Loss

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My Aunt Delores Johnson was always a sweet, kind, loving, and sincerely genuine person. She loved her family, and she made sure they knew it. From her young years she was a joy to her parents and to her siblings, always finding ways to make them laugh. This endeared her to them for the rest of her life.

Aunt Dee, as she was always known to most people, liked sweet rolls. When she was sick, and didn’t feel like eating, of course, the sweet rolls were not something she could handle, so when she finally asked for sweet rolls, it was a great relief, because it meant that she was getting better. I’m sure that sweet rolls were offered to her when she was sick, in the hope that she would want them, thus indicating that she was on the mend.

Aunt Dee loved kids and never spoke a harsh word to any of us…at least not to her nieces and nephews. I can’t speak to how she might have been if one of her four children, Ellen, Elmer, Darla, or Delwin were in trouble, but then what parent hasn’t yelled at their child at one point or another. Nevertheless, her children always knew how much she loved them, as did all of her nieces and nephews.

Aunt Dee and my mother, Collene Spencer, who was her younger sister, were good friends, on top of being sisters. They just liked spending time together, and I can’t help but think that they are having a great time in Heaven, along with their husbands, Elmer Johnson, and my dad Allen Spencer; their parents, George and Hattie Byer; siblings, Evelyn Hushman and Larry Byer, as well as brothers-in-law, Jack McDaniels and Bill Beadle. I’m sure there’s a lot of laughter going on, because that’s the kind of thing that always happens when Aunt Dee is around. There is joy in Heaven because they are all together again. Personally, I can’t wait to get there myself, to see them all again.

Aunt Dee always had something nice to say. Like everyone in this life, Aunt Dee had her share of storms, but she weathered them all, and was still always kind to the underdog. She was a very good-hearted woman, and we all loved her very much. In 1996, Aunt Dee was diagnosed with Brain Csncer. This time there would be no request for sweet rolls to set at ease the minds of all who loved her. Aunt Dee passed away on October 6, 1996, and I still can’t believe she is gone. I miss her sweet smile and her joyful ways. Today would have been her 87th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Dee. We love and miss you very much.

There is a strange phenomenon that occurs sometimes, after someone we love passes away. I’m not talking about seeing their ghost, because I don’t believe in ghosts. Besides, the people I have seen, since the passing of loved ones, are real. I have noticed this after the passing of several people, and in some ways it is odd, but in other ways it is comforting, because it shows me that the person I love is still living in my memory files. In reality, I suppose it’s just me, finding characteristics in people around me that remind me of a lost loved one.

After my great aunt, Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed in a plane crash, I used to see an older woman at the mall, just about every weekend. She reminded me so much of Aunt Gladys that I could almost imagine it was really her. Of course, the woman didn’t look exactly like Aunt Gladys, but she looked enough like her to bring back memories of years gone by, and a little sadness at the way she had passed. It seemed so senseless, so unbelievable that it could have happened in such a manner. One minute Aunt Gladys was fine and taking a trip to a family reunion, and the next, her life was over.

I find it strange that this phenomenon doesn’t seem to happen all the time. It only seems to happen in deaths that don’t make sense to me. I’m not looking for people who remind me of the person who died unexpectedly, they just suddenly appear. As I said, they are real people, please understand that. They just have similar features to my loved one who is gone. It doesn’t scare me, but rather it is just a strange reminder that my loved one existed. That their life was important. That their memory is, and always will be with me.

Since my 2nd cousin once removed, Jackie Morton passed away on March 9, 2018, I have thought about her many times. She was such a sweet, loving girl, and her passing simply makes no sense to me. One day she was fine, and the next day she was gone. Then, a few days later, while walking at the mall, I saw someone who really reminded me of Jackie. Had I not known better, I could have really thought it was her…though I knew it was not, for it could not be her. She has gone to Heaven now. Nevertheless, Jackie’s memory, like the memory of her great grandmother, my Great Aunt Gladys will always be with me.

