Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Laid to Rest

June 23, 2013

Mom, Dad, Tiggy, Tina, and Caleb all rode together, leaving early Sunday morning as we had originally planned. They missed the worst of the weather, and arrived in due time late Sunday night. Even with no flat tires, they were pretty tired, too.

Monday morning there was time for a somewhat leisurely breakfast, before getting ready for the funeral. As the morning ticked on, preparations became more and more rushed, with curling irons and hair spray flying everywhere. Shortly before it was time to leave, I came downstairs from my visit to the second story of the guest farmhouse, in a bit of a hurry. Though almost ready myself, I had a bit of quick ironing to do for the boys, and only had about 15 minutes left to finish.
Grandpa used to try to clip
clothespins on his nieces' noses.
They clothespinned his flowers
at the memory.
Passing through the dining room, I saw Mom relaxing on the floor, one leg crossed casually over the other. Tina stood there talking to her. It was a pose I’d seen many times, since Mom likes to lie down on the floor just like that whenever she gets hot. Had I not been in such a hurry, it might have occurred to me to wonder why she was taking the time to lie down when she wasn’t even dressed yet, but no one ever accused me of being a female version of Sherlock Holmes. I have yet to get a deerstalker cap given to me for Christmas.

Turns out she had actually fallen and broken her foot, and was lying there in casual pain whilst her EMT daughter dashed by, oblivious. Awkward!

In my defense, let me just say that if she didn’t have a lifelong habit of lounging about on the floor in JUST THAT POSITION, I might not have made the mistake that I did.

My EMT skills weren’t needed anyway, since about all I did was hold her upright as she dressed. And then undressed, when she found out her dress was inside out, and then re-dressed. (See? Other people make mistakes, too!)

The service was a lovely effort by the whole family. Some of us sang, some of us spoke, and some were pallbearers, and some did more than one of the above. Many of our dear cousins from out of town had been able to attend, having just finished a family reunion the day before. And all of our dear cousins who were local attended.

After the service, Mom had promised to deliver a kiss to Grandpa before he was buried. She, Tina, and Tiggy gathered around the casket while she delivered it. As she stood on tiptoe and leaned over, her broken foot gave out on her (surprise, surprise). She teetered for a moment on the edge, barely escaped plunging head first into the coffin. The rest of us were rather taken aback to have the teary group closest to Grandpa suddenly erupt in hyena-like laughter. Had they succumbed to a moment of hysteria, brought on by the stress of the event? Nope, they were just having a very narrow escape. Grandpa would have chortled at that.

After a delicious family dinner, it was time to adjourn to the cemetery. My personal preference is to get the burying done with first and then eat, but when the service and dinner are more than 10 miles from the cemetery, such preferences have to give way to practicality. We all climbed into our vehicles, and prepared to follow the hearse and funeral home's car.

Mom and Dad went first, naturally, and we were just behind. A long train of cars queued up behind us. They stayed faithfully with us, right up until the usual eastward turn.  Expressions of disbelief, and yes, even a fair amount of guffaws broke out in our car as the hearse signaled to turn down the “Bridge Out 9 Miles” road. 

All the local cousins, well aware of what waited over the first hill, .9 miles away, pulled around and passed us on the right. Jack would have gone, too, but I begged him to follow the hearse. How else could I have gotten pictures of it turning around? Now that it was someone else’s problem to get Grandpa where he needed to go, my zest for documentation had returned in full force.

The hearse driver may have wondered why his long procession had shrunk to only three vehicles, but he didn’t have long to wait. Everyone else had long since arrived at the cemetery before the chronically tardy Kenneth Day arrived, late himself, and late for his own burying. Grandpa would have chortled.

I thought it was sweet that they had dug his grave so close to Grandma’s that the two liners were actually touching. I wasn’t really expecting to get to see Grandma, so to speak, but it was interesting. It was the closest any of us will be to her again before Jesus comes.

One final mishap yet remained before Grandpa could be truly at rest. All his life, from his mid-teens forward, he had believed and shared the Bible teaching that death is a sleep, and that Jesus will awaken us at His coming.

