It isn’t very often that a person can decide one day to change their entire life…and then stick to it. Even if the change was made to save their life. Humans aren’t usually a strong willed bunch. Nevertheless, when someone makes up their mind that they want to live and that they want to live life to the fullest, it can be done. My sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg is an amazing example of such will power. When she first started this journey, she didn’t think she could do it, but now she won’t quit.
When Brenda was told that she had Cellulitis, Congestive Heart Failure, and Sleep Apnea, she didn’t sit down and cry about it, saying that her life was over, so she might just as well, give up. No, she decided that she was going to take back her life, and move forward. Her journey has been an amazing one, and it was all done is a very short time. From October 18, 2013 when she first went to the hospital to the current time, Brenda has lost over 300 pounds. She is within a pound or two of her goal weight, and then will begin weight maintenance.
Much has changed in Brenda’s life. I don’t think that she ever dreamed that she would spend so much time hiking…or that she would love to go hiking. There are several of us in the family who love to hike, and I have to wonder if Brenda used to think we were all crazy. Well, welcome to the nut house Brenda. Now, I’m sure there are people in your life who think you are just a little bit crazy too. In all reality though, hiking is so fun and relaxing. Once you get started on it, it is really hard to think about not going.
Of course, Brenda still works full time, but her job is a little bit easier to do these days. Trying to work when you spend your entire life exhausted is no fun, but now that Brenda has lots of energy, the only time she is very tired is at bedtime, and that is normal. That in itself is a huge change, since Brenda spent most of her weekends sleeping in an effort to feel rested. It still wasn’t enough sleep. No more!! Now, Brenda is an inspiration to those around her…either that…or they just find her exhausting. It doesn’t matter which it is, because Brenda isn’t going back. She loves her new life, and all the activity in it. She loves hiking, and being outdoors, and will go even in the rain. It’s a “have raincoat, will hike” situation. Today is Brenda’s birthday. Happy birthday Brenda!! Another year better!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
What a Special Person my Sister-in-law Caryn is!
Caryn became part of our family on March 1, 1975…40 years ago this year!!! Little did I know at that time that Caryn would become such an important part of the Schulenberg Family. I don’t really remember too much of my life without Caryn being a part of it. She has been a major part of our family for so many years now…and I would never want to imagine our family with her not a part of it.
In the early years, Caryn spent most of her time raising her two girls, my nieces, Corrie and Amy. Then, before we knew it along came her four grandchildren my great nieces and nephews, Chris, Shai, Caalab and Josh. All of them are true gifts to Caryn. She really enjoys being a Mother and Grandma….and maybe someday soon (I hope not too soon) a Great Grandma! In August, Caryn’s oldest Grandson Chris moved to Sheridan to go to Culinary School and boy that was a tough adjustment for all of his family. Luckily Sheridan is not too far away but it is still hard. Caryn’s youngest daughter Amy, husband Travis and son Caalab will be moving to Washington State very soon and this too is going to be very hard for Caryn and the rest of us. We know that it will be a great adventure for them….but it is so hard when someone we love moves so far away….but maybe someday they will be back to stay!
A few years back when Caryn’s dad, Al Spencer suddenly became very sick she became an instant caregiver to him. She had help from her mom, Collene and her sisters Cheryl, Caryl, Alena, and Allyn along with all of their children and grandchildren. It took all of them. They all then became caregivers for Caryn’s mom, Collene Spencer when she was ill during the years. On February 22, 2015 Caryn’s mom went to Heaven. While I know Caryn and her sisters are missing her, they know that Collene is truly in a better place now.
Caryn was the lead caregiver to my parents, Walt and Joann Schulenberg. She had help from myself and my siblings, Bob, Jennifer, Debbie, and Ron along with my nieces and nephews, Corrie, Amy, Machelle, Susan, Barry, JD, Eric, Riley, and Tucker, all of the great nieces and nephews and my Aunt Margee Kountz and her granddaughter Staci. Everyone helped when they could, in any way they could even if it was just to stop by or call for a visit…but we could not have kept either one of my parents at home as long as we did without Caryn. She was their primary caregiver and didn’t bat an eye about doing it. She is still helping with my Mom by checking on her out at Shepherd of the Valley Care Center, going to all of her doctor appointments with her and keeping all of us up to date as to how she is doing.
