Wednesday, February 4, 2015
March 28, 2015 | My Jottings
On Wednesday when I arrived at the hospital, once again the nurses reported that there hadn’t been any notable change in Michael’s condition overnight.
Due to the high risk of his lungs filling up, his bed had to be kept at a 45 degree angle, so even though he was turned on alternate sides and changed every two hours, he never really got to lay down flat.
His eyes were closed, his left hand was gripping and opening, so the rolled washcloth was still needed, and I could see that his face looked more slack than it had the day before. He kept his mouth open more. He was still coughing occasionally and yawning at least twice an hour. He was able to chew and swallow the small ice chips we were giving him, and as anyone would do who was waiting for good news, we rejoiced at these things as if they were little arrows of proof pointing to his recovery, or at least to his coming out of unconsciousness. “He’s coughing! He groaned a little! Look, he can still chew the ice and swallow it!”
I think the most encouraging thing that happened on Wednesday was around lunchtime when several of us were gathered in Michael’s hospital room. Michael seemed a little closer to the surface than he had been earlier in the day, so I hugged him and kissed him, talked to him and told him about all the people there who loved him so much. I gently opened one of his eyes with my thumb and forefinger, and right at that moment our son-in-law Jeremy walked from one part of the room to another. Michael’s eye followed Jeremy’s movement very deliberately and accurately and we were thrilled. Of course then I opened Michael’s eye and got down close to him so he could see me and I whispered happily, “Hi Michael! We’re all here! It’s me! You’re in the hospital and they’re taking great care of you, and we’re waiting with you until you wake up a little more. We love you and you are going to be just fine!” And because we were certain he had seen with that eye, and we believed he could still hear us even though he couldn’t yet respond, we all quietly and lovingly told him how crazy we were about him, all throughout the day. All the way until dark, those of us there sang to him, prayed for him, let him rest in quiet, massaged his limbs, and kissed him.
Michael’s wonderful sister and only sibling Patty had been there every day, waiting with me and speaking so compassionately to Michael. I have never heard my husband utter one negative thing about his beloved sister the whole 34 years we were together. And she didn’t hesitate to show her devotion to him. What a beautiful thing! After Patty went home late Wednesday afternoon, her husband Joe came to the hospital, and for quite a while it was just Michael, Joe and me together. Joe saw Michael squeeze my hand, noticed things he felt were hopeful, and he told me, and later Patty, that he felt the next day Michael would be waking up. That sounded good to me, after all it had now been almost 60 hours since Michael’s seizure. If this was Todd’s Paralysis, we were already past the common 48 hour waking point and moving toward the 72 hour point, which seemed ominous to me.
Our neurologist Dr. McKee makes his rounds at night, not in the morning like most doctors do, and since I had to go home and make dinner for our Fosters by 5:00, I missed his visit. He called me at home that night after he had seen Michael, and said that when he had gotten close to Michael’s face and yelled his name, he opened his eyes briefly. That sounded encouraging, but as our conversation progressed, for the first time I thought I detected more caution, less optimism in Dr. McKee’s voice than I had the days before. When I mentioned that Michael had followed Jeremy with his eye and had squeezed my hand, Dr. McKee hesitated very briefly and said, “Well, that’s good. I do think it’s time to order another CAT scan for tomorrow morning, however.” I didn’t know then what he would be looking for in this second scan, what he expected to find, but I had a feeling Todd’s Paralysis was no longer what he thought was going on with my husband. I wanted to know as much as possible, so of course I consented for the scan.
After cleaning up after dinner I got into my nightgown, let the dogs out one last time for the night, and sat in silence in our room on Michael’s and my comfortable king-sized bed. It felt like tomorrow, Thursday, would be a momentous day, due to the second scan scheduled. I contacted our daughters to let them know about Dr. McKee’s call, and in spite of how tenuous things were seeming, we knew we were all drawing close together in love, praying for Michael, and trusting God for whatever would come.
I turned out the lamp on my nightstand, turned over on my side there in the dark, and listened to the deep doggy breathing of Edith and Millie who were curled in canine circles on Michael’s side of the bed.
Michael’s side of the bed.
For a brief moment or two, I allowed my mind to go to the sorrowful place of wondering if Michael would ever lay his eyes, his body, on that bed again.
The pain was too deep and the wailing too loud. When the spell of fear and grief eventually faded, I asked God for sleep, and I begged Him to touch my Michael, the light of my life, the man of my dreams, and to be there with him all night in his hospital room, so that Michael could feel He was there.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
March 19, 2015 | My Jottings
On Monday night when I got home from the hospital, I sent out a few texts and emails updating people about Michael, and mostly asking for prayer.
