On a Warm Day in June

I wrote about my brother Bob’s illness and subsequent death in The Winter of Grief.What I saved for this story is events I experienced, especially in the last year, involving my brother. Here’s the backstory: When Bob was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Dementia in 2010, he started his care in a nursing home in the small, rural town where his youngest son lived, in Ord, NE. Once he was stabilized he was able to move to the Assisted Living facility in that town. He was sixty-five years old, and noted he was the youngest person there, by at least ten years. Periodically he would talk to me about moving to Kansas. He would also talk to our brother in Colorado about moving to Colorado. Neither of us were able to help him move. I considered the potential of Bob moving to my town and state. Since the major portion of his medical insurance was state-residency based, I did not think I could take on the task of helping him gain residency, thus medical benefits, here. My home state of Kansas had a back-log of Medicaid eligibility, with no promise of that changing. We live in a two-bedroom house, and my son was just starting high school. My stepson lives with us in the summers. Basically we had a full house and couldn’t bring Bob here. This left me feeling lacking and wishing I could be of more help to him. We visited him once a year at that time, even having an extended family gathering at a bed and breakfast in Ord in 2013.

In 2016, Bob’s son left Ord and moved to Grand Island, NE. Bob believed he had no connections to keep him in Ord, and wanted to live in an urban area. We helped him by researching and visiting facilities in Lincoln, NE. We found one that met his needs and wishes, and he moved to Lincoln. Since he was now over one hundred miles closer to me, I hoped to visit him more often. My daughter and her toddler traveled with me that June, to celebrate Bob’s birthday. We took him to a popular restaurant for lunch. He had to traverse a short, steep ramp in the restaurant to be seated. He was using his walker, but started falling forward. Two diners were in range, quickly sized up the situation and reached out to steady him. I was shaken by the potential of him falling and realized I did not have the expertise to lift him off of the floor. I hesitantly drove him out for supper, and later to a twelve-step meeting. They were uneventful and he loved every moment. I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of that birthday celebration and realized I was no longer comfortable transporting him.

Bob enjoyed the city, but his health declined, his needs increased, which meant he no longer qualified for assisted living. He moved to a nursing home in Grand Island, NE at the end of 2016, to be in the same town as his son.

When I retired later in 2017, I considered ways to be involved with his life. I asked Bob and his sons if I could participate in his quarterly Care Plan meetings, via conference call. They were fine with that; Bob indicated he would find my input helpful.

In my social work career, I had attended a multitude of meetings for children that had some of the same features as an adult’s care plan meeting. I knew these meetings could either be a place of a dynamic group process of relevant action plans being shaped or a perfunctory meeting, convening for the sake of meeting state and federal requirements. I had experienced both types. I was hoping for the former. The angle I decided to focus on in his Care Plan meetings was activities meaningful to Bob. As he had been a Lutheran pastor, church and theology was still an interest and passion of his. He had also attended twelve-step support groups and continued to find that fellowship important. I knew he had found rides to both in Ord, but that had faltered when he moved to Lincoln. Our brother in Lincoln gave him information to make those contacts himself, but we didn’t realize he was not able to function at that level anymore. It was so hard to gauge his current capabilities and what he could no longer do independently. Our brother had just begun to make contact for Bob at a local church when Bob moved to Grand Island. The Lincoln pastor contacted a pastor in Grand Island, and we were aware a pastor was making visits to Bob. But he was no longer attending church. His physical decline was enough to not task volunteers with helping him in and out of vehicles. To engage in worship, the activities director had Bob be in charge of starting the DVD player of a freshly burned DVD of a local church service, delivered to the nursing home. When we talked about this, he acknowledged he had little theological alignment with the church but appreciated having exposure to church services. He also helped lead a Bible study. The activities director, our brother and I all tried to set up ways to be participate in Twelve Step groups in Grand Island, but nothing ever worked out.