I thought I saw you at the mall today. Though I knew it could not be you at all, for you are gone. I miss you so, and I wish you could still be here on Earth with us. But sadly, that is not to be, and never could be. You will always be with us in our thoughts, and in our memories…and we will always miss you so.

In about 1985, I began coaching youth bowling at Eagle Bowl, in Casper Wyoming. As I set up the teams for the year, I decided to team my two daughters, Corrie Schulenberg (Petersen) and Amy Schulenberg (Royce) with two little sisters named Jaime Morton (Moler) and Jackie Morton. As it turned out, that team would be more than friends for life…because unbeknownst to me at the time, those little girls were 3rd cousins, a fact I found out by accident, when I mentioned the Morton family to my mom, Collene Spencer, who knew that the Morton girls’ grandmother, Margaret was my mother’s cousin. The knowledge of the family connection made the little girls’ team even more special. The girls would bowl together all through their youth bowling years. Those years went by so fast, and I was terrible at taking pictures of anyone but my own kids, so the memories I have of those precious years live only in my mind’s memory files now. Fast forward to adulthood for the four little girls. Through the years, our families remained close and my husband, Bob and I bowl with the Morton family on a league to this day. Our girls bowled the league too for a time, but the friendship…the cousinship…that was forever, and will be forever.

Yesterday, at 12:30pm, I guess I’ll always remember the time, I received some news that deeply saddened all of us. One of the girls, Jackie Morton, just 37 years old, had passed away. She had knee surgery, and the doctors suspect that a blood clot was the cause of her passing. Everyone who knew Jackie will remember her bubbly personality, and her smiling face. She was always fun to be around, and that is why she had such a great group of friends, all of whom will miss her greatly. She truly cared about her friends and what was going on in their lives. Jackie was also a hard worker, and often worked overtime, missing bowling because she was needed elsewhere. She did what she needed to do, because she was loyal and dedicated to her job.

Jackie and her sister, Jaime have been very close all their lives. They were far closer that just sisters. They loved spending time together, going to concerts, vacations together, and of course, the precious family time that the whole family cherished. One of the defining moments in Jackie’s life was the moment she became an aunt. Jackie loved being an aunt, and her nephew, Kaleb, and nieces, Kielei and Haley brought such joy to her life. She attended their activities, and considered them her treasure. Truly, her whole family was Jackie’s treasure. Not a day went by that she wasn’t talking to them, spending time with them, or thinking of them. She never took them for granted. And they never took her for granted either. The family was very close, including aunts and uncles and grandparents. Bowling nights always included Aunt Renae and Uncle Mitch Berlinger, and various other family members, especially grandparents often came to watch and cheer them on. Those were good times that will always be treasured in the family’s memories.

Sadly, and far too soon Jackie has left us now, and entered into Heaven. Our hearts are broken at her passing. The world lost a little bit of the sunshine it had, with Jackie’s passing. Our minds still can’t wrap themselves around the fact that our beautiful, vibrant, loving, sweet Jackie is gone. Her family and friends will forever feel the empty space she has left behind. Jackie, we love you and we will miss you so very much.

My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg, like her mother before her was blessed to be able to share her birthday with her first great grandchild, Chris Petersen. It was something the two of them really liked, and over the years, many joint birthday parties were held in their honor. It was a tradition that started when Chris’ mom, Corrie Petersen, my oldest daughter, shared her birthday with Joann’s mom, Nettie Knox. The pictures we have of those moments are something Chris and Corrie will treasure forever, just as their were treasures for their great grandmothers.

Unfortunately, that tradition will not be carried on through the next generation, because while my grandson Chris and his fiancé, Karen Cruickshank are making my husband Bob a great grandfather, they will miss his birthday by at least a month. Nevertheless, Chris will be the great grandchild who will make my mother-in-law a great great grandmother, but she did not live to see that day, something that makes us all very sad. She lloved being a grandma, and loved those sweet babies, so I know she would have loved this next level of her ife, and totally loved the little girl who is on the way in early June.

