Help from Others


“How is retirement going?”  the Pastor asked as we were leaving after worshiping at the evening service at  a Lutheran Church in Kansas City a few months into retirement.  I told him that it seemed to be going pretty well, better than I had expected it to be going.  When we got in the car after that interaction, Mary Ann said, “Let’s be honest.  This is not working.  We are both bored silly!” 

First of all, it was a shock to me that so many words came out so clearly.  Mary Ann was never very forthcoming with conversation and especially by that time in the disease process.  She just blurted it out.  By that time I had begun to feel as if things actually were going pretty well.  What I inferred (rightly or wrongly) from what she said was that it was not working for her and she was bored silly.  In fairness, she may have been assuming that I was bored with our situation after moving from many hours away from home working at my job to being at the house pretty much all day long every day. 

It certainly was boring for her.  She couldn’t do any of the things she had done in the past for entertainment other than watch television.  We had been heading out in the car very often to do one thing or the other so that we would not be cloistered in the house, but apparently that was not doing the job.  Since we were together all the time, there was no news to share that the other didn’t already know. 

At first, it sort of hurt my feelings that having just retired early to do full time care of Mary Ann, there seemed to be no appreciation.   For one thing, I needed to accept the fact that I could not fix the situation — I could not do enough to replace all that she was missing.  One thought that came to mind  was trying to increase the visits from Volunteers so that Mary Ann would have someone other than me to talk with (listen to) more often during the week. 

It happened that there were enough of the working folks who could only Volunteer evenings that Scheduler Mary was able to accommodate that need.  We added two evenings a week as options when Volunteers were available.  The Volunteers brought with them their presence and their experiences and their stories.  Sometimes (especially on NCIS days) there was a lot of just sitting together and watching television.  Often Volunteers shared what was going on at work or in their family or extended family, thereby enlarging Mary Ann’s world. 

Sometimes a Volunteer (daytime or evening) would read to her from a novel they brought out each time she visited.  There were occasional outings by Volunteers who happened to be willing and physically able to help Mary Ann in and out of the car as well as handling the wheelchair.  There were trips to Ensley Gardens, a world class garden on the other side of town.  Volunteers would sometimes do food preparation, bringing Mary Ann into the kitchen with them.  In earlier years, Mary Ann had often challenged Volunteers to a game of Scrabble.  She played well and showed no mercy. 

I suppose the greatest challenge was trying to keep Mary Ann’s environment a stimulating one for her.  I felt inadequate to the task.  I didn’t have the creativity or the stamina to do it myself, but with the help of the Volunteers, she had a reasonably good quality of life within the limits placed by the Parkinson’s Disease.  Until the last few months, we got out as often as I could think of  something to do that we could manage, if only to the Library or the grocery store.  Right up until the last hospitalization last October 31st, we were often on the road.  We had just returned from our last major trip the day before, October 30th. 

Descriptions of the last two major trips with come in subsequent posts.

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Our travels took us first to Greenville, South Carolina when Lisa moved there, then met Denis and they married.  Needless to say, those trips were taken on a plane.  When they moved to Louisville, Kentucky, we could drive there.  It was at least ten hours for us to make the trip, but we could do it.  There was Interstate from within blocks of our house here to within blocks of their house there.  By that time we had dealt with the life-threatening pneumonia after the plane trip to Tucson, so we gave up on traveling by air. 

Then something remarkable happened that shortened the ten hour trip to three minutes.  It went something like this: Denis said to Lisa, “Why don’t we move to Topeka to help out your parents for a couple of years until your Dad retires.”  I don’t know if those were the exact words, but that was the gist of it.  Lisa called.   Mary Ann was ready for them to come.  I wanted them to be sure not to disrupt their lives and careers without thinking it through carefully.  Our goal in raising our children was that they have the best life possible.  They thought about it and did it.  It was their choice to make.  What a gift it was to us. 

Within weeks, Lisa, Denis, Abigail and Ashlyn were in our downstairs, heading out regularly to look at houses.  They found one three minutes away.   Denis looked for work locally, while continuing to work for his employer in Louisville, traveling some, doing much of his work at the computer.   Denis did so well from here in Kansas that his boss wondered if he shouldn’t move here.  The job continued all two years. 

