Vacation Bible School

Back in 2000, I was talked into teaching Religious Education classes (or PSR) to 5th grade public school children one night a week for about an hour. The primary focus of the 5th grade curriculum was the Sacraments. When approached, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to do it, but a co-worker talked me into trying it out to see if I was a good fit. I wasn’t the best teacher, but I did my best to make things fun — not many kids are very enthusiastic about an hour of religious training after having already spent an entire day in school.

I sometimes had difficulty keeping 12-20 energetic 10 year olds under control, so I was grateful to have a parent assistant to help me out most weeks.  We used the classrooms at the local Catholic school, but we constantly had to remind the students that they were not allowed to mess around with the property belonging to the regular Catholic school students and teachers. Nevertheless, that first year, one of my students broke the chalkboard pointer which belonged to the daytime teacher.  He was goofing around with it when he wasn’t supposed to.  If I remember correctly, this was on a night when my parent assistant (to whom the role of the primary classroom disciplinarian fell) was unable to attend.  It was pretty clear to me that I was not cut out for a career in elementary education.

The second year, I had a different parent assistant, and her attention was primarily occupied with trying to keep one particular student focused and on track.  I am not sure what type of condition Giorgio had, but his speech was very difficult to understand (he sometimes seemed to have a language of his own).  He did not read, and he had some other special needs issues which made it extremely challenging for him to keep focused — even with a full time attendant.  He was sometimes prone to disruptions and outbursts — never violent or angry, thankfully — and the other kids in the class (including a female cousin who often helped to translate when Giorgio spoke or had a question) were all familiar with him.  They accepted his condition and treated him like a normal kid.  I never witnessed any mocking or mean spirited comments and Giorgio was never made fun of in my class.  I attribute that more to the kids’ own well behavior than to anything I ever said or did.  The thing is = I never HAD to say anything to any of the other kids about how they should treat Giorgio.

In my third (and last) year of teaching the Sacraments, I had no parent assistant in the classroom.  I did my best and I think I made an impression on a few of the kids, but I knew that I was not the best person for that job.  I was involved in several other parish ministries and I was spreading my time a bit too thin. So when I saw that I needed to cut back on my over-extended efforts, I knew that religious education was the one I had to drop.  This was approximately the same time that I met my wife — through one of those other parish ministries.

Several years ago, we signed our daughter up for Vacation Bible School. I think she was maybe 5 or 6.  Somehow in the process, my wife ended up staying for a few nights to help as a parent volunteer.  She didn’t sign up in advance to do that and she had no duties in organizing or running any part of the program, she just answered the call when one of the program’s directors needed a few parents to help.  (I chose not to commit myself, although I was asked also).

Earlier this spring, the person who had been running the bible school program for several years had some other summertime commitments (involving her certification for another unrelated religious education program) which made running VBS at the same time just too much on her plate all at once. Although she committed herself to assisting with VBS (she still took a lead role in the planning and promotion, but just wasn’t the program director in name), another church friend of ours was asked and accepted the responsibility to run things.  Her husband and my wife work together at the same company and we are all social friends of sorts — so she asked my wife if we would like to help with a couple of the presentation themes.  Knowing my love for being involved, our history of being drawn together through adult parish retreat ministry, and my past efforts with religious education, my wife agreed to help and said she would ask me also. She was not directly aware of my reasons for stepping down from teaching 13 years ago since we were not yet dating at the time.  My wife had already committed herself, but I was not tremendously enthusiastic about the prospect.  Rather than come right out and say that, I more or less kept silent as the “think it over and get back to me with a decision” time passed by.

So as the time drew closer to needing an answer, and I remained wishy-washy — not really wanting to do it, but not wanting to disappoint and say “NO” either — somehow, I’m still not exactly sure how, a “YES” response was transmitted from me to my wife and passed along up the channels.  I was quite relieved to later find out that my wife and I could work together as a team rather than be split up each at different stations with different responsibilities.

As the planning meetings were scheduled, they conflicted with my wife’s other volunteer commitments at our daughter’s dance studio, so I was tasked to attend those meetings on behalf of us both.  I was encouraged by the experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm of the other people involved, but I was still not overly enthusiastic about the time commitment with it being a few hours each evening for a full week (which I knew would also be a very busy work week for me). The actual location setup was spread out over two different Saturdays.  The first day involved some room preparation, and it turned out that our room was one already in use during the regular school year for a religious education program, with many items belonging to that instructor remaining in the room over the summer months.  With a few minor exceptions, the items in the room were largely unavailable for us to use, but could not be removed from the room and stored elsewhere.  So we had to cover them up and keep them hidden from view and away from the curious fingers belonging to the kids in our VBS program.  I immediately had déjà vu visions of that broken chalkboard pointer from 16 years ago!

Our second Saturday setup (just this past weekend and the day before we began the program) involved additional room and prop setup and several hours of theming other hallway areas.  On Sunday morning we discovered that most of the hallway theming work, done by several children volunteers, had come down overnight and was not easily repairable.

Our particular VBS station dealt with Bible stories and scriptural themes which help to illustrate the over-riding theme for the night.  Because each night had a different “living the Bible” experience, we had to make wholesale prop and theming changes each night in preparation of the next day’s lesson. Upon seeing what did and did not work with the kids during the first session Sunday evening, and upon additional review of the rest of the program guide, my wife and I realized that we had a lot of additional prop and theming work to do in our room over the next several days.  So Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. — when I would normally be bedding down for the night (especially knowing that I had to be in court bright and early Monday morning), instead I found myself walking around our local WalMart with a cartful of necessary items we had overlooked the first time around.

In re-creating some of the bible stories or images, we have a pre-written script to follow, with some ad-libbing thrown in for variety.  My role has generally been that of the helper while my wife presents the main content.  My job that first night was to pretend that the lights in our room weren’t working. I had to lead the kids to believe that I was trying to track down the problem while my wife continued on with the lesson.  I would then return to the room at key points with different artificial lighting solutions (first little battery operated flicker candles, then mini flashlights, etc.)  So MOST of my time was spent outside of the room with very little interaction with the kids — just listening from the hallway for my audible cues to enter the room with my lighting options.

This left my wife with 90-95% of the overall interaction with the kids in our Sunday sessions.  I was hardly even seen or heard, but after one of the groups finished their shift in our room, a girl of about ten years with Down Syndrome came over to me (not to my wife who shared with them for over 20 minutes, but to me who shared three lines with them and “fixed” the lights).  She grab/hugged me around the waist and said “Thank you,” before following her group out into the hallway moving on to a different station.

Although I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the program as I could have been before we started, she reminded me what the time, effort, and late night spending money at Walmart was really for.  This may turn out to be our only commitment to Vacation Bible School, I don’t know, but it was in reflecting on that ‘thank-you’ hug and telling my wife about it hours later at home (she had not seen it herself and did not get a similar hug of her own) that I realized I was where I was supposed to be.  I am posting these observations just before our fifth and final night of VBS.  Each day has had its challenges and its rewards, which I suppose is just a microcosm of everyday life.

Praise God!!!

To bring this full circle, about a year or so ago, I was sitting in Applebee’s with my family having dinner. At some point while we were eating, I noticed a young man and someone I assumed to be his father sitting at the bar, chatting and eating some sandwiches. I thought I recognized him, but I wasn’t 100% sure until we made eye contact. I didn’t see any recognition in his face when our eyes met, but there was no doubt in my mind at that moment that it was Giorgio all grown up.  He had to be in his mid-twenties by now.  I had not seen him since he was in my classroom, but I sometimes had wondered over the years how he was doing and what paths his life had taken.  I guess I still don’t know the full answers to those questions, but I do know that he was alive and well — and enjoying some good food at Applebee’s!

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Language Barrier

I’ve blogged many times about my family’s and my love for Cedar Point and what a blessing it is to have such a fabulous place to visit and walk in the summer months. We got season passes again this year in anticipation of the new Valravn ride.  I may or may not ride it this year because the lines will no doubt be quite long all the time!  There are still plenty of other rides which pack quite a thrill but at a shorter wait.

This past weekend, my older daughter and her brother came home from Florida for a visit and we went over to the park with them on Saturday for several hours.  We hoped to ride Valravn, but the lines were just too long for our liking.  We also discussed Top Thrill Dragster, but it was a little long also given that it is only a 17 second ride.  So instead, we hit Magnum, Rougarou, and GateKeeper.  I also let my older daughter talk me into two rides that terrify me — Power Tower and maXair.  Her brother then talked her into a ride that terrified her – SlingShot! See videos of that experience here!

File May 24, 2 14 51 PM File May 24, 2 15 11 PM

I may get in trouble for saying this, but our older daughter caught the eye of a tall, dark, and handsome food service worker at one of the dining options at Cedar Point. It was a build your own Mexican style menu, much like you would see at Chipotle or Qdoba, but he apparently spoke no English and we had to point at the ingredient options we wanted on our burritos. When another another worker came over to check on us at our table, he commented to our older daughter that his co-worker said that she was very beautiful, but that he only spoke Spanish and was unable to tell her himself.  All in all it was a very full Saturday and a fun time.

We have been talking about getting our front garden back into flower shape, and this happened to be the only weekend where that would be possible due to other weekend plans and commitments on the schedule.  So when Sunday rolled up on me, I woke up around 6:30 and considered whether I wanted to get started.  We typically go to 10:00 Mass, so I had a few hours I could devote to pulling weeds.  (It turns out I needed more than just a few to get at all the clover growing right along the fence line).  At first I was tempted to just leave the garden go and instead spend my morning on my laptop doing clicks. But I decided to get motivated and get moving and went out to the garden instead.

I donned some old jeans and t-shirt and some work gloves; I grabbed my iPhone and earbuds and downloaded a few of my favorite podcasts; I started working. I didn’t know how my wife would feel after the walking we did at Cedar Point the day before — that sometimes aggravates her chronic back issues, but I could at least get started and hope that not too many new weeds would sprout up if we weren’t able to finish the garden that day.