When his great grandma was in the hospital for the last time, we all went up to see her, and Chris wondered if it would be ok to take pictures with her, the baby’s ultra sound, and him, so that there would be a picture for his little girl. He had been hoping for pictures of her with the baby, and also for five-generation pictures with her, his grandpa, his mom, the baby, and him. After Chris asked me about the pictures, my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg suggested the same thing, so we all decided it should be done. That visit was hard, because his grandma was in and out, and Chris wasn’t sure he would be able to understand what we were trying to tell her. When the visit was over, we all left her room, except Chris. He wanted a few minutes to officially tell his great grandma that she was going to be a great great grandma…even if she wasn’t awake to hear it. Then, a little miracle happened. As Chris was talking to her, she opened her eyes and looked right at him. Chris didn’t wait another second, but told her, “Grandma, I just wanted to let you know that you are going to be a great great grandma. My fiancé, Karen and I are having a baby girl in June.” His great grandma looked right at him, and she smiled with delight! Chris knew that she knew, and it brought tears to his eyes. It was the ultimate gift for both of them, and I am so glad that she got to know this great news before her passing just a few days later. Today would have been her 87th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Mom. We love and miss you very much.

As the three year mark since my mom, Collene Spencer went to Heaven arrives, I realize more and more how many time I have wanted to go to her and ask a question, get her advise, or just hear what she thought of my most recent story. Mom was, after all, my biggest fan. It didn’t matter what I wrote about, she liked it. And so often, she was part of it. She answered my many questions about the family, told me the inspirational things that happened, or the funny things her siblings would dream up. Hearing her talk about it all made me feel like I was there watching her and her siblings growing up. I could feel the coziness of my grandparents house, and hear the laughter of the kids in the kitchen as they did the dishes or helped with cooking the evening meal. Mom created that exclusive viewing for me, and I have felt very privileged to have been able to take that little tour into her history with her. Now that she is in Heaven, I find myself with more questions to ask her, and I really wish that Heaven had a telephone, so I could hear her voice and ask her the things that I want to know, because in Heaven, our minds have perfect recall, so the stories would be even more rich with detail.

Of course, the telephone call would not be just to ask her the many questions I still have, but also to hear her voice again, and my dad’s voice too. It has been so very long since I have heard their sweet voices, and I think they are among the things I miss the most. Of course, their faces, and really their person, but their voices are the essence of who they were. Thankfully, God has given me a clear memory, and in my memory files, their voices are stored. I can hear Mom’s laugh, along with her way of being just a little bit goofy, and Dad’s teasing, which had a way of driving Mom crazy…and of course, their life lessons…which is probably a nice way of talking about the many times they had to discipline me. Sometimes, I think I might have been their biggest challenge, and I believe my sisters would agree. They have often wondered how I made it to adulthood. All those things went into the life our parents created for us, and I wish every day that we could have them back. I wouldn’t want to go back in time exactly, but rather I wish that they could have continued on into what for them would have been the future. I would love for them to meet the new little family additions they have now. We have added lots of babies, and there are more of them on the way. They have four great great grandchildren now, and one more on the way. They loved those babies, and I wish they could have seen these great great grandbabies. Their legacy continues. If Heaven had a telephone, we could call and let them talk to these precious great grandbabies and great great grandbabies. Oh, how I wish we could call them. There is so much I would like to tell them. If only Heaven had a telephone. While I miss you so much on this day, in particular, Mom, I know that you and Dad are having the most amazing time in Heaven, and you can’t wait for all of us to get there…where we will realize why Heaven doesn’t have a telephone. When we are all there, we will never need telephones again. What an awesome day that will be. We love and miss you Mom…and Dad too. See you both someday soon…and we can hardly wait.

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.

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