A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
My wife Velna left me on October 22 2015 after lacking two months to reach 63 years of marriage, plus three years of teen age courtship, making a total of 66 years. I have been thinking about the things that mattered most to Velna. On the surface, my list of things I know and knew that she cared about may seem simple or inconsequential, but these matters that were of greatest importance to her guided her life, her actions, her character.
Without a doubt, the most important thing that mattered to Velna was her faith. Her faith was her light, her lamp post, her strength, her support. Her faith gave her the courage to go on with her life during her last years and days, unimpeded by doubt and bitterness. Her faith freed her from pain, from a sense of impending doom during her last years and days, and gave her the strength to continue in the face of overwhelming excruciating pain and disappointment over how she could see that her life was going to be ended. When her wonderful oncologist came to her hospital bed during her last few days, Velna told me how thankful she was for her doctor's kindness and deep compassion and understanding as the doctor gave her, in effect, her end-of-life message. Only Velna's faith could have permitted her to tell me this story with a calm heart and a soft voice full of latent sadness but still resonating with the strength of her faith. Velna was a faithful churchgoer and believer all of her life. She never let flaws or imperfections impede her faith but clung tenaciously to the pillars of her faith, the sources of her strength. She never felt that she no longer needed the anchor of faith, that she could go on without the encumbrance of church and life-long beliefs. All too often, we wait until we reach a crisis before we then realize that our lives have been empty of the most critical attribute that we need when we face the most wrenching experiences of our lives and then we tearfully and regretfully return to our faith and pray for hope and forgiveness. Velna's faith gave me an anchor, a feeling that if she could weather the storm, then so could I survive. As a result, our home was blessed with a feeling of peace. The hospice supervisor told me that he could feel this feeling of peace the moment he walked in our door and he said, surprisingly, that such a feeling was rare since most of his experiences were those of dealing with family conflicts. If Velna had an important lesson to teach, a message that she might hope would penetrate us all, it would be this: Never, never, abandon your faith no matter how difficult your challenges or no matter how hopeless your life may seem. And now, I am in tears and I didn't mean to do that. ( In case you are wondering who the infant is, I think it is Carolyn?)
I'm sitting here at my computer with a box of Kleenex on one side and still continually sneezing after five days of unadulterated and total misery from a common cold. I have eked out considerable sympathy and medical advice from my friends and family on Facebook but my cold continues unabated. How I got it I'll never know unless some thoughtless person needed a 100 pound bag of something at Costco and imported the dread disease to the handle of my shopping cart. Other than that all I do is stare out the window and take 200 pictures a day of the mountain which is tending to become extremely boring.
What I miss most is not being able to tell you about my ailments. I was always hyper worried about my health as you know and so I relied on you to answer my perpetual question when I had a mysterious symptom that could well have been fatal when I asked you, "Velna, do you think it is anything serious?" You were always concerned and sympathetic and I well remember and dearly miss some of your favorite responses to that question which I probably asked a half dozen times a day depending on how many dire symptoms and worries I had at the moment:
Suck it up.
I'm no doctor, how do you expect me to know?
You'll live, likely.
You'll be better tomorrow.
No it's not a heart attack. Your heart isn't on your lower right side.
It's probably just gas.
How many times do you expect me to answer that question? You've already asked me a half dozen times.
Quit worrying so much.
It will go away.
You're driving me crazy.
Recess for sneezing and nose blowing.
Do you have to keep asking me that same question?
You had the same complaint last week and it didn't kill you.
Two more sneezes.
If you think it's serious, let's go to the emergency room.
You can tell how worried and concerned she was about me and how much sympathy and empathy and tear stricken compassion it got me when I asked her if she thought my latest ailment was something serious. But oh how I miss those comments. It is no fun to sit around an empty home with no one to pester and bother and just suffer in silence except for the sneezing and coughing hour after hour after hour. Some days are worse than others and today has seemed impossible. So I will just read down the list of typical comments above like those you often made when I was worried about something serious doing me in. With love and concern, your impossibly irritating husband, Dwight.
