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It’s almost 5 pm…which means that Teri and Mom should be almost to Santa Barbara and then  …. VENTURA!  Yay.  I am so thrilled that I will get to see them in just a little while… and yes I have chocolate ready.

Yet…my emotions are all over the place. While I am thrilled that I get this visit, the reason for it is not a good one. Mom’s sister, Aunt Ann, who lived in Lancaster, has passed away, so Mom is coming for her funeral….and that puts some more cracks into my heart. I cannot even begin to imagine what is going on in my Mom’s battered heart. She has seen so many of her close friends pass away this last year…then Dad, and now her sister. I just shake my head, and hold my hand over my chest and cry for her losses… and I pray. I pray that Jehovah cup her heart in his hands and hold it together and sooth it with loving tenderness. Guide her thoughts so that they will linger not on the sadness and pain, but on the wonderful memories, on the laughter and the joys she shared with her sister and my father. I beg that he not leave her unattended, but watch over her constantly and when she lays down at night and closes her eyes, please, grant her peace of mind and not turmoil of heart.

Our love goes out to Aunt Ann’s family: our Cousins and their families, who are grieving and experiencing a pain similar to what we just went through and continue to struggle with. They too watched their love one die because of Cancer. Aunt Ann battled lung cancer. I wish that I could say I learned exactly what to say to comfort them, but I have not. Friends and loved ones have written beautiful sentiments and recited scriptures in an effort to comfort us over losing Dad….I appreciate each and every one and know that I have been bolstered by their love and support….but there are just no words. Because death is wrong, it stings and hurts and keeps on taking more of our loved ones away. I hope that Aunt Ann’s family is surrounded by good friends. Our friends were our life support system and still are.  So when I see my Cousins at the funeral, I will do the only thing I can, I will hug them tight….no words I could possibly say can ease their grief, but I do know how much those hugs can help.  I am so sorry for their loss.

And…. I don’t know how long I get to keep Mom and Teri here, but I will do my darndest to try to show Mom a good time. She can make some more memories with her Grandchildren and Great-grandchildren, walk on the beach and pick up rocks and sea glass, visit some old friends,  and I do have some good wine for her and Teri.  When all else fails to keep her spirits up …. I plan on pulling out the chocolate. Mom loves chocolate. Yep…that’s my plan.

Dad…One month has passed and I am still in disbelief that he is gone. I watched Dad die and still I do not believe. How is it possible that someone who was larger than life should not be here…here where I can talk to him, touch him, hug him and kiss his forehead? How could this have happened?

I miss him so much. I miss knowing that he was just a call away. I miss the reassurance that he was there with Mom, loving her and teasing her and taking care of her. My foundation is shaken and I cannot find my footing. My heart is shattered and nothing feels normal anymore. Grief is ugly and messy and so very inconvenient. I can find no place to set it down and walk away from it. Grief follows me and grabs my heart and squeezes so hard that I cannot breathe. Grief hangs over my head and rains on me if I experience any sort of joy, jerking me back to the fact that I cannot share those moments with Dad and making me feel guilty…how can I enjoy anything knowing that my father is not here? Grief invades my dreams and wakes me every morning and socks me in the face with the reality that Dad is gone…every single morning. So many things remind me of him…I see him everywhere and then gasp when I realize that there is no way that I could see him…he is gone and I cannot stand that fact.

And….what makes this ugly grief thing even more distressing is that while I get doused in it everyday…so does my Mother and my Brother and my Sisters, our Spouses and our Children and Grand-children and all of our family and friends too. So much pain. So much grief…So many hearts that need healing. So many of us who miss Dad. So many of us whose hearts are aching and broken. I wish I could wipe away my family’s pain…I wish I could rewind time and kiss him and hold on to him. I know we will see him again, but until then…we have this grief thing stomping on our hearts…and it just seems so wrong, so hurtful and so very, very ugly.

We miss you so much Dad!

