Me

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Since I was a caregiver for 13 years before the passing of the last of my parents and in-laws early in January of this year, I can tell you that being a caregiver, or a CNA is a big job that often gets very little recognition. Many people don’t really have any desire to do such a job, but because they remain in caregiving positions, Career Nursing Assistants provide predictability and stability to care, which in turn enhances the feeling of security for our aging, frail, or chronically challenged population. CNAs also bring wisdom, patience, humor, and a general attitude of caring to the daily lives of the residents in their care.

Today is National Career Nursing Assistants Day. It is a day founded by the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants to promote recognition, education, research, advocacy and peer support development for nursing assistants in nursing homes and other long-term care settings. This is especially close to my heart for a number of reasons, such as the care given to my parents and in-law, but most recently because my daughter, Corrie Petersen is now a CNA working toward her degree as a nurse. She currently works at Elkhorn Rehabilitation Hospital in Casper, Wyoming, and we couldn’t be more proud of her. Having been a caregiver, I can tell you that the work that CNAs do is vital to the well-being of their patients, whether in a nursing home facility, a physical therapy facility (which is where my daughter works), at the patient’s home, or in hospice facilities.

According to the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants, “Nursing Assistants are the best thing about ‘caring.'” Nursing Assistants “Brighten Lives” according to Dawn Silva, CNA, New Hampshire, and member “Safe Patient Handling” committee. As more and more people are living longer, caring for the elderly has become more and more vital. With that care comes an increased focus on the people who care for the elderly…largely nurses and CNAs. It’s a noble occupation. While the work is hard, and what some might consider demeaning, the sense of peace it gives the patients makes being a CNA worth it.

Every CNA is a blessing to those they care for and the nursing staff they work with. They support the facility they work in and the patients they care for. They bring a smile to the faces of their patients, and the patients are grateful for the help they receive. I don’t know of a facility out there that could run effectively without its CNAs, and I know how hard it is when a facility is shorthanded on CNAs. It makes everything harder for everyone working there, and especially harder on the patients who depend on them every day. Today is National Career Nursing Assistants Day. I am very proud of my daughter, Corrie Petersen, and of all the other CNAs I know. Thank you all for the work you do. Have a wonderful day, each and every one of you!! Happy National Career Nursing Assistants Day!!

My older sister is without doubt, one of the nicest people I know. She is always careful of peoples feelings, and is generous to a fault. If she can help someone, she will help them. Cheryl is just a very caring person. She gave up much of her time to take care of our parents when they were ill, and often takes her youngest granddaughter, Aleesia for the evening, so that her parents can go to the summertime activities in downtown Casper with their sons. I’m sure that one day Aleesia will choose to go with them, but he loves her grandma very much and loves spending time with her.

Cheryl is a legal secretary for Williams, Porter, Day and Neville legal firm, and works for one of the busiest attorneys there, often working late hours to get everything done that needs to be done that day. She is very good at her job, and the attorney she works for has said that he would be lost without her, and really wishes she could see her way clear to refusing such things as vacation, because it is a real hardship for him when she is gone. Nevertheless, he has to persevere, because everyone needs a vacation.

Cheryl is a big fan of old movies or chic flicks, and so every Thursday night, she and I go to dinner with her daughter, Liz, and then we go back to her house and watch a movie. She and I don’t always agree on what makes a good movie, but usually we do. She has pretty good taste in movies…once you get away from things like “The Sound of Music” anyway. I know she would roll her eyes at me on that one, but there are just some shows that I can’t get into. Nevertheless, she got me going on the “Love Comes Softly” series, and “Sarah, Plain and Tall,” both of which I really enjoy. That sister time is really important to both of us, as we are very close, and we like to keep it that way. We have been good friends (and sisters) all our lives, and we don’t see any reason to change that now. Today is Cheryl’s birthday. Happy birthday Cheryl!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

My dad was the top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17G Fortress Heavy Bomber during World War II. That was something that my family always knew. Dad didn’t talk much about it, but we were always very proud of him. What we didn’t know about all of that was that my dad was on the toughest plane ever built. At the time of his service, this little known fact probably wouldn’t have brought much comfort to his parents or siblings, but now, all these years later, it somehow brings a good measure of comfort to my dad’s daughter…me. My dad made it home from the war, of course. I know that there were times that his plane sustained damage, but it always brought the crew home.

