Loss

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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.

As my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg’s birthday approached this year, I have found myself thinking a lot about the man who was like a second dad to me for 38 years. As with my parents, I still find it hard to believe that he is gone, and yet it has been more than four years already. There are many things I really miss about my father-in-law. One of the main ones would be his smile. Whenever we were at his house, he was always so genuinely happy to see us, and his smile made that so clear. He had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. He was an experienced teaser, and since I come from a family of teasers, we always got along well. In his last years, I had the privilege of taking care of him, and I can honestly say that it was a privilege, and a blessing to be able to spend that time with him. We talked about family history a lot, and he helped me to fill in a lot of the holes in that side of the family. And we just talked about life and the past. Those were sweet times.

My father-in-law was always there to pitch in and lend a helping hand. He worked hard until the job was done. I always called him a workaholic, and I wasn’t kidding, nor was I wrong. He instilled that same work ethic in his children, all of whom are hard workers too. His philosophy was that you should work hard until the job was done, and done right. He believed that if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing right. He took that work ethic with him to the various job he did over the years, and each one was very sorry to see him move on.

He worked hard, but the really important thing in his life was his family. They were his top priority. He loved every baby, grandbaby, and great grandbaby with all his heart. He made toys for them, played games with them, and let them “help” with the jobs he was working on at home, teaching them the ropes as they went along. Every one of the kids and grandkids had a chance to help Grandpa with his work, and they all loved to be able to do so. He never made them feel like they were in the way. Of course, they most enjoyed playing with him, but what child wouldn’t? He was a dear dad and grandfather to every one of the children and grandchildren, a well as to his sons and daughters-in-law. I feel very privileged to have known him. Today would have been my father-in-law’s 88th birthday. I wish he were here so we could all celebrate it with him. Happy birthday in Heaven Dad. We love and miss you very much.

Recently, I discovered that Amelia Earhart is my 8th cousin once removed on my dad, Allen Spencer’s side of my family. Prior to this time, I knew of Amelia and her accomplishments, as well as her disappearance, but other than the fact that the whole thing was sad, it really didn’t affect me very much. Maybe it’s the fact that I now know that she is a relative, or maybe it’s the fact that the whole plot of the mystery seems to have thickened with some new information. Either way, I find myself intrigued by this new information.

Amelia Earhart vanished eighty years ago. She was last heard from on July 2, 1937. It was assumed that her plane had crashed during an attempt to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, and since she was never heard from again, most people, myself included, were sure that she had crashed. For eighty years, it was pretty much settled…until someone looked at a photograph in a long forgotten file, that suggests that she may not have crashed, but rather crash landed in the Marshall Islands, and was possibly taken prisoner, along with her navigator. The photo, found in a long-forgotten file in the National Archives, shows a woman who resembles Earhart and a man who appears to be her navigator, Fred Noonan, on a dock. The discovery is featured in a new History channel special, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence.”

The photograph suggests that Amelia Earhart, survived a crash landing in the Marshall Islands. I’m sure there are many people who doubt the authenticity of the photograph, but independent analysts told the History Channel that the photo appears legitimate and undoctored. Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director for the FBI and an NBC News analyst, has studied the photo and feels confident it shows the famed pilot and her navigator. Henry told NBC news, “When you pull out, and when you see the analysis that’s been done, I think it leaves no doubt to the viewers that that’s Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.”

These days, with so much fake news, and so much speculation about things, it’s hard to believe things sometimes. Still, so much of this evidence seems to point to facts very different from the theories we have believed to be truth for so long. We know that Earhart was last heard from on July 2, 1937, as she made her quest to become the first woman pilot to circumnavigate the globe. She was declared dead two years later after the United States concluded she had crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, but her remains were never found. Now, these investigators believe they have found evidence that Earhart and Noonan were blown off course, but survived the ordeal. The investigative team behind the History channel special believes the photo may have been taken by some secret spy for the United States on Japanese military activity in the Pacific. It is not clear how Earhart and Noonan could have flown so far off course.

Les Kinney, a retired government investigator has spent 15 years looking for Earhart clues, about what really happened to her. He said the photo “clearly indicates that Earhart was captured by the Japanese.” Japanese authorities told NBC News they have no record of Earhart being in their custody, but then it is doubtful that they would have been honest with us if they had her. The photo, marked “Jaluit Atoll” and believed to have been taken in 1937, shows a short-haired woman, believed to be Earhart, sitting on a dock with her back to the camera. Like Earhart, the woman was wearing pants, something for which Earhart was known, even though it was odd in those days. Near her is a standing man who looks like Noonan, so much so that when a transparent photo of him fits it perfectly…down to the hairline. “The hairline is the most distinctive characteristic,” said Ken Gibson, a facial recognition expert who studied the image. “It’s a very sharp receding hairline. The nose is very prominent.” Gibson added, “It’s my feeling that this is very convincing evidence that this is probably Noonan.” The photo also shows a Japanese ship, Koshu, towing a barge with something that appears to be 38 feet long airplane…the same length as Earhart’s plane. The locals have continued to claim that they saw Earhart’s plane crash before she and Noonan were taken away. Native school kids insisted they saw Earhart in captivity. The story was even documented in postage stamps issued in the 1980s. “We believe that the Koshu took her to Saipan, in the [Mariana Islands], and that she died there under the custody of the Japanese,” said Gary Tarpinian, the executive producer of the History special. “We don’t know how she died,” Tarpinian said. “We don’t know when.” Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who lived on Saipan as a child, has long claimed she saw Earhart in Japanese custody. “I didn’t even know it was a woman, I thought it was a man,” said Akiyama. “Everybody was talking about her — they were talking about in Japanese. That’s why I know that she’s a woman. They were talking about a woman flyer.” It is not clear if the United States government knew who was in the photo, or if it was taken by a spy, the United States may not have wanted to compromise that person by revealing the image. If that were the case, sadly two lives were sacrificed for one.

