Last Fall our family received word that Jack was entering into his last chapter of life… he had told the family he wasn’t feeling well, they went to a few Dr appointments, ran several tests and he told the family that he didn’t want to know if he was dying. He didn’t want to know if he was sick. He just wanted to be comfortable… we started counting the days.
I spent weeks thinking about summer vacations at his house, his jokes, his love for his dear Joann (he was so steadfast during her years of illness)… weeks went by and I reminisced.
Within a few weeks I ran across an article about a high level executive who retired and spent the next year travelling to visit those who had left an imprint on his life … I can’t find the article now (or the name of the book that was written about his journey). But the concept is this: he made a list of 15-20 people who had left a deep imprint in his life. He sat down and wrote letters to those individuals, thanking them for their influence in his life and citing examples of why he was thankful for their presence in his life.
I too wanted to do this… I started with a letter to Jack…
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Greetings from Southern California! It got down to 41 degrees here last night… made me think of a wintry Oregon. And of course I thought about my favorite Oregonian…
Was hoping to get a Thanksgiving card in the mail to you… but the more I thought about it I wanted to write you a note. And this “note” wouldn’t fit into a card. So here is a letter I’ve spent some time thinking about for several days.
You’ve known me since I was … oh about, 11 days old. You’re like a Grandfather to me. And whether you believe it or not your influence on my life has been monumental…
Not that you need to be told… but I want you to know that your life, your existence, has touched mine. That your desire to do what’s right and be a decent human being is leaving quite a legacy for more than just your immediate family. Your day-to-day “walk” has left footprints in a lot of lives.
Let’s see if I can do your legacy any justice by sharing what it means to me, let’s see if I can find the words …
– Your work ethic has long been an example to me. That stinky egg ranch, and your tedious care for your business, left an indelible mark on my childhood and into my adulthood. For quite a few summers, Loren and I reaped the benefit of your hard work every time we swam in your pool or chased the dog around your never-ending yard or vacationed for a few days with the Wyne family. The Wyne legacy lives on even stronger today… in our childhood we had no idea how much work went into running a ranch and household of that size. Looking back on it now… we wonder how you and Joanne did it. You would rise before the sun (which I now do on a daily basis) to tend to your responsibilities. With great precision you would hit the “to do” list to get done what needed gettin’ done. Every day… you got up, you put your shoes on, you went to work. Thank you.
– Your wacky sense of humor, and overall view on life, has helped me get through some tough times as well as everyday life. From time to time I’ll say something silly to someone and they stop and look, mouth hung open, at me as if I just fell off my rocker… and I giggle inside and think of you. Thank you for your realistic, wacky, shocking sense of humor. Your sheepish grin will live on in my memory FOREVER. Every day … you made numerous people laugh and/or smile and/or cause some major annoyance. Thank you.
– Your devotion (and love and care and tenderness) to your wife simply goes unheralded. What an example of a Godly man/husband/father. I remember vacation mornings when Joanne would be in the kitchen working on breakfast and you’d come in from outside and plant a kiss on her shoulder or grab her and give her a hug. As a kid I remember looking for that look you two would give each other… for a picture of the love you two shared. Over the next 20+ years you cared for her, met her every need and comforted her through some very rough times. She loved you for it and so do your kids. Few of us got to see that softer side of Jack in action… I’m lucky to be one of those people. Thank you.
– Your “oomph” for life gives the rest of us (your immediate and extended family) desire for life. You know how to be serious (although some people may not believe that), you know how to have fun, you know how to work hard and you know how to make an impact on others. Thank you.
We are all better people for knowing you and loving you.
Fast forward to July 25, 2011. I awoke with a sudden feeling… and for some reason wondered if we’d be saying goodbye to Jack this week. 4 days later I received the phone call … RIP Jack.
I had the honor of reading this letter at his memorial service, his crazy wacky memorial service… one that will go down in history!
As I read the letter I saw tears streaming down the faces of those present… and I knew that my perspective of Jack was unique. Quite the joker he was… but I got to see that softer side. And then I got to share it with others…
Jack – you left quite the impression… we love you for it!
It’s been 4 months… and we’re finally cleaning up his house.
We all came together … in our work clothes. And painted, swept, cleaned out, tossed junk, had dinner together, laughed…
We went through cabinets, closets, the garage, more cabinets… we laughed at the number of broken eye glasses, pocket knives, and pocket-sized magnifying glasses that were stashed in dresser drawers, kitchen cabinets, boxes, etc.
How many pocket sized magnifying glasses does one Granpa need?! Quite entertaining!