The testing of the B-17 Bomber, as is the case with most planes was rigorous. Is this great trial, the B-17 Flying Fortress put up one of most impressive displays, proving not only an effective carrier of firepower in which the plane delivered over a 3rd of the ordnance dropped by the allies in Europe and much of the ordnance dropped in the Pacific, but an astoundingly tough plane. Pilots and crews soon learned that the B-17s, which flew tens of thousands of missions under heavy anti-aircraft and fighter-plane pressure, could take extraordinary damage and still get home.

During the war years, the B-17s proved time and time again just what a wonderful plane they were. While they may not have brought their entire crew home every time they returned, they came home with part of them even with parts of the nose, propellers, and wings missing…and even with a tail that was hanging on by a thread. Of course, if the wing was torn completely off or the plane took a hit that ripped it in half, it did go down, but that is to be expected, as was the case with B-17G-15-BO “Wee Willie,” 322d BS, 91st BG, after direct flak hit on her 128th mission.

Still, the condition in which some of these planes came home would have shocked the builder altogether, if you ask me. I have looked at the pictures of these damaged planes, and I don’t know how they stayed in flight. The “All American,” with the 97th Bomber Group, made without a doubt, the most astonishing return. The plane had a huge gash in it’s tail section from a collision with an enemy fighter, whose wing sliced almost completely through the fuselage. The tail gunner was trapped at the rear of the plane because the floor connecting his section to the rest of the plane was gone. The plane was piloted by Lieutenant Kendrick Bragg, who flew 90 minutes back to base with the tail barely hanging on. One crew member said that the tail wagged like a dog’s tail. The pilot, proceeded to drop his bombs, and then made a U-turn taking the plane in a wide turn over 70 miles, so as not to stress the tail. When the plane landed and came to a complete stop, the tail finally broke off. Now that is one tough plane!!

Wyoming has just two escalators, and they are both located in Casper. One is at Hilltop National Bank, and the other is at First Interstate Bank, in the historic part of Casper, the downtown district. My connection is to the escalator at First Interstate Bank, which was First National Bank then. The building that the bank occupies is located at 104 South Wolcott Street. Construction began in in 1956, the year I was born. According to a write up on nps.gov, “That building opened in June 1958. A pamphlet published by the First National Bank of Casper around 1959 stated: “The dream of the directors began to take shape in 1953, when Architect Robert Wehrli presented preliminary plans for the bank and tower building that was to rise at First and Wolcott…” At the time of its completion it was the tallest building in the state and featured the state’s first escalator. Drive-through windows and two levels of underground parking were introduced in the early 1960s.”

So, I’m sure you are wondering what that information and that building could possibly have to do with me. Well, with the pamphlet came a public invitation to tour the new bank at their open house. My mother, Collene Spencer decided to go and take her three daughters with her, my older sister, Cheryl, who was 5 then; my younger sister, Caryl, who was a baby; and her 3 year old daughter…me. The open house was very cool, and there were a lot of people there. We toured every floor, and found it all to be interesting and sparkling with newness. Of course, the highlight of the whole bank was the escalator. It was the first one in the state and everyone wanted to see it, and have a ride…and we were no different.

As we prepared to leave, my mom assisted me into the escalator, and then turned for my sister, Cheryl, who had stepped aside to look at something. By the time Mom got Cheryl on the escalator, I was a couple of people ahead of them. It had only taken a couple of seconds really. Nevertheless, my place in historic downtown Casper was sealed. As I approached the bottom, the older woman in front of me wasn’t sure just how to get off. In her momentary panic, she started backstepping. At 3 years of age, I had no idea how to do that, and so when my feet hit hers, it pushed her off of the escalator, and I fell. My screams could be heard all over the bank. My frilly dress became entangled in the sharp teeth of the escalator’s steps as they cut my elbow and chin. With that incident, while few people ever knew about it, and you would not read about it in any historical accounts, I became the first person injured on the first escalator in Wyoming. The bank president came running over, promising to pay for medical bills and a new dress, while begging my mother not to sue the bank. Of course, back then things were different, and a lawsuit was the last thing on my mother’s mind. For me, while I was only 3, the picture of that woman backstepping on the escalator steps has always remained clear and vivid in my memory files, and the scars on chin and elbow remain too. While I can use escalators, I still get a pain in the pit of my stomach every time I get on or off.

