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Posts Tagged ‘death’

cloudy sky

Looking towards heaven we remember the miracle of Easter, and gain hope for other miracles.

“Then why do we have Easter bunnies?” asked Haley, a few years back when, as an extended family, we talked about the holiday and all of the traditions.  The little ones gathered with us that evening were the third and fourth generation of Ken’s and my progeny, but one doesn’t have to be very old to question rabbits, especially small bunnies, hopping around delivering Easter Baskets.

“Tradition,” they were told by one of the adults, who continued to explain how bunnies and chicks born in the spring represented new life to the ancients, many of whom converted from pagan idol worship to the teachings of Christ, but brought with them some of their pagan symbols.  Over the centuries those symbols became intermingled with the “new life” of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day following His crucifixion.  Succeeding years of symbolism and generations of adding glitter to old traditions, we as a majority Christian nation seem to be more caught up celebrating the season of new life with colored eggs, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks than we do the resurrection and “new life” of our Lord Jesus Christ, which of all miracles is the miracle of miracles.

During His ministry, Jesus performed many miracles which are recorded in the New Testament for us to read, honor and ponder.  And today — miracles continue.  There are countless miracles, recorded and testified to in these modern times.  I am one of them.  Following last year’s automobile accident and being somewhat aware of my numerous injuries and the trauma encountered, I mumbled from my hospital bed, “I should be dead.”  My grown children made no comment, but I could see worry in their eyes, nor did the medical people who constantly surrounded me confirm – or even suggest to me that my condition was grave.  It was later that my young friend, Malena, a former member of an  EMT ambulance team agreed, having been present and an observer of similar accidents where the victims were pronounced dead at the scene.  I am here because of the prompt, efficient actions of another EMT crew, amazing doctors and nurses — and the absolute, undeniable healing power of prayer, the laying on of hands and God’s grace.

There are skeptics, of course, but as a woman of faith I choose not to be one of them, instead I give credit where credit is due.  I accept miracles and wonder how the doubters explain away that which is right before their eyes.  Many in the medical field have witnessed and have been a part of other miracles and some share the experience with the world.

From two different sources on the internet comes the account of Jeff Markin, an apparently healthy man of 53 who was on his way to work when he was overcome with feeling sick.  He called his boss saying he was sweating and suddenly felt ill, and that he may not make it to work.  Encouraged to go to the hospital Markin arrived at the emergency room of Palm Beach Gardens Hospital in Florida and collapsed on the floor with full cardiac arrest.  After 40 minutes of intense effort and being shocked with a defibrillator numerous times Dr. Chauncey W. Crandall, the supervising cardiologist was summoned.

Dr. Crandall said the room was like a war zone with everyone doing all they could to save the man’s life.  However, Markin showed all the signs of death: the heart rhythm flat lined across the screen, his pupils were dilated and it was determined he had been “down” too long for any hope.  The other doctors left, and time of death was determined and recorded.  Dr. Crandall signed his name to the report and turned to leave.  At the door he heard a voice telling him to pray for this man.  Busy with his work load and feeling rushed, he continued into the hall.  Again, he was stopped short and instructed a second time to pray for this man.

Returning to the patient’s bedside where a nurse was preparing the body for the morgue, he placed his hands on the man’s chest.  Markin’s fingers, toes and lips were literally turning black from lack of oxygen when Crandall honored the Lord’s command and began to pray, crying out for the man’s soul.  At the conclusion of the prayer, Crandall asked the ER doctor, who had returned — wondering what was going on — to shock the patient one more time.  Out of respect for his colleague, he complied.  The monitor showed a perfect heartbeat.  Jeff’s fingers and toes twitched, breathing resumed and he began to mumble.  Three days later with the patient still in ICU, Dr. Crandall found Markin sitting up and alert with no brain or organ damage and a healthy heart.

