Monday, 30 March 2015

Greener on the Other Side - With Elanna, Madison, Erin and Nathan

Shortly after Mike passes away I said I would follow up with a blog post about that day. It's been a work in progress and really tough, but here it is. 


I have been holding onto the details of the day as though somehow I could hold onto Mike. 

I arrived at the hospital on Monday Jan 5 around 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. expecting to help Mike and Nadine get ready to come home. It was clear, however, that Mike wasn’t doing as well as the day before. He sort of had a vacant look in his eyes. Just the day before, Mike was saying he was coming home and we all believed he was. Indeed he was going home – just not to his earthly home.


I will never forget the last moments I shared with my Dad. My mom texted me that morning and said that Dad had gone to the hospital the night before. I remembered when I was at their place the afternoon before, he struggled with his breathing and some choking but this was not out of the ordinary. 

It was just the two of us alone in his hospital room. I sat and rubbed his warm and soft feet. He had such a glow to his face despite the fact I knew he had been struggling so hard to breathe. The nurse kept telling him he should take the hydra morphine to help him relax, but he refused. He just kept smiling at me despite his struggle for air.    

I told him stories of all the menial things going on in my life. The lady on my strata trying to get me fined for my “tacky decorations” (her words, not mine!) and my latest encounter with the grumpy checkout lady at the grocery store. He didn’t once take his eyes off of me and just smiled. He always made me feel like everything I said was important, meanwhile he was fighting for his life.

We sat together and I just held his tiny, fragile body in my arms. Although, this certainly wasn’t the first time he had been sick and he had gone to the hospital once before, something in my heart knew that his time on Earth was coming to an end. Before I left, I kissed his forehead and said, “Thank you.” I thanked him for always making me eat my fruit and veggies as a child (and boy did I put up a fight). I thanked him for our walks along Mill Lake as we would secretly throw bread to the geese to watch them battle it out (even though this was strictly prohibited). I thanked him for helping me become a teacher and for always being proud of me. He looked at me and just smiled while we both held back the tears. 


It was a really nice prayer time together at 3am the morning of the day Mike passed away. Among many things, I prayed that the Lord would surround us with angels and I thanked Him that wherever we were, was exactly where we were meant to be. I played one of our playlists from my phone and sang along with the comforting songs, including, “Lord, I need Thee”. Mike always wanted me to sing to him, but I don’t have a good voice, so I rarely sang. That morning I sang, and angels came and we knew peace more than ever before.

At about 5:30, I told Mike that we should try to get a little more sleep. He agreed, so I laid back down beside him. When I woke up about an hour later, something had changed. He was staring straight ahead. I was unable to read his eye brows and his blink, so I asked him to look toward the window in response to my questions. Ever so slowly, he moved his eyes toward the window to a series of questions including, “Are you comfortable?”. He was. The doctor came and said Mike’s potassium levels were low and he needed some saline. I put some through his tube along with some food. I told him he needed to keep his strength up if he wanted to go home later. I knew in my heart, he probably wouldn’t be going back to our home that day, but I had no idea he’d be going home to heaven. 


I was away playing hockey that weekend and hadn’t had much communication with my mom. I had a feeling deep down something wasn't right but I tried not to think about it. I got home around seven o’clock sunday night. Instinctually, the first thing I do everyday when I get home is look straight in my dads direction and greet him. His welcoming smile was my favourite thing. That night when I looked in the direction of his chair and saw it was empty, I knew… Seconds later I called my mom. She reassured me everything was okay, “Dad is doing better and we hope to come home in the next couple of days. He is sleeping so you can come visit him tomorrow.” 

That next morning when I got up, the first thing on my mind was Dad. I got dressed, went to the store to find the softest stuffy I could (my dad loved soft touch) and went straight to the hospital. At that moment I never knew that that stuffed zebra would become the most cherished thing I have.

When I first saw my dad it was a bit scary. He had an oxygen mask on and he was looking straight ahead, not able to make eye contact with me, and the tendons is his neck tensed every time he took a breath. Every ounce of his strength I could see was used to breath. People would have called me crazy, but I still thought he was coming home. I sat down and placed the stuffed zebra on his naked chest so he could feel the soft fur against him and proceeded to tell him, my mom and aunt about my weekend. 


