I started writing a piece to post on my blog this evening that would serve as a document of this process I’m continuing to work through a year and a half after my dad passed away as the result of a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor. The post was intended to include some kind of explanation of the difficult pangs of grief that continue surfacing, at seemingly random intervals, from one day to the next. But, similar to the challenge that going through boxes of his belongings (ranging from hand-written notes to hats that I’d seen him wear so often over the years) presents, trying to figure out what to do with each item, the task of trying to sort through my lingering grief in order to articulate some semblance of coherent thought is anything but a lesson in efficiency. Surely, the record of our days could be represented as a linear timeline of thoughts considered, words said, steps taken, and things done, but, unfortunately, emotions drenched in regret are relentless in their orbits and with each trip around I revisit another dark moment in the shadow of the past – a moment missed when I could have said something more or reacted differently than I did when I actually stood, inhaled, and exhaled in each particular instance. It seems, at times, that all I can do is lower my head, continuing to put one foot in front of the other in an effort to increase the distance between the past and the present and, in doing so, relieve the weight of this burden. But, the truth, I’m finding, is that, there is nothing I can do to pick up any of the foot prints I’ve left in the path behind me and, while it betrays the weight of the emotion coursing through me as I type now, I know that my faith is invested in the One who is not confined by the linearity of time and, ultimately, His grace is sufficient.
Re-posting this from October 2011 in his honor: I had my Dad read this not long after I wrote it and I could see, by the tears he was wiping away, that it connected with him while he was in the midst of his battle against brain cancer. For that reason, this post will long stand as one of the most important posts I’ve ever written. Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love you and I miss you.
Physically, I want to break down physical boundaries for myself. I want to continue losing weight in order to be as healthy as possible and, in doing so, be around for as long as possible to be the best dad and husband I can to my wife and kids. As a diabetic and a pineal gland brain tumor and skin cancer survivor, and after losing my Dad this past February to brain cancer, I know that time is precious. If I can increase the likelihood of living a full, healthy life and, in doing so, influence my loved ones to do the same, why wouldn’t I do it? I ran my first 5K as an adult at just under 240 pounds in March 2011 to support brain tumor research at Duke University Hospital’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center where my dad was a patient. I’ve run five 5K’s since then and continued losing weight while maintaining a somewhat steady running habit. The goal is to complete the 2013 Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. As an adult I’ve never run over six miles, so, this will be a challenge. But, I’m almost done with the first third of my training plan and I’m progressing as planned. The idea was prompted by The Hands & Feet Project’s Las Vegas Marathon initiative in December 2012 and my desire to take part in a similar effort in 2013 in Nashville to benefit the work they do for orphans in Haiti.
Spiritually, I want to break down the limitations that I’ve placed on myself over the course of my lifetime with regard to what I’m willing to do to help those in need and how much of a priority their needs are in my life. I want to step forward in faith, clinging to what I know, but, trusting God, knowing that only He knows what lies ahead. For all of the politicizing and inter-denominational squabbling over scriptural interpretation, there is one thing that all believers should be doing that the bible is very clear about in particular:
Seizing opportunities to make donations, raise money for and, eventually, go on a short-term mission trip to visit and serve at The Hands & Feet Project orphanages in Haiti will certainly take my family and I out of the comfort zone we’ve lived in. But, I believe that, if that is what God has planned for us and the opportunity is there, the dividends that it will pay out to others will far exceed whatever it might cost us in terms of time, money, or energy.
Personally, I want to work through the grief that I continue to experience (as anyone who loses a loved one would) in a proactive way that honors my Dad and what he would want. Faith played a huge role in affording us the opportunity to make a donation to The Hands & Feet Project. Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart then turned around and asked for our permission to honor my Dad’s memory by naming the kitchen of the new orphanage they’re building at Ikondo in Haiti after him. So, “Grandpa Rockwell’s Kitchen” will be providing for the nutritional needs of orphans in Haiti once construction is completed in a few months. I know that Dad would be significantly moved by The Hands & Feet Project’s generous gesture which, in a big way, has helped to paint a silver lining around the dark clouds of grief that have been camped out over my head for the past couple of years since his decline began in October 2010. For further explanation about the connection between my Dad and The Hands & Feet Project, please read my prior posts on the topic: “How To Live Life” and “News Too Good To Keep Under Wraps: Light At The End.”
