Saturday, May 30, 2015

Daughter Julie Returns to Colorado

Yesterday was a bittersweet 24 hours, filled with good byes to friends and Julie's home in South Carolina.  She and I spent several hours in sorrow, but welcomed a new beginning for her as she returned to Grand Junction, where she and Jack lived the first five years of their marriage.  As she said, she left Colorado as a wife and is now returning as a widow.

We flew back to Grand Junction from Rock Hill, SC via AeroCare air ambulance on a Lear 35 jet with Sven, the Norwegian pilot, and three other staff assisting us in all ways possible for a safe trip home via air.  Here are pictures from the journey yesterday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Kitchen Table Wisdom

Until we stop ourselves, or, more often, have been stopped, we hope to put certain of life's events "behind us" and get on with our living.  After we stop we see that certain of life's issues will be with us for as long as we live. We will pass through them again and again, each time with a new story, each time with a greater understanding, until they become indistinguishable from our blessings and our wisdom.  It's the way life teaches us to live.
                                                by Rachel Naomi Remen
As a physician, I was trained to deal with uncertainty as aggressively as I dealt with disease itself. The unknown was the enemy. Within this worldview, having a question feels like an emergency; it means that something is out of control and needs to be made known as rapidly, efficiently, and cost-effectively as possible. But death has taken me to the edge of certainty, to the place of questions.

After years of trading mystery for mastery, it was hard and even frightening to stop offering myself reasonable explanations for some of the things that I observed and that others told me, and simply take them as they are. "I don't know" had long been a statement of shame, of personal and professional failing. In all of my training I do not recall hearing it said aloud even once. 

But as I listened to more and more people with life-threatening illnesses tell their stories, not knowing simply became a matter of integrity. Things happened. And the explanations I offered myself became increasingly hollow, like a child whistling in the dark. The truth was that very often I didn't know and couldn't explain, and finally, weighed down by the many, many instances of the mysterious which are such an integral part of illness and healing, I surrendered. It was a moment of awakening. 

For the first time, I became curious about the things I had been unwilling to see before, more sensitive to inconsistencies I had glibly explained or successfully ignored, more willing to ask people questions and draw them out about stories I would have otherwise dismissed. What I have found in the end was that the life I had defended as a doctor as precious was also Holy. I no longer feel that life is ordinary. Everyday life is filled with mystery. The things we know are only a small part of the things we cannot know but can only glimpse. Yet even the smallest of glimpses can sustain us.

Mystery seems to have the power to comfort, to offer hope, and to lend meaning in times of loss and pain. In surprising ways it is the mysterious that strengthens us at such times. I used to try to offer people certainty in times that were not at all certain and could not be made certain. I now just offer my companionship and share my sense of mystery, of the possible, of wonder. After twenty years of working with people with cancer, I find it possible to neither doubt nor accept the unprovable but simply to remain open and wait.

I accept that I may never know where truth lies in such matters. The most important questions don't seem to have ready answers. But the questions themselves have a healing power when they are shared. An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. Life has no such stopping places, life is a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by. An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.” 

                         ― Rachel Naomi RemenKitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Eagle's Wings

If only Julie could believe this power as she is in the midst of despair.

Friday, May 15, 2015

On the Watch

A reflection on the almond tree:

Elizabeth wrote a thoughtful comment on the previous post about God being on the watch.  He is. Looking into the Old Testament verse in Jeremiah 1: 11-12, indulge me in this. This link gave me pause.
It is amazing to see beautiful almond trees blossoming all over Israel every winter. They are the first tree to blossom and yet the last to bear fruit. 
The almond tree is associated with one of the earliest prophecies of a young Jeremiah. “Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a branch of an almond tree.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching to perform My word.’”
God is on the watch, taking care of us all, if we only pause to see the wonderment of His goodness.

Also from the referenced link:
The Hebrew word for almond, shaked, is also translated “to watch”. By seeing the almond branch, God assured Jeremiah that He is watching over His word to bring it to pass, no matter the passage of time.

The picture of the two chairs with the sunlight coming down on them was one of the last dozen or so Jack had sent me from the vantage point of his front step, looking out onto their lawn.  Now there is only one person left on earth to occupy that pair of chairs, and Julie is setting her mark on the world in her unique way from her bed, if not her wheelchair.

Things are going well.  Julie is getting through the anger stage of grief, although it will still flare up occasionally when she is especially stressed, trying to heal physically and emotionally. Only a few days ago she told me that she had Stage IV breast cancer, diagnosed in 2012.  She had originally told me the oncologist had diagnosed her as "Stage III plus."  Her pressure wounds have shown no improvement, but as far as we know, she is in remission from cancer.

None of us knows the timing of our demise.  Henri Nouwen's meditation today was apt. 
How we leave others depends largely on how we prepare ourselves for death.  When we can die with grateful hearts, grateful to God and our families and friends, our deaths can become sources of life for others.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen  
Jack certainly left a source of life for all of us.  I can only hope to do as well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Planning for a New Beginning

It has been a week since last Juliet (daughter) and Jack (now deceased) were given my blog attention.  This was a picture taken of them in 2005 during better times

Jack's obituary can be found here.  He has been gone two weeks today.  Julie was able to attend his funeral, being allowed a  few hours window of opportunity to say her final good bye to him at the cemetery. Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, SC made a policy just for her so that she could be allowed away from her hospital bed without being discharged from the center and then having to undergo a new admission. Seems the two of them were always changing policy, and from the number of conversations that I have been privileged to share since his death, they were also accustomed to converting mind sets about physical disabilities as well.

