The Making of a True Hero:
Nathanael Alexander Daggett
December 5, 1977 to June 16, 2015
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."
A Boy from the Sea
Nathanael was born on December 5, 1977 to his loving, hippie, adorable parents Johnny and Hilary Daggett in Newport Beach, California. They weren't planning to have children so he truly was "Given of God" as his name means in Hebrew (click here to read the beautiful story of how N was named). Two years later his parents had their second baby, Theodora, which is the feminine Greek translation with the same meaning: "Given of God." N couldn't pronounce his baby sister's elegant title so he called her FeeFeedora which is why, to this day, she is still known as Fee (Feebird) to all of us.
These two little Gifts of God and their parents didn't have a lot of resources so they moved often and lived with different friends in the Santa Barbara and South Orange County areas for the first five years of N's life before settling in Dana Point, California. They grew up going to the beach and one of N's favorite stories is an episode his parents have shared with us many times. The first summer after N was born Johnny took little Nathanael at only six months old, tucked him under his arm like a football, charged into the ocean, and dove with him under the the pounding ocean waves. They did this all the time until N was big enough to throw his arms around Daddy's neck so they could body surf together with little N enjoying the wild ride on his back. N loved it and Johnny did the same for baby Fee so the two kids turned into sea creatures and many of N's happiest memories revolve around the ocean.
Johnny and Hilary are natural athletes so it was no surprise when N and Fee both turned out to be coordinated on both land and sea. Fee and I love to recall how much fun it was to watch N swim, surf and bodysurf as he was unlike anyone else. When he paddled on his board it was with incredible grace, his long arms and hands slowly dipping in and out like a praying mantis tip toeing toward an approaching wave and turning easily into it. N was unhurried yet always in sync with the hastening swell. When he caught a wave he would stand up cautiously on his board as if he were sneaking up on an enemy and sail across it with a calm that slowed the racing wave down. It was absolutely beautiful to watch as he was by far the most graceful of the surfers in his family. When he road a wave in at Trestles, Churches, Old Man's, Cotton's Point, Trails, Mexico, or wherever he happened to be, he always maintained extreme poise slipping one hand into the blue green wall of water beside him for the feel of it while the other hand buoyed on the salty air. We all agreed it was like watching a movie in slow motion when N caught a wave; not like Fee who aggressively stole waves and flew across them with zigzag jolts and spray flying out the top with a jolly crash landing. N rode waves in so carefully and delicately it seemed his board was hardly under his feet. It was like he was just standing there, letting himself be carried up and down on God's powerful blue creation till the big wave shrunk into a little white ball of foam letting him off gently into the jumbled sea.
I am so glad Nathanael is free to move like this again.
Love at First Sight
I met Nathanael in 1988 in the midst of his surf-obsessed existence. I loved to tease him about how completely rude he was at our first meeting. His Aunt Margaret was trying to get Fee and me to be friends, and when I found out Fee had a brother around my age I was very curious. My mom and I went over to their house and when Hilary opened the door to his room to introduce us he was laying on his bed in the dark watching a surf movie. He didn't bother to get up to say hi, but just nodded and looked irritated. I, however, was not put off. In fact, just the opposite happened. I was lovestruck in a profound way and heard a clear voice in my head say, "This is your husband." I convinced myself it was a middle school girl notion prophesying a fantasy because he was really cute with sunkissed blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes, a nice tan, trendy surf clothes, and a hard-to-get attitude. What more could a girl ask for?! Over the years I locked up that clear thought deep in my heart wondering what might become of Nathanael and me, but never really knowing if I made it up!
In the meantime we developed a boy and girl next door friendship as our families remained close, going on vacations together and hanging out all the time. N was very shy as a kid (which made him all the more alluring :), but he had an unexpected sense of humor that cracked us all up. I remember one morning Fee and I were eating cereal at their house and N came downstairs wearing his mom's black bra talking to himself about what to eat then grabbed a big orange box of Kix and sat down with us. We fell off our chairs laughing, not knowing timid N was capable of such weirdness. That was the same summer Hilary encouraged us bored kids to find something fun to do so we snuck into the Ritz Carlton everyday and used their luxurious pools and every amenity we could get away with until we got cocky and brought McDonald's on the premises and got busted. And that was the same era when we all got obsessed with the Beatles and listened to our parents' albums over and over again until we knew every word by heart and threw ourselves into young teenage melancholies and imaginary flashbacks to the 60s. N was soooo shy, but every moment I got to share with him as a kid was magical because I was secretly in love. I'll continue that sweet story later on.
From Surfer to Scholar
I remember sitting in my office at Santa Fe Community College a few years ago and one of my ESL students from China looked at my wedding picture posted on a bulletin board. "Is that your husband?" she pointed, "What is he... scientist? engineer? computers?... looks smart!" Yes, indeed. N was as smart as he was handsome coming from a long line of smarty pants ancestors. His mom says he takes most after his maternal grandmother, Veronica "Moni" Burdick, who graduated from Stanford at seventeen, and who, like N, loved classical music, literature, poetry, and crossword puzzles. However, if you knew N as a kid you would never have guessed he would become such a cultured lad. He actually hated most years of his schooling as he was bored and got picked on a lot because he was so shy. He changed schools several times and even tried homeschooling for a while. But when Fee and I would get to their house after school and see N skateboarding all over the culdesac we began to wonder if he was really studying. "I finished everything at 11 am," he'd declare and we'd roll our eyes.