In June, 2018, my husband Ken and I were heading out for our daily walk. It had been pretty hot, so we thought of going to our local indoor track, but decided to face the heat and walk in our neighborhood. We have several different routes we take, but on the one we chose that day, about a mile into the walk, I saw a car with a Nebraska specialty license plate that said “ELCAREV”. Not being a congenital Lutheran from Nebraska, as I was, I explained to Ken this plate indicated the car belonged to a minister of the Lutheran branch called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which was the brand I had spent most of my life attending. And that REV stood for Reverend. As we started walking away, a woman walked out of the house and towards this car. I called out to her, “Cool license plate; where do you live?” She did that thing I so recognize; she started qualifying that her town was small, and I probably wouldn’t have heard of it. She said she lived in Ord, NE and is the minister at Bethany Lutheran Church. I responded, not only had I heard of Ord, but we had been there to visit my brother, Bob Larson. She said, “I know Bob, he is a member of my church!” She then explained she had lost touch with him when he moved to Lincoln. Her home office (It’s actually the Nebraska Synod Office, for those of you who like accuracy and relate to church jargon. I like deciphering jargon.) had recently contacted her to let her know Bob’s current address. She said she made the drive to Grand Island weekly for text study (They also call if Peri-copes study. More jargon!) and had begun to visit Bob and serve him communion. I was washed with gratitude to know Bob was being spiritually nurtured in a manner familiar and dear to him.

Rev. Glenda explained her two adult sons live in Lawrence, but in two different parts of town. She just happened to be at this son’s house, and she just happened to decide to go to her car to retrieve her water bottle. When we just happened to be walking by. We were all in awe of this harmonic convergence and all tearing up. We exchanged phone numbers so we could continue to communicate about Bob.

With this dramatic insertion of my brother into my local life, I decided I needed to contact his nursing home to find out when his next Care Plan meeting was scheduled. I was surprised to learn it was the next week, on Wednesday, June 20th! Two of my cousins I lived down the road, so to speak, in Nebraska, so I asked them for lodging and a visit. They were both available on the dates I needed! The trip was falling together seamlessly.

I saw Bob on Monday, asking him what he wanted addressed at his Care Plan meeting on Wednesday. He gave me several items; some made sense to me, some didn’t. But, overall, we had a coherent conversation. I told him of meeting Rev. Glenda and he acknowledged she was visiting him. I then drove further west, to stay with my cousin.

A year prior, my nephew told me Bob wished, when he died, to have a Lutheran funeral service and to be buried at the same cemetery as our parents. It’s a rural cemetery, formerly connected to a German Lutheran Church and parochial school. I knew nothing about the process of getting a burial plot there, but my cousins did. I asked them and found out it was simple to reserve a burial plot; one cousin gave me the contact person.

Tuesday was a day to hang out with my cousin hosting me, and we decided to visit the cemetery, to see our parents’ graves, and take a look at available burial spots for my brother’s request. We found a spot right beside my parents.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0999-2.jpg
Our parents gravestone. In the background is a corn field with rotational irrigation equipment. So apropos for the multitude of NE farmers’ resting place.


She suggested we visit the local funeral home, to gather more information about burial at Immanuel Cemetery. The information from the funeral director was specific and not as complicated as I had imagined . I later passed on the information to my nephews, for use in that unforeseen future.

The next day I said goodbye to my cousins and drove back to Grand Island, to attend Bob’s Care Plan meeting. Bob seemed disoriented, so I was glad I had had the conversation a couple of days prior, to share his concerns. After his meeting I drove to a local fast food of Bob’s choice, Runza Hut, a local favorite, and brought it back for Bob’s lunch. He enjoyed every last bite.

I drove home via Lincoln, NE, so I could have supper with our brother. Knowing he is proficient at wood working, it occurred to me to ask him to consider making an urn for Bob’s ashes. He gave me a decisive yes. I really considered this planning for an event years away, but was grateful plans were falling in place so well.

After that, when I called Bob the conversations had digressed with the progression of his dementia. In November of 2018, my nephew let me know Bob was placed on Hospice care. They said he had declined, but they did not see death as imminent. He basically needed more daily care. I texted Rev. Glenda to let her know they had included chaplain care in the hospice services.

I wasn’t involved in his September Care Plan meeting as they had staff changes, who didn’t know to contact me. For Bob’s December Care Plan meeting, I again participated via conference call. The goals for his Care Plan were now comfort care, not rehabilitative care. This was hard to hear, but helpful to face the reality of Bob’s condition.

I was still surprised, though, when my nephew’s wife called to tell me in early January Bob was not eating and declining. I texted Rev. Glenda to tell her Ken and I were heading to Nebraska on a Sunday to say our goodbyes. Glenda did not anticipate coming to Grand Island at that time. A few hours later she texted me and said she was coming! This meant she was driving the eighty miles one way, after presiding at two church services that morning. My brother and his wife from Colorado came, my nephew and his wife were there, and Bob reveled in being surrounded by family. My nephew, his wife and I took opportunities to talk with Rev. Glenda about funeral services, within the confines of limited funds. Rev. Glenda offered her services and the services of her church in Ord with no need for payment. We were deeply touched, and relieved.

