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I Thought About You Today

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 I thought about you today. I can’t help but wonder what your parents are doing today. How they’re coping  on this, their first Thanksgiving without you. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day we give thanks for the blessings God has bestowed upon us. It’s supposed to be filled with family, friends, food and fellowship. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be to be thankful for only three months. 

My day is filled with all those things Thanksgiving is supposed to be. Surrounded by family, we’ve been eating for two straight days. We’ve eaten more food in two days than we could ever need in a full week. We’ve been fellowshipping and making memories that I pray will carry this tired, weary mind well into old age. I’ve been calling and texting friends to remind them I’m thankful for them, and been encouraged in receiving their words of love in kind. It really is a picturesque Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Yes, I thought about you today. As I sit here on the couch, my daughter is snuggled up beside me, my boys are running around playing cheerfully with their cousins, my wife and other daughter niece are in the kitchen putting the final touches on another meal fit for royalty, my brothers and father are sitting around telling stories, other family and loved ones are milling about enjoying each other’s company, and the youngest in the family sits in her momma’s lap across from me. At only eighteen months, she’s a full year older than you would have been today. As I watch her, I can’t help but think of you.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember walking through the front door and laying my eyes on you for the first time. My heart literally skipped a beat and fell out of my chest when I first saw you. I remember scooping your lifeless body off the floor, cradling your limp body in my arm as I leaned down to place my lips over yours. In twenty years on the job, I’ve used a BVM to perform manual respirations on the old and the young dozens of times, but I’d yet to find myself literally breathing my own breath into someone else’s lungs. As I did, your cold lips on mine startled me. I wasn’t prepared for that. No amount of training on a mannequin could have prepared me for that.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember wrapping my hands around your little torso. As my hands fully encircled your chest, my thumbs over your sternum, I squeezed, trying desperately to pump life into your veins. I’ve performed chest compressions on lifeless patients for more than twenty years, but you. You. At just three months, squeezing your chest…I can’t even describe. There just are…No. Words.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember the fast walk to meet the ambulance at the street, jumping up in the back and saying, “we gotta go. Now.” I remember every second of the drive to the hospital, the longest ride of my life. I remember every squeeze. Every breath. Never before that day have I actively prayed over someone as I tried desperately to save their life, and here I was, praying out loud as we worked to bring you back. I remember every word. Every plea. Every cry to God for His healing touch and breath of life.

Yes, I thought about you today. I remember the concerned looks on the faces of the ED staff as we walked in the room. Their frantic efforts to revive you. Their defeat an hour later as they also conceded to the reality that it was not up to us to choose life for you. I remember your parents and the desperation in their faces as they struggled to let go of you. Oh, how they loved you…it was so evident in that moment.

It’s all etched so deeply in my psyche that it’s just there now. Always. It’s just become part of who I am now. Every. Single. Bit. Every time I remember you, I relive it. Not part of it, or bits and pieces of it, but every single moment…from the second I walked through the door all the way through the long drive back to the firehouse, four grown men…completely silent…knowing nothing could be said.

Yes, I thought about you today. Again today, for the umpteenth time I questioned what we could have done different, how we could have been faster, worked harder, prayed stronger, believed more. I know. I know in my heart we did all we could, that it wasn’t up to us to choose life for you on that afternoon. But it doesn’t stop the interrogation I face in my own mind…every. single. day. I force myself to find my own portion of peace in knowing we did all we could…that it wasn’t for me to decide. But the memory of that afternoon will haunt me until I, too, take my last breath. 

Yes, I thought about you today. Although the memory of that day will haunt me a lifetime, I have it easy. I can’t help but wonder what life for your family must be like in your absence. This first Thanksgiving without you must be unbearable. As I give thanks today for all that God has given me, I pray your parents either already have, or will one day soon, come to a place of peace in their lives. I pray they will come to a point where they are thankful for the three months they had with you, not resentful for the lifetime they didn’t. It’s unlikely they’ll ever read this, but if by chance they come across these words some day, I pray they can forgive me. Please know you are in my prayers every time I think of your precious baby girl.

Yes, I thought about you today. I think about you every day. May the God of peace and mercy be with your family this day and the next.

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If Not You, Then Who?

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Son,

If yesterday’s note wasn’t sufficient to caution you to the emotional turmoil that comes with the job of a firefighter, let me be clear in helping you see that.  Not to bring attention to myself or the battles I face, nor to glorify myself at all.  Not for any other reason than out of a desire that you never have to say “why didn’t someone warn me?”

