Being Worthy

Scan 418

Good morning from the airport in Charlotte, NC,

First, thank you for the texts, the comments, the tweets and the other ways in which so many of you have reached out and shared your kindness and concerns over these past days. I actually stopped to see Lydia one last time before I left Menomonie at 1:15 this morning. She was sleeping and yet seemed to be leaving this life at the same time. It was snowing steadily as I drove the 70 miles to the airport, and it was nice that it was 2:00 a.m. so there was little to no traffic on an interstate yet to be plowed. I listened to music that comforted me and allowed me to ponder as I crawled my way, figuratively speaking, to MSP.

What is abundantly clear to me is the simple fact that I have been, yet again, given two amazing gifts from Lydia. The first was to have 8 days with her and to be with her as she prepared all of us, both the staff of COH, who have been her family for three and a half years, and me, who became the son she never had, and has spent the last ten years with each other, to let her go. To say there were poignant moments during these past days comes no where near explaining the words, the expressions, and the tears that have been shed in the last room on the left at the end of the hall. The second gift, because in spite of the fact she told me that ” I had a shit temper”, she also knew that I would be an emotional wreck should I be in the room when she passed. Therefore, I believe, and I was told by both the caregivers, the nurse, and the administrator (and now by Melissa and Maria, through José) that she waited for me to leave. I never told her I had to leave on a particular day, but she held out. What people did not realize about Lydia, unless they were blessed enough and therefore allowed to get close to her was that she was an incredibly loving person. I wrote about her compassionate nature in other blogs, but whenever anyone was hurting, it affected her to the very core of her being. Her eyes would well up in tears and her voice would tremble as spoke in her Austrian accent, “Michael, it is just terrible.” And she always rolled those Rs. Kevin, her painter, tells of the time she took a large amount of food to the food pantry in Menomonie. As she saw the people waiting for basic staples, she cried and wanted to go buy more food to take back to the pantry.

Yet, to be fair, she was not always easy; she could be incredibly tough. She expected a lot from people, but nothing more than she expected of herself. She worked tremendously hard at creating a life for herself in this country and in 29 years of work took only two sick days. I think, in spite of her independence, after George passed away, she was unbelievably lonely. I did not know her for about 10 years, but I have a pretty good handle on who she was. I think Dennis, who spent 13 years in the carriage house, was important in that transitional time. I think Shelley , who probably treated Lydia better than Lydia treated her, was also important. I think the hard work and companionship that Shelley gave was important to Lydia in the time following George’s passing. I think Lydia was continually reaching out to people and simultaneously pushing them away. Somehow, and for some reason, she did not do that to me. The other three (technically four) people who managed to keep Lydia’s companionship and she never pushed away were Bill and Maryann (Bill and Lydia were colleagues at Stout and actually started at the same time.), Becky (Lydia’s department secretary), and Elaine (her next door neighbor). For some reason, and I am not sure she would use this term, but we somehow demonstrated a worthiness and as such, she trusted us. When she trusted someone, by extension, she loved them. In spite of the fact she never weighed more than 100 pounds until the last couple years of her life, and ended her life under 5’0″ tall, her heart must have taken up most of that space because it was incredibly large and strong. I also think it is what kept her alive these last days.

While I have noted this to people before, I am not sure I wrote it publicly. I do believe there are events that occur in our lives that we do not really understand until much later. I think my coming to UW-Stout is such an event. What I know or believe now is that Stout merely served as a vehicle to create other possibilities. First, while I learned important things at Stout, both positive and not so much, the learning I achieved was significant. It afforded me the opportunity to meet Mark and Gayle Decker and prepared me for coming to Bloomsburg, where I would be with the Deckers (although more of them) again. It prepared me, albeit primarily through observing others, about how I might develop and support a program. However, perhaps the most important and unexpected event was a chance conversation with Elaine that led me to Lydia. As I noted in a recent blog, I had no inkling that we would become a family. I think, and not meant inappropriately, I became her caretaker, her child, her spouse, all in one. It was both a blessing and a curse of sorts. I think of the morning I woke up and she was standing at the side of my bed staring at me and asking if I were awake. I think of driving her around town (much like driving Ms. Daisy) on her errands. I think of fixing her breakfast every morning or mowing, or walking along the roof with the blower, cleaning out the gutters so she wouldn’t. I think of raking leaves or snow blowing and shoveling to try to keep her from doing it and freezing. I remember going to her house for a glass of sherry or fixing dinner so she would eat more than grapes or bananas. I remember taking her out for rides in her 1977 Oldsmobile Ninety-eight and her patting the robin-egg blue dash and exclaiming, “Michael, it’s a beautiful car.” I now believe that Lydia was, and is, the real reason I came to Menomonie. Indeed, epitomized in the last 8 days, it was in sitting by Lydia’s side that the event of 11 1/2 years ago finally became crystal clear to me. Menomonie=Lydia. Regardless her penchant for independence, God knew she needed someone to be there consistently. For God to believe I was worthy of this calling is humbling to me because I am not extraordinary and seldom do I think about any kind of worthiness.

It is now the 28th of December and I am back in Bloomsburg and Nate has taken over the vigil. I am not sure how he will manage things as the family is with him and they have relatives in the area. I called COH a couple times yesterday and I spoke with Nate also. When I called this morning there was no substantive change. Lydia is Lydia; there is nothing more that can be said. I think she will wait Nate out also. The idea of being there is much difference than merely physical presence. That is what I believe. Lydia inside her deteriorating cognitive capacity is as sharp and determined to manage her life as always. Perhaps our worthiness is the actual witnessing of an amazing lady who will live her life completely and also completely on her terms. Perhaps it is that she allows us to participate in such an extraordinary event that offers us something of worth. She is not in pain and she rest comfortably; she is still lucid at moments and even poignant and witty, though that comes primarily through her eyes and her smiles, frowns or other body language at this point. Yet, as I noted in her comments like “no kidding” or “I know” or her patting my head lovingly as I cried on her shoulder demonstrate the worth our relationship has to both of us.

As I got up this morning, it was also a Sunday 17 years ago that I received the phone call that my father had passed away. He had dementia also, but actually succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I have wondered if today will be Lydia’s day and it would merely connect us in yet one more ironic way. Today I will try to focus my energies here and organize some things before I am on the go again tomorrow. I need to manage a half dozen things specifically first thing in the morning. I have appreciated all of your comments, your prayers, and the various ways you have made me feel worthy of your gifts and friendship. I will be communicating through FB and this blog over the next week. I will have photos of my researching and working on more of Lydia’s story in the next days. May we all find our places and things that give us a sense of worth. Sometimes, probably usually, they come when we least expect it.

Thank you for reading.

Michael

Saying Goodbye to an Unequaled Love

Lydia_posed2sized

Good Christmas Morning,

As I sit in Lydia’s room, my brain flashes memory after memory of Christmases past through the movie screen inside my head. My earliest memories of Christmas are always at my grandmother’s house in Sioux City, IA where I grew up. My grandmother had a sort of an old farm house out at what would have been the edge of town at that time  with a couple of acres of land and a barn for her garage (ironic that I just considered the parallel for the first time). Her home was not spacious, but it was welcoming and her care and love made that place even more so a haven of comfort and safety. It was her care and love that has influenced my life more than I could have ever imagined. She fought her own demons and she was a widow at 45 years old. I have not really considered that carefully before I began writing this blog. While I am well aware of our lengthening life span, even in the late 1950s to be a widow in your forties would have been the exception and certainly traumatic. As I noted in my last blog, losing a person before what is considered a full life has to always be a shock and exceptionally difficult.