It turned out to be our last time to see Bob as he died six days later. My nephew and his wife worked with Rev. Glenda to arrange the funeral service. Our brother was able to build the wooden urn in time for the funeral service. The inurnment of ashes at the cemetery on the plains would wait for better weather.

Our family gathered, and Rev. Glenda a officiated a service honoring Bob. She told anecdotes of his church life in Ord; stories new to me. She told us when she moved to Ord she was still doing graduate work. She asked Bob to read her papers and said he gave constructive feedback. When Bob died Rev. Glenda informed the NE Synod Office and the Assistant to the Bishop participated in the funeral service. None of Bob’s family even considered this as an option, but we knew Bob would appreciate the acknowledgement of his ministry. And we were grateful for the immense care Rev. Glenda gave to the details and her ministry to us. Rev. Glenda turned out to be a blessing to my brother and his relatives. Much of this falling together because Ken and I decided to take a walk in our neighborhood on a warm day in June.

Our Giving Tree

A year ago, we were in the path of a wet microburst resulting in a big, old hackberry tree uprooting and resting on our house.

IMG_0168
The day after the wet microburst uprooted our tree.

This blog includes our initial reactions.

Here are my thoughts after a year has passed.

It actually took a while to have the experts settle on the type of storm we had.  They initially said we had straight-line winds, and later said it was a wet microburst.  Our neighbors quickly named it a microburst, and they were spot on.

What also seemed to take a while was getting the house repaired. I have no idea what is typical, as I hadn’t experienced working with a homeowners insurance claim of this proportion.  The tree was removed in less than a week and the insurance adjuster cut us a check to pay the tree service while sitting in his truck.  That’s a nice use of technology!  I didn’t know our mortgage company would also be involved in the repair process, but it made sense since they own it as well.  It just added another layer to get the house repaired.

But the house repair was a seven-months-long process.  Fortunately,  after the tree was removed we were able to return to live in it.

Although the restoration of the house took over half a year, we have an improved house! Some repairs we were needing to attend to were swept up in the restoration.  The tree falling onto our house left ripples in most of our ceilings in our house.  Some of our ceilings had decades of patching, but are now ripple and patch free.  Walls were impacted as well, so they are repaired and have new paint.  It’s quite the facelift inside! We now have a new roof, half of the house has new siding and guttering, and two badly needed new windows.   I quickly named our tree “The Giving Tree”.

Me and the mulch
I was happy to have our tree return as mulch!

Prior to the tree falling, I would comment to Ken I wanted a truckload of mulch for our yard. I asked the company who removed our tree to give us some mulch from our tree, and they delivered!  I wondered if we could find a place for all of this, but that was not a problem.  It did take us several weeks to disperse it, but it was fun!  A year later I am ready for more mulch, but not ready for another storm.

We both are now “jumpy” when we have storms with high winds.  About an hour prior to the storm I had taken a walk. There was thunder in the distance while I was walking, and I was aware a rainstorm was predicted. I don’t take walks when there’s thunder within my hearing. The strength of a storm is no longer theoretical to me.

Ironically, when this storm was beginning last year, I said how much I enjoyed the wind.  In minutes, the wind was blowing so fast the leaves were flying past our front window.  That was when we decided to move away from the windows. It has taken a while to not go to a fight, fight or freeze kind of place when having high winds now.

The impact on the ceiling and chimneyThis incident gave me the opportunity to take stock about where my security lies.  When the tree was resting on our house, being inside of it felt risky, and unsure if it was safe to be inside the house.  When the tree was removed and the insurance adjuster said our house was safe to stay in again, we didn’t stay in our bedroom right away.  It had a nonfunctioning chimney for a long-ago wood stove that was cracked when the tree hit our house, with mortar falling out in places.  The plaster ceiling around it just fell off. We discovered the chimney on the roof was totally loosened and was easily dismantled.  Subsequently, we had no idea if the chimney was stable and didn’t want to find out while sleeping.  After a month of no movement of the chimney and internal repairs not happening soon, we returned to our bedroom.  (When repairs did happen, we requested they remove the chimney.  Our bedroom is small, and this gave us more space. The masons did a wonderful job of preserving the bricks so we now have bricks to use for other projects.)

