Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Casper firefighter, Captain Jeffrey Atkinson. The service was beautiful and filled with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a hero. The ceremony included bag pipes, the Shriner’s Calliope Band, the sounding of the last bell, and the presentation of the helmet, badge, and flag to his widow, Kristen and his sons Eddie and Christopf. There were tributes about his bravery, his humor, and his caring ways. He was a firefighter, but more than that he was a husband, father, son, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, and friend. His family loved him so much, and now cancer had taken him from them. It was a terribly sad time for a lot of people, in the firefighting community and the entire city too.
As I sat there listening to the ceremony, my mind drifted back over the last nine years, and my own encounters with Jeff and the other firefighters. As a caregiver for my parents and my in-laws over the past nine years, there have been more occasions than I care to think about when I would have to call for an ambulance for my loved ones. As most of you know, the fire department is often the first responder on those occasions. Since my husband Bob had been the fire department mechanic for many years, the firefighters knew me, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They weren’t just there because they knew Bob and me, they were there because they care about the people of Casper…or anyone in need.
Jeff and a number of other firefighters came to my rescue on more occasions than I want to think back on. In nine years of caregiving, there have been dozens of times when I had no other choice but to seek help in emergency situations. The firefighters and ambulance personnel were always professional, caring, and gentle with my parents and in-laws, but the firemen always seemed to look beyond just the patient. They saw me…standing there in the middle of it all, trying desperately to stay in control of my emotions long enough to be able to give them the information they needed in order to help their patient…my loved one.
At the time of those calls, I didn’t know if my loved one was going to make it through this. I felt like I was falling into a bottomless pit. Those were the worst moments of my life, and they saw me at my absolute worst. It didn’t matter to them. They saw that I was scared and trying desperately to hold myself together. It was at that point, as the EMTs were taking my loved one out to the ambulance that the firefighters turned their attention to me, asking if I was ok. Of course, that was the breaking point for me, and the tears flowed. Several of the firefighters, including Jeff took it upon themselves to give me the hug I really needed, and the encouragement to go forward and make my way to the hospital to give the information needed to the hospital staff too. I don’t think I could have made it without that hug. A hug might seem like such a small thing, but when your parents are sick and you have to be the one to make all the decisions about their care, it can feel so overwhelming. I felt lost and alone. They showed me that I wasn’t alone after all. With Jeff’s passing, the city of Casper has lost a great firefighter.
As my father-in-law’s life was winding down, we spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t always the perfect moments of his life that we shared, because he was in the hospital off and on during that time. He hated going into the hospital…hated the equipment he had to be hooked up to, food they wanted him to eat, and the constant waiting to get up, because he had to have help, but he liked the nurses and aides, and that made it tolerable, I guess. Nevertheless, he hated to be there, because life just seemed to pass him by when he was in the hospital. Still, since I needed to be there to talk to the doctors, and since I worked nearby, I went up several times a day. I know it meant a lot to him.
When we would first go to the hospital emergency room, my father-in-law would always ask me to take care of his watch and pocket knife. They were so important to him. That almost seems strange, because he normally didn’t have to be anywhere at any certain time, and he very seldom ever used the pocket knife. Nevertheless, they were very important to him, and I was always entrusted with their care, and because it was so important to him, it became important to me. When he passed away, the watch and pocket knife were not claimed by any of his children, so once again, I have been entrusted with their care. They are a treasure to me, and each time I look at them, I can see his sweet face, a little worried about what this hospital visit was going to bring, and yet still so protective of those two prized possessions.
I don’t know if they were given to him, or if they were just something he liked and bought for himself, but in his last days, and probably even longer than that, I know that they meant a lot to him. The knife is an Old Timer Knife. Old Timer Knives were manufactured by the Imperial Schrade Corporation, who closed their doors July 30, 2004, after 100 years of business. They were something he looked on as being of great value. It might have been just a guy thing to have a pocket knife or something, because it does seem that a lot of guys have and keep good track of their pocket knives. I don’t know the story on his watch either, except to say that the only time he was without it was when he was in the hospital, in bed, or the shower. That says that it was something he treasured too. Neither of these were very expensive items. The watch may have come from Walmart, for all I know. It’s monetary value isn’t important to me. It’s real value is in what it meant to my father-in-law. Today would have been my father-in-law’s 85th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. We love and miss you very much.