The job has its rewards, there’s no argument there.  But…

One day you’ll wake up at 2am and find a teenager impaled on a guardrail, blood still dripping from his body after having been ejected from the vehicle…head crushed from going through the windshield…brain matter lying on the ground beneath him…while his “friend” sits on the curb laughing as if nothing happened because he’s too drunk to know he just killed his friend. Your frustration will seem more than you can bear. You’ll want to beat some sense into him, but you’ll bite your tongue and try to forget. You won’t be able to.

One morning while your breakfast sits on the table waiting for your return, you’ll hold the hand of a woman whose husband lies dead on her living room floor…your hand still sweating after having spent the last hour pumping on his chest…the feeling of his ribs crushing under the weight of your thrusts still fresh on your mind.  You won’t have the stomach to finish breakfast when you get back.

One night you’ll crawl on hands and knees searching with gloved hands through a darkness you can’t see through for a man who’s trapped in his home as it burns down around you.  You won’t find him in time, and you’ll be forced to leave him…only to realize later that unbeknownst to you, he had already burned up and you were crawling all over the top of his burned corpse…his melted skin now covering you, hanging from you like the memory of that night will hang with you…forever haunting you. The smell will be like you never expected…the memory of that smell will ruin many future meals for you.

One beautiful, sunny, warm morning you’ll send your own kids off to school and come to work.  Your first call of the day will be a seven year old boy who’s just been run over by the school bus, his body split wide open from gut to knee.  Still alive, the look in his eyes as you scoop him into your arms will haunt you until the day you die.  You’ll know you did all you could for him, but even knowing that is not enough to keep his mother’s screams and the cries of his friends on the bus from jolting you from your sleep fifteen years later.

Some day you’ll have to experience worse than all that.  Things that can’t be described.  Things that you’ll have to bury deep in the recesses of your own mind just to keep moving forward.  Things that can’t be shared with someone outside of the brotherhood who’s lived it with you.  You’ll hear people say your job is great, that the schedule is nice and the pay makes it worth it.  To that, you’ll force a fake smile, grit your teeth and just walk away…because it’s just not worth it.  You’ll  want to say, “yeah, it’s got its good days, but here…let me dump a career’s worth of memories from the bad days on you and we’ll see how great you think it is then.”  But you won’t.  Because the people who’ll say those things to you don’t know…and they’ll never know.

It’s a rewarding career whose rewards come at a price.  If you’re willing to pay that price, then follow your dreams.  If your wife is willing to pay the price alongside you, then follow your dreams.  If your wife is half as selfless and loving as your mother, then you’ve got a great head start in getting through your career with your sanity intact.  With God leading you and Jesus walking with you, you’ll have what you need to survive it.  I honestly don’t know how someone without Jesus can do it.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s got its good days too.  You’ll watch a man die right in front of you and you’ll have a hand in bringing him back to life.  You’ll carry a woman out of a burning building and hand her off to medics while you run back in to put the fire out.  You’ll hold a lifeless child and be the hands of God that breath life back into her.  You’ll do lots of good things that go unnoticed and unrewarded.  And that’s fine…because you won’t be doing it for recognition.  You’ll be doing it knowing what you got into.  You’ll be doing it because not everyone can.  You’ll be doing it because the guy next to you is counting on you.  You’ll be doing it because if not you, then who?  And that’s why we do it.

Love,

Dad

Future Firefighter, firefighting boys

Future Firefighters

I Can’t Call My #3

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Some days I just want to call her.  And then I realize that even though she’s still #3 on my phone’s speed dial, it just can’t happen.  There is no  speed dial that will connect me with her now.

There will come a day when you’re grown and out on your own that you wake up and want to call your mom, but get wrapped up in the business of your day.  You’ll put it off, and then before you know it months will have gone by without having heard her voice.  Don’t be that guy.  Don’t do to your mom what I did to mine.  She has always been, is now, and will always be your greatest fan and there for you whenever you need her.  Even if it’s just to hear her voice.  Don’t wake up one day wishing you could call her but knowing you can’t because she’s gone.  Well over a full year after her passing, she remains the top commenter on this blog.  She always had my back.  Always.

This woman right here…your granny…she loved each of you, with so much passion that I just can’t even write about it…there. are. no. words.  If ever there was an example of what “All In” looked like, it was her love for you.  I’m saddened to the point of tears as I write this, knowing how much of her life you missed.  She always had your back.  Always.

