nursing home

My nephew, JD Parmely is a hard working man, who lives a quiet life in the house he purchased from his grandmother, Joann Schulenberg after his grandfather, Walt Schulenberg passed away. She was living in a nursing home by then, and the purchase allowed her to life out her days in peaceful happiness. I can’t imagine a better person to live in the house where we had all spent so many happy times. I think it felt like coming home for JD, because he had never known a time when his grandparents didn’t live there.

Those were happy days for little JD…for the most part. JD really didn’t life food when he was little. I remember that he made a face at almost everything. A pickier eater, there never was. I remember times when his mother, my sister-in-law, Jennifer Parmely resorted to M and Ms to get some calories into him. Thankfully, those days faded into the days when JD had a hollow leg, and needed a heavy duty platter of food to fill him up…after having seconds, of course.

I remember JD playing “horsey” on his grandpa leg, and loving every minute of it. He also loved being with his grandma, and being rocked to sleep on her lap. The good times JD had at the house that is now his home will always live in his memory. He helped his grandpa with his projects, and his uncles and his grandpa with work they were doing on cars. It was in this garage that JD learned the ropes on mechanics, as well as from his own dad, Keith Parmely in their garage at home. With all these mechanics in his background, I think it was pretty much a given that JD would grow up to become a mechanic, even going to college for mechanics in Arizona, before coming back home, where it wasn’t for “blazing hot.” JD loves his cars, and has about twelve of them at any given time, so having a double garage on his house makes it even more perfect for him. A double garage and the memories from his childhood…it doesn’t get better than that. Today is JD’s birthday. Happy birthday JD!! have a great day!! We love you!!

My aunt, Virginia Beadle is a woman of resilience. There are still a few of those around. They are the people who face adversity head on and fight their way back to health with strength and courage. As people age, sometimes their health can suffer. Aunt Virginia is turning 89 years today. Her mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, and her body shows definite signs of weakening that comes with the years, but her spirit…her essence…the beautiful lady that her family has always loved is still there, and still just as beautiful as her sweet face.

There have been times in the last year or so that her body has betrayed her to a degree, and she has spent some time in the hospital and a nursing home, but she works hard to get her strength back with the hope of going home. It’s hard to say if the nursing home will become permanent, as it did for my mother-in-law in her final five years, but I can tell you that the love that Aunt Virginia’s kids have for her will never die, because they would give anything to keep her home. They have shown this in the care they have given her in the past few years. Aunt Virginia know that and feels the blessing of that love. They would give her the moon if they could, but all they can give her is their love, and that is what they have done. That is to be commended.

Aunt Virginia worked hard all her life to give her kids the best she could. Life wasn’t always easy, but she was resilient. She never gave up. If hard work could make a good life or her family…well, she worked hard. I remember how beautiful Aunt Virginia looked when she was getting off or going to work. She was always dressed up and she had style, but more than that, she was good at her job. These days her mind might not be as sharp, but when she worked, she “rocked” it. She has earned her retirement, and the love of her family. She may be older now, but she is still the beautiful lady we all know and love…inside and out. Today is Aunt Virginia’s 89th birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Virginia!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

This past summer, my sister, Cheryl Masterson; my cousin, Pam Wendling; and I went to visit Pam’s dad, our Uncle Bill Spencer at the nursing home where he lives. Uncle Bill has dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease, and so how the visits go, depends on the kind of day he is having. The day of our visit was a really good day. Uncle Bill may not have known who we all were, and even some details about our lives, but he had some funny stories to tell us…one of which was how his brother, our dad, Allen Spencer had never gotten married!! That one was new to my sister and me, who are the eldest of Dad’s five daughters with his wife, our mom, Collene Byer Spencer. I guess Uncle Bill’s mind went back to the pre-Collene era of Dad’s life.

