Janet's Jargon

Fun lifestyles, charitable acts, great fiction, author support, Patrick and Grace Mysteries, Keith clan trilogy,

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Last Hurrah!

(Click on the title to go to Amundson Funeral Home and sign the guestbook)

A Fond Farewell

The weather had risen above zero, but the wind was still brisk as I headed for the Federated Church to say my last goodbye to Ivan. Everything was ready. A fellow from across the street had taken the car on Thursday to put some gas in it and check the levels of the fluids. Such a thoughtful gesture. Diane Sawyer, as you saw in my previous post, had added her vote of affirmation by announcing that the entire country was to dress in red in honor of people who had died from heart disease. Did Ivan have a stroke or a heart attack at 3 o'clock on Tuesday afternoon? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. His heart was in heaven, and everyone was encouraged to wear red in honor of Ivan, as far as I was concerned.

From the moment the first arrangements began, God had His hand on everything. I was left alone for the most part to do what I needed to do. People just took charge, and I cannot thank them enough.
On Tuesday evening I called Keith Mills, our minister, to tell him that we wanted the funeral at the church. He asked about the mortuary, and I told him that he had been taken to Amundson Funeral Home.

Amundsons were amazing. They asked a few simple questions about what I wanted. Ivan always said he wanted "the cheapest coffin there was, and where I am buried doesn't matter, because I'm not staying in that box for long anyway." By the time the funeral arrived, I knew he was above, looking down at us, giving his eagle eye of approval to every single tiny detail.

One of the Amundsons--I'm not sure if it was Paul or Mark--asked me if I wanted flowers on the casket, or would I prefer an American flag, which Ivan had earned because of his military service. I knew immediately that he would want the flag. He was extremely proud of his time in the Army, and he loved his country deeply, even if he didn't always agree with their politics.

I told Amundsons, and Keith Mills when he called me the next morning, that I had asked our good friend John Crawford to sing "Amazing Grace." That was agreeable with them. Ivan loved music. I can see now that he must have known sometime earlier that he didn't have much time left here on earth. I think it must have been about 3 months earlier that a women's ensemble (5 women) sang "I'll Fly Away" one Sunday morning. That might not be anything outstanding to many of you, but the Federated Church does not sing a lot of rousing old "camp songs" in their regular services. As the women began to sing, Ivan turned to me and said, "When I go, I want them to sing that." The hymn was special to him. Years before I knew him, he had gone to a funeral for a family in Oklahoma that had been killed in a car accident. He said it was the most moving and happiest thing he had ever seen. As he bade farewell at the end of the funeral, you knew he was probably clapping in time to the music of "I'll Fly Away."

The church secretary sent a notice out on Wednesday morning to the congregation about Ivan's passing and the time of the funeral. Within a few minutes after it went out, Job Christianson, who has a beautiful voice and is a professional musician/performer, called the church and asked if he could also sing. Keith called me and I was thrilled. Ivan loved Job's singing. As the service began, Job's voice filled the sanctuary with "You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up... To more than I can be." And we all knew that Ivan had indeed been lifted up on God's shoulders.

And then there was Devera Warcup. She is the church organist, even though she is (I think) a member of the Presbyterian Church. Ivan dearly loved her organ playing. Many a Sunday morning, towards the end when it was so difficult for him to get in and out of the car he would ask me, "Is Devera playing today?" I would answer, "The choir is singing today, so I know she will be." Devera also directed the choir, usually to the piano accompaniment of Thelma Willett, which he also loved. He would smile and say, "Then we should try to go. It doesn't matter who is preaching."
And when it comes to the preaching, he adored Keith Mills' sermons. Having preached many sermons himself, he always commented to Keith about the sermon after the service. He also often told Keith a joke.
The Federated Church, you must understand, is a weird breed. When Urban Renewal took both the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church out of the downtown area, the two churches merged and became The Federated Church. Strange bedfellows, but it works.

As we would drive home after the service, Ivan would often grin and remark, "Keith's Christian and Missionary Alliance background was sticking out today."

I knew it was going to be very special from the moment someone handed me the little folder with the information about Ivan and the service. The front of it had a picture of an eagle in flight, with the words "On Eagle's Wings" on it. Ivan always loved eagles. He has a collection of ceramic and porcelain eagles that people have given him over many years. He has a black bolo tie with a gold eagle clasp on it.