As with all miracles, there is no explanation, nor is there a reason for Jeff Markin’s healed heart. Furthermore, the good doctor makes no effort to provide one.  A Christian all of his life, he made it a policy not to mix his religious beliefs with his practice.  However, he began a search with prayer and the laying on of hands as another avenue to healing when his son was stricken with leukemia.  Dr. Crandall has written “Raising The Dead” chronicling his experiences.

He also commented about faith and its importance, quoting from scripture a portion of Matthew 17:20 when Jesus said, “If ye have faith of a mustard seed…………..nothing shall be impossible to you.”  On the video I watched, Dr. Crandall concluded Markin’s account with, “Miracles are real, and they are real today.”

I pray for Ken that he may be comforted in his affliction, and I pray for me that I may continue to cope, be patient and find joy in my service to him.  This is our assignment, and while it is an assignment I could do without I also understand its importance in a very broad sense.   Every reported case of AD presents to the medical community the urgency of escalating their research.  If Ken’s illness helps to spur that research, even one little bit, it may save future generations from this miserable disease.  I pray for our ability to manage what we are dealing with, not for the Lord to give us a miracle and remove our burden.

Ken and I have had our portion of miracles, including being blessed with full, rich lives — not without our share of other adversities — which have made us stronger.  Moreover, we take delight in our wonderful, ever-growing family – all of them miracles in their own right — and I am still here to care for my husband and be with him as he continues his lone journey home.  Ahead is the assurance for the most important of miracles: new life somewhere in the distant future — all because of that magnificent miracle which happened on a bright, spring morning nearly 2,000 years ago.

As fellow Christians do we really need to be reminded that there is more to Easter than baskets and candy?   The answers might be “more than likely,” “probably,” “I suppose,” and ultimately, “yes,” because we are human, and we become distracted getting caught up in the ways of the world, the pomp and pageantry we have created – and don’t forget — the good taste of chocolate bunnies.  Yes, we do cast a fleeting shadow on the simply stated – yet — majestic message of that long-ago Sabbath morning:  Jesus lives.

Hopefully, in celebration of this Holy Day we call Easter, let us all take the time to peek through the shimmer of cellophane grass, past the colorful, hard-boiled eggs and jelly beans, and gratefully look for and remember what’s important on this and every Easter Sunday: the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and His extraordinary promise to all mankind.

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Ann Romick as matron of honor for her best friend, Julie

Ann Romick as matron of honor for her best friend, Julie

Last week my friend Bob came for a visit.  We hadn’t seen him and his wife, Julie, since they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the summer of 2006.  She died on Thanksgiving Day last year.  For me, it still seems unreal and difficult to grasp.  After all, it was only yesterday – or so it seems — that she and I chatted on the phone just like old times, the gaps in time and distance vanishing as soon as we began talking.

Julie and I met while working in the 22-story office building on the corner of Bush and Sansome Streets in San Francisco which was better known long before the 1950s and early 60s as The Standard Oil Building of California (now Chevron).  The two of us were employed by the mega oil company and assigned to Central Steno, located in a gigantic room taking up most of the 2nd floor.  It was filled with copy machines, typists, stenographers, Dictaphone operators, Varatypists and all sorts of other specialists in the clerical department.

Despite Central Steno’s enormity and scattered personal, Julie and I bumped into one another at the morning coffee wagon and became instant friends.  She, newly arrived from Santa Barbara, and I, a local, could have been sisters. We looked alike, we thought alike and often dressed in similar outfits, except her waist was at least three inches smaller than mine requiring alterations on all of her clothes. However, we did have one other major difference: Julie was single and I was married to Ken with an adorable little girl, Deborah, and number two peeking up over the horizon in the not-too-distant future.

We lunched together, shopped together, and talked about her latest date or current beau — none of whom seemed to be Mr. Right.  If her weekend was uneventful I invited her to spend it with me and Ken at our new home across the bay from the city.  When number two baby arrived we named the little girl Julie after my new best friend.

