Sources of Strength


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.)

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While I did manage to get an A on my Internship, the Seminary realized that Pastor Harold should never have a Vicar again.  Actually, he went to another parish a month before I left, so I got my congregation back.

Since it was now my last year of school, the preventative measures were stopped and a little new person started developing.  When I phoned my Mother with the news, in a very matter of fact voice she said, “It’s about time.”  It would be her twelfth Grandchild.

While that was wonderful, I managed to complicate our lives hopelessly.  The view of the Parish Ministry (being pastor of a church) from Vicarage was very distasteful.  I could not imagine heading out to some God-forsaken place like Kansas or Nebraska to pastor a little congregation.  That would be the norm for a new Graduate.  What complicated it even more is that I was in the midst of a terrible crisis of faith.  What I had learned about the heart of the message didn’t match what people who called themselves Christians seemed to be doing and saying.  For a time, I threw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say, and I struggled with this whole God business.

The result is that I told the Seminary that I would not be interested in receiving a Call, when Call day came in the spring.  I would have no job.  I had just finished spending 8 years of my life training for something I was not going to do.

I suspect Mary Ann had some regrets at that time about hooking up with this crazy man.  I did not tell her about the faith crisis until decades later.   Call Day came, Graduation came, the baby kept developing inside Mary Ann.  It was a terribly difficult time for both of us.  By this time, Mary Ann was working in the Medical Records department of St. Mary’s Hospital.  Her supervisor was Sister Mary Antona, who became fond of Mary Ann, just as we became fond of her.   Years later we visited her in Baraboo Wisconsin (Home of the Circus Museum) where she was a hospital Administrator.  I have wondered what happened to her.  I just Googled her and discovered that she had a distinguished career and was an activist in the Civil Rights’ Movement.  We knew she was someone special.

I continued to work at Clark-Peeper Office Supplies, part time during classes and full time in the summer.  They offered me a job when I graduated.  I interviewed for other jobs, insurance, sales rep.  It was mightily depressing to be starting from scratch again.

What brought joy to Mary Ann and me that summer was the birth of Lisa on the Fourth of July.  The Obstetrician was a Lutheran who would not charge any Seminarian for delivering their child.  I had the privilege of putting on scrubs and joining the doctor and Mary Ann in the delivery room.  Many have said it before me, but what looks unappetizing when seen in a video is one of the most beautiful experiences imaginable.

One of the Professors at the Seminary had become friends with both Mary Ann and me.  On the East Coast at that time it was not unusual to refer to a Lutheran Pastor as “Father.”  He was referred to as Father John.  His Mother had come to live with him.  She visited Mary Ann in the hospital and told the Staff that she was her Mother.  She was a character.

While Mary Ann was busy giving birth to Lisa, little Suzette, the poodle we had gotten from Roger and Jan, was busy ripping up the apartment.  I mentioned that she was grumpy.  Suzy liked no one but Mary Ann.  She tolerated me.  Suzy tore the bottom sheet on the bed.  She scratched at one of those bedspreads with the thread pattern on top until all the threads were in a huge clump in the middle.  She ate part of a decorative candle we had brought back from our trip to Europe, and she chewed up a hand carved horse we had purchased in Oberammergau.  It is fair to say she was very annoyed that Mary Ann had left her.  I now understand how she felt.

Two weeks after Lisa was born, she was baptized in a beautiful Baptistry on the first floor of the Seminary Tower.  Fr. John did the Baptism and used water he had brought from the Jordan River. One day shortly after that, I remember sitting in a chair, holding Lisa, wondering what her life would be like as I watched that first step on to the moon.  It was July of 1969.

During those months, I talked with one Professor in particular, Walt Bartling.  In the course our conversations, he did a couple of very important things.  One is that he stole from my questions and doubts the power to take away my faith.  Then came the key that opened me to a faith far more resilient and stronger than anything I had had before.   Walt essentially said that God was busy loving me, while I was busy doubting God.  My doubts had no impact on God.  That kernel of truth revealed in all its raw power, the meaning of the Gospel, God’s unconditional love for me. The power of the Gospel transformed my faith into something that has filled my life with meaning every moment of every day.

That was all well and good, but Call day had long since passed by the time my faith was regaining ground, and I had no job.  Fr. John came to our rescue.  What will follow is a story that I still can hardly believe, and I was there, we lived it.  Mary Ann must have wondered what on earth she had gotten herself into when she married me.

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.

No, this will not be one of those “too much information” posts.