After the funeral, I asked Raquel if she had selected the folder. She said, "No, I thought you had." On Monday, I asked Paul Amundson about it. He said he had chosen it. "It just seemed like the right one," he said, not aware of Ivan's love of eagles. I am going to take one of his ceramic eagles over to Amundson's. It just seems right.

I gave the eulogy. I wanted to do that. I wanted to let people know the Ivan I knew. I also wanted to tell of all the amazing things that had happened within the last few days. I don't know, but I don't remember there ever being a round of applause after a eulogy at any funeral I had ever attended. But there it was. I could feel him saying, slyly, "You just had to steal the limelight one last time, didn't you?" No, my dear, I did not want to steal it from you. I just wanted to let them know why you had it.

Anyway, I digress. Getting back to the music, I had not thought about the fact that there would be an honor guard from the Legion, the VFW, and the National Guard. Nor that there would be a bugler to play taps. I was fine until that moment. As the mournful notes echoed throughout the church, I reflected on the bugle and taps. Ivan's father was in World War I. He was the bugler for his unit. Years later, he played in a competition in South Dakota. He won. We have the bugle, engraved with the date and his name on it, up on top of the piano. It was 1932, the year Ivan was born. When Willy, our oldest child, was about 3 years old, "Grandpa Bumpa" taught him to play the taps on the bugle. His little cheeks puffed out so he resembled a chipmunk. In a week or two I will pack the bugle up and send it off to Willy.

And then came the presentation of the flag. I stood, watching impatiently, as they so slowly folded the flag, exactly as Ivan had taught me to do with the old flag we had. It was a special flag that was presented to him after he came back from Korea by the senator of South Dakota. I don't remember his name anymore. It had been flown over the Whitehouse. In 1997, after Grand Forks' terrible flood, it was gone. It had been in our storage shed. It was one of those things that "One day we'll get another one," but it never happened. He now has his flag. I'm not sure, but I suspect that the older fellow who handed the flag to me was likely a Korean War vet too. I must find out who he is. I need to thank him--personally.

And the final step was the lunch that the women of the church served. The odd events that surrounded that on Thursday evening, when Dorothy Suggs and her daughter Sarah stopped by the house to visit me. Dorothy is always in charge of things like lunches, rummage sales, etc.

As we sat and reminisced, I told Dorothy about the red dress incident. I also told her that one of the very last things Ivan said to me was, "I don't want anybody to be sad. This is a celebration of life."

The color drained from Dorothy's face and Sarah took a deep breath. I asked them what was going on. Dorothy explained, "I was going to have that put on the cake--a celebration of life--but I thought I'd better ask you first." So, it was emblazoned on the cake--in bright red frosting!

As our daughter made her way to the table with the food, I heard her take a deep breath and then laugh. "Cowboy ronis and tater tot hotdish," she exclaimed.
When our kids were little, Raquel loved macaroni and cheese, but she refused to eat a "hotdish" with the added hamburger, onions and tomato soup. Likewise, the boys cringed at the mere mention of a "hotdish." Ivan soon duped the boys by renaming it "Cowboy Roni." The boys loved it. They still do.

And the tater tot hotdish? A group called SIL--a branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators--always has a training session here in Grand Forks at UND. For many years, Mary Walker was the cook. She could stretch a few cents worth of food farther than a rubber band. But her tater tot hotdish was something else. When the students knew that was on the menu, they would opt for a small hamburger from McDonald's. There were always leftovers, and she would call us to pick it up so Mission Socorro could give it to the migrant workers. Many of them would look at it and say "I guess we really aren't that hungry after all," and they would leave empty-handed.

If Ivan saw the table, I know he was laughing hysterically. It could not have been more perfectly planned if he had done it himself.

And so, Ivan was carried out of the church and put into the hearse for his last ride. He will be buried in the spring, but it won't matter. He's already gone, and he's loving every second of his new life.

Of course I miss him. Like I told my dear friend, Kristie Leigh Maguire, sure there were some rough spots along the way, but somehow they don't matter anymore. The memories--the good ones--are here, and they're not going anywhere.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ivan--true to the end

(Read the obituary by clicking on the title)
In January, 2008, I began to notice that Ivan was growing weaker, almost daily. It was hard for him to move in and out of the wheelchair to other surfaces, even with help. I found myself doing more of the lifting, and I don't think I was even aware of it until the last couple of days. I didn't notice all the black and blue spots and incredibly sore muscles until a couple of days after he was gone. We all do what we have to do when it is required of us, and God somehow gives us the strength, both physical and emotional, that we need.

