Monday, December 31, 2012

God with Us

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

~Author unknown

O Come, O Come Emmanuel was sung at Matt and Jennifer's wedding on December 6th, 2008 and at her funeral service on December 24th, 2012. 

December 26, 2012

It's gray and cold outside today. One of those days when all you want to do is hole up inside. I'm taking down my Christmas decorations and thinking of you. It feels like everywhere I turn something's there reminding me of you...

There are the ornaments you and I bought when we were at Lowe's picking out a Christmas tree that first December all three of us sisters were living together. Since we were just starting out, we didn't have many. You and I were both anxious to decorate the tree that night so the Lowes ornaments had to do the job. They were our ornaments. We bought them together but instead of dividing them up when I moved out, you let me keep them...

While boxing them up, I ran across a paper mache wise man you made for me the year you decided we should home-make our Christmas gifts. He's so ugly he's beautiful - beautiful because you made him for me, and you made him out of love...

Then there's the nativity ornament I bought when you and I were shopping one day in Franklin. You and I loved to shop together, and Franklin was one of our beloved spots. I think of our favorite shop, Avec Moi (French for "with me"), and the snowman china we bought there one winter. We both fell in love with the pattern, and you bought me more dishes to add to my collection the following year for my birthday. I ordered some coordinating plates on-line last week and they arrived today via Fed Ex. How I longed to snap a picture of them and send it to you so we could talk about how perfect they looked with the snowman dishes. I would have told you the website I ordered them from and what a great deal I got on them so you could buy some for yourself. We just liked doing things like that with one another...

Something else arrived in the mail today - your Christmas card. There you are, with Matt at Seaside, you're beaming and beautiful and again, I want to pick up the phone and call you and tell you what a great card it is, how happy you both look. I sit on my couch staring at it, missing you so much it hurts and trying to remember the way it was when you were 'that' Jennifer, the Jennifer pre-cancer...

I think of when you and I were sitting on my couch together this past Thanksgiving. I had just had my baby about five days prior. I was exhausted but so glad you were there. You commented on the painting above my mantel, how much you liked it. We made small talk, nothing shared of any great significance. But now every time I shift my gaze to that painting, a lump chokes my throat. Why didn't I talk to you about anything more important than that stupid painting? Why didn't I tell you, right then and there, how much I loved you, how much I adored you, how wonderful I thought you were, how courageous, how compassionate, how caring? Why didn't I stop everything to tell you you were the best sister anybody could ever ask for?

There's a missed call and a voice mail on my phone. I check it and notice the last voice mail you left me. You were checking on the baby. In your voice mail, I can hear you struggle to breathe and it breaks my heart all over again...

I look around and see the plants and flowers that we took home from your funeral. Oh, Jenny, you would have thought the flowers were so pretty. They were so beautiful. Pink roses. They looked just like you...

I think back over the past 5 or 6 months. How hard you fought all 15 months, but especially those last months. You always held out hope. You never, ever, ever gave up. You wanted to live so badly. We all wanted you to live so badly. I think of all the things you encountered, all the things you endured - how hard it all must have been...

How hard it must have been... to be at work on a Tuesday afternoon in September... You had just gotten home from a lovely vacation and it was, by all accounts, a normal day until you got the phone call from Matt telling you to go to the ER, that he would meet you there.

How hard it must have been... to hear the news: leukemia. 30-years old, seemingly the prime of your life, and facing a disease threatening to snatch it from you.

How hard it must have been... to endure that initial, and lengthy, hospital stay with all of the tests and biopsies and chemo treatments.... to celebrate turning 31 in the cancer ward of the hospital. Wearing a knitted cap and a mask to your birthday party to cover up your thinning hair and to prevent risk of watch us all come and go while you sat, a captive in your room, Room 11010.

How hard it must have been... find out your sisters, the two people in the world with the closest genetic make-up (or so one would think), were no where near a match to be your bone marrow donor. hear the news: REMISSION, yet still wonder if you would ever live to hear the word: CURED. face the bone marrow transplant... aware of the risks involved, wondering if the donor's marrow would 'take,' and understanding that it could be years before knowing if the procedure worked. It was anything but a quick-fix, and you knew full well the complications that could arise. endure life post-transplant... constantly monitoring for fevers and signs of infection. Being told you could never enjoy being out in the sun again without wearing total body clothing with SPF in it. Knowing you couldn't risk things like gardening or eating certain foods. The exposure was too dangerous. Going in for PUVA treatments and having to wear big, funny looking glasses to protect your eyes from sun damage. Sitting through photophoresis treatments for hours on end. All the while waiting and wondering: am I going to be ok? The transplant's aftermath was physically and emotionally grueling, yet you faced it head on and made getting well your 24/7 job.

