Loss

CCI06282012_00015a_editedGrandma Byer at the GulfWhen a couple has been married for many years, as my mom and dad were, before his passing, the years beyond their earthly time together reminds me of the recent version of the Titanic, where Rose had to go on after Jack’s death, to live the life he had encouraged her to live. The loss of a spouse can be such a devastating event, that sometimes people just close themselves off from life, and waste away. Of course, not every spouse who is left behind is physically able to go out and have the many adventures that Rose had, but many of those have children who step in and take them to places they could not go on their own.

Rose could have gone back to the man she was engaged to, who was abusive, and mean in every way, but she chose to take the opportunity that had presented itself, and make a new life for herself…a very brave thing to a single woman to do in that era, considering she also had to escape her mother’s selfish ways, by also not telling her that she had survived.

My mom’s mother, and my mom both lost their spouses after more than 50 years of marriage, and while neither of them would travel alone after that, both have taken many trips over the years since becoming widows. Before my grandmother passed away, 8 years after my grandfather, she took several trips, including one to Ireland with her sisters and brother, and one to Louisiana to visit her son. Looking at the pictures from those places reminded me of the adventures Rose had after Jack passed away. And I’m quite certain that my grandfather would have been most pleased with her travels, and excited that she got to make the journeys.

My mom has also had the opportunity to do some traveling since my dad’s passing. They always loved the Black Hills, and my sister, Cheryl takes her every year over the 4th of July week, when Bob and I, and several other family members go, and she gets to continue to enjoy the magesty of the Black Hills. This past week, Cheryl, Mom and I traveled through Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Washington to attend my uncle’s funeral, and Mom got to go from the lakes to the mountain tops. She didn’t hike, of course, and at times it was hard work to get her where we all wanted to go, but we persevered and it went very well.

It is so important that the surviving spouse takes that journey beyond loss, IMG_3366_editedDad and Mombecause their spouse would want them not only to survive, but flourish. They would want them to remember the past, but live in the here and now. In many ways, they are taking their spouse along with them…especially if the trip is to a place they both had wanted to go, but didn’t get to. Things change in this life, but life is for the living, and time marches on, so we must keep the love for those lost, in our hearts, and live the rest of our lives in the ways that bring us joy.

IMG_3370As we have been visiting with my cousin, Shirley in Washington, the conversation has turned to her parents, and the many adventures and funny situations that they had in their lives. While it was hard in some ways, it was also a way to keep their memory alive in us.  Since Aunt Ruth has been gone since 1992, and Uncle Jim’s funeral was yesterday, it seemed like a fitting time to reminisce about all they meant to all of us.

About 30 or 35 years ago, Shirley’s parents, my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim, moved to the mountains of eastern Washington. For a time they had no electricity or water. It was rough living. They built cabins for them and their children’s families. Now, with the passing of my Uncle, there is only one of their families still living on the mountain. They still do not have electricity, but they have a generator, propane, Hughes Net, and telephone, which brings me to how the mountain got it’s name. When they were getting the telephone lines in, the homes had to have addresses. The mountain was named Wolfe Mountain, after my aunt and uncle, and the road was named Wolfe Mountain Road. Thus their addresses were established and they could have their phones. I thought to myself, what a nice tribute to my aunt and uncle. Not many people can say they have a mountain named after them. It is a lasting mark that IMG_3344remembers their lives.

My Uncle Jim’s funeral was the final chapter of our stay in Newport, Washington, and after spending time with all of our cousins who live there, and driving the area taking lots of pictures, we said goodbye to our Washington branch of the family. It was a bittersweet reunion. We were there for something very sad, and yet the trip was filled with renewed relationships, new stories and new pictures, as well as scans of some old ones. I felt a renewed excitement about the future stories I will be writing, because I have so much new material to write about. It is a great idea to re-connect with family once in a while. It puts new life into the relationships, and a renewed sense of our past, and who we really are.

Happy TimesI wasn’t there when my future Uncle Jim met my Aunt Ruth, of course, because I wasn’t even born yet, but I can imagine how he must have felt, because he had found his one and only. All it took was one look at the two of them together, and you could see just how deep their love was. There would never be anyone else for either one of them. They were married on September 15, 1946, and began a life full of love, laughter, and later, a desire to see new places and find their special paradise.