We found stashes of things that were important to him over the years: awards he won at work, commemorative items he saved from work, foreign coins from his travels, newspaper clippings, programs from friends’ funerals and weddings, the video tape of Gramma’s funeral…
The best part of it all? We split up the franciscan apple china …
These place settings were on my Gramma’s dining table at every holiday dinner. One of our most valued inherited pieces… and now we all have a few pieces of it. We split up the place settings, vegetable/fruit bowls, gravy boats, dessert platters, etc.
And when we left the house we didn’t even say goodbye… it didn’t feel right. We just left and didn’t look back.
We were too sad… he’s gone. The house didn’t look like him anymore. Our memories of him have been dispersed and are now perched on shelves and counters in our own homes. The memories are there… but he isn’t.
As part of my healing process I’ve been reminiscing… I’ve been keeping myself busy by scanning old family photos and slides. Some of them date back to the late 1800’s… and they’ve been hidden in an old trunk. I’ve never seen most of these pics. So this was like a treasure chest!
The family photo storage bin has been endless… I believe we have scanned well over 5000+ images!!!
As a lover of both history and photography I find it so important to preserve this history. A big priority has been to make sure all of the family members get copies of these digital files. At some point in the future I hope to start an ancestry.com account soon to link up our family history with distant relatives.
This process has taken months. Endless hours have been spent on this project. Scanning. Digitally re-coloring, adjusting tone, cropping. Renaming files. Burning discs for family. Backing up files on disc. Phew… my computer and fingertips are worn out!
But it’s a process I wouldn’t trade for the world. Can I put a dollar amount on the amount of time I’ve spent on this? No.
The best part of it all? Finding some gems, in the form of photos, of my grandparents in their dating days… priceless. Simply priceless!
I no longer carry my phone w/ me everywhere… expecting THE phone call at any moment.
I no longer wake in the middle of the night and look at my phone … to see if I missed THE phone call.
I no longer jump to answer the phone when it rings… thinking it’s THE phone call.
I no longer drive 30 miles south a few times a week… and no longer get to have Saturday morning breakfast with my Grampa.
I no longer have that extra quiet time in the car… to process the daily grieving and think through the family issues related to Grampa’s end of life.
I no longer spend extra money on gas… and yet in a heartbeat I’d spend it all over again for one more trip south to see my Grampa.
Having family around more often over the past few months has been cathartic.
Even in the hard times we were laughing… that’s just how we roll.
The laughter with the family will resume… once we come together again to spend time with each other.
Until then… it’s quiet these days.
So in the absence of the phone ringing (and long conversations with family) and the long drives and the enjoyable & necessary family time… I now catch up on “reading people and meeting books”.
These were just a few of the things on my ‘to do (eventually)’ list… and now my time has been freed up a bit so that I can resume checking off the list. This week alone I have taken 3 naps, finished 3 books I was in the middle of and have actually made dinner every night…
Other items on my ‘to do’ list: scan in old family slides, host a girls’-only dinner in the backyard, enjoy my Saturday mornings at home (my favorite time to be at home – if you know me well you know I protect this time as much as possible), etc.
Life resumes… but now without Grampa.
And while I miss him dearly everyday I’m kind of jealous that he has been reunited with Gramma. We love you both and know that you have smiles on your faces once again…
It was his muffled response to my “I love you, Grampa!” I kissed his temple and brushed his hair back over his forehead. I was saying goodbye for the day, a short visit. But an important visit.
The next day his body fell into a deep sleep, his body fighting for the next 72 hours. All the effort his body could give … it was focusing on his heart beat and his breathing. He was with us for a few more days… but he never awoke again.
Sitting next to him, off and on for several days, singing “Amazing Grace”… praying for him… hoping his last breath would be peaceful… sharing fond memories… laughing to him as I recalled funny stories… hoping my meager efforts could make his last few days as comfortable as possible.
Family came and went… we laughed, we cried, we loved him.
We were ready to say our “goodbye” and longed for him to be in a better place.
And in his last minutes, when his breating was long and labored, it was still peaceful. He took a breath… and then there wasn’t another breath.
We gathered ’round and cried a bit. We said “Thank you, Jesus!” And eventually we resumed laughing. (Some might think this is inappropriate… but that’s how we handle this thing we call “life”.) More than anything… we are happy he is in a better place.
It started roughly 3 weeks ago… leading up to that we realized his eating abilities had slowed down. It would take a while for him to chew his few bites of food. He would eat about half of his meal… and then he would grab for his napkin. In his world, that is the international sign for “It’s time for dessert”.
Then something switched in his body. About 3 weeks his eating nearly stopped. While he would eat a few bites at meals – most of it would come back out. Or he would “pocket” the food – hold it in his cheek. Sometimes he would swallow it – sometimes he wouldn’t. His caregivers took the time to explain that at that point it’s dangerous to put more food in his mouth or give him liquids. It’s obviously a choking hazard. So the struggle ensued to encourage him to eat, but he can’t be forced.
