Help from Others


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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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.

The old roller coaster was named “Living with Parkinson’s.”  This one is named “Living with Grief.”  I was too tired and grumpy last night to write a post.  The new roller coaster ride took a dip last night and earlier today.  I think it is past the bottom of this dip and on its way back up.

Yesterday began with an early walk at Cedarcrest.  That always seems to get the day off to a good start.  There were moments of the video of recent events, but they passed quickly.

Then I spent an exhilarating hour or so at the local Farmer’s Market.  It is a bustle of activity.  The moment I entered the area, I heard a “Pastor Pete!”  It was a couple of sisters who had been members of my former congregation for a time and who are back in town.  They are young folks who have learning issues, and have just returned to town to a environment served by their former Foster Parents (if I understood correctly).

There were fresh vegetables everywhere, zucchini, tomatoes (hooray!), new potatoes, freshly picked cabbage (no worms), blueberries.  That is just what I bought.  There was about anything a person could want.  I bought a loaf of herb bread that has turned out to be very tasty. Then there was the PT’s coffee at their booth.  Pleasant conversation there.

I had an enjoyable conversation with the fellow who grew the tomatoes.  He told me in detail how he went about starting the seed and growing the plants.  That is the sort of conversation I find very entertaining.  I talked at length to another vendor selling outdoor furniture he had made — about how he finishes it.  He had had a stroke and was in a wheel chair.

There were some neighbors, more former parishioners/friends.  Don told me what he was going to do with the Jalapeños — sun-pickled if I understood correctly, an intriguing process.  One of the booths was run by a former parishioner.

Then just as I was leaving, I ran into Charlotte, who had stayed with Mary Ann in earlier years.  She lost her husband to Alzheimer’s about nine months ago.  We had touched base a few times during our parallel journeys.  It was very therapeutic to talk about the grief we have both experience, mine, of course, very fresh.  She is a Nurse and has dealt with many who struggled with issues such as ours.  I suppose some of the reason that I appreciated that conversation was that both of us have the same understanding of the grieving process.  Neither of us wants to wallow in it, but we both recognize that we need to embrace it when it comes, give it its due and not try to run away from it.

I was reveling in all the social interaction and the conversations, but I had a date in KC with Son Micah and crew, so I headed on.  Micah and Granddaughter Chloe (Daughter-in-Law Becky had an appointment) took me to a wonderful local dive in the bottoms of Kansas City, among old brick buildings and architectural salvage places, surrounded by so much construction we had to use and alley to get there.  The breakfast was out of the ordinary, Italian sausage, Italian bread toasted, perfectly cooked over easy fried eggs with tasty salsa, and crispy hashed brown potatoes.  If I can ever find it again, I will eat there when next I get the chance.

Next we went shopping for some accessories to my new laptop.  That part was good, the parking lot was not.  We were both backing out at exactly the same time directly behind one another.  The bump could barely be felt, but the entire wrap around fiberglass bumper will need to be replaced.  Arrrrgh! I am grateful for Collision Insurance and a relatively low deductible.  Oh well, in the grand scheme of things it is wonderfully minor.

We spent some time at Micah/Becky’s.  I now have Skype on my new laptop.  I hope I can manage to Skype my Granddaughters in Kentucky!  After that we went together to Mass (yes a good Lutheran can go to church in other brands).  I appreciate a liturgical service that is well done.  The new priest is a good preacher, who could probably pass for a Lutheran.  As Communion was proceeding, I saw two ladies, one in a wheel chair, the other pushing it, waiting to participate.  It is interesting how quickly a sight or sound or smell can trigger the grief that lives in a person’s gut after experiencing the loss of someone very close.  The feelings were not overwhelming, but fully present.

After that I headed to a birthday party for a KC friend.  We had a tasty meal in a pleasant new little area in South Johnson County.