Cliff notes version:
1. What is a soul? Body + Breath = Living Soul (Genesis 2:7)
2. Can a soul die? Yes! (Ezekiel 18:4, 20, Matthew 10:28)
3. What happens when we die? We aren’t aware of anything, and no longer have conscious thought. (Psalm 146:3-4, Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, 10)
4. When we die, what goes back to God? Our breath—in the Hebrew, the word translated as “spirit” is “ruach”, which means “wind”, or “breath”. In the Greek, it is “pneuma”, which also indicates breath. (Holy Spirit literally = Holy Wind or Holy Breath, for example.) Remember the equation from Genesis 2, above. Subtract the spirit, or breath, and you have no living soul. God gave us the breath of life, and when we die, it returns to him. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
 5. How did Jesus describe death? As a sleep. (John 11:11-14)
 6. When will the resurrection take place, and the dead live again? At Jesus’ second coming, the end of earth as we know it. (1 Thessalonians 4: 14-18, Job 14:12-15)

For more info: Spirits of the Dead 

The very nice funeral guys believed the popular teaching of the soul as a disembodied spirit leaving the body and going to heaven, and their grand finale reflected that belief. They had brought a whole bunch of blue helium balloons to release at the close of the graveside service, and handed them out generously to the large family group. As I began to see where this illustration was going, my own reaction was gratitude for their kindness, along with the thought that this was not the moment to interrupt their beautiful presentation with a Bible study on the true condition of the dead.
The handsome young man finished with a flourish. “As the soul of Kenneth Day is ascending into heaven, so these balloons also ascend into the heavens.” Following his lead, we all released our balloons.

Instantly, a stray gust of wind blew most of the balloons into the giant, overspreading tree that shaded that side of the cemetery, insistently lodging in its grasping branches. A few forlorn little balloons trailed up into the sky. I’m sure I would have remembered sooner the words of Solomon as he described the body turning to dust, and the breath returning to God who gave it…if I hadn’t been clutching my sides and whooping with helpless laughter.

Grandpa would have chortled at that, too.

Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening,
Steal across the sky.

Father, give the weary,
Calm and sweet repose,
With Thy tenderest blessing,
May our eyelids close.

Through the long night watches,
May Thine angels spread,
Their white wings above me,
Watching round my bed.

When the morning breaketh,
And the shadows flee,
May I wake from slumber,

To ever dwell with Thee.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Carry Me Home

June 22, 2013

Our thoughts were too fuzzy to realize this at first, but we wouldn’t have been very nice if we woke the funeral director up at 3 am Sunday morning to collect Grandpa. Yes, collect.

I am from very proud Scottish ancestry, descended from the Wallace clan. I can pinch a penny till it screams, and I come by that trait very honestly. When Grandma died, it cost several thousand dollars to fly her back to Wisconsin for burial from California. That was fine at the time, but now we were only about 12 ½ hours from Grandpa's final resting place. Why pay a large fee for airfare—and a hearse to drive him clear from Minneapolis to Bethel—when we could drive him ourselves for about $700?

As long as the casket was tarped, it could even have gone in the back of a pickup or on a flatbed trailer. Fortunately, by the time we needed to worry about it, Jack had an enclosed cargo trailer that he uses for carrying all his tools and equipment to job sites. With that, all we needed was a permit to transport Grandpa across state lines, and we were good to go.

As the details began to fall into place, we realized that, for the sake of the funeral director, we’d need to pick Grandpa up late on Sabbath. (Sundown is well after 9pm in the summertime.) Hot on the heels of that realization was the one that we wouldn’t be able to just lie around and sleep all night while poor Grandpa sat out in the driveway. Even though he wouldn’t know it, we sure would. It didn't feel respectful, somehow.