This is a guest blog, written by my daughter, Amy Royce, for my birthday. Thank you Amy. I love you.

If I had to describe my mom in one word, it would be “selfless.” – Concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with ones own. That is the definition of my mom.

She has shown that in so many ways throughout my life and the lives of those around her. She was at every single game, play, concert or awards assembly when my sister and I were growing up. This continued on when my kids and nephews were in school and I have no doubt that she will also be in attendance for all of those things for her great grandchildren as well. She is very excited about the arrival of her first great granddaughter in June. More recently, she had taken on the task of caregiver for family several members. She was always willing to put her needs aside to help them. I know that if someone asks, she will do it again and again.

My nephews, Chris and Josh, remember when she would take them to school everyday. She always made sure that they were on time….even if she was having a bad day because she broke her heel or because of a train going back and forth and she was running late for work. (They love bringing this up every now and then! Haha) Not only that, she would pick them up from school and take them to the Boys and Girls Club after school. I remember multiple times when she would take my kids or nephews to work with her when they were sick, just so that my sister and I didn’t have to take time off of our jobs.

Chris also told me that now that they are older, if they ever need someone to talk to or guidance through life, she’s always there. This statement is so true! She has been there with words of encouragement for my sister as she is going through nursing school. She is always there, with a willing ear, for me when I have problems in my job.

Jenny, my mom’s niece, told me that my mom bought her wedding dress for her. She came to the hospital to see all of her kids when they were born. She even let her move into their house for a couple months when she was a teenager. She loves it that my mom goes over and spends one night a week with her mom, Cheryl.

Carrie, our friend and her co-worker, says that my mom always has Godly advice and takes the time to listen. She is always ready to help explain things at work and she takes the time to explain them until Carrie gets it. She takes care of anything going at work when Carrie is not there. She has ALWAYS been there to help her through struggles; big or small. Carrie loves that she knows the Word and can always let her know “what point of view or perspective will better serve her.”

Quite honestly, I could go on for days about how selfless she is, but in addition to all these wonderful things I have told you about my mom, she has found yet another way to make others feel special! On someone’s birthday, when we normally send a quick Facebook or text message, my mom takes the time to write up a complete story. She doesn’t have to….she wants to. Today is my mom’s birthday and this is my story for her. We love you mom. Thank you for all you do…for all of us. Have a great day!

My husband, Bob Schulenberg and I were married at a young age. I wasn’t even out of high school a year when we got married. Today is our 43rd Wedding Anniversary. I’ve heard all the different marriage experts, with all their varying ideas about what makes a perfect marriage, but when I look back on how our marriage lasted all these years, I can’t say that we did many of the things the experts suggested…mostly because they were far fetched and not really us, but also because we didn’t have time for that nonsense. We were busy writing our own book. No, we weren’t literally writing a marriage book, but we were living our life, and in doing so, we discovered that time flew by, as it does when you are having fun, and before we knew it, we had been married 10, then 20, then 30, then 40 years, and now we have arrived at 43 years, and yet looking back, that seems an impossible number. It doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that long. We are among the rare few who have been married once, and have stayed married for more than 40 years. Of course, some people who didn’t make that mark, lost their spouse to death, which doesn’t count really, because they had stayed married until death. Still, we know that divorce is very common in this country, and that somehow we made it. All we knew, 43 years ago, was that we loved each other.

Bob and I have many things in common. After all our years together that isn’t surprising. We have a love for the outdoors and hiking. In fact, while you will find us walking in the mall in the winter, you should know that we find that tedious and not relaxing, at least not nearly as relaxing as a trail on a summer evening. We like the same television shows, and some of the same music. We think alike too. I think we could probably finish most of each others sentences. Many of our mannerisms are similar to, because we you are around a person a lot their mannerisms rub off on you. After all these years, we are comfortable with each other, and when you get were we are, you will see just how amazing that is. Today is or 43rd wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary Bob!! I love you with all my heart!!

My uncle, Jack McDaniels was such a sweet man. He cared about everyone he knew. He was a friend to all, and all of the kids in the family loved him. He was first and foremost, a family man, and took care of anyone who needed it. For many years, his mother lived just a few steps away in a little trailer house, basically in the front yard of the family home. It kept her close to the family, and he could take care of her.

