Archive for May, 2011

There Might Be Hope?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I recently helped John replace some PVC pipe that carries water from one of our ponds to the sprinkling system we use on our lawn.  He had unearthed the pipe, cut out the damaged section, and readied the replacement piece.  Since the part to be replaced was long and had a corner section on one end, he asked me if I could help.  I really didn’t want any part of this project as these situations rarely go well, but my role seemed simple enough.  He would coat the pipe with that purple adhesive, and I would guide the two ends together to the exact spot he had marked on the end of the pipe still in the ground while he held up the other end and completed the same process once I was finished.  I crossed my fingers and hoped this time might be different.

As I lined up the two ends, he barked some last minute instructions, “Make sure you don’t push the new pipe past that mark or this corner won’t line up, and make sure you don’t get any dirt on either pipe.”  The last command was the one that probably jinxed me because I involuntarily lifted the two pieces of pipe higher to make sure they didn’t come in contact with any soil.  This caused the alignment of the pipes to be slightly skewed.  I didn’t have to worry about going past the mark because I barely got the pieces connected before they were set like concrete.  No matter how hard I pushed, the pipe wouldn’t slide any further.

“Keep pushing,” John yelled.

“I can’t get it to slide any more,” I replied.  When John saw how far from his mark the pipe had stopped he asked why I didn’t push the pipe together any more than I had.  I tersely replied that obviously the alignment must have been less than perfect, and if he wanted it done to his satisfaction he probably should have been the one on that end of the pipe.  His red face and taut neck veins indicated he had much more to say on the subject, but I’m sure my response and body language left no doubt that any additional remarks were better left unsaid.  He swallowed hard and said, “I guess time will tell whether or not the pipe is sealed.”  I thought to myself how fortunate it was that he was retired so he would have time to redo the project if a leak developed.  Even though things didn’t go completely according to plan, we managed to avoid what would have been a serious fight in the early years of our marriage.

The next morning as I left for work I saw that he had the sprinklers going on that side of the house.  I asked him if the new section of pipe was leaking, and he said it appeared to be working fine and then added an off-color remark about my ability to lay pipe.  And I was just starting to think there might be some hope for him!!

Saying Good-bye

Monday, May 16th, 2011

When I was growing up, it was uncommon for anyone besides the minister to speak at a funeral.  That practice has changed over the years, and for the most part, I like it.  I have been to a couple of services recently where I didn’t know the deceased at all but went to support a family member I knew.  The shared remembrances of family and friends were so heartfelt and descriptive that I gained a real sense of who the deceased had been and how much he or she meant to loved ones.  The catch-22 of funeral orations is that most of the people who knew the individual well enough to share memories are too emotionally distraught to be able to do it.  I’m sure most people have been to services where a family member has broken down at the podium, and that’s not pretty.

That’s exactly the dilemma I faced when Marlin died.  I felt like I had some things I really wanted to share, but I wasn’t sure I could do it without an embarrassing display of grief.  At the memorial service, I shared a brief, humorous story about Marlin helping John farm one spring.  The ground was so hard that the marker wasn’t working well, and Marlin’s eyesight was poor enough that his first few rows of milo were far from straight.  Since John’s fields are no-till, the squiggly rows remained visible for years and generated good-natured teasing anytime Marlin talked about farming.  I got through that service pretty well, but I forgot several things I wanted to mention since I didn’t really prepare or write down my thoughts.

The night before the funeral in Spring Valley I tossed and turned into the wee hours of the morning and finally got up and began to write down my thoughts.  My voice was pretty shaky as I stood at the podium, but I managed to get through it and share what Marlin had meant to me.

“Marlin was a kind, gentle soul–truly one of the nicest people I ever met.  He came into our family at a difficult time for everyone.  Difficult for us because we were still grieving over the tragic death of my father-in-law, and for me, accepting Marlin in his place made me feel a little disloyal.  I’m sure it was difficult for Marlin because he realized long before some of us did, that he came into our lives just when we needed him most.  But he was content to wait patiently, loving us until we were ready to love him, and of course we did.  How could you not love Marlin?  He never said an unkind word about anyone, and I never heard anyone say an unkind word about him.

He loved Minnesota and often told us stories about his life on the farm and years as a custom cutter and custodian at Spring Valley High School so we are happy he is back home at last.  He talked softly and slowly.  Sometimes so slowly that I wanted to jump in and finish his sentences for him, but if I waited, he would get to the point eventually, and the story was always worth the wait.  Marlin loved good food, and ripe peaches in season were a favorite.  Every year he would find out when the first trucks from Colorado were coming to Salina, and he would load up a case for every family.  I never knew how much those peaches cost because Marlin would never let anyone repay him.  When our own peach trees need trimmed or a tree loaded with fruit needed pruned, we called Marlin.  When he trimmed his own trees, he would cut the twigs into short pieces of kindling and give them to me to start our wood stove in the winter.

Marlin’s later years were filled with joy that came in the form of 5 great-granddaughters.  Nothing put a smile on his face like his little girls.  There were very few plans that couldn’t be rescheduled if he and Grandma Bonnie got the call that they were needed to babysit.