When the sun came up Tuesday morning it was fourteen degrees below zero, which seemed apt to me. Our Foster women were of course concerned about Michael and I told them what I knew, and that we were all praying that he would wake up from this seizure-induced unconsciousness. All three of us exchanged hugs before they went out the door heading to their jobs, and I was touched when they both told me they’d be praying all day for Michael.
I was anxious to get the necessary morning tasks done — dogs out, dogs in, dishwasher loaded and started, and then off to St. Luke’s Hospital I went, leaning forward over the steering wheel I’m sure, trying to get there as fast as legally possible.
Has ever a woman been so excited to see her beloved? I can’t imagine even wives long separated from their imprisoned husbands, or the ones thousands of miles apart from their deployed servicemen, feeling any more anticipation than I felt that morning as I rode the elevator up to the fourth floor of the hospital, even though I had been with Michael just ten hours before.
I stopped at the nurses’ station on my way to his room and asked how he had done during the night. His nurse told me he had coughed and moaned off and on, and that his left hand had been so active they had put a rolled wash cloth in it to prevent him from rubbing his skin raw. But other than that there had been no change. He was being given the anti-seizure medication Keppra through his IV, because everyone was operating on the assumption that this almost comatose state was from a seizure.
I felt a rush of joy just to see my Michael. I hugged and kissed him and said all the things over and over I wanted him to know, and believed he could hear and feel everything, even if he couldn’t respond. I stroked his face, massaged his shoulders and legs occasionally, and sat with him all day. I was also happy to see that he could chew the small ice chips I placed in his mouth, and easily swallow.
I was so grateful for the family and friends who were there that day, sharing their hugs and prayers, tears and laughter. Everyone was encouraged by the possibility that with Todd’s Paralysis, Michael could wake up at any time, but in the meantime it was like all my people had come to help me keep vigil.
This photo is of our youngest daughter Sara cuddled up to her daddy.
Late Tuesday afternoon I spoke to Dr. McKee and he told me he had seen this kind of episode before in seizure patients, especially in older folks, and said he wasn’t particularly surprised by Michael’s lack of response. When I asked him directly if he had seen people be this unresponsive and still wake up days later, he answered kindly, “Oh yes. We’ll give it another day or two and he could definitely come out of this yet. If he doesn’t, I will order another CAT scan for Thursday morning to see if there’s something going on in his brain that the first scan didn’t show.”
I mostly just heard the first part of his answer, and when our conversation was over I put my hands over my face and burst into tears. I was so relieved that Dr. McKee had seen all of this before and that he wasn’t worried yet. I kept sobbing, “Thank you Lord, thank you Jesus! Thank you thank you thank you!”
I really think in hindsight, I was in sort of a fog during the early days following Michael’s hospitalization. Today I asked my daughters to help me remember some details I might not be recalling, and Carolyn reminded me that on Tuesday, February 3rd when she and her family were there, she played the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from the movie soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof, one of Michael’s longtime favorites. Oh, he loved that movie. We chuckled as we all listened, commenting on how Michael probably thought deep down inside he was Tevye, the bearded, hard-working father of five daughters and the husband of a strong-willed wife, who wanted to please God and also wouldn’t have minded a little extra money in his pouch. *Grin*
Another thing Carolyn reminded me about was that her husband Jeremy, Michael’s son of the heart, his hunting companion, and a skilled and compassionate nurse, tended to Michael so beautifully when he was there visiting that day. Even though Jeremy works at another hospital, he changed Michael, kissed him and cried as he did, expressing his devotion to this man he loved like a second father.
That evening I went home a little earlier since my friend Ginny had texted and told me she was bringing dinner for us. She delivered a delicious feast, and I was struck by what a lavish gift a meal is for a family in crisis. I have taken many a dinner over the years to couples with new babies, people recovering from surgery, those who were grieving, and it always felt so minimal and not as helpful as I wished it could be. Being on the receiving end though, I felt differently. What a help it was to sit down to a delicious meal with our Fosters, who were exclaiming about how good it all tasted…so much so that it made me cry with relief and gratitude.
When I went to bed on Tuesday night, I felt a little niggling worry in my chest. I kept praying and thanking God for all He had done for us, for the ways He poured His love out on us through our family and friends. I truly felt so loved and supported. But I wanted to hurry up and go to sleep so I could wake up the next morning, head right down to St. Luke’s, and hear from the nurses that Michael had shown signs of coming out of his unconscious state during the night.
