July 2010


We had just finished making some major changes to our home, knocking out a wall, putting in a new floor, decorating it creatively.  Mary Ann’s sense of color and elegant simplicity was reflected in the results.

Realizing what was coming with Mary Ann’s condition, I had concluded that I would finish out my ministry in OKC and care for Mary Ann there.  The parish was a comfortable fit for me on account of the warmth and graciousness of the people.   The congregation’s place in the polity of the church and my views were a good match.

Then came the contact from Kansas.  It came without warning.  My attitude was that I did not refuse an overture before there was a formal request (Call, in our jargon) to come and serve there.  My understanding of the process was that if it was from God, it would be foolish to sabotage the process.  If it was not, that would become clear soon enough.

There was a phone interview.  Rather than the on site interview that usually followed as the next step, there was a formal Call to come and serve the congregation in East Central Kansas (between KState and KU — of great significance in Kansas).

It was the end of 1995, Christmas coming.  The decision could not be processed meaningfully in the intensity of that season of the year.  I asked for time to think; it was granted.

There are no definitive steps that carry a person to an obvious decision.  The process includes all sorts of elements, including family considerations.  The center of the process, however, is discerning which direction the One in charge of such things is tugging.

Of course the various practical elements needed to be identified and weighed as to their significant.  There were pros and cons to be listed.  I have never found that list to provide a clear answer to the question, which way should I go.  The congregation in Kansas was twice the size with the same size staff we had in OKC.  I had not served in a larger congregation although I did grow up in one that size.  There was a school.  The congregation I served on my Internship (Vicarage) had a school.  We had chosen to send our children to Parochial Schools and valued their experiences there.  The Kansas congregation knew of Mary Ann’s situation but seemed not to hesitate in spite of that awareness.  The Kansas congregation was only a little more than an hour from KU Med Center, the only place we had found anyone who seemed to be capable of handling Mary Ann’s complex version of Early Onset Parkinson’s.  Our children by that time were done with college, so they would not be impacted one way or another by our staying or going.

The ministry in Oklahoma City had been intense, culminating in the OKC Bombing and the loss of Member Lee.  We had just begun a very successful midweek program called Logos.  We had a new and very talented Director of Christian Education, Chris.  We had variety in worship, with wonderful musicians for both traditional and contemporary liturgies.  The Early Childhood programs were thriving.  I had grown close to the membership especially through so many opportunities for doing Pastoral Care.  Actually, I had grown close to some of the Youth, who made a poignant “good-bye Pastor Pete” video that touched my heart.  There was some frustration that the congregation was not growing, but slowly declining.  I was concerned that what I brought to the congregation seemed not to be changing that pattern, even though we had a thriving ministry.

It was a very difficult decision, but finally it seemed as if rather than looking at concluding my ministry in OKC, there was a tugging to the Kansas congregation.  The fit there was also very good.  It felt as if I had been in training over my career up to that point for precisely what the Kansas congregation was asking me to do.

It was right at that point that Mary Ann took a turn for the worse and ended up in the inpatient program in Tulsa, as the new Neurologist tried to find the right combination of medications.

For Mary Ann, the move back to Kansas seemed to have a little of the feel of coming home.  We had both fallen in love with Kansas City.  It felt good to be close again.

There was one dynamic in particular that also made living only a little over an hour away from Kansas City seem like coming home.  When we first moved to Kansas City in 1972 to serve the parish there, we connected with a group of folks who had babies the same year.  Three other couples had boy babies, as well as having an older girl.  They had known one another from college and before.  One couple went to school together as children.  That group graciously included us and ultimately we felt almost like family.  While we were in OKC we vacationed together with that KC Crew in Texas (when I was able to reveal to them Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s diagnosis).  We had gone on a cruise in the Caribbean with one of the couples.  We celebrated birthdays together.

That group was expanded by a number of folks from that congregation with whom we had developed a friendship that continued after we left Kansas City, a friendship that transcended the role as Pastor.  There is a whole community of folks from there whom we value, with whom we have a loving and caring relationship.  Mary Ann was deeply loved by many.  Serving the new parish, we were close enough to allow those relationships to continue and to grow.

Mary Ann’s health, as well as the weight of a large congregation has not allowed the freedom to return to OKC to celebrate those relationships.  Since Mary Ann’s and my families are in Northern Illinois, any time and energy for travel took us north rather than south.  Travel was never easy and got harder as the years went by.  It is my hope that I will now be able to renew and celebrate the connection to so many people I value who were in the congregation when I was serving it there.  I still remember the tears streaming down my cheeks the last Sunday I served Communion to them, saying each name as my emotions would allow.  The organist, Shelbie, was playing her improvisation on “When in our Music God is Glorified” and leading the congregation in singing that hymn during that time.

Life has brought many separations.  The feelings of pain that come with those separations are signs of the deep value and meaning of the relationships that emerged.  On that account I embrace the pain and celebrate it.

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It was called Roman Nose State Park, named after an Indian Chief who had a Roman nose. I didn’t make that up.  Below you will find a bio on Henry Roman Nose.

I call it a rescue.  That is probably a little dramatic, but there is some truth in it.  Just days after I arrived in OKC to begin serving the parish in a suburb, the funerals started.  A number of the leading members of the congregation during my first few weeks there died.  The intense Pastoral care began.  That congregation taught me about Christian community, actually caring for others.  I did funerals for older adults, teen agers, babies, some via natural causes, some accidents, some violent deaths.  I still cherish a Pastoral stole given to me by a family who lost little Hillary just before she was due.

Doing Pastoral Care demands being on call 24/7 year round.  It was the most taxing and the most satisfying of the ministries in my portfolio.  One year there were a cluster of four funerals and a wedding in the span of two weeks including Christmas and New Year’s Day (the Groom chose that day so that he could remember their anniversary).  Without the addition of those Pastoral Care tasks, the Christmas season stretches most Pastors right up to the limit of their strength and stamina.

The combination of work demands and concern for what Mary Ann had to deal with took a toll.  Here is where Roman Nose comes into the picture.  One October, a Pastors’ Conference was approaching.  In the Oklahoma District the clergy were generally a pretty relaxed and congenial crew.  There would be time to relax and enjoy the Park, Roman Nose State Park.  The need for Pastoral Care intervened as a family lost a Loved One.  My hope was always to provide a healing presence to the degree possible.

Realizing that I would miss the break at the conference, I called to see if I could still get the group rate and just go on a Personal Retreat during the two days following the Conference.  The congregation Leadership fully supported that option.  I spent two days walking and reading and sitting and climbing and sitting and walking and reading all over the hills and valleys and bluffs of Roman Nose State Park.  I climbed over fences and through tangled brush in gullies.  I checked out the “healing tree” inside a protective fenced area, a place sacred to the Cheyenne who had lived there.

The place was a place of healing for me.  I can still picture the view as I sat at the very top of one of the taller hills, overlooking two small lakes.  A powerful Oklahoma wind was blowing in my face.  The sun was bright, the sky was crystal clear, the air crisp and fresh.  I felt what I would come to feel many times thereafter as I continued to go on Personal Retreats, relishing the solitude.  I felt whole, an intentional creation of a Someone who was providing me at that moment with the breath of life.  There was no distance between me and that Someone.

I had found great strength in Spiritual Formation activities during the years in the Kansas City area.  The Rescue at Roman Nose opened a new chapter in that Spiritual Formation.

Then came an experience that drew John and I together, finding strength in a regular time of Spiritual partnering and prayer as he ministered to his wife Sherrie through the last leg of her journey here.  I talked about Mary Ann and my journey and he talked about his and Sherrie’s.  The strength and courage of Sherrie became a source of strength for an entire congregation.  When I visited her, there would be a circle of three or four, maybe six or eight people in their living room.  She gave infinitely more than she received from all of us who gathered.  My ministry was profoundly impacted by Sherrie and John.

I can’t remember how I found out about it, but I am grateful that I did.  When we began taking Youth on Confirmation Retreats, DCE John and I took them a place called St. Francis of the Woods.  I have described it in great detail in earlier posts.  It has become a place of respite and Spiritual Renewal for me.  When I first went on a Personal Retreat there, the suggested contribution for a day and night’s stay in a two bedroom fully furnished cabin was $6.  There would be a loaf of home made bread waiting each time I arrived for a retreat.

Most of the times I went, I stayed two nights and walked for part of one day, a full day and part of a third day.  I read and walked and sat and did all the things I had done at Roman Nose.  The Orthodox Chapel, the woods and fields, 500 acres of working farm provided a rich environment for Spiritual Renewal.  Each time went I encountered that same healing recognition of being the intentional creation of Someone who chooses that I exist.