Not everyone is so blessed, as I am, to be married to the love of their life…and I have been for nearly 40 years now. Bob and I met when I was still in high school, and married in March after I had graduated. He stole my heart the day I met him, and he didn’t even know it for a while. That’s how Bob is though. He really doesn’t know what a great guy he is. There is no conceit in him at all. That’s ok though, I know how great he is, so I’ll take care of that part for both of us. Bob has always been a hard working man, who never was one to act proud or arrogant. I suppose that is a big part of his charm.
As a dad, Bob was so sweet, but he was a little out of his league when it came to discipline with the girls…in reality, it is a well known fact that the girls had him wrapped around their little finger…at least a little bit. No, a lot. A little batting their eyelashes, and a little “I love you Daddy” and he was in a lot of trouble. Thankfully, I was a pretty strict disciplinarian, and I think it might have been easier for me to discipline the girls than for him. Maybe if they had been boys he could have done better. I’m not so sure. He is pretty soft hearted…but really, that is a big part of his charm too. I suppose some people might not think it is charming for him to be a softy, but to me it is.
As our family has grown up and moved into their own homes, Bob and I find ourselves in the couple time of our life again, but that doesn’t mean that we are without responsibilities. We take care of parents, and that is a big job, but it is one I would not want to tackle without the love and support of my man. There are times that I have to go to the hospital in the middle of the evening, and I’m there most of the night. Bob is so understanding about this situation. It frees me up to do the things I need to do to care for our moms.
I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful man than Bob. The last 40 years have been amazing. I look forward to each new day with him, because it just gets better and better. Today is Bob’s 60th birthday. Bob it has been such an amazing life. I am so happy that we have taken this journey together. Happy birthday Sweetie!! I hope yours is a wonderful day!! I love you with all my heart!!
Time flies by so fast sometimes, and suddenly we find ourselves a year out from an event that shook our world…the death of a loved one. It was one year ago today that my father-in-law, Walter Schulenberg passed away. He was a quiet, gentle man who loved his family more than anything else in the world. He hated the years when his job took him away from the family, because watching his children grow up was so important to him. From the time they were dating, he talked about when they would start having children. He knew that he wanted a little girl, just like his soon to be sister-in-law, Margee, who was just six months old when they got married. Of course, he wanted sons too, but he was smitten with those girls, and while his boys were his helpers, and he was very proud of both of them; his little girls were always his little princesses. That seems to be the way life is for daddies of daughters, and he was no exception to that rule.
I never met someone who was more excited to be a grandfather. When I was pregnant with Corrie, his first grandchild, he seemed to have been transferred back all those years to when his children were little. He often asked me how I was doing. He wanted to be sure I was comfortable…because I was carrying his first little grandbaby. He made it such an honor, both times I was pregnant. His children and grandchildren were so important in his life. In fact they were the most important things in his life…with one exception…the love of his life, my mother-in-law, Joann Knox Schulenberg.
From the time they started dating, he knew that there was no other girl for him. I have had the opportunity to read some of the letters they wrote back and forth while they were dating, and he was working in another town. He wanted nothing more than to marry her and take care of her for the rest of his life…and that was exactly what he did. All those years that they were together, he made sure she had what she needed. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, he gave up much of what he would like to have done, so he could take care of her. She was his world, and to him, giving up a few little things to make sure she was going to be alright, was only natural. As the years flew by, he devoted more and more time to taking care of her, and did more than he should have in those later years…I couldn’t get him to stop overdoing it. To him, it was so important that she was always going to be ok.