But that isn’t what happened.
Monday, February 2, 2015
March 14, 2015 | My Jottings
Does anyone ever wake up on a given morning and sense that what will happen on that day will change everything, forever? I would imagine there are some people who have experienced that, but I can’t say I’m one of them.
Oh, I knew the day I walked my teary, twelve year-old self down the center aisle of the First Baptist Church in Covina, California to ask Jesus to come into my life that it would change everything, and it did. I knew the days I gave birth to my three wonderful daughters, my life would never be the same, and of course it hasn’t been. When I married Michael on June 28, 1981 and prepared to move with my two little girls to his home in American Siberia (Duluth, MN) to be with this man who had swept me off my feet before we’d ever met, I knew a new life was beginning, and I was so happy and expectant about the changes the future would bring.
But when I got out of bed while it was still dark on the bitterly cold first Monday in February of 2015, I had no idea what the day would bring. As I always do, I put on my slippers, clicked up the heat, fed the dogs and let them out, turned on a little music and began getting medications and breakfasts ready for our two sweet Foster residents. After seeing them off to their jobs, after getting dressed and throwing in a load of laundry, I was planning to meet my dear friend Su later that morning for a little cup of tea at a newer tea shop in our area called The Snooty Fox. When Su and I got there we learned it wasn’t open on Mondays, so we decided to have lunch at the nearest eatery, The Chester Creek Cafe.
As nice as The Snooty Fox and The Chester Creek Cafe are, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to bring myself to visit them again. Because as I was driving the short distance from one business to the other, my cell phone rang and the charge nurse at the veterans home where my husband Michael had been receiving care for the past 214 days told me that it appeared that Michael had had a seizure. (Later I learned that around 10:30 a.m., Michael had been helping Josh, one of the fantastic recreation staff people there, bake a cake. As he was sitting in his wheelchair, Josh told me later, Michael slowly and slightly arched his back and quietly moaned. “Michael, are you okay?” Josh asked right away, and Michael replied that he was. In less than a minute it happened again, and this time Michael slowly slumped and lost consciousness and was rushed back to his room where the nursing staff began taking his vitals and assessing him.) When I took the call from Tim, the nurse, he said that Michael’s vitals were stable but that he wasn’t very responsive.
Here’s the part that I still can’t fathom, as I look back on this fateful morning. Instead of driving the 60 miles up the north shore of Lake Superior immediately, I went ahead and met Su at the cafe and we had a quick lunch. I told her about the call and of course we were concerned, but I have no idea why I didn’t just drop everything and peel rubber that very moment to go to my husband. Was it because he had had a seizure like this before, a couple of years ago, and came out of it in less than an hour? I don’t know. Did I go ahead and eat my soup because I knew Michael was in good hands and there wasn’t much that could be done anyway? No clue. Was I numb with the news because we’ve been through so much with Michael’s health these past many years, and it just didn’t sink in how grim things could be? I hope so. But the fact of the matter is, I did not feel the sharp stab of worry and the adrenaline rush one would expect with serious news, and so I waited an hour before driving north. All the way there I expected I would see Michael on his bed when I arrived, nursing staff tending to him, and he would greet me with that one-in-a-million smile I love, and after a few hours, he would be back to his level of normal. At least as normal as one can be with advanced Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia.
But that’s not how it happened. When I walked into Michael’s room, the doctor who’d been summoned and the main nurse were there, and they told me he was paralyzed on his right side, and had not been able to answer them, even though one of his eyes was open and obviously seeing. They suspected a stroke. I sat by my beloved husband’s side and leaned down to kiss him, hug him and whisper to him. He could look at me with one eye, and at one point he did try very hard to speak to me, but only a few stuttered consonants came out. I was thrilled he could return my kiss. I was relieved when he could chew and swallow some tiny ice chips and I kept feeding him those. I prayed that God would help Michael and allow His presence to be felt, that He would bring His peace, and I sang quietly to him, held his good hand, and leaned in to kiss him every minute or so, and thanked God with each responsive pucker of his lips.
The doctor told me that there are two kinds of strokes, one caused by a bleed and one caused by a blockage, but either of these, especially with all of Michael’s health/brain factors, could potentially be very serious. She gently said she thought it was appropriate that nothing heroic be done and that we let nature take its course. And indeed, Michael had clearly stated years before that if something catastrophic health-wise should ever happen to him (as if Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia don’t rock one’s world enough), he wanted no heroic measures taken, but wanted to be made comfortable and allowed to exit this earth and move to heaven with Jesus, where his heart had been set on since he was thirty years old. Of course I would honor his wishes, and had no desire to put him through anything grueling like a brain surgery, but the longer I sat there with him, the longer I looked at this beautiful man I have loved for almost 34 years, the more I realized I had to know. Even if what was happening to him was a devastating stroke, I needed to know exactly what we were dealing with. I knew I’d have regrets if I didn’t find out what was going on with Michael.
