Janet's Jargon

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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!


  • At 10:16 PM, Blogger unwriter said…

    I read both parts but I'll answer both with this one post.

    I have read every book you've written but none of them come close to the quality, the feelings, that you have put into this. I can feel what you feel, from your words. This is the most touching, beautiful piece of prose you have ever penned. I am very touched by it and very proud to call you my friend.


  • At 10:25 PM, Blogger Tony Burton said…


    We don't know each other very well... only in 'Net passing you might say. But thank you for sharing this with me. I was lying in bed and feeling very blue, and couldn't sleep. So I got up and there was this notice in my email from you, about your posts about Ivan. Thank you for sharing with me, with all of us. I've had to wipe my eyes more than once, but they were good tears.

    And I'm sure they have great cheddar bay biscuits Up There.

    Tony B.

  • At 10:39 PM, Blogger Pee Wee said…

    A beautiful true life story, Janet. To be sure, we are only a portion of our faults. Your love, your respect, your depth of caring, shines through this read. No better tribute to Ivan could be given. You have kissed and hugged him a million times with this story. And I'm sure he's returning
    those kisses and hugs as he reads it. He might even be giving you a little devil to straighten you out, in his eyes. LOL! I can see him pointing his finger at you and...ending up saying, I love you too.

    Love You
    Pee Wee

  • At 11:14 PM, Blogger Allyn Evans said…


    What a beautiful love story. Thank you for sharing what I know is most personal.

  • At 12:09 AM, Blogger Schuyler Thorpe said…

    Godspeed, Ivan. You gave a woman a wonderful gift and many years of devoted service being a man and a husband to Janet Smith.

    Even though I don't know you or her very well, I know that you gave the best moments of your life to complete strangers whom owe you their lives and more.

    Thanks for being there and may heaven shine on you both to the end.


  • At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Nicole L. said…

    Thank you for sharing this, Janet. I don't post a lot (on P&P) but have always appreciated your warm presence.
    I was only one year old when the two of you were married; thank you for the beautiful reminder that Love is the most powerful and wise force God has created. And yes, mine are good tears too.
    Bless you, and big hugs, my dear.

  • At 2:06 AM, Blogger F J Warren said…

    Dear Janet,

    Heartfelt sympathy for you my dear in the time of your loss and may your joyous memories sustain you from this time forward.

    My thoughts are with you and your family at this sad time.

    F J Warren

  • At 8:17 AM, Blogger Kristie Leigh Maguire said…

    I read your post to Ivan and your lives through a veil of tears.

    Although I have never met either you or Ivan in reality, I know you both through virtual reality.

    Janet, you and I have become so close over the years, through the internet and the telephone lines, that I feel you are the sister I never had.

    You and I have been through many ups and downs together. We have shared many personal and intimate thoughts. We have been there for each other, reaching out and giving virtual hugs to the other when we needed it.

    My sincere thanks to you for sharing this most personal post with us all.

    I asked you yesterday, on the phone, how could one forget the bad times and only remember the good times. I asked this, not in a sarcastic way, but in a true need to know.

    My mother did the same thing when my father passed on 12 years ago. I didn't understand how this was possible.

    You told me, "It no longer seems to matter anymore."

    I now understand. Truly understand.

    My heart goes out to you now. May you feel the biggest virtual hug that you've ever received from me.

    May you continue to absorb the peace and light that comes from knowing that Ivan has been called home to heaven where he will suffer no more pain.

    Your sis in heart,
    Kristie Leigh Maguire

  • At 11:37 AM, Blogger The Belle in Blue said…

    Janet, this is a love story to rival any I've ever read. How lucky you are to have had such love in your life, and how much will you have to look forward to in years to come (MANY years to come) when you'll be reunited with Ivan again in Heaven.

    God bless you, and thank you for sharing your story with the world!

    ~Joyce Scarbrough

  • At 12:14 PM, Blogger Brenda Stratton said…


    Your tribute to Ivan is one of the most powerful and beautiful pieces I have ever read. The deep love you have for each other is so obvious.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Brenda Stratton

  • At 12:30 PM, Blogger Robin Bayne said…

    Thank you for sharing! I am adding your link to my blog roll. Hugs and prayers!

  • At 6:26 PM, Blogger Cate Cavanagh said…

    Dearest Janet. We have become so close over the years and overtime you shared Ivan's antics with me as well as your lives as missionaries. I know he is iN the presence of Creator and that you are blessed as well. Thank you for sharing so much about Ivan and for sharing yourself with all of us. I know you are both blessed.

  • At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Cora said…

    Janet, thank you for writing your story. It was beautiful and besides bringing me to tears, it brought back wonderful memorys of my husband's passing.
    Thank you, God Bless You

  • At 8:16 PM, Blogger Elaine Williams said…

    Dear Janet: I only met you tonight on your radio show, but I just had to visit your blog when you told me your story of Ivan's passing only a week ago. What a brave and strong woman you are, and such a beautiful story you have told. I applaud you and Ivan. Thank you for coming into my life. Elaine Williams

  • At 11:24 PM, Blogger Jack Dixon said…

    Thank you, Janet, for sharing this with us. I believe you handled it perfectly, with grace and strength, honoring Ivan's wishes. My wife and I have had the same difficult discussion about what to do "when the time comes" and her illness overcomes her. I have not been certain I could resist the 911 call, but I know in my heart that everyone should get to make that decision for themselves as long as they are able. It's your strength and love that allowed him his most earnest final wish, and it's admirable, to say the least.

    I'm so sorry for your loss, but I'm so happy for the blessings you have enjoyed with Ivan in your life.

    All the Best,
    Jack Dixon

  • At 9:50 AM, Anonymous babs said…

    This is such beautiful tribute to the love of your life. MY tribute tribute to Ivan is below. My favorite....


    I know your life on earth was troubled
    and only you could know the pain
    You werent afraid to face the devil
    You were no stranger to the rain

    Go rest high upon that mountain
    Son, your work on earth is through
    Go to heaven a shoutin
    Love for the father and the Son

    Oh how we cried the day you left us
    WE gathered round your grave to grieve
    I wish I could see the agels faces
    When they hear your sweet voive sing

    Go rest high upon that mountain
    Son, your work on earth is through
    Go to heaven a shoutin
    Love for the Father and the Son..


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