The Best Thanksgiving

By Kate Morrow

Thanksgiving has always been my most favorite holiday. A time for cooking, wearing comfortable clothes and lounging, catching up with family, playing games, watching football. It’s just such a cozy holiday that truly kicks off the entire holiday season.

Last year, Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning. Our babies came home.IMG_6781

In the NICU, they never really tell you when your baby will discharge because things could literally change in the next moment. But on the Friday morning before Thanksgiving, our nurse practitioner excitingly told us the babies would discharge that Sunday and they would be home for Thanksgiving.

We were beyond thrilled! My husband, our families, and I came together like an Army— finishing the nursery, washing all the sheets and blankets, and getting all of the last-minute items. Cam and I went on a date night Saturday to celebrate and have one last “date” before we knew life as we knew it would get a little crazier with newborn twins at home.

I was like a kid on Christmas Eve and could not sleep at all on Saturday night. When the alarm finally went off, I sprung out of bed. The car seats were packed. Their coming home outfits were finally packed. This was truly going to be the best day ever.

It took a good while to pack up our 76 day adventure in the NICU and get everyone loaded in the car. We arrived home to all of the grandparents standing on the porch, complete with balloons, storks announcing their homecoming in the front yard, and an excited dog anxious to meet his brother and sister.

I dreamed of this day. I longed for this day. I wanted this day so badly and it was here. We were finally basking in the beauty and joy we so desperately dreamt of for those 76 days and during my favorite and the most wonderful time of year.

IMG_6834On Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving. Because we were technically in medical isolation, only our selected caregivers could be there. We all sat down at the table—Cam, me, Yaya, Pops, Gigi, Poppy, and Jack and Lilly in their bassinets. We held hands and we prayed. We ate. We shared stories. We tended to the babies. We snuggled.

I can distinctly remember looking around the room and thinking there was no absolute way I could ever possibly get any happier. Everything and everyone I loved most in the world was finally together.

This year, their Poppy— my dad— will be missing from the table. I find so much peace and comfort in knowing that our last Thanksgiving with him was the best Thanksgiving of my life. This is our first big holiday without him and my heart hurts. My heart hurts for the cranberry dressing he won’t fix this year. My heart hurts that he won’t scold me for picking at the trimmings as he carves the turkey. My heart hurts that we wont sneak a few midnight snacks of leftover macaroni and pecan pie.

fullsizeoutput_f6But just like the changing leaves and cold air that are upon us—I know this, too, is just a season of life. I can remember some of the very best Thanksgivings I have ever had. I can remember some of the ones that weren’t as easy. But, I am thankful for them all. And I know easier and better Thanksgivings are in my future.

Wherever you are, whatever you are going through, Happy Thanksgiving!

Poppy’s Cranberry Dressing:

Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 package of fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons of orange zest

Method: 

Add sugar, a half of cup of water and orange juice to a sauce pan. Bring to boil and then add cranberries. Allow to boil. Reduce heat and boil for 9-10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add orange zest. Allow to cool. Refrigerate.

It Takes a Village. And a Double Grandpa.

By Kate Morrow

When agreeing to write for this blog, I knew one of the posts would be about the sudden and traumatic loss of my father. I dreaded writing this one. But, it needs to be told and I want to get this one out of my mind, off my plate, out of sight.

I recently read an article that was entitled, “The Unique Hell of Losing A Parent When Your Kids Are Small.” As I read the article, a few lines really struck me:

“As taxing as it was, I put on my brave face and did what I had to do at home. Then I put on my brave face and did what I had to do at the hospital, and they were none the wiser.”

 I remember exactly what I was wearing, what I was doing when I found out about my father’s unexpected and quick death. My brother called me. He didn’t even have to say it. I just knew. It was 4:45 p.m. on a Tuesday. I was still in the midst of my maternity leave. My husband Cam was about to leave the office and head home. William, my brother, uttered the word, “I hate to have to tell you this, but Dad…”

I instantly started screaming, “No. You’re lying. No.” I ran onto the front porch. I cried. I felt helpless and panicked. And then the twins started crying as they woke up from their nap. I remember having to hide my pain, my tears, my anguish, when all I wanted to do was sink into the floor. I could barely breathe. But they needed me.

 “If there is one absolute truth, it is that death and grief and small children do not mix. Life as I knew it changed forever, but my circumstances and responsibilities did not. I was waist-deep in naps, meal prep, butt-wiping, art projects, the flu, paying bills, loads of laundry.”

 I often wonder how I would have handled my grief differently if I were not a mother yet. I probably would have spent a lot of days in the bed, under the covers, with a pint of ice cream, and the television on Netflix to get my through my sadness. But as a new mom with infant twins, that was simply not a choice.