So, what does this have to do with beards?
The beard is a calling card to raise money for the work of The Hands & Feet Project. I started clean-shaven on November 1, 2011 for “No Shave November” and was inspired to start asking for donations of $5 per day, starting with December 1st, in order to keep it from being trimmed or shaved. Now, I don’t have one of those naturally lush, full, manly beards that comes in nice and even. No. Instead, I have this wiry, sparse, patchy whisker pattern that comes in pretty thick on my neck and mustache, but, that is bare in other spots like my cheeks, for example. Add to the weird whisker pattern the fact that, at three full months without a trim, I’m looking a bit scraggly, and you’ve got a pretty significant eyesore for anyone who has to spend time around me. So far, as of February 3rd, the beard has raised over $600 for orphans in Haiti. Hopefully, it will continue to grow more and more ridiculous looking so that, when people comment about it, I can explain why it is the way it is and, hopefully, inspire them to give a few more bucks to the cause.
Please prayerfully consider donating to the Hands & Feet Project either directly to them online or by sending contributions my way for me to pass on to them. If you do donate online, please let me know how many days to knock off the sponsorship countdown toward the goal of having the beard fully funded at a rate of $5/day through Saturday, April 27th’s Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville. Thank you!
Join The Beards, Hands & Feet Project by ‘Like’ing the Facebook Page!
You came right to the door
To my utter surprise
Before I let you in
The morn’ opened my eyes
Gold words I couldn’t utter
The tar stuck on my heels
Needing five more minutes
My bruised soul still reels
They don’t seem to care
Or my guard has hidden well
Ever present mourning
Prospective endless hell
Praying I didn’t fail you
Were choices better made
Peace wouldn’t be elusive
Regret could start to fade
Grace stands the only hope
Repentance outside time
By His means unbeknownst
Mercy that does not rhyme
Anyone who knows me personally knows that the last couple of years, and the last 12 months in particular, have been a rough time for me. My Dad’s 16 month decline and ultimate passing due to a stage four glioblastoma brain tumor shook my life to the core. My wife, my kids, and I all had our happy, normal lives thrown into a hurricane spin that, nine months after he passed away, we are still in the middle of trying settle back down into some sort of rhythm.
Coming to grips with the idea that all of the conversations my dad and I have had throughout my life are now in the past is a rough, ongoing process. I always had a lot of questions for him and he always listened and did his best to answer. While the questions continue the lack of a response is painful each and every time my mind turns back to him. The only thing I can do now is to think back to what was important to him, what he loved, what he wanted for me, for my family, for his grandchildren, and honor him in that way.
He had a heart for those in need. I know that he, along with my mom (divorced as soon as I finished high school) both took a step
forward in faith with a willingness to adopt me when I was about a month old from a mother who I never met, but, from the accounts of those who knew her, simply wasn’t capable of keeping me. Throughout my life I watched him visit and help neighbors, elderly and otherwise, whether by making repairs, taking garbage to the dump, building something, or just visiting. Even in the last five years of his life, after moving south from New York to be with us and provide daycare for his new grandson, he continued to be a helper and a friend to his new neighbors and, on many Saturday mornings, he would pick me up around 3 o’clock in the morning so that we could go to Wal-Mart to buy and prepare food to serve to the entire population of the local homeless shelter.
He was the constant model of Jesus, to me, yet he never attended church. Fortunately, in his final months and days, he accepted Christ. It was because of this acceptance that, I believe, he finally let go of the brain tumor-induced agitation that fell like a dark and ominous blanket of pain onto his home in the final couple of weeks.
His mind and his ability to cope with the stress of the position he was in started slipping just before the tumor robbed him of his ability to form words. His thoughts and his needs were trapped in his head and, for me as his primary caregiver (as well as his brother who was also there for the final two weeks), it became frustratingly difficult to understand what he wanted, needed, and was going through, just as his needs for comfort and understanding surely hit their most critical peak.
