There are times in our lives when the Lord is going to give us a cause for pause.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law, Cheryl Mankel passed away after a long battle with cancer.  She was only 71.

We arrived back in Pennsylvania on May 6th.  Our original plan was to be here until July 5th and then we’d head west to Colorado so that I could conduct podcast interviews at the BFA Nationals like I did last year.

We’d be staying in several family members yards and driveways between Berks and Perry County.  Our first stop would be at Cheryl’s house until May 20th.  She had been battling cancer for several years and we didn’t know how much time she had left.  We had spoken to her several times during the week leading up to our arrival and were looking forward to spending time with her.

She had treatment scheduled for the day that we were arriving and when she went in, she found out that she would also need a blood transfusion.  When we arrived at her house around 5:30 in the evening, she was back home from her treatment and already in bed for the night.  Completely wiped out from the process that took place earlier in the day.

I can’t necessarily speak for Sandy, but when I first saw her, I was shocked.  She had looked like she had aged ten years in the four months since I had last seen her.  Fortunately, I was able to see her in December when I had to come back to Pennsylvania to take care of some business.  During that visit Cheryl told me that if anything ever happened to me, she’d take care of Sandy.

It had been nine months since Sandy had last seen her.

I immediately realized that the original plans that we had may very well change.  Cheryl never really let on to how bad things were when we spoke on the phone, which is probably why I didn’t expect what I initially saw.  Sure, she would mention how treatments would sometimes wipe her out and that she had quite a bit of pain somedays, but nothing like what we saw first-hand that evening.

The next day, her spirits were pretty high.  We took a pizza and cupcakes in for her and Sandy’s mom for Mother’s Day.  It was a rainy day, so when we got back to her house, we watched some TV and shared time together.

The next morning, we went to breakfast with my family and stopped at BJ’s Wholesale Club on the way home.  By the time we got home around 11 AM, she was again totally wiped out.  She spent the remainder of the day in bed.

Throughout the next week, each day could be a bit of a roller coaster.  One day would be good, the next, not so much, and so on.

About midway through the week, Sandy and I had the conversation that we should come back to her house after our trip to Lititz from May 20-22 for our friend, Justin Schenck’s Growth Now Summit event that we were planning on attending.  We both agreed that Cheryl needed our help and had the conversation with her about staying at her place until June 27th when we’d all be taking a family camping trip to Knoebel’s Amusement Park, which was Cheryl’s favorite place on earth.  After Knoebel’s, we’d head to Steph and Eric’s house for a few days before leaving for Colorado.

As we approached the weekend, her health was beginning to decline quickly.  There were a few nights where she would need Sandy to go to her room because she was vomiting or was just in completely debilitating pain.

On Saturday, Cheryl’s daughter, Rebecca and her grandson, Julian came down from Staten Island for a surprise weekend visit.  Cheryl was delighted to see them to say the least.  The next day, her son, Matthew, drove over from York to surprise her as well.  Again, Cheryl was thrilled to see him.

I think both Matthew and Rebecca were staggered to see how their mother’s health had declined as well.  Even though both of them would call her literally every single day, she downplayed things with them, just as she did with us.  Matthew was planning on moving back home from York in September after his current lease expired, but there was a real concern as to how Cheryl would take care of herself between the time that we left for Colorado and when Matthew would be able to move home.

Once again, Sandy and I had a conversation to reevaluate our plans.  In that moment, we agreed that the only thing that mattered was helping Cheryl.  So, while Matthew and Rebecca were both still there that Sunday, we told them all that we’d be staying until Labor Day to help out however we could.  They were grateful, but I think that we all knew we were going to have some rough days ahead of us emotionally.

Sandy and I were supposed to be going away to the Growth Now Summit, but we knew there was no way that we could leave Cheryl alone for the weekend.  We teetered back and forth between just me going to the event or neither of us going to the event.  But Cheryl wasn’t going have any of that going on.  She kept insisting that we go and stop worrying about her.  To make sure that we did as she wished, she called Matthew and asked, or probably a better description would be told him, that he had to come home again for the weekend so that we could go to the event.  Rebecca also decided that she would come back in on Saturday night and stay until Monday.

With all of the emotions swirling through me, I reached out to my dear friend and soul sister, Michelle Delloso for some spiritual perspective.  Michelle is one of the most spiritually grounded people I know.  I have leaned on her in the past for advice and guidance.

I’ve had other people close to me battle cancer.  I’ve had other people close to me die from cancer.  It all hurts.  But there is a totally different emotional roller coaster when you’re witnessing that battle on a daily basis.  Seeing someone that you love slowly turn into a shell of who they once were.  Cheryl was a person who liked to be in control, and watching her lose that control was tough.  Let’s be honest, it was much tougher for her than it was for Sandy and I, but it was tough to watch nonetheless.  I think it made all of us feel a little helpless at times.  As we talked, Michelle did exactly what she does best.  Empathetically giving me perspective and challenging me to continue trusting the Lord.

Michelle went through this with both of her parents a few years ago.  She knew what Sandy and I were going through emotionally and spiritually.  As I was telling her that we were shifting our plans around to stay with Cheryl until September, she said to me, “There’s a cause for the pause.”