So I told the nurses and doctor I wanted an ambulance ordered so Michael could be transported to a large Duluth hospital, one hour south of the veterans home in Silver Bay. Everyone graciously and quickly responded to my decision, and many staff people I’d grown to respect and even love began getting Michael ready. Paperwork was printed out for me to take to St. Luke’s Hospital, a hoyer lift was used to place him on the gurney when the ambulance attendants arrived, and a quiet, concerned circle of people made up of staff and other veterans’ wives were there to hug me goodbye and wish us well. Their eyes told me how much they cared for Michael.
I followed the ambulance for the 65 mile drive to the hospital, and by the time I parked and hurried in, there was a flurry of medical personnel tending to Michael in the Emergency Room, they had an IV in him, had taken blood, noted that his blood pressure was uncharacteristically high, and were preparing him for a chest x-ray and a CAT scan. Two of our daughters were there with us, and Michael’s sister Patty and her husband Joe arrived too. By this time Michael’s eyes were closed and he couldn’t seem to open them on command, but he was squeezing our hands hard with his good left hand. His right side was completely paralyzed, although there was no droop in any part of his face that you sometimes hear about with a stroke.
The CAT scan only took about ten minutes, and it wasn’t long before the doctor came in to tell us it was clear. No sign of brain tumor, no evidence of a bleed in the brain, which meant no hemorrhagic stroke, and this was good news, and also puzzling. Then what was going on? The doctor said they were going to admit him to the neurology floor, and that they suspected Michael had experienced a seizure with resulting Todd’s Paralysis. You better be sure I googled that as soon as he left the room. And I was encouraged by what I read. Apparently after someone has a seizure (and why the seizure in the first place? perhaps some abnormal brain activity near an old, mild stroke site), they can be paralyzed on one side and fairly unresponsive for up to 48 hours afterward. This doctor had actually seen this. Oh happy day! I grabbed onto that hope and went with it, praying that Michael would come out of this in the next day or two, and that he had Todd’s Paralysis from the seizure he’d so clearly had that morning while baking a cake with Josh.
Later that night as they were getting Michael all settled in to his private room right across from the nurse’s station on the neurology wing, I waited for Dr. McKee the neurologist to arrive. Michael had consulted with him years before and we trusted him. Dr. McKee was kind enough to come in at 10:00 that night, and after doing many tests he confirmed his agreement with the original ER doctor, that this could be Todd’s Paralysis from the seizure that morning. There were several things that were not presenting, if it were a large stroke, like the facial droop. Michael’s face never had the look of a man who’d had a serious stroke. Dr. McKee explained a lot to me that I won’t put here for the sake of time and space, but when I drove home on Monday night after speaking with him, I was much more hopeful than I had been earlier in the day, and ever so grateful I’d made the decision to have Michael transported to the hospital.
My prayer request became that God would bring Michael out of this Todd’s Paralysis and that he and I would have time together again. And our daughters and friends were joining me in this prayer. Now I, possibly more than any other person in Michael’s life, knew that Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia were nothing wonderful to come back to. I wasn’t asking the Lord to bring him back to what he’d been before so he could go on suffering for the predicted seven horror-filled years an average LBD patient experiences. Selfishly, I wanted to look into those big, expressive, kind eyes again, even if just for a short time. I wanted to feel his super strong hands squeeze mine again. I wanted to smell his neck, which has been the best smelling neck I’ve ever encountered in my 57 years. I wanted to hear his almost-gone voice whisper the things into my ear that he had the day before: “I love you so much… I would marry you all over again in a minute… You are still so beautiful to me… I think about you all the time Julie…” For my own selfish reasons, I couldn’t bear to even think of never having these times with Michael again.
I guess the quandary was, I didn’t want Michael to suffer anymore, but I didn’t want to be without him either.
Thankfully, yes, oh sooooo thankfully, God is the One who makes those decisions, not me. But I get ahead of myself a bit.