The hardest thing I think he ever had to do was when we had to put her in the nursing home. It had become obvious that we couldn’t keep her safe at home, and there was no other option. He really took that hard. He was so lonely. We did our best to take him to see her, but that was hard on him too. Then he went through a series of hospital stays in a short period of time, and they left him very weak. The hospital suggested that he go into a nursing home, and he was very much against it…at first. Then I talked to the nursing home my mother-in-law was in, and they said they could take him too and they could share a room. It was a perfect plan. He could see her, stay with her, and make sure she was alright, all while he was taken care of too. It seemed the perfect plan, and in a way, I guess it was…except for the fact that he just couldn’t bounce back from those bouts in the hospital, and would return 3 more times before it was over. The thing that was good for him was the fact that, not only could he be near the love of his life, but before he left us, he was able to see that she would be alright. He could see that the staff took good care of her. That last year was a really hard one for my father-in-law. He was getting tired of fighting COPD. It was a fight for every breath, and he knew he was losing that fight. Still, he could not go, without knowing that those he loved…especially the love of his life, were going to be ok. Dad left us a year ago today, and while we know that he isn’t suffering anymore, we still miss him very much. We love you Dad.
Few things can bring a parent to their knees in prayer faster than a sick child…especially when the situation is very serious. This was the position my niece, Susan Griffith and her husband, Josh found themselves in when their younger daughter, Kaytlyn became ill when she was just 18 months old. Kaytlyn was running a fever of 104.5° for most of the morning, nothing Susan did seemed to have much effect on the fever. Susan knew she had to get more help, so she took her to Urgent Care. The physician at Urgent Care, sent them to the Emergency Room at the hospital immediately. The doctors took blood, ran tests, gave her something to bring down the fever, and told Susan to keep a close eye on Kaytlyn, and bring her back if anything got worse. When they left the hospital, Kaytlyn’s fever was at 103°.
Taking Kaytlyn home proved to be a very bad idea. By the time they got home, Kaytlyn’s tongue was swelling, making it difficult to breathe. Susan immediately took her back to the Emergency Room. The doctors gave her an anti-swelling medication and said more tests were needed to determine the problem. They did a spinal tap, which is among one of the scariest test imaginable for a worried mom. Then they took X-rays and more blood. Still they had no answers. Kaytlyn’s fever was still fluctuating between 103° and 104°. They decided to keep her overnight, and it was going to be a long night for Susan…especially since Josh was working in North Dakota.
Because the hospital in Powell is small, Susan and Josh decided that they wanted to take Kaytlyn to Billings, Montana. The doctors were very much against the idea, but after a while, they consented, provided they went by ambulance. Susan rode with Kaytlyn in the ambulance, and Josh left North Dakota, headed for Billings. Josh’s mother went to their house to get some clothes for Susan and Kaytlyn. Susan’s sister, my niece, Machelle Moore, picked Susan’s other daughter, Jala up from school, and kept her overnight…unheard of for Jala on a school night, probably causing her to worry too.
The ride to Billings seemed to take hours, but finally, Kaytlyn was admitted to the Pediatric Unit at Saint Vincent’s Health Care…it was 11pm…a horribly long day. Josh’s mother made sure Susan and Kaytlyn got to the room, and then had to head back to Powell. Josh was still en route to Billings from North Dakota, but Kaytlyn seemed to be doing better now, and her fever had dropped to 102°. She was finally able to sleep, but for Susan, there was nothing to do but sit and think. It occurred to her how blessed they had been, that they had never had to bring their children to a hospital before. Still, they were there now, and she didn’t know what was wrong yet.
Nothing is worse for a parent than sitting in a hospital, wondering if they are going to lose their child. Susan finally dozed off at some point before Josh arrived…from pure exhaustion. She awoke to the phone ringing. It was Josh. He had made it to Billings, but his truck broke down on the interstate. Someone helped him get it off the road, and a highway patrolman gave him a ride to the hospital. I can imagine how Susan felt when Josh arrived…like falling to pieces. She needed someone to hold her together, and thankfully, Josh was finally able to be there. Pure relief rained over her. The morning brought more relief, when the doctor said it was Tonsillitis. They recommended that her tonsils be removed in a month or so, and sent them home. They went home with thankful hearts. Their baby girl was still with them, and they knew just how blessed they were. They would never forget their miracle. Today Kaytlyn is 6 years old. Happy birthday Kaytlyn!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!
