Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sanctified Through Suffering

This is from my little sister, Cindy. I wrote and dedicated the book Warrior SOS to her late husband, John Cloninger.

Sanctified through Suffering

January 24, 2014
I don’t talk much about the time spent caring for John as his physical health and strength declined over the months leading to his graduation from this life.  Watching the effects the brain tumor had on his body was so difficult. Those times were extremely hard to watch him suffer through, but above all, they were very sacred and sanctifying.
We both learned so much about the Savior through John’s suffering.  I learned through priesthood blessings that there is indeed purpose in suffering.  It is a necessary part of our growth and experience in becoming more perfected.  We all desire to be like the Savior and work so hard in our daily efforts to take on his attributes.  Kindness, forgiveness, peace, wisdom, love….but one of the greatest characteristics Christ showed to us in this life, was suffering….something that we never ask for, or try to emulate. I watched John give his will, not give up his will, but truly give his will to whatever the Lord saw fit to inflict upon him.  I watched him selflessly suffer and still want to live to be with his family. 
In one month, (July 2011) John went from being perfectly fine, doing surgery…feeling a little dizzy.  To being in a wheelchair because of severe dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty moving one arm, and numbness in the other.  As the tumor progressed, he had all of those symptoms increased in severity.  He had difficulty swallowing, the room was constantly spinning for him, he had extreme light and noise sensitivity, and was unable to read because of the ‘spinning’. Through all of this, John rarely if ever complained.  I only found out about some of the symptoms as the Doctor asked questions at his visits.   John’s spirit and joy at just being able to be with his family was always present even while he was experiencing hell.   When he couldn’t read anymore, I read aloud to him.  The light was too bright for him so I would open up an umbrella and he would hold it shading the light while I would read.  Hard as the circumstances were, we both loved and cherished this time together.  I would read him the scriptures or from books that he liked.  Over the next several months, I read him at least 5 books.  One that we loved and read a few times (3) was the The Message by Lance Anderson.

In the beginning, I would help John downstairs and then up to bed at the end of the day.  During this time Austin broke his foot.  One treasured time we had together was the two of them lying on couches on opposite sides of the living room watching TV.  Something came on that they didn’t want to watch and John had the remote, but couldn’t focus enough to see to change the channel, so Austin said throw it to me and I’ll change it.  It landed just shy of Austin’s reach and he couldn’t reach it.  I came to the rescue from the kitchen and we all had a good laugh.  We all felt that Austin’s broken foot was a blessing, allowing him more precious time with his Dad.

I was still in the Relief Society as 2nd counselor and had gone to a meeting.  When I returned, John had managed to hold onto the walls and make his way down to the kids room and was laying on the bed with them.  They spent a couple of hours singing primary songs.  He loved that, and talked about how special that time was a lot.  He would say that those moments are what life is about and how much he loves his children.

When it got to hard for John to come down the stairs, we spent a lot of time together upstairs. The kids would take turns going up and having their dinner with him in bed.  We would pray together around the bed and read scriptures together.  I remember hurrying around trying to do the house chores one day and remarking I really didn’t want to.  John just looked at me with love and said, “Then don’t, just come cuddle with me.”  I smiled and layed down beside him and cuddled….such precious times for all of us.  I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
When his physical strength declined still further.  It was such a loving, sanctifying, privledge to shave him, bath him, spoon feed him.  At this time he started to become upset about having to leave his family and at other times would get confused and try to get up and go somewhere.  He also wanted to be with me at every second.  It was at a hard time when I was having trouble calming him down that I had the distinct recollection of what I needed to do come into my mind. 

When the kids were babies, I would get up in the night with them and go into their rooms, with the baby monitors still on, I would sing them lulubys. Usually Angel Lullaby from My Turn on Earth, Stay Awake from Mary Poppins, and Baby Mine from Dumbo. Everytime I would return to bed, John would say, “When I’m old and don’t know who I am, will you sing to me? I love hearing your voice, it calms me down.”  I would laugh imaging my half asleep, midnight singing not really bringing comfort to anybody.  But I would tell him that I would…..he asked every time.

I had this memory come to my mind and I knew I should sing to him.  I began singing all of the lullabys that I had sung to our children to him, he would calm down and be so still.  I began singing a lot to him.  I don’t know how the tumor was affecting his ability to understand at times and I know that he could feel my love and have peace return during those times.

John continued to go to church in a wheelchair until he just could not get down the stairs anymore.  After that, every Sunday, a priesthood holder would come to our home after church to bless the sacrament for John.  Austin was a teacher and would pass the sacrament to John. After Austin broke his foot, I was moved to tears every Sunday as the sacrament was blessed in our living room downstairs, and then Austin would hop on one foot while holding the bread tray, over to the stairs and up 13 stairs, down the hallway, into our bedroom give it to his Dad and come back the same way.  Then do it all again with the water. He was dripping large drops of sweat each time. I was very moved by his love and care for giving his Dad this ordinance, and his honor of the priesthood.
John’s biggest request and one that I wanted too, was for him to remain in our home and not a care facility.

