Category: Death and Dying

Death of a Friend

Almost two weeks ago, I had a distinct nudging to visit a friend of ours. 

Les and I have belonged to a small support group through our church since 1969. Of the original nine couples and one single, seven of the men and three women had died. Floyd, the one remaining man beside Les, had been having a rough spring and we had wanted to visit him and his lovely Lynette in Loveland, Colorado.

Since Les' November brush with mortality, his subsequent pacemaker, and various ups and downs, our doctor had asked us to stay close to medical care in the Denver metropolitan area. Then in early April, with things somewhat stable, he gave us permission to drive to Loveland. We kept trying to make the trip. Denver had four snowstorms in April; Les had bad days. Things just weren’t working out.

Thursday, April 25, I woke with this strong urge. The weather was good; Les was okay. So we went. Floyd and Lynette seemed grateful that we had come. Floyd had entered hospice care the evening before, but he was up walking around, sitting in a chair, talkative, peaceful. The four of us and son Galen shared deeply. Les and I felt the visit was meant to be. Whether or not Floyd and Lynn needed us, we needed them.

On April 30 Floyd died. I want to share with you, my dear readers, the poem I read at his service:

 For Floyd

We can’t believe you’re gone –
hospice, yes, but only six days?
You were just here – alert, alive, aligned
ready to go, most surely, but still participating

You were such a good man –

Working hard and faithfully over the years   
an expert with your hands
building beautiful things
gracing this space with mailboxes,
coffee mug shelves, the reusable casket

Loyal to your church, your friends, your family
generous, giving, always game for another adventure
another trip, another house, another state

You were such a good man –

steadfast in faith
confident in convictions, vocal in opinions
You weren’t always right, but you were resolute

You battled through cancer and heart attacks
and surgeries with more grace and courage
than most of us could manage

You were such a good man –

We honor you in your unwavering love for Lynette –
with gratitude for how you cared for her, protected her,
and lent her your staunch warmth and unshakable strength

Happy trails, dear friend, our love and tears go with you –   
pile into the motor home of immortality
bluegrass blasting, the fishing streams of Paradise forever filled

May you discover heaven to be lovelier than the hills of Arkansas
and may you find the most amazing adventures ad infinitum

amen

Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad
May 4, 2013

 

 

 

Unwanted Anniversary – Conclusion

Friday is a good "conclusion" day, so here is the poem that concluded the chapter titled "Rivers of Entrophy," from This Path We Share. Hope it speaks to you in some way, in whatever space you occupy today.

Rebirth

Enter the Valley of Doubt and Despair
certainly vanished
strength fled
Love no longer there

Spend the duration regardless how long
searching soul
resting body
heart without song

Know, with sureness and trust, once again
you will return to  Life
vigor renewed
a fervent amen

Although you may return to the Valley
now and then

(Excepted from This Path We Share © 2010 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

 

Have a great weekend!

 

 

Hierarchy

Last week I read an excellent post from Marie Ennis O'Connor on "Is There a Hierarchy Among Cancer Survivors?"

Then this week that discussion was followed by another excellent post and discusssion at Regrounding. Even though the topic has been quite thoroughly and thoughtfully covered in these previous posts, I'd like to add a bit.  

So, is there a herarchy among cancer survivors? Is there one in breast cancer circles?

Having spoken hundreds of times to quite diverse cancer support groups, as well as to oncologists, nurses, and others in the cancer community, I have experienced many layers of:

  • You didn't have chemo, so what gives you the right?
  • Your lymph nodes were not positive, so you're home free.
  • You're lucky it was only breast cancer.
  • You aren't Stage IV. Everything else is a piece of cake.
  • You didn't suffer as much with your treatment; you didn't have chemo before Zofran: you didn't burn and peel with your radiation.  
  • You can't call yourself a victim; that shows you are weak.
  • You can't use battle words; or, you must use battle language.
  • Your chronic fatigue syndrome didn't totally put you in bed for years. (Forgive my straying into another disease. But I've heard this a lot.)
  • You must identify as "survivor," "thrivor." "victor," "totally made it." (Forget about the part that breast cancer can recur years later.)
  • We must be brave, courageous – keep our friends, family, casual passers-by reassured.

 

I've also lived quite a long time. Guess that puts me pushing toward the top of the hierarchy of "I'm older than you and I know better." But maybe I won't play that card, even though with all of this well-earned gray hair and many wrinkles, it is terribly tempting. 🙂 

Let me repeat some of what I commented on Marie's blog (with amplification):

There is always hierarchy. Everywhere. In every circle – family, sports, health, illness, religion, politics, young, old, male, female.

I don’t know if it is more prevalent among women than men; it may seem so in junior high, but it probably just exists in different arenas.

