Memo: As Death Draws Nears: April Update 6.19.22

Decline has become April’s new norm. Though her doctors credit her resolve and determination for having propelled her beyond that initial two-week prediction that expired this past Wednesday (June 15, 2022), her trajectory remains unchanged. Over the past seven days, she has moved from traveling up and down the stairs between our living room and bedroom, to traveling between her hospice bed and her favorite chair a few feet away, to staying in her hospice bed. As her mobility has declined, her fatigue and mental fog have increased. She eats and drinks very little and sleeps much of the day, gaining clarity of mind at best for thirty minutes here and there during the afternoon. At times, she can engage in conversation and respond to messages. But after a few minutes, she must surrender to the impulse for more sleep, lower her bed, and set aside her best intentions to carry on.

The Vocation of Death

In his book Surprised By Suffering, R.C. Sproul described death as being a type of vocation, a calling…if you will. To associate death with say one’s call to preach will undoubtedly sound strange, but I believe the idea proves poignantly true. Solomon bluntly notes in Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die.” We should not seek out death, but we also must not pretend that death will never come. It is appointed for all men and women to die once. Rather than shunning discussions of death, we should diligently mine the things of God so that we are prepared for that moment when our mortal and broken bodies will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor 5:3-8). As the Puritan John Flavel noted,

“It is the high point of wisdom to look upon things which shortly will not be as if they were not.”

May seeing Jesus face to face be our true purpose, the telos of our existence. In short, the vocation of death is the calling to depend upon Jesus as we walk underneath shadows of death so that we might reach the joys of heaven.

To steward this her final vocation well, April and I have devoted those ever-shrinking moments of her mental clarity to the task of preparing for eternity. I read her our daily Bible readings and then pray with her. We talk of Jesus’s sweet promise that he “will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), of his pledge “to come again and take you to myself (Jn. 14:2),” and of how sleep can be a common mercy in times of sorrow. We also talk through some of our family’s plans for the immediate future which inevitably must touch upon April’s demise. While April floats in and out of consciousness, I spend my energy managing April’s medications, assisting her with daily necessities, studying how to shepherd (as much as can be done on this side of eternity) her heart towards Jesus, parenting our children, and praying for her, our family, and our church family. When she’s able to break free from the fetters of fatigue, April summons her small amounts of energy to reaffirm her love for me, our children, her parents and her sister, the Witkowski family, and her many friends. There have been many tears and “I love you’s” these last few days. After swallowing her pills or bite or two of food, she blesses our children with one those faint and yet, all important hugs and then closes her eyes.

Her time grows short. The ‘when’ still remains obscured behind providence’s heavy curtain. So, we continue to take one day at a time, valuing these precious moments.

As long as April retains her earthly citizenship, I plan to stay close by her side surrounded by our children.

What Comes Next

Once her funeral is complete, I will be out of the pulpit for another 2-3 weeks to begin the process of slowly transforming our family of five into a family of four. At the conclusion of that time, I will return to my church duties and eventually resume dissertation, relying upon the support of my fellow elders, deacons, church members, family, and friends.

Gratitude

Dear friends, April and I will forever and always will cherish your visits, messages, cards, and those times of prayer, fellowship, and song that we have shared together these last few weeks. We also appreciate your many generous gifts that have been given to us and appreciate Fresta Valley Christian School (FV) for having generously secured our children’s education for the next school year. Lastly, we appreciate our church family gifting me the freedom to devote myself to April this past month. You have loved us well! Thank you!

Prayer Requests

Please continue to pray for God to encourage and comfort April with a special awareness of his spirit. Pray for me, the elders of ABC, and for the Witkowski and Gentry families to have the wisdom needed to navigate what comes in the days before after her death. And Pray for God to save and comfort our children and our extend families, our church family, and our many friends as who are grieving her cancer and who will soon grieve her death.

May God be merciful.

Contact/Support Info

Please note, we long to responded to all texts and messages. But with the many challenges facing us, our responses will probably be increasingly slow.

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

SNAIL-MAIL: P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND

Memo: At the Journey’s End: April Update 6.10.22

I have started and stopped a hundred times. The depth of emotion tied to this moment resides beyond the bounds of keystrokes, black lines, and white spaces. No good means exists to say…what must be said.

We have decided to shift April’s care from oncology to hospice.

Though her cancer has responded positively to her last three chemotherapy doses, her liver has only continued to worsen over the last month. Even this week, her bilirubin numbers have increased from 20 to 22. No cure remains. No secret path to health exists. Additional chemotherapy treatments would only inflict unneeded nausea upon an already weak stomach and further her complications from low hemoglobin and a lack of white blood cells. Death’s dark’s cloud has settled over our hearts as dense fog. Only a few more misty steps remain.