During that time Lisa and the girls came to the house before I left for work two days of the week.  She took over scheduling the weekday Volunteers for the other days.  She and the girls would take Mary Ann to their house until late afternoon when I joined the family for supper at their home.  After supper, I took Mary Ann back to our house, where often there was another Volunteer who had  been scheduled by Mary for the time I was at an evening meeting.  Of course, there were many other times that Mary Ann would stay with Lisa and the girls or they would come to the house.   Between Mary, who scheduled evenings and weekends (weddings, retreats), Edie who scheduled Sunday mornings (after an early shift by a paid home companion from an agency), Jeanne who came on Thursdays, and Lisa dealing with daytimes, I was able to continue to fulfill my responsibilities as the Senior Pastor of a large and very active congregation.  Lisa’s presence in town, with help from Jeanne and Mary, even allowed me to once or twice a year to have a three day overnight retreat at St. Francis of the Woods Spiritual Renewal Center in Northern Oklahoma. 

Son Micah, Becky and Chloe had moved from three hours away to one hour away not many years before this.   He came over, especially when there was a major Saturday commitment that took me from the house.  During those two years, Mary Ann had the joy of all her Children and Grandchildren nearby.  She spent much time with Lisa and the girls because of my work schedule.  Lisa would often include her in craft activities and food preparation.  Even with all the limitations, Mary Ann had a good quality of life for most of her years. 

Needless to say, it was a sad day when around the time of my retirement, Denis, Lisa and the girls moved back to the Louisville.  The agreement at Denis’s work had been for the time away to be two years only.  Denis also has a huge family (he is the youngest of ten children) who are all clustered very near Louisville.   Lisa, Denis and the girls have a wonderful community of support there. 

We returned to making trips to Louisville for as long as we could travel.  After a while the stairs in their house were too much for Mary Ann to handle, so the last time we visited, we stayed in an extended stay motel.  That worked well.  The last trip there was less than a year ago.  I will say more about that and some other travels in the next posts on this blog site.   

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How is this for a retreat: Pay $50 for a couple to attend and then discover a $100 dollar bill in one of your notebooks.  I am not making this up.  I had never heard of these retreats when the mailing came.  It was pretty much too good to be true.  When I got the letter, I did not know about the $100 bill that would be in the notebook I received that first evening, but the rest of what was described in the letter was already too good to be true.  It actually was true, it was as good as it was too good to be — even better!

The location for the retreat was Big Cedar Lodge owned by the Bass Pro Shops.  It is located on Table Rock Lake, south of Branson, Missouri.  It is advertised as a Luxurious vacation spot.  They are not lying!   Remember the $50 registration fee?  The retreat was five nights and six days long, April 7-12, 2002.  When we finally drove in, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  Rolling hills spread out in front of us for hundreds of acres at the edge of the lake where all sorts of rustic buildings surrounded by gardens nestled among the trees and carefully arranged landscaping greeted us.  We registered and got our keys.  It took us a long time to find our room — ROOM? – it was a free standing cabin.  Inside was a large living area (with a large fire place), dining area (a large basket of fruit and packaged foods greeted us), full kitchen, king-sized bed, a bath area the size of the living room in our current townhome (of course with a huge jacuzzi tube).  The cabin had a deck area with chairs and a gas grill for outdoor cooking (not that we would have to do any).  The little card on the back of the door listed the room rate as $350 per night.  Clearly, there had been a much better rate negotiated.   

The retreats are called Grace Place Retreats.  They were begun by Dr. John Eckrich (M.D.).  He had been treating Lutheran Professional Church Workers in his practice for many years.  It struck him how stressed so many were.  He had a concern for the health of the church and realized that healthy church workers would be important for the church to remain healthy.  He decided to do something about it.  When the Lutheran Deaconness Hospital was sold some years before that, the proceeds became a benevolent fund that could be approached with grant proposals.  The front of the brochure we received in 2002 describes the Grace Place Retreats as: “A Retreat and Lifestyle Program Offering Integrated Health Skills to Lutheran Pastors and Spouses.”  It has expanded since then to all flavors of church workers.  Almost all of the costs of the retreat were underwritten by the Grant and donations to the Grace Place Program.