In October 2013 when I got sick…who did I call first? Of course, I called Caryn. She convinced me that I need to get checked out to see what was wrong. Little did I know then that Caryn saved my life. I truly believe that if she had not talked me into going to the hospital that I would have died very soon. She has been with me all the way…from going to the hospital, to my rehab at Elkhorn Rehabilitation Hospital and then once I was home she would do whatever I needed help with. She slept in a recliner chair the night that I had my sleep study done because I couldn’t get my legs up into the bed on my own. She stayed with me my first two nights home from Elkhorn because she didn’t think I should stay alone…I was grateful to have her there with me because I had nurses, aids and therapists with me 24/7 for almost a month. Caryn and my sister Jennifer…and my entire family, friends and coworkers have all been very supportive during my 18 month recovery and weight loss journey. I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Caryn will be traveling with me to Fort Collins next week to see a doctor about my skin removal surgery…and when I have it done in Fort Collins or even here in Casper she will be there with me through all of it and I know she will be very helpful to me during my recovery too.
I don’t even want to think of what the past several years would have been like for either Caryn’s family or my family if it hadn’t been for Caryn and her dedication of her time and her heart to care for all four aging parents and myself. We couldn’t have and wouldn’t have wanted to go through any of this without Caryn.
Caryn is an amazing woman! She is one of the best Sisters-in-law (I consider her my Sister) that I could ever ask for and I know that my Parents felt the same way…she was and is one great Daughter-in-law.
Today is Caryn’s birthday and I just want to say Happy Birthday Caryn. We all love you and appreciate you very, very much!!!!
My dad passed away on December 12, 2007, but since my mom was still alive, we never really went through his things…until after her passing on February 22, 2015. Mom had given out some of Dad’s things to different family members, but the bulk of his things would wait until her passing to be given to those who would receive them.
In his later years, my dad got cold often. That can happen as we age, or with surgeries to the chest or abdomen, which dad had to repair damage from Pancreatitis. More and more often, Dad could be seen wearing a sweater, and it really became a signature item for him. One sweater in particular that he wore almost daily, was a multi-shade blue striped sweater. He wore it so often, that it is one of the ways I picture him in my mind. I had asked Mom for that sweater shortly after Dad passed away, and was told I could have it, but did not receive it until now.
This was the sweater that Dad had on when he and Mom danced their last New Years Eve dance on January 1, 2007, just under a year before his passing. It was also the sweater he wore on his visits to the hospital when Mom was receiving Chemotherapy treatments for the Lymphoma Brain Tumor that she would beat in 2007. The blue sweater became synonymous of Dad…in my mind anyway.
There are many things that remind me of my dad. Anything World War II, of course, because I have written so much about his time in the war, and because we have toured the B-17s several times together, making the B-17 an integral part of my memories of my dad. Then, there are the funny memories of Dad, that always come to my mind…things like the whisker rub, our many debates, pretending to box with him, the Oregon Trail markers, the many vacations, and of course, the swatting games he played with the grandkids, will always bring back great memories of my dad. All of those things bring images of my dad and what an amazing man he was, but they are not things I can hold in my hands, and picture him if I use them. The blue sweater is.
Memories are the most precious things we have once a parent has passed, and I treasure every memory I have of my dad, as I do my mom, and there are things that will always remind me of them. And one of those things will always be that blue sweater. Today would have been my dad’s 91st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Dad. Have a wonderful celebration. We love and miss you both very much.
When a United States president is assassinated, it sends shock waves around the world. When one is shot and lives, it sends waves of shock too…and then relief. I was a little girl when John F Kennedy was shot and killed on November 22, 1963, and I will never forget where I was when I found out about it. At the tender age of just seven years, I don’t really think that I fully understood the gravity of the situation. When President Ronald Regan was shot in the chest, on March 30, 1981, I was a married twenty five year old mother of two daughters, and I fully understood the gravity of the situation, and how it could have affected our nation and the world. It was however, the reason he was shot that totally baffled me. I mean, I know what John Hinkley Jr’s deranged reasons were, but it still made no sense to me…especially that he would think that somehow he would win Jodie Foster’s love by shooting the president. I suppose that is simply how the deranged mind works.
