Janet's Jargon

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

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.


  • At 10:06 PM, Blogger Pee Wee said…

    I'm not sure I can talk much less write after what you've said. How profound. How loving.

    You know, what you said makes me appreciate and tolerate more misgivings in my own man. So you have reflected on my own life as well as your own.

    Amd thank you for calling attention to what is... "after all is said and done."
    love you
    Pay Way

  • At 5:40 PM, Blogger Celia Hayes said…

    Shall we gather at the river,
    Where bright angels he has brought,
    With it's crystal tides forever
    Flowing by the throne of God

    Yes, we'll gather at the river.
    The beautiful, the beautiful, river.
    Gather with the saints at the river,
    That flows by the throne of God

    Ere we reach the shining river
    Lay we every burden down,
    Praise our spirits will deliver
    And provide our robe and crown.

    Yes, we'll gather at the river.
    The beautiful, the beautiful, river.
    Gather with the saints at the river,
    That flows by the throne of God

    Soon we'll reach the shining river,
    Soon our pilgimage will cease,
    Soon our happy hearts will quiver
    With the melody of peace.

    Yes, we'll gather at the river.
    The beautiful, the beautiful, river.
    Gather with the saints at the river,
    That flows by the throne of God

    Best I can do for you, Janet - that and "Vaya con Dios, Ivan"

    Celia H.

  • At 8:40 PM, Blogger Pamela Tyner said…

    That was beautiful and very touching. He sounds like a wonderful man.

  • At 8:27 AM, Blogger MJ Allaire said…

    Wow Janet... I know you from the IAG group and I don't post, but I do frequently read your postings.

    Your blog touched my heart. I was married for 18 years and am now divorced. My current boyfriend of 3 years (which seems like seconds compared to your numerous years with Ivan) has Aspergers Syndrome and sometimes is difficult to be around, but he knows my heart and I know his and that's what matters.

    Now that I have reached middle age, I fully understand how fast life goes and to not take anything for granted. I frequently tell my children I love them and want nothing more than the best for them...

    After reading your post, it just makes me want to gather them up into the biggest bear hug you could ever imagine.

    Thank you.

    Hugs from a fellow author and friend,

    MJ Allaire


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