In ordinary years for the past 63 years, our Christmas tree would be surrounded with gifts. In the years with children at home, the piles of toys and gifts took hours to shop for and wrap and prepare for excited children on Christmas morning. Then when our nest was empty, and Velna and I were alone, we each did our best to find something for the other. When we could still go to the stores, we wandered the aisles looking for something special, each for the other. Then came the next chapter when we could no longer go to the stores and we shopped on the computer, trying our best to find something memorable, something special. Now, on this day before Christmas, I have one tangible gift waiting for me to open, a gift from one of my granddaughters. And yet, I have received so many gifts that did not need to be wrapped and put under the tree. So many presents have come my way, so many acts of kindness and consolation and caring, so many gifts of time and help. So instead of the floor around my tree seeming empty, I see instead a rich outpouring of gifts of priceless value, of lasting importance, gifts and blessings of tender mercies and thoughtful and caring givers.
Most of all during this Christmas, I am thankful for the gift my wife Velna gave me as she spent nearly 63 Christmases with me and all of the years in between. Now she has given me the special gift of grief and tears as I mourn her absence during this lonely Christmas vigil. However, I think I have come to understand that grief and tears are a special blessing because the deep and lasting feelings lead to a new gift of the understanding of life and eternal marriage, of the enormous and indescribable blessings of a lifetime of sharing and work and just getting by and the joy of children and new and exciting experiences and overcoming challenges and surviving health problems and finding the strength and courage to persevere through the ultimate challenges that life has to give us. I never thought I would understand grief in this way until this morning when I waited from 5:00 a.m. until 7:45 when the day finally broke from the solemnity and starkness of the dark to the hope and light of another day. I thought about grief, I prayed about my loss, and I watched the light break through the dark clouds, and a new understanding descended on my mind, an understanding that all of the hopes, all of the days and years of life together, are not lost, that every indelible memory that leads to tears and laughter, every shred of faith and every recognition of something wonderful and beautiful, is emerging in a new light as the day brightens and I wonder again how I am going to get through this special day without Velna.
And also, I have the rich outpouring of the gifts of time and work and caring from my children. I have neighbors who bring me cartons of soup and loaves of freshly baked bread and plates of cookies and cinnamon rolls and who ask if I need some company, if they can come in and sit and talk to me for a few minutes and keep me company and see if I need anything and if they can go to the store to get me something or if they can roll out my garbage can and roll it back up the driveway or if I need them to get my mail or if I need some company to just call them day or night and then they tell me that they love me and they miss Velna and that the pain will take a long time to go away but that I will heal and that I will be better in the coming days and then I feel safe and secure and loved and blessed with the richest of gifts of kindness and compassion and I remember the dear lady who brought me soup and I felt how wet her hair was as I gave her a hug as she had walked through the storm to bring it to me.
And I think of the gifts from my children who have looked after me and helped me with legal and financial details and helped me unravel complex bill paying problems and arranged for the final services for Velna and saw to it that I had a new suit to wear and who did so much work to help me sell the St. George winter home and haul all of the furnishings up north and handle so many details with the realtor and who put up my Christmas tree and decorations which I told them I didn't want but was told I would have them anyway and who take me to the store and call me to check on me and shower me with love and kindness and send me flowers to brighten my home and raise my spirits. My siblings and Velna's sisters have gone out of their way to provide continual support and loving and compassionate words.
So you can see that my tree is endowed with an enormous pile of gifts that are gifts of the heart, gifts of sharing, gifts of compassion, and gifts of hope. And with this rich outpouring, my Christmas is more wonderful than I ever thought possible. Instead of material gifts, I have the indelible gifts of memory and love and the beginnings of new strength to move my life forward in the face of loneliness and loss. And for all of these wonderful gifts, I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. May you each continue to make gifts like these beautiful gifts the most important part of your gift giving throughout the rest of your lives. And now I need another box of Kleenex.