When my daughters had their first children one day apart, almost 18 years who, I thought that was the coolest thing, and it was, but sometimes, sisters get to have their babies on the same day, and that it very rare indeed. Nevertheless, that is the case for my Aunt Dixie and my Aunt Bonnie. Their sons, James and Michael were born 49 years ago today. As a grandmother, I can imagine how busy things were for my grandma and grandpa. Of course, back then they couldn’t be in the room when the baby was born, nor could the father…which seems very odd to us now, but they were definitely in the waiting room pacing the floor. And the excitement must have been very high. Just think, to get two grandchildren on the same day, and they weren’t twins. That doesn’t happen very often. Now, top that off with both babies being born in the same town, in the same hospital, and you have real excitement.
It must have been interesting to the hospital staff too, because they had sisters in hospital with newborns for several days. Back then, the mom and baby stayed in the hospital for 5 days or so. I’ll bet it was the talk of the nursing staff. And for the sisters, they got to share the experience on a much closer basis than sisters usually do. They didn’t have to wait for visiting hours to see their sister’s baby, and in fact, I believe that only the dad and grandparents were allowed to visit back then, so they would have had to wait until their sister and the baby came home. Nevertheless, for the sisters, like their own son, they could easily go and see their nephew anytime they wanted to because he was probably right next to their own son, unless he was having his dinner, which would mean that their own son was doing the same.
Babies arriving in this world is always such a special day, and when you double that…without having twins, the day becomes even more special for the family. How wonderfully unique to be able to share the birth of your child with your sister. It adds a bond to the sisters and their families that might not have existed otherwise. Today is my cousin, Jim’s birthday and also my cousin, Michael’s birthday. I’m not sure who is the oldest, but I’m sure they will let me know as they read their story. Happy birthday Jim and Michael!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you both!!
Yesterday, we went to a barbecue at my sister, Caryl and her husband, Mike’s place out west of Casper. It is a place they are actually working on, and plan to live on when the retire. For now, they live in Rawlins, where he is a supervisor at the Sinclair Refinery and she is a Respiratory Therapist at the Memorial Hospital of Carbon County. The land they purchased will give them the opportunity to do something Caryl has wanted to do for as long as I can remember…have horses.
When Caryl was younger, she decided that she wanted to learn to ride horses, and she began taking riding lessons…oddly in the same general area of the land she and Mike have now purchased. Caryl loved those riding lessons, and became quite good at riding. Then, as with all of us, life takes us down a different road than the one we expected to take, and the plans we had made in our youth are traded for the plans we will now make as adults. After moving to San Diego, California, and then to Bremmerton, Washington, and finally Twin Falls, Idaho, she found herself back in Casper, and then moving to Rawlins. There weren’t many opportunities to ride horses where she was living.
Now, coming full circle, her life’s journey will once again place her in Casper, and living in a place where she can finally realize a dream that she has had for so many years. It didn’t occur to me that Caryl might actually be a country girl. I had lived in the country for 16 years, before realizing that the country was not where I wanted to be, and Caryl had lived all her life in town, and now plans to be a country girl. It is so strange how life changes sometimes.
I’m so excited for Caryl to be able to realize her dream. She seems so much in her element. It’s funny how I never really saw the cowgirl in her before. It’s just right for her. I’m sure she feels like their retirement can’t come soon enough. Today is Caryl’s birthday, so I guess she is one year closer to that big day. Happy birthday Caryl!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Being the first grandchild in our family, Chantel was a bit of a novelty to us. At the time of her birth, my sister, Cheryl and her then husband, Rob were living at our house, prior to and during his basic training in the Air Force, and prior to their move to Plattsburgh, New York, where they would be stationed. I will never forget the night Chantel arrived. It was, of course the middle of the night, and we were awakened to let us know that my parents, Cheryl, and Rob were heading to the hospital. Of course, back then, you didn’t get to know what the baby was, because that technology was not yet available. That made for much more excitement on our part…and a very long wait…or at least it seemed like it. I can’t say for sure that it was a long labor, and it is likely that it wasn’t, because Cheryl didn’t really have long labors, as I recall.
Before we knew it, our lives would be changed forever, as we went from being little girls to being aunts. It was an exciting time for us. Having a new baby in the house, when there hadn’t been one for 9 years, was such a change. She was so cute and so little, and we were mesmerized. I have always loved babies and every single one is the cutest, the funniest, and the cuddliest, but your first niece or nephew is a special event…especially when you are young and don’t have children of your own. You suddenly feel a part of something that is very cool. Even if they cry and need their diapers changed, it just doesn’t matter, because that is your niece or your nephew.
