About Tom

I am: Husband, Father, Son, and Brother; Believer in God and Jesus Christ & Lover of Life. Attorney, sports fan, family historian, Cedar Point enthusiast & many other interests.

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:

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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. He was in the room that used to be my own bedroom from the time I was six months old until I turned 19.  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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Double Rescue

My cousin in Indiana shared this story April 22nd on Facebook and I had to share it here as well.  I won’t bore you with a long introduction, I’ll just share her words and photo as they are.

Praise God!!!

horse_rescue

We recently rescued some horses I had help from a few folks but Gods hand was surely present. I went to the Animal shelter to see if they had the means to transport them or knew of anyone who I could call to get them for me. A man was sitting in the parking lot he had lost his dog and was heartbroken we talked for a few minutes and he said that he had a stock trailer and that he would help me get the horses. A few days later he went and got the horses for me he was very gentle with them and he told me some things to help them get healthy. I asked him about his dog and he said that he had walked the creeks the evening before and he thought that he was going to give up. That evening I went looking for his dog I prayed as I drove up and down the roads and a voice kept telling me that I wasn’t going to find the dog just to go home but I was pig headed and kept looking finally I went home. That was a week ago, today the gentleman came by the house his dog in the front seat. I didn’t get to talk to him I was too late getting outside but my daughter talked to him and this is what he told her… Please tell your Mom that I found my dog all because of her. I found him on my way home from getting the horses on a road I would never have looked on because it was quite a way away from where he disappeared. God put this man in my path at the animal shelter that was closed when it should have been open God put the dog on a road that he shouldn’t be on and God sent me the horses that desperately needed someone to love them and take care of them… God works in mysterious and wonderful ways

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Good Ears

Some who read this may be aware that I maintain a few other web pages/blogs devoted to other topics which I have linked here on occasion.  I have my daughter’s Words of Wisdom, my alter ego’s Rusty Letters, and a few other general and genealogy pages which are sometimes quite outdated and in need of attention. But I seldom, if ever, have the opportunity for a cross over link between No Coincidences and Get Paid! — another page I maintain dedicated to sharing ways to earn a few extra dollars online and/or using a smartphone.  (You may have seen the business card graphic that appears at the bottom of these blog pages that links to that site).

Apps That Pay is one page on that site devoted solely to smartphone apps which earn money.  One of the apps you will find there is called Gap n Snap.  You can read more about it on the Apps That Pay page if it interests you, but the nutshell explanation is that you can earn extra cash by documenting empty “gaps” on the store shelves at the local supermarket or pharmacy.  This helps product suppliers know whether their products are being kept in stock on shelves for customer purchases.

Although there is nothing illegal about taking photos for Gap n Snap, many stores frown on customers going up and down the aisles snapping photos in the store.  Some even have policies in place prohibiting in store photos and may ask a customer to stop or to leave the premises if discovered. For this reason, I try to remain discreet and avoid snapping gaps when other customers or employees are right next to me at the store.

Last night I went to a nearby WalMart store where the pharmacy is tucked away in the corner with aisles of vitamins and health/beauty products that are pretty well isolated from primary store traffic.  I often wear my ear buds and listen to music or a podcast while gap snapping as that helps me to blend in as I peruse the aisles.  It also helps to pass the time.  But last night I decided not to wear my ear buds — for whatever reason — I don’t know.

In the pharmacy area, I found quite a few snapping opportunities and was moving along at a pretty good pace, until a woman on her cell phone appeared asking someone on the other end of the line “Do you know where ‘it’ is at? I can’t find it anywhere.”  She was searching right in the area of the aisle I was trying to snap.  She walked away and came back past me at least five times!  Trying to remain covert, I kept thinking to myself: “They don’t have what you’re looking for! You might as well leave!”  — which she eventually did and I continued on with my task.

Two minutes later she came back with a store employee who was trying to help her find the missing item – again, RIGHT where I was trying to snap undetected!  I didn’t want to move away and mentally lose my ‘place’ as there were a lot of empty shelf spaces in that vicinity, but it was obvious that they were looking for a product that should be in that general area.  The employee told the woman that she knew it had been there, but it may have been moved because they have that sort of thing in a few different locations in the store.