Around 11:30 or 12:00 I told Nadine to run home for a few minutes to get what she needed as she had been at the hospital with Mike through the night. She was reluctant to go and I kept saying, “Just go, we’ll be fine, I’m here and I’ll look after him”. She finally agreed. Madison went with her. While they were gone, I brushed Mike’s hair, got cold cloths for is forehead and sang to him. Mike loved all the old hymns and the one that I kept repeating for this very moment was “I Need Thee Every Hour”. “I need thee, Oh I need Thee, Every hour I need Thee, O bless my now my Saviour, I come to Thee…” Text: Annie S. Hawks, Music: Robert Lowry

It was only about a half an hour after Nadine left that the nurse came in and checked Mike’s vitals. His blood pressure was dropping and the nurse was giving me “the look”. He said to call Nadine to come back right away as it wouldn’t be long. I remember thinking to myself, “This guy doesn’t know Mike! Does he even have his Nursing certification? He obviously doesn’t know what he’s talking about”. For four years we knew this day was coming, but when it presented itself, I was strangely shocked. 

Nadine was on her way back when I called and a few minutes later came rushing into the room and Madison soon followed. I called the whole family, and one by one they filtered in — Peter, Erin, Nathan, our parents…


I went home and packed some things so I could go back to the hospital until I had to go to work. Soon after I left, I got a call. “Madison, you should come to the hospital now.” I could tell by the tone in my aunt’s voice, it wasn't good. Within minutes I was back at the hospital and when I ran into the room I could tell there was a drastic decline. I looked straight at my mom and the look on her face was enough to know that this was it. I couldn't tell you what I was feeling, I just instantly lost all strength and dropped to the floor. I began to scream. Feeling nauseous, I started gagging. Thankfully my mom was able to get me into the bathroom to calm me down. Head in the toilet, we prayed together that I would gain the strength to be strong for my dad in his last moments. I knew he wouldn't want to hear or see me that way—I quickly calmed down and went back into the room. 


Elanna told me what the nurse said. I told Elanna that the nurse didn’t know Mike, “Mike’s a fighter. He can recover.” She said, “I know.” I called Mike’s sister Aileen to tell her what the nurse said. I put the phone up to Mike’s ear so she could say something to him. It was only the day before, while on the phone with Aileen and Pat, I asked Mike if his sisters needed to come that night because they couldn’t get a flight until two days later. He said he was okay, no need to rush … he said it wasn’t an emergency.


I laid down beside my dad on his bed. My head on his chest, holding on tight to the soft, stuffed zebra. I wasn't sure how long it would be, but I knew he was on his way. I found myself gazed at my dad’s breathing, listening to my mom singing and talking to him. His breathing was slowly decreasing, becoming less frequent. Soon he became totally still, and his breathing became non existent. I looked at my mom, both of us knew he was gone, heaven’s gates opened before him. 


The nurse was right after all, it was Mike’s time to go. He didn’t struggle, there was no gasping, there was no pain. Mike simply transitioned from this life to the next … It really was a perfect ending … and a perfect beginning.


Saying good bye was surreal. I remember thinking he was on his way but he could still come back. I remember thinking how surprisingly strong I felt. I remember thinking how good he smelled, there was still a hint of peppermint body wash from the shower Jackie (one of his caregivers) gave him on Saturday. She would have also used the peppermint balm she always rubbed, with so much love, on his neck, shoulders and upper back.


At the end of our visit on Sunday, I told my dad I would see him tomorrow. Sadly, I only was able to see his lifeless body—he passed just before I got there. The next time I see him will be in heaven and I can’t wait to run around the lake with him and rile up the geese. I love him and miss him more than I could ever express in words.


I was at work. I took a quick break to check my phone and I had a message from my aunt. She asked me to call her as soon as possible, but when I did, it was too late. She told me my dad had passed away. When I got to the hospital, everyone was gathered around his bed. Less than 24 hours earlier, we gathered around his bed, visiting, laughing, talking about him going home. Leah rubbed lotion on his feet. 

