Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reminders . . .

Today I returned to Brown Bag Bible Study, the first time I've been there since Tom fell on January 6. It would have been easier to stay home. Afterward I went across the street to the hospital to see a special friend who also has ovarian cancer. As I drove into the parking garage, I suddenly realized I'd be visiting her on the same floor where Tom was in hospice care. I dreaded passing his room and was relieved when I exited the elevator and saw her room was the opposite direction. What is it about "little" things?

While Tom was in the hospital I not only spent a lot of time reading and studying the Scripture, but I also read Psalms to him. Psalm 8 particularly spoke to me. In fact, I chose it to be used as a call to worship at Tom's memorial service. One of the things that he and I shared was a Calvinistic interpretation of Scripture, beginning with the Sovereignty of God. For us, life was about glorifying God and trying to be obedient to Him. So, it was meaningful to pray through Psalm 8, acknowledging the majesty of God and realizing once again that our almighty, amazing God cares about His creation--and not just creation, but the individuals who have been created by His hand. What is man that God is mindful of him? In the midst of a crisis, it is of great comfort to think of that God and that He cared for Tom. Related to those thoughts were some I wrote in a journal on part of a verse in Daniel.

Tom loved the book of Daniel. It was his favorite book of the Bible, but I don't think he ever told me why. Perhaps it is the Sovereignty of God so evident throughout the book. Maybe he learned from God's faithful servant, Daniel. I reread Daniel one day, partly as reference material for a Revelation study and partly because of Tom.

There, in chapter 9, is the most reassuring of verses: We make requests (pray, plead) not because we are deserving but because God is merciful (Daniel 9:18b). What is man that God is mindful of him? We are welcome at the throne of grace, not because of anything we might bring, but because of who God is.

Tom was special in many ways, but anything he might have accomplished did not matter in God's sight. God didn't care about Tom's "Citizen of the Year" award in 8th grade, nor his security clearance in the military. God was not impressed by Tom's good manners nor his thoughtfulness. His accomplishments in this life were not the basis on which God was hearing our prayers. God heard, God answered because of His great mercy for His children.

That was true for Daniel; it was true for Tom. As the hymnwriter wrote: Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling. Every day, all during the day I would go, empty handed and clinging, pleading for God's mercies.

Thank you, Lord, for your mercies. Thank your for your care for your children.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Day of Reflection . . .

Forty four years ago today, I married the love of my life. He was my closest friend, my lover, my soul mate and my partner in every sense of the word. We had a six year "semi courtship," more off that on, partly because nearly three years of that time he was in Munich, Germany and I was stateside. We often laughed, remembering that I wrote him while he was there because I considered it my duty as an American citizen. When we did make a decision to marry we had no doubt but that it was God's plan, executed in God's time. Both of us were headstrong and it took some doing for us to learn to live together. Years passed, our love grew and neither of us could even imagine life with anyone else.

Two particular things helped to strengthen an already strong marriage. About twenty years ago I was introduced to a booklet by Ben Johnson entitled, An Adventure in Prayer. It was written to help people learn to pray more specifically and offered suggestions to guide your prayer life for thirty days. One of the suggestions was to remember the vows you have taken and recommit them to God. To the vows he suggested, I added baptismal and marriage vows. I began to meditate/pray about what I promised before God and to Tom on the day we married. I was particularly struck by the promises to love and honor him. Of course, I loved him, but how could I love him more? I asked God to put more love in my heart for Tom. What did it truly mean to honor my husband and how did that manifest itself? My eyes were opened to things I did and said that were not loving, nor honoring and I prayed for God to change me.

The second thing that made a difference, even after twenty plus years was a conversation I had with my son. He reminded me of words said to him and Elizabeth by Joe Rightmyer, the pastor who married them. (Joe is our friend who officiated at Tom's graveside and memorial services.) He encouraged them to cherish one another. That prompted me to ponder the word "cherish" and to think about how that works in a relationship. Often I would tell Tom, "I love you more today than yesterday and less than I will tomorrow." As I reflect on our life together, I know that remains true.

Today could have been a really sad day, but every time I felt myself getting sad, I would think of Meredith and her telling me that Paw Paw is in my heart. How right she is! I can no longer reach out and touch him. I realize, with great reluctance, a word I use often to describe other women, now describes me too. I am a widow. I had to get past today and with the help of my children I did. Tommy went with me to Corinth. Tonight he, Liz and I went out to eat and Marty called when I got home. They warmed my heart, made me laugh and cry. We talked about memories and we looked ahead. Tomorrow is a new day.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


We said our final goodbye to Tom on Saturday---or did we? Friends and family gathered at the graveside Saturday morning for the interment. It was a beautiful day, between 50 and 60 degrees, with the sun brightly shining. The minister, our friend Joe Rightmyer, spoke of hope, new life and the resurrection. Tom was buried with military honors and seeing that flag draped casket brought tears of pride to my eyes, as did the words of appreciation spoken to me by the young man from the Army as he presented the flag to me. Our grandchildren each took a yellow rose from me and laid it on the casket. Precious Meredith, held by her father, placed hers and said, "Goodbye Paw Paw." It was a dear moment.