Words have come a lot harder than the tears this past week so please forgive us for not saying sooner…  Thank You

The entire family thanks you for the many meals you’ve provided for our sustenance.  Thank you for the fragrant flowers sent to remind us that there is still beauty in a world shadowed with pain.  Thank you for the all-embracing hugs and condolences given to comfort us.  And our appreciation too, to those of you who have been here in spirit when you couldn’t be here in person.  We have benefited from your prayers and love as well.

It has been easy to dwell on the sadness when our heart clasps our breath at the most unlikely times and tears burn with the reminder we won’t see dad chopping wood, cooking dinner or reading his favorite book, today.  How greedy life makes us when we lose someone we love.  What deals we would make to have them back.  Yet as we are mired in loss for now,  we must keep remembering that the deal has already been sealed.  It has been most definitely sealed with the blood of our God’s son.  A promise that must lighten our hearts every time the thick gloom takes hold.  And we’ve seen that light in the love that is continuing to be extended to our family.  So, again, thank you for giving us a glimpse of the kind and loving world we will next see our father living in.

So how do you say goodbye to a Grandfather, a Father, a Husband, and a Friend?   You gather your closest and pray in earnest, you shed your tears on other quaking shoulders and embrace in a strong longing hold and then you remember.   You remember all the things about him that you loved and even the little things that irritated you and then you calm your voice and sing in praise for the hope we share.

And that is exactly what the Cook Family did.  On May 21, 2011 we gathered.  Along with friends and with those of you there in spirit, we remembered Dad.  Lloyd Yandell, a long time friend of father’s gave a heart comforting discourse on the life of Rayford Ennis Cook.   He described dad’s love for his family and for his God Jehovah.  He told of his generosity toward others, his love for the ministry, the hospitality he extended and the back-breaking work he was willing to do to help out when needed.   He even recounted dad’s frugality with a little humor.   Remember the red and white truck?  Well, it is still in the yard, though a little worse for the wear.  So it seems there had been a long-standing joke between Lloyd and dad over the need to replace it, or at least the old tattered broom that stood at the ready in the back of it.   Dad would laugh convinced there was no need for himself to become “materialistic” just because Lloyd had a newer more shiny one.  Lloyd got the better of him though.  Dad was quite surprised when he discovered his old rusty Ford truck was sporting a shiny new broom courtesy of his gloating “materialistic” friend.

We were comforted by the scriptures Dad appreciated the most and reminded of the many times he quizzed us to teach us how to reason on them.   It was with that reasoning we were strengthened with what the bible really teaches about the sleep like condition of the dead and the resurrection that awaits them.   Dad’s belief in that promise was sure right through the end.  He could still be heard trying to share his faith and love for Jehovah even with his last breaths.  Along with his stanuch faith there came his last request…. That he be welcomed back to that New World by each and every one of his loved ones.   With that we all stood and sang the following song as if the words of Rayford Ennis Cook where echoing in our ears.

Tamie’s husband, Randy Mason then helped us all in his closing prayer to appreciate the value of leaning on Jehovah while we continue to look forward to seeing our father again in Paradise.

Following a lovely reception at the Kingdom Hall, hosted by the Reedsport Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses the Cook Family made a stop at Lake Marie….one of dad’s favorite fishing spots.    There, along with a few close friends we paid our final tribute in love to the man who had stood on those very banks fishing for trout when he wasn’t “fishing for men.”

Earlier that morning I had found a poem written in my father’s hand, tucked next to his Bible. It was fitting that it be read aloud as my brother Roger cast a line into the lake and planted one of dad’s fishing poles into the bank of Lake Marie.

The Long Garment of Love

You
can’t stand on the banks of the river of waters of life, watching them slowly
glide by.  The river flows eventually
into the Lake of Everlasting life where there will forever be islands of
paradise and always smooth sailing.

However
as the river winds its way – there will be eddies, ripples, rocks, even some small falls.  These are really your Brothers
and Sisters, some rough cut – not too clean yet, immature, not so nearly as
nice as you.  They will cause you some
bumps, bruises and scrapes…  Nothing more than skin deep.

Enduring them will be your very greatest challenge!!!

Not to worry!

The waters of truth will
cleanse all who Go with the flow – the others will be washed ashore.