It was a long day and by the time it was done, the roller coaster had sunk to a low dip.  Then and this morning, the loneliness was palpable.  I slept very late, since I was so tired.  I knew today that I did not want to be sociable.  I just needed to feel sorry for myself for a while and face the reality that I will need to do this on my own.  No one, no matter how well-intentioned can do it for me.  That is something Charlotte and I also agree on.  I cannot reclaim a past that exists now only in memories.  I still don’t like it!

If I were counseling myself, I would say with firmness, “It’s only been a month!”

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Not one, but two murders in this post — but let me begin with the Call to the church in the Oklahoma City area.  The Call came a while before Christmas.  I asked for extra time so that I could consider it without Christmas looming.  There is no time to think when things are coming at such a frenetic pace during those weeks.

Even weighing the strong connection to the KC area and love for the people, it was time to move to a full Pastoral Ministry.  Lisa was a Senior in high school at the Lutheran High, Micah was in the 8th Grade at St. Peter’s Catholic school.  I could not take them out of school mid-year.

I accepted the Call and headed for Oklahoma City in February.  Mary Ann stayed in KC so that the Kids could finish at their respective schools.  Next to this last month, that was the most difficult five months in my life, and, I think, Mary Ann and the kids would say the same.

My last Sunday was January 18, 1987.  The Sunday happened to be a rare convergence of dated festivals and a Sunday.  It was the day designated as the Confession of St. Peter. I preached that day.  There was a farewell dinner scheduled shortly before that.  There were over 200 who indicated they would be there.  One of the worst snowstorms in the fifteen years hit that evening.  Almost 200 people came out for the farewell.

Leaving a congregation is excruciatingly painful.  I didn’t realize just how painful it would be.  I seem to be pretty naive when it comes to anticipating the intensity of pain.  I seem to be using the word “pain” an awful lot in this post, and in recent weeks.  What compouned the pain is that I made the choice to leave.  I have never doubted that it was the right choice, but one with consequences that are not all pleasant.

I lived with a family that became my family during that time.  John and Sherrie were truly brother and sister in Christ to me.  They are/were (Sherrie died later in my years there) the most Spiritual people I have ever known.  They lived and breathed the love of the Lord without ever presenting a hint of “holier than thou.”  They were warm and accepting to me.  They understood how hard the transition was for me, and they knew they could not do anything about that.

It was during that time that I discovered must how much I loved Mary Ann, Lisa and Micah.  One weekend, they flew to OKC for a visit.  I can still remember vividly standing in the airport by some chairs in a waiting area, watching the plane they were on take off to head back to KC.  I had then the same feeling I have had in my gut this month.  The thought of the possibility of losing them was intolerable.

A few weeks before the decision was made and I left for OKC, Lisa was on a trip to Florida, spending time with my Sister and Brother-in-Law at their condominium right on the beach on the Gulf side.  She had spent the last three and a half years with a group at the Lutheran High in Kansas City.  That group were the sort of friends who went out together in a cluster, enjoying each other’s company — all good kids.  At that time, her best friend was the Principal’s Daughter.  He had become a sort of extra Dad to Lisa while she was going to school there.

It happened while Lisa was in Florida.  Principal George was stabbed to death just outside the doors of the school.  Lisa came back to be with his Daughter, her best friend, their friends and classmates so that she could be a part of the community as together they dealt with the tragedy.  That story is more complex than appropriate for public sharing.  Lot’s of questions remain.

Then after I moved to Oklahoma City, separated from family, feeling very alone, in spite of the wonderful family with whom I was staying, it happened again.  I had bought an alarm clock from Skaggs, a Walgreen’s/CVS sort of place, just a few blocks from the church.  It was February 7.  I would be preaching my first sermon there the next day, February 8.

When I got home, I discovered that the alarm clock was faulty.  I went back to the Skaggs to return it.  As I stood at the counter just inside the doors to the store talking with the clerk, I heard a strange sound.  The doors opened and someone ran in right in front of me and hid behind the counter.  I smelled the gunpowder.  An estranged husband had just shot in the face his ex-wife right outside those doors.