The memorial service that afternoon was truly a witness to the resurrection and an uplifting worship service. It was everything Tom and I wanted it to be! Again, Joe's message was one that presented the gospel and gave glory to God. Special music was a jazzy arrangement of Amazing Grace, written and performed on clarinet by Marty's friend and major professor in college. The recessional was another arrangement of his for organ and clarinet for When the Saints Go Marching In." Both Joe's message of truth, hope and promise and the music put a smile on my face. In every way God was glorified.

Many friends came, offered condolences and shared memories. Each one was special and each has helped with the grieving process. We felt truly blessed by their presence.

There were a few things that could have marred the perfect day and weekend. Instead they reminded us that life goes on. Friday, Tommy, Jacob, Sarah and I left in one car and Marty, Kevin and the boys in another. Liz planned to drive down later in the day with a friend and the three other children. When they were all loaded, in the car and ready to leave, her car would not start. She called Tommy while we were eating lunch in Jackson, MS and he talked the friend through the directions to jump a battery. Saturday there was silence during the time "Taps" was to be played. We waited expectantly and watched as the soldier put his horn in the case and came to help fold the flag. The horn malfunctioned. And before we could leave the cemetery, Tommy and David, Tom's brother, had to change a tire on his rental car. We laughed, thinking of comments Tom, Jr. would have made.

The bottom line: the services honored a special man and gave glory to his God. I am blessed to have shared my life with that special man and he will always be in my heart.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


For those of you who have known Tom--always "Tommy" to me--it should come as no surprise that many plans for what would happen at the end of both of our lives were already documented. I am so thankful for that! An otherwise hard process of going through details of burial yesterday was made much easier by knowing what he wanted, what I wanted for him and the support and input of Tommy and Marty. Today I have a few errands, a few more phone calls to make and then plan to enjoy being with family.

There will be a graveside service at Lakewood Memorial Park at 11 a.m. Saturday, February 12, with the memorial service at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 4000 Ridgewood Rd. , Jackson, MS following at 2 p.m. Visitation will be after the service in the church parlor.

Thank you for the many expressions of sympathy, prayer support and the shared memories of Tom and how he touched your lives. I have always said that he, more than any other man I knew, was the man of Psalm 15.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, February 07, 2011

A New Body . . . Safe in the Arms of Jesus

The dreaded day, the day for which I have hoped and prayed finally was today. Tom passed very peacefully about four this afternoon. The last several days I have sat by his bed, holding his hand, talking, telling him what's in the news, reading psalms, praying, singing. He has shown no real response since Thursday except for grimacing when he hurt, or having Parkinson type tics because he's not had any meds. One exception: the nurses have been swabbing his mouth with a special mouthwash several times a day and yesterday he wouldn't open his mouth. The nurse said for me to try if I saw an opening anytime during the day. He was like a little boy refusing to take his medicine, clinching his teeth together so I couldn't possibly get anything past his lips.

This morning I drove to the hospital in the most beautiful snow. The flakes were big and fluffy and fell for six or seven hours. In the South, that means people stay home, off the streets. That is, we stay home after we have raided the store shelves of bread, milk, eggs and other essentials. Shopping during one of these grocery store runs can be dangerous to one's health. Anyway, no one came by the room today except the usual hospital staff and two hospice workers about noon. Tom and I were all alone in our little room and I could focus my whole attention on him. It was such a gift to have a day to ourselves. The middle of the afternoon I stretched out on the little sofa, telling him I was right there by him and needed to close my eyes for a few minutes. When I woke up after about 20 minutes, he had quit breathing. I wasn't holding his hand as I had wanted to be, but we were together.

The most beautiful statement was made to me by my precious five year old granddaughter. I went to Tommy's so I could tell the grandchildren about their Paw Paw. After I told them, Meredith crawled up in my lap and said, "Please don't be sad and cry, Maw Maw. Paw Paw's in your heart."

Memorial services will be held later this week or early next (depending on winter weather advisories) at Covenant Presbyterian in Jackson, MS. More about that later.

My love and God's blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Saturday, February 05, 2011

From my heart . . .

Marty and the bolys left early this morning to go with Tommy to Jacob's honors' band concert in Memphis. It is quiet in my house--almost too quiet.