The following summer Julie met Bob.  It was July 1st and they were married September 8th.  A whirlwind courtship and two months after meeting they tied the proverbial knot. I was her matron of honor.  And the skeptics said it wouldn’t last – only 54 years.  Bob was career Air Force and they traveled all over the world adding a girl and then a boy to their family tree. Meanwhile, she was the officer’s good wife, but still found time to study and develop her natural artistic talents — all in addition to being the best mom in the world to their growing children.

We kept in touch.  Then we didn’t, then we did, and then we didn’t, but we did manage to hold on to that thin golden thread which tied our busy lives together with short notes and cards sent every once in a while. That’s how good friendships are, and that’s where we were when my phone rang nearly five years ago.  It was Julie and she asked once again if I would stand up for her as she and Bob renewed their wedding vows in celebration of a half century of marriage.  Bob’s best man and his wife would be in attendance as well as lots of friends and family.  I reminded Julie of Ken’s Alzheimer’s, but told her I would make every effort, keeping her updated through email.

In spite of Washington state’s reputation for rain, the weather that summer’s day was fabulous:  blue skies and balmy breezes.  Ken’s proclivity to be social was at its best as he made friendly conversations with the other guests minus the stumbling blocks often associated with AD.

Bob and Julie wrote their own vows for the occasion, and this time she said she wasn’t going to repeat that “obey” thing.  They pledged, we clapped and smiled in approval, and they kissed – sealing another 50 years– the fates willing. No longer the whirlwind courtship love, it was now a comfortable love, the warm old-slippers kind of love, devoted love — the very best kind of love.  And now Bob was here with me and Ken – remembering — and Julie was gone.

I don’t believe Bob really expected to find Ken as deep into the depths of AD as he is.  “Ken’s gone,” he said after attempting to reintroduce himself and reminisce about some of our early times together.  I agreed, adding that Ken had pretty much forgotten everyone who was near and dear to him.  Occasionally, he will ask if I am his wife, wondering where his mother and father have gone – and his sister Loretta.  His persona seems to be “Buddy,” his mother’s young boy, the name I often use instead of Ken.  I believe it’s in that time zone where he feels most comfortable – if AD victims can ever feel truly comfortable in their confused and frightening world.

“I write about my AD journey with Ken in my blog,” I said to Bob.  “It keeps me sane – writing is therapy for me.”  “That’s why I do this,” he replied.  “I take the celebration of Julie’s life to those people who knew her and have shared in a part of our life together.  This is my therapy.  There are so many people who couldn’t come to the service — so I’m bringing it to them.  Following the funeral there is hardly time to really talk with anyone for any length of time, and then it’s over and they’re gone.  So much is left unspoken.  When I bring the celebration to others, we get to spend time just talking.  It’s been a wonderful experience.”

As Bob and I talked I realized that while we two can empathize with each other and share our grief, the therapy part is a day-to-day process, and healing will be yet another process for both of us to achieve as individuals.  Furthermore, we can’t be forceful or anxious.  It all takes time.

And we talked about the increasing presence of Alzheimer’s everywhere.  Bob’s father was also a victim.  As the oldest son, he was elected to take his father to a care facility when he could no longer be cared for at home.  Life gives us all difficult experiences with which to cope.  I suppose in coping we become stronger. Perhaps adversity is preparing us for what might be heaped upon us at some future date.  Meanwhile, we just keep doing what we’re doing.

Julie had continued with her art and developed a rather impressive following.  Once Bob retired from the Air Force he realized she was serious about her work and told her how he had appreciated her supporting him all through the military.  He would now give her that same support with her chosen career.

Remembering their 15 years on Maui, he said that once, while gazing at a 20’ wall filled with her paintings, he stood in awe of what she was capable of creating.  In his travels he carries CDs of their life and her work.  In addition are four folding panel boards to display either photographs of the work, or small original samplings to share with those he visits.  And he tells of her early life, their serendipity meeting and San Francisco wedding as part of his informal presentation.

Before he left on his journey to Ventura, I told him his continuing celebration of Julie’s life was one of the loveliest gestures I have ever encountered.  Seeing so much of her beautiful art, and hearing stories of their years which Ken and I had missed, I felt privileged our family had been included.  I was also able to tell him a few stories of my own about his wife that he had never heard.

