As years go, 2020 was one of the worst. We had to face so much loss, some was from Covid and some was not from Covid. I don’t think I have ever attended so many funerals as I did in 2020. The funerals were all beautiful, but it’s the pictures of sadness the never fade from my mind. And it’s not just the funerals from 2020 that were filled with sad faces, but every funeral I’ve ever been to.
I suppose it is because of the compassion I feel for the family of the one who has left us. Their family is feeling such pain, that their faces have completely changed. Grief does that to a person. It’s like death takes away a layer of innocence…the unfounded belief that our loved one will always be here with us. Those broken hearted faces that cannot hold back the tears. The look of disbelief that tells me that they still can’t wrap their mind around the fact that their loved one is gone. And these are not people without the hope of Heaven, but their loved one is no longer here with them, and that is so hard to bear. We don’t grieve for the one who has gone to Heaven, the grieving is for us…the ones left behind to pick up the pieces of our lives.
My mind’s memory files retain pictures of events, and that can be good or it can be bad. I remember the faces of people who were very happy, and those pictures bring me much joy, but the sad faces, are so hard to get off my mind. Maybe it’s because I have such a hard time wrapping my own mind around the fact that the person is no longer here. When a loved one or friend leaves us for Heaven, we are always unprepared. There is no way to prepare for death, even when the doctors have said it is coming. We always hope against hope that the doctors are wrong, and sometimes they are, but when they are right, we are faced with the finality of it. While the picture of someone’s extreme sadness never fades from my memory files, there is another picture that stays with me. It is the look behind the sad face. The look of a parent who knows that they have other children who need them, so with determination, their face shows that they will continue to make a life for their family. It is look of an adult child who is determined to live the kind of life that will make their departed parent proud. It is the look of a spouse who is determined to carry on as the now widowed parent to the family. Their hearts are broken right now, but with prayer, the love of family, and determination, they will carry on, because they are all overcomers. I can’t say that every grieving face has that same determination, but the ones I know do. Maybe it comes from knowing their loved one is in Heaven…it probably does. It is the hope of the future for them and their families.
I think that most people know about the simple, but imaginary way of making a boo-boo all better. It’s all about the power of a healing kiss. It starts when our little ones fall down, and they really aren’t hurt, but they still need some reassurance that everything is going to be alright. The simplest way to let them know that is to kiss it better. Before long, they are coming to you so you can kiss their elbow, their knee, or their head…and you know they really just like your healing kisses…even if there is no current boo-boo.
Pretty soon you find your little angel coming to you to re-kiss the same boo-boo over and over again. It doesn’t hurt anymore, the scrape, scab, and bruise are long gone, but the memory of how awesome it is to have mommy or daddy kiss it better is enough to make them feel very secure. It isn’t that these children are afraid of anything, but rather that they like knowing that their parents will always be there when they need them. Those little healing kisses are a great way to show your little one that you love them, and you will do everything in your power to protect them, and in the absence of being able to prevent a boo-boo, you will always kiss it and make it better.
There can be one little problem with kissing a boo-boo better, however…especially one that is days or weeks old. That is when you plant your healing kiss on the wrong spot. The other night I was visiting my sister, Cheryl Masterson, when her granddaughter, Aleesia Spethman came up to me and showed me a boo-boo on her foot. I looked at her foot quickly, but couldn’t see anything. So, I kissed my finger and touched it to the bottom of the foot she had placed on my lap. That was the wrong move!! Aleesia informed me that I had kissed the wrong spot. The real boo-boo was actually on the side of her big toe. So, I quickly obliged her and kissed my finger, and touched it to the side of her big toe. Aleesia smiled at me, and went merrily on her way. Thankfully when adults goof up by kissing the wrong spot, kids are quick to forgive, provided we correct the offending error.
When your children grow up and start dating, you begin to hope that they will be able to pick the right spouse, so theirs will be a “til death do we part” kind of marriage. It’s really hard to let your kids make their own choices, because you wonder if they will know what true love is, but then does anyone know at first. I don’t know how my girls both managed to get that perfect mate…just like I had…on the very first try, but they did, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Each new year of their marriage is sweeter than the year before.
