Sunday, June 14, 2015

Joy and Sorrow: A Wedding and A Funeral

Just recently, I was listening to some preaching, and the pastor made the statement that our lives are a mix of joy and sadness. When I look back over the last six months, this is so true. Joy and João Carlos were married in December. It was a time of happiness and family being all together. Then a few months later Dad is gone and we are left exhausted and sorrowful. Looking back at these events, from one point of view the hardships outweigh the happiness, but the pastor didn't stop when he said our lives are a mix of joy and sadness, he went on to say that God in His infinite wisdom and abundant graciousness to us is the one that mixes just the right portion of joy and sadness in our lives for His glory and for our ultimate good. This has been a comforting thought to us again and again!

I am going to do my best in this post to tell you a little about this mix of events in the order that they happened. My hope is that in the end this post will be a comfort and not a source of pain. 

Joy with her cow dishtowels!
I don't remember the exact month, but in the first part of last year João Carlos asked Joy to be his wife. She happily agreed and they set the date for Dec. 6th. The months that came between Joy’s engagement and wedding were few and very busy. Joy quickly set to work choosing a simple wedding dress and finding a seamstress to make it, ordering a cake, and making the invitations by hand. She did all that along with acquiring and organizing all the little things that are necessary for making a house a home.  As part of this organizing of basic things for the kitchen, bedroom, etc…, Joy opened and sorted through her hope chest. Joy collected cows during her teens and twenties, and we developed the habit during those years of giving her cow refrigerator magnets every birthday and often other days throughout the year too! :) This collection of magnets came to light again when Joy opened her hope chest. It was good to see all different little cows again. Even the refrigerator magnet of a piece of beef stuck on a skewer was still there, and once again I affirmed to Joy that it DEFINITELY DOES count as a cow magnet and once again, she strongly said IT DOES NOT!!! :) In her hope chest, Joy also found some Tupperware decorated with cows, and about twenty-five dishtowels, each with a different cow pattern!

Painting the "books"
During these weeks immediately following Joy and João Carlos’ engagement, I began working on the cake topper. Joy and João both like to read and in fact some of their first contact with each other was through the online bookstore that Joy runs, so I had the creative idea of making a stack of miniature books with a bride and groom on top for the cake topper.  A stretch of trials and many errors quickly taught me that having a creative idea is much, much easier then figuring out how to make the idea a reality!!! :) In the end, I was able to take three small squares of styrofoam and cover them with cold porcelain, which is a soft white dough made from cornstarch and glue. Once the porcelain was dry, I painted each of the squares to look like a book that Joy and João had read together. 

Finished cake topper

Last of all, I varnished the books, glued them in a stack and then glued a bride and groom that I bought off the internet on the very top. The finished cake topper worked out to be a little too heavy to sit on top of the cake, so I ended up decorating the top of the cake with some flowers and then setting the cake topper surrounded by greenery and more flowers next to the cake. It looked nice, and now Joy has the cake topper sitting on an end table in her living room.

On October 11th, Stephanie hosted a bridal shower for Joy. Stephanie did a very good job
Charity and Joy 
making a delicious variety of finger foods and preparing some games for the guests. We played probably four or five games, including having a bubble gum chewing contest with the younger participants, but I think the favorite game was the question game. Stephanie thought up a list of very hard questions for Joy to answer about João, and for every answer that Joy got wrong, she and one of her guests had to dress up in funny hats, scarves, glasses, etc.. and have their picture taken. Thankfully Joy missed enough questions to have a funny picture taken with each of the guests. :) 

Bridal Shower Guests
 A month and a bit before the wedding, Joy and João found a house to rent. Well, they actually found two houses. The first house was two blocks away from where João works as a computer programmer. The house had a nice sized yard, was on a quiet street, and although it’s layout was a little unusual, it seemed to be just what they needed. However, shortly after João did the paperwork to have the water turned on, they found that the house’s plumbing was terrible. Water seeped into several rooms of the house and the owner’s attempts to tell them that it was a very minor problem and nothing to worry about were not convincing, so Joy and João went back to house hunting. A week or two later, they found the blue house where they are currently living. This house is also within walking distance of João’s job. It’s yard is smaller then the first house, but since all Joy and João have is a cat this is no problem. This house has three bedrooms and meets Joy and João’s and the book store’s needs very well. One curious thing about this blue house is that it is on a very old street. According to Joy’s neighbor, back when Presidente Prudente was very young, people put up rows of houses in this neighborhood and then some time later roads were put in between the houses. This caused several of the roads in the neighborhood, including Joy and João’s road, to be very narrow, so narrow in fact that if you are going to park along the street while you visit Joy, you have to pull up your car on the sidewalk so that other cars can very carefully creep past on the street.