After Dr. McKee and I finished talking, he went out to the nurse’s station to work on Michael’s chart and orders, and I knew it was time for me to go home. I only had three miles to drive. I would have stayed the night in Michael’s room if I didn’t have Fosters who would need me early the next morning, and two little dogs who probably wanted to go out. I left around 11:00 p.m., and I gently laid myself against Michael’s chest as I bent over him. He could still squeeze with his left hand, although not on command. When I kissed him, he kissed me back. We puckered and pecked like that for a good minute, and I told him what a phenomenal man he was and how in the world had God ever tricked him into loving me was beyond my comprehension. I prayed aloud softly that Jesus and many powerful angels would stay close with him all night long, that he would feel the peace that passes all understanding, and that he would rest well and not be afraid. I told him I was going home but would be back first thing bright and early the next morning.
I drove home in a fairly numb state, reached up to the visor of the car to hit the garage door opener, and as the door was closing behind me, I shut the car off and sat there a minute in the dark garage, thinking about all that had happened that day.
Because of the clear CAT scan and because Dr. McKee had seen people go through Todd’s Paralysis before and then come out of it, I wasn’t terribly worried. Concerned, yes.
But when I pulled on my plaid nightgown and slid between our soft red and black buffalo plaid flannel sheets, I went to sleep hopeful for what the next day, Tuesday, would bring.
March 9, 2015 | My Jottings
Early last fall I received a scripture passage from a dear friend named Janet. She kindly reads my blog now and then, and came along side Michael and me in prayer in such a faithful way it made a real difference in our lives.
When I opened one of Janet’s emails in September, the grief I was experiencing over Michael’s care being more than I could adequately handle at home was almost paralyzing. I missed him so much, even though I was able to see him two-three days a week. I missed his wonderful, rich presence even though he was seriously ill. I grieved over how much distress I felt I was causing him, not caring for him at home anymore, and placing him into the hands of others at the veterans home an hour north of us. Even though Michael daily indicated how good the food was, how kind the people, how plentiful and generous the activities, how beautiful the surroundings, how comfortable the bed, we knew home was what he longed for. Only someone who has walked this path fully knows the deep sorrow and despair that relentlessly intrude as your most attentive, unwanted companions.
(This photo was taken on a cruise to Canada and New England in 2003, a year before Michael’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s)
Here is the scripture passage from Isaiah that Janet sent to me that day. I wept when I read it last fall, and I read it again last night from the new perspective of Michael’s recent move to heaven, and cried again. I’m daring to believe that even though Isaiah was writing to another group of people way back then, his words are still for me today, and that the Lord, through Janet, wants me to take in their truth, help and comfort today.
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.
“This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the Lord,
and great shall be the peace of your children.
In righteousness you shall be established;
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
If anyone stirs up strife,
it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
shall fall because of you.
Behold, I have created the smith
who blows the fire of coals
and produces a weapon for its purpose.
I have also created the ravager to destroy;
no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”
* * * * * *
There are so many little details in this passage that grabbed my heart; Michael’s love for agates, my birth stone being a sapphire, my desire for all of my children and grandchildren to have God’s deep peace. And the whole shame thing? That thing so many of us are afflicted with since childhood for one reason or another, or for no reason at all, which of course is the work of the enemy of our souls as well….it seems that God wants to strike a death blow to shame too. That’s enough good news and beauty about our heavenly Father to praise Him all day.
Today I am thinking of how God is my husband now, and He’s doing some building with agates and sapphires and other stones Michael would love. And how He’s not angry with me and will protect me and establish me and help me to serve him, even though I feel pretty unable these days.
This is the passage I will be reading again and again as I try to learn to live without my husband on this earthly sod.
Friends, thank you so much for stopping by here. I pray God’s presence, comfort and beauty will invade your week…
Ten Ways to Love — A Repost
February 27, 2015 | My Jottings
I published this post years ago, but I thought I would share it again. Looking through the lens of a widow changes everything, of course, and reading back through these words makes them all the more poignant and profound to me. (I included the kind comments you all left when this was first posted…)
* * * * * *
Here are ten ways to love:
1. Listen without interrupting. (Proverbs 18)
2. Speak without accusing. (James 1:19)
3. Give without sparing. (Proverbs 21:26)
4. Pray without ceasing. (Colossians 1:9)
5. Answer without arguing. (Proverbs 17:1)
6. Share without pretending. (Ephesians 4:15)
7. Enjoy without complaint. (Philippians 4:15)
8. Trust without wavering. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
9. Forgive without punishing. (Colossians 3:13)
Now that I’m a middle-aged woman I can look back on the early years of our marriage and recall so many ways in which I failed to love. And not just in marriage, but in friendship and family too.