We talked about how we’ve been on the move a lot over the past year and the Lord was telling us to be in the moment for these final days of Cheryl’s life.  Not to worry about where were headed off to next or when.  To just be present and cherish whatever time we had left with Cheryl.  She spoke to Sandy as well.

As I reflected on our conversation, I was grateful for the time that we had with Cheryl.  Since we started our journey, we’ve spent a lot of time in her driveway.  She took great pride in spoiling Youk even more than Sandy and I do.  She always made sure that he was getting his fair share of bacon.  Youk loves our RV lifestyle, but he also appreciated being allowed in Cheryl’s house to have free roam of wherever he wanted to go.

I’m even more grateful for the time that Sandy and her were able to spend over the final 19 days of her life.  The alone time that just the two of them would have when Youk and I would go for a walk, or when they’d go shopping, which often times would wipe Cheryl out afterwards.  Although, I think that in Cheryl’s mind, the price that she’d pay physically for those shopping trips with her baby sister were well worth it.  Sandy told me as soon we arrived, that she’d be going to every treatment that Cheryl would have while we were here.  She got no argument from me about that plan.  Some days, Youk and I would just go hang out in the RV to give Cheryl and Sandy some more time together.

Right up until the end, Cheryl was trying to make things easy for everyone else.  Whether it was the way she had her affairs in order for Matthew and Rebecca or making sure that Sandy and I got to the event this past weekend.  She was always insisting, “you guys can’t stop living your lives because of me.”  She wanted no parts of hearing about someone canceling something due to her condition.

As she neared the end, she would apologize if anyone felt that she was being selfish for wanting to stop fighting.  We all assured her that none of us felt that way.

When we arrived back from Lititz on Sunday evening, she was in a lot of pain.  Around 12:30 AM on Monday morning, Rebecca was knocking on our door to tell us that she had just called 911 because her mom was vomiting blood and black bile.  Things were happening faster than any of us wanted them to now.  Youk could tell as well that things weren’t good as well.

Rebecca and Sandy left shortly after the ambulance to be with her in the hospital.  Youk and I stayed back, but didn’t go back to sleep.  Sandy would text me updates throughout the night.

Rebecca and Sandy came home around 9 AM after Cheryl was moved into a regular room.

We all went back into the hospital Monday evening.  Cheryl was sleeping when we first arrived, but woke up shortly thereafter.  We were there for a couple of hours before Cheryl in true fashion kicked us out so that we could get to an ice cream store before it closed.  Once again, worrying about others before herself.

Yesterday was a true roller coaster.  What we once thought was going to be preparing for her to come home quickly shifted to mounting pain and starting to administer morphine to control that pain for her.  By the time that I got back into the hospital, she was already heavily sedated.  I knew that we were near the end.  When we arrived in Pennsylvania 19 days ago, I had no idea that things were going to move this fast.

By the afternoon, Rebecca was headed to meet a friend in New Jersey who was bringing Julian to her from Staten Island, so that she could get him to the hospital to see his grandmother.

Steve, A lifelong friend of the family, was able to make it into the hospital to see her after work and so did our daughter Kelly.  Later on in the evening, our son, Jimmy and his girlfriend, Val came in too.

Rebecca and Julian got back to the hospital around 7:30 PM.

Rebecca had decided that she’d be staying in the hospital with her mom for the night.  A little before 9 PM, the rest of us decided that we’d start to head home.  We took turns saying good-bye to Cheryl.

As my turn came, I had a feeling that this would be the last time that I’d see her alive.  Fully expecting that we’d get a call from Rebecca in the middle of the night to tell us that she had passed.  With that thought in my mind, I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I love you, Cheryl.  I’ll take care of Sandy for you.”

As we were leaving, before any of us got out of the room, her monitor beeped and a red light flashed.  None of us really comprehended what had just happened for sure until the nurse came in and said, “She just passed.”

It was almost as if she was waiting for just the right time.  She wanted to wait until Julian got there.  She didn’t want Rebecca to sleep in the hospital.  She didn’t want the rest of us to leave and have to deal with the anxiety of waiting for a call overnight.  She was thinking about all of us right up until her last breath.

When Sandy and I got back to the house, we could tell that Youk knew that Cheryl wouldn’t be coming home again.  Youk always sleeps in the room that Sandy and I sleep in when we’re at Cheryl’s house, but last night, he went into Cheryl’s room and slept next to the spot where he had last seen her in her bed.  I’m convinced that dogs operate on a higher spiritual level than we do.

Death is never easy.  Whether it’s sudden or slow, it’s painful.  Our grief for those we love who we’ve lost never ends.  It evolves over time, but it never ends.  We have comfort in knowing that Cheryl is no longer in pain and is now with the Lord and her late husband, Frank, but we still miss her.

We have to take comfort in knowing that she is still with us in spirit.  She will give us reminders at the most random times that she’s still here.

It’s not easy accepting that she won’t be with us physically, but the fond memories of the times we shared with her will last forever.  We need to listen to the Lord when He gives us a cause for pause.  We’ll still stay in Pennsylvania until September because we feel that the Lord has a cause for this pause for us and we have some work to be done here yet.

We need to live in the moment and enjoy every minute that we have with those we love because we never know when that moment may be the last moment.

See you on the other side Cheryl.

Carpe Diem.