I haven't known what to do today. For 63 years, I tried each year to find you something that you might like to commemorate our annual wedding anniversary. December 18, 1952. You were 19, I was 20. We drove, with my mother and sister, on icy roads from Laramie Wyoming to Salt Lake City and arrived at the City County Building a few minutes before 5:00 p.m. closing time. Fortunately, we were able to get our wedding license, otherwise we would have been in a dilemma: The Salt Lake LDS Temple would be closed the following week and what would we have done? So, bewildered and tired and more than a little frightened, we held hands across the altar in the temple and someone proclaimed us married. I don't think either of us thought much about the long run implications of what we had just done, all we knew was that we were now married. It took another nearly 63 years to figure out the real meaning of what we had done, of the commitments we had made, of the deep and sacred implications and blessings of being married.
I would like to tell you once more how thankful I am that you made that journey with me to Salt Lake and that you traveled the journey of life with me so faithfully for so many years. But you are not here. And so I spent much time staring out the window at the snowy mountains wondering where you are and why I can't tell you happy anniversary one more time. I didn't have anything to do today since I couldn't buy you a present or write you a card or give you a hug or tell you thank you or tell you that I loved you or fix you a special meal for dinner or say a comforting prayer with you or turn your bed down at bed time or remember with you the precious times and days and years that we shared. I thought most of the day that I wouldn't try to write anything today because I didn't know what I would write. My words all left me and I felt lost and alone and empty with a heavy heart, holding back the tears which you would have thought might have dried up by now. I don't know that they ever will.
Last year on our wedding anniversary I found you a nice carrot cake and had the baker inscribe the words Happy Anniversary on it.
Two years ago, I gave her this Christmas and Anniversary Bouquet:
So here is an example of what Velna loved best: her family. Here are the four offspring of Jim and Sharman: Caleb, Nat, Kate, and Jake
And here are some pictures of the lovely Christmas flowers Kim and family sent today, appropriately on our anniversary!
So dear Velna, I'm doing my best. Some of my best isn't so hot. I'm not as brave and courageous as you are. I don't have what it takes to weather the storms without a lot of difficulty. You have always been there to lift me up and dry my tears and send me on my way. For 45 years, you sent me to the university every day so I could spend another day putting students to sleep trying to teach them economics. For 45 years, you worked yourself, cleaned the house, cooked the food, raised the kids, scrubbed the bathrooms, did the laundry, ironed the clothes, got everyone ready for church and Sunday School, clothed the kids, sent them off to school, changed their diapers and cleaned up their messes, nursed them when they were ill, went to all of their school concerts and games and everything else, paid the bills, and asked me to pick up my stuff. Like Tevye, I don't remember growing older, so when did they?
I know that I have to go on, even though I haven't quite figured out how to do that. Maybe I can turn the corner one of these days and find a softer landing than I have found so far. So far, I still haven't replaced you as my main focus of concern each day throughout the day. One of these days, maybe. And I keep thinking of the "precious days" from September Song. At least I can relive these precious days in my memories of the past. And so I am about to get through this anniversary day. So for now, I'll remember, and then remember some more, and try to wipe the tear off my cheek which wasn't supposed to show up there.
Monday October 12 2015 began like every other day for Velna and me. I gave her this clever page-a-day calendar in January that she enjoyed checking each day to see what the message would be. We laughed together when we read the message on October 12: "I have found that if you love life, life will love you right back." (apologies to the copyright holder for the page, I hope you will forgive me for using it under the circumstances.) The calendar will never move ahead from this page, October 12, frozen in time on the kitchen counter, never to be changed.