Joy and João's Wedding

From the very start, Joy and João wanted an outdoor wedding, and since their wedding date was in December, which is one of the driest months of the year, no one thought there was any need to worry about rain. Joy and João found a very nice “chacara” to rent for the big day. This chacara had a nice big yard, a variety of trees, a swimming pool, and a small building with bathrooms, a small kitchen and a place to barbecue. The plan was to set up chairs on the grass between two rows of trees and do the wedding right outside. Around the middle of November though, it started to rain and it rained practically every day until the day right before the wedding.

Civil Wedding
December 5th, the day before the wedding, Joy and João had their “casamento civil”, this is where the bride and groom and four witnesses, in this case David and I, João’s sister Jackie and his Uncle João,  went to the government office downtown and signed the official paperwork and marriage license. Joy and João were actually supposed to have this “civil wedding” at three that afternoon, but the couples before them were running late and Joy and João had to wait until about 4 p.m. to have their turn. This delay worked out very well in the end, because João had secretly ordered a big bouquet of red roses to be delivered to Joy at the government office and the delay gave the roses time to be delivered. The florist’s delivery boy, who was rather harried from running late, rushed into the waiting room at the government office holding the large bouquet of red roses, and took a minute or two to look around. I am sure in that small space of time several of the other brides in the room wondered if the roses were for them, but they weren’t. The delivery boy said “Joy? Where’s Joy?” and as soon as he found her, he gave her the roses to her pleasant surprise. Following the civil wedding, we had João and his family over to our house for dinner, and of course cake and icecream.

The Extended Gardner Family
Joy and João’s wedding day dawned sunny and dry, even the grass dried, and João with some help from Daniel, David, and Ben set the chairs and pulpit up between the trees. A few hours later Mom, Dad and I arrived to put out the flowers and to organize the snacks and cake for after the ceremony. It was right about this time, which was only an hour before the wedding was to begin, that I learned a lesson which will stick with me for the rest of my life, and that is: always make sure the kitchen is clean before the wedding! 

Joy and João with His Parents
The man Joy and João rented the chacara from guaranteed them that the chacara would be clean when they received the keys. Sounds good right? Well, when I arrived at the chacara with the responsibility to organize and serve the food after the wedding, I opened the kitchen door and found the kitchen in a mess.  Everything was dusty, a soft drink had spilled onto the tables and dried there, and there were flies galore. I just about panicked at that moment and told myself that the next time I go to a wedding I must check the state of the kitchen well beforehand! So, if any of you ever invite me to your wedding and before the ceremony you find me poking around in the kitchen with a cleaning cloth, please bear with me. :) Thankfully, Mom came to my rescue and together we managed to clean things up and by the time the guests were driving up, everything was ready.

The Vows

Joy and João wanted and planned out a very simple but tasteful ceremony. To begin the ceremony, Stephanie played the piano, and we sang hymns that Joy and João had chosen. Following the hymns, Benjamin preached about the fear of the Lord and how it is the responsibility of every individual, married or not, and also how it is essential in a marriage. Benjamin then had Joy and João come to the front and exchange vows. And just like that my little sister was married! Following the ceremony, we had a good time snacking on the munchies and cake and also taking pictures! Jackie, João’s sister, and also Daniel and Sabrina are amateur photographers, so they pulled out their cameras and started clicking away. 

