Friday, October 9, 2015

Ditching Doubt & Dodging Death

When I was fifteen and a freshman in high school, I met Marilyn (Photo: me left, Marilyn right). She and I would become lifelong friends, though at the time we were totally clueless about the assortment of dramas we'd face (sometimes we actually created them) ~ some wonderful, some hurtful, some downright terrifying.  I could fill up a journal of our escapades, the bulk of which were the simple doings of silly teen girls as well as the equally silly doings of young women attempting to grow up.     

Two years ago I got a call late at night from Marilyn's husband.  He wanted me to know she'd suffered a major stroke; that the base of her brain was pooled in blood and, quite likely, she'd not make it more than a few days.

At dawn I drove to the hospital.  Through the tearful meandering among memories and prayer, I made my way to bid farewell to one of the few people on this good earth to harbor my history, and me hers. A lifetime of laughter and memory-making can seem a mere flash at such times. 

Marilyn, who had gone to a different grade school than me was a childhood chum to my husband. It was at a football game early in our sophomore year that she introduced the two of us.  Several weeks later I introduced her to one of my own childhood friends and shortly the four of us were inseparable. (Photo: Don & Marilyn, me & Terry)

As life is prone to do, the trajectory of those dating days took jigs and jags, leading us forward into the unknowns of adulthood. And as high school came to an end I would go on to marry my beau; she and hers would part company.  

The intervening years were largely kind in my case and largely cruel in hers.  


We were both married (Photo: Marilyn with her first husband, the father of her children); had children;  raised little ones & took family vacations. What's more, we faced many a storm tethered together at life's mast.   
  (Photo: Marilyn with our oldest children in 1970; her Jeff, my Brad)

There are a myriad reasons Marilyn's life experience differed from mine; reasons I need not elaborate upon here. Suffice it to say, her present battle for her life was not her first such engagement.  On many levels she navigated life one breath from a battle at all times.

I was deeply saddened when I entered her hospital room to find Marilyn hooked up to tubes & devices ~ a very clinical, Extra Terrestrial-like appearance.  A symphony of her labored breathing coupled with clicks & hums against stainless steel made it all seem surreal.

When I sat to take her hand she stirred but didn't waken.  She couldn't waken. She had been placed in a medically induced coma while the medical team did all they could to alleviate her brain bleed and the pressure it was causing.  A pinkish liquid filled the tube that ran from her head to the plastic bag colony beside her bed.  

(Photo left: at lunch in 2010 with Marilyn at the right and another lifelong BFF, Mary Jo)

I sat for a long, long time just holding her hand and watching her ~ no thoughts, no words.  I felt as blank as she looked. But at some point I began to pray, and pray aloud.  I scarcely recall the whole of those prayers, but I do remember thanking God for Marilyn, asking that He visit her in the depths of her being to let her know He was there with her.  

A few days passed and her husband called again to let me know the doctors had begun bringing out of the coma.  She was wakeful, though very disoriented. There was little hope for her recovery, but "little" seemed a huge step up from "no" hope just a few days prior.  

The next day and for two weeks following I visited.  I talked to her as though she were awake and could hear me.  I prayed aloud.  Occasionally she'd push my hand away, or call out my name. And, when she was awake enough to actually eat food, I bossed her around until she agreed to try it. I roared when she actually, through garbled, halted but recognizable speech refused her lunch, telling the dumbfound nurse holding her tray:  "No ... it tastes like s_ _ _!"  I took it as a good sign. Marilyn could be sharp and combative in the best of health.  She was much worse in this condition.  

Little by little over the course of those two weeks Marilyn went from near-death to recovered-enough to be sent to a nursing facility for rehabilitation.  My visits continued there and I watched her learn to form sentences, get in and out of bed on her own, and use a walker or wheel chair.  And always, just before leaving, I'd say to her as I had for so many long weeks:  "Let me pray for you."  I'm not sure which of us was the more greatly blessed at those times knowing as we did that, short of God's healing hand, I'd be visiting her grave-site instead.  

After two months she was released to go home, where she continues to defy the odds of her "no hope" stroke.  

I recall this today because I need to.  

How could I have known back in 1962 when Marilyn & I first formed a friendship that it would lead to a bedside vigil such as this one?  How could either of us have predicted the route our life's journey would require of us, or how many of our choices would impact our steps along that way?  How could I have known the things God would use in my life and hers to lead us?  Who knew the span from 14 to 70 to be so very short?   

God did.  God does. 

I would have lost heart unless 
believed that I would see 
the goodness of the Lord 
in the land of the living.
Psalm 27:13

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On Being Disowned

Until this Spring I had no idea my mother had been disowned by her parents.

My mother, Helen, was born 7th of eight children. One sibling was a year older and another four years younger when death claimed them in infancy. Those losses meant she would forever be the family's baby, the littlest of the remaining six children. She was, as were all the Grinnell children, much loved.

(Photo at left:  1) My mother's father, Fred with granddaughter Maxine, & 2) the family barn.  Photo on the right:  My mother's mother, Etta holding granddaughter Bernice).