Around 4pm, Jack, Dad, Jack's brother, and Caleb went to Plentywood for the all-important loading. About 7:30 they returned, a sad blue quilt-covered box in the back. The rest of us had gotten our stuff ready the day before, so we wouldn’t have to wait around long. While the kids were taking a last pitstop, my young niece eyed the closed trailer. “I don’t like dead people,” she whisperingly confided.

The first stretch was road construction. We felt every bump and jostle with acute clarity. “Sorry Grandpa,” Jack called again and again, of course for our sake rather than Grandpa’s. He had lots to say about what an honor it was to transport our beloved grandfather, and how it didn’t bother him at all to carry him, but I noticed that EVERY SINGLE TIME WE STOPPED it was my privilege to open the back and make sure that, ahem, nothing had shifted. It was only mildly nerve-wracking at the time—some of those bumps were pretty bad, after all—but apparently my subconscious had a few issues. About two weeks later, I had a nightmare in which the funeral guys accidentally spilled him out onto the railroad tracks. In my dream, as they frantically tried to put him back before anyone noticed, I was very glad that it wasn’t my fault!

Long about 3am, we blew a tire. It ripped the whole fender away while it was at it. We’d been creeping along in the pouring thunderstorms for hours, and through God’s mercy our tire went out during a brief lull. I helped Jack jack up the trailer and change onto the spare, checked our cargo yet again, and got back in just as the heavens re-opened and began to dump rain. At the time I didn’t take any pictures, not exactly being in the mood to commemorate being stuck beside the deserted highway with a body in the back, but now that my sense of humor has returned, I wish I had. I know Grandpa would have had a good laugh. Not even just a plain laugh, but an outright chortle. "Oh-hohohohohohooooooo!"

The next morning, when Jack wound down, it was my turn to have a go at it. Passing through Minneapolis, I hit a rather sizable pothole. BOOM! “Sorry Grandpa,” it was my turn to call out, as Jack jerked suddenly awake. You would think Jack had never hit any giant potholes at all, never mind BLOWING A TIRE, to hear him tease me. I was a trifle more nervous than usual at the next check, I will admit, but the fellas had done a good job fastening our cargo, and it remained right where we left it.

It was a huge relief to finally arrive at the funeral home in Marshfield, and leave Grandpa in their skilled care. And they were very good, too, despite the whole railroad dream thingy later.

Totally drained, we headed for Bethel, less than 15 miles away. When we got to the easterly turn, an orange sign proclaimed, “Bridge Out 9 miles”. Not to worry, I told Jack. Nine miles away was just barely this side of Arpin, and Bethel was only a few miles ahead. So we turned down the road. Popping over the first hill, we discovered that instead of nine miles, it should have read POINT nine miles. We gingerly turned the now-empty trailer around, and detoured to our destination.

On this trip, we stayed with my cousine, Eldine, and his wife, Margie. (Next trip, we’ll be staying with another cousin, Patrick.) Their hospitality was a welcome relief after the grueling trip, with storm after storm slowing us to 45 mph, and often even less than that. Do you know how long it takes to drive to Wisconsin at 45 mph? I hope not. I wish I didn’t.

We visited incessantly, right up untzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Last Stop, Last Stand

June 18, 2013

The departure for Wisconsin was scheduled for early Sunday morning, so there was plenty of time to make our way back. We spent the night in Hardin, so we’d be right on the spot for Jack’s first visit to Little Bighorn, another of Grandpa’s favorite places.

Here is the link fromour previous trip to the battlefield, on which Grandpa delightedly accompanied us. He grew so fragile by the end that it’s a little hard to imagine, but as recently as 2009 Tina and I took him camping several times. We had to help him down to his bed, and haul him up again, but he really enjoyed travelling with his grandkids and great-grandkids!  As a former history teacher who had made the past come alive for so many students, he was always enthralled to visit these storied places.

We found the quiet visit among the dead very soothing, just as I had suspected and planned. (Not that I’m bragging or anything. Well, not much.) We were rather disappointed to miss the start of the battle reenactments the very next day, but made plans to be there in 2014.