The day began like every Monday. I gathered and began doing the laundry. Velna worked on her crossword puzzles and later took a shower. I finished the laundry and hung up the clothes in both our closets. I left the rest of the clothes by her chair for her to fold, sadly for the last time she would ever fold them. I put our supper together for us to eat together for the last time. I put the rest of the clothes together and we prepared for our night's sleep. I collected Velna's pain pills, got her ice water, turned down her bed. We said our usual good night prayer asking, as we did every night, that Velna may get some relief from her constant excruciating pain. We talked about what we needed to do to get ready to go St. George for the winter in about two weeks. We said amen to our nightly prayer and each went to sleep, not knowing what would await us on the following morning and during the next ten days.
The next morning our stable world came unglued. The Home Health nurse sent her to the hospital to get more attention to healing the vasculitis sore on her leg. We thought nothing more of this necessity and thought that we would face a routine treatment to clear up her sore leg. But that hope was not to be. During the next ten days, our world came apart. All of our years together came to an end. All of our hopes and plans for our future washed away with the tide. The mysteries of life and death were to unfold dramatically and decisively, day by day, against our fondest hopes and dreams for a continuation of Velna's life. I launched forth, stumbling and weeping, into a world I did not understand and, for a time, refused to even try and comprehend. Why me? Why did she have to go and why am I still here with all of my health problems? What will I do now? How can I go on? Everyone tried to comfort me, to give me advice, to help in any way they could. But my memory is locked on the calendar page for Monday October 12 and on the last incredible day that Velna and I were blessed to spend with each other before we were separated so suddenly and so unexpectedly.
Even our normal everyday life was a huge struggle for Velna and a challenge, though considerably less, for me. But Velna said over and over she would rather stay here with her pain than to go from here and that she had things she needed and wanted to do and she didn't want to leave any of us.
She remained grateful all her life for all those who took time to call her, write her, send messages, come by to see if they could help her in any way, encourage her. Just a little attention was all she needed some days to lift her over the burdens of the day. She always hoped for a little more attention from some, but she was bewildered at her life's end when she opened her eyes and pleaded with me, "Why is everyone paying so much attention to me?" The lesson I learned from this is that we all need to turn our attention more from ourselves and toward others for whom we can provide the needed inspiration, consolation, and uplifting support while we still have an opportunity to do so. If we wait too long, we may be too late.
Dear Velna, I will always remember our last day together. Yes, it was routine. Yes, we did the same things we did every Monday. But, for me, Monday October 12 2015 was the most special day of our long years together, a day I will always relive and cherish in my memory because this day was the treasured and precious last day I was blessed to spend with you.
Velna holding Ron, Russell standing, front door of our Northwood Student Apartment on North Campus of the University of Michigan, probably 1957
We all share sadness and remorse when someone loses a spouse and becomes a widow or a widower. Yet, we can never know vicariously, no matter how sensitive we are, how deep the sorrow, how profound the loss, and how hurtful the pain is until we are called upon during our journey through life and death to go through this experience ourselves. We don't just lose a spouse, we lose countless blessings and manifestations of daily contact and interaction and we become empty and depleted in our loss. Here are a few of the many losses I experienced when Velna left me so suddenly:
I lost my constant companion of nearly 63 years.
I lost my source of support and inspiration.
I lost the voice of encouragement and comfort that followed me through various health issues of my own over many years.
I lost my photographer's assistant who willingly drove me around to take photos and always was on the lookout for the next picture she thought I should take.
I lost my photo card maker who spent hours putting photographs into greeting cards.
I lost my birthday card sender who faithfully, for many years, sent each person in our family a birthday card, young and old, and who pleaded with me in one of her last sentences, "Dwight, who will send out the cards?"
I lost my blog and photo critic who faithfully read everything I wrote each day, evaluated each photo I posted and edited, and who always, always encouraged me and told me that my writing, though too wordy, was great, and that my pictures were beautiful. Who will do this now? I am on my own.
I lost my bill payer who handled our family finances and paid our bills for decades. I spent several hours a day for three weeks unraveling all of the bill paying complications, cancelling Velna's name from credit cards, and figuring out when and how much to pay.