During my last two years in ministry in the OKC area, I attended two Spiritual Formation Groups (one each year) that followed the Shalem format.  The series was led by a local Pastor and Counselor who had been trained in the approach.  It involved a time of silent meditation, a time of journaling, and time for each person to share as they felt appropriate.

The Oklahoma years were an important time in providing a lab for learning to do Pastoral Care in a meaningful way, and providing a pattern of Spiritual Formation that provided the resources necessary to deal with the Bombing and Lee’s death as well as all that life had yet in store for Mary Ann and me.

Addendum:

Chief Roman Nose lived in this rugged canyon from 1887 until he died there in 1917. He was born in 1856 and given the name Woquini meaning “Hook Nose”. He grew to manhood within a hostile environment involving many Cheyenne raiding parties. In 1875 all warring Cheyennes returned to the agency at Darlington. Here he was arrested and sent to Ft. Marion in St. Augustine, Florida where he learned to speak, read and write the English language. He was then moved to an Institute in Virginia. Here he accepted the Christian faith and was baptized Henry Caruthers Roman Nose. His name Henry came from Richard Henry Pratt, the commander of the fort in St. Augustine. His name Caruthers came from Mrs. Horace Caruthers, his devoted teacher and friend in Florida. He learned tinsmith at a boarding school in Pennsylvania before returning to his homeland in 1881. Roman Nose discovered much had changed during the six years he had been away. Traditional Indian ways were almost nonexistent. White domination permeated all aspects of Indian life. Slowly he became disillusioned with what the whites offered. Roman Nose eventually spurned the white society. He left the agency and took his family to live in what is now Roman Nose State Park.

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No, she did not.  After so many days of waiting, there reached a point that we would not have wanted her to be suffering in the rubble all that time.  Who could have imagined such a thing happening?  The Pastors in the area were all at a conference about an hour and a half away.

When we first heard that there had been an explosion at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, none of us imagined the magnitude of it.  As we drove back, listening to the radio, we began to realize how serious it was.  Then we started trying to figure out if we had anyone in our congregation who worked in the building.  We phoned the office as we were traveling back and were reminded that Lee Sells worked in the building. When we arrived in OKC, I headed over to the Sells house right away.

Let me tell you about Roy and Lee.  They had been at the congregation almost since the very beginning.  In earlier years they were Youth Leaders.  They sang in the choir for over thirty years.  Unlike many Lutheran Churches, the choir pews were in the front of the church on one side in full view of the congregation every Sunday.

The Sunday I was Installed as Pastor at that church, in the afternoon at the reception, she informed me that she did not like facial hair on men.  I, of course, came with a beard.  Lee was not shy about voicing her opinion.

In their thirty some years of marriage, Roy and Lee had missed only five home or away Oklahoma University football games.  She was originally from Nebraska, but she became a fanatic OU fan.  In fact, if I remember correctly, one service (must have been an evening one during basketball season) as she was sitting in the choir pews in the front of the church in full view of the congregation, she had the telltale ear piece from her Walkman in her ear.

Roy and Lee were in the very center of the life of that congregation.  When I went to Roy’s house that terrible day, he had just returned from downtown having been turned away by the police.  He wanted to look for Lee.  People started gathering had their small house right away — relatives, neighbors, friends, many church people.

At first all eyes were glued to the television, hoping to hear some reporter say that she had been found.  Roy and the rest of us were freed from the television when someone from HUD phoned to assure Roy that he would hear from HUD long before there was any public news of finding her, or her remains.

People came and went through the open door of the Sells’ house for many days.  On Wednesday evening, a class of young children who were part of a program at church made cards and brought them over, each member of the class getting a hug from Roy.

The very first night of the day of the bombing, we had a spontaneous worship service at the church.  The attendance was about as many as came on Sundays, even though it was only by word of mouth that people found out about it.  That was one of the most powerful services I have ever experienced.  My message was short and to the point. The prayers spoken out loud by folks in the congregation (very unLutheran — we were at that time a very reserved group) were thoughtful, right up to prayers for the Perpetrator(s).  That was well before Timothy McVeigh had been stopped and arrested.

Immediately the first Sunday afterward, we began having two Child Psychologists available to help parents deal with their children.  Remember, a Day Care full of children was destroyed.  We had spent time with the teachers about how to bring the children out through drawings to get them talking about their potential fears.