Near the visitor’s lodge, a retired teacher kept a large audience spellbound with his descriptive rendition of the battle. I’ve never seen anything like it, but due to the family nature of this blog, I can’t bring myself to share everything I learned. Let’s just say that in the history books, it seemed a little more sanitary. Never before had I known in such detail exactly what splattered where, and when. And apparently Reno was so unnerved by the sudden welter of gore that descended upon his person, that he went completely off his rocker and began to issue back-to-back contradictory orders. On the horses! Off the horses! Back on the horses! What are you doing up there? Get down! Aaaaaaaaaagh!!!

Some body parts of well-known people in the battle were the thickness of parchment by the end. The native women took their own steps to ensure that Custer and his men couldn't continue to hunt their dead loved ones in the afterlife. 

Small children listened, wide-eyed, to the graphic account.  Some parents might disagree, and they should feel free to do so, but I found it refreshing to have war portrayed in all its unvarnished horror, rather than being glorified or glossed over. Nobody listening to that would feel a desire to have been there, no matter how brave they might be. There was no glamor there,  only a tragic slaughter of priceless men, women, and children.

It’s been a little over 137 years since then. Have we learned our lessons of love and tolerance? Nope, not entirely. In Matthew 24, in the double prophecy that Jesus gave of what would happen both before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and before His coming at the end of the world, He said that “nation would rise against nation”. In the Greek, the word is ethnos, from which of course we get words like “ethnic”, or “ethnicity”.

As we get closer and closer to the Second Coming, racial tensions will continue to increase. Ethnic groups will continue to fight each other more and more. When we see this reflected in the news headlines, we can know that Jesus’ coming is getting very near.

And if we belong to Christ, we can rise above these tensions, and avoid getting caught up in earthly labels based on our outward characteristics. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26-29

Native American Memorial

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Day of Destiny

June 17, 2013

As we left this fantastic caverns the day before, we wondered aloud if we would be able to show it to Mom and Tina next year, or whether they would still be caring for Grandpa. It was a bittersweet question. On the one hand, we really wanted to show it to them. On the other, we didn’t want to lose Grandpa. And back on the other hand, he was really suffering, and we didn’t want him to keep suffering just so we wouldn’t have to lose him.

Back in the late 90’s, Grandma became ill. Mom found her nearly unresponsive on the couch, which was bad enough, but then a little later that day, Grandpa nearly passed out. It turned out that during the last couple days when Grandma had become too sick to bring him a plate, he hadn’t so much as walked out to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, taken out some food, and eaten it. It’s not something any family member enjoys facing, but clearly both of them were no longer able to be left alone.

Several days later, Grandma came home from the hospital, to her new home over at Mom’s. Mom’s living room was big enough to be an entire house, at least a small one, so we remade it into Grandparent Quarters. Every day for many years, Tina or I would go over and make them lunch while Mom slept. Working nights, Mom would get up in time to fix them supper.

After a while, Grandma began to get ants in her pants. She wanted to go somewhere, anywhere else but there. Her preference was for the small farmhouse in WI where she was born, and she thought she could walk there. Late one night, a nice neighbor lady brought Grandma back after she found her wandering around by the road at the end of Mom’s long driveway. No one in the house even realized she had slipped out. The next level of care, 24/7 watchfulness, was now needed.

Grandma and Grandpa practically had to use a wedge to fit into our tiny house, but they came to stay with us. A short time later, Mom found a spacious rental home up in the mountains, and Jack, the kids, and I moved up there with them to care for them. Grandma still coveted the farmhouse in WI, and even with direct supervision managed to run away a couple more times before her death in 2003.

Work was already underway to build a large house back down in the valley, and Grandpa stayed with us when it was finished. He was still pretty independent, except for what we had come to call “The Food Fairy”. He still wouldn’t get up and get himself so much as a banana on his own. He would sit there hungry unless The Food Fairy brought him something to eat. We all took turns being The Food Fairy, even the kids. It was our privilege to wait on him.

