My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Consider… the happy condition of a Christian! He has his best things last, and therefore in this world he receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are “later” good things, hard plowings yielding joyful harvests. – Spurgeon, ed. by Alistair Begg
Back during radiation days when Alice was on steroids, she was insatiably, obnoxiously hungry. All she could think about was eating. She would close her eyes at night dreaming of breakfast, and end each meal asking for more. There was no reaching “full” on her tummy gauge. I remember it was so hard trying to calm her down while she was miserably obsessing about food.
Then we discovered the word “later.” Alice, you can have more Cheerio bear later. You can have crispus chicken later. Yes, you can have noodles later. And wouldn’t you know it, it actually worked. She would say, “ok,” and for while anyway, that was that. She trusted us that the food was coming, and so long as the promise was there, she could, and did endure.
I was always surprised that it worked. But so long as we held up our end of the deal and “later” actually came, she was ok with putting up with a little misery in the present for some happiness in the future. She learned to work the system, too. “Dad, we can go to the store later.” Of course we can, after all, “later” isn’t now, and we will go to the store, so what was I supposed to say? But once she got my word, she made sure I didn’t forget. Later always came.
For 8-1/2 months now, we have been made keenly aware that our Alice gauge never gets quite full. You just can’t get enough Alice. Her smiles, giggles, her funny phrases, her winsome presence that just made life better because she was there in it, and the more Alice life had, the sweeter it was. If you knew Alice, or even if you’ve just seen her pictures and gotten to know her a little bit through the dim glass of my words, you know this to be true.
And so we have asked our Father for more Alice. Last night our Father said, “Later.”
As Alice trusted her “later” to Mama and Daddy, and in our imperfect, failing ways we tried to deliver, we now look to our Father fully expecting him to deliver.
Alice is in the Palace. A little after 9:00 I was lying beside her in bed, alternately doing a little reading, staring into those tired eyes or stroking her hair, or comforting Emily who was crying, lying on the other side of her, I noticed her breaths become incredibly shallow. At the piano, Michele had just finished playing “God be with you till we meet again,” and was tending to Violet. I called her in, and the kids all came in, and we gathered around, lifted Alice into Shelly’s arms, and together we watched and cried as Alice drew her final breaths. At 9:13, she was gone. We kissed her, cried over her, recited Psalm 23 together, and thanked our Lord for giving her to us. Better to have just a few short years of Alice time than none at all.
In the end, Alice died peacefully. I never would have believed she had the strength to endure as long as she did. There is so much more to her than we knew, even though by this time Shelly, the kids and I could have PhD’s in Aliceology, because knowing her has been such a central part of our life these last months.
Extended family came, Pastor Bob came, and we gathered around Alice, lying there in our bed. We hugged, cried, and heard him bring to us words of hope and comfort, the sweet promises of a loving Heavenly Father.
I had decided several months ago that if Alice must go, I wanted to build her coffin, or as I call it, her final bed. It just seemed right, and something I could do to honor my daughter. I guess I’ve always made most of the beds and furniture around our house, and I didn’t want her sleeping in a bed someone made when I could make it.
But it seemed wrong to be building it while she was awake, and I really didn’t want the other kids to know what I was doing, so one Friday night, about 11:00, my brothers and brother-in-law came, and we worked all night to build it, finishing up just after sunrise the next morning. I really hoped she’d never have to use it, but now that she needs one last bed for her weary body, I’m glad to have been able to give it to her. And I’m so grateful to my carpenter brothers for coming to tackle it with me, it was a great honor to watch them ply their tremendous skills at such a strange hour. I think I’ll always think fondly of that night, working together with them, hard as it was.
I feel like there should be an “end credits” or something, like this is the end of Alice’s story so I need to give thanks to everyone who made it what it was. Let me just say this, and I hope it suffices: Alice received more love and support from more people and places than any little girl could ever have dreamed. And because Michele and the kids and I were so near her, we got splashed, no, drenched with the deluge of love that you all have poured out on Alice. Thank you. Thank you to the people at the doctor’s house that she loved so much, thank you to our church family who continually encouraged me to just keep my eyes on Alice and made it possible for me to spend more time with her than I could have ever imagined. Thank you all who prayed her and us through this – I will say more to you hopefully in the near future – and thank you all who sent cards, money, gifts, little beams of light in our dark path that lifted our spirits, eased our burdens, and nourished our bodies and souls. Thank you to our families who have allowed their lives to be interrupted so many times to care for Alice and us.
And to the Lord Jesus, we thank you in faith, believing today as always that you have orchestrated this in such a way and for such a purpose that laterwe will give thanks and really feel thankful. We are thankful for so much goodness from your hand, but truth be told, right now we’d trade the goodness we’ve seen while losing Alice for just not losing her in the first place. We trust you.
As I thought about the imagery of Psalm 23 last night, particularly the green pastures and the table in the presence of the enemies, I couldn’t help but imagine Jesus and Alice having a bit of a picnic under some celestial chestnut tree in the front yard of the palace, her tumor lying lifeless and now harmless before them, Alice laughing as Jesus filled her cup and just kept pouring and pouring and pouring… I know she arrived thirsty. Anyway, as they raise their dripping glasses, Alice smirks and gives that wretched cancerous blob a slap and a poke, maybe hits it with a shovel handle, funny guys style. Surely goodness and mercy has followed her, and she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Can’t wait to join her.
Much more to say I suppose, but it will wait for another time.
Earlier this year, my lovely and talented Shelly drew the picture you see. I stole it, and it now hangs in my office.
We will begin figuring out funeral arrangements later this morning. I may post them here, otherwise I’m sure they’ll be making their rounds on Facebook.