No way to avoid the bumps – but you can
avoid the bruises and scrapes if you stay fully clad in the buoyant, water
resistant, heavy duty, all purpose, long garment of Love

written by

Rayford Ennis Cook

After this reading the men who loved him wrote personal sentiments on rocks before skipping them across the peaceful clear water before us. The daughters and granddaughters in remembrance of their “Poppy;” then continued the tribute by tossing in after the stones, beautiful little orange and golden poppies. Mom completed the family service on the shore by tossing in a last bouquet of poppies and softly saying, “Goodbye Honey.”

Amazingly, I am calm. My Dad is struggling to stay alive and I am calm. Hospice has come and gone and told us to expect his death perhaps sometime tonight or during the next day or so…and I am calm.  Teri is gone to work in Texas and I had to phone and tell her and listen to her sob…her heart broken breaks mine….I am calm. Mom is walking around in a daze, not knowing what to do or what to say, in her own private hell, and I am calm. How? I do not know. This response does not fill my expectations.  In my projections of these hours, I always thought I would be sobbing, anxiety-ridden or even yelling at the top of my voice and demanding that God do something to keep this man, my father, alive.  Right now Dad is laying in his bed, breathing shallowly and his good friend, Chuck Harvey, is reading the Bible to him.  These are his last hours, according to the Hospice nurse. He is in no pain, but fading fast right before Mom and I.   I am calm…yet  I am perplexed by what I am feeling and also by what I am not feeling.  How do you watch someone you love die? I cannot find the instructions.

I look at this dying man, whom I have called Dadda, Daddy, Dad, Father and sometime; I admit, I have called him some other names, albeit under my breath, that were not so pleasant. I know…Shame On Me… but that was when I was a rebellious teenager and he really made me mad. This is afterall, Former Drill Instructor, Sgt. Rayford Cook.  This man is responsible for my birth, for raising me…I am who I am, in a large part because of Rayford Ennis Cook. The range of emotions that course through my heart are too complex, too special, and too immeasurable to describe in words. The relationship that I have with Dad is amazing and it is all my own. When you share a father with four other siblings, you sometimes feel like he belongs only to you. Sometimes I forget that my siblings have their own version of this story…But this story belongs just to Dad and Me, we crafted it together since 1958, and I cannot imagine closing this chapter just yet. I will always cherish the unique and wonderful lifetime of memories that my Dad has made with me…a precious gift.

As selfish as that sounds, it must be acknowledged, that when I think about the pain my siblings are going through, it breaks my heart all over again. Does anyone know how many cracks you can have in your heart before it falls into tiny pieces?  My Dad loves his family….all of them…each and everyone of them, right down to the newest baby in the Cook nursery.. He and Mom have done their best to create LOVE…and they have done quite well holding the apron strings just taut enough.

I will remember. I will remember my Dad. I will shut my eyes and see his healthy face, his stong voice and feel my hand in his big strong hand…I will rewind until I get to the times when Dad was invincible, before the “C” Monster gnawed on his soul and devoured his life.  Please be assured, the damnable “C” Monster did not devour my Dad’s spirit. That spirit belongs to my Dad and to his heavenly father, Jehovah…Jehovah will remember Ray Cook. Jehovah will remember my Dad and Jehovah WILL bring him back to our family.. STRONG, HEALTHY, VIBRANT, AND ALIVE. Dad’s hope is sure and he has a guarantee. So it is not a question of what will happen to Dad when he dies. I know. Shoot, it was Dad that showed me from the Bible the condition of the dead, where they are and how Jehovah will resurrect the dead to a Paradise right here on earth….That being said, Jehovah put eternity into our hearts, and death is our enemy.  I want Dad ALIVE. Not like he is now, but healthy and happy. I want my Ray Cook. I want my Dad.

 Dad tells me that I used to stand in my crib and call to him and say: “Daddy?”  “What Tamie?”  ” I love you Daddy!”  He said I would do it over and over again every night and even though it was a delay tactic on my part from going to sleep, he said he never got tired of hearing those words. Every single time I have visited him, he has reminded me of that story….he repeated it again the other day. I will keep repeating those words tonight and maybe tomorrow too, for however long Dad keeps holding on…I will say:  “I love you Daddy!”