Mom

Mom & SD in March 2008

Mom

Mom with NE and SI in November 2009

mom

I Miss You Mom

I miss you mom.  That is all.

It’s a Good Plan

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Conversation with a 3 year old on the drive to preschool:

“Dad, why is dat pweece man parked dare?”

“He’s waiting there to see if people are driving too fast, and then he will tell them to slow down.”

“And he will take dem to jail?”

“No, he’ll give them a ticket for speeding because driving too fast is breaking the law.”

“Were you breaking da law when the pweece man gabe you a ticket too?”

“Yes. I was breaking the law.”

“But if you bwake da law, you will go to jail?”

“Sometimes, yes. But when you get a ticket, you don’t have to go to jail. You just have to pay the money.”

“If you will pay the money, den you will go to jail?”

“No, if you don’t pay the money you will go jail.”

“Did you pay your money?”

“Yes.”

“Cuz if you go to jail den we won’t have a daddy anymore. And den I would be sad.”

“I’m not going to jail son. But you will always have a daddy because no matter where I am, I’ll always be your daddy.”

“Even if you die?”

“Yes, I will always be your daddy, but if I die I won’t be here to see you.”

“Cuz you will be in heaven?”

“Yes.”

“With Jesus?”

“Yes.”

“Can I have ice cream after school?”

“I don’t think so. We’ll see.”

“But it’s a good plan!!”

“Hahaha!”

Hope Comes in Many Forms…Where I Am Today

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My head is full. It needs to do what it does when it’s full…vent. There is no order to what comes next, so be forewarned that I’m simply letting loose of the mess currently in my head. My apologies if what you read next is not what you’ve come to expect from me. I’m human, and this is where I am today. Writing is my outlet, so here goes.

Since Saturday, I’ve been in a sort of fog. Haven’t felt close to God. Haven’t felt like much of anything. Worship with dad and my brothers here at church on Sunday was okay, but I just didn’t feel connected to God, ya’ know? Last night, I was searching for the lyrics to a song that express how I’ve been feeling…and all I could remember was “oh God my God, your beloved needs you now.” I don’t remember the song, so it’s probably good that that’s all I can remember.

This morning, a text from my wife asked how I’m doing. I am…

Numb. Alone. Trapped. Spent. Drained. Overwhelmed. Lacking hope. Disconnected from reality…From life…From God. I’ve been better. I’ve been worse. I’ll push through though because that’s what we do. I just want to put closure to this period of life and move forward. I’m an action guy. Waiting is not something I do well. Too much waiting…not enough moving. I’m ready to crawl into the arms of my best friend and our kiddos and not have to make a decision or problem-solve for awhile. I’m ready to come home.

Dad, as you first read this, please know it’s not you or anything you’ve done or not done. It’s just my process. Being with you this week has been a blessing for me more than I’ve shared here yet…sharing that part of all this will come after we have some closure this week…and I hope I’ve blessed you in some small way by being here. I wouldn’t take any of it back or change my choice to stay…it’s just part of being out of routine…away from my wife and children…feelings I’m sure you either already have had, or will, soon after we all leave this weekend.

Yesterday’s hope came through an email from a dear friend on staff at church. The day before that, it came in an email from our Men’s Ministry leader, another good friend. Before that, it came daily in various emails, texts, phone calls and conversations with friends and family back home. Today’s hope comes from a thirteen year old angel…God has been employing her as my angel since the first day I met her in the hospital. Her momma sent me a text this morning that simply read:

Your daughter just prayed for you all by herself. It was so sweet. I looked over at the table and she had eyes closed, head bowed, hands clasped in front of her. And said, “Dear God, please keep my Daddy safe. Amen.”

So yes Lord, your beloved needs you now. Do not forsake me Lord. Your hope comes in many forms…and I have not lost sight of the truth that my hope comes from you. You have met my daily need for hope this past week and a half. SD’s prayer this morning has provided me the hope I need to sustain me today. I’ll take it. Thank you Lord for providing me hope though I deserve nothing.

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Love,

Dad

Making Arrangements

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Fair warning…this note is less about words and readability than I’m used to writing. It’s more about what’s in my heart than what’s in my head. So if you’re not sure you want to try and sort through the jungle of “stuff” in my heart, then get out now while you can…because I make no promises that what comes next will make any sense.

New Years Day 2013…I was almost two hours into day two of a triple (72 hour shift). I’d only slept for one hour the night before…crazy end to the year at the firehouse. It was a holiday…I was looking forward to getting the work done for the day and getting some rest. I kept saying to myself, “yesterday was nuts…can’t get much worse than that.”