That first year at the Seminary, I was singing in a very good choir made up of students from the Seminary and singers from some of the Lutheran churches in St. Louis.  There were probably sixty or a hundred Lutheran churches in St. Louis at that time.  A radio station in Holland had tried to get St. Olaf’s choir to come for a Heinrich Schuetz festival there.  Somehow, they got hold of a tape of our choir and offered to pay us 30.000 Guilder to come to their radio station studio to sing and make recordings.

Mary Ann was not singing in the choir.  She had started working full time at a bank so that we could continue to survive while I went to school.  I continued to work part time during the school year and full time during the summer at Clark-Peeper Office Supplies in Clayton.  Even with the promised 30,000 guilder covering a portion of the cost of the trip, each of us had to pay a portion also.  I don’t remember how much.  I do remember that we could take non-member spouses along for about $750.

We knew we might never get a chance like that again.  We had enough savings in the bank to cover the cost for me and for her, enough for a little spending money on the trip, leaving $100 in the bank for when we returned.  That would be enough to pay the next month’s rent, with nothing left over.  Mary Ann’s bank said that they would not have a job waiting for her when we returned.  We decided to do it!

We flew to Washington, D.C. and on to London.  We spent four days there, visiting cathedrals, riding the Underground (subway).  We sang at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.  The trip there was harrowing.  The tour bus driver was nuts!  Of course he was driving on the wrong side of the road, that was to be understood, it was England.  However, when a blind curve was approaching while on that two lane road, he moved right out to pass a car.  He was traveling at a frighteningly high rate of speed. Our worst fear was realized when a car appeared coming toward us from the other direction on that curve – traveling at an equally frightening rate of speed.  We passed three abreast on that two lane road.  It took hours to clean the seats on the bus — okay, it almost scared us that much.

We drank warm, bitter beer and ate beef and kidney pie.  That was about as bad as it sounds.  We saw all the usual sights.  Both of us decided that we wanted to return some time.  That never happened.  We were right about the once in a lifetime opportunity.

Then we flew into Amsterdam and drove to Noordwijk-Aan-Zee, a small resort town on the North Sea.  There we stayed in a boarding house while we went back and forth to the radio station in a larger town nearby.  I remember riding bikes together to the laundromat.  I remember that the wash water was scaldingly hot.  Someone in there managed to warn us about that even though they spoke only Dutch and we spoke none.  I knew a few German words, but we were told that it would be far better to stick with English than to use any German.  Our bus was picketed at one point because we had a German bus driver.  The war was still fresh in people’s minds.

The weather was too cold for swimming, but we rode to the beach of the North Sea just to see it.  The breakfasts were cold cuts and cheese and breads.  For all the meals, all five days, we had the very same cloth napkin kept in a plastic holder at our place at the table.  We had fried chicken one night.  As a somewhat compulsive hand washer, it was a horrifying experience!

After recording for the Heinrich Schuetz festival, we headed on to Germany.  Only West Germany was accessible at that time.  We saw the huge Cologne Cathedral, Frankfort, Munich.  We visited castles, Linderhof, Neuschwanstein (where from the balcony of the throne room we saw one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen, a lake nestled in between wooded mountains).  We saw what was left of the Heidelberg Castle boasting the largest wine barrel ever filled with wine, so large that it had a dance floor on top.  We did a concert in a cathedral in which there was a full five seconds of reverberation after stopping the final chord. (We heard tell of one castle that had a seven seconds of reverberation.) It was a powerfully moving experience to sing in those churches.  We sang a total of 8 times in three weeks.  The rest of the time we traveled and saw so many beautiful sights.

Classmate Louie (nickname) and Elise had moved their wedding date to just days before the trip so that they could be together on it.  In Muenster, it happened that they were assigned to stay in separate places.  There were tears flowing.  Since by then we were an old married couple of six months, we offered to stay in separate places so that they could stay together.

In Muenster we stayed in homes for two nights since one of the members of the choir was recently from Germany.  We sang at her home church in Muenster.  Mary Ann stayed with a family that spoke English.  I did not stay with such a family.  Actually, I ended up in a boarding house run by a family from church.  The first night was fine.  One of the other boarders was Franz von den Ohden Rhein (Frank from the Old Rhine), who spoke English.  The second night Franz was gone.  I sat at the supper table with six or eight people who could speak no English, not a word.  I knew my one sentence in German, the one that revealed that my Mother was born in Germany.  That was it.  The good news was that after a few bottles of wine, we seemed to be able to communicate without much trouble (at least that is how I remember it — what I remember of it).

The adventure continues tomorrow.  (Can you say “Bobby Kennedy??”)