In the years that the United States has been a nation, sixteen assassination attempts on our presidents. Of those, there have been four successful Presidential assassinations. They were Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. I really never thought there might have been that many attempts, but I can see that people get distraut with how things are going, and if they are at all unstable, they might attempt to shoot the president.
President Reagan’s shooting was probably one of the most strange, because he appartently didn’t feel the .22 caliber bullet that entered his chest, narrowly missing his heart, and hit his lung. There were three attendants with him, who were also hit. They were White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and DC police officer Thomas Delahaney. Hinkley was then overpowered and pinned against a wall. Reagan was shoved into the car and taken to the hospital for treatment. He made a complete recovery, which was amazing, considering that he was 70 years old at the time. He even insisted on walking into George Washington University Hospital under his own power. He was in good spirits and visiting with his wife, Nancy while waiting for surgery. He laughingly said, ”Honey, I forgot to duck,” and to his surgeons, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.”
The next day, he resumed some of his executive duties and even signed a piece of legislation from his hospital bed. He returned to work at the White House on April 11, 1981. He returned even more popular that he already was, and received a hero’s welcome by Congress. His highly successful economics plan was passed with several Democrats breaking ranks to back his plan. Nevertheless, President Reagan felt the effects of the shooting for years afterward. The other men eventually recovered, but James Brady suffered permanent brain damage and later became an advocate for the “Brady Bill” requiring a five day waiting period and background checks before the purchase of a gun, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. John Hinkley received a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” bringing with it outrage among the people of this nation. He has been incarcerated at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital since that time, but more recently has been allowed supervised home visits with his parents. I suppose that one day, he could be released, since they have said that his mental illness is in remission.
Today, it has been one month since my mother, Collene Spencer went to Heaven. After someone goes home to Heaven, it always seems odd to me that the time goes by so quickly. I can vividly remember that night just one month ago, when she left, and it doesn’t seem possible that it is a month already. While we are doing ok, we are finding ourselves feeling some caregiver’s remorse. It isn’t that we feel like we didn’t take care of Mom the way we should have, because we poured our hearts and souls into taking care of her in the way that Dad would have wanted, and in the way that she deserved.
Instead the caregiver’s remorse is that we didn’t realize just how little time we had left with her. She was so well, so we were fooled into thinking that she would not be leaving us anytime soon. That left us…well, taken completely by surprise. It really was the little things like not going into the bedroom with her right away to help her get to bed, the missed hug after church, because someone was talking to her at that moment, missing church that morning, and the distance lived from her home. They were little things, but in the end, they were the most important things, because they were the last moments we had with her…or rather the missed last moments we would have had with her.
We have found ourselves struggling with that final night. We simply don’t know what happened. Mom had a great last day, and in fact, really a great last week. She had part of her family over for lunch during the week, and then my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I took her to dinner on Thursday at one of her favorite places…Red Lobster. But it was her last day that was especially great. She went to church that morning, which was the most important thing in her life. Then, because her sister, Evelyn Hushman was in the hospital, Mom had orchestrated a luncheon at the hospital with her brother and sisters. The afternoon went amazingly well. Most of her siblings and several other family members were there, and they spent about three hours visiting, laughing, and just being together. It was a beautiful afternoon, and one that would be cherished by all who were there that day. Then, Mom and Cheryl went home for a quiet evening, dinner, and a movie.
Then, while Cheryl did the dishes, Mom decided to go to bed, but once in the bedroom, she went to Heaven instead. They couldn’t tell us exactly what had happened, and so we are left wondering about it…and wishing we had her back. That is the real caregiver’s remorse…wishing you could go back and change things somehow, so the outcome could be different. The point when all you know to do is not enough, makes you feel almost like a failure, even though you know that you have done your very best. I know that Mom is happy with Dad in Heaven, but we really miss her here. Our caregiver’s hearts have become lonely hearts. We love you Mom, and we’ll see you and Dad real soon.