My daughter, Corrie Schulenberg Petersen, married her husband Kevin Petersen 23 years ago today, and their marriage has been richly blessed. She was only two weeks out of high school, but they knew that it was right. I remember being so busy with both wedding and graduation. I barely had time to think about the fact that my little girl was getting married and leaving the nest. In fact, I recall being a bit surprised that I wasn’t torn up about it, and then just chalking it up to the fact that Corrie’s little sister, Amy was still here at home, so it wasn’t really an empty nest.
The wedding went off without a single problem. It was beautiful, and the kids were both so happy. The reception went off perfectly as well. The kids were relaxed and enjoying the time to visit with their friends and family. The cake was beautiful, the wedding gown stunning, and the rings were exchanged, but of course what made the wedding so amazing was the love shared by two young people who were now ready to set out on their own and begin a new life. Even then it didn’t occur to me that I would feel any of the common empty nest feelings. Then came the time for them to leave to begin their honeymoon. Everyone went outside to see them off, and they drove away waving and smiling. The day was over, except for the clean up.
There were still a number of guests there when I went back in, including my sister, Cheryl Masterson. As I came in the door, I turned to her and said, “Well…they’re gone.” Immediately, the floodgates burst. The tears that flowed were completely unexpected, but could not be stopped. My baby girl was a married woman, and she was heading out to start her adult life with her husband. They had each other now, and she no longer needed her mommy to guide her through life. I realize now that I was wrong, and that those were the thoughts of a newly, if not just partially, empty nester. There would be many times she…they would need me again. They were married, not gone forever. Their lives have taken many turns, and there have been many times that they have needed me, and I have needed them. They couldn’t possibly be more of a blessing to me. Happy Anniversary Corrie and Kevin!! We love you both very much!! Have a totally amazing and wonderful day!!
You can think you are prepared for life’s changes, but until the exact moment they happen, you don’t really know. When my daughter, Amy Royce, her husband Travis, and son, Caalab moved to Washington state a year ago, I thought I would never get used to it, over it, or on with it, but time marches on, and I had no choice but to march along with it. Amy and Travis’ daughter, Shai stayed here in Casper, and I think it helped that I felt the need to try to lift her spirit and help her make the transition from being a kid living at home to an adult living in her own place. It was such a hard change for both of us. Memories of Amy, Travis, and Caalab were everywhere, but for me, especially Amy, since we worked together. I think that the hardest part with Amy’s move was the empty chairs at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast. It will be no different this time, since Shai worked with me too. Now I have that empty chair at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast…again.
I have always been close with all my children and grandchildren, so as each one spreads their wings and flies away, I find myself tearing up, as I look at their empty places and think about the length of time before I will see them again. For Shai, I know it is for the best. She has missed her family terribly, and while her grandparents might play a close second, we just aren’t her parents and brother. That isn’t a bad thing, because I know how much she loves us. It’s just impossible to replace your own family. Shai and Caalab have not always been good friends, but as the grew, they became very close, and I think this last year has been extremely hard on both of them. And she is very close to her parents, as well. My logical side is really very happy for her to be rejoining them, it’s just my emotional side that can’t seem to wrap itself around the logic, and every time I see a place where Shai used to be, I feel lonely all over again.
When I came home at lunch I thought about the last few days. Caalab flew in on July 8th, and with both of their things here at my house, we had quite a disaster area going. Now all their things are gone, and the house seems very empty and very quiet. Of course, Bob isn’t here either, since he went with the kids to help with the move. Still, I think it will feel a little empty even when he gets home. It’s not because Shai lived with us, because she didn’t, but she moved out of her apartment on June 30th, and so for eleven days, her things were here. Now, after a whirlwind visit for Caalab, and the date of their departure coming up far too fast, I find myself facing that empty chair…again. I know I’ll be ok, because I’ve been through this before, but that empty chair will be a stumbling block for a while yet, no matter how I feel about it, or how much I try to avoid looking at it. Shai…I know that your life will be wonderful, just don’t forget where your grandpa and grandma live, and remember that we love you more than words can ever say.