After living several places, they found that special place in the mountains near Newport, Washington. There, with their family around them, they settled down in their last home. Grief had crossed their paths while living in California, when their middle child, and oldest son, Larry was killed in an accident. Washington would become a retreat…a way to get beyond their grief and feel alive again, in the beauty of nature. They had always loved the great outdoors, and now it would become a healing balm for their hearts too.
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When my Aunt Ruth passed away, on May 11, 1992, Uncle Jim’s heart was broken, and maybe his spirit a little bit too. The love of his life was gone from him for now. She existed only in his future now…in Heaven, waiting for him to join her again. For many years now, Uncle Jim has been living in the past…the one thing that the Alzheimer’s Disease couldn’t rob him of. He could see his lovely bride…his one and only…beautiful as ever, always beside him, reminding him of the wonderful life they had shared and the wonderful future they would share soon.

Uncle Jim passed away yesterday at the good old age of 91. He lived a happy life but his body was tired and it was time for him to leave this life and start the next one. He was surrounded by his loving family, and the wonderful nurses and CNAs who had cared for him for the past 7 years, and who will miss him terribly. His joyful voice, singing as he wandered through the halls of the nursing home, is silenced now, no more to delight those who loved to hear it. His smiling face no more to brighten the day of all who saw it. And there will be more than one nurse who will Uncle Jim Wolfemiss being chased around the home by this little old man saying he loved them.

His antics done here on Earth, Uncle Jim has gone home, to begin his future in Heaven. He was met by his one and only, Aunt Ruth, his son Larry, and all the family who had gone before him. He is free again, with his body and mind intact. The disease that had kept him bound all these years, no longer has its hold on him. He is free, healthy, happy, and surrounded by the loved ones who were awaiting his arrival. We love you Uncle Jim, and while we will miss you very much, we are thankful that you are safe in God’s loving arms. We will see you again very soon.

When you are a young person, you can look ahead to the future, and in your minds eye, you see how things will happen just the way you plan or expect them to be. You have no doubt in your mind that you will become what you plan, do the things you plan to do, go the places you plan to go. It is all up to you. It is your life to plan and live as you choose. Then comes the inevitable curve ball. The moment when everything changes. Your world turns upside down, and the things that seemed important before, aren’t anymore. It can be almost anything, from the loss or serious illness of a parent, as it was in my case, to a car accident, to a unplanned baby, to…well, you get the idea. And in reality, most of us have several of these moments that come to pass in our lives, that are life altering, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and sometimes…just different than you had expected.

I have had several life altering moments in my life, as have most people, such as falling in love with my husband, and choosing to have children and marriage instead of finishing my college education, which changed my future from a teaching career to the one I now have, which is as an insurance agent. For those who know me, you know that my new career choice and the current boss that I have at that job have made all the difference as other life altering changes have occurred.

For me the biggest and most traumatic curve ball, came when my dad became ill with Pancreatitis on October 1, 2005, in Canada. My sisters and I drove straight through to Canada, and spent the next 2 weeks at his bedside in Canada until he could be transferred by Life Flight to Wyoming Medical Center. After 4 months and 4 surgeries, Dad was finally able to come home. It would be a long recovery. It was during that time that I found out what my second calling was. I was able to understand the medical jargon and so, became one of his main caregivers. My mother would get sick during that same time with a Brain Tumor, that is gone now. Later my in-laws would be added to my caregiving tasks. My father-in-law has Emphysema and my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease.

After 7 years of caregiving, I am quite sure I could have been a nurse, except that being a caregiver for elderly people is very hard on your emotions. You know you are fighting a losing battle, and your efforts are only holding off the inevitable. I am not sorry to have taken the journey that my curve ball has taken me on, and it is very rewarding when you win a health battle, even if it is only a temporary win. Looking back, later on, I will always know that I did the best I could do, I gave the very best that I could give, and hopefully,  4 lives were made  better through my efforts, and those of the team of people who help me every day.

We just got back from taking our grandsons Chris, Caalab, and Josh for ice cream. Our granddaughter, Shai couldn’t come because she had to work unfortunately. That seems like such a little thing, but when I see the faces of the Connecticut school shooting, I realize just how thankful I am that my grandchildren are here with me. So many people are hurting right now. Whether they knew anyone involved or not. Not knowing anyone involved, does nothing to stop the pain a nation feels on this day. You can’t think about it without feeling pain…pain for the parents who lost children…pain for the children and spouses who lost their mom, dad, husband, or wife…pain for friends who have lost friends…pain for a town who has lost so many of its members…pain for a nation who must watch in stunned disbelief as we go through this…again!!