I conducted a class for all who wanted to process their feelings for the next few weeks.  Some who had lost a spouse up to twenty years before, relived their grief.  Some worked on unresolved grief from the past.  Marriage Counseling immediately increased.  Those who had been suffering from Mental Illness already had flairups.  One of those who was schizophrenic and had often come to me for Pastoral Counseling as well as her Psychologist, decided that she was the cause of the bombing. A Firefighter in the congregation was overwhelmed with feelings when he saw the famous picture from the bombing, the Firefighter carrying out a limp little boy.  The Firefighter in our class had a son just about that child’s age.

One of the things that I insisted on was that the members of the congregation who were for any reason homebound receive a phone call to check on them.  After being glued to the television for so long at Roy’s house, I realized that those who have only the television to occupy their time might be getting terrified.  I wanted them to be encouraged to walk out of the door of their home and look around as a reality check.  The world was still going on even in the face of such a tragedy.  Their neighbors homes were still all there, the sun was shining, the trees and the grass were still budding out, some even blossoming.

There were training meetings for Pastors, as national level trainers came in to help.  The entire city came together as a close knit family, supporting one another.  Crime ceased entirely for the first few days.  Food was provided for any of the Volunteers, for all the meetings we had. Church folks from different brands who sometimes don’t get along, worked together.

The waiting at Roy’s house went on for ten days, until finally the call came for Roy and those of us who were supporting him to come downtown for the meeting each family had when their Loved One had been identified.  We sat in a large circle as the news was presented.  It was, of course, no surprise.  We had all just been anxious for it to be over.

That was one of the two largest funerals ever during my tenure. at that congregation.  We needed to work out closed circuit television for our Fellowship Hall so that the couple of hundred people in that room could be a part of what was going on.

The loss was terrible, but our congregation and a whole city discovered what it means to actually live in community with one another, giving and receiving support whenever needed — even if it was only for a relatively short period of time.  The residual benefit is the realization that such community can exist at all.  It provides reason to hope.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

I kept moving to be sure there was no confusion about my still being alive.  I did not want to be mistaken for road kill.  At first I saw them off in the distance sitting on the newly mown field next to me as I walked the path at Cedarcrest.  I thought they were regular wild turkeys.  Then I saw them take off.  They were Turkey Vultures.

On the wing, Turkey Vultures are elegant birds.  Their wingspan is almost that of an American Bald Eagle.  When the sun hits them a certain way, the feathers on their wings seem translucent.  They float effortlessly, wings in a V shape, circling and soaring. Once a couple of years ago, one came over me so closely that I could hear the swish of its wings.  As long as a person is far enough away that he/she cannot see the ugly heads, they appear beautiful.

It was very impressive to see so many in the air at the same time.  Later in the walk, a Green Heron landed on a nearly pier as I passed one of the large ponds there.  The morning walk continues to be helpful.  At the moment, I think I actually need it to help keep my healing on course.

Wednesday morning (today is Friday) had been a good one since the Spiritual Formation group continues to provide a rich environment for processing what has gone on or is now going on in our lives in a way that reveals God’s hand, loving and supporting us.   There was a lunch with a good friend including some great conversation, very refreshing.

The afternoon included the second day of exercising.  The muscles that were getting sore, were worked enough to help relieve the discomfort for the moment. Then I headed to the mall to try to get a gift for Granddaughter Ashlyn’s upcoming birthday. I ended up walking the circumference of the mall on both levels, probably adding up to almost as much distance as I do in the morning.  I decided to try to add a mall walk on the hot afternoons.

I ended up at a couple of other places to get the gift.  Even with all that activity, the pain of Mary Ann’s death emerged, staying with me the rest of the day.  Oddly, yesterday a neighbor who lost her husband a couple of years ago, called to see how I was doing and revealed that she had had a bad day on Wednesday also.  Must be something in the air.

Yesterday was some better.  The walk in the morning was followed by a visit from a member and his daughter.  Ed is helping with a bit a caulk repair in the bathroom. They were both fun to talk with.  Later in the day a former member had asked me to to help her process something, a role that feels comfortable for me after so many years in the ministry.  That also was an enjoyable time.

I went directly to the third different support group meeting this week.  While there is a little overlap, they are all different groups.  It is remarkable just how helpful it is to be in a setting in which there is complete understanding and the freedom to laugh or cry without hesitance.  Talking so freely there makes it easier not to talk about the loss with others who will soon tire of hearing about how much it hurts.

