Sunday, October 4, 2015

Finishing Strong

Two weeks ago today, my Dad, George Neild, was promoted to Glory.  While most of our friends were gathering to worship at church, Dad was welcomed into Heaven and began his endless worship at the Almighty's feet.  There is great debate in this world about what lies beyond this life, but let me tell you, Heaven is real and God allowed myself, my sisters, our spouses, and my mother just a glimpse of it through Dad's last hours here on this earth.  Three distinct times in the hours before Dad passed, he relayed messages about what he was seeing.  He talked about seeing pearls (the pearly gates) and when Mom asked him if he saw St. Peter, Dad said, "not yet".  He talked about the brilliant lights he was seeing and angels.  When Mom asked if the angels had long hair, Dad said "No!" (he was a good Baptist boy to the end). Dad was trying to hold on a few more days to see a few more loved ones, but in the end, his body could not fight the cancer that ravaged it anymore. My father was rarely sick, but it was just a year ago that we sat in an Oncologist office and heard the words "rare" and "aggressive". Dad had been diagnosed with Large Cell Endocrine Carcinoma, a cancer that only 1,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with each year. We knew that one day, his body would succumb to the cancer but the end came much quicker than anticipated, which honestly, was a blessing.  Dad had lost over 100 pounds in the last year and was no longer able to eat any solid foods.  He was under Hospice care for less then a week, but the end was so beautiful, even if we wish we had more time with him.  Dad himself called me on Tuesday, September 15th to tell me that the experimental drug they had him taking was not working and his case was being transferred to Hospice.  I drove to Indiana the next day and spent the next 4 days, helping care for him.  I slept on the couch next to him and woke with him ever few hours to help make him comfortable.  He joked with me that I thought I had missed out on caring for an infant that woke every 2-3 hours to be fed and changed and now, I was doing the same for my father. Those 4 days were exhausting and scary at times, but I would not trade them for anything.  Our middle of the night chats are priceless memories.  Even when he woke up at 3:00am and told me to get the milk house ready because we had 40 cows coming that needed to be milked.  My parents sold the dairy farm when I was 18 months old so I knew something wasn't right.  I realized his oxygen tube had become kinked under his IV pole.  Once I got that straightened out and got some juice in him, he became still again.  A few minutes later he asked, "Was I talking about cows?" I chuckled and told him, "You sure were.  You kept telling me to go get the milk parlor ready because we had 40 head to milk today." We laughed about that over the next few days and how he sure hoped there were cows in Heaven because that is all he ever wanted to do, take care of cows.

His final days were also beautiful because I was able to spend time with Dad's brother and sisters, most of whom I hadn't seen in several years.  My Dad's siblings all strayed from the faith when they became adults so honestly, we didn't spend much time with them growing up because we didn't have that much in common.  My Dad's brother and oldest sister have returned to the faith in the last few years and it was such a pleasure to talk with them about the fact that we will see Dad again one day when we all get to Heaven.  Dad said throughout the last year that he has no idea how people who don't have faith in God make it through cancer treatment.  The support of our church family has held us up not only the last year, but specifically these last few weeks.  The last four days of Dad's life, my parents house was filled with not only family, but friends from their church and the Amish community that Dad became close to after he retired and started his Amish taxi service.  The Amish came and sang hymns, and brought food and provided the meal for our family the night of Dad's visitation.  They lined the outside of the church wall as the hearse and funeral processional left the church.  The image of these simple people in their black suits and dresses paying their last respect to a man they so admired is something I will not forget.   Dad was an Elder in his church and also lead several mission trips to Peru.  He helped with the youth group for years and many young people stopped by or sent messages to Dad in those final few days.

My Sister Kelly and Dad working construction at a Children's Home in Peru

Dad with some kids in Peru
Dad always loved children and on one of his final night on earth, a young couple from his church came to saw good-bye and to let Dad see their sweet baby, who was only 6 weeks old.  I snapped this picture and I love the look at Dad's face.
As one life was ending, another was just beginning

My father was a veteran of the Vietnam War, a fact that he rarely relayed to people. He never wanted to talk about that time in his life and would only say that people treated all the veterans coming home from that terrible conflict very badly.  I was cleaning out some things a few years ago in my parents garage and found a plastic bag with a small case in it.  I opened it up and found a Bronze Star medallion.  "Dad," I said, "This is a Bronze Star."  "Yeah," he said. "They were giving those things out during the war."  And that's all he had to say about that subject.  Dad did not want military honors at his funeral until the last few months.  The VA has been tremendous throughout Dad's fight with cancer so he finally agreed to let us have military honors at the graveside service.  The funeral home director suggested we have the active military do the honors (not retirees) and I'm so glad he did.  The reverence that they brought to the service was unbelievable.  I looked over at the funeral home director after the service man presented the flag to my mother and he was weeping.  I realized this man has been to dozens, maybe even hundreds of funerals but to see a serviceman kneel before a widow and utter those precious words is something that should make every American weep.  I asked Matt to video that part of the service as I knew it would be something we would treasure always.

Finally, we were able to video several clips of Dad talking about his life.  Most are too private to share, but I did post this one because it's Dad relaying what was the most important thing to him, in his own words.

So many times in the last 2 weeks, I've want so badly to call Dad up and just hear his voice again.  Each morning, I've want to just go back to bed and pull the covers over my head and not face another day without him.  But I knew I couldn't. Dad's words to Praise God have echoed each day in my mind.  Plus I know that Dad would never approve of me wasting a day.  He was not one to sit around and do nothing and I have so many memories of our time working side by side on projects big and small.  I'm so grateful that we had the time together that we had.  I'm so grateful that we was there to walk me down the isle 13 years ago and that each of my children have been able to get to know him. I'm grateful for a father who knew he was not perfect but also knew he served a perfect God. So we cling to these memories as we walk through dark days of grief.  But within each of those dark days, the light of Christ shines through and reminds us that though we weep for a time, our joy with last for eternity. 

October 2014


Courtney Graber said...

What a beautiful tribute, Amy. Your dad was certainly special and your faith and obedience to God must have pleased him very much! (this is Jenny using Courtney's account.:)

Claudia Ames Cropper said...

How beautiful. May all your wonderful memories help to erase the pain of your loss. I wish this for all your family especially your Mom.

Karen said...

What a sweet tribute to your dad! Praying for you all...