We each have a tendency at a time like this to want to hold our loved ones just a little closer…to try to ease the pain that each of us feels inside. No one is immune. Everyone knows that this has happened, and no one can understand why. Why did this man decide that his life was over, and why did he feel the need to take so many with him? Questions that will never really be answered, and even if they are, the answers won’t make sense…because this act was senseless.

As I sat at Dairy Queen, enjoying the time I feel so very blessed to have, my mind drifted back to the poor families of Newtown, Connecticut, and their empty homes and arms tonight… to their broken hearts, and the nightmare they can’t wake up from, because it is real. A renewed sadness filled my heart, as well as a sense that things are very wrong in our world these days. All we can do now is pray over those with broken hearts and lives, and those who would destroy the lives of others.

Many people have been looking forward to this day all year, because they believe it will be the luckiest day of the year, or just a cool day to get married or have a baby on, or whatever special thing they have going on in their lives. This day does not feel like a cool day to me, but it is a day that I will mark for a very different reason. Today, 12-12-12 at 12:00pm, marks the 5 year anniversary of my dad’s graduation to Heaven. I know that was a wonderful day for him, but for me, it is a lonely day, because I miss him so much. It never occurred to me when I was growing up, that I would ever live a day without my parents on this earth. A crazy thought…probably, but it was the thought of a daughter who loves her parents very much…a daughter who could not imagine a world without her dear parents in it…then. I can imagine it now, and I do not like it at all.

Looking back on all the wonderful days of my first 50 years, I know without question that I have lead a very blessed life, as have my mom, my sisters, and all of my dad’s grandchildren and those great grandchildren who had the opportunity to know him. Dad was fun loving, and made things fun for all of us. He was a great kidder, and passed that love of teasing on to his girls. There was always some kind of joking going on, and it taught us to take a joke and to laugh about things. There was always a lot of laughter at our house.

My dad always seemed so young. He never seemed to age. I think it was that he was so young in spirit. He was a kid at heart, and it carried into his life. Dad was a very positive, loving person. He always had a way of looking for the best in people and the best in every situation. What a great way to be!! I think that is one of the things that made my dad great. My dad is the kind of person I want to be, but I could never be as amazing as he was. All I can do is try my best to follow in his footsteps…to live the way he taught us. He made being a loving person seem so easy, no matter what was going on…he just walked in love. Forgiving people for their faults and looking for something good in them. It didn’t matter what mistakes we made as kids, Dad always said something like, “Well, just try to do better next time.” Whenever I’m having a rough day, I think back on Dad’s forgiving ways, and I try to live in a way that would make him proud of me.

Five long years have come and gone since my dad went to Heaven. It is our great loss, and Heaven’s gain. I know that my dad is ok, and living happily with his parents, sisters, his 2 granddaughters and other family members who have gone before, and that this is their time with him. I know they are busily catching up and rejoicing in the presence of our Lord. I know I will see him and the rest of the family again. And mostly, I know that the Comforter is with me and my family today, because God knows we have need of comfort. I love you Daddy, and I’ll see you again very soon. You are in my future for now.

As the holidays arrive, my thoughts turn to my dad. It is so hard to celebrate the holidays without him, because he enjoyed them so much. Having all, or at least most, of his family together was one of the highlights of his life. Dad was all about family. If we didn’t come over for a week or so, and we were in town, he would tell us that we needed to come for lunch. He didn’t want to let time go by without sharing those moments, lunches, talks…time with his kids. The years go by so fast, and Dad understood that. He knew that the older we got, the busier we would be, and the harder it would be to get together. Whenever I think that I am too tired or busy to go and spend time with my mom and my sister, or my in-laws, I remind myself that time flies and regret lasts for the rest of your life.

Sometimes, we fool ourselves into thinking that there is plenty of time to go see those important people in our lives, and then before we know it, they are gone and we wish we had gone to see them more. I am so thankful that I spent so much of my dad’s last 2 years taking care of him, because, while nothing makes his home going easy, it did make it less filled with regret. For any of you who have lost loved ones, especially during the holidays, such as my niece and nephew, Jenny and Steve whose daughter Laila passed away 2 years ago tomorrow, you know that you always wish something could have been done differently to change the outcome, but what is done is done, and it cannot be undone. And for those like my niece Chantel and her family, and my sister-in-law, Debbie and my brother-in-law, Lynn and their family, whose loss was not near the holidays, but devastating nevertheless, you know that, though the years have passed, the sadness still returns from time to time. You cannot dwell too long on the past, because now it is your difficult task to go on…because you must, for the rest of your family.

