Loss

GG Gpa, Amy, GG Gma CorrieGG Gpa & GG Gma KnoxAs Corrie’s birthday draws near, I am reminded of another of her birthdays…her first. Corrie’s birth put her in close connection with her great grandmother, with whom she shares that birthday. Her first birthday put Corrie, and her little sister Amy, in touch with the only set of great great grandparents they ever got to know…the in-laws of the great grandmother with whom Corrie shares her birthday. It would be their only meeting with their great great grandfather, as he would pass away less than two months later, on August 28, 1976, at the age of 93 years. He had not been ill or in a nursing home, but rather lived in his own home all the years of his marriage. His death came after he fell off of a ladder, while doing home maintenance…at the age of 93!! How amazing is that?

That first meeting between, great great grandparents and great great granddaughters was so special. This loving, sweet couple holding my daughters, was such a precious sight for me. You could just see how they felt about my girls, and it was a beautiful moment. In fact, it was at that very moment that Bob and I decided that we needed to go visit them again…soon. We wanted our girls to have a relationship with these loving people. We did make the trip to see them in late September, but it was too late to see their great great grandpa, and that made me very sad. Such a kind, loving man was gone before we hardly got to know him.

The visit to Washington to see Great Grandma was a precious one. Amy was too little to remember it, at almost 4 months, but Corrie and her great great grandmother got along famously. Great Grandma allowed Corrie to explore her home and play with the pans in the kitchen, and when I tried to stop Corrie from making messes and so much noise, she told me to let her play, because she loved to see her youthful curiosity and her smiling face. She even sent Corrie home with a little chair that she loved to sit on…it was over 100 years old then, so it is about 140 years old now…and still a treasure to Corrie.

The girls would get to see their great great grandma again, and she would also meet Amy, Corrie, Great Great Grandma Knox, Machelle and BarryCorrie and her little chair todayanother great great granddaughter, Machelle and her great great grandson, Barry the next time she visited. The kids all had a wonderful time on that visit too. She was just the kind of person kids flock to. She continued to live in her home for most of the rest of her life, and stayed active and of sound mind for all of it. These were amazing people and such a great part of my children’s heritage. I feel very blessed to have known these special people.

Mom & Dad Schulenberg_editedMy father-in-law passed away on May 5, 2013, but my mother-in-law is doing ok. Alzheimer’s Disease has removed all memory of his passing. I know that many people look at Alzheimer’s Disease as being a cruel thief. I can agree with the thief part, in that it has taken her memory of recent events away, but cruel…maybe not. Her mind simply creates its own reality. In her mind he is not gone. He is at work or visiting the neighbors or out in the garage. Death means nothing to her. It has been the same with her parents, who have been gone for 28 and 23 years now.

I have long known that she lived in a world of make believe, but that fact never hit home as much as it did tonight, when Bob and I were out visiting her at the nursing home. She often speaks of those who are closest to her, and sometimes she speaks about you…to you, saying things like, “Caryn is going to be cooking dinner for everyone” when she is talking to me, or “Bobby is on his way to Grandma’s for the summer, to help with the cows” when she is talking to Bob. Corrie and Amy, work at the nursing home…at least in her mind, and my father-in-law is over by the telephone, so he will answer it when it rings. These were just a few of the recent things she has talked about, and things we are getting used to hearing.

Tonight…well, tonight was different. We were talking with my mother-in-law, and the conversation was following the normal lines…or at least, it was until it wasn’t. Suddenly she said, “Hun, can you help me get this afghan over to the sewing machine so I can finish it up.” She was talking to Bob, but to her, he was my father-in-law. At first we thought it was just a slip of the tongue, but then it happened again. She said, “Walt, you need to move that other sewing machine to the table.” We didn’t know exactly how to react. It was not the first time she had mentioned him, but it was the first time she spoke to him when it was actually one of the guys in the family. She thinks nothing of talking to him, but we know that he is gone, and the pain of that parting is still very fresh in our hearts Boband minds. We can’t be upset with her for what she says, because in her mind, it is reality, but to us it is make believe. Like it or not, we have to play along, because to do anything different is to make her relive his death over and over again.