I was just about finished with what I had planned to accomplish — maybe another 5 or 10 minutes more, when I turned around/was startled by a young girl in her late teens or early twenties standing right behind me on the sidewalk.  I was so wrapped up in what I was listening to that I never noticed her or her friend walk over.  I pulled out one of my earbuds as it was clear she waned to say something.  She began speaking to me in broken English — saying something about a work form.  I held up an index finger and pulled the other earbud from my other ear so that I could hear more clearly.  That was when I was able to make out “phone” (not form) “work” and “taxi”. Clearly frustrated that she was unable to speak better English, I tried my best to understand.  As she slowed down and tried again, adding in some additional details, I finally got the picture.  She and her friend were Ukrainian and work at Kalahari, a large water park in the area.  They were supposed to be at work by 9:00 (it was about 8:30 at the time) and they had just discovered that the bus transportation did not run on Sundays. When they saw me outside working, they thought I might have a phone and might be able to call a taxi for them to get to work on time. Because their English was not very fluent and they didn’t know well enough where they were to explain to a taxi dispatcher, she asked if I could call and make arrangements for them.

Foreign workers are very common at Cedar Point and the hotels and water parks in the area during the summer.  Cedar Point is large enough that I think they have their own employee transport busses, but I suppose Kalahari likely doesn’t employ enough people to make that service worthwhile.

I found a local taxi company, called and gave them the particulars, and then let the girls know that a car would arrive shortly in front of our house to pick them up.  They thanked me and took a seat on the street curb as I went back to my weeds.  Even though a few minutes before I intended to wrap up and go back inside to shower for church, I decided to stay out a bit longer to help translate when the cab arrived.  As the girls spoke back and forth in their native language, I glanced up each time a car drove down our busy street, but none were from any taxi service.

By 8:45, when the taxi hadn’t yet arrived, the first girl walked back over to me — nervous that they would still not make it on time.  She asked me if I knew when the taxi would arrive. She explained that if they were late — “we will get 2 points and then we will be fired.” Clearly concerned that they would be late, I gave the index finger “hang on just a minute” gesture a second time.  I then went inside to ask my wife if she would mind if I drove these two out to Kalahari and asked her to tell the taxi driver if I wasn’t able to cancel and they arrived at our door looking for a fare.

I then went back outside and told the girls if they wanted that I would take them to their work.  They were both relieved at the offer and quickly tried to get into my neighbor’s car which was parked in front of our house!  I laughed, shook my head “no”, and pointed to the older beat up car further up the street.  One of the girls commented: “but you’re busy?” pointing at the weed patch in front of our house.  I told her it was okay.  I didn’t tell her that I have experience giving rides to strangers.

Once in the car, I tried to call the taxi company.  There was a recent call in my phone log, which I assumed to be the company’s number.  That turned out to be the person who MIS-dialed MY number a few days earlier, but was still showing up in my missed calls list! I then re-ran a Google search for taxis, but could not remember which company I had called! So I had to dial each one until I got someone who recognized the request!  Once I finally got the right number, the woman/dispatcher was a bit annoyed at the cancellation, but she got over it without much difficulty.  When she asked why it was being canceled, I simply told her that the girls who needed the taxi were no longer there.  They probably would have been charged at least a hour or two of their wages just for the taxi ride into work…

That resolved, I then tried to communicate a little bit more with them.  I learned that this was only their second day on the job at Kalahari and they had only been in the United States for five days.  I debated the decision to talk to them about the dangers of accepting rides from strangers and I ultimately decided not to say anything as I did not want them to misunderstand or make them scared and uncomfortable.  Later that morning at Mass, I prayed that I had made the right choice.  Cleveland and Toledo are each only one hour away from Sandusky and both cities have reputations as gateways for human trafficking, being close to largely un-patroled international waters on Lake Erie.  The large volume of foreign students in the Sandusky area tourist workforce makes them an ideal target for the trade.

Only being in the country for five days, I don’t know if they were warned about those dangers or if they have the awareness necessary to stay safe. Hopefully that is something they know to be careful about.  But with the language barrier, I was afraid a friendly lecture might only confuse them into thinking I intended to abduct them rather than drive them to Kalahari.

Ultimately I was able to get them to work on time and we eventually understood each other enough to locate the correct drop off point at the employee entrance.  (If you’ve never been there, Kalahari is a pretty big place with a lot of potential drop off points!)  I was still able to get back home in time to shower and make it to 10:00 Mass.  After Mass, we bought some mulch, soil, and flowers and a few new bird feeders.  We got the front garden weeded, planted, and mulched and made some progress (but not finished) in the side and back yards; and still had time to cook dinner and visit with our older daughter and her brother. In the process, our younger daughter was able to discover that she does like steamed crab legs in small quantities.  That will be good to know in advance of our trip to Ocean City later this summer!

What would have happened had I decided to be lazy Sunday morning and stayed inside? Would these girls have found someone else to help them get to their jobs? Would they have been fired two days into the job? Maybe, maybe not… Was it just coincidence that they encountered me just a few minutes short of going back inside?  Was it just coincidence that the clover had grown so thick along the fence line — which kept me out there longer than I had originally planned?

Praise God!!! (and continued prayers for my Ukrainian passengers and all foreign workers willing to take the service jobs at a pay scale that so many able bodied young workers in this country simply turn up their noses at).

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“Back” Home

I grew up in the Steubenville, Ohio area and still enjoy making the 3 hour drive back home to see the old haunts now and again.  I don’t do it as often as I should or that I would like. Whether it is a family reunion or a class reunion or a holiday or just because, home is always home. It is amazing how often I am reminded directly and specifically of home through encounters that happen 150 miles away.

I spent countless hours as a child and teenager in my back yard with an old basketball and an older backboard and rim bolted to yet an even older tree/pole. I was not an athlete in school.  With a little bit of effort and a lot of perseverance, I may have been able to ride the bench on the school basketball team, but I was more interested in the less structured “backyard ball”.  I still remember that old hoop that my uncle — Tom Beany — put together years before. I suppose it was for my older cousins when they were boys, I don’t really remember that far back.  He found a perfectly straight tree with a “Y” shaped crook at about the right height and bolted a backboard and rim onto the crook bracing it with a 4×4 block of wood. I was just a kid when my cousins had outgrown it or lost interest and I had always begged my parents for a hoop, so somehow I inherited that old wooden pole hoop!

I still remember helping my dad to dig a hole in the ground near the edge of our yard.  Dad and Phil Lunger, who lived across the street raised that behemoth into place and I spent thousands of hours over the next decade plus hoisting up shot after shot at that rim.  I recall that the first very first shot of the day would usually clank hard off of the backboard and usually sent a poor songbird screeching away in terror after my rude and unannounced intrusion violently rocked her nest — improvidently constructed in an old tree crook with the added protection provided by a large flat board on one side and a 4×4 block of wood on the other.  I often started my marathon basketball sessions with a sprinting heave from 25 feet away with little to no chance of going in, but a strong likelihood of a jarring collision with the backboard!  It wasn’t until after the bird’s angry departure that I would remember someone lived on the other side of that hoop! Ironically, even though my intrusion was a regular occurrence, that same bird (or one just like her) continued to build/return to that same nesting spot year after year.  I guess my rude interruptions were a favorable tradeoff for the other security the spot provided.

{PHOTO PLACEHOLDER —> I am trying to locate an old
photograph of that hoop to insert here}


Not being a participant in school athletics, I didn’t develop very strong relationships with any of the coaches in high school outside of the classroom. I had several coaches as teachers over the course of my four years in high school: Yanok, Radakovitch, Opatkin, Bahen, Fararr…  They each had different teaching styles and varying limits of what you could “get away” with. I could probably tell stories about each one of them, but that’s not really what this blog post is about.  I had Coach Fararr for an Economics class my senior year.  I recall him being a fun teacher and generally not too harsh.  Maybe just ‘coincidence’ but the two independent memories I still recall from Coach Fararr’s class 25 years later have nothing to do with economics or any course instruction, but instead relate to getting him off topic.

One was the time someone in class managed to get him off topic and spend almost the entire class period discussing stories about his prior employment as a security guard at the amusement park in his home town of Sandusky, Ohio.  Of course, that now is one of my family’s summer “go to fun spots — we are patiently awaiting the new 2016 season opening only a week away!

The other was the time all of the boys in the senior class not on the football team wore flannel shirts and ties (in place of our uniform dress shirts) on the day that our football team was to play Jefferson Union High School. J.U. was a school that drew its students from a more rural part of the county — many of whom were farmers or at least lived in farming communities.  So someone came up with the idea of wearing flannel shirts to school as a school spirit/joke kind of thing.  The team always wore their football jerseys to school over top of uniform clothes on game days, so they weren’t really included.  We didn’t have specific uniform clothes colors that we had to wear — just a shirt and tie and dress pants. So plaid flannel shirts were still within the dress code and all of the non-football players wore their flannel best that day to school.  Being an assistant football coach, I recall Coach Fararr having a good laugh and a very positive reaction to our showing of support and solidarity, while still remaining within the spirit of the dress code.

I don’t recall my final grade for Economics that year, but I know I did fairly well.  I’m not sure how much longer Coach Fararr taught at CCHS, but at some point during or soon after my college years, he’d moved on to another teaching job in some other location.  To be honest, I didn’t really keep in touch with many of my teachers after high school — I probably had a stronger ongoing relationship with the cafeteria lunch ladies!

Fast forward ten years to 1999.  In the summer or fall of that year, we had our ten year class reunion and it was a good time getting back in touch with some friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while.  As everyone shared their updates and experiences, I relayed my news that I had recently graduated from law school and was living and working in Sandusky, Ohio.  I got a few responses along the lines of: “Oh yeah! Coach Fararr was from there! You probably go to Cedar Point all the time.  Remember the times he would spend entire class periods telling stories about working there as a security guard?”  I had to admit to everyone that I had not visited Cedar Point at all because all of my free time was devoted to studying for the bar exam!


I am a bit fuzzy on the exact timing of the next event because I have no independent recollection of it and the details come from my mother. At some point over the next several years, my parents were up to Sandusky for a weekend visit.  If you know anything about Sandusky’s geography and layout, you would know that Route 250 is the main thoroughfare in town for shopping and dining.  Route 250 snakes generally in a southeast direction from Sandusky through the heart of Ohio amish country, and ultimately runs through Cadiz, Ohio (Clark Gable’s birthplace) which is about 20 miles from Steubenville — so most trips to and from Sandusky/Steubenville are spent traveling Route 250 virtually the entire way.  This is a beautiful summer drive if you’re ever looking for one.