After that educational experiment, N's parents enrolled him in Saint Margaret's Episcopal School to see if a rigorous private education would spark his interest. At first, he floundered with the challenging material until one very pretty (this was always an important emphasis for N in this story:) 8th grade English teacher took him under her wing to get the bottom of his apparent laziness and cheating. She helped him with everything from his sloppy handwriting to composing literary essays on his own and made sure he signed up to dress up as an ancient Roman for the annual Latin reading event. I remember going to his house one day and he was dressed up in a toga with a wreath on his head and looked like he was going to kick my butt if I laughed. But he went through with it and even won a prize! This dedicated teacher also introduced N to the first piece of literature that he actually enjoyed: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and made him read it over the summer and journal about it. She was the teacher who changed his life and sparked his love for literature. He often spoke of the difference that his "attractive" 8th grade English teacher who wore "short skirts... and low cut blouses" made in his educational journey.
After that, N got tossed back into the halls of public education and he and I joined up again at Dana Hills High School. There we became good friends and even secretly dated for a bit (hee hee hee!!! don't tell our parents!!!), but it was nothing too serious. N was bored again and pretty much hated high school and got through it with as little effort as possible. He even skipped his graduation day because when that last chime tolled on his senior year he made sure he wore tennis shoes instead of flip flops so he could run home without looking back.
N started Saddleback College in 1996, the year he finished high school; I had already been there a year. In high school I was on track for university, but bailed out in a panic not wanting to leave home. N, on the other hand, had no big dreams for college, but dove in because he knew he had to. Like most of his prior schooling, N was not challenged at the community college so he applied to spend his second semester abroad in Oxford, England. That's when N's life completely changed. Up till that point, N was a shy, reticent young man who barely talked to anyone outside of his family. Most conversations centered around surfing and black and white movies, his other obsession. However, once he landed in England, Nathanael came to life!
Besides all of the hard work and sickness N was facing, he still managed to enjoy the company of his best friends on long walks through Tacoma's historic neighborhoods and waterfront as well as weekend pub runs to Seattle, lots of Asian food outings, and excursions around Puget Sound and Mount Ranier. All the while, N was trying to figure out why he was getting sick all the time and could not sleep.
In Sickness and In Health
Now comes the rest of the tale of how Nathanael and I came to be one. After college, we continued as best buddies and comrades in the battle to keep rooms full of rowdy children from causing "incidents." It seemed strange to some that N and I should be so close and not be dating. Well,... it was! Even though I had casually dated other guys throughout high school and college, I always wondered if N and I were meant to be. After all, I had heard that clear voice in my head when I was only eleven years old tell me that N was my hubby. But I was never really sure about it although I KNOW I heard it. When N and I both found our own faith in Jesus we became deeply bonded like brother and sister and we related to each other not just on spiritual matters, but on passions for music, reading, art, aesthetics, humor... everything. Sometimes our friendship seemed perfect to me and that's all I wanted. But then, I realized I was fighting strong feelings for him as I had done in the past. I was contending with these feelings more and more, but hid all that I felt for N because he was struggling so much with his health. I wanted to give him space and not add to his stress by having a wild-eyed girlfriend following him around while he tried to get well. He was going to several doctors appointments each week and getting partial diagnoses and limited help. No one, except his mom, Hilary, knew or felt it was anything life threatening or serious and she stayed up for hours each night in her garage researching his symptoms online and helping him find specialists in his area. At one point the doctors discovered parasites and we all thought that was it, but the treatments didn't change his symptoms. In 2003, it was discovered that N had a genetic liver condition that prevented him from detoxifying pathogens and toxins. He had dangerously high levels of mercury in his body beyond any the doctors had ever seen (normal is less than 10 mcg/L and N had 280 mcg/L-- literally off the chart). He signed up for IV chelation and had his eight dental amalgams carefully removed.
It was around the time of this diagnosis that I let down my guard on my feelings for N. I thought he had a solid diagnosis of Mercury Toxicity and a good treatment plan and figured the next best thing would be for us to get married and live happily ever after. I finally came to grips that I was deeply in love with him and frustrated because he showed absolutely zero interest in anything more than being pals. Gross. How many more walks on the waterfront, non-romantic dinners, and carpools to church could I take? Still, I was terrified to say anything to him because he was having a health crisis. When Johnny and Hilary were in town for a visit I unexpectedly revealed my irritation briefly mumbling to Johnny that by the way I was in love in with N, but what could I do... and then quickly dove into another topic. That was that. In my heart, I asked God to help me get over myself and let N go and just be friends. I prayed hard over this and finally felt peace over our "best buddies" status and everything seemed fine.
However, right after this breakthough, N started acting really wierd around me.
"What are you doing today?" he called me up one Saturday morning.
"I'm going to the laundromat and to get my tires changed."
"Can I go with you?"
"Okay... sure," I hung up and felt a little puzzled, but glad for the company.
N was even chemically sensitive back then so I was surprised he wanted to go to the toxic tire store. I had truly given up on any hopes of romance with him, but was thankful to at least have such a remarkable and eccentric friend. The next day he showed up at my apartment wearing a scarf that I had left at his house, flinging it around his neck and dancing around on my doorstep commenting on the beautiful evening. I truly wondered if he was okay. A few nights later he asked for a ride home from hanging out with friends. As I dropped him off he handed me a note in an envelope. "This is a note for you," he stated in his childlike way. We often wrote each other uplifting messages, poems, or verses so it was nothing new. I had been driving him to doctors appointments and figured it was a thank you note or something. I really didn't see what was coming.