On a wheat farm in South Dakota mother spent her childhood.  There she would follow her father & brothers from field-to-barn and back again.  She would develop her love of flowers & gardening, master riding the little Welsh pony no one else could, and
haul herself high on the silos when no one else was brave enough to do so.  It was her brother, Wayne, that garnered her greatest affection. They would become fast friends for life. (Photo on left:  Mother and her brother Wayne)

It was also in South Dakota where mother attended school, graduating from Wessington High School in 1926, and going onto Secretarial School for two years before embarking upon her world adventures. 

(Photo right: Mother as a freshman in high school, with her BFF Drusilla Wright)

It delights me to look through the notes & photos from those years and to witness firsthand mother's mindset at the time. She was a lovely girl, full of life & sassiness.  It is no surprise to learn of her early engagement to a local boy, Jim Bunting (Photo at left: Mother & him), when she was but 19 years old.  Her writings refer to him as her "very, very dear friend"; and among the memorabilia stuffed into her "Girl Graduate's Journal" are hints and photos of that dazzling chapter in her life.

It was on her 21st birthday she undertook a fairly notable adventure uncommon for a girl in those days. She would travel with a married couple as chaperones and her intended, Jim, to Aberdeen, Washington. From there she bid farewell to all three, traveling onward alone to Spokane on the far side of the state, then onto Pateros (30 miles from my present home), where she went to work for the American Fruit Growers.  

It was in Pateros that her beloved brother Wayne resided and worked as an orchardist; and where she'd feel connected to the familiar, sibling contentment between them.  It was also there that a fateful pivot in her life took place; a pivot that altered her course forever. There she met my Father.

We know by Christmastime that year she had returned to her South Dakota home, perhaps to gather more of her belongings, or to visit an ailing father, or ~ most likely ~ to end her engagement to Jim Bunting before advancing her relationship with that other Jim, my Dad.  It was on the backside of a dance card (above right) among mother's keepsakes that I read Jim Bunting's heartfelt recognition of that sad day.  My mother had exited his life for all time.

And so she returned to Pateros; to her job and, as we now know, to my father.  Over the next several months they courted and, by New Year's Eve 1929/30 she was smitten. I cherish the sweet entries in her journal as she describes their budding romance. At some point they decided to marry, and on June 4, 1930 their wedding took place.

What I don't know is when, exactly, the disowning took place. Sometime between her visit home in December of 1928 and her marriage 18 months later, my mother must have shared with her family that my father was a Catholic, and that she intended to marry him.  They took great umbrage to not only that, but also with her decision to become Catholic herself. They were decidedly Protestant and could scarcely abide so great a defection.  There would be no parental blessing for her plans.

What I do know, and what would forever cast a shadow on my mother's & father's wedding day was the death of her father on that very day!  Instead of a honeymoon, they traveled to South Dakota to attend his funeral.  Two years later her mother would be gone as well. My mother was left to live out her life never having reconciled with her parents.  (Photo on left: mother's father, Fred, at the family home)

I'd never given much thought about the deficit of details pertaining to my maternal grandparents until now.  Mother rarely spoke of them and since they'd been long gone before I arrived in 1948 that didn't seem odd.  She did share stories of her days as a child on the farm, of riding her pony, of besting her brothers in bravery, and the like. It seemed sufficient until this Spring when I began to weigh in the balance the hurt my mother had endured.  And because of her shunning, I would never know her parents ~ whether in life or through stories. They not only hammered shut the door to my mother, but to me as well.  

My mother cherished her faith to the day of her death. She and my father never missed Sunday church or their bedtime prayers, kneeling together beside their bed as they did every night.  In her later years she would treasure her Bible and devotions, as well as the teachings of Billy Graham.  Various Psalms touched her deeply.  At her very core, my mother knew this powerful and comforting truth:

Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
The Lord will receive me.
~ Psalm 27:10

I think Fred and Etta would have been proud of the godly, noble and industrious woman that was their baby daughter, and my mother.   I like to think that the reconciliation that ought to have happened long ago is now accomplished; that my grandparents and mother are forever one in Him.  

I pray for those who will believe in Me ...
that all of them may be one, Father, 
just as You are in Me and I am in You... 
Father, I want those You have given me 
to be with Me where I am, and 
to see My glory
~ John 17:20-21, 24 

P.S.  The Spring revelation I speak of her came about as the result of my older sisters.  Fifteen and thirteen years older than me, mother had shared with them about her having been disowned.  In the course of sharing stories of our childhood as we often do this long obscured detail was passed to me.

P.S.S.  I can conceive of no choice, no behavior that would have caused my mother to disown one of her daughters.  God knows, I certainly tested her plenty, even opting to be a Protestant versus Catholic.  And we, her daughters, would consider no such option for one of our own children.  We have families chocked full of diversity ~ Christians (Catholic & Protestant), Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, even a grandson who calls himself an Anarchist (don't you just love today's youth?). All are welcome.