I realized I had assumed our house was my safe haven.   I have preferred to live in homes with a basement to have a safe(r) place to go for a tornado.  But I didn’t have a plan for a tree uprooting and landing on the house. It made safety feel like an illusion, which indeed it is.  My feeling of security really rests within me and my version of God.  Ken and I were unscathed and in fact, benefited from the demise of our tree.  But the potential the tree could have landed on us was not lost on us.  Our wonderment and gratitude were, and are, vast.  Now, when I find myself worrying about the small stuff (it’s all small stuff, in the end) I remind myself about the tree, what a great outcome we had and where my trust truly lies.

Ceiling repair
The only time I wanted to be working again: when the interior was being repaired.

To There and Back Again (my journey with a ring)

 

My daughter’s and my hands, with my mother’s ring.

I lost my mother’s wedding band. It was a Thursday night, and I was cleaning out my purse as I was preparing to attend an all-day conference on Friday when I realized I had lost it. The last time I had been aware of the ring was three weeks prior.  That was the afternoon we had an unexpected mighty wind and rain storm. While sitting in the living room on that warm October day, we had a front-row view of the swirling rain, the leaves flying by, and our neighbor’s house across the street disappearing from view. We weren’t immediately aware the thud we heard and felt was the tree resting on our house.  

Our neighbor called me, asking if we were okay.  Because of the tree on our house.  That’s when we knew.  The storm was short-lived, and we went outside to see what our neighbor was talking about.  It was a grand old tree,

The aftermath of the storm.

living about six feet from our house.  The wind uprooted it and it was on the edge of the roof, having made its own divot for its new resting place.   The top of the tree draped most of our roof and extended over the opposite side of the house.  When we went back inside, we saw we had cracked walls and ceilings in our bedrooms, and the ceiling in the attic now contoured to its new resident.

I was giddy with relief knowing the tree did not crush us.  But we had no idea if it was stable, or if it could still fall further.  We made calls: to our insurance, to the police, and to my daughter to say we were safe and could we spend the night?  We started packing our bags.  I wondered, what was in our house I would regret losing if the house was crushed?  I thought about pictures, but suddenly they didn’t feel as important as being alive. I did realize the value of my mother’s rings.  The stone portion is a custom setting holding my grandmother’s faux ruby engagement stone and my mother’s petite engagement diamond. After her mother died, my mother inherited the ring.  My mother joined it with her engagement ring and kept the matching wedding band separate, to be able to wear it alone in the ordinary days.

The last picture of my mother wearing it was at our 2008 Christmas gathering.  My niece orchestrated the photo, which was a hands-only picture of all of the women in my extended family. During the photo shoot, her youngest great-granddaughter, a toddler, was captured reaching her plump finger for that pretty ring on my mother’s hand.  It’s a precious memory.

When my mother died my middle sister became the ring’s new keeper.  My extended family gathered last summer and the women wanted to replicate the picture of our hands. We were aware of the absence of my mother in this picture and was a bittersweet occasion. The ring was now on my sister’s hand, and her toddler granddaughter reached for my ring on my hand.  The tears welled up at the innocent repeat of this touching scene. After the photo, my sister asked if I would want to borrow the ring until we saw each other again, in nine months.  I was touched by her gesture and accepted.  The ring easily fit my finger, as opposed to my sister’s slender, honed piano-playing fingers.

My daughter and I had our hands’ picture taken, and I wore my newly entrusted, borrowed treasure. When our family saw the pictures back at our separate homes, there were comments that my hand was mistaken for my mother’s by several people.

It was fun to bring the ring home and show it to my women friends, but I only wore it on dressing up occasions. It hung on the trunk of my little porcelain elephant ring holder; also from my mother.

On that October afternoon, when the firefighters came to our house and said we should leave soon, as the house and the tree may not be stable, I grabbed my mother’s rings and put them in the pocket in my purse where I keep my keys.  And didn’t give them much thought.   When we returned to a home with no tree resting on it five days later, it did not occur to me to place my mother’s rings on the waiting elephant ring holder.  And when I realized my mother’s wedding band was not in the purse anymore, three weeks had passed since I had hastily stuffed them in my purse.

