Michelle Hill shares the remarkable story of the husband she lost, the package he left, and the blessing God has given
By Michelle J. Hill
Are you prepared? Are you ready to go to heaven if it’s your time? Are your affairs in order?
What would you do if your spouse passed away? What if it was unexpected? How would you tell your five-year-old and seven-year-old their father was gone?
These questions may not seem like “Finding Your Piece of the Good Life” material, but believe me, they are.
Our family has been truly blessed because of the Gift left by my husband, best friend, and father of our children. John R. Hill, Jr., passed away on November 2, 2011, due to complications from a surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm that developed from a procedure that occurred nine years earlier.
The night before we went into the hospital, we sat down and went over various household and business matters. It was then that he informed me he had an “OPEN THIS ONLY IF” package. He was so physically and emotionally exhausted. His beautiful blue eyes were so tired and sad. I had no idea what was in that package. I just knew it was very special.
That fateful day in the hospital, right after finding out there were complications during the surgery, I excused myself from other family members, telling them I would be back in a few minutes. I felt this strong sense to go up to the floor above where the chapel was located. Thank goodness no one else was in there.
I immediately went up and knelt down at the altar and cried out in anguish,
“Please don’t let it be his time, Please don’t let it be his time, Please don’t let it be his time… Please give me the strength, Please give me the strength, Please give me the strength.”
I cried and cried and cried, and then felt a sense of strength overcome me. A feeling that transcends all other – an incredible feeling of knowing that God was with me and that I was going to be OK no matter what happened. Little did I know that I was doing exactly what John had said in his “OPEN THIS ONLY IF” Package – ASK, BELIEVE, RECEIVE! The strength I received in the chapel at that moment is still with me today. It’s an incredible feeling of knowing God is here.
We spent seven long days in the hospital, praying and waiting. However, it was John’s time to go home.
The Package he had left for us was just a brown envelope with “Michelle – OPEN THIS ONLY IF” written on the outside in his unique penmanship. Inside was a five page letter to me on fragile parchment paper, lyrics to a beautiful song he wrote, and a small red leather book with a heart engraved on the outside. This heart book had a page written to me, a page written to our son, John Reed, and a page written to our daughter, Rylee Day. This Package was the best gift a man could ever give his wife and children – his love, written in beautiful letters that we can read and cherish forever.
While still in the hospital, I decided I wanted to open the Package in his physical presence. I took a deep breath. I took another. And another. I pulled the chair up next to his hospital bed and held the Package in front of me. I told him how much I loved him and that I had the Package and was now going to open it. I slowly pulled away the top of the sealed envelope and gently removed the items. I cried big tears for what seemed like an eternity before even reading one word. Then I managed to pause and took another one of those deep breaths. I clutched his hand as I read the letter. It started…
You are the love of my life. You brought me more happiness in our eleven plus years than I ever imagined would be possible. And you gave me my son and daughter. The three of you fill my heart with joy. I love you all completely.
The last couple of weeks a song kept playing in my mind. I started trying to write it down, but the harder I tried the more jumbled it got.
But the tune and first lines were clear as a bell, as if I were trying to answer John Reed and Rylee’s question, “Why did Daddy go?” While I have added some before and after, it started out, “If God decides to take me now…”
I had to pause so many times reading the letter to wipe away the tears so I could see. John’s hand and arm were drenched. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever read! John had written me lots of wonderful cards before but nothing as beautiful and powerful as this.
After several minutes of crying hysterically, I pulled it together and took another one of those deep breaths. I was ready to move on to the song lyrics. It started…
“They tell me that my heart’s not right, They have to sew it up tonight.
But times like these make everything clear, Of the love I have for those I hold dear. My heart is torn but completely full, My life couldn’t be more wonderful.
If God decides to take me now, I know that I am figuring how, To whisper every morning…
I love you.”
After more verses, the song ends with “All things are possible in Him… ASK, BELIEVE, RECEIVE”.
In the many evenings following John’s surgery and death, I would lie in my bed or sit at my computer and put my thoughts to paper. This cathartic experience has helped me travel in so many ways through that dark, winding tunnel to the sun rising on the other side. John originally bought me a fabric-bound journal to write about the lessons we wanted our kids to learn, and our thoughts and feelings about our life with them. After John’s passing, it became a place to write about the struggles, triumphs, and many blessings as we faced each new day without a father, husband and best friend. It became a place to celebrate the wonderful, loving gift from God of John Reed Hill, Jr. We are forever grateful to have been a part of his life.
This hand-written journal has turned into a book, OPEN THIS ONLY IF, a detailed account of the two years following John’s death and a recollection of how our lives were initially joined to form one. It’s a journal written to our two beautiful, amazing, and loving children, with whom we have been so blessed. Heart-wrenching stories telling them how Daddy died, why he died, and how we moved forward each day. Faith-filled stories showing them how God was evident in our lives and carried each of us through this challenging time. It’s about teaching our children to accept what they cannot change and the courage to face each challenging day. It’s about showing them how to ASK-BELIEVE-RECEIVE.
It has also become an attempt to help others through their own journey. Our story is shared with the hope that some part of our journey may impact others in a positive way. Most importantly, it’s about showing how God has worked His miracles in our lives.
How are we now? There were many, many tears shed, both happy and sad, over the past three years, but we have persevered and our kids are doing absolutely amazing. I could not ask for them to be any more well-adjusted. We talk about Daddy all the time. He is and always will be a part of our life because he is a part of them. They know they can ask me anything, anytime. I think that is the main reason why they are doing so well and so comfortable with what has happened. Like I said, God has been with us and continues to be with us every step of the way.
John wrote a “P.S.” at the end of the letter he left for me. It read:
“P.S. Don’t doubt me!! I will be your biggest fan until the end of eternity. As you continue to make the loving difference in this world, I will be cheering you on.”
He was referring to his literally undying support of my efforts to help children with special needs. I am Director of Empower Me Day Camp, a nonprofit organization for children with disabilities. John had always been our biggest supporter and what he called ‘my biggest fan’. So now, even after his passing, his life will continue to impact others as we donate a portion of the proceeds of our book to empower children with disabilities. We feel his love and support each and every day and hope you too will become empowered by reading our story.
Thank you John! Thank you Daddy! Thank you God!!
It may not have been the “Good Life” I had earlier envisioned, but it is OUR GOOD LIFE because of the many blessings we have been given. And I am truly grateful!
Empower Me Day Camp is a nonprofit organization for children with disabilities. Empower Me’s mission is to empower special needs children to achieve their full potential through participation in a summer day camp and other recreational opportunities led by professional, therapeutic staff. Empower Me’s signature fundraising event is Jere’s Ride, a bicycle ride in memory of the late Jere McCulloch. This event will be held on Saturday, June 6, 2015. If you would like more information on Jere’s Ride or Empower Me Day Camp, please visit their websites at www.JeresRide.com or EmpowerMeDayCamp@aol.com. If you would like more information on the book, please visit www.OPENTHISONLYIF.com.