Yet, and while I remember many things from that time in my life because I was actually living with them at this point, I do not remember my grandfather’s passing. I do remember his being ill and in a bed, but I do not remember his death. I also do not remember any of my grandmother’s struggle in the immediate years that followed. What I remember is sitting in a mixing bowl and being pushed around the bakery they had owned together. What I remember is sitting on the bakery table and rolling out pie dough with my own little rolling pin. What I remember is a morning breakfast of a soft poached egg, a half of grapefruit, and a piece of toast made of the best bread in the world. I remember smiles, hugs, and love that was shown without measure, and that was just the everyday thing. I remember birthdays that had the most amazing birthday cakes in the world (she was a cake decorator). I remember sitting in her station wagon and yes, I remember that she smoked cigarettes. In fact, just a week or so ago I got in someone’s truck and the smell of smoking in the car brought me back to that salmon-colored Studebaker. In, fact, I told him so. My Grandmother Louise, more than perhaps any other person in the world modeled what it meant to love and care for the other. Her willingness to give was apparent each day as she allowed us to be around in the bakery as small children, probably under foot, but all her workers were like our aunts and uncles. I remember playing with the adding machine for hours on end. The amount of adding machine tape I wasted could probably have filled a corner of a landfill. I would punch numbers and pull that handle for hours and I never grew tired of it either. Another thing I never grew tired of was the amazing items to eat. It is a wonder I was not the fattest little toad on earth. As I grew, the times I got to spend at her house, usually beginning on this day and completing the Christmas break, were the most precious times of my childhood. Her care and love for my sister and me was so readily apparent in everything she did.

As I got older and I worked in the bakery, I am sure she lost money on me. While I worked hard, I ate more than my fair share of bakery items. As I have noted in other blogs, she insisted that we be polite and that we always treat the other person with respect. She would tell me you cannot both love someone and disrespect them. I think I took that lesson to heart more than any other she might have offered. I think that is why I have such an issue yet today with disrespect, either received or when I might engage in it. I will admit, I am not perfect in this area, but it is something I do try to do. Sometimes my smart mouth and wicked turn-of-a-phrase can get me in trouble. What I also remember about my grandmother was the elegance and beauty that was such a central part of her. She was always, even when in the house, in a dress or skirt, and even if it was gingham or calico, she was elegant. Her smile radiated warmth and her care of those around her was readily apparent. She and her older sister, my Great-aunt Helen, together could make anyone feel appreciated and happy.

When she passed away, I think that was the hardest I had ever cried in my life. She was not very old (64). I look at that very differently now as I am approaching that decade. If there is a person, up to now, that I hoped might be proud of the person I have become, it would be her. As I think of various things, I am astounded at the parallels I see between Lydia and Louise. Perhaps I should not find it ironic that Lydia’s middle name is Louise. They both had a sense of decorum and elegance that few women I have met ever have. They both were interested in the world around them and paid attention to both the big picture and the little details all at the same time. People who can do both are a rare breed and that certainly describes both of them. They were both frugal, and yet incredibly giving. My grandmother pulled out all the stops at Christmas and she was always willing to help a person who needed something. Most people have no idea the number of ways Lydia gave to other people. Because of her reclusive nature and her accent, many found her unapproachable, and I must admit she did little to change their perceptions, but she was an amazingly kind person. Once her neighbor was struggling in a significant way and Lydia came to her rescue. Because of Lydia’s generosity, her neighbor kept her house.

It is now 9:30 Christmas evening and Lydia seems to hang on by a thread at moments and then with more tenacity at others; it might even be a frayed thread, but she clings to it with all her might. She has had visitors the last three days, and earlier this evening she did tell one of the caregivers that it was George. I am hoping that is the case and that George can assure her that life beyond here is not something of which she should be afraid. I have often said she was here out of fear. I noted that in an earlier blog, but I think I have witnessed it first hand in the last days. When she has clung to my hand or anyone’s hand the strength with which she held on was phenomenal. The other event, the one of tragic nature, of which I wrote earlier has really taught some things. I have been corresponding with Lydia’s doctor and he and I have had the most amazing conversations about the spiritual manifestations of our humanity, both in the here and now and in the beyond. What he shared with me in the past day was amazing. and it connects directly to the idea that God, at least the God in whom I believe, does not wish for us to fear our physical death, nor does God want those of us left behind to grieve or worry about our loved ones who have passed before us. I am well aware that often such conversations can become maudlin, if you will, and I do not wish to engage in anything of the sort, but the question of what is on the other side is such a significant one for so many. In spite of everything, I guess I do not worry about it, at least for myself. When I was a parish pastor, I remember saying I did not have to worry about the what ifs on the other side, but rather I needed to be faithful in the here and now. I think I still try to live my life in that manner.

It is now December 26th and while I sit in Lydia’s room the best way to describe the affect is that it is peaceful. She sleeps most of the time and somehow she hangs on. She opens her eyes at times and there are moments she seems distant and then there are other moments when she is perfectly lucid. She continues to show us that she is incredibly strong and she is in charge of what she will and will not do. No one, including her doctor expected she would hang on this long. I now believe she is waiting for me to leave versus waiting for me to be here. I think she did want me here to tell me she loved me and for me to spend the Christmas holiday with her. I think the manner in which we choose to leave the world, when something is not accidental, is more in our control than we often imagine. I think I had at least an inkling of that before recently. Then I read a book this past year that was a gift from my friend and brother, Jose. Now I have watched Lydia over this past week. I have watched her interact with people I cannot see, but she can certainly see them. She has at times seemed to be in conversation with him, her, or them; she has at times seemed to push or shoo them away. At this moment, she is actually up and out of bed for the first time in 6 days and Carissa and Mindy are washing her up. She managed that well and now she is resting comfortably. She actually looks like a completely new person. There is not a single person on staff that can figure her (or this) out at this point. I think it gets back to what I noted previously. She will leave when she is ready. Over the past hour she has carried on somewhat of a conversation with three of us and actually ate a little ice cream. It is the first food she has managed since last Saturday morning. From my past as a hospital chaplain, this sort of rebound is not uncommon, but I think it is a bit different when she has been so far away for so long and the doctor and others expected she would not manage this beyond a couple of days. A bit a go I told her again that I loved her and she was amazing. Her response, with color in her azure blue eyes was simple, “No kidding?” She is now again asleep and that is how things go with her.

