Monday, December 21, 2015

Goodbye Nana

Chad and I had been married only six months.  He had gone down to neighborhood pub with a friend to grab dinner and a beer.  I was sitting at the table in our condo downtown eating dinner when she called.  Her voice was calm but immediately I knew something was wrong.  It was Chad's Mom, Sharlene, and she had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer.

The next few days and weeks were frantic.  Chad spent hours on the phone with cancer organizations getting information, the IU Simon Cancer Center, Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa near where his Mom lived, friends who were doctors, anyone and everyone who could give us any hope.  It was incredibly dire, doctors had suggested she go home and spend time with family, their best guess was about six months left.  But they didn't know Sharlene.

When doctors gave her that diagnosis, they had no idea the fight, the drive, the courage that Sharlene had.  She was young, 55, vibrant, full of life.  They didn't know that she would spend the next nearly six years defying the odds, enduring weekly treatments for the sake of living.  Moffitt Cancer Center provided her with the life prolonging drugs, but she had all the fight.  She endured an unfathomable amount of pain and sickness, but she NEVER complained.  She carried on, battling the disease and soaking up as much life as she could.  As result, we made six years of memories together.  She was able to meet both her grandbabies, watching them grow.  She spent time with the love of her life, Keith, her friends and family.  Precious time.

About a year ago, her health turned and we decided it was best to bring her to Indiana where Chad could better care for her.  He also made the excruciating decision to end her treatments.  We barely expected her to live a couple weeks once up here, but again, she defied the odds.  Her health rebounded and we spent a precious 11 months with her.  Though moving her was an incredibly difficult decision, looking back I know God was subtly letting us know time was running out and having her here allowed us to spend so much more time with her.  We shared holidays, birthdays, sunny Saturdays and quiet evenings together.  All moments and memories we'll cherish forever.

In late September, Chad arranged for one last farewell trip to Florida.  It was a beautiful gift that he was able to give her.  She spent time with precious friends, Keith, her beloved Scooter and Pretty (her dog and cat) and see the ocean one last time.  It was God's perfect timing because soon after her return we started noticing a decline in her energy and mobility.  At Thanksgiving we noticed a few odd symptoms, shared them with her hospice nurse who confirmed that the cancer had again invaded her liver.  We were told things would move quickly.  Chad and I agreed we wanted to bring her home with us.

Things did happen so quickly, much more so than we anticipated.  It sounds silly, because we knew for so long this is how it would eventually end, but it totally caught us off guard.  In a matter of just a few days, she went from telling me she wanted me to cook her vegetables for dinner when she moved in with us, to being non-responsive in a hospital bed in our home.

Amidst all the horror of death, I think about how beautiful it was watching Chad care for his Mom.  I've watched him lovingly, patiently care for her for the last year, but this was different.  The love between them was palpable, even in her unresponsive state.  Every time Chad would tell her he loved her, she would muster every ounce of strength just to move her lips, mouthing "I love you".  Though both fiercely independent, they both desperately needed each other in those final days.  It was both heartbreaking and heart-warming.  There was so much love in our house the last few days.  I can honestly say Sharlene passed peacefully surrounded by it.

In the days following, we've poured over old photographs, mementos and stories of Sharlene.  Looking at things from Chad's childhood, I feel like I've connected with her in a way I never had before, as a Mother.  You could feel the love and pride in every saved art project, English essay, Little League trophy and Honor Roll certificate.  I'm so thankful for the way she helped shape Chad into the person he is.  He is an incredible husband and father, no doubt because of her.

We cry because we miss her but rejoice because her suffering is no more.  We cannot even fathom the joy of spending eternity with our Father, but know she is loving singing His praises.  Our goodbyes are only temporary and we look forward to the day when we see her again!  We found comfort from my daily devotional on December 15th, the day Sharlene breathed her first breath in heaven, which read this:

"Your longing for heaven is good because it is an extension of your yearning for me.  The hope of heaven is meant to strengthen and encourage you, filling you with wondrous Joy.  Many Christians have misunderstood this word hope, believing that it denotes wishful thinking.  Nothing could be farther from the truth!  As soon as I became your Savior, heaven became your ultimate destination.  The phrase hope of heaven highlights the benefits you can enjoy even while remaining on earth.  This hope keeps you spiritually alive during dark times of adversity; it brightens your path and heightens your awareness of My Presence.  My desire is that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  
Jesus Calling, Sarah Young

Many have asked about services for Sharlene.  She made it clear she didn't want any fuss over her, no funeral!  Instead, she just wanted everyone to celebrate her life.  We'll be doing this privately with just our family.  Chad and Keith will then take her ashes back to one of her favorite spots, the picturesque sandbar near her home in Florida where she had so many wonderful times, chair in the water, toes in the sand.  If you would like to honor Sharlene's memory, you can donate to the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation on her behalf.  Moffitt provided her with outstanding care and no doubt precious time.  Your donation will help breast cancer research and care.  You can donate here and click "donate" or mail your donation to (make sure to designate in memory of Sharlene Hinton on your donation):

Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation
12902 Magnolia Dr.
Tampa, FL  33612

We are so grateful for all the heartfelt messages of love and support of our family and memories of Sharlene.  We celebrate her life!

Sharlene Leone Marquand Hinton
May 5, 1955 - December 15, 2015

"At Last" Mother/Son Dance at our wedding 
August 2009

Nana & Laney May 2014

Sisters, Renee & Shar
August 2014

Nana & Cal
February 2015

Boat Days in Florida

Sandbar with friend Joanne

Cheers to you, Sharlene!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Looks Can Be Deceiving

We had some family pictures done this fall.  I should clarify, not full family photos, but mostly of the kids.  A certain member of our family who hates pictures, ahem Chad, showed up in his work suit (though an always prepared wife brought him clothes!) and didn't want to be in any pictures!  Regardless, the pictures of the kids turned out beautifully!

Take a look...

And just to keep it real,

This is really what taking family pictures is like.  Am I right, Moms?  Sweaty, frazzled, singing, clapping hands, making bribes...NOT the angelic images that appear.  **And no, I did not drop Cal here, we were trying to get a good picture of me with both kids and he laid down to get away from me so I threw up my hands in surrender, all the while holding our 30lb Elena.  Ha!

Speaking of perfect images, Christmas can be a difficult time of comparison, portrayals of beautiful Christmas trees, children in matching pjs, and perfect togetherness.  I try very hard not to portray our life any different than what it truly is.  We are not perfect parents.  We don't have perfect kids.  Our house is often in shambles.  I am often in shambles.  Our life is far from perfect.  

On Sunday, our minister was giving a sermon on this very fact.  Something he said really stuck with me, that we often compare our private life with others' public lives.  I mean how true is this??!  Beneath the images of our perfectly posed kids, our lives really look like the photo above.  But we think we are alone because we only see the outer shiny images of those around us.  I have my own rule when I become tempted to compare my life to that of someone's I see on social media:  those who portray their lives to be the MOST perfect and happy, are the ones I pray for the most.  Because I sense that just beyond that ideal photo, is a hurt/insecurity that they feel the need to cover.  

So, in an effort not to fool any of you....I can't even tell you how exhausted I was after all the effort it took to get even just a few shots of smiles.  (Our photographer, Annie, FOR SURE thinks we are nuts!)  This holiday season, instead of wishing my house was beautifully decorated for Christmas or that my life was somehow more perfect, I think I'll be happy being a sweaty, frazzled, on-the-verge of losing my mind, kind of Mom.  And you all can laugh when you receive our "Hinton Family Bliss" Christmas card! :)