Walter, Powerful Warrior

I’ve been going through my dad’s belongings, slowly and tenderly, in the past few months since his death on October 28, 2016. As I find correspondence (he saved everything, including bills as far back as the 1990s), I open each envelope, because I never know what unexpected treasure might be stuffed inside.

I have found pictures of my children in various cute and awkward stages–Julie dressed up in various costumes and clothes, striking a dramatic pose (she’s always had the acting bug), an adolescent Daniel…I found one pic of him smiling as he sported his Mohawk his junior year of high school. I see the sensitive, artistic side of Daniel in most of the pictures. There are pictures of Daniel and Julie playing Yahtzee with my dad at Christmastime.

But then I found one letter written by my grandmother that left me tearful. It brings to mind the lyrics of a song, “Find Us Faithful,” that our choir at Crievewood Baptist Church often sang:

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover
And the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them
To the road we each must find

Words by Jon Mohr. Copyright 1988 Birdwing Music/Jonathan Mark Music (admin. by The Sparrow Corp.). All rights reserved.

My grandmother, who suffered from congestive heart failure, was writing to my aunt (April 15, 1977). A portion of her letter describes my dad so well:

I’ve had so much fluid at times I could not hardly get my breath. Walter came and stayed with me last night. We got up and fixed breakfast and he made his bed and carried in stove wood and pumped a bucketful of water and started home about 6:30. I think he goes to work at 8:00.

Also tucked in this envelope is a small envelope labeled “To Daddy from Anne.” Inside I found a card I’d bought, one of those that explains the meaning of a person’s name. I thought it summarized the kind of person my dad was:

Walter
an Old German name
“Powerful Warrior”

He is quiet and enjoyable; a man who is very secure with himself; always gets involved in things; just to see him is heartening; is a very devoted person; has a captivating personality; he is a man sure of himself; he is proud of the things he does.

Okay, well, some of this describes my dad. “Powerful warrior” may be metaphorical. My dad was a World War II veteran, but he arrived on the battlefronts just after the battle was over, and he was enroute to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped, so thank God he missed that.

“Quiet and enjoyable,” yes. He was one of those people who stays in the background in many situations, happy to let someone else be in the spotlight and willing to do whatever needed to keep things running smoothly.

“A man who is very secure with himself,” maybe.The rest of the description suits him to a T, except “he is proud of the things he does.” I think my dad took pride in his endeavors but he is one of the humblest people I’ve ever known. He certainly modeled for me how to live a quiet and Christlike life.

One of these days when I feel like it, I will return to my blog posts and add some visuals. But right now I just want to reflect on my dad, his strong belief in doing the right thing no matter how tough the situation, and I honor and cherish him in my heart and memories.

I am blessed to have had such a kind man for a father. Even last June when he was failing physically and mentally, he wrote me a sweet note expressing his gratitude for how I cared for him. Always faithful, that Walter. Powerful warrior too. He accepted the challenging situations in his life, faced them bravely, and stayed faithful to the end. I want to be like him.

 

 

 

 

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You Were Gone Too Soon

Today is Mother’s Day.
I remember how you used to wear a red rose
every year on Mother’s Day to indicate
that your mom was still living …
then a white rose after she died at age 96.
We had rose bushes out in our side yard,
on a little bank next to my aunt Reb’s garage,
so it wasn’t much trouble to find a red rose.
After Mamaw died in 1983, I don’t remember
whether the white rose you wore came from our yard
or if Daddy bought you a corsage at the grocery store.
I was in my 20s, in my early married years, living in Nashville,
generally oblivious of what went on in my parents’ lives.

I would have paid more attention
if I had known you wouldn’t be with us for many more years.
In the summer of 1984, you kept a persistent low-grade fever
and things generally weren’t well with you.
Daddy would tell me over the phone what was going on,
and I felt helpless to respond.
Oh Mom, I wish I’d been a little more in tune
and had encouraged Daddy more to relentlessly explore
what was going on with you.
We didn’t have the Internet then to look up symptoms
and fret over all the awful things that might be wrong with us.
Maybe it was just as well.

In 1985 you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease …
and you began your slow decline into tremors, forgetfulness, dementia,
all part of the cruel progress of your disease.
Too bad Michael J. Fox hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Parkinson’s;
when celebrities get ill, people seem to suddenly take notice
and often donate money to foundations that fund research.
Too bad they didn’t have the medical advances, research, and surgeries
that are available today.

I remember our last visit with you before Daniel was born.
It was Christmas 1986.
I cried and cried when John and I left Kingsport that year,
knowing somehow that I had to enter
this journey of motherhood largely on my own,
without your guidance, reassurance, advice, and cheering me on.

When Daniel was born, I wanted you, Mom.
You weren’t able to leave familiar surroundings by that point.
I got the postpartum “blues” in a bad way.
I cried and cried, overwhelmed by the thought
that I was responsible for this sweet, dependent baby …
and I had no idea how to be a mom.
I didn’t know then that one doesn’t suddenly learn how to mother.
It happens gradually, with experience and the support of friends and family, and often through trial and error.