Today was a better day.  The morning walk was reassuring in that again, I actually enjoyed the sights and sounds.  The pain allowed me room for that.  After I got cleaned up, I got a cup of coffee at PT’s and was greeted by Sara and Kelsey.  They are barista’s who have been very thoughtful and welcoming to me.  I taught Kelsey in Confirmation Class and Confirmed her a number of years ago. She is very newly married.  She had some very thoughtful and affirming words.  It warmed my spirit.  A good way to start a day.

I wrote some thank you notes and then headed to Paisano’s for the monthly lunch with Jimmy.  He lost his wife many years ago and understood very well what I am going through.  After that I stopped for a moment to drop something off at church.  There I spent a few moments with Linda and Marilyn who were part of my support system for many years, whether they realized it or not.  They knew.

When I went to the Wild Bird House to stock up on feed for the birds, I was greeted very warmly by Melody and Todd, who had only a day or two before discovered that Mary Ann had died (still very hard to write or say).  Todd came over and put his arm around me to comfort me.  We have just talked on occasion over the last few months, mostly about birds.  I would stop there most weeks while Mary Ann was in her Tuesday morning Bible Study.  It helps so much to have people around who seem to care, trying to provide comfort and understanding.

I spent the middle of the afternoon writing thank you notes.  They brought me close to tears more than once as I thought about what Mary Ann went through.  I was also overwhelmed in a good way with the realization of all that so many people did for us.  The hours that people spent here are far beyond counting.  It is not even remotely possible for me to repay what was given.  Those who came usually enjoyed Mary Ann, but they were sometimes scared that she would pop up and then fall, maybe hurting herself.  I think people felt good that they were really helping us, making a substantial difference in our lives.  I think many felt that they were doing a ministry for Faith by freeing me to continue to serve Faith while Mary Ann could not be left alone.

It is also clear that Mary Ann ministered to those who came.  So many have been struck by her courage and unwavering faith in the face of all she went through.  She did not complain.   People could talk with her and know that it would not be shared with the next visitor.  I still marvel that she just took the next hit whatever it was and went on as if nothing had happened.

This afternoon, friend and former parishioner Mark came over to talk and listen.  He has been through this.  He phoned Sunday afternoon, knowing that it would be a terribly painful time for me.  We set this time then.  Mark brings with him a strong and vivid faith along with some counseling experience, as well as having lost his wife whom he loved just as I loved Mary Ann.  He walked me through a Psalm that was especially meaningful to him at the time of his grieving.  The content of our conversation will remain between us.  It is enough to say that it was a helpful, meaningful and comforting time for me, immersed in the Grace of God, and the healing God provides.

It has not been an easy day.  Easy is no longer an option, at least for now.  It was a better day.  The pain was clear and identifiable, always ready to pop back fully into view.  It did not express itself as often or with as much intensity as it has in the last days.  I am not so naive as to think it will not come back with full intensity whenever it chooses.  It was just helpful to have a day in which it did not rule.

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

I am not sure that I have sat down for more than a few minutes at a time since Mary Ann died.  (It is still so hard to say that.)  I realize that it is a way to hold the pain at bay.  The pain is still fresh and raw, so working constantly takes my mind off it.

We have gotten mountains of things done.  We have made it through all the clothes.  Those are ready for disposition.  We have been through all the drawers in her dresser.  I have no explanation for this, but yesterday we missed two of the drawers.  We thought we were done, but we still had two more to go through today.  The contents were very difficult, especially the jewelry.  There were many cheap digital watches.  We kept getting new ones in hopes that we would find one she would wear and could read.  There were countless scarves.

When Son Micah came this afternoon, he mentioned the pantry.  I was able to shed about 60% of what was in there and give it to the Kids.   I found another stash of crafts downstairs.  Chloe will get that.  Micah will take the hangers (a huge bag).

Then came some rearranging of furniture.  My chest of drawers ended up in the closet, since there are not very many clothes left in there.  The table by her chair with the computer screen that constantly showed pictures of the Grandchildren is now downstairs and the computer moved to a corner in the living room.

The house is not dramatically changed, but enough so that things won’t completely revolve around the empty chair.  I can’t avoid the reality that she is gone.  I need to embrace that reality.  That realization will create wave after wave of feelings triggered by things I have yet to discover as well as some of which I am very much aware.

The medical equipment will remain in the garage for at least another week. Tonight’s threatening rain storm changed the plan of putting it all in the open bed on Micah’s truck.  Hopefully that will leave the garage by next weekend.  That is the current plan.

Daughter Lisa will stay and help some tomorrow, perhaps staying until Tuesday morning.  We have lots of things to take to various places.  The death certificates should be ready by tomorrow afternoon.  They need to be sent to various people to get wheels turning on changing accounts designations.  Plans need to be put into place to try to reduce household expenditures by the amount of her Social Security.  The practical matters keep a focus of attention and energy during these first days.