A while back, I wrote a story about a house in Massachusetts that was built by our ancestor, James Noyes, who is my husband, Bob’s 7th great grandfather. Almost immediately, a cousin of ours, Paul Noyes told me that he had been there many times, and yet another cousin, David Noyes had been invited inside and had pictures. Of course, this was exactly what I was hoping for, because I wanted to talk about the interior of the home, but could not find any pictures online. So, I want to thank David for these beautiful pictures, and Paul for forwarding them to me, so that I can tell a little about the inside of this grand old house. My husband, Bob was sure that the interior had probably been renovated several times since the 1646 date that the house was built, but other than what has been documented, there is no indication of a massive remodel.
James Noyes, moved to and was co-founder of Newberry, Massachusetts in 1635, bringing with him, his wife Sarah Brown Noyes. Little was documented about where in Newbury they lived before the Noyes home was built in 1646, but the family grew by five children…Joseph, James, Sarah (who died at an unknown young age), Moses, and John. I would assume that their growing family was the reason for the large home to be built. Even with that, the home was not what we would consider large these days. The current home has five bedrooms, but it is my guess that the original probably had only three, a master bedroom for the parents, a bedroom for the boys, and a bedroom for the girls. The house was only one room deep in those years, and while it might have been somewhat small, I can only imagine what stories those walls would tell, if they could talk. My guess is that there would be stories of laughter, sadness, and crying as new babies joined the family. The family grew, with the additions of Thomas, Rebecca, William, and a second daughter named Sarah, after her mother and the first Sarah, who had passed away.
James and Sarah lived in the house for the remainder of their days, during which time the house saw children come into the family, and children marry and move away, returning now and again to share their children with their parents. Then on October 22, 1656, just seven months after his second daughter named Sarah, was born, James passed away. The house saw the sadness of a family in mourning for its patriarch. Sarah became the head of the family then, and so it remained until her passing on September 13, 1691. James and Sarah were blessed with at least 47 grandchildren…not all of whom lived very long unfortunately. Not much is said about what the children did with the home after their mother’s passing, but while it has been home to a number of families over the many years since it was built, it remains an important historical home and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. There were some changes, which added size to the home making it a five bedroom home at this present time. The last time the home was sold was in 2010, and it is my assumption that it was the current owners who allowed our cousin David Noyes to have a tour and take the pictures I now have of this beautiful home.
Today, my grandson Chris Petersen heads back to Sheridan for his final semester of college. It has been a long two year road, and hard on all of us, but we are proud of what he has done. Nevertheless, while he has been here over a month, it seems like he just got here. Time flies by so quickly, and somehow along the way, this one or that one of your kids and grandkids seem to fly away. Some literally!! As each one goes, you are left to wonder what the draw of that place is, or sometimes, like with Chris, you know that it is not that place, but rather the dream. You know that they have to follow their dream, and you truly want them to be happy…even if that takes them far away from you.
The reality is that the future of our children is not ours to set. It is theirs. All their lives, you watch carefully, noting their talents and abilities, and wondering where their future lies. I think that for most parents, the hope is that their kids future wont take them too far away, because while we have been watching their little lives as they grew, our hearts just never planned for that moment when they would tell us that their future plans and our idea of their future plans are simply not the same. As they leave, you feel like your heart is being torn from your chest. You fell like the tears will never stop, and in reality, sometimes…when you least expect it…when you thought you were finally ok, those wretched tears come rushing back to you again.
