(written by Liz and Alan Noell, Stephen's parents)
Now that it’s been over a month since Tamara had her surgery, I’ve had some time to think about that event. How did Alan and I manage to cope with the blows that we experienced since the time we first heard of the need for her surgery until the present day (March 15)?
I’m not sure we would’ve coped at all with the blows that came fast and furiously without the grace of God and the kindness of the people we met along the way.
Of course, we were shocked when Tamara and Stephen broke the news. As is usual with both of us, neither of us reacted with anything but a calmness that usually comes upon me when things get suddenly difficult or dangerous. After my initial awareness of the seriousness of the situation, my first thought was, I’m available to go help either during or after surgery, but I don’t want to go unless they want me there.
After Stephen graduated from high school, I never took up employment outside the home because I wanted to help care for our aging parents. Once all four of them had died, I still didn’t search for a job outside the home because I wanted to continue to be helpful to our family. My current volunteer jobs are flexible enough to allow me to be gone if I need to be, just as they were when I was still helping our parents. Maybe Stephen and Tamara would find my help useful. Alan is on sabbatical this semester; that enabled him to be able to drop everything and help out in OR, too.
Once we finished the call with Tamara and Stephen, the full awfulness of the situation crashed upon me. We began asking friends and family to pray for Tamara. One of my prayer partners agreed to post an email for me to ask the church to pray. I eventually thought maybe Kirk, my brother, would like to know. I was really not thinking very clearly.
We had only an hour after that first call before our nephew Peter arrived from Abilene, TX, with his wife, Yulia, and their 2 darling little boys. They planned to stay for a week. For several weeks, we had anticipated the fun of having little ones in the house, but this news distracted me from all the anticipation we had been feeling. That was Monday.
On Tuesday I had a wonderful time playing with our grand nephews, taking them to the library, visiting a while with both their parents while the kids were napping, and taking care of urgent volunteer responsibilities. But when we got news that Stephen wanted me/us to come, I knew we’d have to ask Peter to leave early. It made me so sad, but obviously Stephen’s needs were more urgent.
Later in the afternoon, Stephen and Tamara called again with the news that surgery would be happening Thursday. Again, I offered to come. They did call a second time that evening so that they could talk with Alan, too. Stephen sent a message that he’d like for me to come. To our surprise, seats were available for flights the next day, so both of us together purchased flights for Wednesday. We were going to Oregon in less than 24 hours.
Things got very crazy Wednesday morning as we got ready to leave just a couple of hours after Peter’s family. We found people to take care of the cats and cover church responsibilities. We started to think about what we should pack. All the time people were sending encouraging messages of support and offers to help. Our pastor and an elder came and prayed for us shortly before we left. To have their presence and prayers at such a time was a source of great comfort.
By the time we were well on our way, I wondered how many people were praying for us and Tamara and Stephen. How many locations were represented in this army of prayer warriors raised up to bring our concerns before the throne of grace? The knowledge of all this concern for us and all this kindness expressed did much to help us maintain our calm and confidence that we were doing the right thing.
As we went out the door, we learned that our flight had been cancelled. What now? We knew we didn’t have time to drive to Dallas to make our connecting flight. Soon we wouldn’t have time to get to OKC to catch the next flight to Phoenix and then Portland. The line to the service representative was so laboriously slow. However, the clerk said, if we didn’t have any delays on the road, we should get there in time to catch the flight to Phoenix. The weather was very foggy, thus making it impossible to fly out of Stillwater. Would the flight from OK City to Phoenix be cancelled, too, by the time we got there? Could the fog get any thicker than it already was? Messages were sent hurriedly to various friends to pray. As we approached the terminal an hour later, Alan said not to wait for him at the gate; just go without him if he didn’t get to the gate in time to board. He parked the car while I made my way through the airport.
Alan parked in a distant lot, but didn’t wait for the shuttle to take him to the terminal. He didn’t even see a shuttle during his hurried walk. Or was it a run? The OK City airport is not a large one. Thankfully there was no line for me at the TSA screening, but Alan had to wait in line. As the plane was boarding, Alan arrived at the gate. Both of us got on that plane and had no further concerns in our travel. It was near midnight when we arrived at our motel room in cold, wet Corvallis. We were so thankful to have successfully made it through that leg of our travels and adventures. There had been a major wreck involving multiple large trucks, some of which could’ve been carrying payloads of fuel. The traffic inched along on the shoulder the interstate highway. A dozen or more fire trucks were present with ambulances and highway patrol. It was very sobering to see.
