Alright, I promised I was going to tell you what has been going on with me. Some of you are like family to me, and have suspected that there was something going on. I wanted to tell you, but…let me start with a little story.
I can picture Chasidi in preschool – bouncing pigtails, sweet, happy smile and adorably cute, spreading light and kindness wherever she went. Can’t you?
Jay is a little harder for me to picture, but I’m guessing he was funny while still being the most helpful person in the room. (I can see him explaining to the teacher that the rotary phone didn’t work because someone must have tripped on the cord and unplugged it from the wall. Perhaps he dissected the phone and put it back together along with helpful, informative and funny commentary. I can see his preschool teacher’s stunned, but proud, look.)
Then, there was me.
I found myself a nice, cozy, comfortable spot alone in a dark, private corner behind the huge old oil furnace and was quite content to stay there for the duration of preschool every day.
If my teacher had said, “Get out of there and go play,” I would have listened. My parents expected obedience and I was a good kid. But she was sweet and nice and she said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to play with the other kids? Look at all the fun things they’re doing! Don’t you want to join them?”
I said, “No, thank you. I like it here,” and figured it was okay since she wasn’t commanding me to do anything, just asking.
Well, when she told my mom what I had done, that command came, and I was forced to “play” with the other kids.
So, anyway, the point of that story is that I’ve always hated a lot of attention.
When something happens, I don’t usually go to other people. I have a tendency to fold up in myself and jump into my Daddy God’s lap. Maybe that’s part of the self-reliance I was taught (and taught to my children) growing up.
I understand a lot of people have a deep need to talk and share – which is fine! – and they might not understand my, just as deep, need to not.
I apologize for that.
In July I contacted my editor, Heather, and asked her for some editing dates.
She wrote back that she was booked for my dates, and gave me the dates she had open.
This was a little annoying to me at first because I had a plan and I wasn’t going to be able to do my plan because the dates I needed weren’t available.
As I was thinking about it, I mentioned my dilemma to someone and they said, “You’re Jessie Gussman,” (like that means anything, lol) “And you’re the reason she’s booked! You’ve been helping her get clients for years! You should be able to get the dates you want!”
Ha. That’s funny. My head pushed back on that right away – I’m not anyone special – and with what that person said, she removed the block from my brain and I was able to realize that I could make the dates Heather had open work, even if it would be a huge challenge for me.
I like challenges.
So, I took four Mondays in a row and committed to writing four books in four weeks in order to pretty much keep to the publishing schedule I had planned out this spring.
God is amazing and He’s so in control. I’m so thankful I didn’t pull the diva card like that person suggested I should. (Nothing against that person; they only wanted the best for me.) God had everything planned out and Heather’s schedule was a part of that.
My mom had a doctor’s appointment at the beginning of July and about the time I was writing the first book of the four in four weeks, she texted me and said she’d gotten test results back and her liver enzymes were elevated. Her doc was going to schedule more tests.
As I always do, I offered to take her to her appointment. She declined.
I got that first book done and submitted and I was working on the second when my mom told me she’d gotten the liver test results back. There were so many white spots on it, they couldn’t count them. They were going to do a biopsy and take some pictures of her “uppers.” (I assumed that to mean a MRI or something similar of her chest and abdomen.)
So, me being a child of the internet, I am immediately googling (I don’t use Google, actually, but you know what I mean) it and reading that white spots don’t always mean cancer. I said that to her and she said that’s what the additional tests were for.
I offered to go to PA to take her to that appointment and she declined again. Normally, mom has always been quick to accept my offer if she felt like she really needed it (I took her to all her breast cancer appointments and also for her hip and knee replacements when dad couldn’t) so I assumed she was really okay.
I finished the second book and turned it into Heather.
It seemed to take a long time to get the results back. I’d asked her several times and nothing.
I was working on the third when I got this text from my mom: Dr. Lillie just called. I have a mass on my pancreas, cancer in my lungs and liver. Less than a year to live. The cancer is advanced and Doc recommends no treatment, just hospice.
I have to admit, it took me a couple of deep breaths to find my equilibrium after reading that.
Now, at this point, I was trying to make corrections on book 1, Heather had book 2 and I was racing to get book 3 finished. Watson was leaving that day – in less than an hour – to go to PA because the birds (20,000 of them) in House 2 were going to NYC live market. They needed caught and crated (a HUGE job) and that house needed cleaned and disinfected in preparation for the 20K birds that were grown and scheduled to arrive in mid August.
My middle daughter was with her mother in PA and my youngest daughter had a cousin visiting. Julia and I were going to be holding the farm down ourselves and I couldn’t go be with my mom.