As Chris leaves, I think about the fact that once again, half of my children and grandchildren don’t live nearby. It makes me feel lonely. For Chris, the homesickness will flood in, because he is once again alone there, without his family, with whom he is very close. I know he would rather stay here, but he can’t. And with job placement looming ahead, we know that the distance will grow. I want Chris to go where they place him, because it is a once in a lifetime experience. He won’t have to stay there permanently. I know that his ultimate dream lies in a different place, closer to home, if not right here in Casper. But, dreams can change. He may like the place where his job placement takes him. He may choose to stay there, or go somewhere else. And if he does, we will be ok here. We will miss him terribly, and we will notice that empty chair where he should be, but we will know that he is off following his dream…like other family members before him…and we will adjust.
Change is a part of life, whether we like it or not. Our children, once grown, are not children anymore. They are adults with the right to make their own choices. We can’t live their lives for them. We are their past in a way, even though we will always be there for them, and they can always call our home their home. We are home base, but the world is out there. It is theirs to see and explore. So as each one leaves, all I can think is…and off you go. Remember where you came from, walk with God, don’t forget the way home, and while we miss you, we’ll be alright…right here, holding down the fort.
When you read through the personal journal of another person’s life, you must be prepared for the many emotions that life can produce in people. My great aunt, Bertha Schumacher Hallgren was an amazing woman, as was her younger sister, Elsa Schumacher Lawrence. They spent years working in a man’s world, and being successful at it…in fact out working them and being capable of using machinery the men couldn’t. They were considered so invaluable that the companies they worked for tried really hard not to give them any time off, as the place didn’t do so well when they were gone. The work was so emotionally draining, that the only release for them sometimes came in the form of bitter tears. Nevertheless, times were tough during the depression years, and you didn’t just walk away from a job, because the going got tough.
It wasn’t the years of hard work that seemed to be the most severe blow to Bertha, but rather the life changing moment when her sister, Elsa decided after all the years of caregiving for their parents, now both gone home to Heaven, to marry a man who was a widower ready to retire. Bertha and Elsa had made the decision, probably subconsciously, to set aside their hopes for a family and a home of their own at a very young age. They were the youngest of their parents seven children, and while the other children had married and left home, comfortable in the knowledge that the two youngest sisters were still there taking care of their aging parents, the girls knew that no one would be left if they married too. After their parents passing, the girls lived together for a number of years, before Elsa met Frank Lawrence and became engaged.
Bertha likens the situation to divorce. She had lived with her sister for 40 years, and the separation was torturous. To make matters worse, their older sister, Mina, who had always lived close, made the decision to move to Colorado to be near her daughter, Paula, while her husband, John Spare went into the CBees during World War II. Bertha talked about dividing the things she and Elsa had in the home, and looking for a smaller apartment that she could afford on her own…and she talked about the tears. For the first time in her life, Bertha was going to be alone, and she didn’t like or want this, at all.
I know how she feels to a degree. I am not alone, because I have much family, and of course, my husband, Bob Schulenberg in my life. Nevertheless, after a parent, or other patient you have cared for goes to Heaven, or even gets better, and goes about their own lives, the caregiver can find themselves at loose ends. They wonder who they are if they are not a caregiver. Then, as in Bertha’s case, the only companionship she had every really known is gone too. She felt like she had just been placed on top of a cliff, and the only way out was to fall, and the consequences of that were just as bad as staying put.
In the end, Bertha would move to Colorado with Mina and Paula, and she would meet the man she would marry. The marriages of Bertha and Elsa would not last long, because their husbands both died after a short marriage and much happiness. The girls regrouped, and once again became companions for each other. It was as if it was meant to be…as if they had never been apart. Their lives had always been intertwined, and their golden years would be spent together in their new home in Boulder, Colorado…until Bertha passed away in 1984, leaving Elsa alone until her passing in 1992.
There are moments in every human life, when something that they have been trying to push to the back of their mind, comes to the forefront with no warning, and hits them like a ton of bricks…right in the stomach. Most of us have had them. They usually happen when you are having trouble wrapping your mind around a reality…that you wish was a bad dream. The passing of your parents or child, is a good example of such a reality. The loss of aunts, uncles and cousins have this effect too. In your mind, you know they are gone, but your heart refuses to accept the finality of it. Of course, I don’t mean the finality in that you will never see them again, because I know that I will see my parents and loved ones again. No, it is the finality of the fact that I won’t see them again in this earthly life, that really hits home in a painful way.
