My Armstrong Heater.

Long before Jarid was ever in the picture, one of the men that I could always count on to help me feel confident and special was my Pap.  Whenever he introduced me to anyone, he always referred to me as “his #1”.  I think that struck a chord with me so much because I was always striving to be “#1” at everything…  It was important to me to be “the best” and I took it very hard when I wasn’t…failure was my greatest fear.  I never even had to do anything to deserve that title with Pap.  I just remember feeling like a million dollars when I asked him how he was doing, and he would say things like, “much better now that you’re here!”

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Pap was misunderstood by a lot of people,  but he was one of the most gentle, sensitive human beings you could ever imagine.  Maybe he hadn’t ALWAYS been gentle and sensitive, but as long as I’ve known him, he was.  In fact, there were some things I, along with his kids, didn’t even know about him.  People’s lives that he’d touched while he was on this Earth that went unrecognized by everyone except for Jesus.  I can’t wait to see how many crowns he has when we all get to Heaven and I think that most will  be surprised.

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Some of his favorite things included Harley Davidson, the Washington Nationals, televangelists (more specifically, John Hagee), classic cars, and Ocean City, NJ — a place where just this Summer, he took his last breaths while we were on our family vacation.  Pap had been in the hospital for a little while, but like me, he gets stir crazy.  Being cooped up and not allowed to use the bathroom on his own was just intolerable.  He was a stubborn son-of-a-gun (which is exactly where my Mom & I get this trait), and he hadn’t always listened to what the doctors told him either — he firmly believed that they were “only after his money” 🙂  Good ole’ Pap.  One of the last few times I was able to stop during my lunch break to visit him in the hospital, I’d stopped at Wendy’s to bring him a Frosty (although I knew he probably shouldn’t have had it) — his face completely lit up when I came into that hospital room.  I wish I would’ve just taken the rest of the day off to stay there with him, looking back on it.

Some of the things that will always be near and dear to me about Pap were those baby blue eyes that you could see from a mile away and the fact that since I’m always cold, he would always tell me I needed to find myself a good Armstrong heater (meaning a man) – haha.  He was always VERY concerned and paid close attention to the guys that I brought around — making sure to tell them that they “better treat me right and take good care of me”.  It was the cutest thing when he bought and gave me pepper spray to carry around with me and insisted that I keep it on my key chain so it was very accessible (I think that started when I got my first apartment or when I started my job with the State downtown).  Pap enjoyed the fact that my hands were cold and my fingers were like icicles.  He would squeeze them and hold on for several minutes, in effort to keep them warm when it was cold outside.  When it was hot outside and my fingers were still cold, he would take my hand and put it on top of his bare skin head — thanking me for “cooling him off” 🙂  Pap had some of the best stories — he would tell you anything if you made the time to listen to him — there was nothing that man valued more, than your time.

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His daughter, my Mom, gave him one of his biggest desires close to the end of his life.  She and my Dad did most of the legwork, making it possible for Pap to leave the care facility he was staying at and come with us to the beach in OC, NJ one last time.  He was beyond thrilled and made the trip easily.  We’d rented a large house with an elevator, making it easily accessible for Pap to travel up floors and to basically do everything that any of us could do.  He wasn’t quite feeling up to going to the beach since we’d been there, but the atmosphere alone was something he treasured — his kids and grand kids all together in one big house, back where our family vacations all started in Ocean City.  It was Monday, June 9th, a beautiful beach day, until about 3pm.  It barely started drizzling on the beach (which is something that never scares us away–ESPECIALLY my Mom).  Before I knew it, Mom decided that we could probably head back to the house now.  Thank God she did because otherwise, we may not have all gotten to see Pap again before he passed.   I will never understand how God gives people little gifts like these and some can simply brush it off as coincidence.

This year has been a tough one for our family.  Two of the greatest men, who have been foundations in our family, have passed on to be with Jesus within just a few weeks of one another.  It’s been a real eye-opener for me to see how quickly life really does pass you by and how important it is to make every moment a special one.  Pap and I had just been sitting together that very same day of his passing, when I came back to the house for lunch.  I never imagined it would be my last conversation with him.  The scenario could not have been any better.  When we realized that Pap was struggling, an ambulance was called and he was still responding to us when they arrived, just 3 minutes later.  The hospital was only 6 minutes away.  We always try to make sense of things, wondering “what if” in circumstances like these, but especially in instances like this one, it’s evident that God’s timing prevails.  It could be the best case scenario and there is nothing we can do if God is ready to bring a loved one home.  There is no question in my mind that Pap is enjoying the beaches in heaven right now — probably sitting up there shooting the breeze with his brother, Joe and his wife, TT, and even his son, who was killed in car accident at a very young age… In fact, it was the first time Pap was able to spend Father’s Day with his son, whom he’d lost several years ago –what a special reunion that must’ve been.