I wasn’t terribly bad at #3, #6 and #10. But at times I have been a dismal failure at #1, #4, #5 and #7.
I’m blessed to have many young women in my life — my own daughters and also dear friends through Community Bible Study or church. If there’s one thing I wish I could pass on to younger women (and to young men as well) and have it stick, it’s that in a FLASH the end of your life will be upon you. It may not seem like time is flying now, but you’ve just got to take my word for it, it is.
My deepest regrets have come from my failure to love. How grateful I am that I’m still here and each day’s sunrise brings new opportunities for me to show how much I love my family and friends.
If we don’t love, we will have much sorrow. It’s as simple as that.
Perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges is loving the people who are really difficult to love, especially those who have mistreated us. I find it helps to remember that I have been one of those difficult people to love, probably more times in my life than I’m even aware. Yet God put gracious, loving people in my life who loved me anyway.
My husband Michael knows these ten ways to love. He may not be able to name them, and probably isn’t mindful of how beautifully he lives them out, but he’s the first person I thought of when I read the list above.
On Sunday Michael and I went to church and then picked up lunch on the way home. In the early afternoon we decided to take a nap, and as we laid together we talked of things on our hearts, and prayed for the people we love.
As I snuggled my head close to Michael’s neck I told him quietly, “I am so happy about you.” He blinked, smiled and said, “Really? Me?” And I nodded my yes.
Then his smile disappeared and he sort of whispered, “I’m not much use to you anymore.” I knew what he was referring to — his Parkinson’s disease, and all the ways it has been “the gift that keeps on taking.”
So I quietly said to Michael as we laid there, “Are you kidding me? You have given me your whole life. You have worked hard for our family, going out into the below zero temperatures to install new siding on houses and to build new buildings. You never complained, not one time. You have been an always-present daddy to our wonderful daughters. You have loved me when I wasn’t that lovable. You have been faithful to me, never touching another. You have Q-tipped my face and rubbed my feet for hours, and still scratch the ridges in my ankles after I take my SmartWool socks off. You have prayed with me when I couldn’t pray by myself. You believed God was at work when I couldn’t see it. You have kept me warm at night for 30 years. You have apologized when it was called for. You have been one of the quickest forgivers I’ve ever known. You have always joined hands with me when it was time to give. You have been a very strong man, because it has taken someone very strong to be husband to a wife like me. You never spoke of leaving. You make me feel loved every single day. You still remember to hug and kiss me every day. You make me laugh. You make me realize that I am one of the few women in the world who has been blessed with a truly good man.”
A few seconds passed after all this, and Michael pulled me close and said, “Thank you.”
And in my heart I looked up and said to my heavenly Father, “No, thank You.”
February 24, 2015 | My Jottings
Our daughter Sharon was one of the people, along with our son-in-law Jeremy, who gave Michael’s eulogy at his funeral on February 13th. I asked if I could share her words on the blog, and she graciously agreed. This is a rough draft that doesn’t have everything she said, but you will get the gist of it, and understand why she had us all laughing and crying. It was perfect.
* * * * *
It took me about a week after they married to start calling him Dad, and I’ve never stopped.
I think I am the child who challenged my dad the most. I was one of those kids with a smart aleck comeback for everything, and that could be frustrating to deal with. My dad could say, “Sharon, give the dogs some food,” and I might reply, “Dad, dogs are a relatively recently domesticated species accustomed to hunting in packs and eating large meals only occasionally. So they don’t need me to feed them every morning, because their metabolism only requires that they eat weekly.”
But we’re really all here for a different reason. We’re here because all of you having a burning question you are hoping to get clarity on. You all got up this morning, put on your pants one leg at a time, peered at yourself in the bathroom mirror, and asked yourself, “Am I Michael Balmer?”
So I’ve devised a short test to help you determine the answer.
