high-fived as I walked back to my seat. Some innocently asked how old I was. I chose not to respond, but one little boy guessed I was ninety two.

Later that afternoon my family hosted a birthday dinner. It wasn’t until I was home Sunday night that I realized my cell phone had been off all day. When I turned it on three new voice messages popped up. I smiled in anticipation of the greetings, but before I could hear them I had deal with one of the quirks of my phone.

My cell phone is rather vintage but it does most things I need so I haven't replaced it.There is one minor challenge. It’s is not easily backed up. I have some sentimental voice messages that I’ve kept for years but only listen to when I get a periodic reminder to re-save. When that reminder comes you have to go through all your old messages and save them before hearing the new ones.That was the case Sunday night. I quickly moved through the process, then stopped when I heard Harold’s voice:

“Hi Sharon, this is Harold. Just calling to let you know I got the lab reports back and everything is fine. . .” This message went on to tell the good news that there was no evidence cancer had spread from the small brown spot removed from his forehead. That spot was melanoma and the precursor to the battle that would take his life, but of course we didn’t know it then. I’d kept the message because it was such good news. In the four years since, we’ve had many moments of good news and hard news but this is the only moment captured in Harold’s voice.

A few messages later I heard this greeting: 

“Happy Birthday, a day late. . .” That happy, loving, teasing voice was my Dad. It was last year’s birthday message.

These two unexpected greetings were wonderful . . . and then painful. Grief hits unaware, like a sudden storm. In a moment I was awash in tears. I cried, and cried, and cried. After a time a hymn came to my mind and I let it play over and over as I cried. It describes a scene from the New Testament where Jesus and his disciples are in a boat crossing the sea. Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat when a huge storm comes up that frightens his disciples. They wake him.

Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o'ershadowed with blackness.
No shelter or help is nigh.

Carest thou not that we perish?
How canst thou lie asleep
When each moment so madly is threat'ning
A grave in the angry deep?


The winds and the waves shall obey thy will:
Peace, be still.
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea
Or demons or men or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies.
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, be still; peace, be still.
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, peace, be still.

I’m not sure why I had this song come to mind. I wasn’t in a storm at sea, but I was in a storm of grief. Can you drown in grief? That fear, however fleeting, was real. As the words of this hymn rekindled my faith, the waves receded and I felt calm.

Though most of this was subconscious, I think the hymn reminded me to “change the light” and that made all the difference. Grief is natural. It’s needful. It’s healthy. Go ahead and cry. Ride the waves. But also know there is a constant source of peace – our Savior Jesus Christ
– and when He's in the boat, we don't need to worry.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What Do We Keep?

Life continues at a frantic pace as I take on new roles in managing our business affairs. At times it's exhilarating and then overwhelming; but I’m always learning and that feels good. I’m grateful Harold encouraged me to be self reliant, allowing me to develop the skills I now need to survive. I’m grateful he also understood I would still need help. Sometimes when I am searching for information only he could know, I check his computer and find a spreadsheet prepared in anticipation of my search. There's no way around missing Harold, but I feel his care. Life is still good.

What Do We Keep  - September 8th.

I'm in Idaho. It’s my first time back since my dad died. I flew out to help settle his estate. I’m alone in the house today so I’ve had the chance to walk through the rooms, savoring the evidence of the life we shared and the loved ones who made that life so good.

An inventory has been taken and everything is prepared for dividing. But how do you break up the memories of a lifetime? Inwardly I rebel. Nothing should leave. I need these symbols of my heritage to stay intact to preserve my roots . . . or at least I think I do.

A curved topped cedar chest holds evidence of our family's beginnings. Preserved inside is my mother’s wedding dress and my father's military uniform. A rocking chair crafted from roughly hewn logs carries my grandfather’s signature while my grandmother’s is in the hand stitched quilt.

An open kitchen drawer reveals brightly knit hot pads made to protect my mother’s hands as she transferred savory roasts, homemade breads, and fruit pies from the oven to our waiting table. A cookie jar stands sentinel, still offering the tantalizing hope of a treat. 

Mom's upright piano represents years of beautiful music, and hard work. It was the vehicle of her virtuosity and the setting of endless hours of practice. My dad loved to listen to her play, and later when we were learning, he encouraged us too. The piano became the center of family gatherings with our children joining in the singing or playing or happily dancing to grandma's improvised jigs. 

The cases of books testify to my parents love of literature. Personal histories, journals, photo albums and framed portraits witness a commitment to family history and an interest in future generations.

Beyond material things there is a sense of order: The immaculately cared for lawns, the white barn, and the fields. My father continued to maintain his large yard even when age weakened his frame, relying on his riding lawnmower instead of his legs. Later family members stepped in, continuing his example of careful stewardship.

As I walk through the house and grounds I fight within myself. I can't bear to see the change. But change must come.
I want to walk away. But maybe I should stay. 

If I stay, what would I choose to keep?

My thoughts from September 8th ended with that question. Here's the rest of the story:

There are probably many elaborate strategies for safely dividing estates. Ours wasn’t too complicated. We drew straws, flipped coins, and for really hotly contested items, sat around the kitchen table and played Rock Paper Scissors. It was a blast. It worked because we had all figured out what to keep Relationships.