How hard it must have been... find ways to occupy your time. You had poured so much of yourself into your work but in the spring after your transplant you were told that you were being replaced. You no longer had the option of going back to the job you loved and excelled at. You decided to throw your energy into sprucing up your home and finding activities and events that you were able to attend. stand tall in public when children stared at you and the mask on your face. To hold your tongue and keep from shouting out to their mothers: I'm not wearing this mask because I could get them sick. I'm wearing it because they, and you, could make me sick! Please teach your children not to stare at people who look different! I remember standing in a check-out line during one such scenario. A little boy was staring at you. We both knew he didn't know any better. You ignored him and engaged me in conversation to quell the pain. You were a much better person than me. I couldn't ignore him. I stared right back at him as if he were from a different planet. If my eyes could have bored holes through him... pick yourself up off the floor after falling time after time. You were weak and your balance was off. Sometimes while we were out running errands or shopping you would fall down. I remember one time Lindsey had taken you to one of your appointments while I stayed behind at the house to cook and clean. When yall got home she told me you had fallen outside the clinic that morning. I went upstairs to find you fumbling for bandages and antibiotic ointment. You sat on the edge of the bed, and I rolled up your pants legs to uncover your bruised and bloodied knees. I tried to clean them as gently as I could. Oh, those precious knees and those pitiful wounds. You never said anything about it. You never acted angry. You never blamed it on anything. You never cursed the stupid disease that was causing all this heartbreak and humiliation. Not at all. You simply picked yourself up and went on about what you were doing. My, how brave you were. humble yourself and call others to come and care for you, to come and help you manage in your day to day when it was too difficult or you became unable to do it on your own. Our aunt happily gave so much of herself to you throughout the last year. We love her like a second mother. She's so full of life and energy. And, among other things, she has always been our favorite shopping buddy. As you rode in to your countless doctors' appointments with her, holding her hand and singing to the radio, I know you must have wanted to tell her: Let's skip the appointment! Let's just be carefree today, like we used to be, and shop all day and eat at fabulous restaurants and then go to the movies afterwards! But instead, you were forced to spend entire mornings or afternoons confined to treatment rooms and logging vital signs.

How hard it must have been... find out your lungs were functioning at only 25% capacity. To know that you had contracted bronchial obliterans syndrome and that the medicines being used to treat you were simply a clinical trial. No medical evidence you could bank on. You could only hope. have to repeat yourself to waiters over and over again trying to explain to them why you had certain food restrictions. Your voice was so soft and sometimes, because of your mask, they couldn't hear you forcing you to repeat your condition. As if it wasn't hard enough to say once. It was almost like a cruel joke. Watching you have to state your lot in life to these perfect strangers who didn't seem to care, all to avoid being served something that could threaten your life. have to be helped when bathing or dressing. Being able to do very little all on your own. To have your hands shake so badly that you could hardly write and even tapping on your iPhone was a chore. be told: The cancer is back. Not only are your lungs failing you, but the cancer is back. Oh, Jen. How scared you must have been, yet you never let on, you never let the fear of the unknown consume you. arrange your final beach trip with your family. Did you know it would be your last? I never knew if you thought it was so. You were so very hopeful, so very optimistic. You spent each day with us on the beach. How hard it must have been to watch your sisters, nearly eight- and nine-months pregnant, playing in the sun and the water while your sickness forced you to sit under the umbrella shielding you from the sun, forced you to face the harsh reality that you would never know the joy of carrying a little one in your womb, of holding and nurturing and caring for a child of your own.

How hard it must have been to have to wear a helmet and ride a bike that was different from all of ours, one with three wheels instead of two, to prevent you from a fall caused by your imbalance....

On that last day, I'll never forget it for as long as I live, we were packing our beach bags to head back to the house. You stood up from your beach chair. You said, "I've come all this way to the beach and haven't even gotten to get in the water." (You couldn't because the bacteria in the water could have made you terribly ill.) You walked down to the water and put your toes in. It was October, and the water was cold. You stood there for a moment looking down at your swollen feet. Oh goodness, the steroids had made them so very swollen. You took Matt's arm and turned to walk through the sand and up the flight of stairs to the boardwalk. At the top, you sat down to catch your breath and to take in the beach one final time. Matt put his arm around you and you leaned into his shoulder. You paused with your eyes closed, your lips pursed to help you exhale, and your chest heaving with each breath. That image will be forever burned in my memory.

Oh Jenny, if I could turn back the clock and be back on that boardwalk, I'd tell you: Don't worry. Please don't be sad. Try not to be afraid. Where you are going is much more beautiful than this beach. You have all of heaven to hope for. We are the ones who should be sad because this beach is the closest we'll get to heaven for a while. The glory and grandeur of heaven will soon be your reality, and we will be left with nothing but this crummy old beach of South Walton, Florida. Of course I didn't tell you that. I didn't want to believe it. I was hoping, too, that you would pull through, that you would take many more trips to this 'crummy' beach with us. Your determination and perseverance wouldn't let me believe anything else.