When Bob’s aunt, Margee Kountz was born, her oldest sister, my mother-in-law, Joann was dating and planning her wedding to my father-in-law, Walter Schulenberg. He was working in another town, and so they wrote letters back and forth, because they didn’t get to see each other as often as they would like. Of course, they talked about the normal things, like missing each other, and such, but they also talked about the future, and what they wanted it to be.
One thing that has stuck in my mind about those letters, is how my father-in-law felt about his soon to be sister-in-law, Margee. She would only be 4½ months old when they married, and he just thought she was the cutest little baby he had ever seen. He mentioned several times in the letters they wrote back and forth, that when they had a little girl, he wanted his daughter to be just like Margee. He simply loved his little future sister-in-law so much, that he would have loved to have a dozen or so of them. In the end, he didn’t have a dozen daughters, but he did get four of them, as well as two sons, so I guess his dream of lots of kids, and especially daughters, came true.
Through the years, Margee remained a big part of their lives. She has pretty much always lived near them, and has shared a good portion of their lives. Holidays, birthdays, and barbeques were among the things the families shared, and of course, these always included Grandma and Grandpa Knox, the sister’s parents too. It was the way they kept the families close, and it was a good thing for all of us.
As the years flew by and everyone got busy with their own lives, it might have seemed that we didn’t spend as much time with Margee as we used to, but when we needed her, she was there. She worked for most of her adult life, but when her sister, Joann, my mother-in-law, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, began to need someone to stay with her when my father-in-law had appointments, we might have had a big problem, but Margee, by that time retired, agreed to come and sit with her sister. I truly don’t know what we would have done had she not been able to do that. There were times when my father-in-law was in the hospital, and we all worked. There was no way to just find someone to take a week off to go and stay with her, but once again, Margee stepped in and bailed us out. She spent the days, and we took care of the nights. I hope she knows just what a relief that was to us. It was a debt we can never repay. Today is Margee’s birthday. Happy birthday Margee!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
One of the things about family history that especially holds my interest is locating the house where someone was born. It isn’t that I always set out to locate the house, but when one falls in my lap, I am especially excited…and that seems to happen a lot. There is a feeling of almost wonder when I find the exact place where one of my ancestors was born…especially when it is someone very dear to me. I don’t know exactly why that is exciting to me, except that it’s not every day that you find your self looking at the exact place that your parent or grandparent was born.
Home births are making a comeback these days, and I suppose that more and more people will be able to say that one specific house is where they were born. I very seldom feel the same way about the hospital where someone was born. Maybe that is because it is not very unique. Many other babies were born there too. I do think that I would feel that way about the hospital I was born in, because that is personal, but the one my kids and grandkids were born in, is also the place where a number of my loved ones passed away, and that feels different to me. I believe that my kids and grandkids will feel a closeness to the Wyoming Medical Center, because it is their birthplace, and that will make it special to them.
The house where someone was born, however, will always hold a special interest to me. I have to wonder what those walls to tell if they could talk. How did the family feel as each child joined the family? This house was where my Great Aunt Mina Schumacher, my Great Uncle Fred Schumacher, and my great aunts, Bertha and Elsa Schumacher were born. It’s also possible that my Great Aunt Marie Schumacher, who passed away at three years of age, could have been born in this house. My guess is that there was much happiness there, as well as some sadness. That is the way it is in any home…life happens there. That house saw the children playing and growing up, and the new births, one by one, and the family grew to it’s full size.
Before they would move to North Dakota, I’m sure there were many memories made there, but by the time Bertha and Elsa would return to the area for a visit, they no longer remembered the home where they were born, nor the wonderful times the family had there. Bertha wrote about that in her journal, so I have a feeling that those lost memories made her feel a bit sad, just like they would for me. I have a feeling that Aunt Bertha and I were quite a bit alike, and so the things that she thought were important to remember are the same kinds of things that I think are important. I am always very saddened by memories lost. Even if it is about people that I never knew, because everyone has a story, and someone, somewhere feels like their story is important, and once it is lost, it is very hard to find again. If no one ever wrote it down or told it, no one remembers. I guess that is why finding the house where someone was born is so important…it is where their story started.
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!!