Earlier, Nate contacted me and he and his wife and two girls are on their way here. They are going to drive straight through and hope to be here by tomorrow afternoon. Knowing that I had to leave, he felt he could not leave her without one of the two of us here with her. I understood that and while I have been here 16-18 hours a day for the past week, it might be as my one colleague noted. That she does not want her loved ones around when she decides it is time to pass over. Earlier in the week, the times I had tears coming down my face were legion, but now I am simply ready for whatever comes. While I will still cry, I think the fact that I have had an opportunity to spend this time and we have noted how much we love each other, I have been given yet another example of the love and care she has. She did not want me to see her fade away; she did not want me to remember her looking sad and worn out. So today she is looking more like the Lydia I have always known: a smiling face, wide brilliant eyes, and a manner than demonstrated how incredibly enormous her heart is and how immeasurably she loves those for whom she cares. At this point, she is again sleeping and actually sleeping quite soundly. She does cough from time to time, but for the most part, her sleep is deep and undisturbed.

I am quite sure when I leave later today, she will be sleeping and I will not see her on this side again. It is about 6:30 on Friday evening, CST, and I have just cooked dinner for all the residents here at COH. I have done that from the time Lydia first came to reside here. The difference now is she was not following me around in the kitchen. She would get so upset that I would not sit with her soon enough. I remember one time I cooked and everyone raved about the dinner, except her. She said it was “so-so”. Lest I ever think of myself too highly, she would bring me back to earth. Earlier this afternoon as I told her again that I loved her, she looked at me and smiled and said, “No kidding?” It was both the accent and the look on her face that made the moment unforgettable. While she is against everything everyone said, still here, I do believe she is soon to pass over . . . . she told me today that she saw both George and her parents. She will look at one point and stare intently. When someone asked her if that was George she said, “no” and pointed to a different place in the room. It is apparent that those who love her are ready for her and hope to give her a sense of comfort as she begins this new journey. What I know as I get ready to leave and allow her to pass on her terms that I will miss her terrifically. I will miss her amazing smile and her intense and knowing eyes. I will miss her compassion for those less fortunate (especially her four-legged friends) and her willingness to give to those who needed help. I will miss her accent and those phrases that made her so endearing. I will miss and cherish the love she have given me. Earlier tonight as I knelt by her bed again, I cried and told her she was my parent and that I was thankful for everything she had done for me. She opened her eyes and looked at me and said, “I know.” Indeed she does, and so do I. I love you, Lydia, with all my heart and I hope your journey to that better place is wonderful. There is more I would like to say, but there are no words.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

When Days Turn to Hours Turn to Minutes

Lydia_posed_3 sized

Hello from Comforts of Home in Menomonie,

I am sitting at Lydia’s bedside and she continues to amaze us as she has slept, but continues to simultaneously fight and fade. I use those words in that order intentionally because up to this morning that was the order in which I would say things have occurred. This morning, however, there is a change. I think there is much more fading and significantly less fighting. In spite of my background as a former parish pastor and with my experience in hospital chaplaincy, the process of leaving this world for the next is such an individual experience, both for the person passing and for those watching. When I came back to Wisconsin this time, I did not expect that this would be a final visit to Lydia. She is sleeping almost constantly though from time to time she opens her eyes and looks around. This morning, her eyes were bright and she gave Carissa the biggest smile as Carissa came into to  greet her. It is now about 2:00 in the afternoon and she is resting comfortably. A bit ago she did open her eyes and looked at me. As I told her I loved her, she nodded her head yes and mouthed the words “I love you” in return. It reminded me of 17 years ago almost to the day that I told my father on the phone that I loved him and he responded that he loved me also. He passed away about 12 hours later.

During the past four days I have had a lot of time to reflect on what I believe a life well-lived might resemble. As I have noted at other times, Lydia (and George, her late husband) was/were quite the story. While I was never fortunate enough to meet him, I have heard some stories. Together they created a life that spanned countries and continents, languages and cultures. From his time in a concentration camp to her losing members of her family as a consequence of WWII, the war than encompassed a generation and most of the world. I am pretty sure that George and she had no idea what their coming to America and Chicago would have in store for them. I remember that she told me that they both worked two jobs when they first got to Chicago and worked hard to make this new country their home. At one point when she was a student at Northwestern University, she remembered working hard on her English to get rid of her Austrian accent. It never happened. That accent stayed with her for the rest of her life. I used to tease her when I would encourage her to say words with a “th” sound. Of course, I could get her laughing hysterically when I tried to say German words that contained an “umlaut o”. She, of course, could make that sound with no difficulty.

Today, the 23rd, has been another lesson in reality and fragility. While Lydia hangs on to her life, the son of her doctor, the person who has been so supportive of her, and the person I noted as brilliant texted me about 5:00 p.m. this evening to tell me that he had lost his son in an lake mishap on Lake Superior. His matter of fact statement that he would be distracted was heartbreaking. Here Lydia is hanging on, but she has lived her life and at 90 is ready to depart this world. I am not sure how old his son is, but the doctor and I must be contemporaries at least within a few years and I would imagine his son was probably in his late 30s. There is no reasonable time to lose a child, but to lose them unexpectedly, tragically and two days before Christmas is beyond what any person should have to bear. My heart goes out to him. We had the most wonderful talk this past Friday. It is ironic that I have the title for this blog I do because what I have learned is he went into the water and could not get out. Another person also died trying to rescue him. One of the lines in the song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, is “does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” It was that very song I was thinking of when I reversed those words for the title. He lost his son on Lake Superior, which is where the Edmund Fitzgerald sunk in 1975. I remember the first time I ever saw my father cry was when my older brother passed away. Parents are not supposed to bury their children.

It is now about 8:00 p.m. and I am still sitting in the room with Lydia and merely keeping her company. She has opened her eyes a few times today and she has actually seemed more lucid than she has the last few days. I remember these sort of swings in patients when I was a hospital chaplain. The body is an amazing thing and each of us go about leaving this world in our own unique way. While this past day has helped me come to terms with her passing, it has also exhausted me. I do not feeling this completely tired for a very long time. I remember one person in particular who had gone through so much in the hospital before the doctors were willing to let her go. I am going to go home and try to get some sleep. . . .

It is now Christmas Eve day and about 9:30 in the morning. I had some breakfast before coming back to COH and when I got here, I found, I guess not surprisingly, that Lydia continues to defy odds. Her vital signs are actually better and yet, she is noticeably weaker this morning. She does not want water and has had no food since Saturday morning. I remember flying back to Sioux City over 25 years ago to watch as my mother passed away. Her situation was much more difficult because she had been put on life support and that had to be removed. In this case, there are no IVs, no tubes, and nothing to prolong Lydia’s life, which were her wishes. They are the same wishes I would have for myself. I think there is a time for the body to merely let go and be allowed to stop.