He is still drinking liquids (but only his favorites) – he sure LOVES his chocolate nutritional drink, holding on to it for dear life. However, he can’t be fooled when we hand him a vanilla drink – he makes a sour face and pushes it away.
Now, 3 weeks later…
He won’t eat his favorite mashed potatoes and gravy…
He won’t eat meat (his mother is turning over in her grave!)…
He won’t …
He just won’t…
Regardless, he WILL eat vanilla ice cream. The whole bowl of it…
As his family knows he has always enjoyed his ice cream.
(insert childhood memory here)
On any given night… Grampa would sit down with his dessert: a bowl of ice cream and cake/brownies/cookies. (Back in the day, Gramma would make a new dessert almost every night.) But somehow it would never “COME OUT EVEN”. He would either run out of cake and still have ice cream left, or the other way around.
He would rise from his favorite chair to go back to the kitchen (and if you looked closely you could see a grin cross his mouth)… he needed either more ice cream or more cake (or more of both). And in true Grampa form, sometimes on the second round it wouldn’t “come out even” again… and so we’d get to see another one of those cute grins.
And back to today… he may only be days to weeks away from closing up the final chapter of his life.
So it is appropriate: in his last days, the only thing he will eat is ICE CREAM.
It’s a bittersweet realization… but appropriate.
We pray for his safety and his health and his peacefulness…
And in the end, God’s timing is always perfect.
Our family couldn’t have orchestrated any better timing to call a meeting … it was clear to needed to sit down to talk through his physical/health needs and plans for future inevitabilities. The medical social worker knew it was time to call that … but we think it was God’s doing.
The bed sores on his feet have worsened. His mental state is declining. His physical abilities are diminishing. He needs an elevated level of care… he needs a knowledge base that we don’t have.
The timing on all of this was perfect… our family couldn’t battle this one out on our own any longer. We are happy that the medical professionals, who have walked this path before, are coming along side us to be the caregivers… for our entire family. We are sad to see him decline. But we are relieved to have help.
And I believe we are also ready to give him one more kiss and tell him one more time “I love you”… and to wait for him to turn, look at us and utter “I love you, too.”
One person, even two people cannot take care of an Alzheimer’s patient on their own. It takes a team, a whole team of people to support and encourage each other, to help with ordering medical supplies, dealing with insurance approvals, tending to the emotional needs of the patient and the family members, to reminisce with each other over this long loss of life.
A note on Alzheimer’s…
For some people it could start and end within a year.
For other families it could take over a decade to watch this decline.
There is simply no time line for this disease to break down the body and the brain. So we hold on to each day, each moment, each memory as if it is our last. Because you never know if it will be…
And somehow, God’s timing is still perfect. He is preparing the hearts of our family members, getting our hearts ready to say ‘goodbye’ and preparing for a future without our loved one.
I got to see Gramps shortly before Thanksgiving… we had breakfast together again. I love my times with him in the morning. He seems more alert and talkative. Most of the time he isn’t making any meaningful conversation – but I love that he feels content in talking, without judgment or ridicule. THAT’s what it’s about!
So we talk… he talks, I ask follow-up questions. Most of the time he shows emotion: surprise, sadness, concern. I wish I knew what he was trying to say.
On the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving we talked about Gramma. She passed away November 25, 1997. I think a lot about Gramma the week of Thanksgiving. So we talked about her a little at breakfast. He did more of the listening… I did more of the talking.
I told him I missed her. He simply looked at me with wide eyes. I told him it was ok to talk about her… she was a good wife, mother, friend and cook. He just kept looking at me. I called her by name…
I wondered what he was thinking… I said I missed her more this year than ever before. He just looked at me. He never spoke her name or said anything about her.
Then I moved to a more light-hearted conversation. I told him it was Thanksgiving in a few days. His eyes got even bigger. I reminded him that it was nearly time for turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and yams. He got excited… he took a deep breath, turned and looked at me… and said “YIIIIPPEE!” with a raised voice! And laughed… we had a good laugh together. The caregivers turned and looked at us, smiling. It was a moment and level of emotion I hadn’t seen in a long time… I relished the moment with my Grampa.
Some of our family saw Gramps again a day or two after Thanksgiving… we did family pictures together at his home. He had just woken from an afternoon nap and was somewhat alert, and talkative during the pictures. But I think the sheer number of people there was a bit overwhelming for him. In fact, I’m sure it was confusing… we try not to overwhelm him too much. We would prefer he be happy and content and calm. We would prefer to see him alert and talkative and present… and when he’s feeling pressure I think he clams up. So we limit our large family visits… for his benefit. Christmas
I saw Gramps again the morning after Christmas. And I wonder if this is our last Christmas with him. What a bittersweet visit… I cried all the way home.