I remember telling my husband often, that I didn’t even have time to appropriately grieve my father because I was so busy being a twin mom. There are days I still feel I haven’t grieved him adequately and it’s going to hit me even more immensely when time slows down. Even though my husband was there every step of the way and my in-laws fly down the interstate any time I am in need—babies are babies and they still need Momma.

“Intense waves of grief periodically stop me in my tracks, take my breath away and force me to sit down and say to myself, “Holy shit, that happened.” Those waves will crash in the rest of my life, and if time is able to do anything for me, it will give me longer stretches between each one.”

 In the weeks and months after my father’s death, I would find myself so busy between caring for the twins, being a wife, keeping up with the house, learning my new job, that I would sometimes forget for split seconds at a time that my father had passed. I would randomly think of him and how I should “call to tell him something” or “the next time I see Dad.”

And then it would hit me. And I would force myself to think about it. Really think about it. “This is forever.” “I will never see, hug, or talk to him again.”

There is no feeling in the world to describe that pain. None. There is no amount of time or level of busyness that can get you through that.

But honestly, being Jack and Lilly’s mom has given me so much inspiration and gotten me through some of the toughest days. People often ask me how I have been so strong through this. It is partially because I am so busy with life, but also part that I saw so much life and death during our hospital stay. I know the world has to end for some for others to begin.

The hardest part about my father’s death? Not getting to see him be a grandfather. He only got to be a grandfather for the twins’ first six months of life. He visited them in the NICU frequently, FaceTimed with us often, held them for the first time on Thanksgiving Day. It hurts the most because he would have been one of the world’s best.

He was so proud of them. After he died, I was the family member in charge of clearing off his phone. I found a photo log full of every single picture I ever sent him of the twins. I found text message after text message of him beaming with pride about his twin grandchildren to his family and friends.

What makes it better? A man that often gets overlooked because he is quiet, but humble. A man who I can simply not find enough words to tell how much I love, appreciate, and am grateful for not ever intending to take my dad’s place but intentionally makes the pain less deep because he is always there. A man who had to balance the difficulty of being overjoyed to be a new grandfather without overshadowing my pain in losing another new grandfather, my dad. He is sincere, loving, and giving. The epitome of what it means to be the protector of one’s family. Losing my father was breathtakingly, stop you dead in your tracks, painfully hard, but having someone I consider my second father made it easier.

He, my father-in-law, has the hardest job of all—being Jack and Lilly’s double Earthly grandfather. I have watched him these past eight months in awe and wonder as he has been there for all of their firsts, putting in overtime to make them feel the love of having a grandfather.  The world’s best.

I know Dad is honored to give you his Grandpa moments that he is watching from Heaven with the same awe, wonder, and pride.

Thanks for being in our village, Ed. We love you.

The Whispering Signs of Ovarian Cancer – Do You Know Them?

By Janet Prince

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and I want to share with you the signs of ovarian cancer…why?  Because I lost my mother –  my very best friend – to ovarian cancer eight years ago and I still miss her every day.  As I shared last month, I am a breast cancer survivor but what I didn’t share is that my mother was diagnosed just five months after me with ovarian cancer.  Just like most women, my mother was so busy helping to take care of me and helping Gary with our two small children that she didn’t have time to listen to the “whispers of ovarian cancer”.

In September of 2003 as my Mom was taking care of me, I noticed her acting a little nervous.  I knew something was wrong and she was holding something back, so finally I got it out of her that “she too had a little problem”.  So, in October I finished my chemo for breast cancer one week and the following week my Mom started her chemo treatment.  We continued our cancer journey together…as my hair was returning, hers was going away.

Over the next few years, she took all the “cancer” hits for us.  My cancer to date has never returned, but Mama’s kept rearing its ugly head every time we thought we had it beat.  On Mother’s Day 2010, I admitted my Mother to the hospital and learned the end was near.  She was placed on In-Hospital Hospice in June and she passed away August 8, 2010.  During this time, we laughed, we talked and I cried.  We were blessed with those very special days and I was blessed to have a husband and family who let me spend those final eight weeks, day and night,  with her.  Gary and the girls would come to the hospital and the girls would crawl up in the bed and share with their Granny how their day was and what was going on in their life.  I believe it was those special times that kept Mama going until it was her time to go.  The night she left us, I held her hand in mine and watched as she left, and I know in my heart she went from my hand to my Daddy’s hand.  And in an instant my best friend was gone.

mom

I encourage you to know your body and know the symptoms of ovarian cancer.  What makes them hard to determine if something is wrong or not is that the symptoms of ovarian cancer are things that we just chalk up to minor irritations.  The Whispering Symptoms include:  abdominal pressure, bloating and discomfort, unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, unexplained weight fluctuation and constant feeling of fullness.  Now who of us hasn’t had many or all of these symptoms at some point in time?  If any of these symptoms prolong you may want to check with your gynecologist…and remember a pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer.

The Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Central South Carolina provides educational information, provides speakers for area lunch and learns, and holds the Cathy B. Novinger Annual Butterfly Release on the steps of the State House.  This year the Butterfly Release will be held on September 20th and butterflies will be released in honor and in memory of those who are battling or have lost their battle with ovarian cancer.  More information can be found at www.ovariancancermidlands.org

Until next time,

Janet

Pawprints on my heart

By Jeanne Reynolds

It’s taken me more than a month to be able to write this. It’s just been too hard to talk about or even think much about. In late July, we lost our beloved cat, Walker.

When I say “lost,” that’s not entirely accurate, because we know exactly where he is: galloping across kitty heaven, hanging out on God’s screened porch, purring loud as a motor boat as an angel’s hand reaches out to pet him.Walker on porch

Like any loved one, he was only on loan to us. But it’s still been so hard to give him back.

I know anyone who’s lost a fur baby has felt this pain. The staff at the animal emergency room – who see it all the time – were especially caring and thoughtful. They sent us a card with sweet notes that bring back my tears even as I read them six weeks later:

“Cats may be small in size but their spirits are large.”

 “Pets are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

 “They leave our homes but never our hearts.”

“Some angels have fur instead of wings.”

They also enclosed a printed page with a wonderful message. Maybe it will someday also help you, a friend or a family member with tender paw prints on their hearts.

Our Friend, Our Family

WalkerFolks are born so they can learn how to live a good life. This takes a long time. Pets already know how to do this, so they don’t have to stay as long.

These are some of the things our pets have taught us:

  • Live simply, love generously, care deeply and speak kindly.
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  • Take naps.
  • Run, romp and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch your heart.
  • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • On warm days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
  • When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you’re not.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

Walker on couchAlso on that card was written this note: “Our furry friends never leave us. They run ahead and wait.”

I’m looking forward to our next faux-wrestling match and hearing that motor boat purr again one day, Walker. I know you’ll be waiting.

The Loss of My Precious Haley

This month, we are introducing our new bloggers not only with their posts, but with a video!

Meet Tina:

By Tina Cameron

The loss of a pet is heartbreaking. It doesn’t matter the circumstances; a pet dying from old age; an illness such as cancer or the difficult decision to send them over the Rainbow Bridge to end their suffering–it is just heartbreaking. This is the story of my precious Haley who was in my life for almost 10 years. She loved food, her stuffed animals and stealing my pillow at night.And, unfortunately, was also sick most of her life.

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At eight months old, she had emergency surgery and was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and seizures. At age two, she was diagnosed with liver failure and I was told she would not live past four. I was determined to have her time left with me to be just lots of snuggles, love and any food she wanted to eat. After a few months, we returned to the vet and there was no change in her liver enzymes but, she was still active and thriving, so I decided to change her diet myself since she refused to eat the specialty food from the vet anymore. Within three weeks, her liver enzymes were reduced by half. I was thrilled as was her vet. So, we carried on and still had the occasional Chick-fil-a run.FB_IMG_1510321410447

Year after year she continued to have elevated enzymes and birthdays. In October 2017 her liver enzymes were normal for the first time in 7 years. I was ecstatic since we had just celebrated her 9th birthday on September 20th, 2017. Fast forward to June 13th, 2018 at her next vet visit. She had begun losing weight despite eating like a pig. At the vet, while waiting to be seen, she became lethargic. She was seen right away and after her assessment was rushed for lab work and an x-ray. She had an enlarged heart, a heart murmur, severe constipation, low blood sugar (which explains the lethargy) and with Insulinoma, which is a rare malignant pancreatic tumor that causes low blood sugar, seizures, difficulty walking, and weight loss. She had all of these symptoms. The vet talked to me about options and that quality was more important than quantity.

The next twelve days were a blur as she had to be fed every four hours to keep her sugar elevated. She began to decline rapidly and started distancing herself from me in a way to prepare me for what was coming. On day 12, June 25th, 2018 I made the most difficult decision to put her down and to end her suffering. By this time, she was bleeding and vomiting bright red blood and refused to be syringed fed or watered.

On the way to the vet, we had the windows down, took selfies at red lights, and cranked up Miranda Lambert. She was smiling because I think she knew where we were going. At the vet, her IV was started, pictures were taken, and I wrapped her in her favorite blanket, held her and repeatedly told her through the tears it was okay to go and how much I loved her. The medications were given, and her suffering was over in a minute and a half.

