Follow by Email

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Celebration of a Life of Almost 101 Years

I want to process my thoughts after my step-mother's funeral today.  My step-mother is known to me as Aunt Agnes.  After her husband, my Uncle Jack, died and my own mother died, both at an early age, my father and she married and were married for over 25 years.   In her long life, Aunt Agnes had lived as a child of missionaries among the Navajo Indians in New Mexico, and had worked as a public health and army nurse, a preschool teacher, and a social worker in an adoptive agency.  She had always been active in her churches and missionary organizations. 
Laura and Grandma October 2015
Although we mourned, it was a day of joy.  In fact, as I thought about what to wear, I decided to wear black but with a bright red sweater.  Aunt Agnes loved bright colors and she was dressed in red and black in her casket. I did choke up a bit when I noticed her nails--perfectly manicured and polished as always.
There were a few tears but it was truly a celebration of her life with four generations of descendants there.  With our very blended family we were quite a group, including Aunt Agnes's three biological children, two children from Uncle Jack's first marriage, one foster child, and then my sister and myself.  
Cathy, her second daughter,  gave a lovely tribute to her mother telling of her care and love for all of us.  She even mentioned her mom's praying for “Mary’s disadvantaged students” and I remember that she did.  She recalled her “witnessing” sometimes in ways that embarrassed her kids—a memory of tracts handed out at Tunnel Park (really?)—and her always asking the  manicurist at the beauty school, “Do you  know Jesus as your Savior?”  Cathy thanked Elaine for giving her mom the gift of being in the middle of a busy family for the last 9 1/2 years of her life.  Cathy said, 
  "She had room in her heart, and in her daily emails, for all of us. She prayed for us, and prayed very specifically for her grandchildren that they would find faith in God; that they would find a life's work that was a good fit for their unique gifting; and for them to find a life's partner, and be blessed in their sexual expression!" Cathy added, "Yes, she was frank."  
In his message, grandson and ordained pastor Ben mentioned that loneliness is the biggest problem Harvard researchers found in measuring the quality of life.  Aunt Agnes was not be lonely at Elaine’s.  Ben talked about the love found in families that comforts and the love of God that comforts. 
The funeral was planned by Aunt Agnes down to every detail.  She wanted a floral bouquet that had a Bible and sheaves of wheat and it was beautiful.  The songs were ones she chose; the passages were Psalm 121 and Philippians 4: 4-9.  "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice." Cathy said she chose those words " because it wasn't always easy to rejoice In The Lord, and I think we all know that in our own lives. Life is hard in this world, losses and regrets." Those were the words she wanted to leave with us.  She planned the food—ham on buns, jello squares, potato salad, potato chips, and cake--which we enjoyed in the church basement.
I was especially moved by the many songs we sang.   “10,000 Reasons” is one we sing at our church but when you sing at a funeral it is especially stirring.
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come;
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending;
Ten thousand years and then forevermore!
Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul’
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I’ll worship Your Holy name.
And I always treasure the line in “Great is Thy Faithfulness:”  “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Aunt Agnes was an army nurse who enlisted at the end of World War II.  In the final ceremony of the church service, two soldiers in full uniform took the flag from the casket, folded it with great precision and presented it to Jim Stroo on behalf of The President of the United States. Taps were played.  It was very moving.
I felt so proud and honored that Jim was asked to do the committal service at the cemetery. He used suggestions that were made by Elaine’s pastor and the Book of Common Prayer: 

Into your hands, O most merciful Savior, we commend your servant, Agnes VanderMolen.  Ackhowledge, we pray, a sheep of your fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.  Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints of light. 
And later, We have entrusted Agnes VanderMolen into the hands of God, and now we commit her body to this resting place, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, death to life in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jim did the honors with great dignity and warmth--although standing in a strong wind blowing the pages of his Bible. 
Before leaving the cemetery, I put my hand on her casket and in that way said a final good-by. 
She is the last of our children's grandparents to die.   Our generation is next.  In fact with Hank’s passing, our generation has already begun to die.  Several of my cousins have lost spouses; two of them have spouses who are suffering from dementia or cancer.  It is sobering.
Funerals can leave me feeling cynical.  But not today.  I really felt a sense of God’s presence in music and word and family and the reality of an afterlife and the hope of the resurrection. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Will you stay in South Bend?

The view from our three season room
With Jim's upcoming retirement, people are asking if we will stay in South Bend.  The answer is Yes, at least for now.  I wish we could participate more in the lives of our children and grandchildren--all of whom are on the east coast and within two hours of each other.  I think about renting a place there for a month over the holidays or the end of the school year so I could enjoy all the programs and festivities of those times.  At least we make the trip out there more often.  And we do think about a month in a sunny clime come next January.