Then there was the food!  Big Cedar had five restaurants.  Our meals were catered in the area where our sessions were held.  There was not an ordinary meal to be eaten.  We were never disappointed, always impressed with the quality of the fare.  When we opened our notebooks and discovered the $100 bill, we were instructed to use it while we were there to treat ourselves.  Who are we not to follow instructions?  Mary Ann got a spa treatment of some sort and I got a massage.  Mary Ann was using a wheelchair at the time, and was always accommodated by the staff and the other participants on the retreat.  It was a good experience for her. 

Each morning there was a prayer, meditation, exercise time before the sessions started.  It was called Lutherans in Movement and Meditation.  After breakfast we always practiced Lectio Divina as a group.  That discipline involves reading the same Scripture passage two or three times listening differently each time with silence afterward to let the message settle in and take hold.  One of the days we held a juice fast, followed by breaking the fast with a light meal of bread and fruit.  Evenings included Faith Exploration activities.   One evening we went to a local church for Evening Prayer. 

Sessions focused on a variety of topics aimed at promoting good physical and mental health.  Some were on dealing with stress, looking at our various roles in life.  There was a very pointed session that addressed our marital health and habits.  The four themes addressed were: the priority of marriage, the permanence of marriage, the oneness of marriage, and the openness of marriage.  We were paired with another couple for the retreat so that we could have small group discussions on the various topics.  There was one afternoon that we were to take a sheet of instructions and spend the entire time in silent meditation.  That was the day of the juice fast.  One of the sessions had a leader from our national church body who talked about money management and planning for the future. 

One evening included heading into Branson to see the Jim Stafford show.  We both enjoyed the show (to our surprise).  One afternoon we had a tour of Dogwood Canyon.  It is a sort of private wildlife preserve that was very impressive.  We rode a wagon along a creek filled with visible trout (it was crystal clear) and through an area where buffalo and elk were out in the open.  In a sense, they were the observers and we were the mammals inside a protected area (the wagon).  Some of them came over very close to check us out.  They were huge!   On the afternoon for recreational activities, a few of us rented a pontoon boat and toured the lake on our own. 

Then there was the last evening’s reception and banquet.  We were treated like royalty to a multi-course meal in a banquet room that had the look of an Elizabethan castle banquet room.  There were gourmet appetizers, a lavish meal, each course accompanied by the appropriate libations. 

Dr. John accomplished the goal of giving us a refreshing moment of being affirmed and appreciated for who we were and what we were doing.  We felt valued.  The sessions brought attention to our self-care, physically and spiritually, and sent us away with tools for incorporating better habits into our patterns of living.  Mary Ann and I certainly gained from it.  Our life together was challenging with the Parkinson’s taking its toll on us.  That week lifted our spirits and brought a wonderful respite from the press of daily struggles.  I am very grateful to Dr. John and the Grace Place Retreats for caring enough to commit time an energy and resources to such a nurturing ministry.  It has provided a memory worth keeping.   

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The last dozen years could have been spent cloistered at home, a prisoner to Parkinson’s.  We chose instead to live to the limits of our physical ability, maybe a little beyond.  It was Mary Ann’s resilience and our resolve that allowed a quality of life that was satisfying and fulfilling. 

In 1999, the Kansas City Crew, including the two of us decided that a trip to Alaska was in order.  It was John and Carol’s 35th Wedding Anniversary.  Gary knew someone who had been a travel agent and still had access to the last minute cheaper fares on the Princess Cruise Line.  Marlene was impacted by ALS as Mary Ann was by the Parkinson’s.  We just did it.  It was a wonderful, memorable trip.  We flew to Anchorage, enjoyed a Farmers’ Market there, drove to a lodge outside of Denali, where we sat on a deck in the bright sunshine at 11pm.  We bussed through Denali, seeing the spectacular sights, Mt. McKinley, Moose, Dahl Sheep and Bear Scat.  That is as close as we got to spotting a Grizzly Bear — okay with me.