His home was still decorated… with “icicles” hanging from the ceiling, a Christmas tree in the corner and a Hanukkah display on top of the piano. There was a board displaying the holiday celebration they had earlier in the month… with Hawaiian dancers and all.
He seemed extra “out of it” this morning. He was hallucinating a bit: waving to someone in the corner, talking to someone sitting across the table from him, etc. I was there… but I wasn’t there in his world. In his world he saw a co-worker from 40+ years ago walk into the room. In his world he was talking to his sister across the table. In his world he was still in the army.
In my world I hurt … for he is already leaving us. Every time I see him he has slipped farther away. His Peacefulness
My biggest concern is that he is content and peaceful and happy. It breaks my heart when I see him clam up under certain circumstances. It breaks my heart to know that he doesn’t feel he can talk about Gramma. It breaks my heart to see him hold himself back from certain emotions. It breaks my heart to see our family members hurt because he is slipping away. Grieving
I do believe some of our family members are already grieving his passing. Every now and then some of his personality will shine through… but for the most part the Grampa I knew growing up is… gone. I can’t pinpoint the moment he was gone… it’s been a slow digression over the past 6 months. But he’s leaving us more every day… what a painful goodbye, for me.
My Uncle or Aunts or Mom may have a different take on this… but the Grampa I knew is mostly gone at this point. He is a shell of the man he was… holding onto this earth for some unknown reason.
This I know, God’s timing is perfect…
Lord I know you will take him in your perfect timing. You have a master plan… and while I don’t understand or even have the ability to comprehend it, I know you’re in control.
I would like to introduce you to… the V-E-R-Y best cookie I’ve ever had!!! They are flaky and light and buttery and sugary… and THE perfect little cookie!
You’ll want to make these for yourself… you can thank me later.
These are cookies are a family tradition … my Gramma Helen bakes these every year at Christmas time. (And thinking back on Christmases at her house, when I was a kid, I could often be found sneaking to the pantry to find the large coffee tin that hid the extra stash…)
But let me digress for a moment… take a look at my small kitchen workspace. I keep all of my baking goods in that green basket. And when I get ready to bake I pull it out, along with my canisters of flour and sugar and what not. Immediately to the left of the basket is the sink (which is directly under the window). And to the right of the espresso machine is the corner of the kitchen where I have a marble block that holds the utensils, knife block, salt/pepper and cooking oils.
As you can see, I have VERY LITTLE counter space to work with. But I make the most of it…. I love the tiles: that old school pattern speaks to my soul. (And I’m not going to comment on how horrible the grout looks… I’m just not. That’s another blog post altogether.)
So now that we have THAT out of the way… let’s look at our ingredients.
BUTTER and SUGAR! Duh… canola oil, eggs, powdered sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla and almond extract, flour, baking soda and kosher salt.
When baking cookies I always start by combining the dry ingredients first. Always. I just like to get it done and get those ingredients taken care of and out of the way. This way… when it’s time to add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients it’s all ready.
Cream together the butter, oil and sugar…
Next? The eggs, almond and vanilla extracts…
… and in small batches, add all the flour and combine until well-mixed.
Then the dough gets chilled, for at least an hour. While you’re waiting for the dough to chill call your Gramma/Mom/Aunt/Sister and tell her how much you love her.
The reason I needed to chill the dough is because of the next step.
Using the flat-bottom mug and the plate of sugar it’s sitting on (above) I flattened each dough ball…
… until all of them were ready to go.
Into a 325 degree F oven… and 15 mins later…
Then you won’t be able to resist yourself.
You can thank me later… after you call your personal trainer or join the gym again (‘cuz you’re going to eat so many of these that you’ll feel guilty).
Now if I can just find an old coffee tin so I can stash these in the pantry like Gramma used to… it’ll be just like the good ol’ days.
I love you Gramma… you rock!!!
(Note from Lori: this isn’t your typical decorate-with-colored-frosty-and-sprinkles cookie. It’s a VERY flaky buttery cookie that doesn’t need any frosty or sprinkles. Just trust me on this one… )
Gramma Helen’s Sugar Cookies Recipe courtesy Gramma Helen Haraldsen
Ingredients 1 cup butter ¾ cup canola oil 1 teaspoon salt 2 eggs 1 cup sugar 1 cup powdered sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cream of tartar 4 cups flour 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon almond extract
Instructions Cream oil, butter and sugar. Blend well. Add eggs, vanilla and almond extract. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture. Chill dough for at least an hour before baking.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Form in small ball (teaspoon size) or place on cookie sheet with teaspoon. Flatten with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake 15 minutes or until slightly browned.