I think the hardest part of it was when he could no longer get in and out of the car. Many were the times in the last two weeks when he wanted to go to Red Lobster or to church and he would say, "Let's try it one more time." And he just couldn't do it, so we would turn around and go back into the house. He loved to be the center of attention. Maybe that was the preacher part of him.

On his last Sunday it took me almost two hours to get him lifted from the toilet seat to his chair. He was a big man--6 feet tall and still almost 200 pounds. I realized that I had to lift him completely as his strength was completely gone. I managed to get him into the wheelchair and into bed. On Monday, he managed to get into the wheelchair, but Monday night in moving him again from the toilet seat to the chair, he slid forward and landed on the floor. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get him up. Our daughter came to help me, as well as a neighbor lady. After more than two hours, we finally got him into the bed.

On Tuesday, God knew we didn't need to try to move him, so he sent us the coldest day of the winter. It was 29 below zero, with a windchill of nearly 50 below. It was so cold in our old mobile home, I told Ivan I could tend to my phone business in the bedroom just as easily as anyplace so we might as well just stay in under the electric blanket and goose down comforter. Part of it was because of the cold, and part of it was because I was afraid he'd fall again.

Before long, he became nauseated, but I stayed by his side all day. We talked more, uninterrupted, than I think we had talked in years. We reminisced over so many of the good times. At noon he wanted me to go check to see if he'd had any e-mails from the kids. It was so cold that after 3 tries to hook up to the Internet the phone rang and ATT was calling to say that there were technical difficulties due to the weather. I went back and told him, and I just crawled under the blankets with him.

About 1 o'clock he said, "Will you promise me something?" I told him I would if I could. He said, "Will you promise me that you won't wear black to my funeral? It's a time of celebration. Wear that long red dress I always liked so much." I told him I would.

Ivan always had an uncanny sense of time, and in many ways it seemed like he could almost sense what the Universe was trying to say. He would often ask what time it was, then give the time before he looked at his watch, and I don't remember him ever being more than a minute off. He could point his finger at the light and it would stay green until we got through the intersection. His final hours were that way.

A few minutes before 3 o'clock, he was still vomiting and he was having a hard time controlling his urinating. I told him I was going to call the hospital and have them send an ambulance to take him to the hospital. He took my hand, and the last thing he said to me until the very end was "Don't make me go to the hospital. I can't go to a nursing home." (That had been his biggest fear for months.) "Just please let me stay here with you until it's over." He was not asking; he was pleading. I couldn't do anything different.

Within a matter of minutes, his breathing became very raspy and gruff. I prayed harder than I've ever prayed before. "God I don't know what to do. I know I am going to have to have him taken someplace by the morning. I don't know how to decide this. Please, God, make this decision for me. PLEASE!"

He tried so hard to tell me something. I couldn't understand anything he said. His words were all slurred together and nothing made any sense. I tried to get him to talk slow so I could figure out what he wanted to tell me, but it didn't work. Then he went to sleep, but his breathing was still so heavy. I didn't know what to do, so I just held him. And waited--for I didn't know what.

Shortly before 8 that evening, he began to sing. When he was in Korea he was friends with a little Korean houseboy. The boy taught him several hymns in Korean. He used to sing them to the kids when they were little, but I hadn't heard him sing them in years. Suddenly, with his voice and his words as clear as a bell, he began to sing, "Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Hallelujah! Amen! Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Revive us again." It was in his beloved Korean version that he sang. He sang it over and over again.

Ivan had a wonderful sense of humor, but he seldom laughed. I mean REALLY laughed. But now he began to laugh like I had never heard him laugh. He threw back his head and laughed a deep, hearty belly-roll laugh. He did that for 2 or 3 minutes. I kept asking him what was so funny. Finally he said, again with no slurred speech at all, "Everything! Everything is funny!" I told him I didn't understand, and he just kept on laughing. Then he said, in totally clear speech, "Everything! Everything up here is funny." He stopped for a few seconds, then he said, "Maybe it's not funny. It's happy. Oh, everything up here is so happy!"

And then he began to snore again. I got up and went to the bathroom. I was gone less than 2 minutes. When I got back, his snoring had ceased. I tried to shake him to see if he was all right. There was nothing there. I checked for a pulse, but there was none. I called our daughter, and she told me she was on her way over but that I should call 911. How many thousand people over the years on the HELP line at Mission Socorro had I told that?