I was wrong.

When I picked my phone up off the table, I had a voicemail from dad. Figuring it to be an early morning Happy New Year call, I checked the voicemail to hear otherwise. “I’m at the hospital with your mom. She’s in cardiac arrest.” I called him back…got a quick update and helped him make another phone call. Aunt Jean, that was the hardest phone call I’ve ever made. I hope I handled it well, because I honestly don’t remember much of what I said. Five minutes later, the second call came…mom was gone.

That was 6 days ago…

It’s been a weird week. When you hear someone say they’re “making arrangements” for someone’s funeral, unless you’ve done that before, you can’t really know what it means. I’ve never taken part in preparing a memorial service…I’ve never helped make decisions in that…or stood beside a husband while he makes those decisions for his wife’s memorial service. I’ve never taken part in “making arrangements”. Until this week, I could only imagine what that really meant. Now that I know, I don’t want to know…ya’ know?

Yesterday, I spent a couple hours going through mom’s emails and online footprint. That’s weird in itself…a part of me felt like I was invading a personal part of her life, spying on her conversations not meant for anyone but the person with whom she was having them. And a part of me felt like she was reaching out from beyond death to comfort me…to tell me “it’s okay, I’m good“. Like the email to a friend where she recounted her recent trip to our house last summer…it was our annual float trip, the first one we camped out the night before the float. She was recounting the story of our overnight visitor…one which I think should now be recorded for posterity sake…so I’ll let her words tell it:

“Delicious pie and cake. We saved the cake for our float trip. We left it sitting covered on a picnic table. In the middle of the night a raccoon enjoyed the last of it. Jay told the young kids that he wrestled with the raccoon and almost skinned it before running off and that he slept in front of the tent entrance to protect everyone. Haven’t laughed so much in years. I wasn’t able to float, but I had a peaceful campsite, a good book, and was able to get just a little sun. It was a good day. After they came off the river we went to Jay’s for a couple days. A good time.”

I had a good time too mom…and I’m thrilled beyond words that you were able to share that with us. However, I should set the record straight…that raccoon was more like a mountain lion. I saved everyone in the campsite from being mauled that night. 😉

We spent the day sorting through thousands of pictures today. Several observations:

  1. For all the years we gave you so much grief for all the pictures you insisted on taking over the years, I can say now that I’m thankful for them. It was a fun, emotional afternoon strolling down memory lane.
  2. I get why you took so many. You told me once that you took all those pictures so you could remember…and I remember we used to give you a hard time about it…teasing you to put the camera down and live the moment so you’d remember it. As I push 40 this year, I’m constantly reminded that my memory is not what it used to be…and after looking back through all these pictures, I can honestly say I am in hundreds of pictures at events that I don’t remember. I guess I inherited my memory from you…because there are just whole periods of time I don’t remember…so I get it now.
  3. For all the thousands of pictures you took over the decades, you sure didn’t let the camera be turned on you very often. We have thousands of pictures of your family…and very few of you. Just sayin’, we should have done a better job of turning the table on you. 🙂
  4. If the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds any truth, then we filled a dictionary today…and didn’t even scratch the surface. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes of pictures…with more pictures hidden behind the boxes…and we haven’t even found your stash of digital pictures yet…dozens of memory cards and external storage drives tucked away somewhere in this house, still waiting to be found. (Mom, if you could send down a little help from above with where those might be, we’d sure appreciate it.)

I miss you mom. I’m racking my brain these past couple days to remember you…to remember your face…to recall your words of wisdom…to recollect our times together. I expect (and hope) that as time passes, the memories I’m searching so hard for now will come to me naturally…in times I least expect them. It’s like that song you just can’t remember the name of…it’s on the tip of your tongue, but the more you think of it…the further its name slips away from you. I pray that in the weeks and months following your memorial service this week, those memories will come back.

For now, I just miss you. I miss your smile. I miss your laugh. I miss you touching my shoulder as you walk past me. I miss your hug. I miss you doting on your grandchildren. I miss you. You taught me so much about life…so so much. You taught me how to treat those less fortunate than us. You taught me respect for my elders. How to enjoy life. You taught me how to cook a meal…and clean a house…and do laundry. You prepared me for life outside of our childhood home and raised a young man whose wife would one day thank you for.