After carefully searching the pockets and lining of the purse to no avail, I had many thoughts.  One was of relief, of not losing the unique stone portion of the set.  Another thought was one of wonderment, that even though I thought I had recovered from the recent uprooting of our lives, evidently I was not functioning at the level I needed.  I didn’t realize keeping those precious rings in a pocket with my keys was a recipe for disaster.  I thought of the times I quickly wrangled my keys out, in a race with my husband to use my remote door opener before he could. And of the times I was talking or laughing, in conversation with someone, at the same time, I was fishing for my keys. I strained for a memory of the sound of a ring falling on the floor or pavement but didn’t find one. I mostly thought about the fact I would need to tell my sister of my poor decision and that it now was her loss as well.

When I went to bed that night, I refused to go to the place of despair and shame to which  I am a familiar traveler. I decided to be open to the gifts of this experience I had given myself, even when no gifts seemed apparent.  I also decided those feelings were not productive and I wanted to sleep.  I was impressed I was able to sleep.  And do the next indicated thing, which was to attend the conference on Friday.

On Saturday, I started the morning feeling teary and sad.  I made myself focus on looking for the ring.  I made a list of all of the places I had frequented in the last three weeks,  a total of twenty-three.  I called my daughter first and was disheartened when she said the street sweeper had recently come through their neighborhood. We had parked on the street when we stayed there, and one of my theories was that I  dropped the ring by the car door. If that was the case, the ring was gone.

My husband and I visited eight places that day, with no one having the ring. Sunday we visited several places, with no luck. I had little hope of finding it and was going to also check pawn shops, and talk to the police.  But first, I intended to personally retrace my steps to all twenty-three places.  Monday we set out again.  By this time I had my spiel down pat, so when I went to the thirteenth place, the restaurant I had been to last Thursday, I recited my information about a lost gold wedding band. When the manager said, ”Yes, we found it in the booth and the other manager has it”, I was taken aback.  I gasped and cried with relief.  We were not immediately reunited, as the other manager had left it in her pocket and lived eighty miles away.  But she would be back to the local restaurant on Wednesday; in two days, at five pm.  

In the interim, I found I was still mentally in the search mode; I had difficulty turning it off.  One of the places I was sure had a high potential of losing the ring was a local walking path we frequent.   We had been parking on the edge of a gravel road.  When we visited it again, I found myself thinking about going down the gravel road to look for the ring.  I reminded myself the search was off; the ring was found. My husband shared that he too still thought of looking for the ring there. I  continued to mentally compose the email I intended to send my sister, delivering the news of the lost ring with which she had entrusted me.  I told myself I now had a different ending to report.

When I returned to the restaurant on Wednesday and was reunited with the ring, I was surprised how small it was.  I knew it was wider than a typical woman’s wedding band, but it had expanded with my imagination and fears.  The manager who had it was concerned I would be upset she had inadvertently taken it home.  I wasn’t, but for penance, I made her listen to the story of the ring.  She was sweet and indulged me.  

With the ring back in my possession, I considered sending it back to my sister immediately so I wouldn’t have the chance to lose it again.  I decided I wanted to trust myself and keep it as originally planned. The ring now has its own jewelry box and stays in the box or on my finger.  I decided to wear it again because that’s why I have it.

I  learned several things:

  • I would have saved some time if I had looked for the ring in the places I had been most recently.  I lost it the day I noticed it was gone.  I didn’t give myself credit for at least unconsciously noticing its continued presence in my purse those three weeks.
  • Losing the ring did not feel like disappointing my mother, or losing a connection to my mother.  I have other things of my mother’s which I treasure, but they are not my connecting point to her.  I am connected to her via my heart and soul, not her stuff.  My sorrow was that I had lost something valuable to my sister.  I so hated making a mistake that involved her. I had every confidence our relationship would stay intact; that she loves me. But I don’t easily let myself off the hook when I make a mistake that impacts others.  
  • I remembered the phrase: I made a mistake, but I am not a mistake. It was tempting to go there, to feel like I was a mistake, but I didn’t allow myself this time. 
  • I did lose some self-confidence.  When a woman-friend lent me something, I almost cautioned her I might lose it. I stopped myself from saying it and did some self-talk about how few times I have actually lost anything of value. And that I can learn to trust myself again.
  • If I had not found the ring, I was confident there would still be blessings in this experience.  Even though I was saddened, there could be cool things that could occur because of the loss.  One nice thing that did happen was the kindness of the people when I inquired about the ring.  They did what they could to locate it at their establishment.  Some gave suggestions, such as checking pawn shops and calling the police.  They all sent me off with “I hope you find it!”.
  • To have hope the seemingly impossible can be possible.  Naw, let’s just go with there are miracles in our lives. I will continue to stay open to those miracles.