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I am Sandra - faithful steward. listener. shepherd. dream believer. hard worker. collects brass bells, boots. Jesus follower. contented. star gazer. homemaker. farmer. prayer warrior. country woman. reader. traveler. writer. homebody. living life large.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Counting Time in Heartbeats

~ best buds ~
When I was six, my Granddaddy passed away from pancreatic cancer. It was November in Appalachia West Virginia and that meant cold, wet, raw, rainy as well as clear, crisp, brittle. For the funeral, it was clear, crisp, brittle and I remember wandering around that big ole farmhouse, watching the grown-ups talk in quiet whispers, wipe tears with cotton handkerchiefs, drink gallons of coffee , nibble at food set on Grandmother's hand made by Granddaddy kitchen table. That big farmhouse kitchen was kept warm by Grandmother's cast iron and white enamel cook stove. In a place of honor, as befitting something that provided nourishment both in warmth and in food, the cook stove sat in the center of one outside wall. I remember Daddy, the baby boy of thirteen children, wandering around that kitchen, untethered, confusion written across his face; sorrow grief mixed mingling until he looked a pale imitation of someone else. Mom, taking him aside in a corner of that big kitchen, but with me standing nearby as little pitchers have big ears, said to him, “Jim, go to the orchard and get it out of your system. You need to cry, go cry.” Immediately, he walked out the back door, headed for the orchard and returned, later, red eyed, nose sniffling, shoulders pinned back, better ready to face the rest.

That weekend is one of my earliest childhood memories that's absolutely crystal clear, and, over the years, I've thought of it often especially when I, or someone else, needed permission. “Permission for what?”, you ask. Permission for any-everything: to be happy, to be sad, to laugh, to cry, to buy chocolate or a new lipstick or shirt, take a vacation. We humans are bound by our own limitations and giving/receiving permission un-tethers us to fly higher, as high as our souls are comfortable yet always going higher the next time as we gain stability in ourselves, our gifts, our blessings, our God.
~ my heartbeat ~
Years later, after a very long, debilitating illness, my cousin passed away. I called his wife to express my condolences and she said, “Thank you but you know...we're terminal from the first breath.” That caught me by surprise; the shocking truth of reality. Like most, I'd managed to keep death at bay or, at least, in a tidy little place seldom visited. I'd go to funerals, both family and friends, as I consider it duty, responsibility and my gift to them. So many people don't go to funerals  selfish curs  and I know that's being hard but not as hard as it is for those who have lost a loved one. They are the ones we button up and go to show our support, speak a kind word, offer up a prayer with our arms wrapped around them. Is it difficult? Well, I want to say an expletive and then YES! but so is life difficult, why should death be any different?

It's a struggle to live in the time between the dash, at least it is for me. You know. The dash between the date of birth and the date of death. There are days of glory, full of hope, expectation, beauty, peace, happiness, joy; then there are the days of other. Those other days have hope, expectation, beauty, peace, happiness, joy but are overshadowed by the knowledge we can, never again, have that first breath, and the last breath waits, patiently we hope.
~ golden hours abound ~
Lately, I've been overwhelmed by the other. Because Dave has cancer, he and I now belong to a club that has dragged us, totally against our wills, kicking and screaming, into membership. I wouldn't wish this journey on my worst enemy. I can't begin to tell you how many people have put both feet in their mouths when they've run into me, saw that I saw them and couldn't turn and run the other direction. Oh, I don't blame them but it still hurts like slicing the end of a finger hurts while chopping onions. Double hurt, if you understand my meaning. Like I said, it's difficult but if you want someone to be there for you, it behooves you to be there for them.

Listen up. Cancer is not n.o.t. contagious! None of us knows for whom the bell tolls; none of us know when our last breath will arrive but when a person has such an illness, that last breath is a bit closer, a bit more precious than it was when going blithely along, secure in the knowledge we'd live forever, or knowing, at least, death was a distant, distant event. Recently, someone told me “it's a roller coaster ride, out of control.” To that I'd add, totally out of control and we don't even have a darned seat belt!