At one time, John had gotten into a place where he wasn’t sleeping at all, not day, not night, nothing.  To make things worse, at night he was getting confused and trying to get up to go somewhere.  With his severe dizziness, he couldn’t walk only a step or two before stumbling and falling.  I would run to get up and then try to explain to him that he needed to stay here and in bed.  He was confused and wouldn’t really cooperate.  I would struggle with trying to support him as he would get up so he wouldn’t fall and the episodes were lasting a couple of hours a night.  After 3 or 4 nights, I was completely exhausted.  The hospice nurse came out (who had worked as a collegue of John’s and he had asked that she be his nurse, Bonnie Hart)  as well as the hospice Dr (who was a friend and collegue of John’s, and close in age, Dr Hemmersmeier-I need to write a whole other story about him) came out. Down in the living room we were discussing the possibility of if this didn’t resolve that maybe John could go to respite care for a few days and then return, but said nothing to John.  When we went up to check on John he kept trying to get up and go while they were there and then sit.  It went on for about 20mins. Then John sat on the bed and sobbed, “How can I leave my family?  How can I leave my kids? How can I leave my wife?”  My heart ached as I knew he was grieving what he knew he would have to face in death.

I asked him if he wanted to stay with me, he cried and said, “ yes, I never want to leave you.”  I told him, “ok, you can stay with me, and I’ll never make you leave.”  He quieted down and went to sleep.  As the good man that he was, Dr Hemmersmierer had nurses spend the next 3 nights with us 24hrs so I could get a few more hours of sleep. 

Around this same time, Alisa Hardman and Kristina Morley showed up on my door with cleaning supplies in hand and said they had come to clean my bathrooms.  I let them in, was so exhausted that I ended up falling asleep on the couch while they cleaned.  Twice, the ward and Stake RS presidency (Jan Gailey, Lori Preece, Barbara Anderson) came over and cleaned and organized my kitchen and did all of my laundry.  Lynda Pike brought us dinner once a week for an entire year!!  The Morgan Valley Marathon raised money and gave us $900.  The Facebook group, Morgan Moms, took donations at Christmas and gave us $500.  2 years in a row, the bishop gave us an envelope with $500 in it that someone gave him for us.  A girl Jeff went to school with, Hope, did an entire Christmas for us that year.  My mom’s work did a bake sale and gave us $500, they never knew us or met us.  Jeff, my brother, started a non-profit foundation to help us and other vets, Warrior SOS, he taught shooting classes and gave us the money.  He also contacted two different artists (Megan Rieker, and …) that signed and gave us prints of their work. Along with many, many other acts of love, kindness, and charity.
I don’t know if I can write about the last few weeks.  When we found out that the cancer was back and there was nothing more they could do, it was mid July.  We have kids birthdays lined up every month starting August (Maegan) through February.  Sept (Caleb), Oct (kiersten), Nov (our anniversary), Dec (Amber), Jan (Austin), and Feb (Eli). Many crazy, emotional thoughts went through my mind.  I thought about how having John die so closed to one of their birthdays might have a negative impact for the rest of their lives.  I said a silent prayer in my heart, “Please, let him make it through all of the kids birthdays one more time.”  I recanted that prayer, many, many times as I watched him suffer.  As winter approached, I prayed in my heart not to let it snow so I wouldn’t have to bury my husband while standing at the cemetery in feet of snow. 

The last weeks were so hard to watch.  The tumor took away the ability for John to close his eyes, they remained open for 3 weeks.  He had lost the ability to move at all and to communicate in any way.  I still talked to him and hugged him.  I remember coming home on Sunday evening after attending New Beginings for Young Women’s with Kiersten,  Austin had just had his Eagle Court of Honor a few days before.   My heart wrenched watching him suffer and I climbed onto the bed near him.  I cradled his head in my arms and pulled him close to heart.  I whispered that it was ok for him to go now, that all of the kids had had their birthdays and there wasn’t anything coming up.  I took a breathe and then said, “I want you to go, I don’t want to see you suffer anymore.”  Even as I said those words, they hurt so bad. I didn’t want to say them, but I knew he had to go and I didn’t want him to suffer anymore. 

John died that night, February 20, 2012.  John died 13 days after the last birthday.  The snow storms that year were mild and would snow a few inches and then melt.  At the funeral, there was no snow on the ground.  The sun came out and warmed us during the dedicatory prayer (I’ll have to tell you the story about that answered prayer and tender mercy).  And then it snowed pretty heavy a day or two later.
John died when he was supposed to die, at his appointed time.  Our family was strengthened, upheld, sanctified, unified, and received multitudes of miracles and blessings through this suffering.  We learned of love, service, family, eternity, and of God's infinite love for us.

(story of Austin and date of February 20th) and blessings saying that Heavenly Father knows and it is his plan.

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