At the time of that visit from my folks, I was living in an apartment a few blocks away from 250 just beyond a local Sandusky church.  The weekend ended and dreaded Monday arrived. I got showered and dressed and left for work and my parents gathered up their things and started their trek back home on 250.  But just before they got to 250, they saw a church bazaar advertised at that church just beyond my apartment complex.  On a whim, with no hard schedule deadlines, they decided to stop and browse the tables of wares.

As mom tells the story (dad has since passed and even alive he would not have remembered the details), she was at one end of the area and dad was at the other end enthusiastically waving her over to meet someone.  It was not uncommon for my dad to strike up conversations with complete strangers for no particular reason, so it was not surprising that he was talking to this woman he had never met before. The best my mom could figure, he somehow started talking to this woman behind one of the tables, likely with an opening line something like: “We’re not from around here, we are just visiting my son, he’s an attorney.”  Maybe he volunteered, or maybe she asked, either way – she discovered that my parents were from Steubenville.  She then likely replied that her son used to teach at a Catholic school in Steubenville and my dad soon discovered that he had struck up a conversation with one Mrs. Fararr.  Upon my mom joining them, they then proceeded to talk for several hours — as mom tells it, at least as long as it would have taken them to drive home had they not stopped “just for a few minutes to take a look.” Through the course of that conversation, Coach Fararr’s mom told my parents that he was teaching/living in a small town on 250 (which coincidentally is just about the exact midpoint between Sandusky and Steubenville).  She apparently told my parents the exact street and house where he lived and even encouraged them to just stop and ring the doorbell on their way past — that he would be so happy to get a visit from someone from Steubenville.  My dad, being the way he was, probably would have stopped and rung that doorbell without a second thought… but they really only knew of him and didn’t actually know him on a “stop unannounced many years removed” basis.  So that 250 reunion has never taken place.


I cannot recall whether I have blogged about my wife’s chronic back problems, but it is something that she lives with everyday — some are better, some are worse.  She is able to treat it with medication and massage therapy and periodic chiropractic treatment.  She has been treating with a local chiropractor, Dr. Marty, for a while and at some point a year or two ago, she went in for an adjustment just before or just after a difficult car trip to Steubenville.  That drive came up in discussion of her treatment and the doctor told her that a friend of his from high school used to teach in Steubenville… (Yep, same guy!)  He had been down to Steubenville a few times when Coach Fararr was still there, so he and my wife have periodically swapped Steubenville stories.

Mom came up to visit us for Easter weekend this year and we discussed with her some short and long term plans for her house and the possibilities of downsizing to an apartment with less maintenance and yard work.  She ended up taking our daughter back home with her on Easter Monday to spend her spring break week together.  That same week, I began treating with Dr. Marty in effort to alleviate some leg and foot issues I’ve been having.  So during my treatment visits I’ve discussed my former high school and hometown with him as well.  I had a Friday afternoon treatment a month or so ago, with the plan to drive down and pick up my daughter afterward at the end of her week with my mom.

I drove down and severely tweaked something in my low back while moving some furniture for mom on Friday evening, which put me out of commission for the rest of the weekend.  It was in discussing my chiropractic treatment with mom and Dr. Marty’s friendship with Coach Fararr that she reminded me of the above story with Mrs. Fararr and dad.  We talked some more about downsizing her house and things that could stay and go if she moved into something smaller.  One of the things we talked about was wall space and her large framed scenic paintings, some of which she was still trying to decipher the artists’ signatures.  There is a beautiful waterfront/sunset scene on her living room wall that I always liked, but wasn’t sure of its origins.  Just out of the blue I asked her “Where did that painting come from anyway?”  She laughed and said that she and dad bought that painting/frame when they were in Sandusky at the church sale when they met Mrs. Fararr. How’s that for a coincidence?!?

I had a followup visit with Dr. Marty the following week.  He was able to fit me into his schedule one morning before I had to be to the office.  I had a court appearance scheduled for that afternoon — just a minor routine matter for a local church which took all of five minutes, but courtroom decorum still requires wearing a suit jacket and tie for those five minutes.  Rather than get fully formally dressed (who wants to get on the chiropractor’s table in a dress shirt and tie?) I arrived at my appointment in sweat pants and a t-shirt, which prompted Dr. Marty to ask if I had the day off.  I explained my outfit and that I intended to change into a suit after my adjustment.  I told him about my back injury the weekend prior and about my mother’s story of meeting Mrs. Fararr.  As I was finishing up my visit, Dr. Marty’s next patient came in — a deacon from the church I was representing in court that very afternoon!  When he realized we knew each other, Dr. Marty commented on how funny it was — living in a small world where we are all interconnected.  Perhaps his comment also had something to do with the fact he was leaving for Florida for a few days to attend a friend’s wedding and was going to be in roughly the same area where our older daughter now lives and works.  He had been a regular at the local Applebee’s restaurant where our daughter worked before moving to Florida so they knew each other well.


Not to be confused with a popular sit-com that ended a couple years ago — in the precursor to this web blog, I tell the story about how I met my wife.  The short version is that we worked on a retreat team together at church.  I’ll never forget my first experience with that retreat ministry in 2001.  This was before I met my wife.  As a participant, I was assigned to a table with a few other people.  I briefly touched on that retreat experience in a blog post from several years ago, but left this part out.  Even though it was a God-Incident, it did not really add to that particular story, but it comes into play here…

In 2001, I was still a relative newcomer to Sandusky.  I’d been here a few years, but most of my circle of friends still came from the few people I worked with and some of the people who attended my church. As I encountered different people through my office duties, I had some dealings with an attorney who worked at the county courthouse to help mediate cases.  It turns out that Nancy was also a member of Sts. Peter & Paul and she was part of the retreat team when I was a new participant at the spring 2001 retreat. As part of the early sharing, everyone was encouraged to introduce themselves and give some basic personal information. Nancy had lived most of her life in Sandusky, but for whatever reason, she commented that she was originally born in Steubenville!  I was a little bit surprised, so after introductions were done and we were invited to get a little more familiar with those at our assigned tables, I commented on how ironic it was that Nancy mentioned being from MY hometown.  That was when Ford said, “Wait a minute, you’re from Steubenville too?”

Ford then talked about how his family moved from the Steubenville area up to Sandusky many years before. He asked me about my family and some other details.  He didn’t recognize the Lucas name, but when I told him my mom’s maiden name, which isn’t very common, he asked if she had a “Tom” in her family.  It turned out that Ford’s dad and my uncle, whom I have to thank for my hours upon hours upon hours of backyard basketball, were best friends in their younger days.  Ford later remarked that he wasn’t even supposed to be at the retreat that weekend.  Someone else on the team had gotten sick at the last moment and they needed Ford to step in to take his place.  Had Nancy not mentioned her Steubenville connection, had the other gentleman not fallen ill, had I been assigned to a different retreat table — I might have never known Ford’s connection.  (I later learned that he was also related in some way to my mother’s best friend from grade school through high school and still to this day lives right down the street from mom).


 

Last week I had another pre-work morning adjustment scheduled with Dr. Marty. We talked about his Florida trip – unfortunately unable to make a connection with our daughter at the Florida Applebee’s she transferred to.  At some point, somehow our conversation turned to the topic of high school class reunions and our various experiences with them. Dr. Marty’s next patient came in while we were talking.  My back was turned and my eyeglasses were not yet back on my face (I can’t see far away without them so I couldn’t see the face of the next person coming in).  Dr. Marty said, “C’mon back, Ford.  I’ll be with you in just a minute.” as he continued to talk to me about his last class reunion.

Ford heard the conclusion of our conversation and volunteered that he had a class reunion of his own coming up pretty soon. He said he would be heading back home to see some friend from his old alma mater — J.U.  Yes, it certainly is a small world, isn’t it? Don’t forget your flannel shirt, Ford!

Praise God!!!

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Stations in Life

We are in the season of Lent.  I often forego the traditional practice of sacrificing, or giving up, something for Lent, but instead try to do something proactive to help other people during that time.  In our parish, we also promote performing Random Acts of Kindness whenever possible.  While these practices can be fulfilling, still it is sometimes quite easy to get caught up in ourselves and forget to take the extra effort.  For that reason, I decided to return to the traditional Lenten sacrifice this year, while continuing to look for situations where I can be more selfless.

I’ve also committed to attend weekly Wednesday evening sessions at my church during Lent this year. At 5:30 each Wednesday, our parish presents a prayerful Stations of the Cross in the church, followed by a light meal of soup and bread in the Gathering Space and a lecture session by one of our parish priests. I’ve attended these Wednesday Lenten sessions for many years with my wife and daughter, although we missed several last year during the weeks that followed my father’s death and funeral.

As a side note, but important to the story, I have two nephews and a niece through my sister and her husband.  They are currently in their teenage and preteen years.  They live three hours away, so we do not often see each other outside of holidays or other special events, but I do send birthday cards every year to each of them on their special days. I’ve always included money with their birthday cards, but about ten years ago, I decided it would be a good/fun idea each year to include an amount of cash equal to the age they turned on that birthday. So that has become a tradition for my wife and I.  Over the years, all three kids have become very excited with the expectation each year — even though it HAS led to some counting of chickens before the eggs have hatched.  Last year at a family gathering for dinner, my niece commented on something she wanted to buy for herself and that the money she had already saved, plus the birthday money she would be getting from us, would cover it with X dollars left over.  (This was about 3 months BEFORE her next birthday, but she was already factoring in that birthday cash amount!)

So on Wednesday of this week, I was at work and got a text message from my mother. She had been having some major computer issues recently (with a computer which was just brand new in late January).  I was on the phone with her for a while on Tuesday evening, but we were unable to resolve the problems.  However, her Wednesday morning text informed me that after saying a prayer that morning, her computer did an automatic update and everything seemed to be working fine again.  So I called her from work when I had a free moment Wednesday afternoon just to make sure everything was still working well.  After we got through that discussion, she began to talk to me about her daily happenings which is not unusual.  She had gone to morning Mass and stopped at the dollar store to pick up a birthday card for my nephew.

My mind immediately began racing… What day is this? Are we into March already? How did I forget? Finally I asked my mom in a panic, what day is his birthday? I had been so wrapped up in other things that I just plain forgot! She told me that Ryan’s birthday was on Friday and that I had better have 13 dollars for him!