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All I know, speaking for myself, is that nothing has taught me more about life than death.  This place, this Earth is so temporary, yet so many people cannot see past the here and now.  The choices you make and the priorities you keep do have eternal consequences/rewards.  I believe that both TT and Pap would’ve wanted me to tell as many people as possible and to share the good news that because Jesus died on a cross to save us from our sins, an eternity in Hell, we can have everlasting life in Heaven with Him instead.

Pap, I love you very much and you’ll always be the best Armstrong heater ❤  Miss you so much!

In Loving Memory.

I’ve been dreading the day that this post would come.  I thought for sure, I would have had at least a few more years before I would would have to face this.  I hoped that my children would have a chance to know their TT… that his example and faith would have the impact on them has it has on me.  One of God’s angels on Earth was taken home on Sunday, May 18th.  It all seems so surreal to me that it actually happened and that he really is gone, until we meet again in Heaven.

philliesOne of TT’s specialties was timing.  Throughout his years of experience, he amazed me with his ability to predict exactly how long it would take to get from point A to point B.   I would ask him, “what time do you think you’ll get here?”, or “how long do you think it will take us to arrive at the Phillies game?”  Almost every time, he was spot on… I’m talking, down to the second.

lipsI talked to TT on Saturday night.  Jarid and I were on our way home from a wedding reception and had planned on stopping to see TT.  I called him when we got in the car, and he said, “Don’t worry about stopping tonight, I think I’ll be going home tomorrow, so before you come tomorrow, you better give me a call”.  At this point in my life, I believed everything that man said.  He had God-given wisdom that I could never fully comprehend.  Looking back now, when he said he was going home, he must’ve meant to his Heavenly home, rather than his earthly one.

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Although TT told us not to worry about stopping on Saturday, I felt a need to see him,  even if he was just resting.  Jarid agreed, and as we walked through the parking garage, I couldn’t help but feel excited that we were about to surprise him.  We got to his room, 719, only to find that our precious TT sleeping.  Anyone that knows him would agree, he was the absolute cutest man in the entire universe.  Jarid and I simply sat in the chairs beside his bed and watched him rest.  It felt so good just to be there with him, whether he knew it or not.  Saturday night was when my heart started to break.  In his sleep, TT would be breathing alright for a few breaths, but suddenly it was as if he couldn’t get enough air… he was gasping and it was difficult to watch.  It didn’t make sense to me that just the day before (Friday), when we’d visited him after work, he seemed just fine.  Short of breath, only after talking for a lengthy period of time.  I was fully confident that he would be fine… after all, with modern technology and all the advances made in the medical world daily, shouldn’t they be able to fix him right up?!

birthdayAfter sitting in the hospital chair for about 20 minutes, just admiring and praying for the man in the hospital bed that I’d loved and adored for the past 25-years, we decided to head home.  Before leaving, I asked one of the nurses, tears streaming down my cheeks, if I could borrow a pen and paper, allowing me to write TT a note, knowing that when he woke up, he would see it on his bedside table and know that we were there and that we loved him.

me&tSee, I know how much TT treasures notes because once, while I as house-sitting for him, I knocked something off of his dresser and a whole pile of notes that Nana had written him poured out onto the floor…. he kept every single one of them. I think his capacity to love far surpasses anyone else I’ve ever known.  It was all the little things that he appreciated most.

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It wasn’t long before Jarid and I were winding down on the couch, in our PJs.  Almost immediately after we turned the TV on, my phone started vibrating on the end table next to me.  As soon as I saw the caller ID reading, “TT Cell”, my face completely lit up.  “Hello?” I said, awaiting a goofy response, which I’d come to expect.  “Hey!  If you ever pull that crap again…wake me up next time!”… Haha.  I explained that I was sorry, but I knew he needed his rest and I couldn’t bring myself to disturb him.  I made sure that he knew I would see him the next day and that I loved him very much.

cheeseThe next 24 hours were an absolute blur… completely surreal, like a bad dream that I couldn’t wake myself up from.  My Mom called me at 8:26am, just before my alarm went off for church on Sunday morning.  I could tell in her voice that something wasn’t right.  As she explained that TT was being “worked on” at the hospital, tears began to well up in my eyes, I jumped out of bed, threw a sweatshirt and some yoga pants on, and got ready to go.

icecreamThere wasn’t a minute to waste.  I needed to be with him that very second.  Jarid followed suit, never once questioning whether we should go or not.  He was completely on board and we left within the next two minutes, arriving at TTs room just 16 minutes later.  When we reached his room, we saw four nurses surrounding his bed, all seemingly doing some sort of test on him.