Uncle Bill also told us about the days on the family farm. I think my sister and I always thought of it as a small little patch of land…maybe 5 acres or so, but Uncle Bill told us that the farm was actually 80 acres. The farm was big enough to grow enough vegetables to sell them exclusively to Stokely Foods Inc. Stokely foods is a large company and it was founded on August 18, 1943, later merged with Van Camp’s, and then sold the Stokely brand to Seneca Foods in 1985, and the Van Camp’s brand to ConAgra in 1995. I guess you could say that the Spencer farm got in on the ground floor of Stokely Foods, Inc. This was really interesting to us, because it was confirmed by Uncle Bill’s cousin, Les Schumacher. I suppose Cheryl and I should have assumed that the farm was bigger than we thought, because they grew hay, and it took days to get it all stacked, but when you didn’t grow up on a farm, I guess you don’t really have a good way to gauge such things. I think we should have had some inkling, however, because the pictures we have seen should have told the tale…to some degree at least.

As our visit with Uncle Bill came to a close, we found ourselves very sad about the speed with which the time had passed. We don’t get to see him very much, and he is such a precious person in our lives. He was really in rare form, laughing and smiling a lot. There were no awkward moments when no one knew what to say, and Uncle Bill carried much of the conversation, which was absolutely wonderful. Our only regret is that we can’t get up there to see him more often. Today is Uncle Bill’s 97th birthday. That’s amazing…97 and going strong. Happy 97th birthday Uncle Bill!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Four years ago, my mom, Collene Spencer; my sister, Cheryl Masterson; and I took a trip back to Superior, Wisconsin, which is where Cheryl and I were born. While we were there, we were invited to Julie Carlson Soukup’s home for dinner. My mom knew the parents of these cousins who had welcomed us into their home. Cheryl and I did too, but it had been a number of years since we had seen them, and certainly, most of the cousins themselves were totally new to us. We watched as the Carlson kids brought their mother, Carol Carlson to the dinner. She had been dealing with Lewy Body Dementia, which is much like Alzheimer’s disease, but with the added issue of motor problems. These kids were so careful with her, and so determined that she be able to come for this visit. It brought tears to my eyes to see such love. Having been a caregiver for a long time, I knew how much work caregiving is, but they didn’t care what it took. She was their mom.

I didn’t know Carol well, but over the years, I watched as the Carlson family centered life around her. They took her so many places, and everywhere they went was an event, documented with lots of pictures. They were, of course, building their memories, knowing that the future was uncertain. They didn’t want to think about the day when Carol would no longer be with them. Right before we came for that visit, they had just had to move Carol into an nursing home, because she could no longer live on her own. Once again they showed her the greatest love they could have for her. They told her about her life, the life that had begun to slip away from her memory files. They needed to preserve it for her somehow.

When Carol passed away, on August 2nd, 2018, I began to recall the many beautiful things the Carlson family had done for her, but I realized that I didn’t really know much about her life. I wanted her children to share some of their favorite memories with me, because I knew that I wanted to write a tribute to their beautiful mother. They decided that they would send me a copy of the letter written by her oldest daughter, Laurie Carlson Stepp at the time they moved Carol into the nursing home. The children put together a scrap book filled with letters from her children and grandchildren, poems she had written, stories about her, such as her sayings…things they had heard her say all their lives, and pictures for her to see. It was their gift to their mother…her memories. They were giving them back to her.

I could never begin to write her memories with the beauty that her children and grandchildren did. Their memories of her were their gift of love to her, and that is beyond special. Nevertheless, I want to try to highlight some of the wonderful things Carol Schumacher Carlson did in her lifetime. The reality is that Carol almost didn’t exist. Laurie tells that story in her letter to her mom, “Your parents, Fred and Anna Schumacher already had one lovely daughter, Beatrice. When she was born, there were serious difficulties and the doctor told Fred that he would have to choose between his wife and the baby. He chose his wife……she chose the baby! They were both saved, but the doctor cautioned against having any more children. So that is why you Carol were a miracle baby.” The faith of her parents brought about Carol’s life, as well as nine siblings after her. The letter told of the help Carol gave her mom with her younger siblings, Leslie, Carl, Margaret, Gilbert, Delwin, Noreen, Bernice, Bob, and Dale.