I walked by to get to my car as she was dying in the arms of an EMT in the parking lot.  The estranged Husband was found some time later at a nearby lake, having taken his own life.

That was the beginning of my ministry in the Oklahoma City area.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Lisa was working at a Dinner Playhouse in the Waldo area in Kansas City as her part time job while going to school.  She will have to correct my remembering about the cut.  I think it was a broken plate that caused the cut on her hand.  She had to go to the Emergency Room to get a number of stitches.  It was difficult for Lisa and hard on Mary Ann who had to deal with it by herself, while I was in OKC trying to focus on my ministry there.

Mary Ann had some tightness and pain in her left shoulder the fall before this.  It moved down her left arm to her hand.  The tests began.  One of them would be outlawed were it used as an interrogation tool.  It is called an EMG [Electromyography].  At that time (maybe still) there was a needle (or needles) stuck in her arm with electrical current going through them, testing the nerve activity.  She described it as torture.

There were other tests, all that came back negative.  She also was having some balance issues.  It was by a process of elimination that a clinical diagnosis was made.  There is no test that would give a definitive diagnosis.

I was in Oklahoma City, she was in Kansas City.  She phoned me.  The diagnosis was Parkinson’s Disease.  The vision of the old fellow shuffling along in the hallway outside my basement office years before when on my Vicarage (Internship) with a handkerchief in one hand catching the drool — that vision popped into my mind.  I never told Mary Ann about that vision.  Mary Ann needed me to be with her.  I needed to be with her.  The Kids needed for me to be there.  I was not.

This has been a difficult post to write.  Any one of those events would have been enough to make the transition very tough.  All of them together made it almost impossible to bear. I remember my feelings all to well as I was helpless to comfort the people I loved most.

All the while this was going on, I was in the midst of an exciting new beginning at a place filled with some of the most nurturing and affirming people I have ever known.  Everyone should have a chance to live in the heart of Oklahoma.  It is one of the best kept secrets in the nation.

Next will come the ministry at the church in the OKC area and our lives there.  I need a break for a post or two or three before the tragic event in Oklahoma City that had direct impact on our little congregation.  Barry Switzer comes first.  Google him if you don’t already know who he is.

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.

It popped into my mind and it just seemed right.  There is some technical work to do to get it to this blog account, but the new blog name will be “thecalltolive.com.”  Do not try to click on it yet.  I realized that yesterday and today, I felt alive again.  I may not feel that way tomorrow, but it is the call to live, not yet a done deal.

Living is a choice.  I am choosing life.  I am not going to wait for it to just happen by itself.  The good news is that it has actually happened.  That was God’s choice.  My choice is to trust his choice and live it to the full.

I suspect the last two paragraphs reveal that the signs are pointing toward healing.  I am not so naive as to think that because I felt good today, tomorrow or the next day or the one after that will feel good too.  The pain of a loss like this will remain with me until the day I die and get to see her again.  It will come at unexpected times.  It will always be accessible.  My hope is that the pain will ultimately help increase the depth, the strength and the resilience of the life that lives in me. The life that lives in me is no more or less alive than the life that lives in you.  Somehow, when I say it that way, it sounds dumb, silly.  Nonetheless it is so.  Each of us is as full of life as the next.  It looks, feels, tastes, smells different, but the source and the power are the same.  What we do with it is a matter of choice.

Now, to the day.  I got up late, but managed to walk the two miles at Cedarcrest before it got unbearably hot.  That came a little later in the day.  Tomorrow will be worse (110 heat index).

After showering, changing the bed, throwing in a load of wash, I responded to phone messages, emails, and got busy on the list.  The list is insidious.  For every one thing I check off, three more mysteriously appear.  A couple of lunches and an evening activity are in the works.

I did it!  I have now paid for it, so I can’t get out of it.  The first session will measure my body fat.  Who the heck needs to measure it.  It is right out there for everyone to see!  I am now committed to eleven sessions (two per week) of exercise with a trainer.  What have I done??????  I even bought a pair of running shorts (there will be no running) for the walking and exercising.  What kind of fool am I?  (Is that a song?)