Relieved that I hadn’t missed it, and thankful for the coincidence in calling mom that afternoon and her decision to mention something as mundane as buying a birthday card for Ryan, I developed a plan in my head. I had to be at church by 5:30 that evening for Stations of the Cross, so working backward from that deadline, and realizing that I already needed to get something mailed out for work which required an inside counter visit at the post office, I arranged to leave work at 4:20 to go and buy a birthday card to get into Wednesday’s outgoing mail which should result in delivery on his birthday Friday.

As I left work closer to 4:30, I realized that I would be cutting it close because I did not have enough cash on hand to put into the birthday card.  I rarely carry ANY cash with me because I seldom NEED it and without any I am less likely to spend it on things that I don’t need.  As it happens, I DID have four dollars in my money clip, but not enough to buy a card AND add $13 to the envelope. Because this meant I would have to make multiple stops before the card would be ready for mailing, I decided to hit the post office first to make sure I got my work related mail out before 5:00.  Although the inside service counter closes at 5:00, the last pickup from the mail boxes is not until 5:15, so I could always swing back with the finished birthday card afterward and still get it out that day.

I did my first post office drop, then drove to a dollar store around the corner and found something appropriate in their card section.  Having that small amount of cash on hand, I just paid for the card with a few dollars from that cash.  In hindsight, I suppose I could have used a debit card and asked for cash back, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I also didn’t contemplate at the time that would have made things much simpler and moved me along my other subsequent stops more quickly  — which would have never led to the events which inspired this blog post…

My bank has a ATM/branch nearby, so I waited in that line (and there WAS a line ahead of me) to get a $20 bill. A few hundred yards further is a Kroger store, so I decided to pop in and buy a package of snack crackers to break my $20.  As an added benefit I would then have a snack to take in to work the next day. (I gave up sugary snacks and desserts for Lent, but not the salty snacks!)  So by the time I got out of Kroger, in addition to the birthday card, I had a small carton of goldfish crackers and increments of cash which could be combined to make up the $13. I was less than half mile from the post office and it was not quite 5:00, so I decided to just sit in the parking lot and sign/address the card. Thankfully I already had a pen in my car’s ashtray. It was unseasonably warm for early March in northern Ohio, so I rolled my front windows down about ¼ of the way, turned on some talk radio, and got to it.  I just got the envelope sealed and addressed and was about to write my return address on it when I was startled by a woman’s voice calling out to me “Sir?” from the parking lot.

A 30 something young black woman apologized for startling me and then proceeded to tell me that she had been panhandling at the Kroger store and asked me if I had any money I could spare for food.  This is the same Kroger store where I had an earlier encounter years ago, described here: the same store location which will be closing in a few short weeks when a newly built and larger Kroger store opens up down the street.

This woman was eating a bag of corn chips and apologized when a small bit of chewed up chip spewed from her lips onto the outside of my car window.  She then told me that she had been at the homeless shelter and got into a fight with a white woman there who called her and her children the N word (although she used the actual word in relating the story to me).  She said she was not going to lie to me and that she had been taken to jail for it and spent three days there.  She also told me that the authorities at the shelter informed her that she was not welcome to come back.

I had already put the $13 birthday money in the card and sealed that envelope, but I reached down to my feet and grabbed the extra six dollars from my Kroger purchase and gave it to the woman through my window.  I told her that was all that I had at the time, but that she was welcome to it. She was very gracious and asked me if I knew of any other place in town where she could get assistance.  I asked her if she had tried visiting any of the local churches.  She indicated that she had, but they had all told her that they couldn’t help because of being low on funds, but that she didn’t really know what that meant.

The woman then asked me if I would be able to give her a ride. I was instinctively very cautious at being asked that question, but something made me pause.  I considered telling her, “Sorry, I have a few errands to run and someplace to be” — both of which were true, and not simply excuses to refuse her request.  But instead, for whatever reason, I asked her where it was she needed to go.  She responded with the name of a neighborhood that I recognized.  It is not in a good part of town and generally has a negative reputation in town. I’m not overly familiar with it myself, but I knew exactly where it was which was only about a mile or so away from where we were at the time.  I glanced at the clock, quickly weighed the situation and my prospects of getting my nephew’s birthday card mailed out in time, and I told the woman, “Sure. I can give you a ride.”  She smiled and thanked me and said there was a woman there she had stayed with before and thought that she might be able to get some help from her.

As I cleared off my passenger seat, the woman got in with her corn chips and a small knapsack.  As we pulled out of the parking lot, she told me that she was a Christian and showed me a small book or prayers someone had given to her. She said she hadn’t always been a Christian and that she used to worship Satan because nobody had ever told her before when she was growing up that that was wrong. Next she pulled out a plastic drink mixing cup that she said a “nice white… caucasian woman” had given to her with some tea.  She said she did not realize it was a cup for mixing alcoholic drinks and that she wondered why she got so many strange looks from other people as she drink tea from that cup, until somebody finally informed her that it wasn’t a tea cup, but a mixed drink mixer.

She then thanked me again for helping her and told me that a lot of people wouldn’t have agreed to give her a ride because “you’re not supposed to do that sort of thing — it’s not always safe” that you never know if you can trust somebody.  She also admitted that she could just as easily be in danger by asking for/accepting a ride from a stranger.  She said she didn’t know for sure that I wasn’t a crazy person, but that she felt like she could trust me after I was so kind to her in the Kroger parking lot.  I laughed a bit and told her that I wasn’t a crazy person, even as I wondered internally why she felt it necessary to raise those issues in the first place and whether I made a mistake in agreeing to give her a ride.

She showed me a cell phone with a shattered screen but still worked that someone had given to her.  And she let me know that it had some prepaid minutes on it. She also sort of whispered out loud — didn’t really say to me directly — as we drove past a Burger King, McDonalds, and Taco Bell that said she should probably make sure that she had something for her children to eat and she hoped that nobody was going to turn her in to children’s services.  I wondered for a split second whether I should offer to buy her a few hamburgers or to let HER buy them with her six dollars, and perhaps I should have, but I was in the wrong lane of traffic to pull in to those restaurants, so I continued to drive to her requested destination.

Just a few seconds later we approached the neighborhood where she was going and she directed me through a few streets to get to her destination.  As I pulled to the curb, she thanked me again and shook my hand.  She said, “God bless you” and I told her that he always does and replied in kind.  As I drove away, I still had a few minutes to get my nephew’s birthday card into the mail boxes at the post office.  I then stopped back at home to change into some more comfortable pants and shoes and got to the church right at 5:30.

I have no way to know for sure the true reality of this woman’s story. Was she going to use the few dollars I gave to her to buy food for her children or would it go toward something else?  Were there other issues with her children which would cause her to casually comment to a stranger about protective services? Was it really just tea that she was drinking earlier in her cup? Was there more to the story about her altercation at the homeless shelter or the shattered cell phone?  Was she really a former worshipper of Satan?  Was I just a “mark”?

As we prayed through the Stations of the Cross, using the same booklet that we have used for years at our parish, a few of the reflection prayers that we all recite as a group spoke a little bit louder to me this time.  I have reprinted a few of those below.

Fifth Station – Simon helps Jesus
Jesus, our brother,
We have to admire Simon.
He took up your cross and followed you.
He had so little doubt, so little hesitation.
We see you suffering in all around us,
in the poor, in the powerless,
in the misunderstood.
We are so hesitant to come to your aid.
We find so many excuses.
We remain aloof.
Grant us the wisdom and the courage
to help the least of your brothers and sisters
and so help you.

Sixth Station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Jesus, our brother,
You rewarded Veronica for her courage.
You left your face upon her veil.
You will reward us for our courage,
you will leave the imprint of your face
upon our lives.
“By this will all know
that you are my disciples:
that you love one another.”
Help us to forget our fears and reach out
to serve our needy brothers and sisters.

Eighth Station – Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
Jesus, our brother,
In the midst of your sufferings
you had compassion
for others and their pain.
We are often so self-centered.
We do not see the suffering of others.
We want pity, kindness, and understanding.
We are willing to give so little in return.
Help us forget ourselves.
Awaken us to the pain
in the lives of others.

Tenth Station – Jesus is stripped of his garments
Jesus, our brother,
There is something fearful
in thinking of you stripped before the crowd.
Even the privacy of clothing is taken.
You have given up everything for us.
We give so little in return.
May we have the grace to give,
to give of what we have,
to help our brothers and sisters
suffering all around us.

Eleventh Station – Jesus is nailed to the Cross
Jesus, our brother,
the pain of those nails was unjust.
Your hands which did such good,
your feet which walked on errands of mercy,
are now punished.
You received little gratitude
for the good you did.
Why should we expect more for the good we do?
Help us give and ask nothing in return.

Twelfth Station – Jesus dies on the Cross
Jesus, our brother,
You have the greatest love for us.
What can we say in the face of it?
We can only try to imitate you,
by responding to
the brothers and sisters
you have given us to love.

After completing Stations of the Cross, we moved into the other room for soup. Each week, they have a goodwill offering basket for participants to leave donations to defray the costs of the soup, salad, and bread provided.  As I mentioned above, I rarely ever carry cash with me.  On the other hand, my wife often does, so in years past, I’ve always just relied on her to drop a few dollars in the basket at Soup & Prayer on Wednesdays during Lent.  But this year I’ve been going solo because Wednesday has become one of our daughter’s dance class evenings and my wife stays at the studio to volunteer in the studio office on our daughter’s dance nights. Each of the previous Wednesdays this year, I’ve forgotten to bring any money with me to donate to the cause.

On this particular Wednesday I would have had change from my store purchase, but I gave it to the woman in the Kroger parking lot instead.  As I was sitting at the table waiting for our turn to go up to the soup and bread table, I was a little bit discouraged that I failed to keep a dollar from my change to add to the pot, but quickly decided that my interaction with the woman and offering her a few dollars was more important than adding a few more dollars to the already full goodwill offering basket at the church. It was then that I remembered the change I gave to the woman at Kroger was just sitting on the floor of my car after I pulled out the birthday card bills from my store change.  I had forgotten that there were still two dollars left from my original money clip/pocket change that I used to buy the card.  That money clip was in my jacket pocket and still had $2.00 in it, so I WAS able to make an additional offering this week.

