Hope For Those Who Hurt, by Howard and Jeanne Tomlinson

The Rest of the Story –

A glorious reunion took place on February 25, 2001, a little less than nine months after Jeanne’s homegoing.  Howard and Jeanne Tomlinson were once again walking hand in hand, in perfect health.  Now they were both in heaven, rejoicing with their Savior!

Life for Howie after Jeanne’s passing could have been described as grim.  Nearly paralyzed, subject to occasional seizures, confined most of the time to a bed or wheelchair, being stuck with needles and stuffed with pills, knowing there was nothing more the doctors could do, and deprived of his beloved wife; what was there to live for?  Why not just give up? 

But Howie didn’t give up.  To the last, he maintained his witness, his cheerful smile, his hunger for the Word of God, and his will to live.  His parents and brothers called him a fighter, their miracle kid.  Several times when vital signs appeared headed downhill, Howie would surprise everyone and bounce back.  The doctors tried to put a shunt into his skull to drain off fluid that tended to build up, creating pressure and robbing him of motor control.  They removed 44cc of fluid on one occasion, 66cc on another.  The shunt was supposed to continually drain the fluid, but it became infected and had to be removed.  The doctors looked over his scalp, so scarred from so many operations, and said Howard could not tolerate any more incisions.  It was only a matter of time.

Homer and Freda, his parents, came to the nursing home every day to care for their dying son.  They would bring him his favorite dishes; they would bring him gifts, read the Bible to him, pray with him, and encourage him, often for most of the day, even when they themselves were weary and discouraged beyond words.  During those months, several trips to the emergency room or hospital were required when he would struggle with breathing or have a series of seizures; these were usually followed up by surprise invoices in their mailbox for hundreds of dollars from ambulance companies or doctors who did little more than say “Hi, Howard, how are you today?”  On top of these struggles, they spent two months after Jeanne’s passing going through the old apartment and deciding what to keep or try to sell, and ordering Jeanne’s headstone.  Every day they needed to force aside their own sorrows, taking instead every opportunity to provide their son with happy times: family get-togethers, Bible studies, or just opportunities for a little fresh air, wheeling him outside or down the hall.

But Freda commented, “When all you look at all day is sickness and look into buying gravestones and burial plots it just gets to you.  When Howard feels pretty good I feel better.  When I see him suffer I go home very down and don’t sleep.  I have put him in God’s care, but it still is very difficult.”  Two weeks later, she said, “I know it is only the Lord that has sustained us through this time.  We spend most of our time at Birchwood.  I have to say Howard is a joy to be with.  The more you are with him the more you love him.”  Love gives people the strength to go beyond what they might think possible.  But the pain is real – weeks later, Freda commented after another day in the hospital with Howard, “I tell you this is no fun.  We need the strength of the Lord to keep us going.”  Homer, always strong and cheerful in manner, helping also in countless ways, was a great support to his wife, but assuredly felt the pain just as much.  They kept going.  On December 9, Freda was so emotionally exhausted and afflicted with pain in her back, she prayed as if she were in the middle of the Red Sea without the strength to get across.  “I need help or I’m going under,” she prayed.  But then – “That afternoon a peace came over me.  Sunday morning when I got out of bed every ache in my body was gone and I mentally felt free from all the anxiety.  I felt God had really touched my body.  He has taken the heavy burden and has made me to believe He is the Great God who He says He is.”  They kept going, taking one day at a time.

A steady stream of visitors and friends helped them bear the burden.  Matt and Cori, Pastor Rich, Nick and Carleen, brothers Cliff and Steve and their families, and more too numerous to mention.   Christmas came.  In spite of feeling no Christmas joy, Freda made a feast of his favorite food.  The family and friends celebrated around his wheelchair.  Once when Howard made a comment that he never got to see the stars any more, his aunt’s granddaughters came and pasted glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling for him.  On January 11, Homer and Freda organized a big party at the nursing home for Howard’s 50th birthday.  Over 50 people showed up with balloons, streamers, gifts, cake and fresh blueberry pie.  Howie, his face puffed up from the medications, smiled for pictures.  For Valentine’s day, Homer braved the snow to place a red rose on Jeanne’s gravestone, to fulfill Howie’s wish to honor the memory of his sweetheart.  A box of letters showed up from schoolchildren in Oklahoma who had heard Howard’s story.  They were writing to tell him they were praying for him.  Freda wept as she read the letters from young prayer warriors she didn’t even know. 

Within a few days, Howie was having increasing trouble breathing.  Sunday morning, he attended a Bible study in the nursing home, led by some of the men from the church.  Shortly after, the nurses noticed he was not doing well.  Another ambulance ride to the hospital was required.  Stomach aches, a fever, low blood pressure, coughing and gasping for air revealed that Howie had a touch of pneumonia.  By Friday, after days of antibiotics, needles, tests, IV’s, oxygen masks and misery, Howard decided he had had enough of hospitals, and was relieved when the doctor finally allowed him to be released back to the Birchwood care center.  Homer and Freda were also glad to have him back “home.”  Howie told his Dad and Mom, “I love you.”  Two days later, on Sunday morning, the nurses were alarmed when they heard Howie weakly calling for Jeanne and for his parents.  A nurse drove to church looking for Freda, who was playing the organ, trying to get an usher to tell her they needed to come right away.  Howard’s vital signs were slipping.  His fever hit 105 degrees.  For the rest of the day, his pastors, his friends, and his family were at his side, praying, singing hymns, telling him words of comfort to which he could only give hints of acknowledgement.  As Matt played on his keyboard, in trumpet tones, the song You’ll Never Walk Alone, the Lord released Howard Edward Tomlinson from his worn-out earthly tabernacle and ushered him into heaven.  It was a beautiful homegoing.

FOR THOSE WHO NOW HAVE HOPE:  Here is a song Jeanne wrote for Howard during the dark early days of his first brain surgeries.  Now that you have read “the rest of the story,” we leave you with this final thought of how, in hindsight, God knew what He was doing.

Gold Refined By the Fire
by Jeanne Tomlinson
Dedicated to my husband, Howard

You are gold refined by the fire,
You are gold refined by the fire;
You have gone through incredible trials,
And you are shining like gold.

Trials make some people bitter,
They blame and complain all day long.
But trials have made you better;
You’re more godly, kind, and strong.

You are gold refined by the fire,
You are gold refined by the fire;
You have gone through incredible trials,
And you are shining like gold.

Homer and Freda, you are shining like gold, too.  So are the other family members, friends, and strangers who forgot themselves and helped these saints when they needed it most.  Some of that gold has rubbed off on people who never met the Tomlinsons, but who have heard their story.  We hope that includes you.
To God be the glory – great things He hath done!

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