I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of my father-in-law visiting my mother-in-law. Her mind will bring it up again, and it’s likely that her sons or grandsons will have to play the part again at some point. They will do it, as often as needed, because it is for her. They can do nothing else. They will play the part…so that she can keep her illusion that the love of her life is never far away.

Dad 1978Today marks the first time in my life that I don’t have a dad to celebrate Father’s Day with. After my dad passed away in 2007, I still had my father-in-law that we celebrated Father’s Day with. Nevertheless, it was very lonely, because I missed my dad. And yet, I was blessed in that I still had my father-in-law. Now, those days are over, and I feel very sad again. And when I think of how my sisters-in-law and brother-in law and my husband must be feeling, my heart aches for them, because this is their dad and they have never had to deal with those feelings before…the emptiness that only comes from the loss of a parent. I feel sad for my sisters too, because we know that the death of your parent is not something you ever get over. You simply have to go on with life…because time marches on.

Still, today is Father’s Day, and in our hearts we will all celebrate the men who were our dads. The fact that they live in Heaven now, in no way diminishes the blessing they were to us in their lifetimes. We were so very blessed to have them in our lives for those years that we had them. We were very blessed that they each lived to be over 83 years old…long lives each one. We were very blessed that each of them had sound minds right to the end. They gave us their wisdom through the last conversations we had with them. So many of the elderly have had their minds and memories Dad Schulenbergstolen from them by dementia, so this was a blessing beyond measure for us, and one I wish everyone could have.

My dad and my father-in-law were both hard working men. Their families came first in all things. They would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it, because they both walked in love. We were so blessed to have witnessed the kindness they showed to those around them. It sometimes amazes me just how very much alike they were in so many ways. How I came to be so blessed in that way…overwhelms me. I was blessed beyond measure by the two dads God placed in my life, and my heart acutely feels the pain of their passing to this day. I know that it will feel that way until I see them both again in Heaven…a day I look forward to with much anticipation. Happy Father’s Day in Heaven to my two dads. I love and miss you both very much.

Grandpa's GirlsIn the early years of being a grandpa, my father-in-law had just girls…three in a row to be exact. That didn’t bother him one bit. They were grandpa’s girls, and he thought that was just fine. He loves kids, and as I have seen in letters he wrote to my mother-in-law, before their marriage, he had a special place in his heart for those little girls. His future sister-in-law, Margee had been just a little over 5 months old, when he and my mother-in-law were married, and he thought Margee was just the sweetest thing. His thoughts on baby girls didn’t change much over the years.

The girls felt the same way about their grandpa as he felt about them. They just thought he was the greatest thing going too. He loved to get down on the floor and play with them, and even if they were having one of their drama filled moments, he just didn’t seem to mind…he just redirected the play, so the drama would end, and the fun would begin. It was always fun to watch him with the girls, because he just loved being a grandpa, and it showed. In fact, he had always loved kids, so maybe that’s where Bob got his way with the little ones…softies, both of them.

I sometimes wondered where my father-in-law got his patience with the girls when they were fighting or crying…usually in the form of screaming, both. He didn’t lose his patience, like I felt like doing, but rather just separated the two fighters, and hugged them when they had their little boo boos. The screaming and crying practically drove me up a wall. If they were in that kind of a mood, I was very happy to let them go visit their grandparents, so grandpa could settle them down some.

As the years went by, my father-in-law would get one more granddaughter, and three grandsons. While he was wonderful with all of them, and it was obvious that he was simply partial to babies and kids in general, I will always remember those early years fondly. Thoughts of him happily surrounded by his girls playing and laughing put a smile on my face. The girls were so blessed to have him for their grandpa, and I hope they know that. Not every child gets to live near their grandparents, and the fact that they did is very special. While my father-in-law is gone now, I’ll always see him surrounded by his loving family, and I’ll always hold a special memory in my memory files for him and Grandpa’s Girls.

imageAs we head into summer, many people start making plans to go camping. Bob and I like hiking a lot, but we really don’t go camping…strange I suppose, especially considering the fact that my parents took my sisters and me camping every summer of our childhood. And, I liked camping then, but Bob and I like the comforts of a motel room, and we get our nature fix when we go hiking. I know lots of people would laugh at that idea, but to each his own, I say. Things change and people change, and that isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a different thing than before. I still love to sit around the campfire at night, just enjoying the warmth and beauty of the flames, but it sometimes gets pretty cold at night, and in the early morning, and standing around a campfire in my coat wishing I was warmer, isn’t my idea of fun.