Julie was transferred to White Oak Manor in York, South Carolina where she remains.  Her pressure wounds are a bit worse for the transfer, as is her physical condition.  Her spirits are becoming more hopeful. The one concern now is transporting her back to Grand Junction either through Angel Flight or Charity Care Flight.  Nothing is quick about this process, but I trust it is all in God's Time.

If one is aware, looking for little miracles, they occur daily while I have been in York.  The first sign that God takes care of even the most minor of details was when I was clearing debris from their yard; fallen branches from oak trees, trimmings from hedges that I had cut one morning, that kind of yard pollution.  As I had it in my arms wondering where to put the dead foliage and heavier bits of wood, I glanced up to see the City Of York and three of its heavy duty front load hauler trucks one house down from where I stood, laden with wood pieces that had been torn from trees and bushes. As I walked with this load to the street where the trucks were slowly making their way toward me, the equipment operater motioned for me to drop my load in his front loader basket.  We shouted at one another, and he gave me to understand that this was the annual city pick up for trees and branches left on the curb.  I simple dropped my load into that container and away went the truck to the next house for the next load. Phillipians 4:19 says:
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 
What a concept.  Two other minor amazements have occurred this week, which also tells me that God is on the watch, supplying answers to questions before they have even been asked.

My new mantra is "IDK" meaning "I Don't Know" which is my standard reply to most questions asked of me.  When is Julie going to Grand Junction?  How are her wounds doing?  When will the house sell? When is their house going on the market?  When will you be appointed Personal Representative for Jack?  When for Julie?  When can you pay off their outstanding bills?  How are you going to get their specialized van sold? When are you going home to Colorado? How is Julie really coping with being a young widow?  

All questions are asked with true concern, but I just do not have any answers yet.  Sometimes I almost yell out " I Don't Know!" but most recently I can more calmly mouth or in sotto voce simply reply "I D K."  It is my most recent coping mechanism.  That and discarding trash.  What a sense of accomplishment to put something in a rubbish can and be done with it, never more touching the object or thinking of the consequences surrounding that discarded item.

House update: Pure & Simple and its owner Jennifer, will be here later this morning.  She is turning all the knick knacks, furniture, appliances and household items into sale items for the Estate Flash Sale scheduled May 23-24.  She is an energetic young woman sailing around the premises on angel wings, directing her staff and readying the house for a clear-out.  

Now is time to put away the coffee cup, finish up this post, retrieve clothing from the dryer, shower and put away personal items so that Jennifer will not tag and price them for sale.  I will be on my way shortly to see Julie and stay out of the way of Pure & Simple personnel.  

(the house that Jack Built in 2003 in York, SC, now "The Estate")

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Life Remembered

It was a matter of life, then death.  My son in law Jack, semi-professional photographer, amateur astronomer, teacher for remedial students for eleven years, rock hound, punster, and husband to daughter Juliet for 18 years, died suddenly of heart failure on April 29. Within minutes Pastor Jeff Lingle sped to their home and was with Julie.  Friends stayed with Julie in York, SC (she is bedridden) until I could get to York.  Within 12 hours after Jack died, my brother John and I were able to be with Julie.

Like Julie, Jack also was born with spina bifida.  They shared common physical problems but they were not alike in age.  Jack was born in 1947. Julie was born in 1970.  That 23 years of age separation was never a handicap.

He lived to the fullest, and then God must have decided it was time for him to take eternal rest.  I think he just wore out.

Jack had one leg removed in 1998 after a four month hospitalization in Grand Junction, CO where they were living at the time.  But that did not slow down his arms propelling his wheelchair, kept in motion as he attended church events, fairs, museums, dance recitals, all the while keeping his camera shutter blinking open and closed, recording events in the lives of others.

When my brother and I were with Julie in those three days after Jack died, we breathed deeply and kept moving on with things. Then on the fourth day after Jack died, Julie had another medical crisis necessitating an ambulance ride to Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, SC where she remains presently, being treated for pressure wounds. 

The physician in charge knows how important it is for Julie to attend Jack's funeral today, and the medical village attending to her in hospital has gathered round and all are working in their own special ways to get her a two hour suspension from the confines of her hospital bed so that we can drive her to Charlotte, NC to see Jack's casket lowered back into the earth. Ecclesiastes 3 will be read, at her request.  There is a time and season for everything, and this was his time to die.  It will be a hard day.  Your prayers for Julie are appreciated.

The end of this week contains many appointments for helping get their affairs settled and toward the ultimate goal of getting Julie back to Grand Junction and settled there into Mesa Manor, a skilled nursing facility.

Until I write again, God be with you and keep on with the enjoyment of what you like to do. Smell those lovely spring flowers, enjoy the rain and sun, wind and sky.  I am doing the same.

During natural disasters two enemy animals
will call a truce, so during a hurricane
an owl will share a tree with a mouse
and, during an earthquake, you might find
a mongoose wilted and shivering
beside a snake. The bear will sit down
in a river and ignore the passing salmons 
just as the lion will allow the zebra
to walk home without comment.
I love that there are exceptions.
At funerals and weddings, for example,
the aunts who never speak nod
politely to one another. When my mother
was sick even the prickly neighbors
left flowers and cakes at our door
"Natural Disasters" by Faith Shearin from Telling the Bees. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015