When my husband’s aunt, Helen Knox passed away on January 11, 2017 at the good old age of 99 years, her passing left her soul mate, Uncle Frank Knox to carry on alone…at least in that the love of his life was not longer with him. Of course, his sons are still here, and his grandchildren, one of whom I have had the great privilege of getting to know over Facebook since her grandmother’s passing. Yesterday morning, it was Frank’s granddaughter, Kate West who passed along the sad news that Uncle Frank had gone to Heaven to join his sweet wife, Helen. My thoughts immediately went back to the times that Frank and Helen came for visits, and what wonderful and interesting people they were. I wanted to write a tribute to Frank about the times I remembered, but then I read about Kate’s memories, and…well, I hope she won’t mind if I take a chapter from her Lifebook for this story. Her memories are so sweet and so thoughtful, that it became very clear to me and to anyone who read her words, that her grandfather was very, very special to her. Nothing I could have said could even begin to compare to the words of his Kate…or to those of her dad, Greg Knox, who told me that the date of Frank’s passing was the same date he and Helen married, just 71 years later. That is a very special day to Frank and Helen.

While Kate is very sad that her grandfather is gone, she is glad that he is with her grandmother again. They had lived long and happy lives, with 71 of those years lived as husband and wife. When her grandmother passed away, Kate found herself distressed because her grandfather was now without his other half. For Kate, the connection she and her grandpa had was the closest relationship she had with any of her grandparents. Part of the reason is that Frank and Helen lived with Kate’s family for 4 years, from the time Kate was 8 until she was 12. Helen was a little more quiet than her husband was. Frank was always very outgoing, and that made him easy to get to know. The relationship Kate had with her grandfather reminds me of the relationship I had with my Uncle Bill Spencer. Kate’s grandpa, or maybe her dad, taught her the game of cribbage, like my uncle did with me. After that playing cribbage became a ritual. The family used to go camping, and it always seemed to rain, at least one day of the trip. That was all it took for Kate and Frank to get out the cribbage board and pass the time in the friendly rivalry that cribbage always is. Those are the memories that will last Kate for the rest of her life…the memories that will keep her grandfather in her thoughts. She won’t pass a cribbage board without thinking of their games, or hear the rain without thinking of her grandfather. He will always live in her heart, as he will in the hearts of all of those who loved him.

Having moved to Spokane, Kate didn’t get to see her grandfather as often during those last years, and while she feels the regrets that come from a busy life and the difficulty distance brings to staying in touch, I can tell her that for her grandfather, the memories of the fun times with his cribbage partner kept a smile on his face, and she lit up his day with the love that showed on her face for her grandfather. While we may not realize what a huge impact we have of the life of another, they know it. Those around us who care about us, are the bright lights in our lives. That’s what Kate was to her grandfather. Uncle Frank will be greatly missed by all of us, who loved him. We look forward to seeing you again in Heaven, Uncle Frank.

I first met my sister-in-law, Marlyce Schulenberg when I was 18 years old, and she was 23 years old. She passed away when she was 39 years old. It has been 28 years since Marlyce passed away in 1989, so she has been gone 13 years longer than she was in my life. While that fact feels like a fact in some ways, it doesn’t in others. Marlyce had such a huge impact on my life. It wasn’t anything specific that she did, but rather it was everything about my sweet sister-in-law. Marlyce was developmentally disabled, and in some ways she remained a child all her life, but in other ways, she was an adult. She had a job, and she loved to bake and knit, and really she didn’t play. She understood that kids games were for kids, and she was an adult. She would play games intended for grownups though. One of her favorites was solitaire. She always had a deck of cards handy.

Still, it was not those things that made Marlyce so special to me. It was her personality. She was such a loving person. I suppose that I had an advantage over her siblings in that I was not her sibling. Coming into the family as an outsider, gave me the ability to be a friend to Marlyce before I became her sister-in-law. There never were the sibling rivalries or the sibling fights, because while Marlyce knew I was her sister-in-law, I don’t think she ever really thought of me that way, exactly. I was maybe more her permanent friend. Permanent in that I was a fixture within the family unit, and friend, in that I was not her blood sister. Of course, all of her siblings loved Marlyce too, but having grown up with her, they did all fight…like all siblings do.

One thing I recall about Marlyce that was kind of funny, is how protective she could be over her siblings. If she was mad at them…well, you knew it. She had no problem telling any one of them just what she thought, but if one of her siblings was getting into trouble…well, that was a different thing. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Marlyce telling her parents that they should be nice to her brother or sister. She was quite vocal about it. And even after the disciplinary action was over, she was still pretty mad at the offending parent. It was pretty comical, but I didn’t dare laugh about it, because Marlyce didn’t like being laughed at…and I would never hurt her feelings that way. Marlyce was so sweet. I couldn’t pick on her. When I think of all the years that Marlyce has been gone, I am saddened, because we are missing out on all the sweetness that was Marlyce. Everything about Marlyce was sweet, and I miss her very much. Today would have been Marlyce’s 67th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Marlyce. We love you very much.

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