Those moments never allow you to be prepared for them, but rather they sneak up on you, and hit you at a point when you are totally unprepared. It’s times like new babies arriving, graduations, marriages, and other big moments in life. You think…I can’t wait to tell Mom and Dad…and then you realize you can’t tell them. It’s also the little moments when you drive past their house, or it happens to be a day when you would normally take them to lunch or dinner, or when you reach for the phone to call them, and then realize that they aren’t there. The sadness and loneliness washes over you, and there is nothing you can do about it, but cry.
The really hard thing about it is that you can’t stop those moments from occurring. So many things in life can be avoided by simply not placing yourself in that place or situation, but you can’t do that, because they were involved in every part of your life at one point or another, or as is the case with parents, many, many points. They shared every accomplishment, every failure, every hope, and every dream with you. They were the wind beneath your wings, lifting you up and encouraging you to soar…and now, you must fly on your own, because the days of training are over. Yes, that training goes on into adulthood too, even if you thought it didn’t. They have given you every tool you need for success in this life, and now you have to go out an make use of them on your own. Maybe that is why those “ton of bricks” moments are so hard. You want to share the excitement with them and you can’t.
And then, there are the “ton of bricks” moments, when someone remembers your loved one years after they have passed away, and they tell you what an impact they had on their life, and you can’t hold back the tears or remove the lump from your throat. You had no idea that your loved one would be remembered by people who you would never expect to remember them…but they had such an impact on those people, that they felt compelled to tell you about it so many years later. In all reality, I wouldn’t want to trade those special, but really difficult moments, because they mean that someone hasn’t forgotten my dad or my mom, or other loved one. Those moments mean that someone else saw what really special people they were. It meant that while they are in Heaven now, and I can’t bring them back, I can be reminded that they will always love me, and they will never be forgotten. The people who’s lives they touched, family, friends, and yes, even strangers, will always carry them in their hearts too. While those “ton of bricks” moments are hard, they are also very sweet, because someone remembered them.
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 our parents get older, and less able to do the same things they used to when they were younger, and we come to expect less and less of them, and sadly sometimes we include them less in things. It’s not because they don’t want to be included, because they do, but because we don’t think they can do things anymore. As the new year approached, many people were at parties, and many of their parents were at home. Of those that included their parents, and were at a place where they could dance, I have to wonder how many made sure that their parents got to dance. Sometimes, it is harder to pull that off, and all too often the kids just don’t think about it. Still, when that forgotten dancer gets the chance to dance again, it lifts their spirit so much. I got to see that exact thing happen last year at my mom’s New Years Eve party, when her new grandson, by marriage, Jason Sawdon took Mom out on the dance floor and they danced.
Since my Dad’s passing, we had not thought about getting Mom out on the dance floor. Since her knee injury, she has used a walker, and it would have been very difficult for her to dance. Nevertheless, Jason would have none of that. He got Mom, his new grandmother, out on the dance floor and filled in for our dad for that special New Years dance that Mom and Dad always shared. It was such a precious moment, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. It occurred to me that we had inadvertently left Mom out of part of the festivities, leaving her…a forgotten dancer. It wasn’t that we intended to do that, but more that we didn’t think about it. Dad had always had their special dance with her, and he had gone home.
I think that it’s easy to look at that situation and accept that a part of someone’s life might be over, when you are very close to that situation. We girls, being daughters and therefore not thinking like a man might think that was the case, and even the sons-in-law and grandsons who were there at the time of my Dad’s passing, could not see what Mom might need. We had watched with tears in our eyes, as they danced what turned out to be their last dance, because we were so grateful that they had the opportunity again. When Dad was gone on the next New Year’s Day, we thought her dance days were over. What Jason saw was a different need, and maybe Jessi gave him the idea…I don’t know, and I have not asked, because our forgotten dancer got to dance again, and that was all that mattered.