You taught me how to be a self thinker…to know what I believe and believe what I know. To fight for what’s right, even if it means I’m standing alone. To stand up for the weak and defenseless…to nurture those who need love. To love the ones who do nothing to deserve our love. You showed me that it’s okay to walk across the street and ask the neighbor for a couple eggs when you come up short for the recipe you’re making…and to return the egg with a generous portion of the cake it helped make. You taught me how to play soccer, when all I wanted was to stop running. You hugged me tight when I was sad…dried my tears with your shoulder and showed me compassion in so many ways. You rushed home when I chopped my toe off…and cautioned dad as he walked to his room in search of the belt with which to spank me, that he should probably extinguish the fire I’d started in my bedroom first…I appreciate that he had a chance to cool off before applying the belt of knowledge. 😛

Your grandchildren are so much like you in so many ways. I see you in them. I will miss seeing your face light up as you were reunited with them after a long time away…and I will miss so very much how my dear SD would scream “granny! I miss you!” and come running for her hug. To be honest, I haven’t cried while writing this…until that thought came to mind. She loved you so stinkin’ much mom. She’s gonna miss you more than I’ll ever understand. I will keep you alive in her heart…and in her memories. Like your mother was, you also were a rock…not just to me, but to so many people. I miss you.

It’s Sunday night…4 days until mom’s visitation and memorial service. I’ll have more to share soon, but for now I’m tired. Mentally and emotionally, I am completely spent. I can think of no more fitting way to end this note than with my mom, your granny, in her own words. We found this buried in the boxes of pictures today, written in August, 1970…long before I was even born, my mother understood that time is a precious commodity.

Love,

Dad

Time, funeral, death, memorial services

Time – Karen Meinershagen

P.S. I never meant this to be my tribute to your granny.  In the days that followed me posting this, I just couldn’t muster the strength to put into words what I want that to be.  Even now, eight days after her memorial service and burial, I still can’t must the words that I would consider to be a tribute to the wife, mother, granny and woman she was.  I hope to be able to do that soon.

Love,

Dad

When Your Father Comes Back

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As a child did you ever hear from your mom, “when your dad gets home…”? 5 little words, when composed just right can mean so much…and mean different things to different people.

As a child, I would dread those words when I knew I had done something wrong…knowing that when dad came home, the punishment for my poor choices was coming with him. In all my memories of youth, I can’t recall those words being a foreshadowing of anything good to come. They were used as a threat to forewarn of a punishment for my actions. What I’m wondering now is why those words have to instill fear? Why can’t they be used to provide hope and promise?

Like my dad was in my youth, I’m gone a lot. My job leaves your mom home with y’all much more than I prefer…and it forces her to be the disciplinarian more than I prefer. I’m wondering if your memories of “when your dad gets home…” will be like mine…or different. I pray those words are filled with the promise and hope of my return, and not used as a threat to instill fear.
More importantly, I pray that you will one day find the hope I have in a different phrasing of those words…instead of “when your dad gets home”, rather “when your Father comes back.”

For those who have not accepted Christ, I imagine death brings uncertainty, fear and anxiety. As a child of God, though, I long for the day my Savior returns. I am actually looking forward to the rapture…praying I’m still alive to experience it. What a ride that’s gonna be!! When Christ comes back to call His people home, He will be standing beside us as we face the Father at the judgement seat…with a front row seat to hear Him say, “your Father has returned, and the time has come that ‘every knee shall bow and every tongue profess I am God.'” – Romans 14:11

On that day, we will be judged according to what we have or have not believed. Like my poor choices resulted in my earthly father disciplining me when he got home, we will be disciplined for our choices by our Father in heaven before we pass into eternity. Those who have professed Christ as Lord will hear the Son say something like, “This child is with me. I took his place. His debt is paid.” Our discipline will have already been taken, paid forward by Christ Jesus on the cross, and we will reside with Him in eternity. If you’ve not professed Jesus as Lord, you alone will face the punishment for your sin, eternity apart from Him in hell.

We all will face the same judgement. The difference really comes down to perspective…how you look at the situation. Which do you feel when you hear “when your Father comes back…”? Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, question, doubt and concern? Or do you feel peace, joy, hope, promise, comfort and happiness?

Love,

Dad

P.S. Your mother would like to remind you that she has never said those 5 words to you in a negative light. I failed to make that clear when saying that she is forced into the disciplinarian role more than I prefer since my work keeps me away from home for extended periods. So, please know I have no real concern that when she says “when your dad gets home” it means anything other than when your sad gets home, you’re gonna have SO much fun! 🙂

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