I held my mom tight. She cried … we all cried of course, but we laughed a little too. We talked about how my dad, just the day before, made reference to a Seinfeld episode regarding his small hospital room. It took us all a long time to say good bye. Eventually we had to leave. We had to walk away and it was the hardest thing we ever did.

Later, at home, I mentioned how impactful it was to see what was left behind - a shell of a man. A shell that housed an unbelievably strong, unbreakable spirit, now free … the difference between the two was so profound.


It rained the evening before. It actually poured—it woke us up from a nap. I unlocked the wheels of Mike’s bed and turned it as much as I could toward the window. “Look Mike, it’s pouring rain. Isn’t that great?” Mike just loved the sound of the rain and it wasn’t until the next day after he had passed away that I thought of something he had mentioned a few times over the years. He told me that W.C. Fields’ wife turned the sprinkler on the roof the night Fields laid in bed dying, so he could hear for one last time his favourite sound—the sound of the falling rain.


I don’t think things will ever be the same again. I don’t think I will ever fully recover. It seems melodramatic but Mike was like my own flesh and blood brother. We had a secret world of non-verbal communication, suctioning, feeding tubes (and a host of other stuff that comes along with ALS). We knew each other’s secrets and had a bond that went beyond the “brother/sister in law” norm. The saying, “blood is thicker than water” didn’t pertain to me and Mike. I would have done anything for him and he for me.

I am happy for him, as I picture him joyfully moving freely; unencumbered by this earthly shell. At the same time, I am empty, missing my lifetime friend and brother.  

Mike made life interesting and fun. He was one of the smartest people I have known. He was funny and he made me laugh and I made him laugh. 


We are doing okay most of the time, but the sadness grows thicker, kind of like mud. Some times I feel like I’m mucking around, waist deep in it. I know we’ll be okay, but we’ll never be the same again.

                                              In memory of Michael David Sands

Leah rubbing Mike's feet at the hospital the day before Mike passed

In the afternoon of the day Mike passed away, while we were all sitting together at home, I sat in Mike's chair. All of a sudden I was moving into a reclined position - Leah had the controls. She laid me back, covered me with a blanket, rolled up my pant legs, took off my socks and rubbed lotion on my feet. No words were said. Wow! is all I can say now. I'm so choked up thinking about it. It was so precious and it ministered to me in such an amazing way.

Mike's All-Star team, his home care givers: Shuna, Jackie, Jon and Shannon
There were more, but these four were his main care-givers...the best of the best!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

No Doubt

Yesterday, when I read my daily devotional book, My Utmost For His Highest, I was encouraged and challenged like most days. The author, Oswald Chambers, says, “A life of faith is not a life of one glorious mountaintop experience after another, like soaring on eagle’s wings, but is a life of day-in and day-out consistency, a life of walking without fainting (see Isaiah 40:3)…It is a faith that has been tried and proved and has withstood the test.” 

Scottish born Chambers, who in my head I just call Oswald or OC, has been encouraging me and challenging me through his daily reader for almost two decades. Even though he is long gone from this world, his wisdom and insight live on. He was only 43 years old when he died in 1917 from complications after having his appendix removed. Oswald, an artist, a dog lover, a lover of nature and books and lost souls, a minister, teacher, evangelist and Chaplin to soldiers in the war, died just before his first book went to print. His wife, Gertrude, who Oswald affectionately called “Biddy” which is short for the nickname he gave her, “Beloved Disciple”, dedicated the rest of her life to transcribing books from the notes she had taken from Oswald’s lectures and sermons. Overall she published thirty books with her husband’s name on each one. My Utmost for His Highest is his best seller and a constant source of inspiration in my life.