In almost no time at all, they police, the fire dept. and the ambulance workers arrived. They were wonderful! They had a job to do, and they tried their best to do it. Still, one by one they stopped on their way out to get something else that they needed, they stopped for a few seconds to let me know they were still working on him. After I would guess maybe 20 or 25 minutes they managed to get an extremely weak pulse, but by then they told me that the brain damage after that long would mean that he would have no quality of life if he did survive. Both my daughter and I said that was the one thing he was most afraid of, and told them to stop trying to bring him back. And he was gone...

But back to his sense of the Universe. About 10 o'clock I called a very close friend, Billie Williams, and told her what had happened. She posted it to several mutual online groups we belong to. The next day, Wed., Barbara Williamson-Wood, a wonderful Native American woman in Montana, put out a plea for people all across the country to light a candle for Ivan at 10 o'clock on Thurs. night. By having them lit in different time zones, she said there would be a continuous trail across the country to light Ivan's way into heaven.

I was able to contact the only person I know in Venezuela who has a computer. I didn't say anything to her about the candles, but in her reply she said, "You realize that tomorrow is the Festival of Luminarias, don't you? There will be candles lit in every town in Mexico, Central and South America." Ah, yes, I told you Ivan liked to be the center of attention!

There were so many things that were so perfectly synchronized, I know I have only touched the surface. One of the other things was about the red dress. As I turned the TV on on Fri. morning, the day of his funeral, the very first words I heard were from Diane Sawyer on Good Morning, America. She said, "Today is National Wear Red Day!" It was in honor of people who have died from heart disease or heart attacks. As I looked around the church, I was amazed. Over half the people there were wearing something red! I asked many of them if they had heard it on the news, and not one of them had.

But the final straw was when a young very blonde woman I didn't recognize came over to greet me. She told me who she was, by name, and that she was a friend of our daughter from Mayville, a little town about 30 miles south of Grand Forks. I realized who she was. Our daughter and her dad shared a great love of photography. She has her own photography business, and her dad was very proud of her. About a month ago, she came over and asked her dad if he could run off some prints of a woman for whom she had taken wedding pictures. Along with the wedding pictures were some pretty sexy shots of a much younger view of the same woman. It seems that she was a Playboy centerfold model several years ago.

Yes, the blonde at the funeral was that same woman. She was very gracious and said she would like to take me to Red Lobster for lunch sometime. God has to have a divine sense of humor. I could almost see Ivan grinning in the seat next to me as I drove home from the funeral, asking me, "Do you know any other minister who could get a Playboy bunny to come to their funeral, and to do it with such class?"

One of the managers from Red Lobster brought me a name tag from Red Lobster that said, "Mr. Smith." It went with him. Many of the children who were at the funeral had brought pictures and they put them in the casket with him.

I will one day tell about the funeral. It was the most beautiful service I have attended. But as my best friend in town, Gwen Crawford, would say, "But not today." It's been a long day.

I hope they found a bagpipe to accompany the harps as Ivan passed through the Pearly Gates to the refrains of "Amazing Grace!"

I miss you, but if your Internet connection up there is not frozen up, I'll be fine. It's been quite a ride, my love!

My Ivan--throughout his past (long post)

(March 19, 1932-Jan. 29, 2008)

I hardly know where to start this. The past week has been the most incredible one of my life. What could have been the saddest one left me feeling closer to God than I have ever felt.

Some of you know that Ivan, my husband for over 42 years, began a battle for a "normal" life more than 11 years ago. He was quite ill, but being as stubborn as a Venezuelan burro, he refused to go to the doctor until it was almost too late. By that time gangrene had set into his left leg and he had it amputated. He had not been eating properly (his choice, not mine) and his electrolytes were all messed up, he was very anemic, and they discovered that he had diabetes.

He got a prosthesis but many days he did not want to use it. Other days he could not use it, as his stump was too swollen to get it on. After years of not using his leg, it was finally beginning to take its toll and in the last few months I have watched him get weaker and weaker. I tried, again, to get him to go to the doctor, but again he refused. I finally quit fighting; like an alcoholic, if a person is not willing to make changes in their life, there is nothing anybody else can do. I refuse to feel guilty about this.

One of Ivan's great joys was to go to Red Lobster. That might sound extravagant, when you consider that our income has never been very high. It really wasn't. We would often divide a meal, and the fun he had with the managers, the "doorkeepers," as he called the hosts, and the servers. Over the years we saw many young people move on to other places, and he would often buy all sorts of various sized suitcases and he would give them one to help them on their way. His tipping was always well above the recommended amount. When somebody was getting married or having a baby, he would give them extra "just for what you need." He once paid the Internet connection for a server who was a college student and who was getting really tired of having to go to UND to do their homework.