I called my Aunt Reb from the hospital.
My obstetrician, a wise man, could tell I was
in bad shape emotionally, and, kindly, he approved
a longer hospital stay for me. (Those were the days when
insurance didn’t kick you out the door the day after your
baby was born.)
I begged Reb to come to Nashville and help out.
I knew that John would help,
but I needed a mother figure.
John’s mom was 80 years old. I felt close to her, but not enough
to depend on her for the emotional support I so badly needed.

Reb came to Nashville a couple of days
after we brought Daniel home.
Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul drove her to our house,
and Aunt Myrt helped with Daniel’s first bath.
I was scared to death that I would drop Daniel and injure him for life!

Reb stayed for a week, and gradually my frayed nerves
began to heal, and my hormones calmed down.
When Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul left with her a week later,
I watched out the window, holding Daniel, as their car rolled
down the street.
“It’s just you and me, baby,” I whispered to him. I may have
shed another few tears, but I figured I would be all right.
I was never alone — I had John and friends at church and work
and my mother-in-law to help encourage me
and teach me how to be a mom.

By the time Julie arrived, 3 years and 8 months later,
I felt much different about this experience called motherhood.
I welcomed Julie joyfully,
barely taking time to recover from her birth.
When she was 4 days old, my dad and I took Daniel to the park,
leaving Julie behind in her daddy’s care.
There was no time to stop and think
about all the changes in our lives.
And it was okay.
With a few years of experience under my belt,
I was comfortable with the thought of
being a mom,
no longer overwhelmed.

Mom, you held Julie for the first and last time
when she was 6 weeks old.
By then you could no longer talk much,
but you took pleasure in holding your granddaughter.
I captured the moment with our camera.

And when Julie was only 6 months old (and Daniel was 4),
you left this world.
I cried once again, the first of many times,
for I knew my children wouldn’t remember you
except vicariously through the stories I told them about you.

So it is in life:
we experience love and loss,
joy and sadness,
and somehow we manage to get through
with the help of faith, family, and friends.

I was fortunate to have you as my
mother and mentor
for 32 1/2 years.
You remain in my memories.
I will never forget you and your
positive, kind, funny, hardworking, dedicated, faithful example.

You live on, Mom, inside me
and in the lives of your grandchildren
through the many lessons you taught me.
I am grateful.

Though you were gone too soon,
You made a difference in our lives.

I might have worn a red rose a few times
while you were living (mostly during my childhood and adolescence).
Today I will wear a white rose to honor you
in my imagination.
We don’t have any rosebushes,
and I forgot the rose tradition when I went to the grocery store yesterday.

Yet, I will remember
and I will see your smile,
hear your voice,
and I will always love you
with all my heart.

Pausing for Gratitude

This morning I awoke with a heart full of gratitude. My life isn’t perfect, but as we say in my native East Tennessee, it’s “purt near” (pretty close to) that. Allow me to explain.

First, my husband and I were fortunate to be able to go on a trip to Spain for two weeks this March, something we’d been saving for for over 2 years. Our daughter has been there since September 2013, assisting teachers at an elementary school. She graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, MS, in May 2013 with a Spanish major, a concentration in voice (in between a minor and a major; she had to give a junior and senior voice recital), and experience in theater. With all of her college activities and our financial status at the time, we were unable to work it out for her to do a study-abroad program. The one she selected was $12,000 for a semester (and that didn’t include tuition at Millsaps). We simply could not swing that financially. I told her at the time that though she was disappointed, I bet we could find a way for her to go abroad after graduation. She did a lot of investigation and discovered that for a fraction of the cost (around $2,500) she could go to Spain for an entire year with the same program that would have cost $12,000 for a semester.

Our plan was to go visit her the first year she was in Madrid. But in November 2013 my 90-year-old dad (almost 91) was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. We wound up moving him from Canton, NC to our home so he could be with us while undergoing treatment. He responded well to oral and IV chemo and lived with us for 13 months. When he went to the doctor in November 2014, his white blood cell count was in the normal range and the doctor used the word “remission” to describe his condition. He was scheduled for another infusion in January. Meanwhile, my husband (John) had been pushing me to find assisted living for my dad. Daddy had taken a couple of spills at our house…not serious falls that resulted in broken bones, but enough to alarm us a bit.

Ironically, we began our search for assisted living at the busiest time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Daddy had been on a waiting list for a place in Canton, NC since November 2013 (he and I had visited a few places around Halloween and he decided that he liked one of them, so he paid a deposit to be placed on the waiting list). He got two calls from the admissions director while he was in Nashville, one in November, I believe, and another in March. At that time he was not strong enough (nor had he undergone enough treatment) to make the move, so he had to decline.

In early December 2014 John and I had narrowed down our choices to three assisted living facilities in Nashville. I visited one near our church the day of our Feast of Lights (our church’s big Advent concert) dress rehearsal and went home to tell Daddy about it. He was not impressed when I told him it was a high-rise, even though it was located near my work and church and he would have had a great view of downtown Nashville.

