November 13, 2017, at 12:55pm, my world careened out of control, causing me to break away from the ground that my feet had long since walked upon. I slipped into the blackness of an uncharted space that was unknown, lonely, and confusing. The warning shocks came 10.5 months earlier as my family prepared to go on our last family trip together to Gatlinburg.
“You have diverticulitis, Mr. Otto”, said the doctor on call, at the ER I had demanded he be seen at, before departing for our last family trip ever, that very day. “No big deal”, Clint had said in so many words. “No, Mr. Otto, I don’t think you understand. You have a disease. It isn’t going away. It will require your care and possible surgery down the road.”
I distinctly remember him making a startling remark on our way to Gatlinburg later that day after he was released. “Who knows…this may be what kills me,” he said out of the blue while driving. I was in shock! “Don’t say crazy things like that! You aren’t going anywhere!”, was my reply.
Throughout 2017, he had several flare ups, culminating in a hospital stay, battling a micro perf of his colon on the week surrounding Father’s Day. I remember feeling bad that he had to be in a hospital bed on this special day and that our kids had to come to a hospital to bring him the gifts they had carefully selected to give him — a shower speaker, a set of sharp knives and a nice wood cutting board. He loved to create good foods and our knives just never seemed sharp enough to suit his expectations. The doctor on call that week informed us that he would need surgery at some point in the near future. He desperately wanted to get through his busy summer of local mission’s work before taking the time off to care for himself. This was a point of contention between the two of us, but he had prayed and felt at peace with his decision. I reluctantly went with it.
We began looking for a surgeon to perform this surgery. With each surgeon he would select, came the disappointing news that they were not covered under our insurance. We finally landed on one and went with it. From July to the day before his surgery, I felt uneasy about the choice. I couldn’t seem to shake it. Clint seemed uneasy as well, but did his best to ease my concern and plow forward. I mentioned switching doctors or changing the date of the surgery numerous times. The night before his surgery, he and I both were feeling “it”. I said again, “It’s not too late! We can find someone else and postpone this!” He looked at me and said, “I don’t know if I could make it that long.” He had been battling a flare up not long before this.
Looking back over that last year, I can see a cloud looming over us. One such cloud came after moving into our new house the beginning of July. We were outside on the back patio sitting together holding hands and watching the sunset. It was breathtakingly beautiful! Clint was finally living in the country where he’d always wanted to be. But, as he was watching the sun set over the back of our property, I was watching him. Something deep inside of me told me to take a mental picture. I remember worrying that he wouldn’t always be with me. I felt a deep sadness as I sat there holding his hand, watching his eyes soak in the site of the sunset, watching his face show such delight as he listened to the numerous frogs croaking, and taking in the handsomeness of this man I adored and never wanted to let go of. Several tears dropped from my eyes that evening.
The morning of his surgery, we got up early to work on some last minute very important things that he didn’t want to leave for me to deal with, “just in case something goes wrong.” He even left a note for us, telling us he had scheduled someone to come winterize our hot tub, in case he wasn’t back home in the time frame he was supposed to be.
I remember the drive to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. It was still dark with the sun just beginning to shed a little light on the new day. He drove the little black car he had purchased just for me as a way to cheer me up when our older girls had left home and it had proven so hard for me to adjust to. We held hands nearly the whole way there. I loved his hands. Outside of his overall handsomeness, his hands were my most favorite thing about his physical appearance. <Insert tears>
As we sat in the waiting room that morning, he “demanded” I go get a coffee. I didn’t want to do it, because he hadn’t been able to eat anything for at least 24 hours and wouldn’t be able to for a while longer. But, he insisted. When I came back, coffee in hand, he stopped working for a minute, looked at me…really looked at me and said, “I haven’t told you this morning, yet, how pretty you look.” I had decided to look my best for him that day. I wore a pretty dress. My hair was curled. My makeup was on. My heart melted that it had meant something to him that morning.
“Mr. Otto”, they called his name to come back to pre-op. The doctor went over the procedure again and let him know he’d be in for 3-4 days. He assured them he’d be out the next day :). He was my forever optimist.
I gathered his clothes, his tennis shoes, his glasses, and carefully placed them in a plastic bag. I kissed him and promised I’d be with him again as soon as they called me back. That I would NOT leave the hospital! We had already prayed together that morning. It was now “go time”.