Like a lot of men, Uncle Jack loved tinkering with cars. In his younger days, he drive a stick car, and once that is in your blood, it follows that car races are something that never really gets out of your system. Uncle Jack was no different. I’m sure there were many days when the television at the family home was locked into one car race or another. I don’t know how my Aunt Bonnie, his wife, felt about car races, but it could have very easily been a matter of like it or go find something else to do. I rather think that she ended up liking it, because they loved spending time together. You rarely saw one without the other, at least on his days off.

Uncle Jack was a walking Casper Historian, which is something I wish I had known years ago. The stories he could gave shared with me would have enriched my blog greatly, I’m sure. He wasn’t a pushy person though, and so unless you asked, he probably didn’t feel like he could intrude. If only I had known to ask.

Along with history and car racing, Uncle Jack loved hunting, fishing, and camping, making him a true Wyoming outdoorsman…not surprising since he was born and raised right here in Casper, Wyoming. He grew up with all the great things there are to do here, and he wanted to show his family all the wonderful things he had been able to do as a kid. He wanted them to have the same kind of amazing life he did. Today would have been Uncle Jack’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Uncle Jack. You were a great man. We love and miss you very much.

This is a day that I have been particularly dreading since my dad, Allen Spencer passed away on December 12, 2007. The ten year anniversary of his graduation to Heaven. For him, of course, it was a day of great celebration, but for my mom, Collene Spencer…now in Heaven herself, my sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and me the day was anything but a celebration. And, their were so many others who felt his passing deeply too…grandchildren, great grandchildren, siblings, siblings-in-law, and friends. It was a day that we somehow thought would never come, and when it did, we were really not at all ready for it, but then are you ever ready for a loved one’s passing? Of course not…we can’t possibly prepare.

With each year thereafter, the sting of his passing remained, although we got used to feeling it, but the ten year mark has been one that seemed so incredibly impossible, that I continued to push it to the back of my mind. It ranked right up there with the thought of living even one day on this earth without my parents. It lived in the realm of the impossible, and now it is simply reality. We go through our days in a state of acceptance, because there is nothing else we can do…we have no other choice.

Our dad was a wonderful, sweet, kind, and loving man, who treated our mom like a queen and his daughters like princesses. We never doubted his love for any of us. We may not have had riches or a castle, but there are better ways to be treated like royalty. We just always knew that we were loved. We didn’t need riches or castles, because we had quality time with our parents. We got to travel the United States, and took trips every summer. We learned to read maps, build campfires, see so many wonderful places, and enjoy each others company. It made us a very close family, and that closeness continues to this day. My family was so blessed to have such a man as our dad, and so when he left us…the void was huge!! And now to think that he has been in Heaven for ten long years…well, it makes me feel very sad and lonely. My only consolation is that I know that now my dad…and my mom too…is in my future, not in my past. For me, it just feels like the future is so very far away. I would love to have a hug from my dad right now, not years down the road, and I would love to hear his voice again, and not only in my memory. I just can’t believe that he could have been gone that long. I love and miss you Dad…so very much.

For most people the holidays are all about tradition. Of course, for all Christians, Christmas is about Jesus, but it’s also about family time, family traditions, parties, and gifts…with the greatest gift being Jesus. But, one tradition concerning those parties, for me and my family anyway, is the traditional Byer Family Christmas party. My mom, Collene Byer Spencer’s parents George and Hattie Byer started the tradition years and years ago, when their house really got too small to handle their large and ever growing family. The party was moved to the Mills Fire Hall, and on the day of the party, we literally filled it up!! Grandma and Grandpa Byer were surrounded by their loving children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren…and they were so happy. With a family as large as ours, well over 300 now, of course, you might not get to talk with each and every one, but you saw them, and they saw you, and it kept the family close. Grandma and Grandpa wanted that tradition to continue, even after their passing, and so they charged their children with the task of keeping the tradition alive, and the family close. And they did a good job of it.