I have quoted Oswald a lot in my three and a half years of blogging. In the editing phase of my book, I had an assignment to obtain permission from certain publishers of certain authors I quoted — Oswald Chambers’ publisher was at the top of the list. I was back and forth with a gentleman by the name of Mr. Rock from Discovery House Publishers, who handled such requests. By the end of our interactions, I was so honoured to be granted the permission to use Oswald’s quotes and I considered the very kind and encouraging Mr Rock a new friend.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s reading, Oswald went on to say this about faith: “Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading. It is literally a life of faith, not of understanding and reason— a life of knowing Him who calls us to go. Faith is rooted in the knowledge of a Person, and one of the biggest traps we fall into is the belief that if we have faith, God will surely lead us to success in the world.” OC

Let’s read that last part again: “…one of the biggest traps we fall into is the belief that if we have faith, God will surely lead us to success in the world.” It would be easy to have faith if having faith guaranteed success, if it meant never facing adversity, if it meant getting what you wanted, but that’s not how it works.

When Mike was first diagnosed with ALS, a couple of people told me that it couldn’t be God’s will for Mike to have this terrible disease and that we just needed to keep praying for God’s will and Mike would surely be healed. Well, I did pray everyday that God would heal Mike, but I also had faith to believe that whether Mike was healed or not, we were in God’s will and this is what His will looked like for us right then…whether we liked it or not.

This is faith: Believing that there is absolutely nothing God cannot do, even when He doesn’t save you from ALS (or in Oswald’s case, appendicitis). Walking with Him even when your legs are rendered useless.  Trusting Him to make every decision in your life whether you like it or not. Knowing that for those who love Him, all things work together for good (Romans 8:28) and He has your best interest at heart.

This is faith: Without a shadow of a doubt, He will see you through whatever He leads you 

God is so much more interested in our souls than our cells. Our physical bodies just house us. Of course He cares about every aspect of our lives, but He loves who we are underneath it all. Redeeming our souls is His goal. The part of us that doesn’t parish; our souls—He sent His Son to save them. The body, along with the ALS or MS or cancer or whatever, just turns back to dust.

“There will come one day a personal and direct touch from God when every tear and perplexity, every oppression and distress, every suffering and pain, and wrong and injustice will have a complete and ample and overwhelming explanation.” Oswald Chambers

Only two weeks away from my book signing...I'm excited and nervous! My book signing is at Save-On-Food on Lougheed and 227st in Maple Ridge on Saturday, April 4 from noon to 4pm. Yes, I will have books to purchase there! If you can't make it, but would like a book, Facebook message me and I'll get you one. For those out of town, here is a link to my book on Amazon:

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Bullet Proof

Last week was tough. I was really sad and I was sick and then all of a sudden, I became anxious worried and afraid. I was sad for obvious reasons, but putting together a blog post of all our accounts of Mike’s last days took the sadness to a whole new level (that post is still in the works). I was sick with the flu, not terribly sick (I still taught my fitness classes), but just sick enough that a few tears from being sad made my head pound and my nose run, so I worked hard to keep the tears at bay, but teetered on the edge most of the time.

On Wednesday, right after I put an order in for my books, anxiety, worry and fear came. These three weren’t subtle, they weren’t kind or gentle, they came like bullets or darts or something. I thought, sure enough, here I am, the most vulnerable I’ve ever been, and the devil starts firing, that’s just like him.

Every step of the way, I have consulted with God and have committed my book to Him. Before and after I decided to write it, before and after I signed with Influence Publishing, before and after the introduction, before and after every paragraph, every chapter, before and after editing, proof-reading, typesetting…every single step, every single word—I consulted with God and committed it to Him. And then when I ordered my books for my upcoming book signing and other events, I freaked … I kind of froze inside.

All of a sudden I was gripped with fear wondering what have I done, and what if something goes wrong and what was I thinking in the first place? I’m no writer, what do I know and who really cares. My trust in God flew out the window and the negative voices swept in. I hate when that happens. When I shared my feelings with Elanna, she said she knew something was wrong. With tears in my eyes, I said, “I’m not an author.” She said, “Yes you are.” I said, “I can’t do this.” She said, “Yes you can.” Her smile and reassuring words brought me down from the ledge. Her prayers really helped too.

In the thick of it, I kept saying to myself, “This is where Mike would say every thing is going to be okay.” He’d say, “Don’t worry.” When I close my eyes, he puts his hand on my shoulder, he pulls me close and wraps his strong arms around me and says it’s going to be all right. Even when he couldn’t do that anymore, his smile held me tight, and everything was always okay. 