The groups also help temper the fears that the pain is still so strong and hasn’t let go yet. It is apparent that those who have experienced a death as recently as have I are struggling at least as much as am I.  Those for whom the death was a couple of years ago, still have access to the pain, but they are not disabled by it.  They are able to enjoy life again.  The groups provide a helpful perspective.

After spending some time with vultures this morning, I got some more organizing done at the house.  I decided to buy flowers in memory of Mary Ann and for myself. I did as I had done before when getting them for her.  I asked the folks at Flowers by Bill for ten dollars worth of colorful flowers.  I was given a large bouquet with varied colors, from pastels to deep, dark colors to bright and cheery colors.  That bouquet now adorns the dining room table.

There was another walk at the mall.  After that I went home and read a very small book called Good Grief by Granger Westberg.  Daughter Lisa had asked about it in a phone call.  She saw it on a Hospice list of recommended books.  That little book was very helpful since it nailed very many of the struggles I have been having and named them as stages in the process.  They are different from the stages of grief traditionally listed.  The book confirmed that feeling each stage fully is a way to get through the grief, incorporating it into the new person who is emerging.  Not everyone will, of course, grieve in exactly the same way, but what he described seems to be the most common experience.

The evening ended with a very enjoyable dinner out with former parishioners.  We came back to the house and talked for a while about a variety of things.  I felt almost healthy again.

A couple of days ago, as I was making one of the rounds in the mall, something very obvious found its way into my awareness.  While Mary Ann has died, I have not.  It doesn’t seem fair that I should be alive and she is not.  Fair or not, it is so.  I am actually alive.  I do not need to feel guilty about that or apologize for it.  I am free to go on with life.  Recognizing that does not make it easy, just possible.

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Mary Ann insisted that her diagnosis remain secret for the first five years in Oklahoma City.  Some of it may have been her unwillingness to accept that it was so.  Certainly, much of it was that she didn’t want people looking at her and treating her as if there was something wrong with her.

It was very difficult to keep that information in since it had such a powerful presence in our lives.  Recently, Daughter Lisa told me how difficult those years were for her, not having permission to talk about it openly.  Mary Ann gave me permission to reveal it to a couple of people so that I would have someone to talk with about its impact on our lives.  If I wanted to add anyone to the list, I asked for permission from Mary Ann before telling him/her.

The secret became especially difficult to keep when the symptoms began to become more visible.  She would not let me tell our best friends from KC with whom we even vacationed at times.  I can remember the evening she gave me permission to tell them.  We were vacationing together in New Braunfels, Texas.  Mary Ann stayed at the condo since she was tired.  The rest of us went to a Beer Garden in nearby Gruene.  We sat together at a table and I finally told them what they already knew, that she was sick.  I told them it was Parkinson’s.

It was helpful to be free to talk about it with folks in the congregation when finally Mary Ann gave permission to reveal what it was.  All of them were loving and caring to us as we tried to deal with it.

Mary Ann had worked with a couple of Temp Agencies when we first arrived.  After about three years of that, one of the companies to which she had been assigned, Jack Cooper Transport, hired her from the Agency.  She worked something short of full time for the next six years there.  The people she worked with became her friends and support group.

Mary Ann could not be involved much in the life of the congregation since work took all the stamina she could muster.  There was certainly no chance to have the energy to do anything in the evenings, and little left on weekends.  I took Fridays off and tried to keep up with the house cleaning.  I was not terribly conscientious at it, but I tried to get the bathrooms and the vacuuming done and the beds changed so that we could spend time on Saturday together.

We made friends as a couple with some of the families in the congregation and visited, ate together, enjoyed each other’s company at various times.  The people in Oklahoma are some of the most gracious folks we have met.  The attitude there seems to be that people are accepted until they prove themselves unacceptable.  Folks don’t wait until people have somehow proven themselves to be worthy before accepting them.

Finding a Neurologist who knew enough about Parkinson’s to deal with the complexities of Mary Ann’s early onset variety was a challenge.  We never found one!  We started with a fellow who was pleasant to talk with.  He prescribed the basic beginning dose of the standard medication, Sinamet.  It helped some, but each time we met with him, we sat in his office across from him as he sat at his desk.  He asked if we thought the dosage should be changed in any way (yes, he asked us).