Through the years, Chantel continued to delight us with her stylish ways. She was always a little diva, and we loved it. The camera was always kind to her, because she seemed to always know just when to strike a pose, and just which pose to strike. Of course, her greatest beauty comes from within her, where a kind and loving heart resides. And when you have a kind and loving heart, that inner beauty can’t help but spill out of you all the time. Today is my first niece, Chantel’s birthday. Chantel, we love you very much. Your special ways are always a delight. Happy birthday!! Have a beautiful day!!
Today is my mother-in-law’s 82nd birthday. If you ask her how old she is, she will likely tell you that she is 65. Alzheimer’s Disease has taken away her memory of the more recent years, but she is still here with us, and that is a blessing. She was recently in the hospital, and the doctors did not expect her to survive that stay. Nevertheless, she fooled them, because they don’t know what a fighter she is. They said that she would not be able to swallow again, and that drinking water would be impossible. Now, she is eating and drinking and getting stronger every day.
When a person gets into their 80’s, you learn to cherish each birthday, holiday, anniversary, and basically every day, because you don’t know how long you will have them with you. And when they are sick, you pray that they will, make it to the next holiday, or until someone in the family can come from another state to see them. Each moment that they are sick finds you praying for just a little more time with them. You begin to understand just how precious life is…how precious each moment is.
This birthday finds us thankful that my mother-in-law will reach another year of age. The age of 82, is one that we would not have expected her to reach, just a few short weeks ago. Now, she will get to celebrate one more birthday with the great grandson, her first great grandchild, Chris, who was born on her birthday…a very special birthday present. She gets to spend one more birthday with my father-in-law, the love of her life, who himself is recuperating from pneumonia. She will get to spend one more birthday with her family, who all love her very much.
At the age of 82, we all know that this could be my mother-in-law’s last birthday. She has lived a good, long life, and she is getting tired. Nevertheless, we will rejoice in the victory that she has achieved. We will celebrate her strength to fight her way back from the brink. We will laugh and sing and smile with her in celebration of one more birthday, and just a little more time. Happy birthday Mom!! We love you!!
Sometimes, in the life of a child, a situation arises that brings out the extraordinary in that child. And even if what the child is doing, isn’t something so unusual, the actions of the child are still extraordinary. I have seen the extraordinary in all 4 of my grandchildren over the past 7 years of caring for 2 sets of their great grandparents, but this current situation is about my grandson, Josh. Josh is my youngest grandson, and he has been the one who has been able to help in the current care of his grandparents, because at 14, he is too young to have a traditional job. Tradition has certainly not played a part in the work that Josh does every week. Most 14 year old kids think only of playing video games or hanging out with their friends, but not Josh. He wants to go to his grandparents’ house every time he gets the chance. And he doesn’t just sit and visit, he wants in on the work…although it isn’t work to him…it is love for his grandparents.
Because, Josh has been more available to help in the care of his grandparents, he has had the chance to bond with them in a way few of the grandchildren have been able to do. His care and concern over their well being is so touching. Recently we had to put my mother-in-law, his great grandma in a nursing home, after she took a bad fall. It was the second of two falls in less than a week. Falls, are probably the worst thing that can happen to the elderly, but we were blessed in that she did not break a single bone. She did, however, tear the skin on her left arm badly. We took her to the hospital by ambulance, and from there she went to the nursing home. Josh wanted to know all about the nursing home. especially where it is. When his mom, my daughter, Corrie told him that it was in Paradise Valley, he said, “No, Mom!! No!! That won’t work!! That is too far from the hospital!! What if she falls?” Of course, once Corrie told him that there were nurses and CNAs on staff at the nursing home, he felt much better. He knew she was safe. He loves her dearly, and Josh has made her safety a top priority for some time now.
Josh comes with us to see his great grandma as much as he is able to, but now he has shifted his caregiving skills to his great grandpa. He is such a loving, caring boy, and his dedication to his great grandparents has endeared him to them all. He helps, my mom, his great grandma at church, to get up and get to her car, and anything else she needs, and he helps with the care of his great grandpa, my father-in-law, every chance he gets to get over there. I am very proud of Josh, and his caregiver’s heart.