I realize now the anxiety, worry and fear wasn’t just about my book, it was about my life. Moving forward without Mike is just so heart breaking, it’s disappointing, it’s scary. He always helped me, he always encouraged me, he prayed for me and he gave me such good advice. He helped me keep my feet on the ground and my eyes looking up.

Yesterday after my class I got a call from Wendy from the ALS Society. Wendy Toyer is the Executive Director of the ALS Society of BC. I told her it was funny she called because I was planning to call her to thank her again for the beautiful testimony she gave me for my book (I’ve only thanked her by email) and to tell her I wanted to donate Mike’s wheel chair to the society. She thanked me and proceeded to tell me she thinks about us all the time because our family picture is framed and hangs on a wall at the society office (a picture used in an article I wrote for an ALS Society promotion featured in the Vancouver Sun and Province news papers).

Wendy also wanted to ask if our family picture could be used in a magazine for something People’s Drug Mart is doing (they are big donors/sponsors). She also wanted to invite me to an event the ALS Society is hosting to honour volunteers, special donors and Tyler Gamsby. Tyler is a film maker who made a film about the ALS Society, highlighting what they do, how they help etc. Tyler interviewed me and Mike for the film (I write about it in my book). It was really quite emotional and I can only imagine watching the film will be as well. Tyler has offered to come and show it to me before I see it at the event. 

A little overwhelmed, I heard God say, “Come with Me.” I put my Bible and my Oswald Chambers devotional in a backpack and drove to the dike. I didn’t go to the dike down the road where we usually go because there are too many people there, especially on such a beautiful day. I went north, toward Golden Eagle golf course which is actually in Pitt Meadows, but only a few minutes away. I drove all the way to the end of Ladner Rd, turned around at the golf course which is in the middle of nowhere but at the same time, somewhere very special and headed back. Nathan told me about the golf course where a short hike into the woods on the first of a series of mountains takes you to a beautiful lake.

Anyway, I stopped at a dike I’d never been to not far from there. I walked west on the overgrown path, the Thompson Mountains on my near right and farm land vast on my left. In the very far distance, on the other side of that land, you could see a wall of trees that separated the busy world from this wide open, quiet and peaceful world I was now a part of. The wall of trees was kind of hazy from the glow of the sun … I felt far from everyone and really close to God. I just walked and talked with Him. There were a few benches along the way and I thought I should stop to read my Bible. I felt God say that it was okay because His Word was hidden in my heart. And then I was encouraged as the Word in my heart spoke to me: 

“We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)  “With God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26)  “If He is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)  “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)  “He will surround you with favour as with a shield.” Psalm 5:12)  “He goes with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) “He knows when I sit down and when I rise up.” (Psalm 139:2)  “Even the hairs of your head are numbered.” (Matt 10:30)  “He hasn’t given you a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  “I will strengthen you and help you and hold you up with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) . . .

And on it went. I eventually sat down with the mountains to my back and my face to the sun. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) was the next verse to come, so that’s what I did. It’s the last verse I read when I sat with our old dog Isla shortly before she took her last breath. I thought of Mike and how his death reminded me of hers; so peaceful and they both had the same ‘stare right past you’ look in their eyes.

Heading back I felt refreshed, like my thirst had been quenched and my fear had disappeared. Realistically, when all those boxes of my books show up on the doorstep, a little fear might too. I may not be bullet proof, but God’s with me and He’s got me covered. From head to toe to the depths of my soul, He’s got me covered and right where He wants me. And with Mike’s positive influence, the prayers of family and friends, God’s Word hidden in my heart and His shield around me, there’s really no need to worry.

                                                           Enjoying a sunny day with Mike last spring

Here is the link to my book on Amazon
Amazon pre-sales for my book continue to go well. The release date is April 2 and I have a book signing engagement at Save On Food on Lougheed Hwy and 228 St in Maple Ridge on April 4 from 12:00 to 4:00pm ... thanks Shelley at Save On for inviting me!