For a few days my focus was taken away from Alzheimer’s (for which I was grateful) and riveted on a long-time friendship and the grieving of a good man who had lost his soul mate.  Seldom do life-long partners depart the planet together which leaves the one remaining alone to mourn the separation. 

With my belief in eternal progression I am always comforted that we will meet again and be reunited with loved ones.  It’s like Samuel Butler wrote a very long time ago when people traveled to the “Continent” by way of the old luxury steamer ships, “Death is only a larger kind of going abroad.”  If you consider that, dying really isn’t goodbye – merely “Bon Voyage.”

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“Ow!  That hurts my back,” I groaned, not knowing where I was, who was moving me or why.  Aware of bright lights, sirens and men’s voices, I heard someone say, while enclosing my neck in a brace, “Broken neck, possible broken leg.”  I thought, “Are they talking about me?  I don’t want a broken leg, much less a broken neck.”  I had no way of knowing what had happened, but suddenly the thought ran through my mind that I had been in some kind of accident.

Across the inside of my head stretched a blackboard which appeared to be blank.  Slowly, printed in white, as if someone were writing with chalk, there flashed a phone number.  Call my son,” I mumbled, repeating the numbers before me.  Then, as surely as I knew Keith’s phone number, I repeated both Ken’s and my HMO medical numbers.   “I have a pacemaker and my husband has severe Alzheimer’s.  Don’t let him wander away,” I added, somehow knowing they would need all of the important information.  “Can you tell me your name and birth date?” another voice asked.  I answered his question and gave him Ken’s name and birth date as well, then faded into an unconscious place.

Obviously, the driver of the maverick car did not correct as I had assumed.  Instead, his vehicle must have remained in the diagonal line aimed in my direction.  I was like a sitting duck in a shooting gallery, the trajectory of his set course was fixed on me.  He couldn’t miss.  In retrospect, who could have known he had spent the afternoon drinking and was drunk out of his mind?   Authorities could only calculate the speed of his car as it crashed into my SUV just behind the driver’s door.  Out of control, the maverick bounced off before slamming two more times into the rear of my vehicle, spinning it wildly before coming to a stop — facing in a southerly direction.

Inside, I had been unaware of  impact, the first blow no doubt knocking me out cold.  I can only speculate on what followed.  The seat belt, which I had buckled, failed.  I believe it retracted on impact, and in so doing snapped the metal-locking end into my lip, cutting it just under my nose at the same time knocking out one bottom tooth.  The air bag deployed, but without the seat belt holding me in place it was ineffective.  Lacking any restraint, I became air born and was somehow hurled through the window and onto the street where I lay until paramedics arrived. 

By comparison, Ken’s injuries were minor, but still required several days of observation in the hospital.  Restrained, confused, combative and unhappy, our concerned children insisted he be released for better care at home.

While my family waited and worried outside the trauma unit, I was finally stablized by a group of dedicated and extraordinarily skilled doctors following an hour and a half  of intense effort.  Medically, I was a mess.  The team of professionals battled various internal organs which threatened to shut down because of shock; there were cuts, contusions, blood loss, and massive bruising, broken ribs, a broken neck and head fracture.  They worried I could suffer a stroke or be paralyzed as the neck fracture was a top vertebrae pressing on vital areas and nerves which commanded life itself.

During a moment of consciousness I requested a blessing of healing from the clergy of my church.  Their anointing words of comfort, hope and promise fell upon me like a warm blanket on a cold night.  Finding peace among the turmoil I also found rest, allowingy myself to let go and let God further work His  miracles.  When awareness allowed me to ponder, I reviewed my broken and bruised body and while I will never dismiss the seriousness of my many and varied injuries, I am still amazed that I only suffered a broken neck, head fracture and broken ribs.  In actuality, I should be dead.  I can only believe there must be some part of my life’s mission which has not been completed.  Why else would Heavenly guided unseen hands cushion my descent to the pavement?

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