Tribute to a Man Far Bigger than Me

My oldest son, Martin, has been an outgoing and caring man his whole life.  He has served his community as a peace officer, and his country as an active and motivated soldier.  He is well known and very respected in Lubbock TX, where he’s helped so very many people.

A little over two years ago, Martin underwent an aggressive double-knee replacement.  He was unable to stand or walk for an extended period.

About 18 months ago, Martin showed up at the emergency room with two large blood clots in his lungs.

That was the last I heard from Martin for over a year.

He had been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called “Factor Five Leiden Disorder”, which causes his body to constantly create blood clots in deep veins (DVT’s), mainly in major muscles, that travel through the vascular system to become lodged all over the body.  He and his doctors have now been fighting the disorder for more than a year.  While the disorder is not always fatal, a lot depends on early diagnosis and treatment.  Martin had already had two pulmonary embolisms by the time he sought treatment.

He did not want the rest of our family to know the gravity of his illness, mainly because of his own powerful will to live and overcome, and partly because he knew how hard it would be for us to see his condition first-hand.  He didn’t want us to see him as the disease progressed and they attempted all kinds of chemical & medical solutions, always hopeful and always positive, but filled with risk and further destruction of his body.

Finally, though, Martin called last week and revealed his doctors had given up and told him he has little time to live.  We were stunned.  We’re still stunned and trying to accept.  Even then, he insisted we not go to Lubbock or try to seem him; but family is family and my mom and I needed to see him.

We went anyway, against his wishes, and have been there several days as he transitions to hospice care.

I was stunned by the condition in which I found my son.  He is covered with blue & purple lumps  – clots moving along veins and arteries – and looks like he’s been beaten with a bat.  These life-threatening DVT’s (Deep vein thromboses) are extremely painful.  Martin now has significant clots in his lungs, brain, and other vital organs.  Doctors are using huge amounts of blood-thinning medications and painkillers, mainly large doses of Fentanyl, to keep him comfortable and buy time with his vascular condition.  He’s developed tolerance/resistance to all of the opiate drugs.  Luckily, there are 2-3 more (even stronger) synthetic opiates that will help as he becomes resistant to the Fentanyl.

He now has life-threatening clots in his lungs, heart, and liver.  Many muscles have failed.  About 30% of his skin has died from lack of blood flow.  It looks like shingles, but it’s even more painful.  Martin’s blood is black as coal.  He’s lost use of his right arm/hand.  He shakes uncontrollably because of the blood thinners and Fentanyl.  He experiences inappropriate or inaccurate emotional responses, like an alzheimer’s patient, because of the location of the clot in his brain.  It is hard for him to put together a sentence, as speech is also impacted by the clot in his brain and the medications’ effects.  He may lose his speech entirely as more clots develop and heavier medications are employed to keep him comfortable.

Martin told me Wednesday morning he’s tired of fighting.  He’s fought with all his (significant) might for over a year.  He’s done.  He’s made his peace with a God of his understanding, he remains dedicated to his AA sobriety, and he will continue to do everything he can to help others; but he’s done with the fight, the pain, and his diminishing ability to be of service.

Even now, though, when his Army National Guard unit is called up for training, presentation, or combat assignment; Martin shows up in his wheelchair, in full uniform.  I’ve never known anyone in my life more worthy of the flag/armband he wears, an image of the little Cannon at Gonzales and the words, “Come and Take It.”

Martin is an adored member of his unit, the police forces he served, and his community.  We got out to a restaurant for lunch on Wednesday and complete strangers came up to him all through our lunch to thank him for his service and his attitude, some asking for autographs.  He’s been on Lubbock TV several times.

Martin has always had the gifts of enthusiasm for life and caring for others.  Even now his smile shines through the pain and disfigurement, and his message is unmistakeable:

“There is nothing we can’t do, no pain we can’t overcome, no hardship we can’t endure, so long as we have a God of our understanding who’s there by our side.”

Martin has stood with the teams of Texas Tech University and given this message to stadiums full of people.  He’s drawn praise and commendations from the highest military leaders in the nation.  Deployed soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan confide in him and send prayers.

It wasn’t until early this morning, 48 hours after we were together, that I realized I had sat with him in awe, unable to speak.  I hadn’t said a word during our time together, except to put my arms around him and tell him, “I love you and I am so so very proud of you.”  I’d gone to Lubbock expecting to experience a lot of dread, sadness, and pity.  The likelihood I would be losing my first and much-loved baby stood strong in my heart.  I didn’t know how to deal with it, how to confront it.  But Martin showed me the way.

I left Lubbock a couple days later with Martin’s message that we rarely suffer long without God’s intervention – and the indelible image of his smile.  He is not my baby anymore.  He is not my boy anymore.  Instead, he is God’s man.  A man who has changed people’s lives.  An exemplary man.  A lover and a warrior in every sense.

I am awed by, grateful for, and filled with admiration for my son’s spiritual fortitude.  He is far ahead of me, spiritually, with his acceptance and constantly-renewed commitment to the well-being of others.

Obviously, I am entering a hard & painful chapter of my life.  I really have no “guidance” for watching my child traverse the final months of life.  I have good support in AA, an outstanding sponsor & therapist,  hard-working sponsees, and my relationship with my mom to lean on.  I am no spiritual giant.

My son is a spiritual giant, to me, but I am nothing close to that.

I know that, despite my close engagement with my sponsor and support groups, there will be long nights alone.  Long nights of remorse and sadness, long nights of anger and frustration, long nights of denial and disbelief.

It already hurts to know how deeply it will hurt – and how deeply I will miss my son, my eldest child.

Your prayers and your tears (if you’re close to our family) are felt and appreciated.