As I sat on my couch and began opening N's friendly note, my whole body went numb. It was N's pointed and eloquent prose written with his signature mechanical pencil expressing how special I was to him and that he loved me more than any person on this earth, even his "own life itself", and professing that he would be the "happiest man on earth" if I felt the same way. What the...??? I was in shock. I was so worried that N would be nervous waiting for my reply that instead of laying down and breathing as I needed to, I forced myself to call him and tell him I did indeed feel the same way although I initially just felt like I was going to pass out. There aren't words to describe the magical sparkles that we both felt descending from heaven after we hung up our phones on September 26, 2003-- the day we finally knew how much one loved the other. The next day I was certain I would find a huge bouquet of flowers awaiting me in my apartment. Instead, I rushed home after teaching not only to NOT find flowers greeting me, but called N to learn he had a horrible bladder infection and had to go to urgent care. It was then I knew it was not going to be a storybook romance, and it was going to take God's grace and strength for us to be held together.
The backstory to N's change of heart towards me should be told. N said that after I had leaked my feelings to his parents (who never responded to me so I figured they either took it lightly or didn't hear me), N said his dad called him on the phone to have a serious talk. He told him that he needed to pray harder than he had ever prayed before and figure out how he felt about me because it wasn't fair to lead a girl like me on. Johnny, completely unknown to me, had been secretly praying for years for N and me to come together. He had pictures above his office desk of us at a restaurant in Seattle toasting the camera, and like a good Jewish matchmaker, he prayed earnestly for us to one day toast to each others union. He didn't influence N, but gave him a stern warning to figure out his feelings one way or another so that I could move forward in my life. N said he prayed deeply for two weeks and at the end of two weeks he said something remarkable happened. "The scales fell from my eyes," he said and declared to his dad that he had always been in love with me. That's when his funny behavoir started up and April 3, 2004 was set in motion.
N and I had a short courtship filled with doctors appointments and haphhazard wedding planning while I worked full time at a new teaching job. N was having a lot of bad symptoms and could not work at all. I still thought the mercury diagnosis was the ticket although I was terribly afraid he would die before we got married while at the same time I believed God was going to heal him on our wedding day. I was also terrified he might not show up to our wedding as his dad had emergency appendicitis surgery on his and Hilary's wedding day. She had to go through her ceremony alone and tie the knot later at the hospital while he was on meds with strings of saliva coming off his lips. The bride did not want a kiss. We had heard this story many times so it was pretty nervewracking. But when Steve Ballinger blew the shofar at Puget Sound Christian Center and announced, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!" N came out in his tux with his groomsmen in tow. I walked out with my dad and the whole thing was surreal. Our dear friends Meag Diamond, Melissa Moeller, Tim Isaacson, and Geoffrey Pollick helped us plan the whole homemade event with sweat, headaches, and tears. We were blessed to be surrounded by dear family and friends who had travelled far and wide to celebrate with us. The best part of our ceremony was when we took communion together sharing the Cup and the Bread before all. I felt God's Holy Spirit come all over Nathanael and me and knew this was something deep to remember not just that day, but forever. I'll never forget when N's elderly Greek landlord (who called him "Andy" instead of ND), came out into the foyer directly after the ceremony with tears streaming down his face. He never had any children of his own and felt strongly for us both and declared that it was the best day of his life and kissed us both as he wept. It was truly a remarkable day and it heals my broken heart to think upon all that it meant.
Even though N didn't receive a supernatural healing at our wedding (I was just glad he showed up), I was still hopeful that his healing was imminent. Sadly, he got worse than ever. He went to California to see a specialist and was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in December 2004. Hilary decided to get tested too as her health had declined severely since her failed back surgery in 1994. She tested positive and was not surprised as she had been bitten by ticks in Northern California in her twenties. She had remained asymptomatic, as many Lyme sufferers do, until a trauma happens and one cannot recover. We also learned that Lyme can be passed through the placenta which is where N (and Fee) contracted it since he had never been bitten by a tick. After this shocking diagnosis, I joined Nathanael in California and our first Christmas together was spent in a hospital in Tijuana where we had high hopes that he would finally get the treatments he needed. But things only got worse when he returned to Tacoma so Fee came to help me take care of N while I taught full time. What we did not know then, was that Chronic Lyme is much different than acute Lyme and is very hard to treat. If it is not treated thoroughly by antibiotics over a number of years, not days, or even weeks or months, it can come back with a vengeance. And that's what happened to N. The Lyme bacteria took revenge on his immune system and he grew sicker than ever. He was also suffering from mold toxicity and was advised by doctors to move out of the damp Pacific Northwest. It was unthinkable for us to leave our beloved Tacoma, but when N dropped under one hundred pounds we decided to send him to stay with his parents so I could continue teaching. I remember the Sunday before he left, in the fall of 2005, we went to our church and everyone surrounded us for prayer for Nathanael's health. It was a beautiful moment yet little did we know it was to be N's last few days in Tacoma.