This morning was the first Sunday worship service I have attended sincer Mary Ann’s departure.  It was the first time that I have sat in the pew at the mid-morning service since I retired two years ago.  I wasn’t sure how it would feel.  It actually went very well, in comparison to how it might have gone.  I felt very much at home and surrounded with people who had become almost family over the last fourteen years.  There were lots of hugs and words of concern and support.  All shared the assurance that Mary Ann is secure in the presence of the Lord.

A number of folks have, of course, served as Volunteers at our home over the years.  They know the ins and outs of what we have been through.  A number of folks have been reading these posts and through them have come to have an intimate knowledge of our journey, especially the last few weeks.  It felt good to talk with so many people and experience how many there are supporting our family.

One development I wish had come before Mary Ann died.  A choice of her estranged Brother had hurt her deeply, separating him and his family from us.  I was able to make a connection on Facebook to fulfill my promise to Mary Ann that the message of her forgiveness be relayed to him.  The response has helped reconnect his Wife, Mary Ann’s Sister-in-Law, and his Son, Mary Ann’s Nephew, with me.  I feel a relief on her behalf that there has been some healing at least with the family.  The interactions seem to enhance the sense of peace she has won.

The day I will come into the house with no one else here is approaching very quickly.  I have not sat down since her death to keep the pain at a manageable level. I hope I can continue that defense mechanism until I get some more cleaning done — my office, the downstairs office area now holding all my outdated financial records. I doubt it will last long enough to get the storage area cleaned up.

The plans that are beginning to emerge will include contact with others, not just constant solitude. That the return to church this morning went all right is a good sign.  There is still plenty of serious grieving yet to do. I do not intend to run away from it.  It will be the key to my survival and ultimate good health.

I plan to collect and list the suggested addresses for a blog with a new theme as this new life begins.  Please continue to make suggestions as they come to mind.

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

I realize that Quilty is not a word, but in our house it is.  I suppose it should be referred to as a quilted jacket.  We called it the Quilty Jacket.  She wore it as often as the weather would allow in the last few years.  Then there are her Poo pants — as in Winnie, not poop.  They are pajama bottoms so worn, with numerous holes that one good tug would probably pull them apart in any number of places.

When I pulled the jacket out of the closet, I knew I could not part with it.  I can’t count how many times I helped her on with that jacket as we headed out the door.  The rest of the clothing is in plastic bags destined for the thrift store or the Rescue Mission.  It has been a very emotional day, at least on the inside.  Once, I sighed loudly while standing in an almost empty closet and from the bedroom came, “Are you okay?”  This had to be hard on Daughter Lisa too.  I would not have wanted to do it without her.

The challenge was not just the emotional part of it but the challenge of deciding what to do with what.  As others who have been in my position will confirm, decisions are very difficult to make.  The simplest task can seem overwhelming.

There were dresser drawers to clean out.  We finally found her underwear!  The funeral home asked for undergarments with the dress we were to bring over for them as they prepared her.  In her sock and underclothes drawer, we finally found a pair that she had never worn nor would she have done so.  I vaguely remembered getting them out of that drawer and putting them away when she switched to disposables a couple of years ago.  She had a huge number of socks in the drawer, resulting in the need for room.  Her socks were a signature item.  There were varied colors and themes, holiday socks, seasonal socks, polka-dots, animals.  We found the underwear in a plastic bag hanging from a hanger buried in between other hanging clothing.

I knew it would be and it is very hard to look in that closet.  I have spread out the few things I have on both sides to create the illusion that it is full.  It is not working. Actually, I decided to get rid of all things in the closet that no longer fit or are too badly worn to wear any longer.  Getting rid of my clothes was easy.  All I had to do was look at the neck size on the shirts to determine that I could no longer wear them.  Who knew that a neck could grow in later years.  It is an odd genetic quirk, having nothing to do with eating habits and the lack of exercise.  The waists on pairs of pants had shrunk.  Closets shrink clothes.  It is a known fact.  It is sort of like Radon, only not dangerous to people — unless, of course, you try too hard to button one of the shirts and strangle yourself.

I suspect that Monday some time will be the first encounter with the house all to myself, the beginning of whatever will come in life next.  The Kids are doing exactly what is needed and when.  They cannot do for me what I need to do to make it through this.  I cannot do for them what they need to do to get through this.  We can love and support one another, doing what is in our power to do.

