Over the next couple weeks, of course, Dad would have his moments of getting sad or discouraged, but in those times, rather than complaining or feeling sorry for himself, he would ask Mom to read him Scripture, and every day he would also ask Mom to read from “Britni’s Book,” as it had come to be known.
Britni’s Book was the devotional book that Britni bought for them when she found out about his diagnosis. Written by a cancer survivor, it was filled with daily reading to encourage the reader and help them to look toward the power and strength of Christ in such trying and discouraging times. It became like a life preserver for Dad. They never missed a day.
We have marveled at how much of an impact Britni had on Dad. The window between his diagnosis and her admission into the hospital was so small, just six days. Between his diagnosis and her passing was only 10 days. But her impact began much sooner as he watched from afar her response, particularly to God, concerning her own diagnosis, and he was mesmerized by it. And now, her impact in his life would go far beyond their brief overlap in this life as cancer patients together.
Mom has this great sign in her kitchen that says,
“We are all just walking each other home.”
It’s a fantastic way to look at the life God has given us. Our job is to be on this journey together, hold each other’s hands, and walk next to one another as we walk towards our final and eternal home.
Britni did this very thing for Dad. Even after she passed away, it seemed as if Britni was walking Dad home. Jesus was his Savior, and Britni was his guide. She inspired him. So many times, Dad would think about his soon arrival in Heaven and he would break down in tears and say, “I get to be in the arms of Jesus soon! I get to hold His hands and see His scars and hug Him!” And then as he pondered that for a second, there would be a brief pause of thought, and then his eyes would light up and he would say, “and I get to see Britni!!!”
Having these things to focus on helped him tremendously, but he knew having the right perspective wouldn't come automatically. He asked me to send out a specific prayer request, and asked to have a good attitude. So far, he had said that he had done well in not very frequently going to a negative outlook or a darker place in his thoughts. However, he said he knows that the days may get tougher, and he doesn't want to lose the right perspective. This is where, he said, that having Mom read to him was helpful.
Observations and Reflections...
I spent August 22nd-24th with Mom and Dad at their home. We had a really great and refreshing few days, though it was only two nights. We had lots of great conversations, as well as lots of great laughs watching old home videos late into the night. We also had a head-shaving party to get Dad ready for his new upcoming look (though he never did lose his hair as they had stopped treatment before it could happen).
I became continually amazed at the transformation I saw in my Dad. There were plenty of times where he would be tired, in and out of naps, and getting uncomfortable from some of the side effects of the chemo, but he had embraced this trial, in such a peaceful way, as an unlikely "gift" that he has been given that God has used to change his life and give him a whole new appreciation for what he has been given. Dad became a grateful man, someone who was becoming thankful for God's mercy in his life. I spent time with my Grandpa Kuhl one of those days; Grandpa Kuhl is my Mom's dad and my sole surviving grandparent, and even he commented that he was caught off guard by the change he has seen in my Dad, and this comes from a man who has known my Dad for 50 years.
When Mom and Dad dropped me off at the airport, Dad and I hugged, we cried, he gave me a kiss goodbye, and I told him that his best days and our best conversations are still ahead of us, and he agreed. I wrote on Caring Bridge that I would “forever cherish the times and conversations I have had with my Dad these past two weeks as the best ones that I've ever had with him, and I look forward to the next weeks and months of more.”
Don't get me wrong...cancer is wicked. The bible calls death "the last enemy," meaning that it's the biggest bad guy at the climax of the movie that everyone in the theater can't wait to see humiliated and destroyed. That's death for us. We want it humiliated and destroyed. So I don't mean at all to say that cancer itself is a gift. It's not. It's an enemy, and we hate what it does to the people we love.