After N left, I started suffering from severe panic attacks that had me in urgent care all the time and missing work. I was extremely stressed out. N and I had planned a Thanksgiving trip with his parents to Santa Fe, New Mexico to check it out as a possible place to live in the future. We were told a drier climate would give a great boost to his immune system and that he needed to get out of a moldy climate permanently. By a miracle, I made the trip to New Mexico (but N did not) with my mom and Hils and it did me a world of good, but I was terrified about going back to Tacoma without Nathanael. I had no idea what we were supposed to do next. One day N called me and asked if I could take a leave of absence from teaching and move temporarily to San Diego so he could go to a clinic in Mexico to get Lyme treatments. I said yes and immediately wondered if I should try to get out of our lease. When I went to work the next day, a second grade teacher came up to me asked how my husband was doing in California and I mumbled that he may be going to a clinic in Mexico and then she asked if I needed her and other teachers to come to my house and help me pack it up. Before I could even answer yes or no, as I truly didn't know what I was doing, she had a group of teachers signed up to help me pack up our rental house on Saturday. God was catapulting me out of Tacoma and put all these details together without my hyper planning skills. In a matter of two weeks, the life N and I had made in our college town was packed into storage boxes and resting in our dear friends, Bill and Kathy Hanawalt's back room. I was on my way to the Mexican border to join my beloved Nathanael in hopes that agressive Lyme treatments would finally change the course of his suffering.
Made Alive in Oxford
When Nathanael made the choice to leave his happy home and study for a spell in the U.K. he didn't know it was the journey that would try his soul. He found himself not only very lonely without the family and close friends who understood him, but also battling constant illness that caused him to miss out on a lot of field trips and events that his classmates were enjoying. I remember how sad his parents were when he called to report that he had to lay on a bench at the British Museum while everyone else went exploring. Despite his mysterious health and constant housing challenges, N was absolutely captivated by the history, architecture, literature, and dramatic scenery that surrounded him and he spent a lot of time adventuring and learning at his own pace. He bought a cheap bike and whizzed around Oxford as he pleased, full of beer, fish and chips and deep contemplation. He travelled all over England and to Scotland and later to Paris with his friend, Richard, a student at Cambridge whom he met at a local church. In his exploration, N became aware of a spiritual darkness that rested on the ancient land and also in his own heart. In his Oxford journal from 1997, which I found recently, N wrote intently about realizing his own pride that kept him from really knowing God. Although N grew up in a Christian home, his parents always encouraged him to make his own decision about God. I remember noticing in N's letters that were coming to me from England that he talked about relying on God, trusting God, and finding God... these were things I had never heard Nathanael speak about. I think his own words express this deep transformation best:
Oxford, England, April 1997
"It seems I was walking in my sleep the past 18 years and God took hold of me at just the right time. All my life I have feared man and although it will always be knocking at the door, the fear of God is infinitely more important. O that I should understand and act upon this, then I shall be blessed in my walk of faith. Time is another fear that I must bring before Him. Because only He knows the timing, which is perfect, that He has laid upon the foundations of the earth. Love I have also never fully understood. Does anyone love someone because of blood? No, only by the blood of the Lamb and the Holy Spirit can we love with the love He would have us in. Human love, love that comes from our own strength, is frail and withers like the grass, but love that is given by God is holy, blessed, and pure, and cannot be corrupted by sin. All of my sin: temper, pride, deceit, fear and hatred has been laid before my eyes and, although I continue, I do not have to and... only by His grace can I be saved, not by my works which only lead to sin. Deny thy flesh, pick up thy cross, and follow Him. It's the only way to live."
While in England, Nathanael enjoyed a visit from his mom, Hilary and his Aunt Margaret. Hilary was distressed because she could see that something was wrong with N's health, but had no idea the depth of his illness. All she could do was try to help him enjoy his adventure the best she could, while knowing deep inside there was a problem. Nonetheless, N managed to teach her about all he was learning about the history of England-- a knowledge which he categorized with his incredible memory. Even to the end of his days, N could chronologically recount the history of England's kings, villains, and wars and answer any question we had about it. He even knew dates! He was like a walking encyclopedia, not just about British history, but about anything he ever learned. He had a photographic memory and we all relied on his humble knowledge and blunt insight. It's very hard not to have him around patiently answering our questions all day.
After ending his journey in the United Kingdom, N returned to the U.S. a very changed man. He found a new faith in Jesus that was not an immitation or a contrived effort based on what he "knew." It was a deep change in his heart that was apparent in his conversations, a new confidence, and the bold smile he became known for. Nathanael had a new outlook on life and it was at this time that we truly became the best of friends.
After his invigorating transformation in Europe, N decided he needed to launch out of Saddlecrack (as we affectionally called our local college) a.s.a.p. and get a Bachelor's degree. Thanks to N's inspiration, I decided to get off my five year plan and do the same, but had made up my mind to bail out of Southern California to the most beautiful campus I could find on the West Coast. I told Nathanael I was tired of sunny weather so I was heading to Oregon and Washington for a college tour. N surprisingly wanted to join me so we spent one spring break cruising Lewis & Clark, Whitman College, and Seattle Pacific University-- none of which spoke to us. The last stop on our tour was the University of Puget Sound (UPS) in Tacoma, Washington. When we saw the red brick buildings covered in ivy, green lawns centered with triumphant fountains, and monumental pine trees rising above it all, we knew we were in the right spot.