Immediately after the diagnosis, we began going to the Parkinson’s Symposia done at KU Med Center in Kansas City.  They have a Parkinson’s Clinic with a national reputation.  We would drive up there, at first without telling anyone why we were going to KC.  As a result, we had access to the latest and best information about Parkinson’s treatments.  It seemed clear very quickly, that the Neurologist we were using just did not have more than a very basic understanding of Parkinson’s and the available treatments.

We looked until we found another Neurologist in OKC.  That was our worst experience.  He is the one who came into the exam room without ever looking at either of us.  He sat at a little table just inside the door, looking down at the chart.  When he talked to us, he never looked up.  It was actually very weird.  By this time, Mary Ann had been on the basic med for treating Parkinson’s for a few years.  It worked reasonably well, as is usual in the first stages of Parkinson’s.

The last time we went to him was more than I could tolerate.  He suggested that Mary Ann might not actually have Parkinson’s, but have had a mild stroke impacting the left side of her body.  When I asked why then the Parkinson’s medicine seemed to be controlling the problem, he made a circle around his ear with his finger, indicating that improvement was in her head.  By the way, any Neurologist who knows Parkinson’s at all is aware that one of ways of confirming the diagnosis is to use Sinamet.  If the symptoms improve, it is most likely to be Parkinson’s.  Even I knew that.

By this time, Mary Ann’s symptoms were becoming more obvious.  After about eight years of taking Sinamet, the side effect of dyskinetic movements becomes a problem.  Those movements are the wavy ones that are often visible when Michael J. Fox is in the spotlight.  Mary Ann never had tremors, the fast movements in a hand or fingers.  Tremors are often a symptom of Parkinson’s, but not always.  She did have the dyskinesias that come from many years of using the Sinamet.

One time when she was at work, she just slipped off her desk chair on account of those movements.  She hit her side on the corner of a two drawer file and broke some small ribs.  There was nothing other than pain medication that could be done until they just healed on their own.  Mary Ann’s co-workers at Jack Cooper were caring and supportive, always watching out for her.

After the horrible experience with the last Neurologist, we were at a loss as to what to do.  Somehow, I became aware of an attempt by a hospital in Tulsa to develop a Parkinson’s program.  It was brand new.  A local Neurologist was developing a team approach.  We applied and Mary Ann, of course, qualified.

She was scheduled for three weeks of in-patient care as they would try to come up with a medication regimen that would work for her.  Tulsa is 90 miles from OKC.  I was doing full time ministry, trying to go back and forth.  Mary Ann hated being there, and I hated having her there.  What was especially frustrating was seeing how haphazard the treatment was.  Pills were often not given at the scheduled times. (the doctor’s schedule).  The Staff seemed unaware that the timing of Parkinson’s meds is crucial to their effectiveness.  Having been to enough of the KU Med Center Symposia, I knew that protein in the stomach at the same time the Sinamet  competed with its absorption and reduced its effectiveness.  That meant there was a need for low protein meals early in the day when the Sinamet was taken and the ability to move was most crucial.  I mentioned that the Neurologist in charge of the program.  She did not consider it an issue of any importance.

The medicine regimen that Mary Ann ended up with was a fairly complex combination of regular and time release Sinamet.  A problem was that the time release version of Sinamet exacerbates the side effect of dyskinetic movements.  That was Mary Ann’s most difficult problem.

Mary Ann just could not stand staying there the whole three weeks.  She managed two weeks.  When she returned to OKC, it was apparent that she would not be able to handle returning to work.  She was on temporary disability from her work, but it was at that time that we moved, since I had been called to a congregation here in Kansas.

During the years in OKC, the Parkinson’s grew in its impact on Mary Ann and on our lives.  We never found our way to anyone there who seemed able to handle the complexities of Mary Ann’s early onset variety of Parkinson’s.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

The timing in Mary Ann’s life for this move impacted how she felt about it.  She had just been pulled out of a fifteen year in the making nest in Kansas City.  It coincided with a devastating diagnosis, followed almost immediately by the departure from her entire support system.  The truth is, no matter where we went, or if we stayed in Kansas City, the harsh reality of what was to come would not have changed.

I was not there when it happened.  She denied it when Daughter Lisa reminded her of it.  I have no doubt it happened.  One evening, from the window of a motel in Oklahoma City, the moon that shone out over the city from that window was named Mary Ann.  She wasn’t very talkative, but she had a way of illustrating how she felt.