So we have lost our peach supplier, our tree trimmer, our kindling provider, our babysitter extraordinaire, our father, our grandfather, our great-grandfather, our Marlin, and he will be missed forever.”

Sharing those memories was difficult, but it was something I felt I needed to do for me and for Marlin’s friends and relatives.  Even though I was able to have a private conversation with Marlin just a few days before he died to tell him how much he meant to me, I gained some important closure in this final good-bye.

Driving with Marlin

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Marlin was my father-in-law, and he died 9 days ago.  He was 81, and he lived an amazing life, but we weren’t ready for him to go.  Is anyone ever ready?  Marlin married my mother-in law, Bonnie, in 1995, and they had 15 years of happiness that they never thought they would have when they lost their first spouses.  From the beginning they decided that each would be buried with the first spouse so that meant getting Marlin back to Minnesota for interment.  When John went to the funeral home with his mother and sister to make arrangements, they were all a little surprised to find that Marlin’s final trip home was going to be very expensive.  When John questioned the exorbitant amount, the assistant funeral director said that we could transport him ourselves if anyone had a suburban because that’s what they would use.  Since we have a suburban, John agreed to drive Marlin back to Minnesota.

When John told me the plan, I have to admit that initially I was not in love with the idea.  First of all I didn’t think it was legal.  He assured me it was.  Secondly, all my previous experience put me in the mindset that the funeral home director was the expert and should take care of everything.  Then I began to process the information from a more rational, practical point of view, and I came to the realization that this was the very last thing that we would be able to do for Marlin.  Once I thought of it in these terms, I was not only okay with it, I felt honored to offer this service to such a wonderful person.

The trip to Minnesota was long, about 10 hours, but uneventful.  When we arrived at the funeral home in Spring Valley, I felt a huge sense of relief.  I hadn’t really thought about the responsibility we had accepted, but if we had car trouble or an accident, that would really create some problems.  As we were getting ready to leave, the assistant funeral director told us he and Marlin had grown up together so we got to hear some great stories from their early days.  I think he would have talked much longer, but we were exhausted and anxious to get to our motel.  As we were leaving John said, “Marlin was pretty quiet on the trip up until we got to the city limits.  Then I’m pretty sure I heard him let out a big sigh so he must know he’s home.”  What was intended as a joke turned out to be the key that opened the floodgates, and I began to weep.  I think it was a combination of stress, grief, and exhaustion that triggered such an emotional reaction, and John immediately apologized for making me cry.  I regained my composure and we left the bewildered assistant to contemplate whether I had a psychotic break or just really didn’t think John was funny.

The trip home wasn’t exactly uneventful, but that story will have to wait for another time.  Even though it was less stressful, the journey back wasn’t nearly as meaningful because we were driving without Marlin.

How to Save a Life

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The first winter after Spot’s death was hard for John.  When upland bird season rolled around in November, hunting alone with Sis was a poignant reminder of our loss.  It was an unusually cold winter, and before long all the ponds around the house were frozen solid.   We always worried about the dogs when ice was on the ponds, but we made a promise after Spot’s death that we would never put our lives in peril again to rescue a dog.  That’s a very easy statement to make in a calm, rational state of mind.  Unfortunately, in the midst of a crisis, it is impossible to honor.

On an incredibly cold January morning, John walked around the pond on his way to get the morning mail.  Sis headed down the pond bank and started across the frozen surface.  When she was about 25 feet from the bank, she encountered a weak spot in the ice caused by a tree limb that protruded above the surface.  A loud crack and a distinct splash told John what happened before he could turn to look.

Sis’ head bobbed to the surface, and she struggled to get her front paws on the ice as John slid down the bank and rushed toward her.  At first he tried to break the ice with a piece of white PVC pipe he found by the shore to create a path she could swim through to safety.  When the ice proved too solid for that tactic, he hoped it would be solid enough to support him, and he started walking toward Sis, who was showing signs of fatigue already.  He took the PVC pipe along, and when he neared the hole, he lay flat on the ice with the pipe beneath him to disperse his weight as he carefully inched closer.  He grabbed her collar and pulled her from the abyss as a wave of relief washed over him.  Unfortunately, the path Sis chose to the shore lead across John’s body, and as she stepped on his back, their combined weight caused the ice beneath him to give way throwing them both back into the frigid water.

Since Sis was trying to use John as a flotation device, he knew his first priority was to get her out of the water.  The effort he exerted pushing her onto the ice pushed him beneath the water, and the crushing cold caused a brief wave of panic.  He hoped he could use the PVC pipe to push himself onto the ice, but it only took a moment to determine the water was too deep for that plan.  As his wet clothes started to drag him down, the ice that was too solid to break before suddenly didn’t seem so thick.  Using the end of the PVC pipe, he chipped away at the edge moving slowly toward the shore.  When his feet finally touched the bottom of the pond, a surge of adrenaline helped him propel his body onto the ice.

By the time he walked the quarter mile to the house, he couldn’t control his chattering teeth.  Soaking in a bathtub of hot water was followed by warm beverages in front of a roaring fire.  When I got home, he appeared completely recovered as he told me the story of how he saved Sis and ruined ANOTHER cell phone.  At least this time he saved the dog, but he needs to figure out how to rescue his dogs without the need to save his own life.

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