About 7 years had passed since we welcomed our grandparents to our home, and we were moving to Montana. Mom, now disabled after a failed surgery in her foot, was no longer working nights. Grandpa moved back to her house, and to the living room he had shared with Grandma. Though he had fallen badly several times, and been diagnosed with TIA’s (mini-strokes), the true state of his health didn’t become obvious until we were already in Big Sky Country.

Mom noticed that Grandpa was becoming increasingly short of breath when doing even small things, and took him to the cardiologist. After testing, Grandpa received his first of two death sentences. Only about 10% of his heart muscle was still functioning. The rest had been killed off by a major cardiac event that no one had known about till then. The doc said there weren’t any statistics for a man Grandpa’s age with this condition, because they had all died. He said he’d probably give a 50yo man about 6 months to live. Grandpa entered hospice, and way out here in MT, our family wondered if we’d get to see him again before he died.

Several years later, Grandpa moved out here with Mom and Dad. We were so happy to have him close by! Medical treatment revealed that he had yet another hurdle, a type of blood cancer similar to leukemia. They estimated that he had 6 months to live.

Several years later, after being in and out of hospice repeatedly, Grandpa began his final decline. Tina brought him out to her house, so she could care for him without having to commute. After more times than we could count of him almost dying—even completely stopping breathing at times—and still somehow skating back from the edge of the grave, she made him a special T-shirt that read, “Translation or Bust”. Indeed, we began to wonder if he would make it to the 2nd Coming before the rest of us!

Leading up to camp meeting, he grew markedly worse. Through all of camp meeting, every break we got someone would call and make sure he was still alive. His breathing was so labored that we could hear him clearly on the phone while talking to Mom. We hoped he would at least live till we all got back home, but knew that if he didn’t, we’d already said our good-byes. Many times.

Sunday while we were visiting the caves, Tina was heading back as quickly as the law would allow, so she and Mom could take shifts. We were going to wait and see how things went, since Jack’s business flight was out of Bozeman and it wasn’t possible to transfer it. Grandpa was still doing poorly when she got there and sent Mom home to get some sleep, but had stabilized just a bit.

Monday morning, after a good night’s sleep, it was time to transfer Grandpa to the care of the hospital. They had one of their hospice rooms all set up for him, and the family would take turns staying with him as long as needed. He was running low on oxygen out at Tina’s, and the only way to get more was to re-admit him to hospice. It was all worked out, and everything was ready to go.

The stretcher Dad had made months earlier, following a particularly bad seizure that left us having a hard time getting Grandpa up off the floor, was called into use. The seats were out of Tina’s van, and Caleb loaned his mattress to Grandpa could ride in comfort. Why no ambulance? Well, Tina is just across the line into ND, and the hospital and people familiar with Grandpa were all in MT. So the only way to get him there was to take him.

We were in Safeway buying groceries when we received the word. Grandpa had died peacefully in the back of the van just as they pulled up at the ER entrance. His last view was blue sky and sunshine. We cried there in the parking lot.

The transfer was accomplished very smoothly. The coroner pulled up behind Tina’s van right after the doctor pronounced him dead, and they used the handy stretcher to move him into their vehicle. He wasn’t going to be ready for his interstate transfer to Wisconsin for several days, so there would have been time for Jack to still go on his business trip. He just didn’t have the heart.

We still visited the outer space exhibit at the museum as planned. As sad as we were, it was helpful to be together as a family, doing something we all enjoyed. Something Grandpa had enjoyed, too. Though teary at times, we smiled, too. Afterwards, we went back to Mt. Ellis, broke camp, and prepared to head back. With another small detour suggested by Yours Truly.

Moon Rock Security

Our Hero...Now and Always

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Caverns

June 10-15, 2013 

Phase II: Camp Meeting, etc. 
Camp meeting is always a big blur, with no time to post during it, and no brain cells left to remember the full story of what happened. It must be fun, because we keep going back. This is our second year now of leading out in the kids’ department, Early Reader group. The kids are so sweet, and lots of fun to teach.  

