Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I SEE IT

The visions started the week after Dad died. They were not hazy or indistinct. They were vivid and detailed. They lay on the surface of my mind in bed, and they swirl around me when I walk.

My "healing party." 

My "to God be all the glory" celebration.

The season I have had faith will be manifested in my life for 4 years now.

I have been asking God lately, "Does this mean it is soon?" He does not answer me. I would not need to hold onto faith if He spoke, would I.

Satan has done his level best to derail me in the past 6 weeks. Growing tumors, and new ones encapsulating my life-giving bronchial artery have, from a medical point of view, all but removed my name from the short-list of possible-but-not-really names eligible for divine healing. Medically speaking, my cancer is accelerating.

That reality sent me down into the abyss for the entire month of September and the first week of October, as the side effects of a let's-try-radiation desperation measure wreaked havoc on my body and soul. As my brother Mike so aptly puts it, I've been walking in the bottom of the bird cage. 

But I see small improvements daily, and find myself walking steadily OUT of the bottom of the bird cage. And I am washing the doo-doo off the bottom of my shoes right in the devil's face.

And as I climb, the Holy Spirit has given me these visions. Visions that mock medical reality. Visions of life and joy and celebrating God's faithfulness to a woman who deserves nothing, but has hung on for dear life, knowing that God is true to His promises, and He promises deliverance.

I already have roles assigned. I have Sam on drums, Gretchen and my friend Ju and Dick singing praise songs with the band, my awesome pastor Steve giving the introduction, me introducing the 6 people who have been inside my inner-inner circle for 4 years and without whom I would not be alive, Dick and me giving our healing testimony.

I see it all clearly.

I even have food ideas swirling about for this event.

It is as real to me as my family or my home. And I know it will come to pass.

Because Psalm 91 (and dozens more references) promises redemption from all Satan can hand me. And all I need to do is to continue to love my God and trust Him with my whole heart.

Psalm 91:14-16

BECAUSE HE LOVES ME, says the Lord, I WILL RESCUE HIM. 
I WILL PROTECT HIM, FOR HE ACKNOWLEDGES MY NAME.
HE WILL CALL UPON ME AND I WILL ANSWER HIM;
I WILL BE WITH HIM IN TROUBLE, 
I WILL DELIVER HIM AND HONOR HIM.
WITH LONG LIFE I WILL SATISFY HIM AND SHOW HIM MY SALVATION!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

MISSING MY POP


Until you lose a parent, you have no idea how difficult it is to say everything you want to say about them. And I know I cannot and will not and don't have to. Because nothing was left unsaid between my dad and me. We have always shared a very deep dad/daughter bond, and it was a constant in both our lives. Dad knew how I felt about him as a father. I have no regrets of unsaid feelings or words.

My last conversation with him, 6 days before he died, was precious. He said things to me that felt "final" and since nothing about his health had changed, I asked him why he was saying these things. He said, "I think the end is near." 

He knew.

And so our final phone conversation was one I will forever cherish. Only my husband knows what he said and it will remain that way forever. When things took a drastic turn 5 days later, my family held the phone up to Dad's ear so I could say my goodbye to him. His eyes were open and they said he smiled afterwards. He knew it was me. He heard my words. That was one of the hardest moments of my life. Telling your pop goodbye forever. The pain was searing. But he deserved my final words of thanks for being such an amazing dad and my reassurance that he could "go" anytime he needed to.

My dad was a man of few words, but had a strong and impressionable presence in his family's life. He was a husband and father, a Poppy-Ed, doctor, photographer, brother and uncle, reader, fisherman, woodsman, hunter, game player, and all-around intelligent and wise man. He was the best-read man I've ever known.


Dad (Poppy-Ed) with his newest great-granddaughter Hazel Pat. 
He adored his 7 grandkids and 6 great-grands.
Dad was as precise as a human could be. He was a meticulous manager of his expenses and he kept every single tax statement and W-2 form he ever received. He kept up his checkbook with military precision and would stew if Mom forgot to register a check she took from the checkbook. Which was often. (I have suggested to my son never to share a checking account with a spouse. Dick and I never even considered merging our checkbooks. He saw no sense in it either. I think God created husbands and wives to share many things, but not checking accounts!)