I felt so bad she was alone when she got that news.
And this time, there was just no way I was going to be able to go north to be with her.
Still, at the very least, I could drive up, even if I only stayed for a few hours, so I offered.
She said not to bother, there was nothing I could do, just pray.
Ha. What in the world do you say to God about that? I guess those are groaning that can’t be uttered.
Okay, so I had to assess where I was.
I had a book and a half to finish, and the year she was given feels like a long time, so I had time to finish those. Still, I was already pushing as to what I could accomplish and I knew I would need to at least tell Jay.
Let me stop here for a minute and say that of all the products with my name on them, the audios are the ones that I am the most proud of. I don’t mean pride in a bad way, but pride in that I feel like because of who Jay is and what he’s capable of, they are the absolute best they can be.
I’ve always tried to give them precedence in my schedule – immediately after my family and sometimes even before my writing.
I think he’ll agree that of the hundreds (thousand?) chapters he’s sent me, there have been very, very few times I haven’t listened to them and gotten back to him in a day. It’s always been a priority for me, and mostly because of what I just said – I believe in Jay and in the product he produces. I think they’re the best.
Still, with this news, I knew that I might be dropping the ball on my commitments and Jay would be sure to notice (if he notices that type of thing, which I kind of doubt).
I would notice.
And I would be constantly apologizing and trying to come up with excuses that were true, but if I didn’t tell him, I knew he wouldn’t really understand and might think I wasn’t taking my commitment to audios seriously. That wasn’t true at all.
So, I told Jay about my mom.
I decided not to tell anyone else.
Remember that little girl behind the furnace? Even though some of you feel like family and I love you to bits and pieces, the idea of having a bunch of attention or of even talking about this – something so deeply personal – felt overwhelming.
Jay came back with a note. I consider Jay a friend – to be clear he’s always the epitome of kindness and Southern charm and manners and professionalism – but his note was more than I expected and he promised he’d be praying for me. I’m a little blurry about time, but I exchanged several notes with him – about the chapters and the audios – but also about him praying and he inspired THIS POST in the Reader Chat.
Jay kept his promise. More on that later.
Anyway, I finished book three, edited it, sent it to Heather and when Watson came back from PA, I was already on my way up to see my mom.
I knew I was going and I fretted some about seeing her. I am not usually a crier. Normally my exterior is calm no matter what is going on inside. I knew I would be freaking everyone out if I showed up at my mom’s and bawled my eyes out.
But every time I thought of her, I cried.
I didn’t have grandparents. And I’d seen several people close to me shut their parents out of their children’s lives. Not having grandparents of my own, I just thought that was the saddest thing. So, every single thing my kids and I did, my parents were invited.
We have never celebrated a birthday in my family without my mother being there. They’ve been on every vacation we ever went on (until one last year when Dad couldn’t go). Every holiday we invited them. Every special occasion.
Dad stopped at my house EVERY day of our homeschool. (The kids always cheered when he came, because they knew my philosophy – that people are more important than school – and we’d stop school to visit with him. Every day.) Mom came up and taught each of my kids to read. She helped them with their piano. We canned peaches and corn, beans and applesauce every year.
So many memories and so many things ran through my mind that I realized we’d never be doing with her again.
I struggled, to be honest.
On the way up to PA, I was really having a hard time. I knew Jay was praying, and that was in the back of my head, but I felt like I needed a whole army of prayer warriors, and I was so tempted to share my burden with everyone I knew. I knew you all would pray for me.
But, something reminded me that God could take one man’s prayers and make them as big as they needed to be.
Something shifted in my head. I can’t tell you what, other than I could feel Jay’s prayer, could feel that God was using Jay and the praying he was doing and all the sudden, my entire thinking changed.
I no longer felt like crying – and I didn’t and haven’t cried again. I felt calm and had that Blessed Assurance. I knew the end might not be what I wanted, but rather than focusing on what we could be losing, I focused on Heaven, how wonderful it was, what an adventure it would be, how beautiful God sees the death of His saints and the what a joy to know that my mother was on her way to Heaven.
What’s the point of being a Christian if you don’t have that hope and assurance and comfort?
It totally changed how I felt and I will be forever grateful to Jay, not just for praying, but for making a point – again and again – of telling me that he was. It made all the difference in the world to me.
I went to my mom’s. We had a great visit. Mom said she was completely at peace and ready to go. Eager, even. Her calmness and peace made everything that I had felt on the way up that much more real and true. We weren’t exactly celebrating, but there were no tears and no sorrow.
