Category: Stories from Lois

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 Part 3

My journey with chronic fatigue syndrome continued and continues. I wrote of it again in This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage. This small excerpt shows some of the ways we coped:

"We eventually learned that while some patients recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome, many did not. However, I was determined not to lose my real life to a disease that, even though a mystery to medical science, was not usually fatal.

"From 1989 onward, Les and I struggled to make that happen. CFS shifted our roles. Doing heavy work made me worse, so Les took over as many chores as he could. We learned to stay at home in the evening. We started going to bed earlier than we preferred. If I could order from a catalogue, I skipped shopping. Friends slowly disappeared because I did not have enough energy to make and keep luncheon dates or carry on a converation when I did go. My family and friends tired of asking how I felt and hearing 'exhausted,' so I started saying, 'Fine.' 

"I increasingly turned to Les for strength and understanding. Only he could validate my journey with CFS; no one else knew or understood how difficult it was for both of us.

"Sometimes I dreamed about CFS. I would be visiting relatives or attending a party and feel too exhausted to lift my arms or legs; I felt as if I were disappearing into nothingness. The dream always frightened me to consciousness, but it was the one nightmare from which I could not awake.

"The rivers of entropy flowed on. And we knew that we could not stay in the Garden of Eden, no matter how hard we tried."

Most of the time, I accept my limitations. After all, I have had twenty-four years to adjust. It is part of the fabric of my life. CFS and my breast cancer a year later changed everything. And nothing. 

During all those years since April 6, 1989, I had two separate mastectomies, gave up teaching piano, wrote three books, traveled by car over 400,000 miles (without homicide or divorce?!) to speak more than 600 times, spent precious never-to-be-forgotten hours with my beloved husband and our four children and their families. 

But I know that there are many CFS patients who cannot live their lives, no matter how much accommodation they may try to do. I have been extremely lucky and I feel unworthy of the good fortune I have had. I am trying to give back as much as I can out of gratitude.   

This thread to be completed tomorrow with a poem…

Unwanted Anniversary Part 2

After my diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, I was embarrassed, mortified. What had I done to cause it? Had I worked too hard? Was I too much of a Type-A personality?

Please let me continue the excerpt from Fine Black Lines:

"Aside from Les and our children, I told no one about the diagnosis for two years. I tried to hide my symptoms, rested on the sly, and made excuses so I wouldn't have to do so much. I felt a sense of shame in having an illness that was portrayed with such triviality in the media. CFS was dismissed as the trendy disease of the late 80s–the Yuppie Flu.

"It felt neither trendy nor yuppie to me. I was 58; I was a little old gray-haired piano teacher, for goodness' sake. But I discovered what it is like to not know at 10:00 a.m. how I will feel at noon, to stand at the foot of the stairs and wonder how I will make it to the top, to be too tired to lift a pencil or hold a book, to have to rest two hours every afternoon and go to bed by 8:00 or 8:30, to play the piano and have a finger 'lock up,' to have to wear a jacket with pockets (even on a summer day) to carry my arms, and to forget an entire thought in the middle of a sentence.

"When I was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later, I almost felt validated. At least everyone understood that disease and its implications. Almost everyone has heard of the terror, the incredible sense of loss, the fear of disfigurement and death.  [At this point, I’m not so sure how many people actually understand, but that’s how I felt then.] 

"There has been no way to sort out how much of my weakness and fatigue comes from CFS and how much has been caused by the cancer surgeries and treatments. I do know it is likely that CFS has caused at least some of the difficulty in recovery and some of the residual pain in the surgical areas.

"And I know that writing has been a lifeline to reality and healing.

"Still, I did not intend to write a book. But when I shared my writing with doctors, nurses, and friends, they encouraged me to share my experience with a wider audience.

"Sometimes I laugh and say I had three things to get off my chest–this book is the third."

To be continued…

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. 

Wow! It Pays to Declutter!

Just when I'm in the middle of writing my annual (?) blog about decluttering. Just when I'm in the middle of my annual (no question mark) decluttering projects. Just when it is all getting boring and ho-hum – been there, done that, every dang year….

I was cleaning out the middle drawer of my desk yesterday. Way in the back I have a couple of little boxes that are space-holders so that the divider with all the neat little compartments doesn't slip back there. 

Well, I pulled them out and guess what? In one of them was $81. The same $81 dollars that Les gave me for my 81st birthday, a year ago last October. The same $81 dollars that I stashed there in a quick moment to hide it just before we left on a trip. (I never leave money in the house so that was odd.) The same $81 dollars that I had rummaged through every drawer in the house to find. I had this vague recollection of hiding it far in the back of somewhere, but finally gave up.

And then two hours later, I removed everything under the sink in the basement, wiped the shelf, and put back the trays, the vinegar bottle, and the little brushes. And just before I shoved in the old canner with all the rags, I impulsively rummaged through the rags. OCD, perhaps.

And guess what? There at the bottom were my favorite pair of red "cheater" glasses. In the rag bag.

Anyone want to guess how long and how hard I had looked for them?

Wow. It pays to declutter.

Probably pays to declutter our minds, too. Who knows what we will find?  

And what have you found when you deep-clean?