N and I never intended to follow each other everywhere, it just happened; and our uniquely close boy and girl best friendship was a marvel to many. Before I went nuts dying my hair all the time, we would always get asked if we were twins. Our parents even say that our baby pictures look alike. So once again, N and I ended up at the same school... with the same major. He studied English literature and I, creative writing. We worked hard pushed by professors who were merciless in their expectations for critical thinking and sound arguments; N was finally challenged. To unwind we spent many evenings laying around my room at the Ben and Jerry's Literature House listening to Celtic music, drinking Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout and McEwan's Scotch Ale while planning strategies to get back to our mutual Mother Country-- Ireland. It was a dear dream of ours and one birthday N gave me an empty Guiness bottle with two twenty dollar bills rolled up inside to start my savings for a journey to Erin. We both loved EVERYTHING about UPS and to top it off, we loved meeting new people in the laid back and loving environment of the Pacific Northwest. We started wearing fleece and N even played frisbee golf. Best of all, we met some of the dearest friends we have ever known on this earth on that very campus and in the town of Tacoma. Those friends remain precious to this day and I know many join us in mourning the loss of our great friend and scholar.
Nathanael flourished intellectually in this challenging academic environment, but his health began to take a sharp turn under the stress and damp climate. He was constantly having to switch housing on campus due to sleep issues, mold issues, heating issues etc. He was ALWAYS sick, and sadly, became known on campus as "the sick guy." A lot of people would ask if me if my friend was okay because he looked so frail. When he came home from his first semester, his parents thought he had cancer because he looked so gaunt and had a bad case of pneumonia. This is when intensive testing for N's health began. He initially got diagnosed with a lack of hydrochloric acid production and was put on enzymes and a new diet. We all hoped and prayed his would help, but Hilary knew better than anyone that something was not right with her son. Still, N pushed through all of his courses, got mostly As and was highly regarded by all of his professors as a profound thinker and an excellent writer. N had such a great love for English literature that he applied to several Master's programs directly after receiving his degree in hopes of one day teaching college students. Oddly, he didn't get into any of the programs he applied to and believed God must have had another plan or timeframe for him so he put it on the shelf and into His hands.
Here is a copy of one of the poems that Nathanael wrote while at UPS:
My soul's woven of scarlet
dyed in the ink of black squid.
My heart feeds a forest
of pine-charred woes.
My spirit's submerged in sod
of generations, tarrying for
the unearthing of the soul.
The soul emerges, scathed and spotless,
a dove died white in blood,
into the arms of a lamb,
the one who calls himself
-Nathanael Daggett, 1999
Meanwhile in 2000, after getting our BAs in English, N and I both decided we loved the papermill port town of Tacoma and wanted to stay there. We had found a church, wonderful friends, and a diverse community that we both thrived in. So, until either of us knew what we were "really" going to do with our lives, we opted to work as emergency substitute teachers in Tacoma Public Schools, i.e., if you have a pulse and think you can avoid calling the police, you're hired. It paid pretty well and seemed like a good way to get to know more about our new town. It was definitely the hardest job either of us had. Later, we could laugh about the day when the unruly 5th grader set the desk on fire in the back of the classroom, or the time when N's special ed student disembowled a globe right in front of him with a knife that was his pocket, or the multiple calls to security when subbing at high schools, or my discovery of a straight jacket and small white room in the basement of an elementary school, or just the average days when kindergarteners peed on the carpet during reading time. N was always getting sick on the job, but before he had to retire from this brief career, he spent a semester working in a Special Education Learning Center at McKinley Elementary School. There Nathanael had a beautiful opportunity to inspire some severely troubled kids and I've kept all the cards and notes they wrote to him.
Playing with Time
the most dangerous game
our lives' tokens snatched away
the air we breathe, the ground we tread on
become fallow in its hands
yet we press on
fighting with all our might
believing as we grow
our strength increases too
Alas! a lie-- for our
spirits must shortly yield
are raked like leaves
bound for conflagration
leaving minds wantful of comprehension
our only save-- the knowledge
that His time was not in vain
but the game played by His Rule
rewards us well
way beyond the grave
Nathanael Alexander Daggett, 1999
December 5, 1977-June 16, 2015
From Mexico to New Mexico
In January 2006, N and I landed at the Satellite Apartment complex in Imperial Beach, California. Our neighbors were a Job Corps campus and a hellicopter landing field which made sleep vexing for anyone, especially N. If we walked a block we could see a mammoth Mexican flag waiving across the border and ICE agents on ATVs zooming in and out of the thick hedge that divided the U.S. and Mexico. Each morning we drove to the last U.S. parking lot before the Tijuana border, strapped on N's breathing mask and walked through the tall metal turnstiles greeted by competing taxi drivers, luchador costume vendors, and deadly speeding traffic which we had to bravely cross to get the San Diego Clinic housed at the top of a nearby medical building. There we met other Americans who were pursuing progressive alternative treatments, mostlly for late-stage cancers. We made great friends, but little progress as N's case was so advanced. N's doctor wanted him at an in patient facility, but God put a stop to that plan. I will save the outome of that amazing story for the blog-- how Coretta Scott King saved N's life. Meanwhile N was getting weaker and his weight had dropped to 85 pounds. I was still suffering from anxiety attacks and feared that N would not wake up in the morning and told his doctors so. One morning in the border parking lot I got a phone call from N's doctor in Mexico. He asked us, "Where are you?" I told him we were just about to cross. He told me to turn around and get Nathanael to a U.S. hospital right away. N's blood test came back and his white count was nearly 0.
