after your last breath…
My dad found out on his seventy-sixth birthday, April 30, 2013, that he had small cell lung cancer. The doctors thought they could treat it relatively easy and that he’d have no long lasting effects of the disease. He hadn’t smoked in over thirty years and was still working full-time. Up to that point – he’d been healthy and could do anything he wanted to do. He loved to fish, camp and play golf. After three months of treatments, and the loss of thirty pounds, we got the news that things didn’t look so good. He was very committed to beat this thing and get back to work soon. In week four of his last month, we had to move him from the hospital to hospice care. One lung had filled up completely and the other about half. Melanie, Betty Terry (his sister), Sam (Betty’s husband), Betty Lou (his wife) and I took turns around the clock to make sure his last days were comfortable. Several family members made the trip to Wichita Falls, TX to see him for one last time.
My sons, Jared and Travis came to visit and pray for dad. My cousin, Rick Terry, also came to see him and reminisce about the good ole days. The first couple of days in hospice were pretty good, dad loved the vanilla Frosty from Wendy’s and Melanie made the run to get him one on Tuesday, however, by day four (Thursday) he had slipped into a coma and didn’t wake up again. Then an amazing thing happened. On Saturday morning around noon his sister had returned to their house to get some sleep and Betty Lou came to the hospice room to spend the day with dad. He made a last move. I was sitting where I could see dad, Betty Lou was sitting beside him, holding his hand and talking with me. I thought I saw him close his mouth as if he was going to say something.
I didn’t say anything until he did it again. It was at that moment I said to Betty Lou, “I think he wants a kiss”, she stood up and started kissing him and holding his head. I stood up too and stood beside them and at that moment, his breathing slowed and within just a few more moments, he had left us. Very peaceful but incredibly impactful. In just a few moments, Melanie returned to the room after visiting with one of the beautiful people that worked at the center and realized what had taken place and we shared again what had happened in those final moments. We contacted dads sister, Betty, and her husband, Sam, and we all gathered around him and said our final goodbyes. August, 24, 2013 – almost four months to the day from when he found out he had cancer, he was gone.
My favorite growing up picture when we were all younger. Dad, mom, Bobby Gene, Jr., Samuel Lee and me (Stephen Douglas).
In March of 2014, my mom found out just a few months before her seventy-sixth birthday on October 6, 2014 that she had a developing growth in one of her lungs. She had moved from the farm in the Arapaho area (after losing her husband, Bob Lacy in 2011) to be closer to Bob (my brother) and Paula (my sister-in-law). She had retired from work and was in failing health during this time. Melanie and I had gone to Yukon in September of 2014 and met with Bob, Paula and mom to tour an assisted living center there so someone would help her around the clock as she was having falling spells and needed someone close by to help take care of her. We were just a couple of weeks away from moving her in, and had just hired a nurse to stop by and check on her everyday. On September 29, 2014 the first morning the nurse went by, she couldn’t get mom to answer the door. She called us at our home in Scottsdale, AZ and we talked her through where she could find a key to get in. Sadly, sometime during the night, mom had gotten out of bed, fell and hit her head and wasn’t able to get up. She was breathing, but not doing very well. Melanie was already in Oklahoma, moving my step mother, Betty Lou to Clinton, so I hopped on a plane and flew into Oklahoma City to meet Bob, Paula and Melanie at the hospital. Mom was fairly alert and doing much better by the time I got in. She knew all of us and could talk in brief answers, but it was too early to know how she was doing until the swelling went down and further testing could be done. They had also moved her from the Yukon hospital to OU Medical Hospital in OKC on Tuesday.We decided to take shifts at the hospital since she was in the intensive care unit. Ironically, as Paula pointed out, mom had been in the hospital that same day fifty-eight years earlier, giving birth to my brother Bob. Sept 30, 1956.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014 was a day that changed my life forever. In so many ways. As Melanie and I visited with mom during that afternoon, she made the comment to us, “I’m dying”. We didn’t know just how she meant that, was it a statement or a question? We tried to assure her that although she might be, we’d be there to hold her hand if she was. She also talked about her mom and sister a lot that afternoon, that were both already in heaven. One of the the things we’d done earlier in the day was show her a picture of her brother, and asked her who that was and she said, “my brother”.
Charles has always been her baby brother that she knew loved her very much. We also talked about Sam, my brother that passed away in 2004. So, as you can tell, she knew what was about to happen. She told Melanie that she was scared, so we read through the 23rd Psalm together as we held her hands and she said she felt a lot better after that. Peace had taken over.Bob came in that evening to take over the night shift with her, so Melanie and I left to go eat some dinner and try to get some sleep. After we had returned to the hotel from dinner and about to head to bed, Bob called and said mom had taken a turn for the worse and we needed to get there. Mom had signed a DNR and unfortunately at that time, she was being kept alive by life support and we knew she didn’t want that. The doctor explained to us just how bad her situation was and that she wasn’t going to get better, in fact, much worse. His advice to us that will forever be in our minds, was if this was his mom laying there, he’d take her off life support, per her wishes. She was in constant pain, with no relief, even from medication. We all decided together to honor her wishes.
Bob and Paula were on one side of the bed, Melanie and I on the other. As we all had ahold of mom’s hands and I had one of my hands on her cheek, she slipped into her eternity in just a few minutes. At that moment, a tear came out of one of her closed eyes and rolled over my hand. Time stopped.
Nothing can prepare you for these moments. Nothing.
At this stage in my life, I believe that the legacy you leave is all you truly have to leave. So don’t blow it.
Having been in various leadership roles since the age of fifteen, I’ve always been drawn to personal development and influence. Knowing how to lead people isn’t something you’re born with, you have to be hungry to learn from the best and work on it daily.
John Maxwell, the worlds’ leadership authority has been the biggest leadership influence in my life. I’ve been reading his books for over twenty five years, and was lucky enough last year to be in his inner circle and receive personal mentorship from him.
I have always wanted to write a book. To share a lifetime of experiences and learning in order to help others live this life a better person than they were yesterday and encourage them to leave a memorable legacy when there are no more tomorrows.
A few months after mom’s funeral, as I was driving home from work and reflecting on my experiences of the last eighteen months, it came to me. I was there when dad took his last breath, I was there when mom took her last breath.
Write a book.