Written 4 Feb:
On February 3rd, I was sitting next to Lori’s hospital bed at MVH Hospital working on a laptop and listening to a song called Difference Maker by NEEDTOBREATHE. At this time, Lori was still responsive when we asked direct questions. It was common however for her to fade out of a conversation and simply fall asleep. If we asked her about her pain, she described the location and she rated the pain. If she had to go to the bathroom, she was shaky walking there, but she could go on her own strength fairly reliably. Her motor skills were diminished but not yet to an extreme amount. She slept most of the time, and her movements were slow and stiff.
While I listened to the song, I had my back turned about 45 degrees away from the bed, so I wasn’t facing her directly. Near the middle of the song, she sprang up and moved into the seat with me (nearly knocked me off). I thought she was falling out of bed, and I started to move to catch her before I realized that she was intentionally moving fast because she wanted to sit with me. I gladly relinquished half of my seat, and she wrapped her arms around my torso and put her head on my shoulder.
She repeated the words “You’re so strong” over and over. She wasn’t crying but she had that elevated pitch in her voice which happens just short of crying. She had listened to the song and watched me work next to her. She wanted me to know she loved me and was appreciative of me being there to support her. It was exactly how a man likes to be praised. What man doesn’t love to hear his woman tell him how strong he is while resting her head on his shoulder? Honestly, that is all a man wants in life. We men show off for girls starting at a very young age, and we never stop. It’s always on our minds. For crying out loud, when I play church softball, there is a vastly different feeling for me when she’s at the game as compared to when she’s absent. No kidding, I care more and play harder when she’s watching even though she wouldn’t care either way about my actual performance. I remember a pickup basketball game at Ft Bragg (I was over 30 years old) where she walked into the gym mid-play, and I upped my game immediately. She rarely came to the gym when I play basketball, so this was my moment. I’m kinda awesome at basketball, so I blew it up as you can imagine. Those poor high schoolers received an epic old-man beat down that day. It is pitiful how much men want their women to notice them and to acknowledge our strength and ability to take care of them. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. Heck, my boys are already doing it when they are around girls. And they have no filter so you get to see it raw. They’ll literally flex in front of a mirror and ask me if they look bigger after eating their vegetables. So you can understand that when she repeatedly exclaimed “you’re so strong”, she was hitting the sweet spot. I knew she wasn’t talking about my muscles, but I allowed myself to believe it was both in admiration of my emotional support as well as my biceps.
So we sat together in the chair in her hospital room, and she continued to pour out love and praise. The coolest thing about it was that this wasn’t anything new. She always supported me from the very beginning. When we were dating, she started following Cincinnati Reds baseball and UK basketball because I was into it. In pilot training, I struggled for a while early on. I flew a lot with the flight commander for a week or two, and we debriefed after each flight. One day, the squadron sponsored a spouse orientation day where they gave the ladies a tour of the building, simulators, and planes on the flightline. Apparently, she asked question after question after question. My flight commander loved her, and he was raving about how great it was to host her that day. During my debrief of the next day’s flight, my flight commander spent 10 minutes telling me to tap into Lori as a resource to help me improve. He encouraged me to go home and try to answer every question that she had about what I was learning. If I could teach it to Lori, then I would truly know the material. By the end of that year, Lori knew all of the traffic pattern radio position reports, the BOLDFACE emergency procedures, and answers to all of the questions in the master question files. When I met her, she was already passionate about plastic pipe molds and the city’s water sanitation system. Why? Because her dad was once a sanitation engineer and he also designed molds for a Plastics Co. during most of her growing up years. Her brothers got into NASCAR, and she became a huge fan too. I don’t think she cared one bit about the sport. She was just interested in everything that everyone she loved did. Lori loved to love people and her genuine desire to know them better led her to like NASCAR of all things.
She never assumed that she would fail. The assumption was that she was always good enough for whatever she wanted to do. For everyone who asks “how did you get on the show?” in response to her appearance on Wheel of Fortune, the short answer is that she believed she could. That is the truest thing I’ve written so far. She never doubted, and she pursued it as if it was going to happen. That’s why she succeeded. That and her bubbly personality and steel-trap puzzle-solving mind.
Fearless and confident. That’s how she made babies too. Big belly! Big babies!
She was a visionary. We made a mission statement because of her initiative. Now I have that mission statement as an enduring gift. Think how big that is for the kids too. It was the result of two days of soul searching by both of us to define the absolute most important things that she and I valued in life.
Leadership came naturally to her. I often wondered what she could do if unleashed in public office. She flipped a POA board on it’s head through pure grit, an ironclad will, and perfect charisma. If you put Lori in a room full of leaders and gave them all a group project to complete, she always emerged as the team leader. It did not matter how headstrong the other “leaders” were. It was uncanny how they deferred to her eventually. I saw it happen so many times. Despite her default leadership setting, she humbled herself and deferred to my leadership in our marriage more often than not. When I failed, she stepped in and gently coaxed me back on course.
As a wife and mother, I don’t know how to describe it. She was just pure love. Tough but very tender.
Although she was passionate about many things, she was most passionate about Jesus Christ. After her diagnosis, she remained strong. She never cried about her terminal diagnosis, and I know it’s true that she was never afraid. She never became emotional about her own plight. However, she immediately cried (celebrated) and showed deep emotion when friends and family reported to her that they found a footing for their faith in God because of her example. She loved to hear about friends finding Christ or following Him more nearly. I think it dominated her thoughts particularly when she was at her lowest points physically. The day she jumped out of bed to sit with me in the hospital, she again prayed and begged for her friends to find Him! She wanted to share what she had inside with everyone she knew.
Tonight, she bolted out of her bed and ran to wrap her arms around her man so she could praise Him and admire His strength. She told Him repeatedly “You’re so strong”. She’s into what He’s into. He’s into feeding the homeless and caring for the needy. He gives water that eternally quenches thirst. He prefers to be with the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. He’s into loving His enemies. He prays and fasts and stores up treasures in places where no one can break in and steal. He never worries about tomorrow because tomorrow will take care of itself. He’s chooses the narrow paths, and He speaks absolute truth. He’s into healing and miracles and faith and commanding the weather. He is all powerful, but He also likes fishing and camping by the lake, building furniture with His hands and mending nets. He defines sacrifice. He’s into storytelling and teaching. He leaves the 99 to find the 1 that is lost. He offers unearned grace and peace and mercy. He conquered death once and for all. The true undisputed champion.
Lori’s spirit left this Earth today, and I know she’s complete now. I felt it in the moment. I was never her #1 man, and that’s how it should be. She lived for eternity, and at this exact moment she’t inheriting her full reward. We should all hope to live as rightly and to die as honorably as she.