Mr. and Mrs. João Carlos Fachini

Due to the weeks of rain before Joy and João’s wedding, their honeymoon was quite as adventure. :)  Joy and João had us over one evening  for a time of singing around the piano and pudding cake. It was quite enjoyable! While we were eating, Joy and João started telling us about their honeymoon and they both kept bursting into laughter. They were married on a Saturday evening, but didn't leave for the farm (this is a farm that João's Dad manages) where they would be honeymooning until the following Monday. The three hour trip out to the farm went fine until they turned off onto the dirt roads leading through the fields up to the farmhouse. There had been a lot of rain in those parts recently, and the roads were muddy. João was able to avoid getting stuck in the mud until they were about a mile from the house, then they got stuck really, really well. But as João said he wasn't too worried about it because there was a tractor working in the next field. Sure enough the tractor driver was happy to help, but he didn't have any chain or rope to pull the car out. No problem, João thought, there is rope at the farmhouse, so the tractor driver agreed to drive him to the farmhouse and off they went with Joy staying in the car and João hanging onto the side of the tractor. Once they were at the farmhouse, João found the grounds keeper and asked him for rope. We don't have any, he said gruffly and went back to his own business. João said the grounds keeper didn't even offer to help them find something that would work! João was undaunted, though, and remembered that there was another house about a mile away on the farm where they might have rope, the only problem was that due to an impassible cattle guard the tractor couldn't take him there. So, João alternately ran and walked to the other house, found rope and then ran the mile back to the tractor. He then once again hung on the side of the tractor all the way back to the car. He was covered in mud by then, but the car was soon free and they made up to the farmhouse without further problems. 

Joy and João after the Civil Wedding
Once at the farmhouse, Joy and João went to the room that the grounds keeper's wife had fixed up for them. When they opened the door, they found that it was all wet. Apparently the roof had sprung a leak during the rain and no one had noticed. Joy and João where able to find another room down the hall that would meet their needs, and they set about getting ready to shower, after all they were both really tired and João was muddy. They soon found out that the heating element in the shower of their bathroom had burnt out, and they spent a few minutes checking the other guestroom bathrooms to see if those showers were heating and they weren't. João then remembered that his Dad had a bathroom in the manager's quarters and he figured the shower in there would be working. So they headed over there, only to find that the door was locked. To make a long story short, they spent a long time looking for the key, but eventually found it and were able to take a warm shower. That was the first day. The second day Joy and João decided to take a relaxing walk down to the pond, and as they walked some type of insect bit Joy thirty plus times. Joy itched quite a bit they next day or two, but she said things went much more smoothly after that. Joy and João laughed soooo much as they told us all of this, and I am glad they can laugh. They will probably laugh every time they tell the story of their honeymoon from here on out. :)

Zoo Puzzle
During the whole year of 2014, Dad didn’t do very well. Again and again problems would arise, often related to his ability to swallow or his digestive tract, and we were constantly doing exams or seeing different doctors to try and understand what was going on and learn how to deal with it. Well, after Joy’s wedding, we noticed Dad began to gradually grow weaker. During the rest of the month of December he had serious problems swallowing, even creamy soups and other soft foods were enough to make him choke at almost every bite. On a side note, during the week of Christmas and New Years, Mom, Dad and I put together an 1,000 piece puzzle. Most of the puzzles we have done over the years have been animals or landscapes, with an occasional painting thrown in. Well, this puzzle was VERY different. It was a colorful, humorous drawing of a zoo made by a Dutch cartoonist! Since the puzzle had a lot of little details which made it easier to tell where the pieces went, it took us only a little over a week to put it all together, and Dad especially seemed to enjoy working on it. :)

Daniel, Dad and Arthur
In January of this year, Dad’s swallowing difficulties subsided a little, but his complaints about digestive problems increased. Most of the time he didn’t have an appetite, and constantly mentioned heart burn, nausea and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness. Our general doctor introduced us to a very good gastroenterologist, and he was able to help Dad find some relief from the heart burn, and although, he couldn’t resolve the sensation of fullness, he did prescribe a nutritional supplement for Dad to drink on days that he didn’t feel like eating, and this ended up being a big help to Dad. During this time, Dad continued to enjoy giving seminary classes in his office and also playing games. :) Just about every Monday, Mom, Dad and I battled it out over the Scrabble board and during the week at Dad’s request, we would play dominoes, Skip-bo, and on the list could go…..and just in case you are wondering, yes, Dad did win most of the time! :)