I will get out the quilty jacket and remember and, I suspect, do some crying.  Tears do not come easily to me, but it will be important to allow that release when the need comes.  I have decided to get the box of letters Mary Ann saved from forty-eight years ago.  I have not looked at them since I wrote them.  I am sure I will be embarrassed by them.  I was so much in love with her that, if I remember correctly, I even wrote sappy poetry on occasion.  I am surprised she didn’t run away screaming after reading them.

I made an observation to Lisa today contrasting the time of caring for Mary Ann, especially the last months, with the time we are in now.  Oddly, it seems harder to think now about what we went through than it was to go through it.  Even when we were in the thick of the worst of it, I just had to do stuff.  Doing things gave me the feeling that I could make a difference of some sort.  Even if what I did seemed to have little effect, at least I had something I could do.  Now, I have the images of what we went through.  They seem more horrifying when thinking about them than they seemed when I was doing them.  When I was doing stuff, it was certainly hard, sometimes very messy, but I was just doing whatever needed to be done.

Grieving is hard work, harder than caregiving.  There is nothing more I can do for her.  I can only be sad for myself that she is not here.  I certainly do not need to be sad for her now that she is free from the illness.  I can hurt for what she went through, but I cannot change it.  My job now is to figure out what I can do.  I can live the life that I am being given.  I can make plans and do things that will honor her memory, care for my family, and become the most fulfilled and healthy person I can be with God’s help and the resources available to me.  I have absolutely no idea what those plans will emerge and where they will take me.  Whatever they are, they will have to take into account a household income that was diminished by about 40% when I retired, and another 20% now.  With a little creativity and a willingness to live simply, the plans will emerge.

I continue to welcome suggestions for a new blog address that will reflect what my life is about as the next months and years unfold.

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What Mary Ann left behind in terms of physical matter is nothing without her.  Today”s Committal service was another simple reminder that she is not here any longer in terms of having a living physical presence.  It seems as if from the very moment she left, my gut already found acceptance that her departure is a fact.  We were privileged and pained to share those last moments with her when finally release came. That was convincing enough.

There is nothing that can be said that can communicate the sadness I feel.  My sadness is no more or less than anyone else’s who feels sadness.  Comparing one person’s to another is of no value.  My sadness is mine.  Lisa’s is hers.  Micah’s is his.  Denis, Becky, the girls’ feelings are theirs.  All I can say is there is a depth to this sadness that is beyond anything I would wish on anyone.  Those of you who have lost someone you love are likely to have a sense of the nature of that sadness.

Again, I will be all right.  In fact, I am all right in that I am experiencing exactly what is needed at this moment to allow survival.  If I tried to stuff the feelings, it would hurt rather than help.  I have a right to these feelings.  How can there be love if there is no possibility of sadness or pain on account of it.

Niece Diana and Al left this afternoon to return to Northern Illinois, where she, my Sister Gayle, and Joy, one of Mary Ann’s three best friends, will plan a gathering for a bit of worship, some remembering and some food, probably some time in July.

Shortly thereafter, Son Micah and Becky along with Granddaughter Chloe returned to their home in the Kansas City area.  Unfortunately, the Jeep they were driving all but broke down with noises threatening to call the trip to a halt at any moment.  Transmission issues are suspected.  Micah was planning to come back tomorrow with the truck to remove the larger pieces of equipment we used to battle the consequences of the Parkinson’s.  Add to that the problem created by water from the last storm invading their basement.  Becky had made a quick trip back to do some cleanup, but time and hot weather has given the mold a chance to really make its presence known.  Adding insult to injury is not even adequate to describe what they are going through.

Sunday afternoon, Son-in-Law Denis will leave for a work-related trip.  The Kids are consciously being measured in the process of leaving me here by myself.  I have a list of things for Denis and Lisa to do in the next day or two.  Assuming transportation issues work themselves out, Micah will be back also for a while.  It will help to get things in order here.  Lisa and Becky have been going through the clothes.  They pulled out Mary Ann’s favorite T-shirts to make throws out of them for the girls.  We will get Mary Ann’s clothes to appropriate places where others can benefit from them.

When I talk about things like that, the words sound very matter-of-fact.  Behind them are all the emotions you might guess would be felt as her things leave the house. I recognize that I can’t keep her.  That is settled.  Dipping my toe into the cold water of being without her a little bit at a time would only multiply the pain and extend it endlessly.