Still, the memories of the days when we went camping are fond ones. We used to sit around the campfire until midnight or later, and then sleep in the next morning. We woke up to the smell of the campfire and coffee brewing. It was a smell that sure could make you hungry, and then you still had to wait until breakfast was cooked before you could eat. The pine trees gave off a scent all their own too, and to this day, the scent of real pine trees, reminds me of camping…and of being out in the fresh air. Memories…like echoes of my past.

I don’t miss camping so much, but I miss those days in my childhood…days when we were all together, with no one missing. I think that was what made camping fun. Being out in the woods, but always knowing that my dad was there to keep us safe. Being outside at night, but knowing that Dad would keep the fire going, to keep the bears away. It was such a special time in our lives, and I don’t think I could feel the same about it now. And yet, I don’t think I will always be able to see, in my mind’s eye, those memories…the echoes of my past.

Dad's military daysMemorial Day…a day for remembering the fallen soldiers, began after the Civil War, which has laid claim to the most war dead in any war in history. Most people don’t know that. When you think about the fact that so many of the fallen soldiers in the Civil War died gruesome deaths, torn to pieces by cannon balls or musket guns. Medical care was minimal, at best and nonexistent in many cases. There were no dog tags or DNA testing, so many of the soldiers killed were never identified. They died without dignity, after giving their live so nobly in the fight for freedom.

Ours was a nation in mourning, with no way to fully express the depth of its feelings. Originally called Decoration Day, this day was set aside as a day to decorate the graves of war dead, giving them the honor and dignity they did not have at the time of their death.

Since its inception on May 5, 1867, Memorial Day, as it is now called, has changed in many ways. Many people simply think of it as a day off from work…a good day to party or gather for picnics with friends and family. They forget that since the Civil War, our nation has been Dad Schulenberginvolved in many wars and police actions, as they have been called since World War II. People notoriously try to block out those things that make them feel uncomfortable. Sad…that we could so easily forget the sacrifices that have been made to give them the freedom to choose not to honor the men who fought to give them that freedom. Sad that we could be so quick to forget.

Today, those of us who celebrate Memorial Day as Decoration Day have also added our loved ones who are not veterans, and I believe that is fitting too. So, for me, I honor my dad, my father-in-law, nieces, aunt, uncles, grandparents, and cousins who have gone before me. I love you all.

Dad and MomFor the past seven and a half years, my life has been largely defined by a series of responsibilities known as caregiving. For anyone who has ever been a caregiver, even for a short time, it is easy to understand what that entails, and what it means in the lives of those involved. Caregiving is not a job that usually becomes less demanding as time goes by, although that is not an impossibility. While caregiving is not an easy job, I can tell you from my personal experience that it is a very rewarding job. It is one that places you in a battle for life…or at least a battle to prolong life. While it is rarely a battle you can win in the end, you do win in that those final years are made more comfortable for the patient, and filled with the knowledge that you love that person so much that you are willing to make this sacrifice for them.

Now, after the passing of my dad, the recovery of my mom, the necessity of placing my mother-in-law in a nursing home, because Alzheimer’s Disease no longer allows her to stay at home, and the passing of my father-in-law, I find myself no longer in the position of being a full time caregiver. Yes, I still have minimal responsibilities with my mom and mother-in-law, like doctors appointments and visits with them, which are very important to their emotional well being, but the main responsibilities belong to others or are no longer necessary. So, I find myself wondering what do I do now that I am not a caregiver? What is life supposed to be like now? This has been who I was for so long. It was even all I talked about sometimes, as many of my family members can attest to.

A part of me is still very tired.  At times during the day, I feel like I could sleep for a month, and yet, I have trouble getting to sleep at night. A part of me is ready to get back out on the trails…walking and breathing in the fresh air, and yet a part of me feels like I just want to sit and do nothing. Maybe it’s an emptiness because of no longer being needed as much as before. It seems like concentrating is very difficult…unless it’s about why we lost the battle for life, or what we might have done differently.