Carol was a hard worker all her life. She worked at Hills Brothers Dairy, then for a lawyer in Billings Park babysitting their children, as a waitress at the Princess Sweet Shop, at Phoenix Hosiery, at Twin Ports Dairy…where she did office work, and at Kempenski Glass Company. All these were jobs, but her real life’s work was to be the mother of her children. Carol married Donald John Carlson on August 21, 1954, and they would be blessed with Donny, Laurie, Steve, Dave, Jim and twins – Julie and Jeanne. Carol also had bonus children, Bonnie and Randy, from Don’s first marriage. Carol was a housewife, and very good at her job. They grew a big garden, canned and froze enough food to keep the family in vegetables most of the year. Their dad would come home and there was always a flurry of activity and fun. Carol cooked, cleaned, sewed, and took care of her family, and still had time to help out others too. The children always came home from school to some kind of homemade snack, but more importantly…they came home to their mom, Carol, who welcomed them with open arms. Carol baked 5 loaves of bread every day and packed countless lunches. She sewed clothes for her family and often surprised them with something new that they needed after staying up all night working with her sewing machine until it was finished. She made clothes, quilts, tents, and just about anything that could be made with cloth for her family and for her grandchildren too. She made Indian costumes with real tepees, which have been used by most of her grandsons. She made a pair of sandals for Jon and Josh when they were starting to walk, Prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses, suits, pants, skirts, shirts, blouses…the family was always wearing something Carol had made. They have always felt so blessed to have Carol in their lives.

When I set out to write this tribute to Carol Schumacher Carlson, I wanted it to be about the amazing things she did for those she loved. Little did I know that it would be about the amazing children she raised, but in reality, it had to be about her amazing children, because that was what Carol was all about. Her whole life was spent giving of herself to those she loved and cared about. It was Carol, who along with her husband, Don raised these kids to be the loving, responsible adults that they have become. That, in itself, is a tribute to Carol. Her hard work for her family, was her gift to them, and they were her reward…her legacy.

Walter & Joann Schulenberg wedding day 1949_editedAlzheimer’s Disease is a thief…I’ll give you that, but as I’ve tried to convey to several people, it is not, in my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to a person. I know that sounds so odd, especially to those who feel that Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease that steals the mind/memory of their loved ones. It does do that, eventually, but if you take a moment to view it differently, you might be surprised, as I was, to learn that it is not as bad as you thought it was. Most people are stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease later in life…at a time when many of them feel that their life is over. They aren’t as active as they were. They have more aches and pains. They begin to lose loved ones, and eventually that brings grief to most of us. They might even feel depressed. I don’t say that Alzheimer’s Disease alleviates these things in all people, but it did for my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg. I know that in her later stages, much of her memory will be gone, but maybe it won’t either, because she has had Alzheimer’s Disease since 2004 that we are sure of. That’s twelve years, and those old memories are still there. It’s just the new memories that she doesn’t keep, and still, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

With all the negative aspects of Alzheimer’s Disease, there are a few aspects that stand out to me, as very scan0145good things. My mother-in-law was always busy doing things. She had a routine. She wasn’t super active, but she knitted, sewed, crocheted, canned, cooked, and baked. These were the things that gave her a feeling of self worth, and oddly they aren’t gone now. If you ask the nurses and aides at the nursing home where she lives, you will find that when it is time for dinner, she tells them that she will be cooking it. She will pick up the blanket on her lap and begin “working” on her crocheting…often using her oxygen tubing as her crochet hook. She tells me about her grocery shopping trips to town, and the things she buys there. She feels no grief for loved ones now in Heaven, because to her they are still right here. She informs me that she will wait to eat dinner until Walt (my father-in-law, who passed away May 5, 2013) gets home. Dinner can’t wait that long obviously, so I just tell her he is at Walmart, in the garage, or at the neighbors, and said for her to eat without him. He might even be at work, although he retired many, many years ago. She talks of her parents, her daughter, Marlyce, and family members who live too far away for visits, as if they are still here, and yet when her daughter, Brenda visits in the morning, she doesn’t remember it later that day. Still, Brenda knows she was there, and that is what is important. She made her mom happy.
Joann and Walt_edited
I know too, that when Bob and I, or my daughter, Corrie Petersen and I leave her side, she doesn’t remember that we were there either, but we know that we were there, and while we are there, she knows that we are there. And that is really what matters anyway. I guess it’s all in how you look at Alzheimer’s Disease. You can grieve the changes, or be thankful for her, that she is missing nothing. All the memories she needs are still in there, and they peek out once in a while…and it’s good enough. Is it really necessary for her to remember all the sad things? I just don’t think so, and I will keep them from her for the rest of her life, by telling her what she really needs to hear that day. It makes her happy, and happiness is all that matters.