I ran into a young person I know at the coffee shop whose husband died suddenly a few years ago.  We took the time to counsel one another.  I think it was helpful for both of us.

After that the last ten days mail was delivered.  No bills!!! That was a treat.  There was a huge stack of cards from folks who have just found out about Mary Ann’s death (still hard to write — always will be, I suspect).  I continue to be overwhelmed by the number of people who care about us.  The words of comfort, the thoughts and prayers of so many have buoyed us up over the years.  Many of those responding have sent lengthy notes recalling past experiences when we were together.

It continues to be an odd sensation to be on the other side of this ministry business.  So many have had helpful bits of wisdom to share from their experience.  I am humbled by their insights — and I thought I was the one with the fitting words to say.

I am going to continue the story of Mary Ann’s and my life together.  It has been very therapeutic to move through those years we shared.  The Mary Ann I have known and loved is coming back into full view.  It helps to spend that time together again, if only in words and memories.  What I am writing is intended to focus mostly on Mary Ann and our time together.  To make sense of it I am including the Cliff Notes version of my ministry.

Ironically, the church controversy that I have been mentioning as a tease of things to come, is not over in our national church body.  Elections at the National Convention this week are stirring the pot.  That is for someone else’s blog, not mine.

As I am continuing our story in thecaregivercalling.com, as soon as it is ready, I will also write posts like tonight’s in thecalltolive.com.  Don’t click on the new one yet!

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.

There must have been a lot of prayers going to the Lord on my behalf this morning.  The service seemed to go very well — and my emotions stayed at an appropriate level.  That was a gift from the Lord.  Yesterday had not been a very good day in terms of the presence of the pain.  It lay just beneath the surface of my interactions and conversations. 

This morning my apprehensions about what might bubble to the surface during the service were strong.  I had a moment by myself in the van on the way to picking up Joy who would be playing in the service.  As I drove the purpose of the service came into focus again, to affirm the Lord and the witness of Mary Ann’s life.  It was not to demonstrate my grief or display it or garner attention for myself.  Accomplishing those goals was no longer in my hands, but the Lord’s hands. 

That peace that comes sometimes when there is an encounter with the powerful love and Grace of the Lord settled as I drove.  It freed me to release the nervousness.  Lot’s of times I ask for the Lord’s help.  This time it was clear that I could not do this myself.  I don’t have control over my feelings.  They have a life of their own.  Making it through the service was a gift, not an accomplishment. 

The result was that I benefitted from the service more than anyone else.  It really did feel good to have the service at the place where Mary Ann and I both made many of the important transitions in our lives.  It helped provide perspective on her death.  It became part of a continuity, beginning, middle, end, new beginning. 

Most of the people gathered were people who knew Mary Ann when she was a child, a young adult, long before the Parkinson’s.  Their connection with her was longstanding.  It felt good to me in that way to be present again with the Mary Ann I knew from the beginning of our life together.

It was good to have a connection with the congregation from which I retired through Julianna who now lives in Chicago.  She is a Director of Christian Education at a congregation there.  Her Mother serves as the Director of Children’s Ministry at the parish from which I retired. 

It was very meaningful to me that Daughter Lisa, Denis, Abigail and Ashlyn, and Son Micah, Becky and Chloe drove so far just to be part of this community and to give me support.  The family doily that has been popping up in presents or suitcases or any number of places over the years, appeared on the lectern when I came to the front to lead the service (thanks to Becky and Lisa). 

What followed with the lunch and memory sharing time was profoundly healing to me.  It took a long time to get rolling, but the stories and impressions began coming out more and more.  I have always spent about an hour and a half with families a day or two before the funeral of their Loved One, doing what we did this afternoon.  I ask for stories from the person’s life, memories that reveal something of who they were.  I now realize that may have been the single most beneficial part of the ministry to those who are dealing with a death. 