You bought me a birthday present on that trip. Did you know it would be the last birthday present you would give to me? It was a small painted canvas of a cross. It sits on a table near my kitchen and every time I pass it now I think of you and your new life in the presence of the One who was slain on the cross for us. visit Kosciusko, Mom and Dad's house, for the last time. To spend Thanksgiving writing down the rigid medicine schedule that enslaved you. I'll never forget the last time I saw you. My precious sister trapped in a body that was failing you miserably. We were at Mom and Dad's. It was the day of the Egg Bowl. Our Egg Bowls spent together cheering on the Rebs felt light years away. You wanted to hold and hug my baby one last time. When I handed Mac to you, he had his fingers caught in my necklace so he pulled me in close to you. That was the closest I had been to you in a long time, since we had given up hugs in fear of getting you sick. I tried to pull away quickly, scared to get too close to your face. I didn't want to be the one to make you sick. You said your good-byes but I can't, for the life of me, remember if I told you I love you...How I hope I did. those last days, fighting for every breath. We talked on the phone exactly a week before you died. I called you and we spent a couple minutes chatting before you said you had to go upstairs, you'd call me back. It took awhile so when you called back you explained why it had taken you so long, that you had to catch your breath from climbing the steps. You shared with me how your feet were getting a little better but you were still frustrated that you couldn't wear most of your shoes. We talked about our dogs. We talked about the christening gown you wanted to buy for Mac. You told me to pick it out, you would pay for it. You made me promise not to let anyone else buy that for him. You never got to. You told me that Matt mentioned, starting 'next week,' you doing some light chores around the house. I know he was doing that to help you have a routine and to help you stay strong and focused but I told you, "Jenny, you don't do one thing you don't want to do. I'll tell Matt if you don't want to do those things." You know me, I wanted to defend you, even if it was unnecessary.

At your funeral service Rev. Plata said you were not afraid of dying, you were only afraid of leaving Matt here alone. I don't doubt that you were brokenhearted to leave the man you loved and had given your life to, but Rev. Plata was wrong. You were scared of more than leaving Matt. You told me you were in that last conversation. You said, "Lauren, I can't breathe. It's a scary thing to not be able to breathe, you know?" No, Jen. I don't know. I'm so very, very sorry that you had to know what that felt like. All I said back to you was, "I'm sure it's scary Jen. I know you must be scared."

You were such a fighter, Jenny, and you fought so hard. I honestly don't know how you did it for as long as you did. You never once had a 'woe is me' attitude. You never once let on like you might give up. You took your medicines diligently, up until your very last day. You were even putting on make-up and perfume that last week to go to your appointments, though not out of vanity. I don't know that you ever had a vain thought in your life. You just wanted to be normal, to be yourself, and you were constantly making an effort to be. You were focused. You were strong, though not physically. Your body was giving out long before your will did. It was this will to survive that kept you hanging on.

The night before you died, you were looking at pictures of Lindsey's baby she had delivered that afternoon. Daddy said you smiled at the pictures and that you loved her name - Dottie. You wanted to send cookies to Lindsey at the hospital. If we know anything about our baby sister, it's how much she loves cookies. You couldn't find the number to the cookie store so you told Matt and Dad to call me, that I'd take care of it. They told you to rest, to not worry about the cookies. Oh Jen, less than 24 hours before you would breathe your last, and you had someone else on your mind - your baby sister. You were always looking out for her and for me. You were always thinking of others.

You got up the next morning, just like you did every morning, to face a day that would be full of medicines, labored breathing, and doctors' appointments (appointments that seemed like torture because now the doctors' language had changed to 'keeping you comfortable' and concentrating on your 'quality of life'). A day that would have most people rolling back over in bed, no desire to go on. In fact, so many mornings I would wake up thinking, "What is Jen waking up to? How does she will her feet to hit the floor each day?" Just as I would lie down at night wondering, "How was she today? How much longer does she have?" then praying, "Oh Lord, rush to her and wrap her in your arms. Perform a miracle, Lord. Heal my sister."

That last morning Matt walked you downstairs, and you asked Dad to make you some cinnamon rolls. Something he always liked doing for us. He said he fed them to you, and you choked a bit. He encouraged you to spit it up and when you did it was blood. How scared he must have been. How scared you must have been. Daddy called me that morning to tell me you didn't have long. He was sobbing, Jenny. He loved you, his first little girl, so much. He helped you get to the couch and, laying you down, he watched you, wondering which breath would be your last. He and Matt were holding your hands when you slipped peacefully into Eternity.