Dad’s digestive problems gradually worsened and he grew weaker as February slipped by and March arrived. Along with the now common digestive complaints, Dad began to look noticeably yellow and soon developed all the usual symptoms of jaundice. We visited Dad’s primary caregiver, an oncologist by the name of Dra. Paula, several times and explained to her Dad’s increasing weakness and jaundice, but for a reason we still do not understand, she didn’t take steps to look into the situation. She would say oh he’s fine or here in three or four weeks we will do such and such exam. This was quite frustrating, but the Lord graciously provided Dad’s needs through another channel. David gives private English classes and one of his students is an excellent oncologist by the name of Dr. Luiz Bugalho. David mentioned Dad’s situation to Dr. Luiz and he immediately took an interest in Dad and offered to do all he could to help. Dr. Luiz quickly took over Dad’s case, and in the last week of March he had us running all over town helping Dad do different exams.

Daniel holding Arthur, David, and Ben
The results of the exams were sobering. The Multiple Myeloma was back and busy in Dad’s ribs and sternum, and the jaundice was caused by a large tumor wrapped around Dad’s pancreas and blocking the liver ducts. Dr. Luiz was thankfully very honest. He counseled David to call the family together, and also suggested that he do exploratory surgery to see if he could relieve the pressure on the liver ducts and allow them to drain the bile as they should. This would alleviate some of Dad’s symptoms and hopefully make his last three or four weeks more comfortable.

Sabrina and Charity with Arthur
The Lord abundantly blessed with Benjamin and Daniel and Sabrina being able to come to Presidente Prudente before Dad had surgery on April 7th.  For a few days before the surgery and also a few days after the surgery, Dad was in a government paid room at the hospital, and there were several other men that shared the same room. In the bed across from Dad, there was a retired policeman named Alex. He had congestive heart failure and was waiting for a heart transplant. Of all the men, I think Dad enjoyed talking to Alex the most, and later even after Dad was moved to a private room, Alex would come by to see how Dad was get along.

Mom with Arthur 
Dad had surgery early on April 7th and he came through the surgery better then we expected, but Dr. Luiz discovered that not only was it impossible to relieve the pressure on Dad’s liver and the bile ducts, but the tumor on the pancreas had already metastasized and there were hundreds of tiny tumors all over the inside of Dad’s abdomen. Due to his weakness and the medicines that he needed to take via IV, Dad was not able to come home after the surgery, but Ben, Daniel and David worked up a schedule so that Dad was never alone at the hospital and this also allowed each family member to spend time with him. The boys always spent nights with him. I think they were selfish and didn’t want to share the uncomfortable sofa with us girls. :) In the morning between 6:30 and 7, Mom would go up to the hospital and be there until almost 11 a.m., when I would change with her and stay until visiting hours began at 3 p.m. One of the boys would then come up and be with Dad during visiting hours, and later in the evening, that boy would be replaced by whichever boy was going to spend the night. João Carlos and Joy had different schedules due to João’s job and their responsibilities caring for the church, so instead of helping out every single day, they would just pop in at the hospital whenever they could to talk with Dad and give whoever was staying with him the opportunity to step outside and gets some fresh air. Sabrina, Daniel’s wife, and little Arthur their son, were also with us during this time. Sabrina was a big help putting meals on the table and keeping the house in decent order. Arthur did an outstanding job of making us smile day in and day out with his antics. :)

Visiting Hours

The first week after the surgery, Dad was very alert. We watched movies with him, read out loud, and talked a lot. One time while I was there, Dad held my hand and said that he was ready to go and be with the Lord. He said he saw that he needed to submit to the Lord in death. This is always going to be a treasured memory for me! The following week, Dad stopped talking as much, began sleeping more and his mind was not as clear. 

Ben Preaching
On April 23rd, soon after I began my turn staying with him, Dad started randomly talking. He would say a word or two in English and then a completely unrelated phrase in Portuguese. This delirium was constant from that point onward, there were a few brief moments when Dad opened his eyes and recognized whoever was with him, but for the most part, he didn’t respond to us and when he wasn’t sleeping, he was speaking deliriously. On April 24th, Ben had the afternoon and early evening shift, and shortly after 6p.m. Dad simply stopped breathing. His pain, discomfort and limitations were over, and he was with the Lord.