There was the obligatory stop at Talkeetna.  We walked the street and marveled at the size of the flowers.  We made one stop that provided a scene that doubled us over in laughter.  There was a huge statue of a Grizzly Bear.  From the back, his stance looked exactly like a huge guy standing there relieving himself.  There is a picture of the four of us (the guys) from the back as we lined up on either side of that bear and mimiced his stance.  No, I am not going to post that picture.  There are former parishioners who read this blog.  The KC Crew threatened to send a copy to the church when the pictures came back. 

We drove to Seward and boarded the ship.  Glacier Bay was breathtaking.  The aqua blue eminating from the cracks, the snapping of the glacier as it moved, the rumble of the calving, a seal sitting on an ice floe, a bright day with a crisp chill in the air made that part of the trip the most vivid in my memory.  We traveled the train the gold miners used at Skagway, the White Pass Excursion Train.  It is impossible to describe the expansiveness of the views.  Everything in Alaska is huge! 

We saw the Mendenhall Glacier, already then having retreated a mile or two from the observation building that at one time was at the edge of the glacier.  We ate our fill of grilled salmon fillets covered with a sweet brown sugar glaze.  There was fresh Haibut — who knew it could have so much flavor when fresh from the ocean. 

The Cruise Ship, as always, fed us huge gourmet meals multiple times a day.  One of the KC Crew is fluent in Spanish, since she is from Puerto Rico.  At one of our first dinners, Maria spoke in Spanish with one of our waiters.  It was not long before it was clear what she had said.   That meal and every meal after that ended with my receiving a large chocolate dessert, at least one, no matter what else was served as the regular dessert. 

Charlie and Marlene, Mary Ann and I hung together since on account of the wheel chairs, we moved at about the same pace.  The ship was accommodating, and most of the places we wanted to see were accessible. 

Near the end of the trip we watched the Eagles in great numbers hanging around the salmon canneries in Ketchikan.  We ended the trip, sitting at a restaurant on Puget Sound enjoying one of the best views of the trip.  We made some wonderful memories as we ventured to Alaska and back. 

That was our biggest and most dramatic adventure during the Parkinson’s years.  There were many smaller trips sprinkled throughout the last ten or twelve years.  I will spend some time in the next post or two describing some of them.  I need to savor the good times we had.  Thoughts of how debilitated Mary Ann became can be overwhelming at times.  Remembering the ventures out somehow seem to provide a bit of salve for the still open wound created by her death.  It helps to remember that we made the best of a difficult situation and chose not to allow the Parkinson’s to rule.

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That January, Mary Ann could simply no longer care for herself.  I didn’t know what to do.  I needed to work to support us (60-70 hours per week as a Pastor).  We couldn’t afford that many hours of paid help.  It would cost more than my salary. The options simply weren’t there.

Then Margaret came to the rescue.  Margaret was (still is) the Parish Nurse at the congregation I was then serving.  She just started phoning people and before I knew it, there were Volunteers from the church staying with Mary Ann when I was away from the house at work.

After it became clear that she could not do the scheduling task and still continue her work as Parish Nurse, Carol stepped in.  For over six years, Carol scheduled Volunteers for weekdays while I was at work, evenings while I attended meetings and did Counseling, Friday evenings and Saturdays for weddings and retreats, Sunday mornings (I had paid help for the early morning hours), even emergency Calls when there was a serious illness or a death.  At one point there were at least 65 different Volunteers.  Some days had as many as five different people filling two or three hour slots.  I have never figured out how one person could manage all that.  I have nominated Carol for Sainthood.

By February, we had gotten back to KU Med Center, the Parkinson’s Clinic. They had transitioned to a new Neurologist, Dr. Pahwa.  He was able to put together a new regimen of meds that allowed Mary Ann to return to a significantly higher level of functionality.  The bathroom needs and the falling would still not allow her to stay by herself for any length of time.

After a year or so, we entered the two years from Hell.  Mary Ann had often complained of heartburn, since she was taking so many pills (I think 30-40).  At least that is what I thought.  It has always been hard for me to accept that I didn’t pick up sooner on the possibility that it might have been more than heartburn.