At the moment, it feels as if I have actually regained some of the good feelings that came with having Mary Ann as a part of my life, being a part of hers.  Talking with, spending time with members of her family, nephews and nieces, sisters-in-law seemed to bring me closer to her.  Listening to her three closest friends, Joy, Terry and Cherri, brought me back to our first days together and times we all spent with one another, as well as pictures of her from before I knew her personally. 

Later in the evening, a small group gathered at my Sister’s home.  That group included all five siblings in my family.  The other four range in age from 81 to 72.  I am 6 and 1/2 years younger than my closest sibling.  We are three boys and two girls.  There were lots of memories shared.  We have different sets of memories from our growing up years.  This was a chance to connect the dots on some of them.   We all love each other and enjoy each others company.  We do not necessarily always agree on everything, but we are family.  That time was also very healing to me. 

I have absolutely no idea if the sensation of being healed of some of the pain will last hours, days, weeks or months.  I know that there will be lots of painful times to come.  At least for the moment, a sense of wholeness has returned.  Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers. 

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.

Mary Ann, Lisa and I spent two summers at Camp Beaumont outside of Ashtabula, Ohio.  We packed up enough of our belongings in a U Haul trailor to live in a one bedroom log cabin for each of two summers.  Milt was one of three of us on the faculty who hung out together.  Milt was the art teacher.  He went on to become the head of the Art Department of a college in Nebraska.  Milt was also active in Scouts.  He convinced me to take a summer job as the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplain of a large Scout Camp of some 1200 acres, with 36 sites for troops.

There was a little ring of six or eight cabins for the staff of the camp.  Mary Ann and Lisa hung out with the other families while I ate with the troops, explaining the Religious Awards.  Almost every meal was hot dogs and beans, except for the Jewish troops, who served Kosher hot dogs and beans.

The second summer I bought a bicycle for $3 at a garage sale and road it all summer long.  I had calves of steel that summer.  Poor Lisa got poison Ivy once from the socks I wore with the Scout shorts.  The cabins were simple and very rustic.  It really was a very pleasant setting.  Since we were so close, we made it to Niagara Falls for a visit.  There was a classmate there who took us out to a nice Seafood restaurant to have a leisurely paced meal at a very nice restaurant.  We visited a mushroom farm which was really fascinating.  We ate or put in the freezer package after package of white button mushrooms.

When we were visiting our families in Aurora the Christmas of 1971, driving to my parents house, some smoke came from under the dash.  We never found out what it was, but it was a little unsettling.  After we got to my parents’ house where we had been staying, Mary Ann started feeling badly.  In fact, she began to become rigid as in a mild seizure.

I took her to the Emergency Room in a small nearby hospital.  The doctor had a thick German accent and was about as arrogant and rude a person as we had ever encountered.  He simply decided that we had been arguing and she had gotten so upset that she reacted physically.  It was not so, but he did not believe us and looked for no other explanation.  The next day we went to the doctor we had both grown up with in Aurora.  He put Mary Ann on an anti-seizure medicine as a precaution.  We later discovered that at that time Mary Ann was in the first weeks of being pregnant with our Son.  I guessed that somehow that triggered it, but I have often wondered if that event could have triggered the Parkinson’s.  The literature on Parkinson’s would allow a brain trauma of some sort as a triggering event.

With a second child on the way, we realized that the little house we were  renting would not be big enough for four of us.  We started looking for a house to buy.  We decided to consider a duplex in hopes that the rent from the second unit would help pay for it.

On a Tuesday in April we put $500 down as earnest money on a duplex.  It was the Friday of that week, Mary Ann four months pregnant, a contract out on our first house that Principal Gunther (Gint) asked for an appointment.

Here is how he said it.  We need a new head of the Religion Department and you are not yet ready for that.  We will not be renewing your contract next year.  You need to start seeking a Call (job offer) someplace else.