Lately, I've needed permission. A lot of permission! Permission to cry, permission to grieve, to take care of myself, to exercise, to eat, to sleep, even to breath. Perhaps, especially to breath. So, I give myself...and YOU as well...blanket permission: to do whatever it is we need to do but, especially, to remember to allow the heart rhythms to keep time.

In the midst of being overwhelmed, my heartbeat keeps count of time...time lived, time living and time future. My heart reminds me life is about living and death is a part of living but, most importantly, it's about eternity. I'm one heartbeat away from sitting near the throne, joining those who have gone before, such a great cloud of witnesses who loved me enough to tell me about Jesus.

Daddy says, “I'm ready to go but I'm not homesick.” 
As am I.
I'm counting time by heartbeats, how about you?
Blessings ~ family ~ faith ~ home ~ Jesus ~ permission ~ a great cloud of witnesses ~ 

yours in heartbeat time,


  1. Amen and Amen.

    I was once told I shouldn't drink after my sister because she had cancer. She's more likely to catch something from me than I am from her.

  2. Thank you for sharing. Your posts always touch me. I'll be praying for you and Dave.

  3. Oh Sandra, such a lovely and moving post you've written! So poignant, so true. Definitely needed to be said.
    I have a best friend going through treatment for breast cancer and I'd no more treat her like she was contagious than throw myself over a cliff!! As long as she needs my support, she'll have it.
    Sending all my best with huge warm hugs and smiles to you and Dave. xoxo

  4. That was lovely. Thank you.

  5. You are, without a doubt, the most gracious woman I've ever known. You and Dave are in my prayers, Sandra. And, I want you to know you are cherished.

    Much love, my friend....

  6. I wish I could express myself as eloquently as you. I think some people are just afraid that they don't know the right thing to say and are afraid of crying in front of their friend. I guess, as humans, we are all weak in some way.

  7. Thanks for sharing. I have wanted to ask how you and Dave were getting along, but I knew I would wait until you felt like talking about it and I am glad you did. When I read the title of this post I knew that you are in that place where sometimes the weight on your chest threatens to crush you. You have been brave.
    I think the reason we have to have permission is as my husband says, " if we start crying we might never stop."
    I have never stopped praying and I thank you for your honesty.
    I am so sorry people turn and go the other way.
    Blessings to you and Dave.

  8. Thank you for this very honest post, Sandra. Probably most of us are unfamiliar with death and dying, and don't know how to respond to it. And as your friend suggested, we are not aware that we have been walking that path all along.

    Please be assured that you still are in my prayers. Each of your posts is a treasure to me.

  9. Good job, Sandra. Things we all need to think about....our turn will come at some point. Hang on!

  10. Anonymous7:38 PM EDT

    wish I had known you before now - your post today touched my heart deeply - my father is suffering from prostate cancer - my brother found out the same day as our father but he got it in time and my brother inlaw had surgery yesterday to remove his prostate because of cancer and my sister inlaw just got done with breast cancer treatment so far so good -- and my own sweetheart dealt with colon cancer in 2009 and nearly died from blood lost before even getting the cancer out. So my dear I have a small idea of what you might be going through just a small idea. I am so sorry for the daily effort it takes -- I wish that I did have the whole story clear - maybe you could email me
    ( )
    I would with all my to know from the start..
    I see you as having courage - and it doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow -- prayers are bring offered in both of your behalf.. hugs

  11. Sweet sister in the club of counting heartbeats - yep - I had to have permission from myself today to not accomplish very doggone much. I went out with list in hand, properly dressed for errands and still cool enough outside to get things DONE - and didn't - walking through a store and began to feel I was about to drown - who cares if I want a new perky white cotton skirt - what does it matter? I'm watching my life as I know it and doggone as I LIKE it change day by day becoming something I never wanted but much accept gracefully so other people won't be so freaked out by my reaction. I am supposed to be living my witness - I love and trust the Lord - but like your Daddy said - I know I'm ready to go - but not so ready to say goodbye. Love to you sister in Christ and pain and silly dogs - I'm with ya and we both wish neither of us were in this particular situation.
    Too long but I'm not going back to edit it - I've edited myself into a minor panic attack today! bah!

  12. I love this story, Sandra, of your dad being encouraged to grieve. I am glad you are giving yourself permission to do what you need and want.