Dad was honest as the day is long. If there is anything honest in me, it is because I am Ed's daughter. The sense of honesty was so instilled in me that when, after the first year of Dick's and my clinic's opening, we owed one-cent to the IRS, I insisted we write the check for that amount and send it off to Ogden, Utah. Dad would have done that. Because of him, I give back incorrect over-payments that of course would be delightful to keep, and give honest feedback when asked.

Dick said about Dad the day he died, "Some men are known for their strong handshakes. Eddie had strong hugs. When he hugged you, he really hugged you." I love that, and it is so true. Dad was a hugger and a kisser and never held either back.

I'll never forget the one trip we took alone together. He and mom were headed out to Salt Lake City for a medical conference, and just before they left, Mom broke her leg and could not go. He asked me to go with him and we had a wonderful 3 days together. After his daily meetings, we explored the Wasatch Mountains and ate in interesting restaurants, toured the Mormon Tabernacle, and simply enjoyed being together. Such a great memory.

Was my dad perfect? Heck no. Like anybody else, he could be short-tempered, judgmental or cranky. But in his imperfections, he was the perfect shepherd of our family. He was the right dad, the right husband. He was God's perfect choice for us.

Dad was an extraordinary doctor and one well-loved by his patients. He practiced in the days before "bean counters" told physicians how to practice their craft, and thus, he was known to take a quart of chicken soup in payment for an office visit when that was the right choice, and made many-per-week house calls to needy patients. He was a wonderful listener and hugger with his patients.

One of the words that kept being written about Dad in cards we received was that he was always a gentleman. Yes, he was. We see less of that in today's world.

I called him Sonny often. I have no remembrance of exactly when and why the nickname started, but Dad gave me all the letters he had saved from me during college, and some are addressed to Sonny Boy and Pat Hieb, so it has been a long time!! It was just a little special something that we shared.

I realize that as I sit here, I have hundreds of memories vying for space, and it strikes me as absurd that I am even attempting to write about them. There is no amount of space that would be great enough.The memories are alive and they are piercing right now, but they are sweet, so sweet. 

In my mind's eye I see family vacations where the oft-said, "If I have to stop this car and turn around......." defined his discipline of fighting children in the back seat. I remember duck shorts and posed pictures and our springer spaniel Maggie curled up in bed next to him. I see him skating on the Pipestem River, on the roofs of all our homes, cleaning out the eaves, and bringing the gramas over to our house for Sunday dinners. I see him singing Ho Ho Kravi Do to my newborn son in the hospital and coming to my cabin to put up tongue and groove boards in my bunk house. I see him walleye fishing and I see him driving in his Envoy down to Texas in the winters. I see him in every decade of my life, larger than life in his own inimitable quiet way, guiding, encouraging, loving.

I do not know how to go through the rest of my life fatherless. I have loved him and needed him for my entire life. I do not know what the color of this new path will turn out to be. I miss him so much. Waves of longing for him wash over me two or three times each day, and I know this is normal, but knowing it is normal does not lessen the longing. It will always be unresolved. Death ends a life but not a relationship. The only thing that makes it tolerable is knowing that I will see him again for eternity.

I will end here with my eulogy to my dad:

Like my father, I am a writer and not a speaker. I will say more about my dad on my blog because these spoken words do not come easily.

When I was little, the Kulm relatives called me Little Eddie. Apparently I looked very Hiebish as a toddler.

Today I am the child who bears most of my dad's characteristics:
-his short left leg
-his introverted personality
-his preference to reading any book over going to any party
-his anal precision keeping a checkbook
-his need for a clean car
-his attempt to live out the motto "less is more"

But I have more in me than Dad's passion for great novels and his distaste for messy car interiors.

He is in the bone of my spine, keeping me pointed true north.

He is in my blood, coursing through me with life-giving support and encouragement.

His voice is in my head, whispering ever-present wisdom.

My dad is in every beat of my heart.

This Little Eddie was loved by her dad more than any girl deserved to be loved, and he blessed my life beyond measure.