If I had not called my mother, chances are I would have missed getting Ryan’s birthday card mailed out in time. If I’d had enough cash to put $13.00 into his birthday card of if I’d just gotten cash back at the dollar store where I bought the card, I would have never driven to the Kroger store where I lingered for a bit in the parking lot.  If the weather had been colder like it traditionally should’ve been in early March, I would have been bundled up with the windows rolled up as I sat in the parking lot.  If I had let fear or prejudice impact my response to a woman asking for help, those words of prayer during Stations of the Cross would have likely haunted me.

Sometimes, it only takes a simple gesture of kindness and compassion to make a difference.  As I said above, I don’t know if my few dollars to the woman were used for selfless or selfish purposes on her part.  But she was a reminder to me that I can always do better when it comes to being charitable.  It just sometimes takes a gentle reminder — a reminder from Jesus on the Cross.

Praise God!!!

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Thankful Prayers

Several years ago, I found myself in the local emergency room suffering from what turned out to be a kidney stone attack. In the process of scanning me for kidney stones, they also discovered gallstones. Because the gallstones weren’t causing me any problems at the time, I was advised to just leave them alone as long as they weren’t bothering me.  So I left them alone and passed my kidney stone after a few days of misery.

In early September of this year, one morning as I was getting ready for work, I experienced some severe stomach pain and difficulty breathing. If it wasn’t for a court appearance scheduled for later that morning, I would have gone to the ER.  But I decided to try to ride it out.  Coincidentally (as if there really was such a thing as coincidences) my pain subsided 15 minutes before my court hearing. The appearance was short and sweet and I was back at my office in half an hour.  Within five minutes of my return, the stomach discomfort rose up again.  By lunchtime, I was resting back at home scheduling an appointment with my family doctor for the next day. When I woke up mid-afternoon after a short nap, the pain was gone and I truly felt good as new.

I kept my appointment even though I wasn’t in any discomfort.  Some poking and prodding didn’t reveal any issues, but blood work results with elevated liver enzymes and an ultrasound confirmed that I was having gallbladder issues and my doctor decided to refer me to a surgeon. Unfortunately, the surgeon’s schedule wouldn’t allow my visit until early October.  I did tell my doctor that if I needed to have any procedures done, that I would like to get something scheduled before the end of the year since everything should be covered 100% after meeting my insurance deductible with the sleep apnea testing.

Aside from the initial attack and a very severe case of nausea the following week, I really only experienced irregular onset of stomach pain and discomfort.  It was difficult at times, but still manageable for the most part.  In fact, I was still able (most of the time) to continue visiting Cedar Point and riding rides with my daughter.

Every year in late October, my sister-in-law hosts a Hallowine party at her home outside of Cincinnati. We weren’t committed to going this year, but with our daughter’s new-found love of roller coasters coupled with the fact that our Cedar Point passes also allowed us free entry into Kings Island, we were really hoping to make a trip down there this year to spend an evening at that park.  Assuming that my surgery would be scheduled around mid October, we arranged for an early October visit a few weeks before the Hallowine party, when both of our daughters could go.  Our 24 year old had decided over the summer to transplant herself to Florida when her apartment lease was up in November, so this became a last hurrah outing for the entire family before her departure.

Between a cold and rainy Friday and Saturday, we managed to ride most of the rides at Kings Island and I only had mild discomfort driving.  I then met with the surgeon the following week and he scheduled my surgery for November 4th — not as quick as I had hoped, but on the bright side, this allowed us to visit Cedar Point a few more times before they closed for the season and it also gave us the opportunity to return to southwestern Ohio for the Hallowine weekend and another night at Kings Island the weekend of October 20th.

It really was a special time as my wife’s oldest sister celebrated a milestone birthday and four of the five sisters were able to be there together to celebrate with her.  Spread across the country, it is very rare for all five to be in the same place at the same time, so taking liberties to paraphrase Meatloaf four out of five ain’t bad.

Over the weekend of our second Kings Island visit, my wife received news that our friend, Sue, back in Sandusky, had fallen and broke her leg. Sue was another of my wife’s bible study members — I blogged about their group leader, Betty, a few years back. Upon further examination, Sue’s doctors discovered that it happened the other way around. Unbeknownst to Sue, her bones were full of cancer and her leg broke as she was walking causing her to fall.  It was then that her doctors also discovered spots on her lungs and other organs and she was given a diagnosis of stage four cancer.

My gallbladder removal surgery on November 4th was supposed to be done laparoscopically and as an out-patient basis.  But when my surgeon went in with the scope (as I understand it) a rather large gallstone was right up against the bile duct and blocked his view/access, so he had to open up a full incision to remove my gallbladder.  I wasn’t aware of it yet, but my out-patient procedure had turned into a hospital stay of a few days.

I was pretty groggy coming out of recovery as they wheeled my bed up to a room. My wife tried to explain to me what happened and that I would be staying a few days. I recall trying pretty hard to comprehend her at the time, but I was still pretty loopy from the anesthesia. My extended stay gave my wife the opportunity to visit Sue for a short time that evening. Given how she feels about being in hospitals, she probably would not have had a chance to visit Sue had I been sent home the same day as originally planned.  I asked her to send my positive thoughts to Sue and offered up (Sue was in a room one floor above mine) a prayer or two as I drifted in and out of conscious thought.

I was going to visit Sue myself once I became mobile, but upon my discharge from the hospital on Friday I was not able to go up to see her. My mobility was still quite limited that first week home as I was still under the influence of pain medication and unable to get back over to the hospital.  Sue died on the following Saturday.

I started back to work for half days on the Monday after Sue passed.  On Wednesday, I had a two week followup visit with my surgeon and had my staples removed two hours before Sue’s calling hours at the funeral home.  On the Thursday a week before Thanksgiving, I took the morning off to attend Sue’s funeral with my wife. This was the first funeral I’d experienced since my father’s 9 months before and the emotion of it caught me a bit off guard.

Five different priests (presently or formerly assigned to our parish) celebrated Sue’s life.  I cannot remember ever seeing that many priests celebrate a funeral of a lay person. It was clear that these priests were there, not because they were Sue’s current and former pastors, but because Sue was their friend.

It was our former pastor Fr. Frank who eulogized Sue with his homily. He mentioned how thankful he was to have had the chance to visit with Sue a few different times while she was in the hospital and to talk to her about the trials she was going through.  Among many other things, he talked about Sue’s faith and prayer life. He talked about her acceptance of the illness that took her so quickly upon its first diagnosis. He talked about meeting with her family after her death and their discussions about Sue’s prayer notebook where she wrote all of the special intentions that she prayed for every single morning.  Fr. Frank’s homily caused me to take an introspective look at my own personal prayer life and how lacking it has become when compared to what it could or should be.  I realized at that moment how far short I am falling — letting other distractions keep me from achieving the personal prayer life that God calls each one of us to.

After Sue’s funeral, the parish had a luncheon for Sue’s family and friends.  I had the opportunity to briefly speak with our two prior Pastors, Fr. Frank and Fr. Marty.  By this time — two full weeks after surgery — I was walking about freely with very little discomfort and without my protection pillow. So I was a little bit surprised when Frank asked me if I had had surgery recently. I explained to him what happened and the coincidence that I was in the same hospital at the same time as Sue for a couple of days during my recovery. That was when Fr. Frank said that it was Sue who told him during one of his visits that I’d had some surgery and had been in the hospital. Even in her final life struggles, she was not solely focused on her own suffering.

Just over a month ago, Sue had no idea what she was in for and was probably starting to plan how she would celebrate Thanksgiving with her family.  In just a few weeks’ time, Sue was no longer with us.  Life is short.  We never truly know how much time we have left.

I did my half day at work last Thursday in the afternoon after Sue’s funeral. I prepared a document which I needed to file in the local municipal court — which requires a short 5 minute drive from my office.  I considered taking it at 1:00 when it was initially ready, but I had another client appointment scheduled for 2:00 which still required some additional preparation from me.  I decided to wait.  I considered taking it at 2:45 when my client meeting was finished, but a question from a co-worker and the resulting discussion delayed that decision.  I later glanced up at the clock and realized at 3:15 that my time was running out to get to the courthouse before its 4:00 closing.  As I hopped into my car for the short drive, my radio was already tuned in to Annunciation Radio.  While stopped at a traffic light, I heard a quote/question which I believe was closely tied to (and just may have come from) Sue. I wasn’t initially listening all that closely, so I missed the context of the story, but believe the station host was speaking with a priest from the Diocese of Toledo.  He may have been talking about getting a point across to school children, but it really was a universal point which further drove home the message to me earlier in the day.

I may be paraphrasing slightly, but the gist is the same:  “What would you do if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

Is there a more powerful illustration of how important it is for us to make daily prayer a central focus in our lives?  Is there a stronger statement than this to demonstrate how easy it can be for us to take for granted the things and people we hold dear?

The following Monday before Thanksgiving, I had a parish committee meeting for the social concerns ministry that I am involved with.  One of the committee members made Christmas CDs for everyone and our parish staff member on the team gave some appreciation gifts to everyone.  They were wrapped and I do not know if they were different items for different members, but when I opened mine up at home, I saw this:

IMG_4813

Message received.

Praise God!!!

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See Pop, CPAP

I’ve never been in top physical condition and have had my share of minor issues over the years, but I try to stay active and I thank God as often as I can for the blessing of good health which I have had in general.  I did not visit the doctor very often or regularly after high school.  I felt okay and rarely had any problems, so I figured it wasn’t really all that necessary.  For a number of years after college I didn’t have any health insurance.  I worked in a small office which didn’t offer any employee coverage.  When I did finally wise up and got an individual policy, it wasn’t the best, but it was there in the event of a catastrophe.

After I met my wife, but before we were married and not yet covered under her insurance, she talked me into going in for a check-up.  By this time, I was well settled into a desk job and had added a few pounds onto my old high school weight.  The doctor let me know that my blood pressure was a little high and he eventually put me onto a prescription to control it.  That was over ten years ago and I am still taking blood pressure medicine and in a constant battle with the bulging waistline, but both have remained under relative control.

In May of this year, my blood pressure prescription needed refilled. When we called it in to the doctor’s office, they reported that the doctor needed to see me for a visit before he could refill the prescription. As part of that routine visit, he ordered blood lab work which disclosed a few elevated levels which warranted a follow-up visit.  Two of those results had simple fixes that I won’t get into, but a third result gave him a bit more concern and he referred me to a hematologist to determine why my red blood cell count was abnormally high (the technical term for it that I learned that day = polycythemia).