What I am realizing in the last day is the tenuousness of our existence. I have found out that her doctor’s son was 40 years old and his brother (and I think wife) had to witness this tragedy. I cannot imagine the trauma of having to watch someone struggle to live and lose their life in such an unexpected way. The cliches that are possible do nothing to explain the unexplainable. As I watch Lydia fade into a new life, we are in her room alone and it is actually peaceful. I am listening to Pandora and I have it playing classical holiday music. I have been told that our hearing is the last sense of the body to quit working at the time death arrives. If this music can help her be more peaceful, I am more grateful for the time we have had these past 5 days. Yesterday she was quite lucid and actually was able to answer questions at least minimally. When I showed her a picture of George, which is on her headboard bookcase, from his younger days, she got the largest smile on her face that I had seen in a while.  When we consider carefully what we are offered daily, it seems that too often we do not see it as an offering or a gift. I do understand that external circumstances can make the gift of a day seem to be a burden rather than a something to be cherished. I understand that the extenuating events that impinge on that block of time can overwhelm us and cause us to lose sight of the opportunities that might be presented in that time. Yet, how many times do we, in the normal course of events, lament when a period of time is coming to a close, wishing that somehow we might have managed that time better. I am not sure if it is because I have approached the ending of another decade of my life that I have found myself reflecting on what time means and feeling perhaps a sense of urgency for those things I have not yet completed. On the other hand, I find myself with a sense of calmness that I have not often felt. I am actually pretty content. I have been pushed to consider mortality in more than one way this year, but I believe our mortality is always something we must, or at least should, appreciate and ponder. What does our humanness offer that no other creature, at least to our knowledge, possesses? I think it is both the ability to remember as well as the ability to imagine. Remembering, of course, offers us a glimpse into our past; imagining offers us the possibility to wonder about the future. In both of these we begin to understand who we are, but also why we are. This returns me to the phrase with which I began the post: a life well-lived. Whether we have an opportunity to grace this world for 90 years and leave it compassionately or we have 40 years and our life is ended tragically, each person has the possibility of having a life well-lived.

I think as we continue our lives and our days become hours and our hours become minutes, we always have the opportunity to love and care for those around us. Too often we fail to recognize those possibilities and chances. Too often we concentrate on ourselves, worried about the morrow. This past year I have been given many opportunities to share with others. Sometimes I have succeeded in those moments and other times I have failed miserably. Nevertheless, yet today, tonight, or tomorrow, I will be afforded yet another chance. How do I know this? I know it because I see it in the smile of someone who is leaving this world, but still recognizes my voice and the words “I love you.” I see it in the amazing caregivers who tend to her needs and care for her gently and lovingly. I received it in a video tonight telling me I was missed. As I have been reminded of again and again, love is the most unparalleled gift we can offer another person. In the past 10 years I have been graced with the presence of one of the greatest personalities in the smallest of frames. I have been confounded by her stubbornness and blessed with her boundless love all at the same time. As she rests quietly in her bed this Christmas Eve, she still recognizes me and smiles knowingly at my presence. She has told me on more than one occasion today that there is someone in the room coming for her and she points to their presence. Perhaps what she sees is the coming that all Christian believers celebrate this Christmas Eve, the incarnation of the Christ child. Perhaps it is appropriate that as we move into this most holy of nights in the Christian calendar, Lydia points to something much like the shepherds must have pointed or the Wise men must have pointed. Perhaps she knows better than any of us when her time to leave this world is and she will, as she has always done, decide just how this will be managed. When I once told her that I was not sure that God would be ready for her and that he might have to clean some things up, she responded knowingly, “I will take my broom.” Those of you who really know her, know just how true that statement is. She managed her life and she was always in charge. To allow God to be in charge will be something difficult, but then it is difficult for most of us. As I leave her for the moment to attend Christmas Eve services, I hope should she leave before I return that she knows how much I love her and how grateful I am for her presence in my life.

To all of you reading, I wish you a very blessed Christmas.

Michael

Letting Go

karen brockhoff

Hello from Menomonie and more specifically from Comforts of Home,

I began my morning developing school work for next semester at Caribou Coffee. It was productive on a number of fronts. The remainder of the day has been a roller coaster of decisions and trying to understand what someone who has entrusted me with her life would decide if she were me. The two seizures experienced this past week have taken a substantive toll on a body that is simply wearing out. Lydia has a terrible and deep cough, but no strength to make it productive. When speaking with her doctor today, her personal physician of 20 years and perhaps one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, he said simply, it is time to let her go. He told me that he was discontinuing all medication except her seizure prescription and something to keep her comfortable. We talked about what she had been through and how she would be so sad to see where is currently is in her fight for a quality of life. I know that it is time to let her go and I have known this day would come, but the cliché that it does not make it any easier is more than a simple adage. It is a truism. I noted in a previous blog it is about fearing the unknown.

I have often mentioned that I was not as actively involved in my father’s passing as I wished I had been (post facto). I felt this was my way to make up for that. I know that my move to Pennsylvania made that involvement more laborious, but I promised her I would (and could) care for her. It is not surprising that I feel I could always have done better at times. I wish I could have gotten back here more often. I wish the phone calls where I was reminded that “I lived in that damn Pennsylvania.” could have continued for a longer period of time. I know all too well the feelings of would or should are both common and fruitless. The past is exactly that and we can anticipate the future, but all we actually have is the now. That is why now I choose to be sitting in her room by her side. I will not leave her alone. She has been sleeping most of the day and her breathing is shallow, but she is still cognizant of what is happening around her. Earlier as I held her hand, she would not let go and her grip is still incredibly strong. She is also more than capable of giving you a look with her brilliant blue eyes that can let you know if she approves or disapproves. At this point, she is still sleeping in her bed rather peacefully. As someone who very seldom missed a meal here at COH, when we asked her at lunch if she wanted to eat, she told us quite emphatically, “NO!” I am sitting here and I have been working on school work and I have music from Pandora (a station of Johann Sebastian Bach) playing so she has a chance to hear something comforting. I am not sure what she actually hears and comprehends at this point, but I want to make her comfortable.

I wish I knew what was going on in her head and what she knows or does not know. Today the phrase, a phrase I know, “via dolorosa” was once again shared with me. For those who are unsure what this phrase means “way of agony, sufferings, or sorrows” and is the term used for the street on which Jesus supposedly carried his cross on the way to his crucifixion. Regardless the translation, it is part of the passion of the Christ and it is an apropos phrase as I watch this amazing woman, a brilliantly-opinionated, terrifically-stubborn, and incredibly kind-hearted person fade into the next world. I wonder if she, in her state, is able to connect with others she has loved in the past. This afternoon my former pastor and friend came to see her and he spoke the words and prayers for a small service called [the] Commendation for the Dying. It was important for  me, and it was interesting as he is fluent in German also, he did the scripture reading from Romans in German. It was wonderful to listen to it. It was also nice that Carissa and Leighann were both here for it and I think it was important to them. Lydia has had a string of visitors today both caregivers who are currently on staff, but perhaps off for the weekend, as well as former caregivers who no longer work here, but had some part in her care over the past three and a half years. What continues to amaze me about her is the significant impact she has had on so many people even in her time here, even somewhat tucked away in these past three plus years. I am certainly sure that when I first met her 10 years ago, there was not the slightest inkling that I would be the person sitting with her now.