Mom SchulenbergEvery year…these days anyway, we have to let my mother-in-law, Joann Knox Schulenberg know when her birthday is. Even then, she won’t remember it. That’s what Alzheimer’s Disease has done to her. I suppose many people would think that is terrible, but really for her, it ok. Yes, there are things that Alzheimer’s has taken from her, but there are things it has given her too. She often tells us that she is 65 years old, when in reality, she is 85 years old today. Just think of how nice it would be to be ageless. She can pick whatever age she chooses, and that’s how old she is that day. Wouldn’t we all love to be able to do that sometimes?

Mom has lived a full life. While she had some health issues that we all expected would Mom with Pie Face (Molly's colt)take her first, she has nevertheless, outlived my parents and my father-in-law. Many people would think that she has no real quality of life, but if you knew her, you would know that she always was a people watcher. That makes the activity around at the nursing home ideal for her. She doesn’t like to go outside when it’s cold, so now she doesn’t have to. She spends her days watching television, and often with her imaginary crocheting…which isn’t so different than when she was at home, except that she really did crochet then. Still, she thinks she is, and that makes her happy.

Speaking of happiness, there is one other thing that Alzheimer’s stole from her…grief. She has lost her parents, Grandma Schulenberg and Christophera daughter, and her husband, but to her, they are in the other room, at Walmart, or at the neighbor’s house visiting. She never experiences sorrow. To me, that’s not a bad thing.

I know that none of us want to have Alzheimer’s Disease, or have a loved one who does, but in reality, at least in this case, there could be a good side to it. When you can live a life free of burdens, responsibilities, and sorrow, life could be considered good. As long as her needs are met, I’m ok with it. It is my wish for her to be happy for the rest of her days. And if she’s happy…I’m happy. Today is my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday. Happy birthday Mom!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Mom & Dad Schulenberg_editedDad SchulenbergMy father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg was such a sweet man. The first time I met him, I immediately felt comfortable…even with his good natured teasing. Over the years of my marriage to Bob, my father-in-law was a second dad to me. Not everyone can say that they truly love their in-laws, but I was just that blessed. It was never a relationship of tolerance, but rather always a relationship of love and a deep sense of family. My father-in-law always had that deep sense of family, and it was something he passed down to his children. As far as he was concerned, family came first…no ifs, and, or buts. When family needed help with something, he was there to help. And every one of his children are the same way. It is a great heritage to pass on to your kids.

Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play with him. He loved to go visit his mother and step-father, Vina and Walt Hein, half brother, Butch Hein and family, and half brother Eddie Hein, his wife Pearl and family, sister, Marion Kanta, husband John and family, and half sister Esther Hein and her family, and sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Linda and Bobby Cole. Family was important, and that meant that you went to see them from time to time, because staying close was always my father-in-law’s top priority. I think it was this deep sense of family that made him so special to his entire family.scan0005

In his later years, he and my mother-in-law, Joann Knox Schulenberg traveled south to Yuma, Arizona for the winter. We missed them a lot during those years. After a few years of that, their health didn’t allow them to take those winter trips anymore, and Dad settled in to take care of Mom, who by this time had developed Alzheimer’s Disease. Their lives would never be the same after that. Their health deteriorated, until that sad, sad day, May 5, 2013, when Dad left us to go home to Heaven. He had lived an amazing life, traveled, raised six children, made countless friends, and worked at many different occupations and hobbies. He had lived a full life, and he was tired. I will never forget the night before he passed. I was visiting him with my grandson, Caalab Royce at the nursing home, where he had decided to go, so he could share a room with Mom again, because she needed a level of care that we could no longer provide at home. He looked so tired and weak that night, that I really didn’t want to leave him. He had always been such a fighter, and now it seemed that the fight was gone. I asked him if he was quitting on me, because it was the first time in the years I had been his caregiver that it seemed that his journey was coming to a close. He told me, “I don’t know.” But, I knew. He was quitting me.