What I want to do now is remember.  Watching the online Tribute Video prepared by the funeral home (penwellgabeltopeka.com) is a very moving experience for me.  When I see Mary Ann sitting on the fender of the 1958 Chevy Impala, she takes my breath away.  I remember hardly being able to believe that she was going out with me.  I see the smile in those pictures that was rarely seen in her last years.  I want to remember the laughter and silliness, the arguments, the great times and the times staying married was very hard work. Forty-four years of marriage does not happen by accident.  Storybook romances are for storybooks and movies and popular songs.  I was crazy in love with her, but we irritated the hell out of each other at times.  The promises we made to one another in front of that Altar were absolutely serious.  They meant something.  Keeping our promises to one another emerged from our love and gave it nourishment so that it could grow.

As soon as the Kids have done what they need to do to help themselves and me take some steps forward in the transition, I will have time to do some grieving that I need to do by myself.

Last night did not include the sleep I had hoped it would since the very unpleasant esophageal spasms decided to spend the night and morning with me.  That problem emerges periodically and without warning or explanation as to why it comes at any particular moment in time.  After that was done, the day went well, given it is the day that we laid to rest the remains of my beloved wife.

After the committal, Son Micah treated us to a meal at Olive Garden.  John and Cynthia brought over a hot pot roast, potatoes and carrots along with side dishes and dessert for supper.  What a treat that was.  We are really getting spoiled in that regard.  Legendary cookie maker Lori left on our front steps two large containers of chocolate chip cookies, one batch without nuts for the kids.  Linda came by with a box of ice cream bars for the little ones (and the big ones) along with bags of homemade very good tasting chocolate chip cookies (we checked) in containers ready for the freezer.

Even receiving gifts of great food and wonderful desserts, have I told you yet how much I don’t like this?

I have been thinking more about whether or not to continue writing posts.  I don’t know yet for sure what I will do, but I think the need to write, if only to maintain my own equilibrium, will continue.  I have ceased to be a caregiver.  Other than reflecting on the years with Mary Ann, which I will continue to do for a time, I am thinking of starting a blog with a new address, still on WordPress if possible.  I am looking for a new address or url. Since I am starting a new life pretty much from scratch, any suggestions for a name to replace “thecaregivercalling.com would be welcomed.

Mary Ann would have liked it had she been sitting with me.  The music was powerful, to her liking.  The sermon was centered on our hope and the certain promise that is the only thing that frees us to face the struggles, lament the losses, and come out alive and well.

It would have pleased Mary Ann to have Niece Diana and husband Al sitting with us. Diana, who simply does not fly no matter what, flew here to honor her Aunt Mary Ann.  Diana was the only one of our two families who was invited to stand up with us at our wedding.  They have always had a special relationship.

Our blood relatives were expanded by our adopted brothers and sisters from Kansas City, three remarkable people who had special roles with the Volunteers (by now totaling at least 70-80 over the years), members of the Spiritual Formation Group that has been a source of strength for the last 8-9 years.

Lot’s of our family and close friends who could not make such a long trip from Northern Illinois on such short notice will have an opportunity in the near future when a date is set to gather there for an event to celebrate and remember Mary Ann. It will include a short worship segment to help clarify just what has happened here and the hope that sustains us.  There will also be food to sustain us.

Have I told you yet that I really don’t like this.  I just thought I would mention it, in case you were unaware of it.

I suppose there were a couple of hundred people who attended the funeral today. What a testimony to the lives that Mary Ann has touched.  As Lutherans are wont to do, they sang loudly, filling that room with the declaration that in the face of death life has won again.  There were instrumentalists, one whose Father is thirty-two years into Parkinson’s, another who lost a Mother and a Sister to forms of Alzheimer’s. The full organ lifted our spirits.  If there were 200 people there, there were pretty close to 200 hugs that helped me and the Kids.

The vocalists included Carol, who has sung for decades and directed the choir here for many years before I arrived.  Her “Now the Green Blade Rises” burrowed into me as I began to feel the significance of the central message of the service.  Kristen’s “Consecration” took the breath away from every one of us in that room. It was done to honor all those who ministered to Mary Ann as Volunteers. I knew Mary Ann would have been especially pleased when Kristen sang “Laudatus Dominum” by Mozart.  It was certainly not possible for me to keep my composure when she sang.  I needed that release.  It was so meaningful that Kristen took time to fly in from Boston to sing. There is no one at any level whose voice is more beautiful than hers.

The readings and the words of Pastor Jim and Pastor Mike drew us to the One in whom we trust, the only One who has the power to make a difference at a time like this.  They celebrated the faith of Mary Ann who has a joyful and secure future that we would not presume to describe but to which we look forward as we journey on after death has done its worst.

Last night was a fairly restful one other than the early declarations of a wayward blackberry that decided 5:45am would be a good time to start the day.  It only took one roll back and forth under the tires of the van to solve that problem.  (Only kidding, Denis.)