It was as if the floor had just dropped away, and there was nothing there on which to stand.  (Why do I resonate to that description again now?)  I had to go home and tell Mary Ann that once more, she was pregnant and I had no job.  I called the realtor, who, gratefully, was able to get the $500 check back.

I can only guess that Mary Ann was probably wondering again what she had gotten herself into when she married me.  She had the decency not to say it out loud to me.

When I had left the Principal’s office I went to talk with the other of the three of us who hung out together, Jack.  Jack taught English, but his passion was Drama.  He went on to the English/Drama department at a College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I have no memory of that weekend and the beginning of that next week.  I do, however, have vivid memories of what started that next Wednesday.

Enough of that for today.

I am now writing from Louisville, Kentucky.  I have been here since Friday evening.  It is good be with Lisa and the Girls and Denis.  It was painful to leave the house Friday morning.  I usually love getting on the road and driving somewhere.  There has been an exhilaration, a freedom I have always felt out on the open road.  I had no such feelings.  It seemed as if I was leaving her behind.  Someone who had lost a spouse recently said that she doesn’t like being away from the house and gets anxious to be home, and then she doesn’t want to be at home when she gets there.  I understand.

It felt very different to be traveling without the constant apprehension about needing to find a bathroom and dealing with taking her into the women’s rest room.  Ironically, the rest area I stopped at in southern Indiana, had a Unisex bathroom.  Now I don’t need it.

It has been good here to be with the Kids and Grandkids.  It is easier not to be dealing with the challenges of stairs and bathrooms and wheelchairs, but I would do it in a minute if I had the chance to have her back.

Yesterday I stopped at Walgreen’s to get a birthday card for Lisa, whose birthday is today, the Fourth of July.  Do you have any idea how many “to Daughter” cards there are that say “from Mother?”  It caught my insides as I tried to pick out a card — something we would have done together.  I picked one that was from both of us.

Yesterday evening was a party that Lisa and Denis had arranged with many of their friends.  Some of them had already met Mary Ann and me in the past.  Lisa and Denis have a wonderful group of friends that function sort of as a local family.  I enjoyed the evening since conversation is a helpful   to me.  There were Kids playing everywhere.  It was entertaining to watch.

Today, Sunday, it was clear from the moment that I woke up, that it would be an uncomfortable day.  I didn’t realize how much I would struggle to keep it together later.  I find the worship services at Lisa and Denis’s church to be very meaningful.  They do a full liturgy, but in a relaxed and welcoming way, rather than a formal way .

Todd who does the music is a real gem.  His work at the keyboard is reverent and accessible.  There may be jazz, classical, or any number of different styles, always perfectly done.  Pastor Paul preaches using lots of visuals, mostly images of great art pieces.  The service is on a large video screen at the front of the church.

Today the service and message were on healing.  The wording of almost everything was not only very compatible with my current need, it spoke almost directly to it.  In many traditions anointing with oil is a liturgical practice intended to bring an awareness of God’s healing into a person’s consciousness.  Today, just before the end of the service the option of going to the rear of the Nave to receive a bit of oil on one’s forehead and a prayer by one or both of those at the station.  It is not done in a magical way but in a way that draws to together the pain and the healing presence of the Lord’s love.

I decided to take advantage of that opportunity.  By the time I returned to my seat, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  I worked hard at trying to keep it from being too obvious and distracting to others.  Lisa was crying quietly when she returned too.  The girls were watching us as attentively.

I was able to talk with folks again after the service.  There were some good conversations with some very interesting people.  During the rest of the day, we did some shopping, had coffee, ate out, sang happy birthday and came home to rest.

Denis and I went shopping at Best Buy and I ended up buying a laptop computer so that when I am traveling I can continue writing.    By the way, I am continuing to work on the thank you notes.  They have all been written, but they now need to be addressed, sealed and stamped.

I stayed back from the trip to see fireworks tonight so that I could get a head start on writing.  Now, I need to get some rest. (Too tired to edit the post, it is gong out as is.)

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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