The next morning I received the call, that he had passed away…exactly as he had always said he wanted to Walt & Vina Hein and familyDad and mego…in his sleep. It was a call, I dreaded, but it was not unexpected. My sweet father-in-law was gone, and the family would never be the same again. Two years and three months have flown by since that day, but I can still hear him. He loved nicknames for the kids, like Sport for my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg, Old Timer for my nephew Barry Schulenberg, or for my girls, Corrie Lou and Amy Lou…which he made seem like a song of sorts. Today would have been Dad’s 86th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. We love and miss you very much.

Jennifer skiingSnow CoveredAfter a recent storm dumped eight to twelve inches of snow on the Casper area, I noticed just how beautiful the white blanket was, as I looked across the grounds of the nursing home where my mother-in-law lives. Not being much of a winter person, I can’t say that I always appreciate the white stuff, and in all reality, I do hope that storm was Winter’s Last Hoorah for the year, but whether it is or it isn’t, on this particular day, it looked very pretty to me. A thought came to me that maybe I should take a walk through the snow with my camera because there might be some beautiful sights to see, but we were on our way in to visit my mother-in-law, so I did not go for that walk. Nevertheless, the picture of that white blanket of snow has stayed in my mind.

Some people love all the different seasons, and they get out and do different things to enjoy each of them, but I usually prefer to snuggle up wrapped in a warm blanket and watch a good television show or movie on those cold winter nights, and not do as my sister-in-law, Jennifer Parmely, or her son Barry Schulenberg and his wife, Kelli do, which is to get out and ski or snowshoe through the winter scenes. I do, however, enjoy looking at the pictures they post about those activities. I guess I am more of a Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade type of winter person. I’ll take a beautiful snow scene on a card or picture over the real thing any day, because while a card or picture leaves you with a warm, cozy feeling, the real thing is inevitably cold, blustery, and most generally just not fun.

Still, on that day, I felt just a slight tug…almost a desire to walk through the snow, just to see where it took me, and what beautiful scenes it lead me to. I have a feeling now, that if I had gone on that walk, I would have been somewhat disappointed. It’s hard for a summer person to actually experience that cozy feeling when they actually get out in that blustery cold. Somehow, the coziness is lost in winter’s cold, snowy air. It’s funny how something so cold, can look so pretty though. I think that if there is snow in Heaven, I’ll have to ask that it somehow feel warm…at least to me. I suppose that some people, like my sister, Cheryl Masterson will feel just the opposite, but I’m sure God can work it out to suit both of us just fine.

Nevertheless, on that day, and with that particular snow storm, I could picture in my mind’s eye just how Barry snowshoeingKelli snowshoeingbeautiful it would be to take a solitary walk through the cold, snowy park in the moonlight. I could picture the moon’s light creating snow diamonds across the pristine snow. I could imagine that I didn’t feel cold at all, but rather that a cozy feeling prevailed over the evening. I could even picture a deer quietly walking in front of me, seemingly not afraid at all. And maybe I could even picture the two of us walking through the snow in quiet, peaceful harmony. At least, that was what I could picture in my mind’s eye, even if the reality would have been very, very different.

IMG_3571As my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg has grown older, Alzheimer’s Disease has caused her to slip back in time in many ways. Her memories are of things in the distant past, while current events often elude her now. She doesn’t remember the passing of loved ones, and talks of them often, asking us when they will be back. That was hard at first, but we have learned to go along and tell her they are at Walmart or something, because it serves no purpose to tell her they have passed away. That satisfies her until the next time she asks. Nevertheless, our answers to her will always be the same, because for her not so much has changed.