Dad called Mom to tell her. She was walking into our aunt's house. She and Billie Jean had just left Lindsey at the hospital and were on their way to you in Nashville. Her phone rang and Dad gave her the news. She sat down on the couch in front of me and cried. She said, over and over, "No, no, no. My baby, my baby." She loved you too, Jenny, so very, very much. And would have done anything in the world for you. To help you. If she could've taken the cancer from you and put it in her own blood, I truly believe she would have. She hated leaving you in Nashville to go 'see about Lindsey' but told you that she was coming back. It would be no time and she would be back to take care of you. She didn't get the chance.

Praise heaven, you don't have to be taken care of any more, Jennifer. You are in a perfect body now, in a perfect home, with our perfect Father. I asked Him the other night, "Why allow her to go through all of that and not reward her with life at the end of it? Would it not have been better, been easier, been more loving to let her die on that fall afternoon she was diagnosed rather than let her live 15 months of suffering before taking her?" In my heart, I felt like His response might be, "Consider this: Would it not have been punishment to allow her to endure those 15 months of suffering only to let her go on living in a fallen, decaying, sin-ridden world constantly wondering in the back of her mind, 'will the cancer return'? Lauren, your sister has her very great and high reward. She has run her race and been granted her prize. And, I assure you, it is heavenly."

I don't believe for one second that you are reading this but still I write as if you can. Just because it helps a little and because I have to get used to knowing that this is the one blog post that you'll never read. I have to get used to knowing you're in a place where you are not bound by time and space. A place where no alarms ring for you to take your 8 o'clock meds. A place where chemo lounges and bone marrow transplants do not exist. You are in a place where there is no tears, no sorrow, no mourning. So I don't think you see my tears or bear witness to my sorrow and my mourning.

But I do believe you are with the One who does see my tears. You are with the only One who can comfort and bring peace to my sorrow and to my mourning. You are with the One, the only One that matters more than anything in life and in death, the Source of everlasting hope and joy and love and life. And I will be with you and with Him someday soon. My life on this earth, whether I live to 32 like you or to 89 like our grandmother, is but a vapor. It is a mist. And when it's over, I will rejoice for all eternity with you. I will rejoice with the angels, with the saints, with the prophets, the priests, the kings and all the rest who believe in Christ Jesus for their salvation. And we will all praise our great high Prophet, Priest, and King, our Emmanuel, forever and ever and ever. And it will be GLORIOUS.

Dr. Jennifer F. Sample

Jennifer Fowler Sample, 32, died from complications of biphenotypic leukemia December 21st at her home in Nashville, Tenn.

Mrs. Sample was born in Flowood, and raised in Kosciusko. She received a bachelor’s of science degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2002 and her doctorate of pharmacy in 2006, both from the University of Mississippi. She completed a residency in pharmacy practice in 2007 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

During her four and half years at UMMC, Mrs. Sample was a clinical pharmacist for the inpatient nutritional service, and she created and headed the pharmacy position in the outpatient gastroenterology clinic. She held a faculty appointment as assistant professor in the school of pharmacy and held an administrative appointment as the third in command of the UMMC pharmacy. Also while at UMMC, Mrs. Sample was acknowledged as a clinical pharmacy specialist and a drug information specialist and was a distinguished member of numerous committees.

After moving to Nashville, Tenn., Mrs. Sample joined the pharmacy team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where she was the outpatient chemo pharmacy manager.

Aside from Mrs. Sample’s professional life, she was a member of Cathedral of the Incarnation Catholic Church, Nashville, Tenn. Above all else, she considered her vocation as homemaker and wife most important. She served this vocation proudly until her last breath. 

Mrs. Sample is survived in death by her husband Matthew A. Sample of Ebenezer; her parents, Mickey and Lee Lea Fowler; her sisters, Lauren McCool and Lindsey Dew; and her grandmother, Lucy Fowler, all of Kosciusko. She will be forever remembered as a compassionate and courageous woman who loved her family, her friends, and her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As mentioned in her obituary, Jennifer had converted to Catholicism after their wedding. I respected her decision, and we had many conversations discussing our Christian faith. I, along with our family, do not uphold the beliefs of the Catholic church. We do believe that all Christians, no matter their religious preference or background, can and should be brought together by their shared love for Christ and that those who believe in Jesus and his redemptive work on the cross for their salvation will enjoy eternity with Him.

Thank you, Lord, for Christ. Thank you for leaving your throne in heaven to be among your people. Love come down from above to be with us, our Emmanuel. And thank you for living in the hearts of those who ask. Thank you that you are with us, even now, guiding us and directing us, loving us and comforting us. Oh Lord, help us to love and to serve you better with each passing day. Let our lives be lived wholly for you. The Lamb is worthy.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16