Loss

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.

Delores Fern Byer JohnsonI didn’t know my Aunt Deloris as a child, which is to be expected, but one thing I have noticed is that she was always smiling. I only wish some of the pictures I have were a better quality. The things Aunt Dee, as we all called her, saw around her seemed exciting to her. And yet, she seemed to have a shy side to her. The Aunt Dee I knew in my childhood would bear that out too. She had a shy smile that always warmed my heart. I loved to have her come over. And it was always so much fun to hear the stories about the past that she and my mom talked about.

Aunt Dee was always coming up with some new invention or idea. She wanted to find a way to feel like flying, and not alone. So she came up with the idea of using her dad’s trench coat and she and my mom got in it and off they went. She loved doing things for her family, like catching fish at the river, and putting them in a wading pool for the other kids in the family to enjoy. She bought a piano for the family for $35.00, and it was in her mom’s house until her passing. She taught the rest of the family a dance that she learned in 5th grade, and to this day, my mom remembers that dance.

I remember her laugh, that could light up a room. She would come up with some funny thought, and then start laughing. Well, you couldn’t help but laugh right along with her. I have a feeling that her sisters and brothers found a lot of her schemes…or at least the scheme failures, to be pretty funny too. When things worked exactly as planned, it was just pretty cool.

Aunt Dee passed away in 1996 from Brain Cancer. If my she were still alive, she would be turning 81 years old today. I still miss her very much. She had a loving nature that was very endearing. It makes me sad that we were not able to have more time with her. Happy birthday in Heaven, Aunt Dee. We all love you very much.

Gladys Pattan Byer CooperAs a little girl, I remember when Aunt Gladys would come over to the house and show my mom her Avon products. Of course, with 5 girls in the house, Avon products were very important little items…whether we were allowed to wear make-up yet or not, which by the way, we weren’t yet. Nevertheless, Aunt Gladys didn’t seem to care that our curiosity would probably not bring a big purchase. She treated my sisters and me just like we were her biggest clients. Aunt Gladys knew that little girls and make-up simply go together.

Aunt Gladys always looked so pretty, and she always dressed up. When she came over, it was like having a movie star show up at your door. Mom told me that she wore silk stockings, and they were very soft. She never minded when little hands wanted to see just how soft and silky they were. All she ever said, was, “Be careful not to snag them.” So many people would have wanted Mom to send the kids outside, so the adults could talk, but not Aunt Gladys, and I don’t think it was just because she was our great aunt either. I just think she understood how little girls felt about make-up and such…so much so, in fact, that she would always give us United Airlines Flight 232 crashthose little sample tubes of lipstick…every time she came over. I don’t know what they cost her, but we always felt special because we got those.

My Aunt Gladys died in the crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa on July 19, 1989. She comes to my mind often, and sometimes I think I see her here in town. There is a woman here in Casper, who looks a little like my Aunt Gladys, and seeing her keeps Aunt Gladys on my mind periodically. It’s odd how that can happen sometimes…you are going through your day, and suddenly you see someone who takes you decades back in time…and you don’t even know them. They just remind you of someone else.

Aunt RuthI have long admired this scanned picture I have of my Aunt Ruth, but until I went to visit my cousin, I didn’t know the whole story about it or about my aunt and uncle. The original for this picture was taken a long time ago, when my aunt was a young woman of 18 years, and there were no color pictures. That was a fact that hadn’t occurred to me until my cousin, Shirley told me that my Aunt Ruth had painted the color painting from the original black and white photo. I was shocked. It was so good. It really looked just like my aunt. I had no idea that she was so talented. Then to add to my surprise, Shirley told me that this was only one of many paintings my Aunt Ruth, her mother had painted. She told me that she never liked still life, like fruit bowls or vases of flowers, but preferred live subjects like wildlife, scenery, and people. I can see why that was. Still life would have been a horrible waste of a great talent. Shirley tells me that she painted a moose, a bear, an elk, and big horn sheep, as well as a painting of my Uncle Jim, that looked just like him. Unfortunately, in the years following my aunt’s death, their home was burned to the ground, and all the paintings, except this one that Shirley has, were lost. That is such a tragedy, because these paintings simply cried out to be seen.

Aunt Ruth’s talent didn’t stop at art, however. She could pick up any musical instrument and within a couple of minutes, she could play it like a pro. For anyone who couldn’t play an instrument, no matter how hard you tried, the idea of someone picking it up and just knowing how to play is beyond belief. Shirley told me that she almost felt jealous of her mother’s talent sometimes. I know how she feels, since I have the distinct talent of making an instrument sound like a sick duck, and that is about the extent of my musical ability concerning all musical instruments. They are best left to others.

And Aunt Ruth wasn’t the only one with artistic talent. My Uncle Jim used to make cabinets and cupboards that were Happy Timesbeautiful. He could make that wood just sing. He and Aunt Ruth would design them, to give each one its own special beauty. They made a matching set of beds for their boys, Larry and Terry, that were one of a kind. I’m sure that they were beautiful, and I wish I could have seen some of them, but unfortunately, any cabinets my uncle still had, like the paintings of my Aunt Ruth, were lost in the fire that took all of that beautiful artwork. It makes me sad to think that my aunt and uncle are gone from us now, not just because such artistic talent is gone, but because they were so much more than just the talents they possessed. Even if they hadn’t had one bit of artistic talent at all, they would still have been special to me…because I loved them both very much.

Connie RaeToday is my sister-in-law, Rachel’s birthday, and it seemed to me a fitting day to pay tribute to the woman who gave birth to this girl who joined our family 2 years and 9 months ago. Rachel’s mother died when Rachel was a young girl, and yet I believe that the influence of her mother is alive in Rachel today. Rachel showed me this picture of her mother a while back, and told me a few things about her own life, but it wasn’t the things Rachel told me about her life, but rather the way she looked at the picture of her mother that struck me. There was such love in her eyes, mixed with a yearning for just one more moment with her mom. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up without your mom, especially for a girl. Girls just need their mom at several key points in their life, and my heart hurt for this woman, my new sister-in-law, and the child she had been when her mother was taken from her  by illness, as well as the teenager, young woman, and now the adult woman, who still felt the loss very deeply.
Rachel
While I know that Rachel’s mother was not in her life during the toughest years of her life, I believe that deep down inside of Rachel, her mother’s influence lived on. As Rachel worked her way through the teenaged years, into motherhood, and beyond, the memories of the kind of mother her mother was lived on inside her. A little child remembers the way their mother was…her gentle touch, as she held them close…her perfume, as beautiful as she was…her voice, calling them in for supper…all the little things that made her their mom. I could see in Rachel’s eyes that she carried those memories into her life in the present, and the kind of mother she is to her children.

As Rachel grew, and her life moved forward, through the changes that take place, whether we like them or not, I believe that she chose to be the kind of woman her mother was, and Rachel and Ronthe kind of woman that God would want her to be. And, it is that woman that came into the life of my brother-in-law, Ron 2 years and 9 months ago. With her she brought her daughter, Cassie and son-in-law, Chris; and her two sons, Riley and Tucker. Rachel’s grandson, Lucas would join their family on July 3, 2011. Rachel has made Ron’s life complete. She has brought love and happiness into his life again. Ron’s life following his own divorce was lonely and, to me, it seemed like he wasn’t sure he would ever be happy again…until Rachel came along…bringing with her the best qualities from the memories of her mother. Today is Rachel’s birthday. Happy birthday Rachel!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!

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.
Pho778C
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.

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