She actually woke up for a bit and I sat on the side of her bed and held her hand. She patted my face and smiled. I told her that I loved her and I was grateful for everything she has done and she smiled. I told her it was time for her to go and see George and her parents and she answered, “yes.” She was smiling and I was crying. It was the clearest I have seen her eyes look in the two and a half days I have been home. I was not there when my father passed away, but I was there when my mother and my brother passed. I do not remember crying this much for them. Perhaps it is because I am older and life seems both more significant and fragile than it did at those points in my life. Perhaps it is because I am realizing, as I often do during the holidays, that when your family is no longer alive it is a very lonely feeling. I do realize that I have extended family and I am so grateful for them. I also realize how wonderful so many people have been to me. I am so blessed. I think sometimes we take so much for granted, and I again, I know that sounds a bit cliché also, but we are always forced to consider our mortality when we watch another lose his or hers, and I guess it is even more significant when those lost have such import into our lives. I had no idea as I mentioned earlier that I would gain another parent, one to take the place of the more than one set I have already lost. If I consider my biological parents, my adopted parents, and the surrogate parents that I have had in my life, that is quite the number of people. In some ways Lydia demonstrated a sense of love and care for me that, up to that point, I had never experienced in my life. It is still different than any other person from whom I have been gifted to receive their love. While many were frightened of her, I was reminded at dinner this evening, that I was able to accomplish things with her no one ever had. I still think my claim to fame might be getting her to ride on the Harley. I remember the first couple days I lived in the carriage house and I had taken garbage out to the front curb. I was walking back up the driveway and my garage door was closing (and I did not have the remote). As I almost dove under the door to get in, I walked into the house and the phone was ringing. It was Lydia letting me know that I had left my garage door open.  I told her I knew because I was walking back to the garage from the street. Then it dawned on me that she had a garage door opener for my door. I asked her if I could have it and she empathetically and succinctly told me no. . . . It is now about 7:45 a.m. CST on Sunday and I am back at COH. I finally went home about 12:30 earlier this morning and I did sleep. Lydia is sleeping also and it sounds like she had a peaceful night after I left. It was drizzling and freezing on the way home last night and it is dreary again this morning, but it was not too slippery. As I came in the room, I held her hand a spoke her name and she opened her eyes and acknowledged me with a bit of a sound. As I held her hand a bit ago, even today as she faded in other ways her grip is still amazingly strong. It took 3 or 4 minutes to pry my fingers from her grip. I do wonder if today will be the day. I know that some of her former colleagues are going to stop by today. Some of them have not seen her for sometime and I am afraid they will be a bit shocked, but she does look and seem peaceful. The one exception is a slight furrowing of her forehead, but otherwise she does not see to be fighting . . . and yet I wonder if she holds on to our hands so fiercely because she is still fighting before she finally decides to let go. I know from minute to minute I struggle and the tears come. All I want for her now is to have no pain and for her to pass peacefully. The stories I can tell, and have told, about Lydia are as numerous as the fingers and toes of all who might read this post. Even in the last moments she has a presence that few can match. Yesterday, in spite of sleeping and being pretty sleepy, a couple of times when they tried to give her some water to drink, she did not want it and batted it away. We ended up needing to change her sheets and comforter both times. In fact, the workers have told me they have never seen someone both fade so quickly and yet be so strong. She will be stubborn to the last, I am sure of it. Yet as I watch her from the chair next to her bed as I type this, her breathing continues to grow more shallow. I know that there is so much she has accomplished. I have pondered how she had to let go of so much in her life and she had to start over, but even then she had to let go from time to time.

As an Austrian in the Sudetenland, she and other Austrians or Germans were subjected to terrible treatment at the hands of the Czech government. Because of those decrees against those considered to be Nazi sympathizers, an estimated 700,000 and 800,000 Germans were affected by expulsions between May and August 1945. If they were German or Hungarian, they were stripped of their citizenships. The expulsions were encouraged by the Czechoslovak politicians and were generally carried out by the order of local authorities, mostly by groups of armed volunteers. However, in some cases it was initiated or pursued by assistance of the regular army. Ethnic Germans were subjected to massacres at that point. It was because of this impending expulsion and other inhumane treatment that Lydia and many others walked from the Sudeten area to Vienna. That is over 400 KM and Lydia and many others walked that path and it would not be like walking through North Dakota. She had to let go of her family. Then she eventually moved to London and let go of her country. In the early 1950s she moved to the United States as a newlywed and had to let go and start over again. When  George and Lydia came to the United States, they moved to the Chicago area and began their lives in a new country in a very different situation than they had been in. Between jobs and college degrees, they created an amazing life here. Eventually Lydia once again had to let go of a life she knew and she moved to Wisconsin to begin a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She had to both hold on to Chicago and her life there, but let go to move to Wisconsin. She was an independent person and knew how to manage pretty much every aspect of her life. She was both brilliant and determined.

As I sit with her today, she is sleeping most of the time. Former colleagues and friends have stopped by today. She did have her eyes open at moments, but I am glad she is sleeping and peaceful. A short while ago she actually opened her eyes and almost sat up and looked around. The staff has been wonderful with her and their care for me has been so kind also. A bit ago she opened her eyes again and I was holding her hand. I rubbed her forehead and told her I loved her. She smiled and struggled a bit to speak, but told me she loved me also. She then closed her eyes and then about a minute later she opened her eyes and looked at me and said, “Michael.” Then she closed her eyes again. I was pretty much a weeping mess after that. Now she is sleeping again. I want her to let go and I have told her it is okay, but I am not sure she has decided to do so. It is a sad thing to be afraid. Still, when she has held a finger or two of mine in her hand, the strength she still has in her grip makes me look like a weakling. It will take me a few minutes to pry my fingers out of her grip. I have been speaking with the staff and because they are much more adept at the signs than I am, they have helped me see things. I have been here since 7:30 this morning and it is now 4:30, so I think I might take a break, but I am so afraid I might leave and she will be alone when she passes. I do not want that for her.  . . .

I had someone come sit in the room while I ran to Caribou and Subway. I got coffee and goodies for the staff working and I got a sandwich for myself. I do not think Lydia has much fight left in her. She is sleeping most of the time, only opening her eyes if you ask something. I think I want to get this blog posted. I am going to try to catch a quick nap in the chair here in her room. I am hoping that she will perhaps be able to let go and nap in a more significant way. Thank you to everyone who has texted, called, visited, or prayed at this time. I am grateful. I am blessed in so many ways. I am humbled to be here to take care of this wonderful woman. She has cared for me and loved me. I am merely giving back for what she has given me. . . . an addendum: it is after 11:00 central time and I am exhausted. I think I am going to try to sleep for a while. A colleague noted she might need to be alone to pass. I will kiss her goodnight and pray “come Lord Jesus, and come tonight.”

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Fearing the Unknown

IMG_0451

Good morning,

Is early morning as I begin to write this, it’s not quite 4:00 a.m. and I am sitting in Hazelton out in the street because I’m early and I do not want to get the Galáns up before they’re ready. I am headed to the airport to fly back to Wisconsin. This is actually the second time for this trip, I tried it yesterday. However as it seems to be the case most often flying into Newark, the flight was delayed and I would miss my connecting flight. So even though I had been dropped off at the airport, I had to have them come back and get me. Mr. Galán, in his usual graciousness, came back and got me. So now we are doing it again. Now at the airport and aboard a little prop plane to Newark and then the flight to Minneapolis. I should be in Menomonie by noon. That first flight would have had Jordan screaming. Amazing turbulence and the man next to me ending up being sick, needing a bag (two of them) and all. Quite a way to begin my morning.