Edwin O. Hieb
1924-2014
Forever in our hearts






Wednesday, October 1, 2014

PAUSING

My precious dad died a week ago today, on what would have been his parents' 91st wedding anniversary. I am still emotionally raw from losing him, and have so much to write about him, but it will need to wait. My head is not clear enough right now to write.

I have hit my low point in this radiation treatment, and the next 7 days, I am told, will be the worst. The side effects are wretched, and have me at 98 pounds, with little food or drink going down. Today they had to give me an IV after treatment...I was so weak. They will give me IV's for the next two days. They will order more IV's here over the weekend if needed. The effects of the treatment are cumulative and even though I only have 2 left, I am told I will need to walk through another week of this low. 

I am on the sofa most of the day, listening to music, trying to take sips and tiny bites of food every hour, thinking about Dad, longing for his arms to hug me just one more time, reading my Bible. It feels like a place of brokenness, but in some ways it has been sacred. Jesus is my only refuge right now. Only God can bring me forth to full restoration of my body. And my soul.

I will not let this miserable chapter convince me that God does not intend to heal me. My faith has been weak some days, but it is there, shrouded with the truths that Scripture shows me.

A passage in the book of Joel tells me that God will "redeem the years that the locusts have stolen." 

And so He will.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PLEASE PRAY

It is perhaps the hardest night the Hieb family has faced yet. Dad has taken a turn for the end, and as I said in an earlier post, we will walk our dad home together. 

The gut-wrenching reality for me is that this daily radiation did not allow me to hop in my car and leave this afternoon. My doctor said I could take Friday off and not compromise what we have already done. 

If Dad lives through the night, I may just go tomorrow anyway and skip 2 treatments, trusting that God will honor my choice to hold my pop one more time and preserve my radiation effects.

Please pray for our family, that the grief would not overwhelm our souls, and that we might walk out the end of the journey with grace.

I have the most amazing dad any girl could have and the blessings have been abundant my whole life long. I will miss him more than any words could say.

Thank you for uplifting us in prayer right now.

Monday, September 22, 2014

OH MY

The phrase "going from bad to worse" sits about as well in my gut as food right now. It doesn't.

So my bad week went into a week of "more bad."

Folks, when you have friends or relatives with cancer who tell you about their chemo constipation, they are not talking about "not having gone for a couple days." They are talking about the chemo turning everything inside that colon to hard glue. It is serious stuff.

Even though my cancer doc took me off chemo a week ago, and my hospitalization was to have cleared out the system, the abdominal pain kept increasing and the week was a really tough. I hadn't eaten in about 4 days because food was not going down. 

On Friday, I had early radiation but they decided to keep me for further tests. I had a contrast CT scan and a bag of IV fluids (badly needed) and a 4 hour wait to see the test results.

My bowels were massively clogged from the chemo runoff. Distended three times their size. They sent me home with orders to solve the problem. The next 48 hours were miserable beyond words as I tried my best to get down the Go Lightly. I got 1/2 done and if I had taken one more sip I would have vomited. So I had to quit early. I have no idea what the final results were without another xray and I am about radiated out of my head.

My stomach has so shrunk that 8 spoons of soup and a plop of jello fill me up. I have to start on a very mild diet full of things I haven't eaten in 40 years. White bread. White rice. No fiber, no veggies or fruit with any skin. Nothing whole grain. Bland and uninteresting.

As if I needed one more issue to torment me, the side effect of radiation I was hoping I would not get blew in full force. Chest pain and heartburn the likes of which I've never experienced. Feels like a heart attack 24/7. So every bite of the food I am supposed to "push" feels like a branding iron going down my gullet.

Oh my.

I have no idea what the future holds for treatment. I will finish my radiation on the tumors encapsulating the bronchus. It is day-to-day survival until then.

I take some comfort in feeling that I have gone as low as I can. It can only get better, can't it?


Thursday, September 18, 2014

TOUGH TOUGH TOUGH

The old adage goes: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I will add one word: The road to medical hell is paved with good medical intentions.

I’m not sure I have had a week this bad in my life. Chemotherapy is meant to arrest development of cancer cells. But why does it have to nearly kill you to do that?