laughEvery time I began to feel hopeful about the situation, trusting that the doctors would be able to help him, something else turned the tides.  As Jarid and I waited in his room with him until Nana and Aunt Candy, and then eventually my Mom and Dad arrived, I held his hand and can still remember exactly what it felt like…soft, warm, and tender.  I don’t ever want to forget that.  While we were there, still on the 7th floor, the nurses informed us that the tests showed no bleeding in his brain, which was a good indicator that he probably didn’t have a stroke, however, they didn’t want to rule anything out for sure.

hahaThe nurses continuously asked him to “smile” to see if there was any drooping of either corner of his mouth, to which he replied, “I’m going to have to start charging for these smiles pretty soon!” 🙂  He was having pain in his right wrist, so much so, that it hurt to the touch.  Now, if you ask me, they should’ve been running blood tests to find out if there was any type of infection, since he had a fever that accompanied the pain, but they didn’t test for that until he was moved to the 11th floor a short time later.

baptismI told myself after everything had happened that I couldn’t be angry at the nurses/doctors for not catching it sooner, but I couldn’t help feeling like he may still be with us if they had.  In my mind, his heart tuckered out because his body had to fight so hard to get the infection under control, before they caught it and administered the proper medications.  In the end, the only thing that I could come up with to reason the lack of thoroughness on the part of Harrisburg Hospital, was the fact that nothing they could’ve or would’ve done had the ability to get in the way of God’s plan.  God was calling TT home, and there was nothing we could do about it.

laughingI remember the Dr. approaching Nana, asking about TT’s DNR (do not resuscitate) bracelet.  He asked her, and she told the Dr. to ask T.  I remember hearing the words of confirmation, that indeed, TT told him…he did not want to be resuscitated if it came to that.  Those words felt like a punch in the stomach, taking away my breath for what felt like minutes…  It didn’t take much to make me sob that day.  I think I knew, deep down, that things were really not looking up.  While on the 11th floor, time seemed irrelevant.

lawnmowerI don’t even remember exactly what series of events led up to the saddest moment of my life, but I do know that our entire family was there, at the hospital, going through it together.  TT wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  In fact, the waiting room of the ICU was entirely full of just our family, each waiting for their turn to see TT.  Before too long, they asked us to keep the visitor count down to 2 people in the room with him.  He needed rest…lots of it.  My Dad ran out to pick up sandwiches for lunch at one of the downtown deli’s, but no one was really all that hungry.

semiI was frustrated that we hadn’t been getting updated very often on his condition, what they were doing to help him, or anything really.  I felt like I needed to explain to the nurse how special he was to us, and that she couldn’t allow anything to happen to him.  At one point, during the waiting period, Mom, Dad, Jarid and I went down to find the chapel.  All of us hit our knees.  My struggle came in knowing that I had to pray for God’s will to be done, rather than for him to just simply heal TT.  I know that His plans will prevail anyway, in any circumstance, and I know that the Bible tells us that we should pray not for God to change the circumstances, but for God to change US (our feelings, our hearts, our attitudes)… so that’s what I did…difficult as it was.

cheese2Another vivid memory I have of that day, was when one of the pastors were in the waiting room with us.  He spoke words of encouragement and comfort to us.  Reminding us that TT was in the hands of the Lord.  He chose a song for us to sing, altogether in the waiting room.  We joined hands, prayed, and after prayer, sang “How Great Thou Art”… Tt’s Dad, PaPa’s, (who had already passed several years ago) favorite song.  I believe that God gave us several signs that His will was for TT to come home.  The hard part was letting go for us.  Letting go of all the things that TT was to us all… a brother, a husband, a friend, an uncle, a mentor… No time with him would’ve ever been enough.  It was in those final moments that all of us were called into his ICU room on the 11th floor that I realized, his earthly heart was probably so weak because he had given so much of it, generously, to all of us.  The blessings in his life were nothing to him, unless they were shared with the people he loved…that’s where his true joy came from.

beachFor the first few days after we lost him, I woke up in the morning and had to remind myself that it was real… that I couldn’t call his cell phone and chat with him at the end of the day… that I wouldn’t be able to ask him to come down and meet Jarid & I for dinner after work during the week anymore… that I wouldn’t be able to give him the Father’s Day gift I’d planned out for this year…I think I probably freaked Jarid out some of the time, before he realized what was happening… I would just lay in bed and sob.  I know that TT’s legacy will live on through each and every one of the people his life has touched.  At his memorial, his heart for people was made even more obvious by the stories told and memories shared.  I keep thinking that things will get better with time… that I’ll soon stop breaking down and crying at every little thing that reminds me of him… I think, in a way, I don’t want to stop,  because it means he is fresh in my memory.  Someone I’ll never forget.  Some I never want to forget.  I find myself, everyday, looking for people to help, the way he did and I’m so thankful for all of the memories I was able to make with him.  They’ll last me a lifetime.  Until we meet again in Heaven, TT — I love and miss you very much! GO PHILLIES!