I had to go back down to Virginia, because I’d promised my husband I’d watch the farm while he came up to PA and went truck pulling and he had a couple other fun things he wanted to do. I think I told the story about Cutie dying and me getting her out of the pasture. That happened the week I was writing my fourth and final book, while prepping book 2 and Heather had book 3. I think. Somewhere in there book 1 released. idk That was a crazy week.
After that, I told Watson I was going to PA, staying as long as mom needed me and the farm in Virginia was his baby.
I’m glad for that. Dad had told me he was fine and could handle everything, but by the end of that week, he was asking people to stay at night because it was too much for him.
I have three siblings. Like Watson and I, my brother is self-employed and this is his busy time of year. My older sister has a day job. So my younger sister and I pretty much split the time with her taking the daylight shift of 8 am to 4 pm (her husband is the one that has cancer and she has six kids that she homeschools). She dealt with most of the visitors and the busyness of the daytime. I took the longer sixteen hour overnight shift from 4 pm to 8 am, with my older sister and brother doing what they could.
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m pretty much worthless after 9 pm, and I’m an extremely light sleeper, so sleeping during the day is tough, but I’m glad I got to spend so much time with mom.
Some nights were hard as she was up a good bit and needed to use the restroom, was hungry, uncomfortable or just restless. Some nights were a little calmer with me just getting up at intervals to get her medicine. There was no oxygen, no IV and, thankfully, very, very little pain. God is so good.
I want to note here that some of the reason I’ve been slow with doing things is that there is no internet at my parents’ house. I couldn’t really answer emails; sometimes my phone worked – I could usually get on FB at least, lol – but most of the time, I’d send emails and they’d spin for a bit and not go.
Mom’s decline was sharp. About a ten days after her diagnosis, she was completely bedridden. My boys were down every day, and they were the reason that mom got her wish to be able to get up to use the restroom, even when she couldn’t get up to do anything else. (I won’t go into details about that, but trust me when I say, it was hard and they were amazing.)
I really can’t say enough about how good they were – my second son dropped work and would arrive within ten minutes every time we needed him during the day and my oldest son, who lives with my parents, came down within thirty seconds no matter what time of night it was that I called him.
Still, by last weekend, the Hospice nurse was telling us Mom was going through the “stages of dying” (who knew there was such a thing???) and gave us signs to look for.
Last Monday, my second son took my dad, who desperately needed to get away, and he and my youngest son picked 70 DOZEN ears of corn. I helped husk it when I got off at 8 am, and my daughter-in-law, who is amazing and gave my mom the best foot message ever, canned it with her mother later that day.
Dad needed the time away. Honestly, that was the hardest thing – watching my dad’s heart break every day as mom was able to do less and less and eventually she opened her eyes and didn’t recognize him.
Man, so hard to see my dad’s disappointment and grief. (I’ve never seen my dad cry. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone in my dad’s family cry.)
That’s a question I’ve had at times in my life, and it popped up again as I watched my dad struggle to accept and process that his wife of 49 years was leaving him: Why? Why does God command us to leave our families and cleve to our spouses, to become one, to be a picture of Christ and the Church, to love and to cherish, to learn to get along and not just love each other, but try to like each other, too…WHY does He command that, then, He breaks that bond, tears what has become your other half, that part of you that makes you whole, makes you better, that loves you like no other human ever has, and takes that part of you away? After two become one for 49 years, that mystical grafting is shattered and One becomes…a half? a quarter? So much less with so much pain. If God wants us to marry and become “one” why are there two different deaths?
Maybe God will reveal that answer to me at some point, or maybe I’ll not know this side of Heaven, but it’s definitely one of those things I just don’t understand. (I know some of you have experienced it, know what I’m talking about, and I don’t have words…I know God is good and His way is perfect, and I guess it’s just okay that I don’t understand.)
By last Monday night we knew the end was near. My brother stayed all night with me for moral support and to help me know when I needed to call the family in.
My sister joked that Mom heard she was supposed to die, so she didn’t. Anyway, Monday came and went with no change.
Tuesday was an anniversary in the family and also a grand daughter’s birthday. (I also had a book release – I don’t even remember which one, lol – but I think it did okay.) Mom held on through Tuesday, and we were grateful.
Tuesday night I was by myself in the “orange” room at my parents’ home where mom taught me to play the piano, with my mom, giving her morphine every two hours, carefully in the side of her cheek, because she was no longer waking up to swallow and hadn’t been for a day or so.
My boys stopped in late that evening on their way home from the Grange fair. They’d brought me a gyro – my favorite fair food – and I ate at it while they sat there, but my stomach felt sick and tight and hard and I only ate it because they had made the effort to bring it to me because they knew I loved them.