There is something within us that seems to compel us to play one-upmanship. In disease circles, maybe it is self-preservation. If I can figure out what stupid thing you did to make yourself sick or caused yourself to die, I can avoid that and save myself indefinitely.

I try to guard myself against participating in hierarchical maneuvers, but certainly don’t always succeed. I have deservedly been put in my place a number of times.

When I am the recipient, my hope is always that I can find the grace to give the other person the benefit of the doubt – realizing that there is no way I can walk in her shoes or divine her motives or identify her. I simply do not know why he or she has chosen that path or why he or she needs to de-elevate me. 

On the other hand, no one can put me down if I won’t go down.

Declutter – A Faded Poem

And there, in the scrapbook, right next to the newspaper clipping that I typed into my previous post, was the carbon copy of a poem, barely legible with all the smudges, strike-overs, and years.

It doesn't say who wrote it, but judging from the words and the mentioned date, I'm pretty sure it was my Uncle Bill, searching for, hoping in some way to find peace.

Dad never had so much to say;
Jogged along in his quiet way
Driving his horses, Mike and Queen,
As he turned the soil to the golden sheen.
Used to say as he slapped the mare,
One thorny hand in his tangled hair,
"Rest in joy when your work's well done,
So pitch in, son."

Sometimes he and I'd not hitch;
Couldn't agree as to which was which.
Fought it out on the same old lines
As we grubbed and hoed 'mong the runnin' vines;
And his eyes would light with a gentle quiz,
And he'd say in that old soft way of his,
As he idly stroked his wrinkled chin,
"All right, son, you win."

Dad was never no hand to fuss;
Used to hurt him to hear us cuss;
Kind o' settled in his old ways,
Born an' raised in the good old days
When a tattered coat hid a kindly heart,
An' the farm was home, not a toilin' mart,
An' a man was judged by his inward self;
Not his worldly pelf.

Seems like 'twas yesterday we sat
On the old back proch for a farewell chat
Ere I changed the farm and the simple life
For the city's roar and bustle an' strife.
When I gaily talked of the city's charm
His eyes looked out o'er the fertile farm
An' he said as he rubbed where the hair was thin,
"All right, son, you win."

'Member the night I trudged back home
Sinkin' deep in the fresh turned loam;
Sick and sore for the dear old place,
Hungerin' most for a loved old face.
There stood dad in the kitchen door,
An' he says in a voice from deep within,
"Hello, son, come in."

On the sixth of May, after the latest snow,
He went the way that we all must go;
An' his spirit soared to the realms above
On the wings of a simple-hearted love.
An' I know that when I cross the bar
I'll find him there by the gates ajar,
An' he'll say, as he idly strokes his chin,
"HELLO, SON, COME IN."

Yes, looking for a peace that he never found.

Declutter – An Old Newspaper Clipping

As I continue to declutter and scan items from my mother's scrapbooks, I come across a fragile, yellowed newspaper clipping. Even though the accident had happened almost sixty-nine years ago, I remember as though it were yesterday. 

On May 6, 1944, thirteen years old and suffering from German measles, I lay in bed, feverish, headachy, and itchy, unable to sleep. Around 11:00 p.m., I heard the phone ring and my dad answer. He woke my mother; they whispered; she stifled a cry of anguish. More phone calls. After thirty minutes or so, they came to my room to tell me that my beloved Grandpa Nikkel was dead. The next day they traveled to Colorado to attend the funeral; I was left to care for my nine-year-old brother and five-year-old sister (with help from a neighbor). It was the first time that death had come close to me and I was exceedingly sad.

But I had never seen that clipping until today:   

Funeral services will be conducted tomorrow for Bernhard Nikkel who was killed Saturday evening by the compeller of an airplane soon after his son, William Nikkel, had landed the machine near the farm home.

The tragic accident occurred as preparations were being made to moor the plane near the Nikkel house for the night. A landing was made at the Nikkel farm and after an exchange of greetings it was decided to taxi the plane across a fence to place it near the house for the night. The elder Nikkel and the passenger of the plane were holding down the wires to allow the pilot to take the machine to the parking spot and some rocks interfered with the movement of the wheels.

Mr. Nikkel removed one rock and threw it aside and had picked up another. No one saw what happened, but it is presumed that as the man straightened up he probably lost his balance and pitched forward into the whirling propeller. He was struck on the head, the blow severing the top of the skull. A doctor was summoned as soon as someone could get to a telephone, however he had died instantly….

I had always known more or less how it had occurred, but, oh, my God…

My Uncle Bill never fully recovered from the event. Who could?

He tried to find peace. In my next post I will share the poem I found with the clipping.