We ended up at UCSD Thornton Hospital where they saved N's life; he was hospitalized for five days. He was placed on IV home care and had a new port placed in his arm to receive nutrition. We did follow up and treatments at UCSD and a private clinic in Encinitas, California while praying about what to do next. Even though it was one of the scariest and hardest times for Nathanael and me, we were blessed to have so much time together. We regularly went to the Imperial Beach pier at sunset to watch the surfers and fishermen end the day. I remember how much N's countenance changed when he looked out at the ocean. Even though he could no longer experience the joy of being in the water due to his port and fragile immune system, he seemed one with the atmosphere. He breathed differently, held his head high and his blue eyes were always cast deep in thought across the sea. He enjoyed watching a talented surfer catch a good wave and could laugh at the kooks who nearly crashed into the pier. I remember one winter day we sat in our car near Point Loma watching surfers' boards split in half as they tried to wrangle a huge south swell while avoiding the sharp reef where the waves collided. N was completely thrilled. We named his IV pump Tyrone and took him everywhere with us as N recovered from his brush with death and gradually put weight back on. Meanwhile, my fellow teachers and staff at Tacoma Public Schools provided me with enough donated leave to stay in California with N for the entire school year. It was a total miracle of graciousness which I have NEVER forgotten!
In June 2006, we moved in with my mom, Jamie, in Laguna Niguel, California so we could be near both of our parents. That summer Nathanael had two bone marrow biopsies and was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia (failure of the bone marrow to produce red and white blood cells as well as platelets) which explained why his case of Lyme Disease was nearly impossible to treat. N was not a canditate for a traditional stem cell transplantation with chemo, or blood transfusions due his liver issues so he pursued treatments, including IVs, hyperbaric oxygen, and biofeedback at a clinic in Mission Viejo, California. He started to drive himself to most of his appointments and began to gain some weight back on his own. We were able to take walks nearly everyday and often we drove to Laguna Beach to walk by N's beloved sea. I was teaching middle school Language Arts in Irvine at the time and everyday I would tell Nathanael all my teaching woes and triumphs while we walked. It was a treasured time for us. N was a great listener. He patiently heard out every detail of my problems and always had sound and direct advice. Even now, I ask myself each day, "What would N tell me to do right now?" and then I pretty much have my answer. What a special gift he left behind for those who knew him best.
One day, my mom's landlady called and said she was selling the condo we were all living in and we had thirty days to leave. This prompted our family to pray earnestly over our next move. Around that time Hilary and Johnny went on a trip to New Mexico to scope things out "just in case" and called us up one day saying they thought they had found a place that might work for N and me. We were eager to put roots down in a dry climate with clean air and a cheaper cost of living (so we thought!). Hilary said she could live with us for the first year until we got established. We looked at the pictures of the house set in quiet rural area and without much hesitation said, "Let's do it!" We felt it was an incredible chance to move somewhere with the best air quality in the U.S., no mold, no ticks, no EMF pollution, lots of alternative health care, and a slowed down lifestyle. Many Lyme patients from back east had relocated there too so we felt we would be in good company. It was August 2007 when Hils and I landed in Albuquerque. Monsoons were breaking over the Sandia Mountains, pink lightning lit up silver blue clouds at sunset, and everything was bright green from a harsh winter. I was still suffering from bad panic attacks and pretty freaked out, but was quickly enamored by the striking scenery in the Land of Enchantment where my grandma and mom were both born. Nathanael arrived a few weeks later and this is when God truly taught us how to walk by faith and not by sight.
One month after N arrived, he went to the hospital after having a bad reaction to a medication. There he suffered his first grand mal seizure due to acute dehydration and low sodium levels. It's a gruesome story and a horrible memory, but he was placed in ICU then PCU and came home screaming from pain in his spine. He got an MRI and they found his back had broken in four places from the violent seizure. His bone density test revealed Advanced Osteoperosis-- that of a ninety year old man. N was unable to drive any longer and it was the start of many tragic setbacks. It was clear that Hilary was going to be with us for longer than one year and that Johnny would need to make frequent visits. Thankfully the Lord provided one of the most special people we've ever had the pleasure of knowing to help us. God sent Maria to us as Hilary's back issues prevented her from driving to Santa Fe. I got an ESL job at Santa Fe Community College so thanks to everyones' efforts to care for N I was able to work full time. Johnny continued to live and work between California, Washington, and New Mexico and came home more and more often to be our paramedic, caregiver, massage therapist, home repairman, crisis manager, and all around absolute hero. It was apparent that N and I could no longer live on our own and we are both forever grateful to his parents for laying aside their own health, independence, fincances, and plans for us to have a chance at life. It's more than I can express, but I thank God everyday for Nathanael's incredible parents who cared tirelessly for him to the very end... and for me, too.