Teri and I sat up all night last Saturday watching over Dad as he struggled through a long and worrisome night. At one point, he even said “Good Bye”. Early Sunday morning, we called Hospice and a wonderful nurse came around noon.  It was amazing to see the transformation. Dad literally perked up right before our eyes. His voice got stronger, his posture straightened and you could almost see his determination take on a new life of its own. It was as if he had seen death and decided NO STINKING WAY!  

New medications were prescribed and Dad has responded better than expected since Sunday; although, personally, Teri and I feel that it might have been the arrival of Grandsons… Brandon, Ryan and Jason, that might have done the trick. Or it could have been the smells wafting from the kitchen, courtesy of Elena (a true culinary genius, with a golden giggle) and Roger…or maybe it was the laughter and the pitter-patter from the feet of Dad’s Great-grandchildren Dakota and Aiden and their pretty mama, Kaila….Who cares what it was…we will take it and be thankful!

Dad continues to be very weak and tired, but the medications seem to help with nausea and loss of appetite; although, Dad is still very jaundiced, wobbly on his feet and still exhibiting a host of other symptoms that are not so pleasant. Yesterday’s hospice visit was reassuring that the medications are keeping Dad more comfortable and pretty much pain-free. We are realistic that at this point…we are not going to get a cure despite our fervent prayers. The “C” Monster is a dreaded beast and is not going to retreat quietly…but neither is Rayford Ennis Cook!  His lifelong stubbornness, determination and True Grit have served him well this past week. So despite his firm faith and confidence in a resurrection, he isn’t quite ready to close his eyes…not just yet. 

Dad is more than delighted to have his family circle the wagons and stoke the family fires.  The reminiscing has kept us up all hours of the night and you can wave your hand through the air and touch the love. Teri has set up Skype and Dad has been able to talk with Leanna, Danielle and Sophia, and then Randy, Dustin and Kate also Skyped. He has received numerous calls from other family members and visits from local friends. That, along with being able to reach out and touch Grandsons that have been separated by a Continent and sit with Son and Daughters, has planted a smile on Dad and Mom’s faces. We worry that all the activity might be to wearing on him….but when asked, he says “Bring it on.”  This time is a gift…this Cook Family Reunited…Ray and Carol Cook’s Progeny.

So Brandon returned to Florida and Jason and Ryan went back to their jobs. Elena is home and Roger is leaving later today and get this…Teri, Mom, Dad and I will be heading to Salem for a two-day Circuit Assembly. Yep…Dad does not want to miss the Bible convention and is determined that we should go. Teri and I have more than a little bit of concern about this trek, but we are going to do things the RAY WAY. His attitude is “What do I have to lose?” 

On another note….YOU, our friends and our family, are amazing! Your comments have strengthened us, your prayers have built us up, your love has warmed our souls and we feel so blessed to count you as our loved ones. Thank you … it means more than you can imagine. We read each of your comments to Dad and each one elicits new remembrances from him that are so precious. We have learned so many things about his life when he was younger, times spent being raised with his cousins. He absolutely loved and adored Aunt Rosa and his cousins…and truly appreciates the sacrifices that his Aunt and Uncle  made to raise him when his parents died when he was just a tot. The stories are amazing.

Dad speaks of the people in Covina and South Gate who embedded themselves into our hearts. He also loves hearing from our girlfriends, Allison, Paula, Leisa, Tammy and Linda….and all the other honorary “Cook Girls”…and he expresses his gratitude and appreciation that your friendship, support and love has proven to be lifelong and true. You know you are his other daughters and he adores each of you.

He is proud that we continue to choose the best of friends. Last week, we received a beautiful gift basket of pears, apples, sausage, cheese, pretzels, popcorn and chocolate from our friends, the Harding’s in Ventura, whom he has only met once or twice and he was so touched by the their generosity and comforting words. 

WE HAVE THE BEST OF FRIENDS…YOU!! Thank you so much. Truly, we are so blessed….and you are so LOVED!