Now, there are several of those kids who have, themselves, gone on to Heaven, and sadly, our numbers are dwindling, because we…the grandchildren have failed to take the reigns, and keep Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s dream alive. It is so easy to look at the aunts and assume that this is their duty, and not ours, but is it…really? Aren’t we, the grandchildren old enough now to also take up the simple task and honor our grandparents, and our aunts and uncles, in such a way. There are, of course, a number of the grandchildren who still come to the party every year, and we find ourselves very blessed by the evening. It is fun, and if we take a few minutes to walk around the room and visit with our aunts, uncles and cousins, we will find that we have a pretty wonderful family, and that the traditional Byer Family Christmas Party is a blessing that continues to grow…needing really just the watering of more loved ones to join in. It saddens me to think that the day might come, when it no longer makes sense to rent the facilities, because so few have shown up in past years, but it could come to that I suppose. We all think there is a lot of time to visit with our aunts, uncles, and cousins, but every time one of them goes to Heaven, we find out that there was so little time, and we wasted it, by thinking that our presence didn’t really matter. They could do without us. And yes, the party did go on, and we all had a great time, but the family members who were not there…who could have been, because they didn’t have to work, or have anyplace else to be, the ones who simply stayed at home…believe me…yes, you were missed, very much.

Grandma Byer was a great cook, and she taught her children well, and they taught their children well, and I can tell you that we are a family of great cooks. The food last night was delicious, everyone enjoyed it very much. The children were able to run and play without being in the way, and their parents could relax, because no one was going to think they should make their children sit still. The party is one where everyone’s feeling are treated with care, and oh my…did the children have a great time. No one got hurt, and they got to get their wiggles out, and probably eat far too many sweets, but hey, what is a party for anyway? I loved seeing all the precious little ones, whose eyes danced with glee as they got to spend time with other children that they hadn’t seen in quite a while, and as you know, kids don’t need an introduction. The see another kid their size, and it’s an instant friendship. Oh, that we adults could make friends so easily. All too soon, the party was over, and for many of us, it will be the last time we will see each other until the summer picnic…the other family tradition. We all lead busy lives, and daily visits are hard, but Grandma and Grandpa Byer wanted us to continue the tradition. So to all of you who came, thank you. It was great to see you and I really enjoyed our time together. And to all who couldn’t be there, know that you were missed. Merry Christmas to all of you.

All of my life, Thanksgiving was a time to spend the day with family, overeat Thanksgiving dinner, and relish the fact that I had the perfect family life. In my young years, everyone in my family was alive and well. The family was growing in one way or another, but until my grandfather, George Byer passed away in 1980, when I was 24 years old, I had never faced death in any way…never lost a loved one. I think it was then that I realized that things were never going to be the same again. Life would go forward, but there was no guarantee that each new year would find us celebrating with the same loved ones every year. Changes are inevitable, and loved ones going to heaven…it’s all a part of what is known as the circle of life. Still, it leaves me feeling more than a little bit lonely as the holidays, and life in general embark upon irreversible changes time after time.

The first years without your parents are always among the hardest. I never considered the possibility that I could one day be an orphan, and yet, I am. An orphan is, after all, someone whose parents have passed away. We usually think of an orphan as a child, but in reality, most people will become orphaned at some point in their lifetime…unless their parents outlive them. Anyway, I found myself an orphan, and the holidays…every day, in fact…have never been the same. The holiday gatherings are much smaller affairs, as my sisters and I have redefined our holidays around our own families, as opposed to a large gathering of six families. While that is ok, and as it should be, there is still a small feeling of loneliness, because we don’t always see each other on the holidays now. Yes, we try to get together at least once before Christmas and a yearly picnic, just like my mom’s family has done, but the other holidays seem to have drifted into the category of small family gatherings, rather that large family gatherings. And, I have learned that in this life, you have no guarantee that your holidays will be the same from year to year, even if there is no loss in the family, because people also move away, and that changes the face of the holidays.

Still, Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on the things we have to be thankful for, and for me there are many. My daughters and their families are happy and well, and like my parents families did in the past, mine is growing, as my grandson, Chris Petersen and his fiancé, Karen Cruickshank are starting their own little family. We have wonderful friends, my daughter Corrie Petersen’s in-laws, Becky and Duane Skelton, who have graciously included Bob and me into their Thanksgiving holiday, and we can go to my daughter, Amy Royce’s house for gatherings too, or they can come here, so the core of my perfect family is still in there, it’s just different now. While the years have changed the face of our family gatherings, I still have a great family life, and while I can’t call it the perfect family life anymore, because my parents are in Heaven, I can still call it a very blessed family life, and for that I am very thankful.

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