I was, of course, very restless this morning, pacing back and forth.  I connected with PT’s Coffee to be sure all was well for a delivery for the dinner after the service.  I had made clear that I was not asking for a favor but would pay for that treat.  When the Kids went to pay for it, Co-owner and friend Jeff would take no payment.  A number of folks confirmed that the coffee was great.

The waterfall stopped again this afternoon, but it was only a GFI outlet.  We don’t know why it popped, but we hope it doesn’t do it again.  Brad, who built the pondless waterfall, came by almost immediately to determine the problem.

Tomorrow brings even more finality to this leg of life’s journey.  There will be a very short committal service at the grave side late in the morning.  It is called an Inurnment since there will be ashes (cremains) in an urn to be buried.  Again, since Mary Ann has already gone on her way, it is simply the period at the end of the sentence.  I don’t really know how that will feel.  Today’s service was very moving especially with the powerful music. Tomorrow’s includes a few short readings and spoken words only.

The Kids have chosen not all to leave at the same time so that I will be eased into a full encounter with the empty house.  I have lots of grieving to do.  I will need time alone to do some of it.  Just as I did during the years with Mary Ann, I plan to experience fully this leg of the journey.  I am convinced that embracing whatever is going on is the best way to get through it and on to what comes next.  If I try to short-circuit the process, avoid the pain at all cost, I will be left to carry the baggage of unfinished business.  If I do that, it will most certainly catch up at some time.  I do not want to wallow in it, nor do I want to waste the pain. I want to feel it and learn from it. That will be a lasting gift to me from Mary Ann and a way for me to honor who she has been during her time here with me.  Doing the work will allow me to get on with the life I am being given unencumbered by regrets and denial.

By the way, have I told you yet that I really don’t like this.  I just thought I would mention it, in case you didn’t remember.

It is time to sleep.

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

I had my own little package of Kleenexes in my pocket; there were plenty around the room.  We didn’t need them.  They had done a nice job of fixing her up, but her face did not really look like her.  I was pleased.  We had all been there when she left, so the private viewing at the funeral home only confirmed that she was already gone.

We are not done with the tears — by no means is that part of this over.  The tears will come tomorrow when we gather to confront the impact of her loss and at the same time celebrate what in our Spiritual Tradition (Christian of the Lutheran variety) we believe to be a victory.  We understand death to be a real and painful loss for us and a profound victory over death.  The Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Dementia have done their worst and lost the war.  We still have to work through all the grief that comes with such a loss, just not complicated by a sense of defeat and concern for the one who has died. My mantra has been, “She is fine. We are not.”

This afternoon, there was a time when all the rest of the family was away from the house when I walked in.  As far as I know, except for two or three times when I stopped by to pick something up while she was at her Tuesday Morning Bible Study, that is the first time in the last two years I have walked into the house without Mary Ann being here.  Actually, in the last eight or ten years, I don’t remember that happening for more than a moment to pick up something at the house while she was with someone else in another place. It struck me pretty powerfully.  It was not long before some of the family returned, but it was long enough to determine that I don’t like it.  Have I mentioned before that I don’t like this?

There is nothing anyone else can do about it.  The last thing I want is for people to try to insulate me from the reality of what is going on.  I need to experience it and get used to it.  Any who read this who happen to have lost someone and returned home to live in an empty house understand full well that we have to learn how to accept and come to terms with that new reality.

Tonight we spent over two hours greeting people who came by the funeral home to show their support for our family.  It was pretty much hugs all around.  There were many words of comfort.  There were many who offered to help in any way they could, inviting me to call or come by, threatening to pester me with their care.  They actually meant it.  I know these people.  They meant it.   For a while, I will need to hang back and get my bearings, but it is nice to know that to the degree I am willing to be assertive, I will not need to stay home alone unless I want to.  I like solitude, but I will need to find a balance between solitude and community to remain healthy.

I now know why when talking with people who have lost a spouse sometimes they get a catch in their throat when they talk about the last moments of their Loved One’s life if they were there — even if the death came years earlier.  Images of those last moments elicit great pangs of pain.  I doubt that the capacity to feel those pangs will leave very soon if ever.  I cherish those moments only to confirm for me that it is good that she let go, that she is no longer enduring the indignity of those last hours.  It frees me not to fight the acceptance, somehow wishing her back here.

We are all very tired now. It is time to try to get some rest.  I slept better last night — a very good thing.  Tomorrow will be a day to begin the healing in earnest.

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.