However we have no plans to move.     Jim looks forward to continuing to have an office at Notre Dame and going into work there regularly.  He has graduate students finishing up and a project he wants to complete soon.  He could work from home more, but he envisions going in each day but without classes to teach and meetings to attend.  Last night he was at a colloquim from 4:30 to almost 7:00.  He might still attend those, but he is not be obligated to do so.

We like our church, the Church of the Savior Christian Reformed Church.    It is hard to imagine wanting to worship anywhere else.  We have always liked our churches but this one is really our family, a community of young and old--mostly young.  We participate in many ways although no longer as elders which is a relief to have others taking that responsibility (even if we are among the "elderly" in our congregation.)

And, this will sound like the old folks that we are getting to be, we like our doctors (Drs. Blechl, Blalog, Hauck, Imes, Rhodes) and our dentist, Daniel White.  A couple of them are getting to be retirement age too--or are at least cutting back on their hours.  But it is so good to have them know us well and to feel we can trust them with our care.  Although we hope we don't have to see the emergency room or patient rooms of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center again, we have had absolutely positive experiences there.

So for the time being, there will be no For Sale sign in front of our house.  In fact, we are working on  some small remodeling projects--an investment in the next few years we hope.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Fear of New Gadgets

Jim gave me a Fitbit for Christmas.  I said thank you, but I was not thrilled.  I said that as a part of his gift, he needed to help me download the app and get it started.  We did so without a lot of trouble.  Last week my Fitbit went missing on a wooded trail in a ravine near Laura's house.  I despaired.  I knew I would miss my Fitbit.  We walked back up the trail and to my absolute amazement, I found that little black gadget along the way.  We are reunited and recording steps once again.

Our family gave us a Nixplay for our 70th birthdays at our celebration last week.  Again, I said thank you and what a nice gift to give grandparents.  But I was dreading setting it up.  Last night we pulled it out of the box and went to work.  With just one little crisis (you call that little thing a remote?), we got it going and there was that first photo on the screen!  I added a few more from my laptop, and then got the app for my iphone.  Now I can add photos easily from my iphone albums.

I texted the family with pride and Susan texted back asking to be my Nixplay friend.  That was just one more thing that could go wrong, so I said I would wait until morning.  This morning, I added Susan easily and we now have photos from her as well.

I am pleased to have set up two gadgets that give me pleasure.  Now if we could just make ourselves get the wifi printer up and running.  It has been in its box since August.  Maybe tonight.

Friday, March 4, 2016


I am not a patient person.  I like to be in control and I don't like waiting.  Probably most folks feel the same way, but I can get obsessive and my mind runs non-stop when I have to wait for answers.  I lay awake at night thinking "What if..." and "What will I do next?" These last few weeks have been ones of waiting for closure on my episode of "transient global amnesia" on February 13.  If that is what it was.  Maybe I'll know more today.  Maybe not until Monday.  Maybe not then.

A hospital stay involves waiting--for tests to be scheduled, for results to be sent in, for doctors to report, for nurses to report the doctor's report.   I was so ready to go home after one night there, but had to wait to hear the results of the MRI (negative) and then get an Echogram (negative) and then see a neurologist after he finished his office hours.  At that point on the second day,  I said, "Let me out of here.  I'll see him later."  And they let me out and I was able to have a lovely leftover lasagna birthday dinner with Jim--and a glass of wine--and ice cream cake.

But that meant waiting to see my family doctor and then waiting to get an appointment with a more recommended neurologist and then waiting to get an EEG scheduled (not one more test, please!) and now, this morning, waiting for the results of that too.  I make sure the phones are on and that I can hear them wherever I go.  The neurologist's appointment was scheduled just before I had my shampoo at Salon Rouge.  The phone was in my hand.

I may get closure today or not.  If they find something, I will need treatment.  If the EEG comes back normal, we can still wonder what caused the episode but will probably never know.  Will it happen again?  Probably not, but we can't know that either.  So I have to live with uncertainty and a lack of control.

It is a statement of faith to say God is in control.  I try to say that but how can that be?  I wnat to have that peace of mind and sometimes I do.   But not always.

Our prayer list seems to get longer each day.  I am getting Caring Bridge posts for three people--young and older.  Another family we know of had a still born child who will have a service at our church on Saturday.  We just got news that our interim pastor on a much anticipated vacation in the Dominican Repulic has a serious infection and is hospilized there.  How must he feel and his wife feel so far from home?  How do my Caring Bridge friends get closure from cancer or kidney failure?

It doesn't help me to feel guilty about not being able to deal well with my small problems when others have such enormous problems.   It does help me to write it out--on this blog--in my therapy journal--in my spiritual journal.  I am glad for that opportunity.

Now for the energy to be Grandma Mary for the next five days and nights!  I'm not going into it strong but I am going into it with the support of Jim with me--and the prayers of others.  And I am eager for a snuggle with those little ones and hugs from the big ones.