Last night I was dull from exhaustion, tired of the ups and downs, the endless decisions. Since February 18, forty four years ago, I have discussed almost everything with Tom. He's the wise one. He's the one who always reminds me of the One who shows us the way. I don't function well without him. I dread going to the hospital to see him wasting away; I look up and see him sitting aross the room, asking "Can I get you anything?"

Hospital staff have commented about his manners. Even when his speech was difficult to understand, they could hear him express his gratidude for their help. He never let a CNA leave after giving him a bath without telling her "Thank you." One day he apologized to some friends who had been in for a visit saying, "Excuse me for not getting up." Always the gentleman! Mom would be so proud--she taught him well.

When sleep doesn't come I think of things I must do or the memories Tom and I have shared. Two nights ago the thought stuck me that waiting and walking this journey with him is not so unlike the days leading up to Vietnam. Since the moment of "I do," we knew deployment was around the corner. At first we went on with daily preparations. He reported really early to the base for more training while I stayed home and dyed his underwear green. We tried to live in the moment, but war was raging and he was on his way. The past several years, we have lived in the moment, caring for one another, just enjoying being together, knowing that one of us would get orders sooner than the other. Tom's orders came for Vietnam and we knew exactly when he would go. Today it's as if Tom's orders came when he fell four weeks ago, even though at first I thought he would recover from the surgery. Now it is different; he has his orders, but we cannot know when he will pass. I walked those days before he left for war in dread, hating to see the sun go down because it brought us one day closer to departure. These are walked much the same way. The day he boarded the plane I stood and watched with what Mom and Dad described as crocodile tears streaming down my face. I was at a loss for words, fearing that I would never see him again. How different today! I know that I will see him again and that he will be free of all infirmities, free of pain. He will be waiting in our heavenly home.

That Vietnam year taught me two valuable lessons. 1) I learned from living with Mom and Dad Suttle what it really meant to be a family. They loved me as a real daughter, not just as Tom's wife. Dad said after the year was over that as hard as the year was, we had a wonderful time--and we did. 2) The Lamentations 2 verses became the starting point of every day and have continued to be firmly rooted in my life: It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed.
They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness!

In the midst of our deepest sorrow, no matter what, God is faithful. To God be the glory!

Pastor Margaret

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Week in Review . . .

Marty and her boys came Monday afternoon--just ahead of the rain, the dropping temperatures and the winter storm advisory. All three survived the long trip better than I thought they might. I have been so glad to have her with me and to have some activity in the house. Christopher and Colin have loved playing with cousins and it's been fun to watch them together. Tom knew Marty when she went to see him Tuesday and said her name. Since then there has been a steady decline in his condition.

Tom has not eaten since late Tuesday, nor has he had noticeable hydration since Wednesday. He only has had moisture from the swabs they use to clean his mouth and tongue. Swallowing has become a major problem. Until today he would try to say something in response to questions asked him, but now he has quit trying to even form words with his lips. He needs pain medication to be comfortable and that sedates him. The journey for him is difficult. Still, we
watch and wait, assuring him of our love, talking about special memories.

Yesterday the social worker on our hospice team came by the room. I had not met her previously. Frankly, I thought she talked too much. She began her endless chatter by explaining the death process to me, then proceeding to tell me what I need to do for myself. From there she went on to tell me how people with terminal illnesses feel, giving me pointers on how to respond to them. All the time, I'm thinking: "What ever happened to the art of listening?" I had to remind myself that she didn't know either of us; she didn't know our history; she didn't know our faith and unless she stopped talking, she never would. When I had had enough, I told her that I understood terminal illness because I had one myself and that Tom and I determined at the onset that we would live and that we would care for one another. What's more Tom had actually thanked God for the Parkinson's, praying that God would be glorified in his illness. Fortunately, she's the exception on the team, not the rule.

Today I went for an Avastin infusion in Corinth. Because I have two unexplained sores under my left arm, I promised Marty that I would have the nurse look at them. They just happen to be on the side where the lymph nodes were removed almost thirty years ago. Long story short: until two nurses and the doctor took a look, they would not treat me. Avastin slows down healing and I could choose to stop treatment for two months or could continue how I was treating the sores and be patient. I chose to keep the Avastin on schedule and be patient. After over an hour delay I received the treatment. What a day!

To add to everything else, the case manager told Marty today that Medicare will start pressuring us to find another place for Tom after two weeks--one has already passed. I don't think Tom would survive a move. Honestly, I'm too tired, too numb to think about that today. Jesus tells us to Be anxious for nothing, so I will not. Every day, in every way God is faithful to His promises. I will not be anxious and I will trust God to make the right decision when the time comes.

Pastor Margaret