Just a few months before, he had admitted to the hospital with some strange symptoms. Several pokes, prods, and tests later, the diagnosis was clear...cancer of the lungs, stage four.
This news was more than a shock to everyone. It really could not have been any more unexpected. My Grandpa Henry was a healthy, active, brilliant man. He was a thinker...quiet and reserved. A good Stephen King book and a cold beer could make him just as happy as anything. Recently retired, he could always find something to keep himself busy...whether it was gardening, working on his computer, bird watching, or just sitting outside in the Florida warmth. He was a man of few words, but when he did speak you knew to listen because whatever he was saying was likely to give you your best laugh of the week. His own laughter was infectious...I can still hear it in my mind.
He must have been the pickiest eater on planet Earth. My Grandma typically had to make him special food, and even then, he would push his food around and take maybe three or four bites before he was up and moving on to his next adventure. She was so patient with him, and I later realized that it was because Grandpa loved her with the most unconditional love possible. He was crazy about her, and she was crazy about him.
Those months of cancer were by far the most difficult time of my family's life. Things went downhill so fast, and no one was remotely prepared to cope with it. There is no worse feeling than looking around a hospital room and seeing silent tears fall from the faces of everyone that means the most to you. That is a hurt that your heart just doesn't forget. Eventually, you stop hoping for things to get better, and you start questioning what you should do to make the most of the time that is left. What should you say? What should you do? How are you supposed to act?
During those months, I spent a lot of time driving back and forth between Tallahassee and my hometown. If it was a weekend or an off day, I was with my family. I wanted to be there as much as possible while Grandpa was still able to talk and joke with us. I wanted to be there even more when he was bed-ridden. I wanted to be there to help as much as I possible could. I remember sleeping in my grandparent's bedroom one night...Grandma and I were sharing their bed and Grandpa was in the hospital bed that Hospice had brought in for him. Grandma would get out of bed every 30 minutes to check on him, to make sure that he was warm enough, or just to hold his hand for a few minutes. At one point I woke up and she was laying there, eyes open, crying silently. That was the moment that the part of my heart that was still intact shattered.
I will never forget that phone call on December 1. My roommate at the time and I were at the house we were getting ready to move into, stripping some wallpaper out of the bathrooms. My phone rang, and it was my mom. In the back of my mind, I knew what I was about to hear. I walked outside to answer the call and she told me the news. I didn't cry while I was talking to her. I even thought I would be able to hold it in until I was safely in my bed that night. I told her I would head home the next morning, hit "end," and put the phone in my pocket.
The flood gates opened before I had even thought about crying. I stood there in the driveway, sobbing uncontrollably. I remember having to remind myself to breathe, raking my hands through my hair, and pacing back and forth. Thoughts of Why God, and God, I will never forgive you for this bombarded in my mind until I couldn't even form a coherent thought. I had never felt such sorrow before. I didn't know how to deal with it. The concept was foreign.
I eventually found myself lying in the driveway...flat on my back on the cold cement. The neighbors must have thought I was insane, but I wasn't thinking logically in any way, shape, or form. As I laid there on that sandy pavement, my adrenaline lowered, my heartbeat slowed, and my breathing returned to a normal rhythm. My anger slowly began to subside. My eyes slowly began to clear, and they focused in on the first sign of hope that I had noticed in a long time.
I saw, really saw, the promises of faith in the form of a vast, sparkling canvas. The sky was so clear that night. It was one of those perfect nights in which there didn't seem to be any noticeable darkness between each constellation. Right there in that driveway, at my most vulnerable, God reminded me that He is always there, and everything really will be okay. Those stars that were so masterfully placed in that pitch black sky are proof that there is always, always light in the darkness.
Being still beneath the stars is something that I have turned to ever since that night. It never ceases to ease my anxiety, to lift my burdens, to lighten my heartache...to restore my faith. Switchfoot said it best when they wrote,
"When I look at the stars I feel like myself."
The past couple of weeks, I have been in a really sad place...confused about a million things in life. When I'm not careful, I will let stuff bring me down too far. It's a bad place to be in. I took a walk outside about an hour ago. The sky isn't as clear tonight as it was on that December night in 2011...just like my problems aren't as clear now as they were then. But, you know what? There were still a few stars out.
That's how I know that everything is always going to be okay in the end.