Here in Brazil, the funeral must take place within 24 hours of the death. Ben, Daniel, and David had already prepared beforehand as much as they could for the visiting hours and funeral service, so as soon as Dad passed away, they went to work finalizing everything. We were all exhausted after Dad’s lengthy hospital stay, so the boys scheduled the funeral to take place between noon and 4 p.m on April 25th. The visiting hours began at noon, the service took place at 3 p.m. and the burial was immediately afterwards.

A Moment for the Family
One little detail, I really appreciate regarding Dad’s funeral was that Dad was wearing a dark blue shirt and the boys went the extra mile to have green, yellow and white flowers covering the body, as is customary to do here in Brazil, and also in the arrangements. Dad loved Brazil and Brazilians. He told us several times that he wanted to be buried in Brazil, and the dark blue, white, yellow and green are Brazil’s national colors. Often when I looked at Dad during the funeral, I would remember how he enjoyed teaching people about Brazil’s colors and their meaning. We kids heard Dad tell people about Brazil’s colors so much that we often beat him to it. We would secretly tell people what the green, yellow, blue and white of Brazil’s flag represented, so that when Dad would pull out the flag and say “Would anyone like to guess what the green on this flag means?”, everybody already knew the answer. :) Laughter always followed as Dad realized that we had beat him to it once again! I am very thankful for good memories!


Many friends, pastors that Dad knew and brethren from churches that Dad worked in over the years came to the funeral. Ben, Daniel and David conducted the service together. Ben preached a very good message about how for the Christian to live and also to die is Christ. Our lives and our deaths shouldn’t be about personal accomplishments or an undying legacy, but their focus should be serving and exalting Christ. Daniel and David each prayed during the service.

Closing the Grave

The funeral home where we had the visitation and service was right in front of the cemetery so as soon as the service was over, Ben, Daniel, David, João Carlos and two Brazilian pastors carried the coffin to the hearse and we walked behind it to the grave site. At the graveside a Psalm was read and we sang a hymn, and that was it.

The Cemetery
Presidente Prudente has two cemeteries. One is very old and the graves are often above ground. The family buys a plot and then builds a cement cover over the plot. Some of these cement covers are very simple with a small wall and a cement slab for a lid that can be removed when necessary, and other families actually build a small room with a door and windows over the plot with a trap door in the floor of the room that can be opened. As loved ones are buried in these plots, metal plaques of all different kinds with the name and dates are fixed to the cement covers. This old cemetery actually looks like a miniature city from a distance. The other cemetery in town was opened in the last few years and all the graves are below ground. The cemetery’s administration maintains a nice lawn over the graves and there are a few trees scattered around the property. In one corner there is a long aviary with red macaws climbing around and squawking. In this cemetery each grave is marked with a metal plaque that is level with the ground. This newer cemetery is where Dad was buried, and by the end of this month there will be a simple metal plaque installed marking his grave.

Charity, Mom, and Joy
Well,  I think I better start tying this off, but before I do, I will make a stab at answering the question that a lot of people have asked Mom and I recently and that is “Now what are you going to do?”. To be very honest, we aren’t sure what to do.  After thirty plus years in Brazil, we have plenty of reasons to just stay in Brazil, but at the same time we have loved ones in the States too and at times the idea of making a home in the States and being able to speak English :) is quite attractive. So, in short we are undecided, and thankfully we have a year to think things over and come to a decision, because it is going to be at least year before the paperwork for Dad’s estate will be finished and Mom can put the house up for sale.

Right now Mom and I are busy every day cleaning up the house and finishing up a few projects that Dad left partially done. After these projects are done, I am thinking about maybe doing a course of some kind and perhaps even getting a part time job. We will see how the Lord directs each moment and each day.

During the weeks surrounding Joy's wedding, there were many that rejoiced and celebrated with us.  Thank you! During Dad's final months, the week of his death and funeral, and in the weeks since then, there have been many that have sympathized with us and done all they could to support us. Thank you very much! You all have been a comfort and blessing, and we thank the Lord for you!