If you’ve ever emerged from your bedroom in the morning wearing your Jesus T-shirt and your underwear to mix a concoction of powdered wheat grass, vitamin supplements, and Ruby Red Grapefruit juice while singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the top of your lungs, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you did that every morning for 30 years, you have an even better chance of being Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever woken up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning and thought to yourself, “I’m just going to rip a hole in that wall over there, and then I’m going to hang up this chirping bird clock that will keep you awake 24/7 with eagle screeching, and then I’m going to go to a garage sale and buy a snare drum,” you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever realized the night before a fishing opener that you don’t have any earthworms for bait, and you don’t want to pay $3 a dozen for worms at Chesney’s when you know darn good and well there are millions of them living in the yard, so you sprayed down your lawn with water an hour before sunset to entice worms to come to the surface, and you send your ten year old daughter out after dark with a flashlight to attempt to catch and imprison them in a Styrofoam container you keep in the refrigerator, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you sang on the worship team on this very stage for years, and you were so enthusiastic during the singing that George in the sound booth had to slowly turn your microphone to the off position so you didn’t damage the speakers, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve been married for more than 30 years and you still lean over to your adult daughter to say, “Your mom? She looks GOOOOD,” or, “Your mom? She looks hot. Spicy hot.” you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever sat on a couch next to your best friend with a blanket over your head while your wives prepared a song and dance routine complete with karaoke backing tracks and handpainted walleye costumes, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever had your life miraculously and inexplicably spared in Vietnam over and over again so you could return home and fulfill God’s plan for your life, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever lost both of your parents to the reckless actions of another driver and found yourself face to face with him two weeks later saying, “I forgive you and God loves you,” and you meant it, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you saw the light in other people and acted as if that was the only thing you saw about them, you might be Michael Balmer.
I’ll be honest and say I’m 0/10, and am definitely not Michael Balmer.
Eulogies usually talk about all of the things someone taught you, and my dad did teach me a thing or two: work hard and don’t complain about it. Think positively. A joyful heart is the best medicine. Take pleasure in simple things. Forgive people when they least deserve it.
But I don’t really want to talk about all the lessons I learned from my dad.
I want to talk for a moment not just about my father’s life, but also his death.
My dad had a massive stroke that decimated half of his brain, rendering him unresponsive for three days. The doctors all said this kind of stroke is not painful, and he seemed quite comfortable despite his condition.
It wasn’t his first stroke. And it was complicated by ten years of Parkinson’s disease that was caused by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.
On the evening of the third day, some old friends came by to pray for him and to read him Scripture. Chuck said, “I’m going to read some scripture for you, Michael. I want to read you Psalm 91.”
And he began:
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
He got about that far into the chapter, and the tiny hospital room full of people watched as my dad began to cry. Not just a few tears leaking out of the sides of his eyes, but what many people would consider a full on ugly cry, face contorted, sobbing.
Except to us, it was beautiful. We knew he could hear us, he understood us, that the essence of who he was was not contained in the left hemisphere of his brain.
For a little more than 24 hours, my dad was able to communicate with his tears, his grunts, his smiles, and his eyes. He smiled at the sound of my mom’s voice and at one of my jokes. He cried when he heard the names of friends and relatives. He cried when someone said, “Michael, look at how much your family loves you!”
We knew this 24 hours was temporary, and a gift.
He slipped into being unresponsive again, and we decided to honor his wishes and keep him comfortable, but not take heroic measures to save his life. We brought him home.
Our weekend at home with him was one we will never forget. It’s safe to say that none of us have ever been so present in our lives as we were then. We spent it talking to him, singing to him, rubbing him with essential oils, sharing our favorite memories of him, crying, laughing, never leaving his side.
His last day was filled with 10,000 I love you’s. With five daughters caressing his face whispering, “Daddy.” With the snuggles of grandchildren. With the prayers of friends. With my mom holding his hand, saying, “Michael, You’re going to meet Jesus soon. We’re here with you. We’re waiting with you, Michael.”
There was not one thing left unsaid.
My dad stopped breathing, and a moment later, exhaled one last time, as though his spirit left his body. In the dark, I saw my mom look up and wave to her love, now free of the heavy, broken down body that housed his soul for 65 years.
But it’s not goodbye. It’s see you soon.
The author C.S. Lewis wrote this in his book The Last Battle: “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
It’s not the closing of the book. It’s the turning of the page. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you soon.
* * * * * * *
Beauty is Healing
February 23, 2015 | My Jottings
Hello friends. I am working up to sharing more in depth about my beloved husband Michael’s recent move to Heaven. There are so many things swirling slowly around in my memory and I want to get them all down in black and white before they begin to fade, God forbid. It’s a comforting thought, to know he didn’t stop living, he just stopped living here.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share this little video with you. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re in for a treat. I don’t know about you, but I have known for a long time that God’s beauty is very healing. I think it’s why even people who don’t believe in God will instinctively travel all over the globe to place themselves in front of a majestic mountain range, or a zoo full of amazing creatures, or a turquoise, transparent sea. Because our bodies and spirits respond to and feel the healing power God has put in nature. I am not talking about any New Age ideas….just that there’s probably a lot God has done that we’re not privvy to yet, and His beautiful creation does something to us. I’m sure others can articulate it better than I, but I feel touched, moved, shifted, when I behold His glory in His creation.