My brother stopped in at 2:30 am, just before he and his wife started baking for the day, and visited a bit. He left and I lay on the couch and watched Mom breathe.
It was shortly before six Tuesday morning when her breathing changed, shallow and soft.
I got up and sat beside her, taking her hand, the hand that had changed my diapers, spanked my backside (and, trust me, I needed it!), played organ duets with me, baked cookies and pies and soup, held my babies, and pointed to the words as she read to them to me, then, decades later, to my children. So much that hand had done for so many people, but especially for me and my family. There had been so much love from that hand.
It was stiff and cold.
I texted my oldest son: I think Nana is leaving us.
Not 30 seconds later I heard him walking across the hall to get Dad up.
My son came right down as I texted my siblings and my kids the same message, this time knowing for a certainty: Nana is leaving us.
I was kind of disappointed, honestly. There were no bright lights, no smile of recognition, no lifted hand as she reached out to Jesus. She just breathed until she didn’t. And that was it.
It was 28 days from the day she’d sent me the text that the doctor had told her she had cancer in her liver, lungs and a mass on her pancreas and six months to a year to live.
The funeral was this past Friday morning at 7 am. Mom and dad and all of mom’s family are farmers, if not now, in their youth, and hence, morning people. I guess I am too. As we talked about it, we said everyone will be up way before 7, why not have it then rather than waiting until the middle of the day when everyone will be inconvenienced? So that’s what we did.
Mom didn’t want a bunch of pomp and circumstance surrounding her passing. Even with her obituary, she didn’t want all of her accomplishments listed or a big deal made of her life.
My younger sister had worked a little with mom on her obituary and finished writing it before she left us. I thought I’d include it here:
Elizabeth Ann passed away at home this week. She was the wife of Harvey, who survives at home and, it should be noted, she made a good man of.
“Libby” was the oldest of five, had four children, although she often said it seemed like more.
She also accumulated nineteen grandchildren, one great-grand child, and a plethora of Bibles, notebooks, glasses, and canes. An accurate count of these last four items cannot be ascertained as she was constantly misplacing them. Several area stores have certainly been surprised by an unpriced cane resting near the register.
A lady of great education and experience, she passed much of her knowledge onto others:
Don’t daydream on the tractor. Your rows will be crooked, and your dad will be mad.
Don’t let your younger brother trap skunks. Ever.
Eat a soft-shell crab sandwich, eyes and all.
If you lose a bandage while making a casserole, tell your family the one who finds it gets a prize.
Never stay awake for a movie or television show if you can sleep through it and ask twenty million questions when it’s over.
Keep your nails short. No one wants to hear clacking when you’re playing the piano.
Children are great. Grandchildren are better.
Pies are for celebrating. Soup is for comfort. Cookies are for all occasions.
Write letters. Make phone calls. Spread encouragement.
Read your Bible and talk to the Lord first thing every morning.
Nothing is more important than finding God’s will for your life.
An expediated funeral, under the care of the Bruce E. Cox Funeral Home in Warriors Mark, will be private. She isn’t with us anymore, and we’re ready to appreciate our memories.
Alright, Jessie here again, and this is where I say I’m so very grateful to you all. Thank you for your patience and understanding when I was SOOOO slow getting back to you. Thank you for giving me grace as I scrambled to get even basic tasks accomplished. Thank you for your support – for the emails and the notes and the encouragement. None of you had any idea what was happening in my life, yet, so many of you sent me sweet notes of blessing and I appreciated them all.
Speaking of, Chas didn’t know. I didn’t want to worry her, and then she was sick for so long. But, even though she didn’t have any idea of what was going on, she wrote the sweetest, most encouraging newsletter last week just a couple days before my mother touched down in Heaven – A Love Letter to Jessie – and, while I didn’t deserve a word of it, it made me cry – happy tears – because of the trial I was walking through and all the balls I was dropping and everything I wasn’t able to do, and still, Chas looks at me and only sees good. She’s such an amazing person and I know God knew I needed her, someone who overlooks all my many faults and failures and who thinks I’m far better than what I am, which is why He brought her into my life. She’s a precious gem and I’m so grateful for the encouragement she didn’t even know she was giving. I owe her just as much as I owe Jay for the one-man prayers that brought the peace and comfort and grace of God down, all over my life, and left me cradled and so secure, resting in God’s loving hand.
Okay, I’ll probably be talking about some of the lessons the Lord had for me to learn over these past few weeks, and I also have a story about one of our dogs in Virginia. ha. You all will get a kick out of that. Maybe next week. Until then…