Today I am sad because of the losses we have endured, and tomorrow we will be thankful that we had those loved ones in our lives…even if it was for too short a time. We will be thankful for who they were, and what their life meant to us, and for the joy they brought into our lives. And we will be thankful that we will see them again soon…and for all eternity.

There is an old saying by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Into each life a little rain must fall” and when you read those words, you can almost feel the weight of that statement. Thoughts of lost loved ones, ended friendships, or loneliness come into view and almost make you want to look away. But, to look away from those sad moments could be something you do too soon. I don’t mean to make light of the sadness that comes into this life, but after the rain, comes the rainbow, and that is what we can miss out on. Losing a loved one is a sadness that will never go away. Most other sadness is temporary, but life is what we make of it. We have to choose how we are going to handle things.

Sometimes, it seems like we are victims of circumstance, but that is just not the case. Circumstances present themselves in this life, but we do not have to be victims. A victim ultimately is the person who lets the circumstance beat them. I’m not talking about murder victim here, but people who just feel like they can’t catch a break. Sometimes, the sweetest victory comes after the most awful defeat.

When I think of my two nieces and their husband’s who each lost a daughter, and my sister-in-law and her husband, who also lost a daughter. Each couple could have chosen not to try again, but if they had, they each would have missed out on the precious daughter who followed her big sister. It takes great courage to take that next step sometimes, but if you will be brave, and have faith, you will find that there can be a rainbow after the rain.

Sometimes, the circumstance can be the illness of a loved one. Long term caregiving can take a toll of the person or persons who most need to be healthy and strong. Sometimes, it can seem like this will go on forever, and it very well might go on for a long time, but if we don’t lose hope…if we can look beyond the exhaustion, worry, and sadness, we can find that the extra time spent with your cherished loved one, is one of the greatest blessings there is. Don’t give up, because if you continue to strive to do your best, you might find that blessing. If you quit, or never take on the task in the first place, you could miss out on all you could be, and all you could have, because into each life come the rainbows too.

Today, our Princess Laila Elizabeth Spethman would have been 2 years old. She was born on this day in 2010 in Denver, Colorado at Presbyterian St Luke’s Hospital to my niece and nephew, Jenny and Steve Spethman. Her big brothers Xander, Zack, and Isaac waited to welcome their little sister home. But that was not to be.

Laila went home to be with the Lord on November 22, 2010, where she rests in the arms of her Savior, Jesus. In addition to her parents and her brothers, she is survived by grandparents, Cheryl Masterson, Rob Masterson, Marie Spethman, and Steve and Lily Spethman. She is also survived by several great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who love and miss her very much.

We know we will see you again Princess Laila, when we all join you in Heaven. We know that you are getting to know all those who also wait in Heaven for our coming to join you. We look forward to that wonderful day when we will all be together again for all of eternity. And you can meet your little sister, Aleesia then too. Until then, sweet baby, we wish you Happy Birthday in Heaven!! We all love you Princess Laila Elizabeth Spethman!!

Being widowed is quite likely the most devastating thing that can happen in a married person’s life. The immediate feeling is “how can I go on” or “I don’t want to go on” or something similar, and yet, life does go on, whether we like it or not. The spouse who has gone home wouldn’t want the surviving spouse to quit. They want them to continue to live a full life. They must go one living until their own time comes, but how full that life is…well, that is up to the surviving spouse. I have looked through pictures of my grandmother on trips taken after Grandpa passed away, and while I know that she missed Grandpa terribly, Grandma knew that he would want her to go on living life to the fullest.

In many ways, it reminds me of the latest version of “The Titanic” in which Rose, after losing Jack, went on to do all the things he had inspired her to go out and do. Looking at my grandmother walking along the Gulf of Mexico, or exploring the castles of Ireland, tells a tale of survival. She went on to do some of the things that Grandpa would have been so thrilled to see her do. I have to wonder what was on her mind as she took some of these trips. I suspect that it was somewhat bittersweet, because while it was exciting to see these places, it would have been sad to think that her beloved husband didn’t get to experience it with her. I’m sure she also felt like he was with her in spirit, but that really is not the same.

While the years following being widowed can seem long and lonely, they often aren’t many, and they fly by. My grandmother followed my grandfather to Heaven in 1988, just 8 years after Grandpa went home. I’m sure they are happily discussing her adventures during the time they were apart, and knowing my grandpa, I’m also sure his eyes sparkle when she tells him of that time, although, nothing could possibly compare to what they are experiencing now. In fact, come to think of it, they probably haven’t even given Grandma’s adventures a single thought since she arrived.

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