In June, I saw the hematologist and she laid out all of the possibilities (some of which were a bit scary), but I had done a little bit of research on my own and gave her my “suspicions” that I might be suffering from sleep apnea.  Although not a definitive sign of sleep apnea on its own, I’ve always been a shoe-in finalist if anyone ever came up with a snoring contest. My mom had been bugging me for years to go and get tested, but it is just so darn expensive.  Even with better insurance coverage (which has gotten progressively worse each year) through my wife’s employer, I always was reluctant to make the call.

Now that decision was no longer mine to make.  It turns out that a sleep study is one of the standard tests ordered when trying to diagnose the cause of polycythemia.  After ruling out a few other possible causes through more specific blood tests, I was on to my third doctor specializing in sleep disorders.  I was scheduled for an overnight sleep study in July to determine whether I have sleep apnea.  The morning after my procedure, the technician advised me to buy flowers and chocolate on my way home to give to my wife based upon the snoring she observed that night!

I got confirmation a few weeks later of the diagnosis.  I was scheduled for a second sleep test with a CPAP machine to determine the pressure levels necessary to keep my airways open at night.  The procedure wasn’t completely foreign to me.  My dad was diagnosed with sleep apnea several years before he died and he used a CPAP machine every night himself up until his final illness.  So I went back again in August for the second study.

After the second study, I was given a few different options of medical equipment suppliers to secure my CPAP machine, mask, and accessories.  I made an appointment with one of them.  Because of the way our health insurance works, I qualified to get a CPAP machine for free once I met my deductible for the year.  Thanks to two separate sleep studies, that wasn’t going to be a problem, but because they were a bit slow in actually processing the billing, I was not yet officially qualified when I had my appointment with the medical equipment rep.

I knew I was going to surpass my deductible, but I also knew I wouldn’t get reimbursed if I paid out of pocket for a new CPAP machine if that transaction happened first.  Instead, it would just decrease the amount I owed to the sleep doctor and technicians.  I knew that I could make payment arrangements on the doctor bills, but that I could not take possession of my CPAP machine unless it was paid in full up front.

So I found myself in a quandary. I wanted to start the CPAP treatment as soon as possible to give it enough time to start regulating my apnea before my scheduled followup visit with the hematologist.  I figured the less time spent on the machine, the less chance it would have to affect my polycythemia before my visit.

The ultimate solution came when I called my mom and asked her if there was any chance that she still had Pop’s old CPAP machine.  I knew she had gotten rid of most of his medical equipment after he died, but it turned out that the one device she still had packed away in the closet was his CPAP machine.  Actually what he had was a BiPAP machine, but when I met with the medical equipment technician, she said that she could adjust the settings on it so that it acted as a CPAP instead of a BiPAP.

It was only a couple of weeks before the sleep study billing came through and I was able to return and claim my [free] CPAP machine.  It was only a couple of weeks that I used my dad’s old machine to transition over to my new sleeping procedure.  Of course, if dad was still alive at that time, that wouldn’t have been an option for me and I would have had to wait.  It wasn’t anything life threatening or critical, but it still was a helpful gesture from my dad from the grave.  By the time I went back to the hematologist in early October, my blood count had come back closer to the normal range.

Right up until the very end of his life, the first thing Pop always wanted to know when I saw or talked to him was “How are YOU doing?”  The last time that I spoke with him (over the telephone) where he was able to vocally respond to me, he asked me how I was doing.  I like to imagine what his reaction in Heaven must have been to see me using his machine to help keep me breathing at night — even if it was just for a few days until I could get a machine of my own. I am thankful that my mom kept his machine and that he was able to share it with me even after he was no longer here with me.

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See Pop? I’m using your CPAP!

Praise God!!!

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Family Time

(This entry was first drafted in late June of 2015, but I failed to finish or post it at the time. Adjustments and edits have been made with more to the story).

When I moved to the Sandusky, Ohio area in 1998, I was apprehensive on multiple levels as I settled into a new life phase and took on some relatively major life changes.  At the same time, I was grateful for the multiple graces and good fortune that came with the move.  I was fortunate to have found a good job and eventually found a fabulous parish family = two of the most important grounding factors necessary for a solid start in new and otherwise unfamiliar territory.

An added bonus exclusive to my “new hometown” not to be overlooked, is that it is also home to the best amusement park on the planet.  Cedar Point isn’t as well known as Disney World, but when it comes to roller coasters, you cannot find a better place in the world than Sandusky, Ohio!  Nine years prior to my relocation to Sandusky, I made my first and only prior visit to Cedar Point — during the summer of 1989 when Magnum XL-200, the world’s first roller coaster to eclipse the 200 foot mark, opened on the shores of Lake Erie.

Fast forward to 1998 again, I now found myself living in the shadows of this wonderful park! Although it took more than a full year of getting settled in to my new life before I would venture over to the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, I made quite a few trips to the park in 2000 when the Millennium Force coaster debuted.  I bought a season pass to the park for the next five years and promised myself that I would never take for granted the fact that I was five minutes away from a place that many would willingly drive hours upon hours just to visit for a day or two.

In 2003, I met my future wife and step-daughter.  We began dating in 2004.  I think the very first thing the 12 year old young lady ever said to me directly (the day of my very first date with her mother) was “Do you go over to Cedar Point very much?”  Of course I told her that I went over as often as I could.  But she and her mom didn’t have passes and the primary focus of how I spent my spare time soon changed from Cedar Point to these two ladies, so I did not go over to the park very often in 2004.  In the summer of 2005, we were saving up to finance a wedding, so I did not renew my season pass.  In the summer of 2006 my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, so we did not get season passes.  Over the next eight years, we made occasional visits to the park, but finances and other obligations/choices kept us from investing in season passes and single day admission ticket prices were also cost prohibitive.  We were able to change that in 2012 when we again got season passes, but we still did not make it over very often with a six year old who was afraid of most of the rides.  So we chose not to buy season passes in 2013 or 2014 thinking that we would still not get our money’s worth when money was very tight to begin with.

Earlier this summer we took a look at the season pass plans and options and decided to bite the bullet — season passes for the whole family. We had gone over at least ten times before the 4th of July weekend – including a visit on Father’s Day when I rode the GateKeeper for the very first time with my then 23 year old daughter!

Her 8 year old little sister was still terrified at the thought of riding any roller coaster in June, but by July she begged and pleaded with us on every visit to ride the Cedar Creek Mine Ride! Shortly after, the Iron Dragon became her absolute favorite.

I present that long introduction to share the joy that has come with the simple pleasure of spending quality time with my wife and daughters logging miles and miles of walking back and forth through the best amusement park in the world on a regular basis.  That introduction also lays the foundation for the “consequences” of walking a few extra evening miles on a warm Saturday evening in June.

With season passes, we were able go over to Cedar Point as often as we liked.  Even if we only stayed for an hour or two, we never felt like it was wasted time or money. Often we went over in the early or mid afternoon with the intention of only staying for an hour or two. Even with that plan, we often found ourselves still wandering around the park well into the night, even up to closing time!  That happened to us twice on a particular weekend in June.

When I first went to Cedar Point on a summer Saturday in 1989, I was able to withstand a full dawn to dusk day with little consequences, but I’ve noticed now as one of the “older folks,” late Saturday nights at Cedar Point can turn into sleep-in Sunday mornings.  So on that particular June weekend after two late nights, when I didn’t wake up on Sunday until after 9:00 and was the first one up, I knew we weren’t all going to make it to our usual 10:00 Mass.  I started to get cleaned up anyway and my other two ladies both got up while I was showering. We decided to go to the 10:30 Mass at another parish and we barely made it just as Mass was starting.  I spotted a half vacant pew near the back on the right side and we settled in.

Once before I blogged about a specific incident when our family attended a different weekend Mass than we normally do and the profound experience I had with the message delivered in the homily at that particular Mass.  Once again, we found ourselves at a different Mass than our usual — this time with a visiting priest who apparently was ministering at a young men’s retreat at Holy Angels parish.  Just before the first reading began, a young mother arrived with three young children in tow and found the empty pew right in front of us.

As Mass progressed, it was quite obvious that she had her hands very full.  The two older children (a boy and a girl who I would guess were maybe about 4 and 2 years old) had to be separated a number of times — each taking turns in the roles of instigator and victim. Meanwhile the youngest child (probably about or less than six months as I didn’t see any teeth) alternated between being fussy and content as his mother held him throughout the Mass.  In contrast to the profound message received from the homily of my earlier blog post, I was not able to hear a significant portion of this particular homily message due to the commotion in the pew in front of us.

Some people may have been annoyed by or disapproving of the older children’s behavior. They certainly were distracting  Had the mother just ignored them and let them run amok, I confess I may have fallen into this category.  But it was clear that she was attempting to juggle all three children and keep the older two in line and at peace with each other as best she could.  She did a much better job of it than I could have had I been in the same solo situation.  I found myself thinking that she could have chosen to not even bother coming to Mass.  Surely she knew that she might be in for a challenging 60 minutes or so. But rather than choose the easy way out, she took up the challenge and brought all three of her young children to be in the presence of Christ in the Word and in the Eucharist.

At one point while kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer (with the older brother tormenting his little sister), the little one spit out his pacifier.  I noticed it glance off the pew and roll under the pew two rows in front of us. The mother was trying to figure out where it had fallen, but it was out of her line of sight.  I whispered to my 8 year old to wait until it was time to stand back up and to then get up and retrieve it for her.  While still kneeling, the mother finally figured out where the pacifier went and tried in vain to reach for it with one arm while holding the little tyke in her other arm.  So my wife directed our daughter out to get it.

Within a few minutes, the little girl became a little bit loud and very defiant of her mother and it was clear that she needed some direct corrective measures.  In obvious desperation at the situation, the mother happened to make eye contact with my wife and asked her if she could hold her baby for a few minutes.  Without even waiting for a response, she handed him over while she marched the girl to the back hallway out of the church. They was gone for a good five minutes or more.  Without knowing us at all, this mother felt secure enough to hand over her small baby to a perfect stranger.  Thankfully, she was in a safe place with safe people, and I suppose she knew that or at least was comfortable enough. When Mass was over, we took a few minutes to chat and discovered that she was a former area resident now living in Michigan, in town for the weekend visiting her mother.  Her mother was not Catholic and so she did not attend Mass with them.  She told us how thankful she was for us being there and that she doesn’t know what she would have done in different circumstances.  Had we been disapproving of her children’s behavior rather than understanding and tolerant, surely she would not have been comfortable handing over her young baby.