    I continue to pray with you.


  13. Oh Sandra,,,what a post! and I know a little of what you speak. My first husband passed away suddenly and honestly no one knew what to do or what to say and therefore I was left alone so much of the time. I was hurt and then I realized if you never have gone through it people honestly don't know what to do or say...from that moment forward I always try to offer a kind of word whenever possible...and yes I go to the funerals that I don't want to because I want to show the family respect and love. Give yourself permission to feel anything you want or hope is that one day the word cancer doesn't scare us out of our day soon.

  14. I don't have words, Sandra. Please know I care ~ I continue to pray for you and Dave.

  15. Let me just say "I'm sorry" from all of us who have at one time or another stayed away instead of being brave.
    I hope I will do a better job of being a comfort to others now.

  16. Bless you, friend

    Aloha from Waikiki :)

    Comfort Spiral




  17. Sandra,

    I'm so sorry to hear your news about Dave's cancer. But what a wonderful post. Thank you for giving us permission....I am very touched by this post.
    We will keep you and Dave in our prayers.

  18. I do know what you are going through. I can't believe it has been 12 years ago, but it is ever real to me. I pray for you so many times. If there is ever anything I can do, let me know.

  19. We all need permission from time to time.

    Please know I care.

  20. What a great post and such truth in it, I have had many friends and family with cancer, it is a ugly word, one I truly hate to hear, but it is all part of living, we have many illness and many good things, I take the good with the bad and thank God for all. I have enjoyed your blog my friend, and thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment, hugs my new friend, and have a very blessed weekend. ♥

  21. Anonymous10:56 AM EDT

    That was beautifully written. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  22. Sandra - just reading this makes my heart hurt~~

    I cannot even imagine how you and Dave feel - truly - but I can imagine that you do feel so isolated - like you are in a horrible place all by yourselves. I hope you know that you have many many blogging friends who have come to know you and care so much about you both.

    On a more personal note - I do totally understand what you mean when you say that people seem to turn and go the other way rather than face you and have to have a conversation. That is so wrong - I know they mean well - but is is definately the wrong thing to do.

    I wish I lived close to you so that I could drop over from time to time and give you a hug and drink a pot of coffee or tea - we could just talk this all out and try to make the best of every day.

    I admire you for all that you take on and all the burdens that you bear. I know that the cancer is about Dave - but this hurtful situation is about you also - someone has to be the strong one right now and that is you in so many ways.

    You are both in my prayers - always - there are blessings to be found in every day - and no one knows that better than you~~


  23. What a beautiful insightful blog post you wrote. You surely have a way with words. If I was near I'd run over and give both you and Dave a hug. I think of you daily and you remain in my prayers. Cyber hugs to you ((((((((((Sandra))))))))))

  24. Very touching post, I am praying for you.

  25. Anonymous1:56 PM EDT

    Dear Sandra, Thank you for sharing from your heart today. I wish I were close enough to lend a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, but at least I can keep you and Dave close in my heart, thoughts and prayers. I'm thankful to have met you through blogging; you and Dave are an inspiration. Thankfully, we serve a Savior who never leaves us and gives us strength for every trial. With love, Mildred

  26. Hi Sandra -

    Allow me to introduce myself. I am the "permission fairy".I give you permission to cry, scream, yell, jump up or down. Say it ain't fair, cause it isn't and anything else you desire.

    Please let me know if there is anything you need to have permission for that I have not covered. Perhaps the agonizing "why us"? We could talk about the whys and wherefores. We could hug and share a tear or fear.

    Just let me know. God bless.

  27. oh Sandra, what a soul-filled post. Heartbreakingly honest. Thanks for sharing a piece of you with us... I needed the reminder today...

  28. I know the feeling. There are people who still avoid me six years after the loss of my oldest daughter.

  29. Once you learn to count time this way, you can never go back...I think that's what people are avoiding when they avoid the ailing and grieving. The truth that they, too, should be living under the burden of appreciating every.single.breath. And they aren't. None of us should take life for granted, but we do, if we have not been touched by tragedy.

    You're words are a tough reminder to not hold my pain to myself, but to use it to reach out and GIVE to others. Thank you for sharing.

    Thoughts and prayers!


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