Today I advise you to look deeply into the eyes of the ones you love and memorize the twinkle in their eyes and the lilt of their smiles. Touch the softness of their skin and inhale slowly when you hug them so that you capture the scent of their hair and take a minute to let their heartbeat make an indelible mark on your chest so that you will never forget the way it feels. Do it! Do it as soon as you can!

This morning is one I will hold dear forever. Dad and I awoke early and with the fire crackling in the wood burning stove in front of us, we spent some time together reviewing the posts on this site.  We played the music that Teresa, Leanna and I had dedicated to him and read the lyrics…tear inducing moments. Beautiful words, beautiful music, yet still lacking, because there are no words, no music to convey the way that we feel about our father.

Dad has expressed his appreciation for this site on many occasions and it is deeply satisfying to Teri and I that we have been able to give this to him. We appreciate the posts and comments from the family and friends that have participated.  Dad enjoys it so much.

We laughed at Teri’s posts about their visit back East…(the very tardy post from Teri, tsk, tsk).  Dad recalled the times they had driving down those lanes that he had once walked on, rode his bike on, and driven his first car on….roads where his family, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived ( and where some still live) and breathed, laughed and cried, and then died on. How do you sum up the lives of those precious family members that have passed in words? How do you measure the emotions that were lived out on those roads?  How can you recapture the moments fully enough? How, oh how, do you make peace with the fact that it is the last time you will travel down those roads, the last time you will stand at the gravesites of the people who were responsible for giving you life and who helped to form you into the person you are now?

Truly a melancholy morning.  While I sit here typing this, Dad just called out to me and said that after reading through all these posts and all the comments that you, his friends and family have made…he has decided that because he loves you all so much, there is no way he is going to die and leave you…so he is calling this death thing off.  He says you will have to leave him first…OH MAKE IT SO!

This morning, we read the latest post, which was from our dear sweet Allison…Dad says that Allison is on his “List”. You see, Dad has written a list of people who have touched his heart, people who are special to him.  It is quite a list and a whole lot of the people are also on my list. It was great to have him read the names to me and tell me why each one listed is special to him. The reasons that he stated were that he cherishes your devotion and integrity to Jehovah, the kindness in your hearts, that you endured through many trials…he loved the smiles and the life-long love you have shown for our family. I believe that it is a fine thing indeed to be on the Ray Cook List.  He had Teri and I buy him some stationary so that he can write to the people on the list and thank them for their contributions to the joys in his life. Hopefully he will get those letters written and we can get them delivered. His handwriting has always been beautiful and unique…when you get a note from Dad, you immediately recognize the writing. However, just lately the hands have been a little jigglyand wiggly.

I have been here one week and everyday has had visitors stopping by. The Reedsport Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed Dad as one of their own. They have loved Mom and Dad, nurtured them and showered them with such kindness. We will always owe them such a debt of gratitude…although, they have benefitted and been blessed, if I do say so myself. See, they have been able to enjoy Mom and Dad for all these years and that is a gift. To worship Jehovah shoulder to shoulder with Ray Cook is a wonderful and beautiful thing. If you worship Jehovah you are automatically put into a special catagory with Ray Cook, a special place in his heart, that is devoted for those who cherish their relationship with his God. If you know Dad, you know that Dad truly loves Jehovah, loves his Word, His Son, and the people Jehovah has chosen to be his worshippers at a level that is truly special and should be imitated. If you are not currently serving Jehovah, Dad wants us, his children, to continue assisting and urging you to do so after he is gone.  Dad says in his own words (dictating this while I am typing) that he desparetly wants you to desparetly search for that narrow path that leads to everlasting life in peace with God in pleasure and plenty in Paradise. He says that he will be so devastated if when he wakes up in Paradise you are not there waiting for him.

Dad loves digging for the deeper nuggets in the Bible, loves the Greek and Hebrew words and has spent thousands of hours pondering, prodding and digging to get at the truth treasures and oh how he loves to share those nuggets with anyone who will listen. I have always joked that spending time with Dad is like living in the “Bible” Topic on Jeopardy. I always leave with more knowledge than I had when I got here.