Please understand, it had nothing to do with Oklahoma City.  It was simply that OKC happened to be the place to which I took her after pulling her out of that safe and comfortable nest in KC.

The house we found was spacious and comfortable.  We had looked at 39 houses and she said that when we bought it, it wasn’t even the one she thought we had picked.  As the years went by, Mary Ann’s skill at decorating resulted in a home that could have made the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.

We both ended up enjoying the expansiveness of the Oklahoma sky.  We would sometimes sit in the front yard together and watch the storms build.  We had grown up with tornadoes in Northern Illinois, so that was not really an issue — other than the fact that our house and most houses didn’t have a basement. One night when Mary Ann’s Mom was visiting, the wind knocked down our back fence.  That night at Lake Hefner, about a mile and a half from our house, the wind was clocked at 104 miles per hour.

Mary Ann was not at all thrilled with the little beast that startled her by jumping in front of her when she took the lid off the garbage can in the garage.  Actually it was not so little.  It was a very large Tarantula, whose legs formed a circle about four inches in diameter.  I wasn’t there, but Lisa was.  She managed to get it into an institutional-sized pickle jar.  We tried feeding it for a while, but it didn’t survive.

Lisa went off to college the fall of our first year in OKC.  That was tough on Mary Ann.  She and Lisa were best buds (BFF’s).  It was a striking change from Mary Ann’s experience with her Mother.  They were at odds most of the time, especially in her high school years.  The day Lisa left for college (nine hours drive away), I had a wedding that had been scheduled eight months before when I had no idea it would be the weekend Lisa needed to get to school.  I will never forget pacing around the house by myself (Micah was away from the house that day — school may have started).  That was the second time in my adult life that I cried.  A gracious member of the congregation rode with them so that Mary Ann would not have to drive back by herself.

Micah settled in pretty well, but I remember him telling me that summer, “Don’t ever do this to me again!”  He began in the last year of a Junior High (9th Grade).  It was a challenge since all the groups were set, sports teams were in their third year with players established.

I was tuned into managing money carefully.  I got that trait from my Dad.  The euphemism is frugal, a less flattering synonym is tight.  The result is that I insisted that the Kids put 50% of everything they earned into savings.  Before that, 10% came off the top for church.  That left them with 40% of their earnings available for discretionary spending.  That is a whole lot higher percent than is available as adults.  The kids knew that they would not be given a car.  They would have to buy it for themselves.

Micah had saved $250 and managed to find a truck to buy for that amount.  It had to be towed to the house.  He didn’t yet have his license, but by the time he obtained it, he had the truck running.  There was, of course, the time when I was first teaching him to drive it that he turned the key before pushing in the clutch.  It was a well built truck — no damage to the truck — moved the laundry room wall about three inches into the room.

Lisa did well in college and ended up getting a Master’s Degree in a discipline with a track in Nursing Home Administration.  Her internship gave us excuse to go to Santa Barbara, CA for a few days to visit her.  What a beautiful place.

Micah continued playing soccer through high school.  His gift for writing blossomed in his Senior year in a writing class with a wonderfully affirming teacher who caught sight of his ability.  He went on to college and got a degree (in three years) in communication.  He was the Editor of the Pitt State newspaper, resulting in a journalism emphasis in the degree.  Micah and Becky married after his second year in college.  The timing was not my favorite idea, but they have been wonderful together.  I couldn’t love Becky more.  And, of course, there is Granddaughter Chloe.  They did very well!  (Yes, Becky, I forgot to sign the license before I sent it in!)

As promised: During the years at the church in the OKC area, I officiated at  many marriage ceremonies.  A young man from the congregation was dating a young lady named Kathy.  They asked me to do the wedding.  We could not use the church of which I was Pastor, since it would only seat 200 to 250 at the very most.  This wedding would have over 800 guests.  Kathy was the Daughter of the then coach of the Oklahoma University football team.

Barry obtained the use of a large Methodist church building in Norman, OK and we were able to seat all 800.  There were six video cameras.  I called Barry aside and told him that I needed for the videographers to stay put — no wandering.  He said, “Whatever you say, Pastor Pete.”  I do not think he was always that agreeable with his players — but they certainly played well.  (Sorry, Nebraska fans — I remember that infamous Thanksgiving Day game.)  That was the largest wedding I ever did.