In the meantime, John visited an assisted living center a couple of miles from our house and was impressed with it. I went one day after work to check it out, and I too was impressed. We found out a guy who had gone to our previous church was a resident of this senior living community, and he seemed pretty happy with it. I called his daughter to see how her experience of dealing with the assisted living had been, and she told me she was happy with the way they had cared for her dad. We made arrangements for John to take my dad there for lunch one weekday and let him see the senior living community.

The same day John and my dad visited this assisted living near our home, I opened my gmail and discovered and e-mail from the admissions director of the assisted living facility in Canton where my dad had originally wanted to live. I couldn’t help but think the timing was more than just coincidence. When I told my dad later that day (after inquiring about how his visit went to the assisted living near our house and receiving a halfhearted reply that it was “nice”) about the e-mail, his eyes lit up. We talked some more and decided that we would move him back to North Carolina (though I had reservations about being 5 hours away from him).

On December 26 John and I left to take Daddy back to Canton. We spent the weekend at the house where he and his wife (who’s 96 and in a nursing home) had lived since their marriage in 1994. We went to Daddy’s church, First Baptist of Canton, on Sunday. Then on Monday the 29th we moved him to his new home.

So we got back to our life in Nashville and resumed our 3rd interval of the empty nest. We have had only short times of “empty nest” since our younger child went to college in 2009 and our son graduated from college the same year. The first period was from August to December of that year; then Daniel graduated and moved back home for two years. After he moved out in January 2013 into an apartment of his own (YAY! got that young adult launched!), John and I enjoyed a few months of empty nest until Julie’s graduation from college in May. She stayed in Jackson a couple of weeks after graduation so she could participate in her church’s musical production of some big work that I have since forgotten (maybe Mendelssohn’s Elijah?). Anyway, this little chick boomeranged back to our home in late May, and she lived with us until she departed for Spain in September.

All along I’ve had big plans…to turn Julie’s room into a guest room, to invite people to come visit (we’ve never had a spare bedroom because John’s office is in Daniel’s old bedroom), to redecorate our living room, to remodel our kitchen…well, actually, I just wanted new flooring in our kitchen, but that project has grown to a remodel thanks to John’s imagination.

But those plans have had to go by the wayside, because it seems that some surprise always intrudes. In this case it was my dad’s illness. So the next interval of empty nest lasted from mid-September until the end of November, when my dad moved here and took up residence in Julie’s bedroom.

Things got interesting last September when Julie came home for a 3-week visit. We prepared her for the fact that she would not have her own bedroom. We created a makeshift bedroom in our dining room, and she dealt with that quite well. It was good for her to get to spend time with her “Pepaw” (as she & Daniel call their granddad), and her 3-week visit was just long enough.

After my dad moved back to North Carolina, I noticed that over the next few weeks I started to feel more energetic. Now this is something I really appreciate, because I have two autoimmune disorders (I am the queen of weird diseases). For about the previous year and a half, maybe longer, I had been feeling exhausted and just barely getting by thanks to naps and walking and doing yoga.

Gradually I began to sense my spirits lifting. I started walking with a new spring in my step. I spent more time looking up and out at the beauty around me. It occurred to me that a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders. This does not mean that everything is perfect in regard to my dad’s health or my own. But for now things are good. Daddy is 92, and I realize he probably won’t be around much longer. While we were in Spain, he had a “spell” when his legs just gave out (collapsed), and the assisted living place called me to report that he had fallen in the bathroom. Turns out he fell twice more that day. My stepsister also called the next day or so to apprise me of the situation. I worried about Daddy, I prayed for him, and I decided there wasn’t a whole lot I could do from Spain besides pray. He improved this time. He has been doing physical therapy, and he is now able to walk again. My stepsister has taken him to a new oncologist, and they are watching him (without treating him with chemo) for now. Our oncologist in Nashville (actually the nurse practitioner, who has been marvelous about supporting us over the past 16 months) said that surveillance is not a bad practice for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

I feel like I have a new lease on life right now. I am grateful to have the energy to clean house. Never thought I would appreciate that! And while John and I were in Spain, I had the energy to walk and walk…at least two days I clocked over 11,000 steps on my pedometer. I returned home to spring in Nashville, indeed a glorious sight, with redbuds, daffodils, tulips, and dogwoods in bloom. I hear birds singing outside our window, and our cat welcomed us home with extra affection. Our son, Daniel, took great care of Lily the cat (I call her Lily Bo Peep because she has a little sheep toy that she just loves) while we were gone. He is now off on an adventure of his own, a road trip to Washington, DC and Philadelphia.

I believe it’s a good practice to pause every now and then (actually, this should be a FREQUENT practice…because it does one’s heart good) to say thank you to God for this marvelous, challenging, wondrous life. Thank you, Lord. My heart is full of love and gratitude for you, especially in the wake of Easter.

Praise be to God for the glorious gifts with which he blesses us each day!