As I write this I am at probably 30,000 feet and about not quite halfway to Minnesota. We are flying over an ocean of puffy-blanketed clouds that stretch as far as I can see. It is nice to be on top of them and see the sun. The sun has been noticeably lacking the past week. That might have been a positive for me because of the hours I needed to spend my end of the semester grading. As always, I had a flurry of requests to hand something in last minute. For my Foundations classes, I was accommodating for the most part. I have also gotten the first phone calls and emails asking for some justification on why I decided a particular grade. This conversation almost always stumps me because of the misperception, or more accurately the belief that I merely assign grades or that their assertion that they worked hard should automatically translate into an acceptable grade (most often their only acceptable is an A). What I think I will tell them is that in 5 1/2 years and almost 900 students, only about 80 students have earned an A in my classes. I would also note that approximately the same amount have failed a course or dropped it. The greatest number of students have received a B in my classes. I do think that will (and did) change this semester. I was not as benevolent in offering the benefit of the doubt. Simply put: do your work and follow directions. Following directions and thinking critically are two of the important skills one can develop and use. Speaking of critical thinking, the town council in Bloomsburg, where I live (I technically live out of town) voted 4-3 to NOT adopt a proposed ordinance that would keep businesses, landlords, or other public places from refusing service or refuse the offering of services to people based on their sexual preferences. The arguments that were offered by some of the council members themselves for the decision were almost ludicrous. One member (when probably actually referring to Laramie WY, though one can’t be sure) noted he did not want Bloomsburg to become another Columbine. The misguided belief that discrimination was legally supported by religious belief is so absurd; it is atrociously sad. Equality and Justice might be a religious issue and perhaps should be, but discrimination based on a group identity has led to some pretty horrific incidences throughout our history, be it in this country or in Europe. The ordinance would afford protection for a group of individuals, who have been, and still are, systematically disenfranchised because of fear or stereotypic stupidity. I am hoping to do some work next semester in my technical writing classes to work in response to the town’s failure to pass what I believe is a ordinance that promotes Justice and equality.

I am amazed how fear keeps us from doing the right thing or standing up for the right thing. I am amazed how powerful fear is as I realize it can keep people alive or cause them to die. Fear often paralyzes the human spirit. Fear of reprisal often keeps us from speaking out when what we have experienced is discourteous or hurtful. I know some of these things first-hand. The fear of being different often compels people to hide their true identity or feelings. The fear because of past experiences can reduce people to merely a shell, their inner abilities shriveled up and withered (this is really what I believe PTSD is). I must give the Galán family a great deal of credit for pushing me to stand up, even at times with, or more aptly against, them, when I have felt that some action was problematic. What I have realized is in doing so I am acting the very way they have modeled for me. At one time I would have been afraid that I would lose them. While I do not believe that is the case any longer, I do know that I changed “the rules” so to speak. What I have done is actually stand up and show that I have as much right to my thoughts and actions as any other. I am entitled to respond just as the next person has this entitlement. I should note that I am still learning about the love they have for me. I do not always understand its expression and especially when it is demonstrated in such a different manner than I have ever experienced. It is Mr. Galán who is most helpful through his consistency and respect. It is Mrs. Galán in her unbelievably consistent actions towards me that help me understand. Ironically, it is the child (not meant pejoratively) with whom I have (and have had) the least contact that I probably am most comfortable. Yet, it is Melissa and Jordan for whom I have experienced the greatest sense of love I have ever known who have forced me to look at myself and grow. That growth has not been without difficulty, but it has been significant. It has been important. All expressions of love or care have an inherent risk; something I have learned first hand this year, but in spite of my bumps and bruises, ultimately I am grateful. In this very blog I have argued and hollered out, and there are places I still disagree, but as they always tell me, the love for each other is the most important thing. I think they are correct.

It is that same love that takes me back to Wisconsin at this time. Since I wrote about Lydia in a recent blog, she continues to lose ground in the battle with dementia. In fact, it is not really a battle any longer. She has lost the battle and most of herself. As her brain continues what seems to be a free fall toward nothingness, the consequences of her deterioration are more deleterious. I used the word sinister this morning in a conversation. Dementia and other forms of this debilitating disease seem much more sinister than any battle I am presently fighting. It is love that pushes me to return to see her and try, with God’s intervention and help, that I will try to offer her the comprehension, the understanding, the confidence, that death does not need to be feared. It is okay to let this life go. I remember shortly before my father passed away 17 years ago later this month, he told my sister that the living room was full of his passed-on relatives beckoning him to let go and to not be afraid. He passed away about two days later. I am hoping in whatever language, English, more likely German, and perhaps most importantly the non-verbal language of presence, she will know it is safe to let this frail and agonizing body of hers go. I am hoping that her knowing or sensing that she is not alone will help her conquer what I believe is a fear of the beyond. I know that I am no longer afraid of dying. I think I once was, and I imagine that is pretty normal. I think my fear was more about feeling like I still had things to do or accomplish. I think this past year has taken care of most of that. I think the fact that I have been granted tenure is another substantive element in realizing I am okay.

This morning I was asked if I wanted to live. My answer to that question was “yes”. I do want to live, but what I am realizing is I am comfortable with dying. It makes me wonder if the “fighting” I am doing is really necessary. I am wondering if all of this medical stuff, treatments, or other actions to fight against our demise is merely another part of the system that my friend argues so vociferously against. Even though what I am currently doing is pretty natural, and I imagine it has other positive results, if I am doing it to merely stay alive and really doing the very thing Lydia is doing.

I’m now I’m Menomonie and have gone to see Lydia. While I was told she is the cat with nine lives and I said she’s on her 12th, the reality of the last couple weeks is significant. Even the caregivers who have known her from the beginning say that it is only a matter of time and the time is short. She did not really know who I was again today, but she seemed pleased that I was there. I guess that’s the best I can hope for now. I promised her that I would do what I could to take care of her. I’m doing the best I can to manage that promise. It hurts me deeply to see her this way. She’s not longer living she’s merely existing. I guess what I wrote earlier today makes sense. It is time to let her go; it is time for her to like go. I hope in the next few days I can help her get over her fear. I’m grateful for the people who care for her. I’m grateful she has a place to live where she is safe. I’m grateful for the staff and the administrator. Even though she doesn’t know it, she is blessed and so on am I.

As we enter this time of Christmas, my piety reminds me that it’s time to not be afraid. It’s time to except the reality that we have. It’s time to give thanks for what has happened in this past year. I am grateful for so much. For friends, for my Dominican family, for my biological family, and for a job that I am blessed to have. Fear not and be of good cheer. In each of our lives we have something for which to be grateful. Lydia, I love you; José, Maria, Mery, Melissa, and Jordan, para mis defectos, me perdone. Por el don de su amor carrera igualada, me siento muy honrado y agradecido. Te quiero todo. To all who have supported me in my ongoing battle, thank you. To the Deckers, Mark Gayle, Grace, Mary, Max , Caroline, and Rosie, I am beyond grateful that I ended up in Bloomsburg. Thank you for your love and making me me part of your family.

To the rest of you thank you for reading as always,

Michael

Endings, Beginnings, or Merely Carrying On?