I will spare you from all the details, but I will simply say that the past week has brought some of the most excruciating abdominal pain I have ever experienced, the worst medical care in an ER ever, a hospitalization, more pain, horrendous chemo-induced constipation, daily trips to the city for radiation, and now, a stomach that is shut down and will not empty.

The week has brought more tears than I have shed in 4 years. It has thrown my faith in healing back in my face to take stock. It has brought me to the point of asking my husband to leave me so that he can have a life, and have it with someone who has life and energy and vitality, someone who is not chronically sick. He deserves that. I have asked him this week to stick an anchor around my neck and drop me in the muddy Vermillion River.

That’s how bad it is right now.

As of yesterday, they have taken me off the new chemo drug. I see my medical oncologist next week and we will talk. I talked today to my radiation oncologist, who is wonderful, but he was real and told me that lung cancer patients are going to see metastases to the brain and bones and other organs…..and my mind was at once, screaming I DO NOT WANT TO DIE A GRUESOME DEATH LIKE THAT and YOU DO NOT KNOW MY GOD, THAT HE IS A HEALER.

Tonight I am laying alone in a motel, due to the gracious care of the American Cancer Society, to cut down on the daily miles. Twice a week now, they are going to put me up in this motel overnight. I am hungry, but can’t eat food because my stomach won’t empty it. I am struggling with God. I am missing my husband. I am feeling badly that when my son called me today, I only blubbered about having had my fill of this life.

I want to set back the clock. I want it to be June 1, with a good PET scan result, taking my old chemo which did not make me sick and in pain, and was able to be managed for the chronic constipation. I want to run back there, to the lake, to my blueberry patch, when all I had to think about was how many quarts we were going to pick that day.

I am grieving the life I have had for 4 years. Am I grateful for it? Oh, yes, so grateful. I guess it is OK to grieve what is gone. I have to at least give myself permission to do that.


For those of you who are my prayer team, please pray that my stomach would kick into gear and that peristalsis would start up again so I could eat. I am down to 100 pounds and look like someone who could star in a movie about concentration camp survivors. My bones show through, my skin sags, and my face is pasty. (I have fantasies of eating a whole pan of my mom’s orange rolls again) Pray that the decisions the cancer team makes about my future treatment would not constitute a life no longer worth living.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

ALL WE COULD ASK FOR

I sort of feel like I've just had an ultrasound and can announce to the world, "It's a girl!"

"It's a daughter-in-law-to-be!!"

Her name is Gretchen Stolhammer. And now I can write all about her because the ring is on her finger!

Yes, Sam is newly engaged to his girlfriend of 3 years!! Richie and I are so happy for them both.

Like many parents, we encouraged Sam to guard his heart in the whole matter of dating. Well, I think I chose to do the same thing. I knew enough family and friends who had become so close to their child’s boyfriend/girlfriend that a subsequent unexpected break-up caused my friends to feel almost as if they had lost a child, and then had a harder time accepting new relationships that their children formed. I did not want to be that close to an “ex" of Sam's, just in case their relationship fell apart. 

While I have certainly mentioned Gretch and have posted a few pictures, I sort of guarded my heart and did not write much about their relationship or her.


Today, the guards have fallen down. And I can talk!!

There is not a parent who has not had the thought, will there ever be any man/woman good enough for my daughter/son?….well, Sam found one!!

I remember thinking, as we raised Sam, that I wanted him to become a young man that any woman would be lucky to snag. I am highly biased, Lord knows, but I think he is a catch. The cool thing is.....Gretchen is a catch too. He is just as blessed as she is that they have chosen the other to meander through life with.
We had some tenuous feelings about him being in this new relationship 3 years ago. Sam asked her to become his girlfriend before we ever knew her. (Sam would like a re-do on that account, but it is water under the bridge now). They had met through mutual friends the prior year, but they re-met and got to know each other while cleaning up vomit of a camper at Miracle Bible Camp when she was the head counselor and he was a last-minute substitute counselor for one week…...a very unglamorous connection, but there must have been something in that unpleasant task or the conversation they must have attempted while holding their breath that led them to want to continue seeing each other...

But, I digress.



So here was this girl, now girlfriend, who was nearly 2 years older than Sam and would be finished with college in 4 months. He had just finished his freshman year. Since we did not know her, we were concerned that she could pressure him into marriage before he was ready, or to leave the college and friends he loved at Dordt to transfer to a Minneapolis college where she was working, or that his grades would suffer by him traveling to the Cities too often on weekends.