Yet we have this incredible hope and truth that we can find rest in...that even the biggest, baddest, most wicked enemies in this life can be strong-armed by God and used in our lives to bring about the most unexpected gifts, some that we could never imagine. There is a verse in the bible I have always loved, from Habakkuk 1:5 (that's in the stiff part of your bible). In it, the Lord says, "I am doing something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." God can, and does, do unbelievable works in our lives through some of the most unexpected circumstances. And often, those are painful circumstances, the kind that happen to us and we even wonder "where is God now?!" We can't imagine that He could do anything good through cancer, or death, or so many other awful events in life. But He says, "you wouldn't believe Me even if I told you what good I am going to do through this." And He does, and I have been seeing this unfold every day in my dad's life.
During that trip to Phoenix, Dad also had been talking frequently about what he called a “surprising joy.” He was genuinely shocked and surprised at the outpouring of love and encouragement from so many people in his life. From grade school friends, current neighbors, fellow artists, golfers, even complete strangers, Dad was overwhelmed with what he had unexpectedly received from so many. It gave him joy, it gave him life, and it gave him motivation. He and Mom would read every single comment, Facebook post, Caring Bridge post, text, and email.
One of these encouragements came from a particularly surprising source. They called me August 27th and said, "guess who called Dad today," and I said, "I have no idea." Mom continued, "you'll never guess," and I'm thinking, "then why did you tell me to guess!?"
But then Dad gave me a hint, asking, "who is the most famous person in Nebraska?"
This is an easy question to answer, because there is in fact only one famous person in Nebraska, and so I immediately replied with, "Tom Osborne."
Dad answered back with a quick, "yup!," which was followed up by an equally as quick response from me, "Whaaat?!? How?!?"
For those who aren't steeped in Nebraska lore, Tom Osborne was one of two of the best, most important, and legendary Head Coaches of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football program (along with his mentor and predecessor, Bob Devaney). More importantly, Tom was the head coach from 1973 to 1997, which was the hey day of when Dad began most fervently following Nebraska. It's Tommy Lasorda for a Dodgers fan or Phil Jackson for a Bulls/Lakers fan or Bill Belichick for a Patriots fan.
The faint connection is through a couple of paintings that Dad did years ago as a couple of collector pieces. The first was of Bob Devaney, commemorating him as the Head Coach who built a winning tradition at Nebraska that was subtitled, "He Built it, and They Came" (recognize the nod to the Field of Dreams?!). The follow up painting was of Tom Osborne, with the tagline, "He Continued the Tradition." Tom then signed all 1000 collector prints
Dad's friend, Gary, decided to try to find a way to get a hold of Coach Osborne, who is now 84, and somehow he was able to. He shared with Tom my Dad's story, reminding Tom of this artist who had painted him 20 years before, attaching a picture of the art piece in his email. He wrote, "Coach Osborne...giving him words of encouragement in his fourth quarter would mean so much to him and all of us who love him." And Tom, being a true Nebraskan, reached out to Dad with hospitable care, placing a phone call to Dad out of the blue.
A 402 area code number from Lincoln, Nebraska pops up on Dad's phone. He thinks it may be a telemarketer warning him that his warranty is almost expired, but he decides to answer anyway.
"Hello there...is this Mick McGinty?"
"Yes it is."
"Hi Mick, this is Tom Osborne."
Tom goes on to let him know that he heard what's going on and that he wanted to call to encourage him. Upon hearing this, Dad, still in disbelief, replied with surprise while getting choked up.
After the initial shock, they had a fun discussion about some past Nebraska games, including the 1982 Nebraska vs. Penn St. game that Penn St. won on a bad call by the referee. That last second win over Nebraska was the catalyst that eventually launched Penn St. to their first National Championship. Tom told Dad on the phone call that Joe Paterno, the Head Coach at Penn St. at the time, admitted to Tom 20 years after that game that the referee's call was, indeed, a bad call, and Nebraska should have won the game.
As the call closed, Coach Osborne let Dad know that he wishes his family well and that he and his family would be praying for him. Dad again teared up and thanked him before saying goodbye.
Dad smiled all day.
Part 7: Dad Shares His Heart