By 2010, N was regularly breaking bones all over his body and would spend seasons in bed immobilized while at other times he could use a wheelchair or a walker. More and more of his life, youth and manhood were being stripped away. We could no longer take walks together outside and that pained us both. He had a catheter placed over his heart for IV nutrition as he began to lose weight again. His body looked like that of a Holocaust victim and his spine began to fracture from top to bottom and compress his organs. It was a living nightmare for N and for all of us. Eventually N's sacral fractures made it impossible for him to sit, stand and walk, and he was stuck in bed for weeks on end having to be bathed, use the bathroom with assistance, and eat lying down. He dropped to 85 pounds once again and really didn't want to live any longer. Trying to move him was an excruciating process that took two people and our hearts would break on days when he simply couldn't be shifted at all. We began working on his advanced directive and end of life wishes, but I couldn't complete the paperwork. It was too painful and I couldn't handle it. While N felt mostly done with fighting, he still had a spark of hope. One day he asked us if he could try umbillical stem cell therapy even though it was not highly recommended for someone with active Lyme Disease, but it was being used by NIH and Mayo Clinic for Aplastic Anemia. He felt he had nothing to lose.
Five Precious Years
In August 2010, family and friends raised money to provide Nathanael with one unmatched Umbillical Stem Cell Transplantion (USCT). This is very different from bone marrow stem cell transplantation wherein the entire bone marrow is removed and replaced with a healthy transplant. These stem cells are harvested from umbilical cords (note: these are not the ethically controversial cells harvested from embryos) and given as a direct injection. The millions of healthy cells enter the body like little surgeons looking for areas that need repair and growth. N's doctor said he would need several injections to make progress, but we could hardly afford one. The miracle happened when, on the day of his first injection-- at the EXACT moment the infusion took place, Johnny received a phone call from a colleague who asked how Nathanael's stem cell procedure was going. He told him we were in the middle of doing it and his friend declared that he wanted to make a huge donation for Nathanael to do multiple treatments. We were in utter shock! Johnny hardly ever shared with others about his family's health problems so it was a surprise that this person even knew what we were up to. We took it as a sign that God had more in store for N.
This donation allowed Nathanael to do five consecutive treatments that completely changed his life and mine forever. We all watched in awe as Nathanael went from 85 pounds to 90 and then eventually up to 120! He was eating the same, but metabolising his food. When he fractured a rib it would heal in two days instead of two months. He began to get out of bed, walk with a walker and even sit again! It was the most unbelievable medical response we had ever seen for Nathanael. We didn't want to stop so I started a fund raising campaign with HelpHopeLive and many people began making generous donations. In 2011, my co-workers at SFCC, Kevan Morshed and Matt Borst, took my fundraising idea request to heart and planned a golf tournament in honor of Nathanael. At that time, neither of them had met N and it completely floored our entire family that there were people who wanted to help us in this way. The Nathanael Daggett Golf Tournament lasted for three years and raised a total of $50,000 for N's stem cell fund and medical expenses! It was not only a tremendous gift on a practical level, but healed our hearts after so many years of discouragement. It was amazing to realize how many people truly wanted to surround our family with help in our time of need. It changed our lives and gave us hope. Sadly, the USCT treatments stopped working after a while because the stem cells were not matched to N's HLA (human leukocyte antigen) type and some were even incompatible. Even though they did not heal Nathanael forever, they gave us five extra precious years that were some of the best and closest for N and me. N regained his photographic memory, his sharp sense of humor, his ability to read, write and concentrate... and to have a good argument! He began writing me riddles, poems and love notes again... in mechanical pencil. These memories are SO priceless for me, even though they were in the midst of unbearable hardship. We even got to take short walks outside together again, even up to the last few weeks of N's life.
When the stem cell treatments started plateauing, our family began to talk and pray about moving to lower altitude. N wasn't able to produce enough blood cells at 7,500 feet and it was taking a toll on Hilary, too. After searching and praying for another dry climate with no ticks, no mold, no EMFs, no Valley Fever risk, less cold weather etc. we narrowed in on Sedona, Arizona at 4,500 feet. We were advised by N's physicians to get below 5,000 feet and this seemed like a good fit for many reasons. Hilary and I were brokenhearted about leaving New Mexico as we loved the landscape and vibrant history, but knew it was time to go. I remember last fall, before we left, that N told me how strange it was to leave a place where he had no good memories. That broke my heart. He could barely appreciate the beauty as he was in constant pain. His Lyme infections were growing out of control and he was losing weight again. He had stopped writing me love notes and felt he was losing himself again. He was so fragile in his spine and overall constitution that we had no idea how we were going to get him to Sedona. In fact, he had his second grand mal seizure in August 2014 and we didn't even know if he would make it to our moving date. I cannot begin to describe the stress we were living under trying to move Nathanael to a lower altitude. Then by a totally unexpected miracle, the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority (NMPSIA) authorized Blue Cross Blue Shield to pay for a non-emergency air ambulance to transport Nathanael to our new home in Sedona, Arizona. N was such an incredible fighter and was determined to get here even though he had faced off with death over and over again. We had high hopes that the lower altitude would give him a chance to do treatments he couldn't do in the high desert of New Mexico. On November 15, 2014, an ambulance came to our home in Lamy to take N, Hilary and me to the Santa Fe airport where we were met by nurses and pilots who loaded us on a Lear Jet and zoomed across two states in only forty-five minutes to land atop the Sedona Airport Mesa. There we met another ambulance crew who escorted us to our new home.
