Category: Grief

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. 

It’s January. Declutter.

Last January I wrote a series of posts on decluttering, because this is the month I try to get that done in real life. I still have hope that I will get to it this month, but I’m getting a frightfully late start, so we’ll see. Who wants to declutter in February, the month of love?

However, we can start with this story:

My dear mother died almost eighteen years ago and my beloved father followed three years later. (Those numbers astound me. It seems as if it could have been yesterday. Of course time has mitigated the pain somewhat and I don’t think about them every hour on the hour anymore, but it still hurts to actually stop and look at their photographs hanging in the hallway. Most days I avert my eyes. And I would give almost anything to spend an afternoon with them to “catch up.”)

When my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving us three grown children orphaned, I had just had major abdominal surgery. In the ensuing six weeks, my brother, my sister, and I engaged in the usual frenzied activity that often follows a death. We cleaned out his belongings; we held an estate sale; we sold the house. In our hurry, a lot of paper-related items came to reside in my home.

This past week, some fourteen and one half years later, I invited my brother and sister to spend a full day with me – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – so we could finally deal with the two overflowing drawers, three large heavy totes, and the two-drawer file cabinet that contained the rest of their effects, multiple scrapbooks with multiple pictures, and almost sixty-six years of marital history.

(I stand corrected about the meals. Actually the three of us ate so much for breakfast that we elected to skip lunch and have an early dinner.)

While we definitely had a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, an emotional and physical adventure was had by all.

We tried to sort out and keep anything clearly historical in case one of the grandchildren or great-grandchildren should want to do a genealogy or write a book someday. Or just know from whence they came.

Then we dismantled some of the scrapbooks, each of us claiming the pictures that pertained to our own families. But how do you tear apart volume after volume that your mother had so artistically and painstakingly put together? You might as well tear out your heart.

On the other hand, what good are the scrapbooks if they are stored in my basement? And why would we ask our children to make these kinds of decisions? They already had received many mementos when Mom and Dad died.

So how do you throw away piles of old pictures? Even if you don’t know the names of the people in them? Even if your children will most certainly not know the names? These were real people. They don’t deserve to be tossed away. But as the oldest person left in our family, if I don’t know who or what the pictures are, it seemed useless to keep them.

How do you toss the many beautiful anniversary and birthday cards, invariably signed “Love,” from Paul to Bertha and Bertha to Paul? We ended up tearing off the beautiful fronts and sending them to St. Jude’s Card Project for use in making new cards.

How do you discard letters from friends who clearly loved your parents a great deal, even if your parents and their friends are gone?

It was a difficult day.

How did we do it?

With pain in our guts and holes in our hearts.

A Gift for Those Too Sad for Holidays

This poem is for those of you who are having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit because of the loss of a loved one or illness or some other tough thing in your life.

I wrote this in 2002 when someone very dear to me was struggling with brain cancer:

Christmas does not touch our hearts this year
The externals are here—

Trees alight with shining orbs
Wreaths bedecked with sassy bows
Gifts piled high on every shelf
Music mocks our bleakest woes

Nothing warms the cold, dark fear—
Christmas does not reach our hearts this year

December 21, 2002

 

(Excerpted from This Path We Share, (c)2010 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

A Sudden Mist of Tears

Today is my dear Mary Jo's birthday. She was eleven days younger than I. Four years ago I turned 78, but she died two days before she turned 78. 

I saved this story for her birthday.

Last week I walked up to buy some cosmetics at the Clinique counter in Macy's. A woman stood at the counter – she had short, dark auburn-dyed hair and the same rust-tone blush and lipstick as Mary Jo wore. She had gold rimmed glasses. She had the very same wrinkles in the very same places as Mary Jo. She turned to ask me a question. 

My eyes filled and my throat ached. If only Mary Jo could ask me a question.

It would be more likely that she would answer one of mine. She was my go-to girl: Which wallpaper goes best with my flooring? Should I get the green chair or the brown one? I need a good recipe for lasagna. Would you help me solve this issue with the kids?  

She married Les' brother when I was twenty and became my best friend. We raised our children together. We celebrated anniversaries together. We went to Norway together. When I became ill with CFS in 1989, she was the one who tried to understand my loss of energy and stamina. She was the one who made accommodations for me. She always had my back.

So, happy birthday, Mary Jo. I will love you and miss you always.

 

Tribute to My Beloved Friend

It is four years ago today that my best friend and sister-in-law died of pancreatic cancer.

As I look at her picture above my desk, I miss her as though it were yesterday. Mary Jo was generous, loving, kind. She worked tirelessly in her church, served countless dinners for Sons of Norway, read for the blind, made hundreds of quilts for the Linus Project, and was a caring friend to many. She never revealed a confidence. Tears still burn my eyes when I think of her and I think of her often.

It is in her honor that I share an excerpt from the chapter “Candles Floating on the Pool” from This Path We Share:  

Every day the sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky. Every day Mary Jo’s cheeks became more like parchment and sunk further into her bone structure. Every day her thin arms struggled harder to grasp the side railing of her bed to turn to her left side, her skin damp with the effort. Every day her words became a little harder to understand. Often Les and I sat squeezed together in the big chair in the lobby (of the Hospice of the Valley in Arizona) as if we could create a cocoon and ward off our anguish.

One evening as I kissed Mary Jo’s forehead and said good-bye, she mumbled, “It’s hard to leave.”

“Yes,” I said, "but perhaps it is time.”

Early in the morning, five days later, I was on my way to Sherman House, only two minutes from my best friend’s bedside, when my cell phone rang.

“It’s done.”

As I drove back to the house to tell Ralph and Les that our beloved Mary Jo was gone, I thought back to those beautiful candles floating precariously on the pool. The lights had flickered across the water, offering shimmering memories, shining hope, unaware how truly vulnerable they—and we—were.

(Excerpted from This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage © 2010 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

May we each honor those whom we have loved and lost – today and every day.