Enough for tonight.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

This morning’s walk was dangerous!  I don’t know what I did.  I have gone around those bushes many times, once on my first pass.  This happened on the second pass.  The chirps did no damage, but the little winged attackers came mighty close.  I think they were tree swallows.  Otherwise the walk was again a pleasant way to become energized for the day.  One of my favorite sights is a field of round bales of grass/hay.  The field at Cedarcrest is in the process of being cut, rows of cut grass formed by a tetter, and a baler rolling the grass into the huge round bales, each apparently weighing around 2000 pounds. 

Today was furnace day.  I am now the proud owner of a 95.5% efficient furnace.  They should pay me to use it.  The installation demanded having the AC off all day.  The heat index was probably pushing 110 degrees.   I was happy to have reason to be out of the house a couple of times during the day.

This was the first actual exercise day.  There are parts of my body that I clearly have not used very much, since I was unaware that they existed.  I wonder what I will feel like tomorrow.  I feel very good about walking and working out as grief therapy.  I felt good after completing both today. 

I went to another support group this afternoon.  There must have been fifteen or sixteen people by the time all had arrived.  The Leader had told me that there would be ten or twelve when I called.  I think she was surprised too.  This group had many first timers who had lost a loved one just weeks before, mostly Spouses, two had lost their Mothers. 

There were lots of tears as well as some laughter.  Of course the most beneficial element is the freedom to speak openly and freely to people who understand without explanation the nature of the pain.  Some there had lost a spouse two or more years before.  They had lots to share about what was helpful to them in the healing process.  They were reassuring that survival is possible, that the pain does become much more manageable with time. 

I don’t suppose there was anything I heard that I didn’ t already know intellectually.  In years past I have told people who were grieving those same things.  It was helpful for me to hear them again from the mouths of others, now that my attention has been captured fully.  The people there confirmed the value of some of the choices I have made, writing, exercising, getting to support groups.  They helped me try to get some perspective an uncomfortable experience in the recent past. 

When I returned home, I always check the front door on the outside chance someone has sent something.  There was a box with a soft sided cooler in it, containing fifteen or twenty different packages of Mrs. Field’s snack-sized cookies and brownies.  Wow!!  What a treat!  The note was signed simply, “COME SEE US.”  It is from some wonderful, caring friends from KC who now live in a beautiful spot on a picturesque inlet of a large lake in Oklahoma.  I will do as they ask. 

Tonight some of the tasty food from the freezer (brought by former parishioners and neighbors around the time of Mary Ann’s death (I have to keep saying that until I get used to it) was added to lots of veggies, sweet corn, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, bread from the Farmer’s Market.  Were it not for the quantities that I consume, I would be pretty healthy, slim and trim.  Well, there was the dish of ice cream with some of the snack cookies. 

I just returned from a spontaneous trip to look at the most remarkable show in the evening sky.  I walked outside to look at the legs of a huge rainbow melting into a reddish cloudy center.  Opposite that rainbow, which was resting against a deep, dark grey background, was a bright red and turquoise sky separated horizontally (bright turquoise on the bottom and equally bright red on the top) by a bank of cloud, smooth and dark.  To the right of that was a jumbled puffy strip of dark clouds hanging just above the horizon.  Some of what I am describing I saw while standing in the street in front of my house.  As I stood in the street, there was some bright cloud to cloud lightning followed in a fraction of a second  by an ear-splitting crash of thunder that sent me back to the house.  It seemed far too close for comfort.  Then I realized I was free to hop in the car and go to my favorite spot to look at the sky with an unobstructed view.  Some of what I described above is what I saw from that hilltop.  I debated about even trying to describe what I saw.  If someone were to paint the scene, critics would probably say it was a contrived mix of elements that could not be so at the same time in the same sky.  I am not a skilled enough writer to describe it with the elegance and clarity it deserves, but it was too remarkable not at least to make an attempt.

I think I will stop with one post tonight.  I still hope to make the new blog domain name simple and accessible enough to begin separating out these posts from the continuing story of Mary Ann’s and my marriage.  These posts are intended to describe the beginning of my attempt to build a new life.  The continuing story of our marriage is the therapeutic reclamation of a history of a full and meaningful life with someone I love deeply.  The love has not died.  It is still as strong as ever.  That and the memories, I get to keep.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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