I spent two days thrilled that we had all survived in one piece, but could see that Nathanael was struggling with the harsh adjustment and chaos of moving our home hospital. Soon it was apparent that there were environmental issues that were bothering N and Hilary, too. Instead of benefiting from the increase in oxygen, N's infections were going through the roof. His pain levels were out of control and he began to say that he felt like his body was on fire. There was a burning inside his blood and bones that was unbearable. I had never seen him in such pain even though he was taking all the medication he could to control it. By December he started talking about quitting all treatments and entering hospice care. Our entire family was devastated. Everything we had hoped for Nathanael was quickly falling apart. We had believed that we would be taking long walks again, doing aquatic therapy, and enjoying a sunnier climate together. He was supposed to try new therapies and regain his independence little by little. It was inconceivable that N would want to give up. It was not in his determined nature. He was so smart and always knew exactly what his body needed to do even in the face of grave circumstances. But he knew he was losing the fight. His parasitic infections were out of control and each week roundworms were coming out by the dozen in the toilet. It was a huge sign for him that his immune system was rapidly failing. Any treatments he tried started to backfire and made him sicker than he could handle. He couldn't keep up. He was done and told me over and over again that he was tired and just wanted to go Home. He was ready and he needed me to let him go. It took me several months to agree, but finally I was able to fully support him in his decision. N was smart and wanted to be in control of the process while he was still cognizant. Our RN case manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield was a wise and seasoned hospice nurse from New Orleans who told me that it was my time to listen to him, listen to him, listen to him. It was the best advice anyone ever gave me. N needed all the strength I could give him without my strong opinions and anxieties overwhelming an already agonizing decision. He had fought long and hard enough for me and for everyone and we owed him this respect.
God provided an incredible hospice nurse to help us through the process. We were able to organize everything at home according to N's specific requests. Johnny was with us every step of the way and would have done everything and more except I was determined to be by N's side as much as possible once he stopped medications. N's dad was like a Navy Seal angel taking care of us both while my mom cared for Hilary who was completely traumatized by the process of watching her only son fail on top of her own serious health issues. By God's amazing grace there was a force of incredible peace in our home those last two weeks. I didn't know how I would do it, but I felt the Lord put a literal shield of peace and strength around me and Hilary was shielded from seeing more than she could handle. I remember one of the last conversations I had with N before the morphine took over was him tiredly and seriously asking about each family member and asking when I was getting a massage for my back, who was now getting the mail, who was doing the laundry and did I want to hang out with him and listen to music. That last part really got me. When I asked him what he wanted to listen to, he whispered, "Monks." He was always a man who knew what he liked. I put on our favorite Tallis Scholars CD and lathered his cold feet with loads of ozone oil to prevent bedsores and tried, with God's help, to swallow all of my tears and distract him from his pain. That was the last time we talked back and forth, but I continued to sing, whisper and pray over him constantly as he slept. He had a few more quiet conversations about letting go with my mom and his dad and they told him he was free to go anytime. Our hospice nurses encouraged us to not hold him back as he got closer to his journey Home. He had fought hard to the very end and Johnny and I were both able to be by his bedside on the morning of Tuesday, June 16, 2015 when Nathanael left his body of pain and ascended to Jesus' side.
A Life Lived by Faith
Nathanael Daggett had an unusually difficult life, especially for the last eighteen years while his health slowly spiralled out of control. The tragedy and trauma that made up his young adulthood would have caused anyone to lose hope, feel hated by God, and to hate life itself. But Nathanael, the son who was "given of God" to Johnny and Hilary and eventually to all of us, had a hope that penetrated these insults. Nathanael had fully given his life over to Jesus as a young man. He gave himself not in part, not in theory, not at a distance, but with his whole heart he believed what the Bible says: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, will not die, but will have eternal life." John 3:16. Nathanael surrended his entire heart to Jesus and in return he experienced a peace that passed comprehension, a grace that was sufficient for each day, and a power that was made perfect in weakness. While he did not receive the radical overall healing that so many of us prayed hard for, there is no denying the daily miracles of provision, relief, and help that were abundant for N and our family. Prayer was his most powerful medicine and I remember over and over again the significant difference N felt when one or more people joined in prayer for him. This is what got him through and carried him Home.
Nathanael knew with confidence that whether he lived a long life or died at a young age, that his eternal standing before God was not upheld by his own goodness (although he was the sweetest guy we know!), but by the perfect sacrifice for sin which Jesus made on the cross of Calvary 2,000 years back. When that stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus was nowhere to be found, resurrection life-- eternal life was accomplished for all those who simply ask for forgiveness for their sins and to have Jesus enter their hearts. It may seem foolish, simple and dumb to those who haven't fully experienced it. But to those who have, you know it is the most powerful thing on earth to connect to God in this way. There is unspeakable strength and peace that come with believing that Jesus really is the Son of God, that he really did come to earth as a man, as a sacrifice for our sins because God, who is perfect, cannot look upon sin which has taken over every heart and this entire earth. "For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. This is not only apparent in the way people treat one another, but also how they treat God's creation. So what hope do we really have in ourselves when our time comes to face off with God? "It is appointed for a person to die once and after this comes judgment." Hebrews 9:27. We are all going to have to deal with our sins before God, big sins, small sins, whatever you want to call them, we will have to give an answer to our Creator for our time on this earth. Nathanael was ready to do this for one reason only. Not because he relied on his good works, sacrifices, and kindness, but because he feared God's power and knew that God is only pleased with a perfect work, that of His perfect Son taking all the punishment for everyone's wrongs for all time. All he had to do was believe this. And he did.
The desire of Nathanael's heart was for you to know this and he was very clear to me before he left, that I should share his hope with everyone.
May the Lord bless and guide you as you ponder N's life and this message.