On June 30 of 2003, Mary Ann was admitted to the hospital through Emergency with a case of Congestive Heart Failure that came within a hair’s breadth of putting her on a Ventilator.  It was discovered that she had had a number of silent heart attacks.  Two of the three main arteries on her heart were completely blocked.  The surgeon was able to stent a branch of one of the arteries, but that was all.  She had another MI (heart attack) while in the hospital.

Mary Ann always moved into a hospital psychosis when hospitalized, hallucinations, agitation, inability to sleep, trying to get out of bed, pulling at tubes.  I stayed all night every night since the Parkinson’s meds were so complex, the various shift changes made it necessary for me to track what was going on.  The staff needed my help to manage her reactions, day and night.  I had to be there when the various doctors came to check on her or report the results of the endless tests and procedures.

By the end of those eight days, after an entire night of Mary Ann repeating “help me” over and over again, for the second time in my adult life, I broke down in tears.  Gratefully, Son Micah was there to hold me.  When she was released and came home, it was one of the lowest times in our life together.  Everywhere I turned to come up with a solution to how we could go on came up empty — except for Carol and the Volunteers.  They are the only reason I was able to continue in the ministry and we were able to survive.

Almost exactly one month later, she was back in the hospital with another MI and another unsuccessful attempt and getting through one of the blockages.  It was a shorter stay.  She came home again.

For a while after that she was doing better.  We returned to a reasonable quality of life.  It would take more than a little heart trouble to stop Mary Ann.  After a year and a half we even risked going on a week long trip by plane from Kansas to Tucson, Arizona for a retreat for older adults.  We had decided that we were not going to just sit at home and feel sorry for ourselves.  We chose to live as fully as possible given the circumstances.

I still blame the air quality on the plane.  Mary Ann was fine when we left the Kansas City airport but had some congestion when we arrived in Tucson.  By then we were using a wheelchair most of the time.  We joined in the activities, got to visit a wildlife center outside of Tucson.  As the week wore on, she was having some labored breathing.  It was March 10 of 2005. I called an ambulance to take her to the nearest hospital.  On the way, the dyskinetic movements that come with the Parkinson’s medicine were so bad that the tech in the back with her could not keep an IV in her arm.  Mary Ann was flailing around and almost flying off the gurney.

They sedated her when we got to the Emergency Room.  Then they took an X-ray.  When the ER doctor returned he said that all he could see what white where her lungs were supposed to be.  By that time she was completely unresponsive.  When I asked if I should call our children to fly into Tucson, he said yes.  The ER nurse confirmed that — so I did.  I will never forget the feelings I had as I sat alone in that ER room, knowing no one there, having been told she might not survive the night.  Mary Ann had been taken for some other test.  I am now living what I feared that night.

The Kids came, Lisa with baby Ashlyn in tow.  Mary Ann was so agitated that even with me there, they provided a hospital sitter to be in the room also.  Four days later, Mary Ann and I were on a plane home.  She had bounced back from that flirtation with death.

Within one day of a month later, the Ambulance came to out house in Kansas to take her to the hospital again.  She had had a stroke. It was April 9 of 2005. At first her speech was gone and her right arm was virtually useless.  It was not a bleed or a large clot, but a cluster stroke, plaque from her carotid artery broken into tiny pieces, lodged in a cluster in one part of her brain.  With a few weeks in the hospital, rehab, followed by outpatient therapy, she regained almost everything.  She was left with some spatial issues that reduced the control of her right hand making feeding herself more of an issue.

Mary Ann refused to give up.  We continued to have a reasonably good quality of existence in spite of the limitations.  The Volunteers and Mary Ann’s strength of will, kept our life on course.  Also by that time I had come to know a great deal about the diseases that had assaulted her and the medications used to treat them.  I was able to make helpful recommendations to the doctors and monitor her condition daily.  I think my advocacy for her with the medical professionals helped the quality of her life, until finally in the last weeks, nothing I did could stop the inevitable.

Before that inevitable day two months ago came, there was more of life to be lived.  That will come next.

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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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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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