Ivan loved kids. Many a time he said, "I think God took my leg off and put me in a wheelchair so I would be on the same level as they are. When I was 6' tall they couldn't see anything but my knees." Kids would often come up to him and ask him about his leg. Many mothers were horrified, but he always told them to let the kids be curious, as that was the way they would learn things. The incision mark on his leg (just below the knee) was about 2 inches up. He would ask them if they wanted to see it. If they did, he would pull his pants leg up, take a marker out of his pocket and draw two little eyes and a nose to match the mouth that was already there, and it would become a puppet that he used to tell the kids about eating properly, making other kids that were "different" feel good about themselves, etc. It became his teaching tool.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Ivan had a dream. It was to establish a ministry of helps to reach troubled people in all walks of life. In 1971 he and I established Mission Socorro in Grand Forks, ND, after we returned from having spent 9 years as missionaries in Venezuela. During his life, we have helped literally thousands of families. He saw his dream realized. His idea of reaching others had its birth when he was in the Army. He was at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, MD. He fell in love with that city, and he always regretted not having returned there at least for a visit after he came back from Korea, where he spent 2 years as an ammunitions specialist. While he was there, he met the Lord in a very personal way, and that relationship governed everything else he ever did. He notified the Army that he would go to Korea to help the country he loved in the Korean War, but that he would do so as a conscientious objector. He stood guard right near the front lines many nights, but he refused to put any ammo in his gun. He would turn both his clip and his gun over to the next man on duty. He always carried a pocket New Testament in his jacket pocket. Only once was he fired at and the New Testament stopped the bullet dead in its tracks and he was not hurt. He had that New Testament with the bullet still in it until the flood of 1997. It was in the storage shed we had out behind our mobile home, and he lost it. He cried. He said he hoped that if somebody found it in Winnipeg (the Red River here flows north), he hoped it would protect them.

Ivan's dream came about also because of a very kind Army officer he met in Washington, DC. Ivan had gone into the capitol so he could say he had done it. When he went to return to the base, he realized that he had spent more than he had intended to and he was short a few dollars for the return trip. The officer heard of his problem, so he handed Ivan some money. Ivan tried to get the officer's name and address so he could send it back to him. The officer refused, telling him simply to do something nice for somebody else someday. Ivan has done that for thousands of people in those years between 1951 and 2008.

I will not lie to you; Ivan was not always the easiest person in the world to live with. He could be, like I said, as stubborn as anyone I've ever seen. He could be obnoxious if he saw someone being mistreated. He didn't always have a lot of patience. We all have our faults. Now that he is gone, I can't totally forget all of those traits. He was very human. However, I have chosen to put those things behind me and instead dwell on the many good parts of his personality. As Pee Wee Hamilton reminded me today, "Love means never having to say I'm sorry." I'm not sorry. I loved him, human as he was. Oh, yes, there were times when I wanted to strangle him, but there were other times when I wanted to just take him in my arms and try to make him understand that things didn't have to get under his skin the way he sometimes let them.

I don't think, from what he said, that Ivan had a particularly happy childhood. There were no outstanding things that anybody did to mistreat him, but he was born in 1932, lived through the depression, the family struggled to survive financially, and his mother died long before I met him. I only knew his father and his two brothers. I adored his father. Nobody could want for a better in-law.

Maybe it was his childhood that made him often overly protective of our own 3 kids. He insisted that we take them to school, all the way through high school. They sometimes resented that, but they never questioned his reasons for doing so. His love for his family was one of his strongest traits.

When we got married, in Dec. 1965, my mother warned me that I shouldn't marry him. After quite a few years I understood why she said that. Ivan was a lot like my dad, and my parents, much like Ivan and I, had our ups and downs. Before my mother died, however, in 1996, she admitted that "both of them turned out pretty good."

Ivan was extremely proud of his Scottish heritage. He was the inspiration for my Keith Trilogy, which was based on one of his ancestral lines. On our 35th anniversary I hired a bagpiper to come to church to play Amazing Grace, which was his very favorite song, even though he never could hold the tears back when he heard it. The picture above on the right was taken that day.

Anyway, that is part of what made Ivan who he was. Please read the following part to see about the incredible last week of his life. There could be no question but what he was a very special person, not only to me, our kids and the countless people he helped during his life, but that God was anxiously awaiting him as well.