These are times to be cherished. These are memories that will be treasured. A time of retrospect, walking down memory lane and recalling the people and times that make a life too precious to give up too easily. Dad is fighting hard to get through just one more day, day after day….just one more day.

Now, go hug your loved ones!

Dad has been trying to outsmart the “C” monster that has invaded his body.    He had seemed to be quite successful at holding it at bay…but now the monster has made it clear that it has a firm hold and refuses to retreat quietly. In fact, it appears that the cancer has dug into a position that can no longer be successfully dealt with. Dad has a tumor that is blocking a bile duct and there is evidence that his liver is shutting down. He is extremely jaundiced and has been dealing with nausea, loss of appetite, increasing weakness and other bothersome symptoms. He is not bedridden, but is spending a lot of time sleeping. Hospice has been reinstated and Dad is making sure that all his Ts are crossed and all his I’s are dotted.  He is in good spirits, but is resigned to the reality of the situation. He has a fantastic support team with the local Congregation and family members, but has expressed that there are so many that have touched his life that he would like to see again.

We have arranged a Skype account so that he and Mom can video conference. They have enjoyed visiting with family members and get a real kick out of talking  and seeing  their  Grand-children and Great-Grandchildren. Ahh, sweet technology!

If you would like to see and talk with Dad and Mom, please download a free Skype account at this link:  http://www.voice-ip-download.com/index.asp?aff=15255&camp=ms_skypel_us_by_skype1&se=ms

Call the house and we will make sure the web-cam is on so we can initiate the connection :  541-759-1076.

Your love and prayers have been invaluable and we truly cherish all of you.

The Cook Family

We’ve made the trips down memory lane and traipsed through fields of cotton, driven down dusty dirt roads and through nearly vacant townships and spent time exploring lonely cemeteries.   And it’s amazing what Dad and Mom have recalled of their youth.  The stories told by others have added reams to what I thought I knew about our parentage. There is good, there is bad and there is funny. But mostly there is insight for a generation that could not even imagine what life was like some 70 years ago. Technology has certainly provided us with a standard of living that seemed impossible back then.   And yet if the truth were really told we would probably be better off without some of it, though running water and paved roads are a plus.  

 Who ever said, “You can’t go back home” was  right. At least when it comes to the town. When it comes to family and friends, now that’s a different matter. We are thoroughly enjoying our trip. We left Orlando after the visits with Dallas, Stacy and Betty and headed to Savannah where we converged on Uncle Jack and Aunt Ann. (Mom’s brother and his wife). They welcomed us with open arms and lots of food which we added to thanks to the greens and okra and other garden variety vegetables that Dallas and Stacy had blessed us with. Dad wasn’t about to leave such a treasure trove of such southern fare to a grandson who was raised in California.   Not to say that Brandon is picky, but let’s just say he didn’t mind that we took the loot.

From Savannah we toured Hardeeville SC (Mom’s birth place) visited Dora Sauls, an old school friend in Beaufort.   We enjoyed time with Kenny and Margie’s family on Tybee Island and visited with David, Ann and Barry Turner before heading to Waycross.    In route, we  tracked down my great grandmother’s old home in Allenhurst Georgia.  Unfortunately in has fallen into ruin  but the memories were still lurking.   And once we brushed the leaves off the graves of family buried nearby we continued on.

Oh,  I should say that having a navigation system has been indispensible on this trip.  I’d have never found Swamp Rd without it.   And I would have hated to miss our stay with the rest of the Turner- Brantley, Knox and Orr families.  All together just around the corner from Aunt Rosa’s old home.   Again we can’t get together and not mention the meals.   It’s where we seem to share the most, the loving preparation, the banter with activity and then the sitting down to share time and more good memories.   Such as Aunt Rosa’s biscuits; which none will claim the ability to mimic.   And pictures of family and friends that some… only Dad was able to recall.   Speaking of which, I’m in the process of posting some pictures in the Trip Gallery so take a look and see if you recognize anyone?

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