My oldest daughter decided on a whim to leave work and spend the day with her mama. We had a nice time eating candy bars and chatting. It was so good to have her company.
When they called us back to be with him in post op, he was still groggy. He held my hand so gently and I will never forget what he said to me as long as I live, “I’ve missed you.” I chuckled as it really hadn’t been that long, but I agreed, “I’ve missed you too!” “I just want to snuggle”, he said. “Me too”, I said as tears formed in my eyes. My daughter was touched by it too as she didn’t always get the opportunity to witness those types of intimate moments between the two of us.
That evening was rough and problems began setting in. I remember feeling aggravated that people weren’t showing as much concern as I felt was needed. I felt helpless. I felt confused. The next morning they took him back for emergency surgery to see what was going on. It was the last time I ever heard his voice. The voice that had been my guide for 25 years. The voice that comforted me when I felt scared. The voice that encouraged me when I felt down. The voice that laughed when he was happy. The voice that prayed with me and over me.
In the hours of anguishinly (yes…I probably just made up that word) waiting for his second surgery, he told me he wasn’t going to make it. I thought it was just pain talking. But he wouldn’t be silenced. I told him not to talk like that but he hushed me so I would listen to all he needed to tell me. He wanted to make sure we’d be okay. I told him I couldn’t live without him…that he couldn’t leave me. He looked me square in the face and said, “You’re so strong! You are going to be ok! I love you!”
The next 3 days was a blur. It was during those days that I could feel the ground beneath my feet quaking. The desperation I felt is hard to put into words. My world was spinning. Metaphorically speaking, I was digging my nails in the ground of my world trying to get a hold of something to keep me/us from spinning out into outer space. Looking back, Clint was my solid place…my ground so to speak. I remember wondering what was going on! How had we come to this place? Was this even real?
There were sweet moments scattered throughout that I will forever be thankful for.
But then, that cold, dreary fall afternoon on the 13th of November, the man I fell for the moment my eyes caught sight of him, faded into another dimension into the arms of a Man we both loved more than even each other. I said “goodbye for now” and Clint held hands for the first time in the flesh with Jesus, our Savior.
The moment he took his last breath, mine evaporated as I went hurling through space, still clinging to the blades of grass and dirt left in my hands. Everyone and everything I had ever loved was left behind as I chased after my Love in a time and place I could not see or hear or feel him anymore. I hurled into space with tissues in my pockets and his plastic bag filled with his earthly goods he had on him as he headed into the hospital that dark day of November 9.
For months, I lingered in that space. I knew God was with me but sometimes struggled feeling Him or knowing He was actually sustaining me. Looking back now, He had caught me in the black hole I had found myself in! He had placed an oxygen mask on me! I was secure in Him, but my hands still had a death grip on the earth caked between my fingers and grasped in my tightly held fists.
I began to trust Him more and more, little by little, and one hand at a time, I began to loosen my grip on the ground in my hands and take hold of His big hands. Over time, I began to move my eyes away from that ground and look at His eyes steadfastly fixed on mine. It was in those moments of looking into His gaze, that I began to descend back to earth. The decent was hard on my body physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Every idea, thought, and judgement I’ve ever had was put to the test. I came back to this earth quite a different person.
Upon re-entry, the earth looked quite different than it had before. When once I had thought I had seen in full color, now I began to see colors I had never seen before! I saw them in other’s tears. I saw them when I witnessed other’s pain. I saw them in giving and receiving love. I saw them in the eyes of my children and grandchildren. I saw them in the words that began to come out of my own mouth when I attempted to be present for others in their pain.
I’m still a work in progress! I still miss my sweet, vibrant man! I still hurt from all that was, that is gone…all that never was that can never be…all the hurt I’ve had to endure and still feel so very deeply…all the questions left unanswered. But, I have come “out” of this knowing God better than ever before! He and I still have much work to do. I still struggle with Him too. But, I love Him! I wouldn’t have made it without Him! I will be going to Him one day! I’m striving to live this life in Him now with excellence…even amongst my questions and hurts. I’m doing my absolute best to love better than I ever have in ALL my life…because that’s what this IS ALL about! LOVE!!! I loved Clint more than my own life! It was worth EVERY SINGLE SECOND and I would do it ALL over again in a heartbeat! Oh, and by the way, I still carry that “ground” under my nails. It will never fully wash away.
I miss you, Babe! Always and forever!