Seeing this tiny hummingbird sleeping peacefully and actually snoring did something to me today. It made me praise God and cry in gratitude that He allows me to see such beauty. I feel almost undone sometimes when I see things like this, in the best possible way.
Do you think God might watch over you at night as you snore, and delight in you, His creation, as we delight in this tiny hummingbird?
I think He might….
February 15, 2015 | My Jottings
This wonderful slideshow was played at the funeral, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the church. I’ve watched this over and over, and it makes me weep and smile and remember and pray and laugh out loud and praise the Lord each time.
I will never get over the gift of having a husband like Michael. To have had his love makes me feel like the most blessed of women.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it all the way to the end, and let me know what you think. It’s an absolute treasure to me. (Thank you, dear Sharon…xoxoxox)
Please be sure to turn your speakers up, and click here to watch.
God bless and keep you all,
The Best Man
February 9, 2015 | My Jottings
Five Odd Things
January 31, 2015 | My Jottings
Good Saturday morning to you all! Well, unless you’re not in the States. It could be late in the day where some of you are. Maybe I should rephrase my greeting and say Good Saturday morning to you some!
I read a fun blog post the other day about ten odd things that people might not have known about that blogger. I thought I would try the same except I’ll only bore you with five.
Here are five (sort of) odd things about me:
1. I have long had an aversion to clowns. It’s not a true phobia because I don’t run screaming from them when I see them (not that I see that many clowns hanging around my neck of the woods), but I think they are truly creepy and not fun or jovial at all.
2. I have always liked to go fast. All the wheel-based things I’ve ridden in my life — my skateboard when I was eight, my bicycles, my Vespa motor scooter when I was a young teen, my Opel station wagon which was my first car — I’ve loved the thrill of speeding in them. I love roller coasters and super-high water slides, and know I would love sky diving if I could be certain of a good outcome. I don’t necessarily go fast anymore. I’m a cautious driver who mostly stays under the speed limit now that I’m older. But even at my age (57), no one would have to talk me into going on some ride that goes upside down, all around, and 80 miles per hour. I’d be ready in a minute.
3. I have learned to like a lot of foods since I moved to Minnesota in 1981. I was a picky, non-adventurous eater as a child, and still in my early twenties had not ever tasted broccoli, asparagus, beans, fried eggs, raw tomatoes, cucumbers, mayonnaise, or raw onions. I began to see how limiting and foolish this was, so I started making myself eat all kinds of things I’d always thought were “icky.” I developed a taste for all of the above and more, but there are three things I’ve never been able to like, even though I’ve tried many times. So all that to say, I hate tuna, beets and lentils. I have eaten them when I’ve been served these things at peoples’ homes, but I’ve had to silently pray that I could get them down without bad things happening.
4. I am not fond of the months January and July. I know that sounds ungrateful, since life happens during those months and that is a gift from God. But I experience a sort of visceral wince when I think about those months and I breathe a sigh of relief on the last days of those months. Like today! Yay! No more January this year! (And no trauma has occurred in those months to make me feel this way. I have loved ones born in both of these months so this has redeemed them for me….I think my odd feelings are more weather related than anything. Simply put: January is waaaayyyy too cold, and July is waaaayyy too hot.)
5. I am a meaning addict. I have this built-in tendency to believe that everything means something, that even the most insignificant things can point to something bigger or other. I look at trees and see them pointing upward, picture their roots going ever deeper for water and nourishment, and of course I see the ways of God in all of that. I read about the precise placement of the two hydrogen atoms on one oxygen atom that forms a water molecule, and how if the hydrogens didn’t bond at the exact angle they do, nothing as we know it would even be. And I think, what does that mean? Apart from the obvious, what does that mean? Thursday night at my monthly SAGs meeting with my friends Pat, Gail and Lorna, a very brief mention of the McCaughey septuplets came up when we were talking about babies. We spent maybe ten seconds on the McCaughey septuplets. The next morning I was reading the news online, and a link about the McCaughey septuplets popped up. Some people call this synchronicity, and it happens to me all the time. But I want to know….what does this mean?
I will be meeting my dear friend Su for a cup of tea this morning at The Snooty Fox. We have made a new verb together from the title of this little establishment. Snooty is of course known as an adjective, a descriptive word telling us about the fox. But Su and I now say that we are going to snoot. Do you snoot? I am going to begin snooting today, and will snoot with all my might.
And now I ask you, what does that mean?