On our way out the door, my wife turned to me and said, “I really like 10:00 Mass at our church and was really looking forward to going there today, but I think we were truly meant to come to 10:30 Mass at Holy Angels this week.”  I was only able to agree.

Praise God!!!

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Communion Communication “Coincidence”

Our daughter celebrated the Sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Holy Eucharist this year. Because of schedules and commitments, many of her out of town aunts and uncles were unable to celebrate with us, but they were all with her in spirit.  One other notable absentee was her Poppa who died just over two months before her First Communion celebration.  Through this entire year of preparation for these Sacraments, my wife and I had been concerned that my parents would be unable to travel and attend due to my father’s illness and frail state of health. Mom could have put Poppa into a care facility for the weekend and come by herself, but that would have really been hard on both of them. As it ultimately turned out, that decision did not have to be made.

Over the past two months I’ve had a number of people express sympathy to me for my father’s passing.  Anyone who has lost a parent or close family member can relate to my appreciation for those expressions of sympathy.  But one common phrase I’ve used in response to everyone’s condolences is that even though it is sad to realize that he is gone on earth, “his passing is much more relief than grief.”

I’ll never forget the words my sister said to me when Dad was preparing to come home from the hospital and transition to home hospice care.  She said, with all the love in the world, “I hope he goes fast.”  I think the reason that her words struck me so hard is because she was already in a place or frame of mind where I wasn’t at yet myself….  I was able to pray in general for God’s will and that I be accepting of that will, but I wasn’t able to ask for a quick transition to the next life stage.

We all deal with death of a loved one in our own way and I am at peace.  As the saying goes, “Life Goes On” and my life has gone on in the weeks after we buried Poppa, but not without a few reminders from him Popping in now and then.

Just to name a few:

* I have found a plethora of pennies and nickels in odd locations and in spots right next to my car when I park at the grocery store or Target — often in the parking spaces far away from the store where there is less likelihood of the more regular foot traffic.  This has happened so much more often over the past two months than I ever remember before — so often that I haven’t/couldn’t keep track of the circumstances of each find.

* In the week or two after the funeral, my niece randomly selected a library book from school about a classical music composer/piece that my dad used to play for her mom when she was a little girl. My sister had never shared those details with her daughter before the day she brought home the library book.

So to bring things full circle… When the time came for my daughter to celebrate her First Communion earlier this month, we no longer had to worry about whether her grandparents would be here or not.  Grandma didn’t have to worry about whether she would need to put Poppa into a care facility and Poppa wouldn’t have to feel like he was being left out.  And in the midst of other last minute roadblocks in the planning and preparation (Grandma’s car transmission deciding to go out mere days before her travels to be with us for First Communion), we received one of the biggest reminders from Poppa that he is still with us.

Buried in a nightstand in her bedroom, just days before she was supposed to come up for First Communion, my mom found the zippered book cover below containing a prayer book with a small children’s rosary inside a snap pocket also tucked in the zippered cover. She said that in the 47+ years that she and Dad were married, she did not know that he still had this.

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The inscription page says:

REMEMBRANCE OF MY FIRST HOLY COMMUNION

Name: Thomas F. Lukacs
Address: Center Ave.

Received First Holy Communion
in St. Agnes Church
on May 26, 1940 and was
Confirmed on                  19      
Rev. Jos. F. Dooley, Pastor

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Could that have just been a coincidence that these items from Poppa’s First Communion remained hidden from the rest of us for almost 75 years, and yet my mom found them mere days before Poppa’s youngest grandchild received the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time?  Yeah, right…

Praise God!!!

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A Father Returns Home

For much of my childhood and early adult life I did not have a strong relationship with my Godmother, Dot Marker. I was probably about 10 years old when she and her husband uprooted themselves from the area where I grew up and relocated to sunny Florida.  My dad lost his job in an alloy plant in the early 80’s when the local steel mills decided they could save money by buying foreign alloys.  Our family never really got over the resulting financial pinch.  My parents always did whatever they had to do to give our family what we needed, but side trips to Florida to visit Dot and her husband were not exactly affordable to us.  So we lost touch.  Years after her husband passed away, Dot returned to her old home near Toronto, Ohio and I reconnected with her right about the same time that I married my wife.

Before I was born, my dad was a Boy Scout leader of Troop 80 in Mingo Jct., Ohio. Through that involvement, he and my mother met and befriended Dot Marker and her husband — who were deeply involved in another Boy Scout troop up the river from Mingo. I’ve heard dozens of stories from people over the years about all the adventures that the scouts went on with my dad.

Unfortunately for me, he was no longer involved in the scouts when I was of age, so I never got seriously involved myself other than for a few weeks with another Boy Scout troop that sort of fizzled out. I spent a number of years in the Cub Scouts, but that was it. Dad was also a fisherman and small game hunter when I was a kid.  I went out with him a few times, but not nearly enough.  We also went camping as a family quite often when I was young.

Recently, Dad’s health had been failing for a number of years.  I’ve documented some of that in a few earlier blog posts: Blazing 80 and Disney Diversion.  From the spring of 2014 forward, he probably spent more time in the hospital than he did at home.  Heart issues, lung issues, pneumonia, feeding tube, prostate cancer — they all played a collective role in his overall health and condition. But when you add in the Alzheimer’s Disease and his inability to remember doctor’s orders (never mind about actually following them) it was painfully clear that he would never return to his prior form.  During a visit last April, we talked to dad about the vacation we took on the train the year before and the week we spent at Disney World with him and my mom.  Dad could not remember being at Disney and meeting Mickey Mouse.  I always feared the day when he would no longer recognize me as his son.

During his stays in the hospital, dad was always so homesick and every day he was convinced that he would be going home ‘tomorrow’.  Sometimes he would say that the doctors told him he would go home soon — even when they had not.  When he did finally get to go home, he was so happy to be there!  But he failed to follow doctors’ orders or do what my mother would tell him to do.  He just could not remember…

My family visited home for a weekend in early December.  He was a little confused at times and could not remember all of the things he was and was not allowed to do, but he was really happy to see us.  Saturday evening he wasn’t feeling well and his blood pressure was very low.  Sunday morning my mother said she was calling the ambulance for him and he knew that meant being re-admitted to the hospital.  He did not protest.

Dad stayed in the hospital through Christmas and through all of January.  We went down for a visit the day after Christmas and got a special gift for him. He celebrated his 83rd birthday in the hospital on January 30th.  Thanks to a brilliant idea of my sister to post a request to her friends on Facebook, he received over 50 birthday cards at the hospital — most from people he did not even know.  My younger daughter and I came down for a visit and spent part of the day with Pop on his birthday as he opened his birthday cards.

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Earlier in January, my mother had a long talk with his doctors and a long talk with dad during one of his more lucid moments.  At his doctors’ suggestion and with dad’s agreement, Mom made arrangements to obtain home hospice care from Charity Hospice.  He told Mom that he wanted to go home.  When she asked if he wanted to go home simply because he was homesick, Dad replied that he wanted to die at home and not in a hospital. Dad came home on Groundhog Day and we began preparing our 8 year old for the time when Poppa would not be around any longer. We talked to her about what happened when we lost Shadow and how she was no longer sick or suffering.  These are difficult things for an 8 year old to deal with, but we were lucky to have had Shadow to help us talk about Pop’s situation.

February was a daily struggle for Mom to get his medications and food and breathing treatments.  It was a full schedule from morning to night with very little break in between feedings and cleanings.  Over the past few years, Dad had often done his own feedings, but as time passed — he was able to do less and less without monitoring and assistance. The nurses from Charity Hospice were fabulous, but they were not there 24/7.  My family and I made arrangements to come down for another visit over Valentine’s Day weekend. We came right from work and I was still wearing my work clothes and the necktie that my daughters got me for Christmas.  (Back when I was in the Cub Scouts, Dad taught me how to tie a necktie so that I could earn one of my badges.  I still remember the patience he had with me as I fumbled over and over again with the knot that never did come out right.)  Dad was mostly bedridden at home, but he did come out to sit on the couch for a few minutes on Saturday while we were there. He saw my tie on the couch next to him and he tried to tie it, but his failing memory and unsteady fingers kept him from accomplishing his goal.  I’m not sure why I did it, but I captured that moment with my phone.

Sunday morning as we were getting ready to leave for Sandusky, Dad had a nose bleed that would not stop. Of course Dad made it worse by picking at it and kept trying to blow it even after being told multiple times not to. The dry oxygen for his lungs, combined with the blood thinners for his heart, combined with his inability to remember what to do and not do from the Alzheimer’s, resulted in a steady nosebleed for over three hours.  So Mom and Dad went back to the emergency room as my family and I went home.  With all the commotion when the EMT crew arrived, I didn’t get the chance to tell Dad goodbye that day.  They packed up Dad’s nose and sent him back home after a few hours. He was home, but he wasn’t ever really the same after that.

Over the next week or so, Dad went in and out of awareness and his breathing became much more labored than usual.  He made some strange requests/demands at times to those around him — sometimes believing he was still in the hospital.  We believed some of that to be a result of the new medicine he was put on, but by Monday the 23rd, it was clear that he was getting ready to go.  Dad was speaking in Slovak to his mother and asked for a salami and mustard sandwich.  At one point he was pawing at his left chest and when my mom asked what he was doing, he replied that he was trying to get a cigarette.  (Dad stopped smoking cigarettes in the late 80’s and ever since his cancer surgery has been on an anti-smoking campaign — telling his cancer story to complete strangers on the street if he saw them smoking).

I called Monday evening and spoke to Dad briefly.  The first thing he asked me was “How are you doing?” — (which were actually the only words he spoke that I could make out).  Since I hadn’t said goodbye to him the week before, I already had plans to come down that next weekend of the 27th.  After that phone call and some of the crazy comments and requests he was making, I decided that I needed to work out something sooner. So I made arrangements at work and left for home on Tuesday after lunch.