But over the course of 3 years, as we got to know and care about Gretchen, we realized that our concerns were for naught, and Gretchen did nothing but support Sam through those years of college with encouragement and space. He was able to keep their long distance relationship working 2 jobs and graduating with a near 4.0 GPA.
So, yes, okay, you want to know about Gretchen. She is cream of the crop. She is down-to-earth, sweet, practical (loves thrift stores and clearance racks like I do), generous and very bright. Did I mention thoughtful? Last year she burned me a CD of praise and worship songs and not only hand-wrote all of the lyrics of each song, but with each, included illustrations, graphics, and words expressing why she loved each song. It was such a great glimpse into her spiritual heart, and such a labor of love.

Infinitely more weighty to me than any of those above qualities, Gretchen loves the Lord more than she loves my son. This was one thing I had always hoped for. Jesus will always be her first love, as He is Sam's, and their faith will always be the anchor and cornerstone of their marriage.
This also means I have a new sister-in-Christ right in my immediate family. How I love this!



My hope is that Gretch will be as comfortable in our small tight-knit family as she is in her large family. We have been “the three musketeers” for 22 years. Over the years Sam has also coined “the fearsome threesome” and “the tight trio.” We have an extraordinarily tight bond between the three of us, a braid of deep love, affection, fun, traditions, and openness.

I would not blink if Gretchen felt some apprehension about joining our trio. But this sweet girl has no resentment of what our past has been. She has never been a mother, but she has an innate understanding of mother-love. She sent me a precious text one night when we were both listening to Sam on a talk-radio program: “Your son is so stinkin’ impressive, and he’s been on-air so much! I’m proud, so that must mean that you are absolutely beaming.”
As the Grinch felt when he witnessed the singing of the Whos down in Whoville, my heart for Gretchen "grew three sizes" that day; she just simply “got it.” It was so sensitive.  I will always honor and respect the fact that she is going to become Sam’s first priority in his life, and I will always champion her first place in their lives together, but I know that she honors the deep love I share with my only child. When I am an old, frail lady in a nursing home, it will probably be Gretchen who will say, “Sam, remember to go have a lunch date with your mom this week.” 

And someday, if God wills it, Gretchen and Sam may have a little boy who hits a home run in a little league game or comforts a crying friend during a play date, or wins the 2nd grade spelling bee, and she will know deep in her soul that nobody could ever be as proud of him as she is, no matter what he does, no matter how old he is.



Now Gretch WILL have to put up with some of these musketeerian traditions: watching I LOVE LUCY marathons, hollering through the Vikes games, learning to play a hot hand of Oh Hell, and eating far too much french silk pie. During our Florida vacations she will need to not only endure cheesy mini-golf at Smuggler's Cove, but eat until she can barely walk out of our favorite Dutch smorgasbord. (The one place in the world where gluttony is considered a temporary blessing)

Lord, I have had a hundred reasons already why I need you to heal me of this cancer. Now I have a hundred and one. This is one role, Lord, that I have always hoped to have and now it can be mine. I am so excited to embrace it.  I have never been a mother-in-law, Lord.  I need you to teach me to be a good one. No, a really really good one. A mother-in-law who supports and loves and encourages. A mother-in-law who Gretchen feels free to share her fears and joys and struggles with. Lord, when her friends ask her about Sam's mom, I want her to be able to smile and not grimace. Lord, you need to mold me into a mother-in-law that reflects Your character. Father, I ask you for all this in the name of Jesus.
Sam's Gretchen is a peach. A dear and Godly girl with a servant heart, a moral backbone, a ream of moxie and mettle, and a winning smile. And she deeply loves my son. There is nothing more a mother could ask for in a wife for her son.



I can’t wait to see how the Lord will use Gretch to bless my life and challenge me as a woman and a Christian. And even more importantly, I can’t wait to see how the Lord will use me to bless and speak into her life in ways that would mean a lot to her.

We have a whole year to think up some new monikers for our new family, but I don’t think that “fearsome foursome” sounds so bad….