My mother-in-law doesn’t have as many ways to communicate these days. Conversations often come down to simple answers to the questions we ask her. Nevertheless, parts of the funnier side of my mother-in-law have stayed with her. She really never liked having her picture taken, although she didn’t mind it as much as her dad always had. These days though, every time we ask her to smile for the picture, she scrunches up her face. That is also the way she tells people she likes them. The nurses and aids at the nursing home all know that if they get that look, they are one of her favorites. The funniest thing about that is that in looking at some of her baby pictures, I came across a picture of her making a very similar face to that scrunched up smile. So maybe that wasn’t such a new look after all.

She also has a way of playing games with her doctor too…and she has for years. Her doctor, Dr Schoeber has been taking care of her for a very long time. She always loved to tease him some, and since that is a memory that started prior to Alzheimer’s, Disease, it has stayed with her. Every time Dr Schoeber tells her to stick out her tongue and say “Aw”, she sticks it out as if she were mad at him. That always makes him smile, along with Joann Eleanor Knox (2)atelling him that she is doing well, because if she ever did that the right way the first time, he would have to wonder if she was sick.

As she has regressed into her past, my mother-in-law has gone from being a bit more on the serious side, to being very funny. She is a delight to the staff and other visitors at the nursing home, and to her family members. You never know what she might say or do. Her newfound humor is such an awesome thing. And, the funniest thing is that she doesn’t really know that what she said is very funny. But, when she tells the staff that she cooked the dinner, that she went to Walmart and bought all the food, or that they need to shut the blinds because someone might see in and shoot them, they simply can’t help but smile…or even laugh. Then they go on about their day feeling just a little bit brighter, because that is what happens when she says something so off the wall. Today is my mother-in-law’s 84th birthday. Happy birthday Mom!! We love you!!

DebbieIMG_5169Over the years, my sister-in-law, Debbie Cook has tried her hand at a variety of different crafts. Debbie had always done a lot of sewing, and had made her daughters clothing. Sewing was never really my thing, although I could sew if I wanted to. I just never really wanted to. Debbie enjoyed it though, and the clothes she made were very nice. It was something she shared with her mother…that ability to sew and to enjoy doing it.

Debbie also took up cross stitch and for years made pictures that she sold at the many craft fairs that she and several other family members had booths at over the years. For the most part, the cross stitch projects were done by Debbie and Brenda, but there were a few others in the family, myself included. Nevertheless, Debbie made a number of sweet pictures to give as gifts to many people in the family, and we who have received them, have cherished them ever since we got them.

More recently, Debbie got into quilting, and like most people who find that they like quilting, she found that it was maybe her calling. I’m not sure when she got started exactly, but I remember that while her dad, Walter IMG_5172aIMG_5180Schulenberg was alive, she made a quilt for him. I don’t recall exactly if she made the original one for him, but I think she did, and then, because of how cold he always got, she actually took it apart and turned it into two lap quilts. Now that ability really impressed me. It is one thing to make a quilt, but then to alter the quilt in such a way…well, that takes a degree of talent, especially when the quilt had the frayed edges that are so popular these days.

After Dad’s passing, we, the kids and children-in-law, decided that since Mom was in a nursing home now, we wanted to turn their old clothes into quilts to be cherished memories for all of us. We weren’t sure how big they would be able to be, and we had asked a family friend, Linda Hall to make the ones for the five living children. Then Debbie approached me and said that she had really wanted to help with those, so it was decided that she would use part of the material to make memory quilts for the grandchildren. Those were exciting days of anticipation for the children and the grandchildren. It was such a great idea that my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg had come up with.

All of the quilts were finished between Thanksgiving and mid-January. They were such a blessing to receive. IMG_5168aIMG_5177Both of the girls did a wonderful job on them. Debbie has now decided that she wants to make a set for the great grandchildren, and we are all looking forward to seeing those too. What a blessing that will be for the great grandchildren, some of whom have never even met their great grandfather, or their great great grandparents, whose clothes will also be used in these, but will now have a memory of them anyway. We can’t wait. Today is Debbie’s birthday. Happy birthday Debbie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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