IMG_0627

Good morning,

It is amazing to me that I’ve slept on the average of almost 9 hours a night over the last month. That is unheard of in my life; in fact, once when I was doing some medical testing I was asked last time I slept eight hours. And I asked, “Eight hours straight?” The response was, “Yes” and I again responded, “Thirty years ago.” Her somewhat surprised retort was, “I’m being serious.” And again I responded matter-of-factly, “so am I.” For decades I have survived on four, maybe five, hours of sleep. When I was a small boy living at my grandparents house, I was often up long before they were. Even though I was only two years old I would get up early get myself dressed and make my bed. At least as well as a two-year-old could. I would pitter-patter down the steps and sat there and wait till everyone else got up. So, now that it’s taken me almost 60 years to have what some consider normal sleep pattern, i’m trying to figure out what to do with it. I’m not sure I like it because I have too much work to do. The end of the semester is always a bittersweet time. I am generally ready to be done with my classes and finish things up. So as I noted in my last blog I will miss my Bible as literature class in particular. Then there is graduation; to say that the change in students from the time their freshman so they graduate is significant is an exponential understatement. I’m not sure there’s a more dramatic four year change in a person’s life.

After breakfast at the diner this morning it was back to my office and back to grading. Next it was to commencement see these very students walk across the stage and have their degrees conferred. There were three students in particular that were in my class for summers ago and I was honored when they ask to have a picture taken with me. All of them worked in the writing center. Is it always an honor to be introduced to parents at this time. It was interesting to be invited to lunch and listen to the family some more. As always I enjoyed that time. It reminded me of year ago when I went to eat with another family at the Old Forge brewery. Hard to believe that was already a year ago. The weather was a little kinder today. Last night I was invited out to eat with two colleagues which ended up being three colleagues at Rose Marie’s. I had the students after the afternoon graduation stop by my office also. The small world syndrome came into play once again. Nina was a student I had in class last year and ironically her great uncle was my senior pastor and co- pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. She was also the top honor graduate of the college of business. It was interesting to speak to you and listen to the students who are graduating. A combination of excitement mixed with a little fear at what will happen next was a common theme.

It is now Monday and the weekend is done. It was a busy weekend . . . one filled with events, grading, and trying to figure out my schedule for the coming week and beyond. Another couple of bags of fluids in the mix, but I am in my office today and trying to manage the grading. While I have made good progress, there is still significant work to do. Today I am realizing the consequence of my penchant for losing keys. I have lost a set of car keys, which have to be in the house somewhere, but the renovations have my house in a shambles, so I am not sure where I might have lain them. I have lost my office keys and entire key ring again for the second time in about two weeks and I thought I had extra keys for the house, but I cannot find them either. So . . .  it is pretty much a disaster. I hope hoping to be out of town by today, but that has not happened. I am hoping to be out by mid-morning tomorrow, but it might take an all-nighter and then trying to drive on top of that might be a bit difficult, but it is what I have to do. The semester is over and I think I have a handle on what went well and on what things I might improve, but that is always the case for me. At this point I am in my office eating hard boiled eggs and drinking water. It works protein and hydration. Tonight I am going to take a break and go to a middle school orchestra concert. Over the weekend I heard Mary sing at the Jubilation Concert at the church. It was amazing. She has a tremendous voice and she is so intelligent and insightful. As I am grading, it seems, as always, to be The Tale of Two Cities. I am always astounded at how poorly so many people follow directions. I am always first concerned that I, perhaps, did not make myself clear enough, but when four or five of the best students do it correctly every time, then I realize there is another issue. I had three students who were actually high school juniors. They were some of the best students in the class. They were attentive, hard working, and unbelievably polite. It was a joy to have them in class. I know a number of people who might take lessons from them.

The beginning of this blog as a title that talks about endings, beginnings, or merely . . . . I think there is really very little that actually ends. There is very little that is a new beginning, so finally it is merely carrying on. We can change places; we can leave and begin somewhere new; we can even “finish” with some things and move beyond them, but I do not believe we actually change or start new. We are an accumulation of our experiences and we are a vessel if you will (thanks Julie Petry for that image), one that continues to take in more and more content. That content is in a continual process of being mixed and through that mixing there might be a different appearance, attitude, or primary process, but the things that we have done or experienced never go away. To believe that they do would be a bit naive I think. Over the weekend when working with another person on some things, she told me of her vision of me chopping wood and I am able to give her a picture of what she saw, and that picture is from almost 30 years ago. Then she described another thing she saw and when she described a bit more, a concrete experience from the last couple weeks made more sense to me. I think it is always interesting what our past experiences do to color or influence who we are and what we value. What I am more aware of as I consider and ponder how my life works is it is a process. This does not astound me, and, in fact, I find it a bit comforting because it does mean that things are more logical and connected than we might originally believe. I am to the point that I do not believe in something ending or something else beginning. It is merely carrying on. “Carry on” was (and I am sure still is) a saying that comes from the military. If you were doing something and there was an interruption, the commissioned officer or some other superior person might say, “Carry on.” which meant to keep going about your business. I think that is much more what life is about. It is about going about our business. I think the idea of business is also something that needs to be considered. In the movie, The Cider House Rules, one of the questions asked is “Do you know what your business is?” I think too often we lose sight of our business and we get sidetracked. Too often for me I allow others to influence me, believing that their lives are important to mine. What I have learned is I need to keep on about my business and not get caught up in theirs. Too often their needs are merely that “theirs”. That has been an important lesson for me to ponder and try to figure out. I am not sure I have it all figured out, but that is part of my carrying on and doing what I must do.

Over the next week or so, I will be back in WI to carry on with things that are important to me there. Thanks to all of you who commented on that last posting about dignity. Then there is getting ready for the next semester and managing what I need to do for the next weeks and months. Break is certainly an oxymoron for me this year, but that too is carrying on and doing what I must. All in all, I think I have a pretty clear sense of what needs to be accomplished and how to do it. Hopefully on the other end, which is coming regardless of what I am doing to manage things, I will be okay. That is a much bigger question and one that I still am trying to ponder. I still think there is some of what I have heard that resonates with me, but then there are some of those things that I still believe are not possible. All I know is that I want to have as much to say about how I manage my time as I can. Regardless, in the meanwhile, I will carry on . . . . now back to work.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Ending Life (or anything else) with Dignity

Scan 775

Good evening,

If you are wondering who that person is with the dog, it is me when I was about 25 years younger. That was a cocker spaniel purchased when I lived in Pennsylvania the first time. As a Lutheran pastor at the time, I named him Luther, so his name was Luther Martin. Sad, I know, but I did it. While I need to grade I cannot concentrate and I feel it is not possible for me to give students reasonable feedback at the moment. For the third time in 4 days I have received a call from Wisconsin about Lydia. She is fading and her doctor actually told me that I should be prepared for that phone call. While I am sure that is what she would wish for herself at this point if she were cognizant of what has become of her 90 years, and it is truly want I want for her, I am realizing how hard it is to let her go. While I am not her son, I have become the son she never had. I have noted this before and I believe it to be true with all of my heart. I wish I could have a conversation with her that would tell her how much I love her and appreciate who she is and what she has accomplished in her life. I wish I could see those sparkling eyes once again brimming with all she knew and understood. I wish I could see the radiant smile that she had once again, in spite of the fact she never thought she took a good picture. I learned so much merely watching her and sharing time with her. It is hard to believe I have been part of her life and she mine for more than 10 years.