We thought the end had come this morning when the bath aide and Daughter Lisa and I were working on her.  She made some awful sounds and her eyes opened wide and rolled back, then she stopped breathing.  After only seconds, she started breathing again.

Poor Bathe Aide Zandra left during that time to let us be with her.  I grabbed a Bible and tried to read a couple of Psalms.  Words and tears mixed, mostly tears.  In a few minutes Mary Ann stabilized to a steady heart beat and steady breathing.

Zandra had pointed out some of the telltale mottling on the bottoms of her feet.  That was at about 9:45am.  We called Hospice Nurse Emily who came out to put a dressing on one of the sores that had developed.  Her blood pressure was low, and the oxygen saturation percentage was lowering.  Gratefully, her lungs were still clear.  Mary Ann again made clear with some scary sounds that she was not happy with being moved.  Nurse Emily indicated the obvious, that it would probably be before the day was done, certainly by tomorrow that the end would come. Emily  was here late in the morning.

We kept close track of Mary Ann’s breathing, which remained pretty steady.  Then we saw that in just an hour or so, the mottling had moved from the bottoms of her feet all the way to her hips.  When we called Nurse Emily about how to determine when to use the Morphine, I told her about the mottling.  She said she would be over at 2pm, an hour from that call.

Emily talked with us for a while and shortly after she left, Mary Ann took what turned out to be her last breath.  We were all immediately at her side.  I had found one of the books I used in the ministry and put it nearby.  I read a beautifully written Commendation of the Dying liturgy.  She died during that couple of minutes.

It is hardly necessary to tell you what came next.  After I gained enough composure, I called Nurse Emily to record the time of death.  Nurse Lisa came first since she was closer.  Then Nurse Emily came and did the official recording of the time.  Nurse Emily and Nurse Lisa prepared Mary Ann for the funeral home to take her.  We had all the time we wanted before they came.

Daughter Lisa and Denis let their two little ones (5 and 7) come in to see Mary Ann. I have worked with families with children often in situations like this.  Letting children satisfy their curiosity and ask questions is very helpful.  It is better to treat things honestly without giving them more information than they want or need.  They need to hear that it is all right for their Parents and the Grandpa cry, and that their Grandma is okay even though she has died.  They need permission to be sad or silly or whatever they need to do.

Granddaughter Ashlyn (5) was mostly excited that she lost her very first baby tooth this afternoon.  She is counting on a very generous tooth fairy.

Son Micah and Becky came in next with eleven year old Granddaughter, Chloe.  This is her first Grandparent to die.  She just needed to do some crying and be nurtured by her Parents.  There were lots of hugs.

Denis took the girls to the park for a while so that they would not be there when the funeral home took Mary Ann out.  They had an appropriate experience without that.

We made all the phone calls we could think to make.  We checked to see if the Funeral could be at 11:30am on Thursday at the church (Faith Lutheran Church, 17th and Gage, Topeka, KS).  It appears that the day and time are acceptable to all parties.

There were more food deliveries today.  There have been emails and phone calls as the news has begun to spread.  At about 4:30pm Pat from Penwell Gabel Funeral home and a helper came to pick up Mary Ann.  I have done so many funerals with them in the dozen years before I retired that they are more friends than they are funeral home staff. Our appointment is set for 11am tomorrow.  We will take the dress and the pictures at that time.  Son Micah is working on a draft of the obituary.

Lisa and Micah have each been doing their grieving in ways that work for them.  There have been hugs and tears.  Each of them has a Spouse who provides them with love and support without limit.  Is is such a comfort to a Father to see that.

Pastor Mike came over and spent the next couple of hours with us, just talking about Mary Ann and our life together, as well as what might be in store for me.  It gave me a chance to talk, something I do especially when I am dealing with my feelings.  It is my mechanism for processing things.  It served as a way to keep at bay the sadness that is sitting in my gut.

I have to say that the sadness is much different from the pain of these last couple of weeks as I saw Mary Ann decline to a shadow of her former self.  The horribly painful knot in my stomach, feeling her pain, untied immediately after she died.  I want her back, but I could not tolerate seeing her in that condition any longer.  I find myself talking as if I am just fine, while just under the words are tears and sadness and a dull pain — a new one, different from before.

She no longer is in pain. That is the best news imaginable.  In my faith tradition there is no doubt that she has transitioned to a kind of joy and peace immersed in love beyond human comprehension. For those whose view of reality does not include a similar spirituality, the release from the pain and suffering of the last couple of weeks especially, is a great good.

My hope tonight is that I will share a bit in her peace by getting a good night’s sleep.  Whether or not I can sleep is another one of those things over which I have no control.  I am really getting tired of all the things over which I have no control!

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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