The result was a lot of guesswork regarding what to do in various situations, consulting with doctors and hospice nurses, and, surely, a number of mistakes in how I handled things. There were times, I’m ashamed to admit, when I didn’t want him to know that I was in the room because I knew that I couldn’t help him and I didn’t know how to handle it. In fact, over the past few weeks there were distinctive moments when it seemed like my presence there was irritating him. My memory of those final days and moments continues to be heavy burden that I am struggling learn how to carry. Though, I know, I am making progress, it is slow and I have a long way to go.
What I can find comfort in is the way he responded, on the final afternoon that he was with us, after being particularly agitated and uncomfortable, when I said something to the effect of (not sure that I can remember the exact words), “Uncle John and I are doing everything we can to make you comfortable Dad. It’s up to Jesus now and he’s going to take care of you.”
It was the last thing that I said to him while he was awake. Fairly immediately, he calmed down and, before long, fell asleep. He slept for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening until, just after midnight, with my arms around him and my head on his chest, I listened to his heartbeat slow to a stop.
He had given his life for my benefit from the moment I was adopted until brain cancer robbed him of the happy life that he was enjoying as a Grandpa (my kids were undisputed joy of his life), living a mere ten minutes from our house in North Carolina so that we could spend time with him almost daily. He lived a simple life. He was selfless and he was happy. Until brain cancer ripped it all away.
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world
Currently I’m in a stage of my life where I’ve never been more aware of the blessings that I have had and continue to have surrounding me on a daily basis. As somebody who was adopted into a life that prepared me to grow and develop, albeit with bumps, bruises, miscues, and detours along the way, into somebody that I know my Dad was proud of, I recognize wholeheartedly the difference that a helping hand can make.
After disbanding due to Mark Stuart’s vocal issues several years ago Christian band Audio Adrenaline has reformed, with the stellar voice of Kevin Max supplying lead vocals, with a new album and tour to come in support of expanding the orphanages that they originally established in Haiti to care for “the least of these” in 2004. In addition to the relaunch of the band, several members of Audio Adrenaline, along with others, are participating in a marathon in Las Vegas in December 2012 in order to raise funds.
When I first read about the marathon effort, as somebody who just started running in the last two years, I was intrigued. The prospect of supporting such a noble organization, that addresses the exact need the bible instructs Christians to address, by doing something that I’ve grown to love such as running really appealed to me. But, the timing, injury issues, and distance between North Carolina and Las Vegas ruled me out from participating. Since learning about the Las Vegas effort, though, I’ve learned that they are also planning a similar effort for the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April 2013 which I am committed to taking part in.
It is because of the example set by my Dad to help others, in combination with my love of running (albeit, slowly), the biblical directive given to all Christians, and my admiration of the guiding principles of The Hands And Feet Project that I am making this commitment to participate.
If you would, please read about the Beards, Hands, & Feet Project that I am launching in an effort to raise at least $500 to fulfill the requirements of becoming a Hands And Feet Project team member in the 2013 Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Please at least read through it. Then, if you are inclined to contribute toward this effort, please do so!
Check out the making of the video for the new Audio Adrenaline single “Kings & Queens” which provides a good deal of insight into the mission of The Hands & Feet Project
View the video for “Kings & Queens”
The groans of every mourning
Play like the devil’s voice
Over each new day since
Narrating random moments
Backmasked color commentary
Leaking hues and leaving black
Segments of the panorama
The linear record of my days
Most resembles Morse code now
A golden landscape accented
By the full color spectrum
A precursor to the fall
Like autumn is to winter
Like a run to a crawl
But given to a thaw
Still spring’s palette is spotted
At best a faded photo recovered
From ashes of a house burnt down
The edges of the image singed
A memory discolored and curled
Further distorted each day
By smoke rising from fires
That still burn around me
While Living Water stands by
Biding His time
The place where I stand has left me no room
To lie down in peace and understanding
The desperate lurch that I undertook
Toward the opened window
For air to breathe
Left me clinging to this cold precipice
Upon an unforgiving narrow ledge
On the ground far below me I can see
Lingering traces of his legacy
And what little sense of balance I had
On a gurney being rolled out the door
To be placed in a hearse and driven away
By silver-tongued thieves dressed as morticians
With pre-printed sympathy cards in hand
Were I to inch back toward the window
I’d know not how to maneuver in through
To a peaceful place that exists no more
So I will be perched here weathering winds
That come and leave without substance to spare
All the time praying that these ghosts of mine
Will not steal from those that I love down there