From the time when I was a parish pastor, not all that far from where I now live, I remember that I probably did more funerals around the holidays than any other time of the year. I wonder if she realizes it is almost Christmas. Lydia did not really like Christmas or any holiday for that matter. I am not sure why that was. I think it was probably because it is a time we remember family and the way in which she lost her family was pretty horrific and so I imagine it was related to those connective experiences. She did like Good Friday. That was the one time she asked to go to church and she lit her candles and said her prayers publicly. I also remember that trying to buy a present for her was pretty difficult. The only thing she would not take back was crystal. I learned that she liked it and she was happy to receive it. I once tried to purchase a new wrist watch for her. She had me take it back three times before we could find something she deemed acceptable. Once I bought her a birthday present and she took it back and I did not even realize I had a significant credit at that place for months. She was so eccentric in that way. During the past months (and actually years considering her situation), I have pondered if it is worse to become a shell, merely existing and having your mind disappear or is it worse to have control of your faculties and some other sort of disease ravages your body and you are aware of your demise. I have watched Lydia for over three and a half years at Comforts of Home and the person she was when she first began her residency there and the person she is now does not resemble the person she was then, either physically or mentally. It is actually tragic. I am quite sure that I have a different feeling about the young woman who decided to end her life on her terms. At one point, both the pastor and the human part of me would have regarded such a path with disdain. I lived in the Detroit area when Jack Kevorkian was on his mission to help people end their lives and I remember being really conflicted with what was happening. He seemed ghoulish to me. As I have watched Lydia progress and lose so much of who she was, it is unbelievably challenging to watch and see the person she has become. Let me note that the care she receives is outstanding for the most part, and the administrator of her particular COH is a phenomenal young woman who cares deeply about the people in that facility. That does make Lydia’s situation more tolerable for me, especially when I am 1,000 miles away.

It is Thursday of finals week and things are drawing to a close. It is always an interesting time to observe everyone, students and faculty alike. As students it is amazing to see how they step up to the plate and try to put on a game-face, if you will. Some have done their work throughout the semester and you can see they have a clear sense of purpose and trying to finish up, ending the semester in as strong of a manner as humanly possible. There are the other students who have been less than stellar at claiming the opportunities of the semester and the last week and a half is their desperate attempt to make up for their sins of omission. One student in particular stopped by the office today wondering where his grade was headed. I can honestly say (as I did) that I did not know. While I think I did some outstanding teaching this semester, I think the place I fell down was in my grading in a timely way. I am paying for that now, and it is why I will stay up  as late as my somewhat weakened body will allow. I have been in bed earlier over the past month than I have probably since I was in elementary or middle school. The number of nights I have been in bed before 10 would shock most of you who have known me in the past 35 years. The days of 3 or 4 hours of sleep do not happen any longer. It frustrates me to no end, but it is my reality. Another student said that he or she hoped their hard work now would at least get them passing grades. That is a very sad statement, for a number of reasons, but the one I am going to note is an economic one. To merely be average, which is what I tell students from the very first day of my Foundations class (FYC) is not a good plan. Especially when there are 15 million college students between the ages of 18-23 in college at the moment. The competition for a reasonably well paying position, particularly after spending 100K (on the low end) for a bachelors degree, has never been greater. While I try to relay that message from the get-go to my students, there are many who simply do not pay close attention to it. Some end up leaving with an unbelievable debt and not much to show for it; some think transferring to another school will take care of it (one stopped by my office today and is actually transferring back). The only thing that takes care of the things needed to succeed in college is hard work (discipline to do hard work, perhaps more succinctly). I must say, this semester I think I have had some of the most insightful students I have had in a long time. This morning as I gave my Bible as Literature Final, it was gratifying to see that group of students and the sort of family they have become in that class. I referred to them as the Faithful Remnant. They are an extraordinary group. I will miss them greatly. I think there might need to be a sort of gathering at a 40 day mark of something . . . sounds Biblical enough. Yet, I had quite a similar experience in my capstone class, Writing in the Professions. They worked terrifically hard on two major projects during the semester and they created strong and professional work. Experiential learning  is such a different sort of process when you are working for actual clients and you are responsible to each other as well as to a professional situation outside the class. I am always stunned at what they accomplish and what they learn ( I am not surprised that they do the work, but rather at some of unexpected learning moments along the way) . In that class there was also the sense of a small company or a group of people who cared deeply about the other people, about their colleagues. It is so enjoyable to experience. It is fun to see the lights turn on and they get excited about real positions or internships and moving beyond the classroom.

I think about Lydia in the classroom and I have tried to imagine what she must have been like. I know there were times when we would be out and people would come up to her and recognize her and say, “Professor Rutkowski . . . .” She was always shocked and she would say to me in her Austrian accent, “Michael, I do not know how they recognize me.” It was always so cute because she was so befuddled. My response was simple. “I have no problem understanding why they recognize you.” She was not pleased by that response, but it was what it was. If I posted a series of Lydia pictures here, you would understand completely why I might respond as I did. I have actually taken the time to look at some of her notes. She was meticulous in her preparation for class, and to say she had command of her subject matter would be a gross understatement. There are local people in Menomonie who had her in class and they say she was unbelievably tough, but they learned so much from her. I think she and I have some similarities. I have been told similar things. Yet, like her, I am not nearly as tough as people think. That is one of my downfalls, however; I have been too willing to give. I have learned that lesson the hard way and it is one of the things I am working on changing. While I do not want to be a hard-ass, I have learned that giving to people unconditionally can lead to a lot of hurt and difficulties. One of the things I know is that I have spent a lot less money eating out the last three or four months than I did the previously. There are a couple of reasons for that, but I have certainly noticed the difference. In addition, I have learned the hard way once again, in more than one situation, that others best intentions are generally not more than that.

The next year I will deal with things very differently across the board. I do want to end what I have been doing with a sense of dignity, however. That is not to say I won’t help people, or I will, in political terms, become isolationist, I have spoken with a couple of people about a particular mutual situation, but as I did once this past year (and most of my life), I will not be as understanding when their word is not kept. I have never really been a person to push the other, but I have learned this past year to do some of that. In fact, as I had a colleague over for dinner tonight, the person I put into the legal system (or more accurately, she put herself there) stopped by with another payment. I anticipate it is going to happen again (probably more than once). I will try my best to not be rude; I will merely stand up for myself. If people think I am being harsh or unreasonable, I guess that is what will happen. On the other hand, I need to continue to work on some things both professionally and personally. I will be focusing on three things this coming semester: my teaching, directing the program and shepherding the revision process, and writing for publication. Having gotten one of the hurdles cleared this week, I can focus. The second thing is to work on my personal life. There are a couple of important components, but I hope to continue to make progress in the one battle. The second component is working with a situation that is important to me in a number of ways and I hope to do some of that initial work during the break. Finally it is to make sure that I take care of myself across the board and end my own issues with dignity. It is possible and important for me to do so.

Well, I am going to go back to my grading. My mind is clearer and I am ready to focus. As always, thanks for reading.

Michael (and in the grading realm, Dr. Martin)