I know that I will get used to having more time again. And as with my dad’s passing, I will come to know that you don’t get over it…you just get on with it. I will get used to not being a caregiver, but I know too, that I will never be the same person I was before. I can’t be. I have seen too much…learned too Mom & Dad Schulenberg_editedmuch…felt too much…know too much, to ever be the same person I was before. I have experienced the adrenalin rush needed to hold myself together during life threatening illnesses reaching emergency levels, and making the decisions necessary to treat loved ones who can’t speak for themselves. I have held their very lives in my hands, and been responsible for trying to bring them back. And, I have lost that battle…twice. I will recover from caregiving and I will get on with it, but I will never be the same. I don’t think it is a bad thing, and I would not change any of it, except the loss of my dads, but while I would do it all again, I know that I have been forever changed by this experience.

MomTo be given a mom who is wonderful and sweet is a great blessing indeed, but to be blessed with two of them is twice as nice. Of course, I don’t have two moms exactly, but I have a mom and mother-in-law, and both of them are wonderful and very sweet. They are different in their ways, and really always have been, they are nevertheless the same in many ways. My mom always lived in town, my mother-in-law was a country girl most of her life, and each one probably wouldn’t have changed that for anything. I suppose that the way you are raised has a lot to do with it, since each of them continued to live the same way they were raised for at least most of their lives.

In many ways, their two very different lifestyles have enriched my life twice as much. I had canned vegetables or made jelly, but never had any real part in growing the vegetables or fruits. My mother-in-law really knew no other way. While growing a garden and canning are not things a still do in today’s busy lifestyle, it is nevertheless something I could do if I needed to. And while my mom didn’t grow vegetables, she had and still has some of the most beautiful flower gardens around.

Living in the country made participation in sports more difficult, due mainly to the distances that must be traveled, when a bus could have brought the kids home without the extra Mom Schulenberggas needed for the trip. Living in town made it easy to participate in sports. It isn’t that sports is always important, but there are other activities that I would have missed and I know my kids would have missed.

My life is probably very little like the lives of either my mom or my mother-in-law, mostly because of the changing times we live in, but I think that the influences of these two wonderful women have made my life twice as nice, and with the passing last Sunday of my father-in-law, and my dad going on 6 years ago now, they are more precious to me than ever. Happy Mothers Day to my two moms. I hope your day is as beautiful as you are.

Dad SchulenbergYesterday, my dear father-in-law passed away. It was a hard day for all of us. I have been thinking back over the years that I have been a part of this family. There were so many good memories. I will never forget the first time I met my future in-laws. There is no easy way to meet your boyfriend’s parents. You are simply a nervous wreck. We were going out to their house for dinner, and once I arrived, my father-in-law, broke the ice with his teasing ways. As so many girls who have known him can tell you, his first words were about what a “pretty girl” I was. When I blushed, he knew that I would be a good one to tease. My mother-in-law chewed him out for picking on me, but to that, my father-in-law simply grinned, and I knew I had made a new friend. By the end of the evening, I felt totally at home with my future in-laws.

This hard working man began working when he was just 13 years old. He worked at a ranch, milking cows before and after school. So began his working life, and he would be a hard working man for many years to come. While he was tough in many ways, when it came to his kids, he was a big teddy bear. His family was his life, and he had a soft heart when it came to them. All of his kids knew that they could call him whenever they needed wisdom concerning any situation. He always seemed to have an answer or at least an idea as to how to solve the problem. He had so much experience in so many areas, that often there was no need to call someone else to help. Even when they did need to call someone else, he probably knew someone who could do the job well and for less.

As for me…well, Dad always made me feel special. From that first meeting, until our last visit on Saturday night, his love for me was such a blessing. I felt so honored on the day he said, “You are no longer my daughter-in-law, you are my daughter.” I had the great privilege of taking care of this wonderful man since 2007. During that time I watched his brave struggle against the disease that would eventually take his life. He was not a man to complain, and he always hated to be a bother. Since we spent much time together these last few years, we became very close. His smile will always be in my memory. He was a man who returned the love he was given…in triplicate.