On the road I phoned home and learned that Dad had been taken off all of his meds except for morphine and another calming medicine.  When I arrived at 4:30, my mother was in their dining room meeting with the funeral director.  I helped her arrange some of the details and she told me that hospice said he would be leaving us sometime that night most likely, or within the next day or so.

Every now and then Dad would raise his eyebrows in response to us talking with him, but he had difficulty moving his head or focusing in with his eyes.  At one point I tried to show him the button I was wearing on my shirt — asking him if he recognized the handsome guy in the photo.  Mom and I both thought we saw a smile and a wink from him in response.

Poppa Luke

By that time, Dad’s kidneys had already shut down.  He was no longer able to speak and was only minimally responsive, but I was able to tell him all the things that I needed to say. I told him a number of times that he could go if he needed to and that I would make sure Mom was taken care of. He still had the grip strength of a power weight lifter and I held his hand for what seemed like hours.  Every time I spoke to him, he squeezed as hard as he could. My sister came down and we both slept on the floor next to his hospital bed that night.  I recorded this video at 4:07 a.m. on Wednesday of Dad holding my hand.

Through Wednesday Dad was awake a good part of the day.  His eyes were often wide open and he was focused in on something toward the ceiling and looking around (upward).  He would periodically mouth silent words that I was unable to decipher except that I know he said “mother” at least a few times. At times, his facial expression changed into a cross between confusion and/or intent listening.  It really seemed as if he was communicating with his family on the other side.  The thing that really struck me is how focused his eyes were on whatever it was that he saw. He was definitely seeing something and it was not anything that *I* could see.  I took some short videos of some of these moments, but because of Dad’s frail appearance and the personal nature of the moments, I’ve decided not to share those here.

Dad had quite a few visitors on Wednesday, including my older cousin who had been a boy scout in Troop 80.  He told some stories about those days and we both thought we saw Dad try to smile.  I told him the story about how Dad got involved in the scouts in the first place — a boy whose name I don’t remember lived across the street from Dad and was a boy scout.  Dad had a really expensive pair of binoculars that turned up missing and for some reason he suspected this kid had stolen them.  So Dad decided to volunteer as a scout leader with the troop to see if this kid ever showed up with his binoculars.  A week later, the kid/suspect quit the scouts for good (guilty?).  Years later, Dad was a beloved scout leader who had influenced dozens and dozens of young men and their passion for camping, hiking, canoeing, and general enjoyment of the outdoors.

My sister’s family including her three kids came to see Pop on Wednesday and they all held his hands. My wife and two daughters all talked to Pop over the speaker phone and he had noticeable reactions to each of their voices.  I wondered if he was unable to remember each of us telling him it was okay to go since he could not remember other things from one moment to the next and perhaps that was why he was holding on.

On Thursday, Dad fell back into the pattern of sleeping more than being awake.  He had a few more visitors that afternoon.  I meant to ask mom on Wednesday if she had called Dot Marker — but I forgot.  Somewhere around 6:00 on Thursday evening, Mom wondered out loud if she should call her.  The weather was beginning to get bad out and I knew Dot did not drive.  Mom called her and gave her the update and asked if she wanted to come to see him.  Because it was already getting dark, Dot suggested that she wait until Friday morning and she could then spend the entire day with Mom.  Mom asked what I thought about that and I said I thought it might be too late.  Mom tried to talk her into coming down and spending the night, but Dot had too many health issues and nighttime treatments of her own to be able to do that. We finally talked her into letting me come to pick her up to spend an hour or two with Mom and Dad on Thursday.

I had no idea where Dot lived and Mom is not the greatest at giving specific directions. I have a GPS, but Mom had no street address and Dot isn’t listed in the phone book.  It’s just one house among many on a country road and mom simply knew how to get there. On top of everything else it was getting dark.  We almost decided to have Mom go and get her instead of me, but I knew she didn’t want to leave.  We finally thought to look up Dot’s son’s address in the phone book, which is just a few doors down from her.  I found his house on a satellite map using my phone.  From there, Mom was able to pick out Dot’s house and point it out to me.  By now it was past 6:30 and it was about a 20 minute one-way drive to Dot’s house.  I made it there without any trouble and got back home around 7:25.

Mom, Dot, and I went into Dad’s room and Dot told him that she was there.  His breathing had changed to a very short and quick inhale/exhale with a delayed pause before the next very short and quick inhale/exhale.  That ended at 7:36 and Pop was gone.  A longer phone call with Dot; further difficulty in finding her house on the satellite map; a wrong turn or worse road conditions = any one of these might have resulted in not getting back in time.

I think it was probably a little bit after 9:00 that I took Dot back home that night.  I dropped her off and glanced at the clock in my car = 9:36.  Every night at 9:30, Annunciation Radio broadcasts an audio praying of the rosary.  Being out of range of their radio broadcast signal, I reached down for my phone to listen through the Annunciation Radio app, but I then realized I had left my phone back at Mom’s house.  So I just prayed quietly to myself on the ride home. The snow was picking up and the road was beginning to get a bit slippery.  At the base of the hill just before getting back onto the highway, I saw two deer standing right in the middle of my lane in the road.  They did not move as I approached — literally deer in my headlights.  I slowed down and then came to a complete stop about 50 feet away.  I again instinctively reached for my phone to snap a photo, but it was still not there and I was unable to capture the shot.  For what seemed like minutes, but was probably not more than 5 or 10 seconds, those two deer just stared at my car and walked a few slow steps on the pavement before sprinting off down a side road to my right.

Friday afternoon, as I was driving back to Sandusky to pick up my wife and daughter, I saw about 15 deer on the hillside next to the Harrison County home on Route 250.

We buried Poppa this past Monday.  Mom had already picked out his favorite suit for him to wear, and we put him in the red necktie that had been my Christmas gift from my daughters — the same tie that Pop tried to tie himself just two weeks before.  During some clean up that evening at Mom’s house, I found a bright shiny penny in middle of the floor in a spare bedroom.

We love you, Pop!  We will see you again when it is time.

Praise God!!!

Poppa Smile

Poppa Luke’s Obituary

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Shadow’s Roses

We rescued Shadow in March of 2010 from an animal shelter in Pennsylvania.  It had been nearly four years since we lost Abigail and that had been the longest I have ever lived without a furry friend in the house.  We had to put Abigail down when my wife was pregnant with our younger daughter after discovering that Abigail had stomach cancer.

We finally decided it was a good time to introduce a pet to our daughter when she was 3½ years old.  Shadow was a perfect fit = friendly, affectionate and so very tolerant of children.  Abigail had been the polar opposite.  Living alone with me for a dozen years, Abigail was very close to me, but she was very intolerant of children and not overly sociable with other people in general.  We decided that when she passed it may have been a timely blessing with a baby on the way.

A few months after Shadow came into our lives, we decided she needed a sister to keep her company during the day.  Beanie came from the same animal shelter in May. Not long after Beanie arrived, the two cats decided between themselves that I belonged to Shadow and my wife belonged to Beanie.

Beanie was always the sick one. She’s had breathing issues from day one which we believe to be asthma.  Beanie has been on breathing medicine for most of her life.  She even has an asthma inhaler with a breathing mask that my wife must administer regularly. When it is medicine time, she jumps up on my wife’s lap and lets her place the mask over her nose and mouth because she knows that she will get a treat afterward!

The vet advised us that Beanie was not likely to live as long as the average feline, so we have always been prepared for her to leave us when the time comes.

Between the two, Shadow has always been the graceful kitty, while Beanie has always been the clumsy kitty.  Shadow could leap from the floor to the highest point in the room with ease, while Beanie could mis-judge the simplest jump from the floor to a chair.  Beanie often makes us laugh at her comic pratfalls.  Until we added a stand close by, Beanie could never make it onto the window sill in the front room of our house — a vantage point that Shadow claimed as her own.  We often saw Shadow sitting in that window when arriving at or leaving our house.  A tall rose bush sits right outside that window in the shade of a Magnolia tree.

Beanie was always the greedy one when it came to feeding time, often pushing Shadow out of the way to eat even though there were two food dishes and plenty of food and space for them both.  Beanie often finished up what Shadow left behind after she got her fill.  That is probably why we did not notice right away when Shadow stopped eating.

20140803 FeedingShadow’s dark coat visually masked the weight loss, and it was not until it was too late that I picked her up one day during the last week of July and was shocked at how light she had become.  We took her to the vet right away and we tried a number of things, but blood work indicated that she had fatty liver disease and they also noted that she was severely jaundiced. They could not tell if the liver issue was the CAUSE of her lack of appetite or the RESULT of her not eating. We tried alternate foods and spent over a week force feeding her food and water at regular intervals through the day AND night — all of which she lovingly accepted without a tremendous fuss.

Her dehydration was such that we had to give her daily injections of fluid under the back of her neck.  She was less tolerant of those, but we were generally successful.  However, the time came late in the evening on Saturday the 16th when we were unable to get her to hold still for the insertion (it was a pretty big needle!) and we had to drive her 40 miles late at night to an emergency pet clinic to make sure she got her fluids that weekend.

We had been hoping that the regular feedings and fluids would eventually make her feel better and she would begin eating voluntarily on her own once again — and on a few occasions, she did.  This video is from August 13, 2014.

Our local vet suggested that we try that for a time before subjecting her to additional diagnostics and the drastic step of inserting a feeding tube — very similar to what my father had I suppose (also an expense we wanted to avoid if possible).  The emergency center advised that they should keep her overnight for observation.  Because of the difficulty we had that night giving her IV fluid ourselves and the disruption her nighttime feedings had on our sleep patterns, we made the difficult decision to have them put in the feeding tube.  They would perform an ultrasound the next morning when the doctor came in and have the feeding tube procedure done as well.

The following morning we got the phone call that the ultrasound disclosed a mass which was affecting her digestion and that the feeding tube would not likely resolve that.  After making a difficult decision, Shadow was euthanized within minutes of ending that phone call.  I went back to claim Shadow’s body on the 20th of August and we buried her the following day next to Abigail at a friend’s house.

20140823 Shadow RoseI took this photo of Shadow’s rose bush on August 23rd.  The roses which only just bloomed that morning were perfectly framed within her most favorite window.  Perhaps Shadow had something to do with the timing of these roses?

Praise God!!!

 

 

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