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It has now been four weeks, I am still grieving and missing her every day. My other Yorkie– Peyton Manning is still grieving as well. Pets are our family. So, Haley, please know that you were/are my heart; my chick-fil-a loving, cheese and Pringles crunching loving sweet girl. You brought so much joy into our lives. You were sick more than you were healthy the 9 years, 9 months and 5 days you were on this Earth. You are finally free of pain and can run with all the sweet dogs, cats and bunnies in Heaven. My heart is broken but knowing you are happy and healthy gives me comfort. I will look after Peyton as she is so lost without you. I will love you furever my precious sweet girl.

The Final Chapter: Bittersweet

By: Roshanda Pratt

Within three weeks, I have seen two friends bury their parents.  Death is never easy.  The final chapter in a life, even if it is one well lived, never comes as easy, even if you are “prepared.”  The first home-going service was for the mother, of my friend, who had been battling cancer for a while.  Her service lasted well over an hour, an indication of the type of life Mrs. Green lived.  She was the loving mother of ten, a wife of 50 years, a community servant, and a pastor at her local church.  As each person eulogized her, the theme was the same; Mrs. Green was a caring, loving, and no-nonsense woman who would give you her last if that meant you had the best.  Mrs. Green was a woman worth emulating.  Unfortunately, Ms. Green was diagnosed with cancer.  She outlived many of the doctors’ reports.  And even as she fought this disease she prepared her family for her journey home.  Even in death she was still thinking of others.

My other friend buried her father last week.  Mr. Charles was diagnosed 8 weeks ago with cancer.  According to doctor’s reports, Mr. Charles was given 6 months to live.  My friend uprooted her family, moved back home to spend the final 6 months with her Daddy.  Mr. Charles would subcome to cancer.  He did not make 6 months.  At his home-going service, I learned Mr. Charles was a family man, active in church, kind to strangers and loved by many.

Life is precious.  Life is fragile.  Life is a vapor.

I do not know what it is like to lose a parent.  How do you prepare?  I have asked myself this several times especially over the past few weeks.  I don’t have a profound answer; just a thought that time is a gift.  Time is what I heard my friend, who lost her father so quickly, stated she wanted more of it.  Time can be our most precious gift.

I was a 13 year-old volunteer candy striper at my local hospital in New York.  I would sit with patients, help nurses, and deliver flowers and a few smiles.  I really liked the job.  One day I was helping a patient, a woman hooked up to an oxygen machine.  I felt for that lady, even as a 13 year-old, my heart hurt for her.  The nurse came in and asked me to help change her bed sheets.  As we began the process, her breathing became more labored.  The nurse turned to me, motioned for me to stop and said, as if she were the judge, “She is dying.” I was shocked.  Here I am holding this lady in my arms listening to her fight with her last breathe, eyes wide open looking right into mine. I was stuck.  At 13 years old, I wanted to run away!  I wanted to just deliver flowers and smiles, and now death has ruined that.  The nurse ran out the room to get the doctor.  I continued to hold this lady as she took her last breath.  On the inside I felt like she did not need to be alone in that moment.  She died.  The nurses on the unit called my mom, who comforted me. I left the hospital early that day and my job as a candy striper was short lived.  I never met her family.  I did not know much about her. I often wondered if she had any children or if she was married. I wondered if she was “ready” to die.  Who is ever ready to die?  I wondered if she had regrets.

I decided long ago never to live in regrets with loved ones.  I think the mourning process becomes difficult many times because there are unspoken words, unforgiveness, regrets and time lost.  Even as I think about the fact that my parents will die someday, I can say I have been the best daughter to them (I have repented for the teenage years. Smile.).  The old adage goes, “Give people their flowers while they are still living.”  I talk to my parents often and when I do, I tell them how much I love and appreciate them.  My parents may not have done everything right, but I am thankful for them.  I make sure they know it.  I am discovering parenting does not come with an instructional manual, but through the grace of God and His wisdom you can raise children.

I want when my parents leave this earth for my heart to be at rest.  I will miss them.  I will cry.  However, I will know I gave them the best of me when they were living.

Both of my friends gave their best of themselves while their parents were living.  I saw my friend pack up her home within a week, giving away what she could not take, selling the rest, transferring her children from their school to move two hours back home to be with her father in his last moments.  I have seen my other friend travel back and forth to spend time with her mother at the hospital and through chemo treatments.  They both served their parents well.

As my husband and I sat through their parents’ final celebration of life, I thought how I never really got a chance to meet their parents.  However, I felt like I knew them through their daughters.  Every story, joke and personal testimony described my two friends.  What an indication of a life well lived.  That is legacy.  So, as my friends deal with the difficult part of the holidays without their loved ones, I hope they can find some peace in knowing they served their parents well, and even though mom and dad are gone, they are still part of their lives by how they live it.

This story is dedicated to Sharranda and Denise. Although we hate to see a good book come to an end, however, a good book well written always inspires those who read it. Remember that in the weeks and months ahead. (Matthew 25:23)