He had a team of caregivers, including his sons, Bob and Ron; his daughters Brenda, Jennifer, and Debbie, when she was in town; daughters-in-law, Rachel and me; his grandchildren, Corrie, Amy, and Barry, and Machelle, when she was in town; and great grandchildren, Chris, Shai, Caalab, and his special caregiver, Josh, who took extra special care of his great grandpa; his sister-in-law, Margee, and her granddaughter, Stasi, who did whatever we asked of them; and of course, his Joann and Waltwife, Joann, who watched over him carefully, even though she had Alzheimer’s Disease, and was unable to fully understand what was wrong. There were so many others who showed him kindness and love in these last days, and their love and kindness was not lost to him…the doctors, nurses, and aides at Wyoming Medical Center; Dr Schoeber, Dr Novick, Dr Dowell, Dr Hussieno, Dr Wilkinson, and their kind staff members; the staff at Sharon’s Home Health Care, especially Deb and Sherry; Angie, his respite caregiver; and the nurses and aides and Shepherd of the Valley nursing home, which he loving called the Sheep Herders Place…he had some good times there. I want to thank each and every one of you. Your kindness to him will never be forgotten. We love you Dad, and we’ll always miss you. 

Dad 1978So often, we don’t realize what our parents did for us until they are gone. It isn’t the big, notable things that hit us that way, but rather the subtle things they did. And when you think about it, you realize that it was the subtle things that mattered the most. My dad was the kind of person who held himself to a standard all his life. It was a standard that he imposed on himself. It involved things like kindness, decency, morality, and honesty. Dad was a gentleman, and you always knew he would be. You could count on it, even when you felt that it wasn’t warranted or deserved by the receiver. That’s just how Dad was. He chose to be kind and understanding even when the receiver should have been chewed out without mercy. I know this is all true, because I have been on the receiving end of his acts of kindness, and I have been told that I needed to act that way toward others…which wasn’t something that usually excited me much. It rubbed me the wrong way to give mercy for injustice, but through the years Dad’s lessons soaked in a little, and I think I do find it easier now to be forgiving, whether people deserve it or not. I can tell you, however, the journey to that place has not always been without a few rocky places in the road. Nevertheless, my dad mellowed my temper with his ways, and while I’m not as successful at the mercy for injustice thing, I try to follow his example to this day.

One thing about my dad that has always stayed in my head, and I’m quite certain that is because he had to pound it in there, is forgiveness. Dad was one to say that you should “never let the sun go down on your wrath” and he took that very literally. We were allowed to argue with each other pretty much to our hearts content, provided it didn’t get to the point of driving our parents insane. We were even allowed to argue, or as I called it, debate with our parents to a degree…one which my sisters will tell you, I took much further than they ever dared. No matter how the fight ended, you always knew that at some point Dad was going to come to you and say that you had to make up with your sister or mom. You didn’t have to say the other was right…just that you loved them too much to let those differences of opinion come between you and carry into the next day. And, Dad held himself to that same standard. It never failed. After he finally got done with my…debating…and finally told me that was enough…and I knew it was, too, he would still come to me after he had cooled down, and told me that he loved me and didn’t want us to “let the sun go down on our wrath” so we needed to make up. It was very comforting to know that no matter what you did, or how mad it made him, before the day was over, things would be ok again, and always before bedtime. That is something that has stayed with me all my life, although I can’t say that I have been as perfect at it as my dad was. It is a process, and you just have to work at it. No one is perfect at policing themselves all the time.

The lessons my dad taught to his girls, are what have formed us into the people we are today. And yes, my mom taught us many lessons over the years too that have stayed with us throughout our lives, but that is a story for another day. When I think of my dad, I see a soft spoken man, who never promoted himself, but rather lifted up those around him. He was a man who assured you that everything was going to be ok. You knew that no matter what the problem was, Dad would always love you. You couldn’t do anything bad enough to change that. To him, that was just being a dad. And that knowledge has made all the difference. If Dad were still with us, he would be 89 years old today. Happy birthday in Heaven Dad. While we miss you terribly, we are so thankful that we know where you are, and that you are having the time of your life. We will see you again someday. We love you more than words can ever express.

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