As the days progress, April will become increasingly fatigued, requiring more and more sleep. Her cognitive abilities will also become weaker as a result of her liver failure. And then sometime soon, she will go to sleep and never awake.

Though April and I intellectually grasp the bleakness of death and its cold, temporal finality, we do not fear it. For the believer redeemed by the blood of the lamb, death is but the final encounter with sin before an eternity of peace. It is the portal through which all men and women must pass and through which all who have believed will successfully pass for Christ has rolled away the stone. The apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44,

“What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor: it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body…The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus.”

Though she dies, she will live.

As our many tears and hugs evidence, Luke, Lily, Lacey and I (as do a throng of others) would happily prolong April’s life if given the option. Together, we fervently prayed for such an outcome. Still, we do not begrudge our heavenly father for this state of events. As Paul makes clear, April will soon experience a glory that defies our earthly imaginations. We should not so much want to keep her here with us as make plans to join her in paradise.

Though she must go and we must stay in this bleak world a little while longer, we are not alone. God has promised us that he will never leave us nor forsake us. The Word of the Lord will stand forever. Jesus will be with April, me, and our kids as we walk through this crucial hour. His character is defined by grace and mercy and abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness. Though the days are dark, our God is good.

As we shift from pleas of healing to pleas for eternal preparation, we ask you to join us in beseeching God for the mercies needed to steward these lasts weeks and days well. April and I long for this short season of physical sorrow to be defined by spiritual joy and hope. We hope to rejoice even now in God’s goodness and mercy. Pray also for God to draw the hearts of our children to himself and to provide them and me with comfort as we grieve the loss of April and then enter of time of unprecedented transition and change.

May God be merciful.

Contact/Support Info

Please note, we long to responded to all texts and messages. But with the many challenges facing us, our responses will probably be increasingly slow.

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

SNAIL-MAIL: P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND

Of Fading Hopes & Renewed Sorrow: April 6.2.22 Update

Our hearts ache.

Yesterday, we encountered words that every soul dreads, “Do you want to continue treatment?”

Last week, April began her second chemotherapy treatment plan in as many weeks. According to the results of April’s latest blood work, her cancer has responded positively to her one dose of Adriamycin. However, the drug has not improved her liver function. The high bilirubin numbers that came in around 8mg last week have risen to 17mg this week. April has acutely felt the deterioration of this vital organ. She has faced a daily onslaught of constant nausea, rapid swelling in her abdomen, and jaundice eyes and skin.

Though the odds of April wining her race against time remain precariously slim, April’s oncologist still believes April could receive some benefit (however minimal) from another week of chemo. Ever motivated to care for me and our three kiddos, April resolutely decided to endure another round of chemo yesterday afternoon.

The chances of this latest round of treatment succeeding reside somewhere in the 5-10% range. We stand in need of a miracle, a suspension of the rules of nature.
If April does not improve, she will die within a couple weeks’ time. If her health continues to deteriorate in the days ahead, we will shift her care from oncology to hospice.

This decline will cruelly afflict both April’s body and mind. Her nausea, pain, and fatigue will become more pronounced, requiring ever more powerful nausea and pain pills. Poor liver function will also produce some mental confusion. The days ahead promise to be hard.

In this time of sorrow, we find great solace in the love of our family and friends. Though April may lack the energy needed to respond to every message and card that comes her way, please know that she sees and appreciates all of them.

We find even great hope in the heavens above for we know our God can and does rescue men and women from the depths of Sheol. Still, we do not know what tomorrow will bring or whether April’s deliverance will take an earthly or heavenly form. A miracle could occur. We pray for life. Yet prudence demands that, we plan for death.

Our eyes and those of our dear children now burn red with the tears of sorrow. We grieve not because we fear tomorrow. Our God, who is faithful today, will be faithful yet again when we reach the next horizon. Tomorrow is not our great concern. Rather, I grieve the threat of losing my dearest of friends and our children grieve the threat of losing the bestest of mommies. We grieve the possibility of having to go through life’s milestones with a bride and without a mommy. Indeed, those who find a good thing should not surrender it lightly.

Our prayers remain simple: May God help us and comfort us (Ps 86:

May God be merciful.

Contact/Support Info

Please note, we long to responded to all texts and messages. But with the many challenges facing us, our responses will probably be increasingly slow.

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

SNAIL-MAIL: P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND