Loss

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As the world is watching the 2018 Winter Olympics, officially known as the XXIII Olympic Winter Games and commonly known as PyeongChang 2018, looking at the hope for gold in this group of young talented athletes, I have been thinking back to another group of young talented athletes…athletes that would never get the chance to realize their dreams. Yes, this group had won gold before, so they were not new to the world of competition, but their hopes of any future gold were crushed forever on February 15, 1961, when they were on their way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

On that day, the entire 18 member United States figure skating team, along with the 16 people who were accompanying them, which included family, friends, coaches and officials, as well as the crew and 38 people who were not with the figure skating team, died when the plane went down around 10am in clear weather while attempting to make a scheduled stopover landing at the Belgian National Airport in Brussels. One person on the ground, a farmer working in the field where the Boeing 707 crashed in Berg-Kampenhout, several miles from the airport, was killed by some shrapnel. Investigators were unable to determine the cause of the crash, although mechanical difficulties were suspected.

Killed in the crash was 16 year old Laurence Owen, who had won the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in the ladies’ division the previous month. She was featured on the February 13, 1961, cover of Sports Illustrated, which called her the “most exciting U.S. skater.” Bradley Long, the 1961 U.S. men’s champion, also perished in the crash, as did Maribel Owen (Laurence’s sister) and Dudley Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champions, and Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, the 1961 U.S. ice dancing champions. Also killed was 49-year-old Maribel Vinson-Owen, a nine-time U.S. ladies’ champion and 1932 Olympic bronze medalist, who coached scores of skaters, including her daughters Maribel and Laurence, and Frank Carroll, who went on to coach the 2010 men’s Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek and nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan. The crash was a tragedy that devastated the U.S. figure skating program and meant the loss of the country’s top skating talent. Prior to the crash, the U.S. had won the men’s gold medal at every Olympics since 1948…when Dick Button became the first American man to do so, while U.S. women had claimed Olympic gold in 1956 and 1960. After the crash, an American woman named Peggy Fleming would be the next to win, but she would not capture Olympic gold until 1968, while a U.S. man, Scott Hamilton would not do so until 1984. The incident was the worst air disaster involving a U.S. sports team until November 1970, when 37 players on the Marshall University football team were killed in a plane crash in West Virginia.

Shortly after the 1961 crash, the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund was established. To date, it has provided financial assistance to thousands of elite American skaters. In 2011, the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, the 18 members of the 1961 figure skating team, along with the 16 people traveling with them to Prague, were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Yesterday, my family lost another of my uncles, when my Uncle Bill Beadle went home to heaven. He has been ill for some time, but that just doesn’t help you to be ready for his home going. Nothing really prepares you for that. He went peacefully in his chair, having slept through the night and awakened in his sleep, got up to watch television. It was there that Aunt Virginia found him when she got up in the morning. Knowing that Uncle Bill went home peacefully, eases my mind a little, but when I think of the many years they have been married, and how sad she is, I am very sad indeed.

My cousin, Elmer Johnson, recalled that Uncle Bill was born up around Worland, Wyoming. He worked in the pipe yards, owned his own rathole drilling business with both sons, Forrest and Steve by his side. Uncle Bill was a great machinist and general all around mechanic. He loved spending time with Steve fishing and he loved to go bird hunting up around Worland. Pheasant and Chukars were his favorites, He liked hunting them, because it was much more exciting, walking the fields with that unexpected bird flying up out of nowhere giving only seconds to make the shot. Uncle Bill always had that cantankerous spirit…in the best ways, and had a way of getting you turned around and talked into doing the right thing if you were headed off course. He enjoyed his pipe, for quite a few years, and his chew. Forrest and Elmer got into that big block of chew when they were kids, didn’t know not to swallow it… well, when they swallowed it, they turned about three shades of green. Elmer tells me that he still can’t deal with chewing tobacco!

My sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and I were reminiscing last night about all the wonderful years since Uncle Bill joined our family. We all agreed that Uncle Bill had an incredible smile, complete with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He loved to tease the kids, and we all loved to be teased. Then he would laugh with his infectious laugh, and we all had a thoroughly great time. Uncle Bill was really not serious very much, at least not around us, or most of the kids. It just wasn’t a real part of his nature, unless you were heading for trouble…then he would get serious, but not in a mean way. Rather, as Elmer said, “He had a way of getting you turned around and talked into doing the right thing if you were headed off course.” And it happened before you even knew it was happening. That was Uncle Bill, and we will miss him very much. Rest in peace Uncle Bill. We love you.

My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg has always been a tough lady, and I suppose that is why we found it so hard to believe that she would not win this final battle in her life. She bounced back so many times, when we all thought she was going for sure, but in the end, it was not the things we expected to take her life, like COPD or diabetes, that actually did so, but rather kidney failure, complicated by congestive heart failure. Through all of the many episodes of illness in her life, we were amazed at the strength she displayed while fighting her way back to where she had been before getting sick. This final battle would be different. She was tired, and she was ready to go home to Heaven. And while we were very sad and hated to let her go, we could not ask her to stay. She had suffered long enough.

Throughout the years that Joann was my mother-in-law, she was an inspiration to many people. She had the ability to do so many things…knitting, crocheting, sewing, canning, and oh, her baking!! Mom could make a “Murder Cake” that could easily destroy any diet, because it was irresistible. “Murder Cake” was a chocolate cake with so much gooey, yummy fudge that the frosting became a part of the gooey cake. Maybe it was called “Murder Cake” because it murdered your diet. It was also my mother-in-law who introduced me to Squash and Pancakes, a dish that sounds like it should be awful, but one bite, and you are hooked. My husband, Bob; daughter, Amy; and I look forward to summer just for the squash and pancakes.

Having been raised in the country or small towns, the country was where Joann felt mostly at home. It was where she raised her children, and where one of them still lives today. She felt like it was easier to keep track of all those kids, if she had them out in the country, and when the family lived in Mills while the older children were in grade school, she finally told my father-in-law, Walt, that he needed to get the family back out in the country. And so he did. For the first 23 years of my marriage into the family, that is where they lived, and then because of health issues, they made a trade for a house in Casper…right on one of the busiest intersections in town…13th and McKinley Streets. While my mother-in-law said she hated the noise of the traffic and many emergency vehicles, she sure loved to look out the window to see what was going on out there. She secretly enjoyed the flurry of activity that was always going on out on the busy streets, and while Alzheimer’s Disease might have taken her most recent memories away, she always had her favorite pastime…people watching, whether they be in traffic, walking, or on television. My mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s Disease was the kind that kept the funniest things in life in the forefront of her memory, and she could say the funniest things. While she might not remember our names, she always knew that her children and grandchildren belonged to her, and for that we are forever grateful. Rest in peace Mom, we miss you already, and we love you forever.

My mom, Collene Spencer was a sweet, loving, and forgiving person all her life. She carried that personality into her marriage and motherhood. I’ve really never met anyone who was as truly kind hearted as my mom was. All of her life she had a heart for people. She tried to tell people about the most important thing in her life…her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Mom wanted everyone she came across to be in Heaven when they died. Mom was in every way a missionary…just without the funding that many missionaries have. She didn’t travel the world to preach the Gospel, she traveled her world preaching the Gospel. It didn’t matter where she was, if she was with family, friends, or strangers, her mission was clear, and she was a willing servant of the Lord. My guess is that the people she led to the Lord by preaching to them numbers in the thousands. It is her legacy in many ways.

Mom loved all things of beauty. She grew up collecting rocks, and her rock garden was filled with her many finds. She saw beauty in many different things. Our home was decorated with Mom’s own special style, that also included the “artwork” of her girls from time to time. I can’t say that our “artwork” really added to the beauty of her home, but in her eyes they were treasures. I know how much she treasured these things, because when we went through her things after her passing, there were her treasures, including the artwork of her girls. Her girls and her husband, my dad, Allen Spencer, were her world. She wanted nothing more than to take care of us and make a good home for us, and she did that very well, even though she was not able to be a stay-at-home mom for all of our growing up years.

Mom always loved to travel. It was something Dad introduced her to, and together, they traveled the United States, visiting almost every state. The vacations we took and the places we got to see were amazing. They showed us every historical marker they could find, and while we might not have appreciated those markers then, we learned so much about our country. I think I can attribute many of my stories to things I learned from my parents. Camping was the order of the day when we traveled, and cooking over a campfire, until later when we got a travel trailer. Mom was an excellent cook and she passed that ability down to her girls. There wasn’t one of her girls who couldn’t cook when we got married, and our husbands have been the beneficiaries of her teaching. She was an amazing teacher of many things, including helping out at our schools, even substitute teaching when I was in grade school. It was another way that she traveled her world, filling it with life, light, and beauty as she went. Today would have been my mom’s 82nd birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Mom. We love and miss you very much.

This is a day that I have been particularly dreading since my dad, Allen Spencer passed away on December 12, 2007. The ten year anniversary of his graduation to Heaven. For him, of course, it was a day of great celebration, but for my mom, Collene Spencer…now in Heaven herself, my sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and me the day was anything but a celebration. And, their were so many others who felt his passing deeply too…grandchildren, great grandchildren, siblings, siblings-in-law, and friends. It was a day that we somehow thought would never come, and when it did, we were really not at all ready for it, but then are you ever ready for a loved one’s passing? Of course not…we can’t possibly prepare.

With each year thereafter, the sting of his passing remained, although we got used to feeling it, but the ten year mark has been one that seemed so incredibly impossible, that I continued to push it to the back of my mind. It ranked right up there with the thought of living even one day on this earth without my parents. It lived in the realm of the impossible, and now it is simply reality. We go through our days in a state of acceptance, because there is nothing else we can do…we have no other choice.

Our dad was a wonderful, sweet, kind, and loving man, who treated our mom like a queen and his daughters like princesses. We never doubted his love for any of us. We may not have had riches or a castle, but there are better ways to be treated like royalty. We just always knew that we were loved. We didn’t need riches or castles, because we had quality time with our parents. We got to travel the United States, and took trips every summer. We learned to read maps, build campfires, see so many wonderful places, and enjoy each others company. It made us a very close family, and that closeness continues to this day. My family was so blessed to have such a man as our dad, and so when he left us…the void was huge!! And now to think that he has been in Heaven for ten long years…well, it makes me feel very sad and lonely. My only consolation is that I know that now my dad…and my mom too…is in my future, not in my past. For me, it just feels like the future is so very far away. I would love to have a hug from my dad right now, not years down the road, and I would love to hear his voice again, and not only in my memory. I just can’t believe that he could have been gone that long. I love and miss you Dad…so very much.

This year has been a little difficult for my nephew, Barry Schulenberg and his wife, Kelli. Their long-time companion, Dakota, a Black Labrador Retriever dog passed away a few months ago, and they were feeling very sad. Anytime you lose a pet, there is period of time that must pass before you feel ready to have another pet. It’s different for everyone. Dakota went everywhere with Barry and Kelli. He was their hiking and camping companion….always happy to be right there beside them. Dakota was always waiting at the door to greet them when they got home from work. Dakota was like their child, and he had been with them all of their married life. It’s hard to imagine life without your pet, because the reality is that your pet is a part of the family…a big part of your family.

After that kind of loss, there is always a grieving period, before you can possibly move on and find another dog to adopt into the family. Barry and Kelli took their time. healing at their own pace. They did the normal things they like to do…camping, hiking, target practice, and just spending quiet nights at home. Soon though, it became clear to them, that something was missing. It was time to fill the void left behind with Dakota’s passing. That is a big step for any pet owner. It’s hard to open your heart to another pet, after losing one that was such a big part of your life for so many years. So, after some soul searching, Barry and Kelli decided to take to plunge, and adopt again.

They went to see what was available, and came up with a male Border Collie/Australian Cattle Dog mix. For a while, their new “baby” didn’t have a name. They wanted to see what name might fit him. Before long, the puppy became a Scout. He always seemed to be at the alert, as if scouting his next move. Barry and Scout became inseparable. Scout loves to hang out with Barry, hoping to receive the scratching and petting that all dogs crave. Scout even loves riding around on the 4-wheeler with Barry. They say that a dog is man’s best friend, and Scout is definitely Barry’s best friend…with the exception of Kelli, of course. I know that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship for Barry, Kelli, and Scout, and I think Dakota would be happy too. Today is Barry’s birthday. Happy birthday Barry!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

When our girls, Corrie Petersen and Amy Royce were little, we used to go to visit my husband, Bob’s aunt and uncle, Linda and Bobby Cole every year, right before school started. It was the final trip of the summer…Labor Day weekend. Soon after, they would be back in school, and they lazy days of summer would be over. We all looked forward to going, and it was always a lot of fun.

Linda and Bobby lived in the small South Dakota town of Kennebec. It was one of those towns that you could miss if you blinked on the way by. Back then there was a grocery store, a school, and one hotel…Linda and Bobby’s hotel. We never had to find a place to stay, because we always had a room in the hotel. Their hotel was an old building, filled with antiques that I’m sure were there in the days of the Old West. Well, ok, maybe not, but they were old enough to be from that era.

Kennebec operated at a very slow pace, because there wasn’t much to do there, besides visiting and a good card game. Linda and Bobby loved to play cards, when they weren’t square dancing that is. They belonged to a square dance club and they went to lots of dances during the year. They loved dancing and the costumes.

Our girls always loved to go for visits too. They got to hang out with their cousins Sheila and Pat Cole, and while they were older than our girls, they all still had a great time. The kids all played together with minimal fighting, and there was little they could do to get into trouble. We always enjoyed our visits to see Linda and Bobby and their family, and now that both Linda and Bobby are in Heaven, the memories are even more precious than they were before. Today would have been Linda’s 71st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Linda. We love and miss you very much.

Every November 22nd brings unimaginable sadness to members of the Spethman family, as well as the rest of our family, as we remember the baby most of us never got to meet. Laila Elizabeth Spethman was just 18 days old when she went to Heaven, leaving behind her a family wishing that things could have been different. There are never any easy answers for why a child dies, only questions. The biggest question is, “Why did this happen to us?” Of course, there is no answer. Things like the loss of a child don’t go after certain families. Death is not vindictive…it’s just painful. It just leaves us feeling empty…just horribly, and irreversibly empty.

That’s what Laila left behind, when she went to Heaven…emptiness. There is an empty spot in the family, where she should be…six years between her big brother, Isaac and her little sister, Aleesia. And empty chair at the table that Laila never got to sit in. And empty spot in the first grade, where she should be learning. There is an empty spot for Aleesia, who will never have a sister, and empty spot for Xander, Zack, and Isaac because they knew her for those days, knew that they were supposed to have a little sister named Laila, and then they didn’t. And there is an empty spot for her parents, Jenny and Steve, who have had the feeling of empty arms since that awful day…they have a daughter named Laila, but they can’t hold her, raise her, or know her. But all they have in emptiness where Laila is concerned. It is an emptiness we all feel.

Yes, Jenny and Steve have four beautiful, happy children, but that can never fill the emptiness that the lost one left. That’s because each child is their own person. They are not interchangeable. One cannot replace another. While each of their children is a joy in their own right, they are never going to be able to fill that one empty spot…the one Laila left behind. We will always love and miss you Laila Elizabeth Spethman, and we will see you again someday in Heaven.

With each passing year, we imagine what Laila might have been like. Seven years ago today, my niece, Jenny Spethman and her husband, Steve welcomed their first daughter into the world. The birth was one of happiness and concern. Their daughter was not well. Her heart was not properly formed…a condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, had left her left ventricle underdeveloped. Little Laila would go to Heaven just 18 days later, and just like that, her little life on earth would be over…but not her memory. No, her memory will live forever in the hearts and minds of her parents, grandparents, siblings, and the rest of her family. It’s amazing to me that a child I never got to meet could continue to impress my mind, and the minds of the entire family, with pictures of who she might have become.

At 7 years of age, I can picture the little first grader she would be now. In my minds eye, I can picture her little face with the changes that seven years would bring. I can imagine her laughter, very much like her little sister, Aleesia’s, and a personality to match. I think that when a child is lost, the family tends to look at other children who are the same age that lost child would be, and it is so easy to place the lost child in the same activities, looks, and personalities. Of course, it’s not exact, how could it be, but it’s enough to truly imagine what the lost child would be like at each age. That’s how it is with Laila. It’s how we can imagine the little girl she would be.

Laila left us far too soon, but her memory will live in our hearts forever. From her, we learned not to take life for granted. We learned to take the pictures of even the littlest, most insignificant event, because it may end up being very important. We have learned to spend time with those we love, and to tell each other how much we love each other. We will see Laila again in Heaven, but for now, we all miss her very much. Today would have been Laila’s 7th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Princess Laila. We love you.

Sixteen years…that is the amount of time that has passed since the horrific 9-11 attacks on America. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed. When I think about the victims of those attacks, I am saddened to think that the beautiful potential their lives had was stripped away from them in an instant. I think about the families they left behind to mourn their loss. And I think about the babies that arrived after the attacks, who would never know their dads. This year marks another milestone those babies will have without their dads…getting their driver’s license….as well as possibly dating. Their dads have missed so many milestones already, and it was just so unfair. Those men went to work that day, fully expecting to come home, but evil doesn’t care.

I think about the children who were lost in the attacks. Their lives were cut short before they even had a chance to grow up, and fulfill their life’s full potential. Some of them hadn’t even started school yet. They didn’t get the chance to graduate from high school, which many of them would now have done by now. Their potential to be a productive member of society was squashed in a matter of a few hours on that September day, sixteen years ago, because evil doesn’t care.

I am sad for the men and women, who worked in the offices of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, who simply went about their day, doing the things they had planned, only to have everything ripped out from under them in a moment. Their futures were so bright. They were going places. They had studied and learned their trade, and now they were the people who were ready to go out and change the world. Their dreams were so quickly over. They would do no more. Their chance was gone. And the people on the planes, innocently traveling to their destination…forced to become a bomb in the plot to kill so many. Life for all of them ended that awful day, because evil doesn’t care.

I think of the emergency workers who ran into the buildings…the same way they always do in an emergency, fully expecting to bring the people out and save their lives. They ran in, but most of those who went in, did not come back out that day. So many of the higher ranked firefighters had to be quickly replaced with firefighters who were less experienced in leadership, because the leaders were gone. So many people in so many areas of the United States and the world had to try to go on with the emptiness that was left by the loss of so many, in all walks of life. The nation had to rebuild…move forward…and deal with the feelings of grief, anger, and loss that the attacks left behind…that hate left behind, because evil doesn’t care about the life it destroyed. Evil just doesn’t care.

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