Completely oblivious to what they were looking for, I was beginning to think that it was time for me to move on to another aisle, when they finally moved around the corner — out of sight, but still within earshot.  I  immediately got back to work and began scanning the shelf for empty spots.  Since I had chosen not to wear my ear buds, I was able to plainly hear the store employee get on her radio and ask another associate if he or she knew where the sweet oil ear drops were stocked.  At the EXACT moment she uttered that request, I found myself STARING DIRECTLY at sweet oil ear drops RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME at the very end of the aisle I was snapping.  Surely this was not mere coincidence! ;-)

I grabbed a bottle of the sweet oil off the shelf and walked around the corner.  I apologized for eavesdropping, but asked if that was what the woman was looking for and added that I could not help overhearing and that they were right in front of me when I heard the associate ask about the sweet oil drops.  The shopper’s eyes opened wide and she thanked me about a dozen times and said that her granddaughter would be so thankful also.  For a minute, I thought she was going to give me a hug!  She and the employee then cleared out of the area and I was free to continue snapping away at a lightning pace!

Was it a coincidence that I decided to snap in that store at that hour of the evening?  Was it a coincidence that I chose to go to the pharmacy rather than the grocery aisles to begin snapping?  Was it a coincidence that I lingered in that particular aisle even after considering moving on?  Was it a coincidence that I wasn’t listening to music or talk radio as was my normal routine and could clearly hear the conversation in the next aisle?  Was it a coincidence that I was staring at the product which had previously evaded this worried grandmother at the exact moment the store clerk vocalized the need?  Reading this blog, you already know the answers to all of those questions.

One might argue that the woman would have eventually found the sweet oil drops had I not been there.  My response would be that is most likely true.  But she was clearly preoccupied and worried about her grandchild who must have been a pretty bad earache. Neither she nor the store associate were able to find the drops in the five or ten minutes that they were wandering about.  Sometimes the harder you look for something or the more urgently you need something, the less likely you are to find it.  Yes, she probably would have eventually found it had I not been there, but the point is that God allowed me to find it for her more quickly.  If that helped to ease the pain of a little girl by just a few minutes sooner then I thank God for allowing me to help.

Praise God!!!

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Changing the Routine

This past Sunday morning, my wife made plans for us to do some full family errands. We usually attend a mid morning Mass at our parish, but in order to get a slightly earlier start, we got ready and went to Mass at another parish in town about a half hour sooner in the day. For the past 15 months, the three parishes in town have shared the same pastor and two associate priests, while maintaining their individual congregations and identities. So although we are still members of one particular parish, we tend to attend Mass at the other two churches more often than we had in the past.

Although we went to an earlier Mass, we arrived just before the opening hymn. The pews were packed full as the enrollment Mass for Confirmation candidates was taking place at the time. We we ushered up to overflow seating set up just off the altar. One of our deacons assisted with the Mass and provided the homily. As part of his homily, he shared a story of another person who recently found herself attending Mass at a parish not her own. He’d read the story on her blog: Shoved to Them.  What she experienced at that parish was not a coincidence. Nor was it a coincidence that my family broke away from our typical Mass routine this week for the chance to hear Rebecca’s story: That Which You Do For The Least of These.

God Bless the greeter at the church with the modern architecture!

Praise God!!!

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Wise Words

If you haven’t already seen it, my “sister blog” Words of Wisdom, has dozens upon dozens of memorable quotes from my seven year old as she has grown over the past four years.  There is a good chance that you perhaps saw the Words of Wisdom blog first and followed a link there that led you here.  Regardless of your own order of discovery, both have a special purpose or raison d’être., which I tried to spell out in the ABOUT pages of each blog.

Over the past few years from pre-school to kindergarten to first grade, I have seen my younger daughter blossom from reciting and recognizing the ABC’s to reading school reader books and age appropriate library books.  It is amazing to see her reading progress just over the past few months of first grade.

Last week she informed my wife and I that she was picked to do the First Reading at their weekly Mass the following Thursday.  Her teacher sent home the reading with a note asking us to practice it with her in preparation for the Mass.  It definitely contained some words and phonetics that she was not yet familiar with.  It made me recall my own elementary Catholic school days and how it felt to be chosen to do readings at school Masses.  But I attended public school through the second grade, so I never had the opportunity to read at Mass at this young of an age.

With this being her very first experience reading at Mass, both of her parents and big sister arranged to attend the Mass and listen to her.  In a bit of irony, for her first time in public, how appropriate that the First Reading on November 14th was be taken from the Book of Wisdom!  It gives a whole new meaning to the blog Words of Wisdom, devoted to the wise things she says!

The audio portion of the video linked below is not very clear.  This is more a result of the horrible sound system in our church than of the camera microphone or the seven year old.

Praise God!!!

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