Tamara was due to be at the hospital so very early on Thursday. We arrived nearly as early. It was so comforting to see the Blackwoods and Stephen’s pastor there already. The day was grueling for all of us. However, the times of prayer, singing, caring for Baby Rosie, and fellowship with the Blackwoods sustained us through the ordeal. We were in such need of help and didn’t even realize it until it was supplied – a generous supply of snacks made by Ally the previous day, lunch from the hospital ED staff, supper from the church family, and the people all over the world who were already aware of our needs for prayer.
Stephen wanted me to accompany him into the ICU to see Tamara for the first time at around 11:15. Seeing her so pale and hardly able to communicate was such a blow. So much was unknown at that moment. But she recognized us and talked with us ever so softly and slowly.
Sometime around midnight, I realized we needed to make a decision about leaving. We were all beat. Stephen was still with Tamara. I went back to her room to see if I could get Stephen to go home and get some rest. He was unwilling to leave, but Tamara signaled that he must not stay. Some of her caregivers were people she knew from her days of working at the hospital. We knew she was in good hands. As we walked back to the ICU waiting room, suddenly Stephen turned to me to weep on my shoulder. We stood there a long time. It was then that I know why we had come.
We made sure Stephen wouldn’t be alone that night. Tamara’s brother, sister and her baby would be with him. By this time, it was early Friday morning. We made our way to the motel which had been our destination Wednesday night (or was it early Thursday morning?).
The rest of our stay in Corvallis was fairly uneventful compared to what I’ve already described. Friday, we slept rather later than we had planned. We were so thankful and surprised to see how much Tamara’s condition had already improved through the night.
The prayer meeting on Friday night for the purpose of praying for Stephen and Tamara was especially moving because of the large turn out and the Psalm that was sung a capella.
Tamara was able to return home Saturday morning. Alan and I did some shopping for her and Stephen Saturday afternoon. One of the most amazing finds of that day was the recliner chair we found at the resale shop with Tamara’s mom, Nancy – something Tamara particularly requested. The cost was a tiny fraction of what it must’ve been new, and there was no indication that anyone had ever used it before Tamara sat down in it. Thanks to the large minivan the Blackwoods were renting for their stay in OR, Nancy and I were able to get that large piece of furniture back to Stephen and Tamara’s house easily.
Each day we were in Corvallis we got to take at least a small walk. I think that did much to help relieve stress for me. Corvallis is set in such beautiful surroundings. The trees, river and mountains are so lovely, especially with snow on them, and the changing light of the sun filtering through the clouds gave the town a soft, magical atmosphere.
On Sunday we were so moved by the expressions of concern for Stephen and Tamara. The gifts and meals showered on them were so touching.
A couple of weeks after we got back to Stillwater, our church celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Every month when we gather for this part of our worship service, we conclude our communion together by taking up an offering for the deacons to use in their ministry to people in need. This time the offering was designated to help with Stephen and Tamara’s financial needs. Seeing so many people from our congregation add something to the basket brought tears to my eyes. Some of these people don’t even know them that well. I praise God for the way He moved them to be so generous.
Some of the good things that came from the trip to Corvallis include getting to know the Blackwoods better, getting to see Baby Rosie, seeing the marvelous way that God provided for us while we traveled, seeing the generosity of God’s people, receiving messages of concern and love from friends and family, and being able to help Stephen and Tamara, at least a little.
It was shocking to see Tamara’s MRI of her tumor on Monday. The incredible change in the MRI after surgery is something I am so thankful for. I am so thankful that God designed people to be able to survived a surgery like Tamara’s. Also, we are thankful for the resources and people that made it possible to develop all the technology and surgical skill that have literally saved Tamara’s life. Of course, we praise God for the staff and physicians that attended Tamara so carefully and compassionately.
I continue to pray that Tamara’s brain would heal all the way. I trust her to God’s providence for the future.
-Liz and Alan Noell