Tina is the boss woman, and Jack and I are the assistant leaders, or something. Our two field trips this year were fantastic – the usual trip to the Bozeman Swim Center, and a visit to the bear rescue facility just east of town. Admission to the bears is free, but they ask you to bring an offering of fresh fruits and veggies for the furry residents. I guess you could even call them denizens. Get it? Den-izens!  That was bearly tolerable. 

We finished our 4 days, deeply grateful to God for the opportunity to share with our wonderful peeps.

June 16, 2013 

***Boring business part omitted*** 

Fossilized sea creatures clearly
 visible in the rocks
beside the trail.
To encourage Montana residents to visit, some of the natural and historic sites had special rates for a couple weeks leading up to Father’s Day. And though our badly beaten budget was trembling by this point, we were able to pay the deeply discounted admission to the Lewis and Clark Caverns. $20 for a family of 4 is pretty amazing for a guided cave tour. Ok, so there was one person left over, but still not bad. Ok, so the one person was me. Why am I always the leftover one? But I didn’t quibble, since I got to go in. (If you didn’t know, I’ve got a thing for caves. Big ones, little ones, holes in the ground, giant caverns…they’re all my favorites.)  

Starting from the parking lot, there was a trail up to the cave entrance. Since the rise was 300 vertical feet, it was a bit steep but doable. Got my exercise for the day. The caverns got their name because Lewis and Clark passed by on the river below, failing to discover the adventure in the cliffs above. Boy, I sure wish I could get stuff named after me just for walking nearby it and not finding it—what a racket! My life would have been so much different if I’d learned about this principle sooner. Why, I bet I’ve been close to lots of things! There’s the Noni Beth Gold Mine, the NBG archaeological site, the Hawaiian Noni Active Volcano of Oahu (pretty sure no one has discovered that one yet). The deep sea creature, Monstrumius Gibbsii… the list could go on and on. 

My favorite moment came when they did the obligatory turn-out-all-the-lights maneuver. Tiggy had previously taken her glow-in-the-dark tape and spelled out "DAD" on the back of Jack's sweatshirt. Let's just say we had no problem locating him, even in the pitch blackness. Well, what would have been pitch blackness without the incredible neon glow.

Entrance to the slides.
While still pretty well tamed, this lovely little cave would be shut down due to liability in some states. There were few handrails, only if you really, REALLY needed one, and many places where you had to duck low under formations to enter the next chamber. There was even one place where you had to slide down a little slide to get through. The two slide paths were worn smooth by hundreds of thousands of patooties.  

It was also a novel experience to be so close to all the formations throughout the tour, and not blocked off from them. The guide tells you not to touch, and expects that you will simply not touch. That kind of trust level is completely gone in the other tame caves I’ve visited. Even with more than 80,000 visitors a year, all right up close and personal with formations, even including rare speleothems such as soda straws, there is universal respect.  

Almost universal. 

Deep in the belly of the caverns, there was a chamber containing some of the debris from the exit tunnel blasted back in the early days of the cave tours. One gent decided he would help himself to some formations, and snuck in after closing. That’s how far he got before he ran out of battery in his flashlight. 

The next morning, he sheepishly allowed himself to be escorted out. He was asked not to return. He no doubt boarded one of the trains that used to pass only a few feet below the exit on a terrifying, cliff-hanging railroad track. It’s fine for walking back to the parking lot on, but I can’t imagine riding a train so far above the plunging valley below. What part of “Do NOT build railroads on cliffs” did those early builders not understand??? Apparently the “not”.
My only complaint was that they didn't allow tripods. In case you've never tried to hand-hold exposures of several seconds long, it works about as well as putting railroads on cliffs: you've got something to show for it, but it just shouldn't be done. 

Jack was just about to have to make a short trip to Texas for a conference with our main electronics dealer (at their expense, which is the best kind of business trip to have), so we headed back to help him finish preparing for his trip. We were looking forward to having a couple days to sit around camp, read books, play games, and paint paintings while he was gone. Maybe even take naps! 

A little time of rest sounded really good after our busy week-and-a-half.