I lost my income tax accountant. I had just bought her a new tape calculator to make it easier to pay the taxes this year. How am I supposed to know how to pay the taxes?
I lost our repository of family history. Velna alone knew the main threads of our family history in raising our children and through all of our moves around the country.
I lost my cook. I have had to learn to cook the past three years, and now I have no one to ask how to fix this, how to do that, what to add here, and when is this done?
I lost the person who knew where everything is stashed. Now I look and ponder and wonder as I try to find various items around the house.
I lost my jigsaw puzzle expert who left me with two new puzzles she hadn't gotten around to put together.
I lost my confidante, someone I could always trust, someone I knew would always forgive my blunders, someone who would dry my tears when my burdens became too heavy no matter how heavy her trials were at that moment.
I lost my gentle nag who always wanted me to get a haircut, or to wear suspenders, or to have better manners, or to stop using a cuss word or two, and who always hoped that somehow, some day, I would turn out better than she may have ever originally or even later hoped for or suspected.
I lost the person I spent my days and nights trying to help, bringing pain pills, ice water, finding finger nail files, turning down beds and fluffing pillows, folding blankets, fixing something that hopefully would be edible for dinner, cleaning the kitchen, mopping the floors, cleaning the bathrooms.
I lost the soul of patience and faith in our household, my anchor who leveled the playing field of life on a continual basis by always looking for the bright side, discounting the worst that could happen.
I lost my sense of purpose for what was most important in my life and have not found out how to replace it when that sense of purpose was the dominant force that controlled my daily thoughts, life, and actions.
I lost someone to tease, someone to ask "Where are you going?" just because I knew it would annoy her, someone to ask if she thought my latest symptom was really, really serious and if she thought I needed to go to the doctor.
I lost the quiet and calm and serene presence that lifted my life and my spirits continually and that made me constantly aware of how much I needed to do to improve, to do better, to emulate Velna's strength and faith.
I lost the person I prayed for each night and throughout the day, always praying for some relief for her from her pain, not ever quite suspecting we were so close to the ultimate and final release from pain that would set her free and leave me grateful for her final blessing but also leave me devastated with loss. I have written before how I tried to get her to pray in turn, but when she told me she gained some strength from listening to me pray for her, I never asked her again.
I lost my gentle soul who always forgave, never held grudges, and who always, always looked for the good in people and overlooked everything else.
You can see from this list, which is only a beginning, how many complications arise when we lose a spouse. Yet, I will always be blessed from the life we lived together, from the examples she taught me and our family, from her encouragement, and from the endless supply of memories she endowed me with. Some day, some how, I will be able to go on with a more positive outlook, with less constant pain. But for all the blessings of Velna's and my life together, for all of the gentle manifestations of faith and courage, for all of the days and nights and years that I was blessed to be with her, nothing can ever replace what we had and shared together. I don't know why I was so fortunate and so blessed.
When I say that I earned four college degrees--B. S., M.S., M.A., and Ph. D., that conclusion is far from accurate. I did get through the first degree, a bachelor's degree from the University of Wyoming, almost by myself. Except that Velna and I got engaged the summer after my junior year and, since she had a job, the practical thing for her to do was to make payments on her engagement ring. Then we spent a year in Bozeman at Montana State, and something over three years in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. Throughout those years, Velna worked without complaint, nudging and dragging the kids to the baby sitters in the cold early hours, fixing meals when she got home plus doing the housekeeping, cooking, errands, grocery shopping, tending sick kids, and typing various drafts of my doctoral dissertation. During my last year in Ann Arbor when I returned from Washington, D. C. to finish my degree, we crammed four kids in a two bedroom apartment where they slept head to toe with one on the couch. Velna worked without complaint, without hesitation. She never felt sorry for herself, never griped at me for getting her into these incredibly challenging predicaments. She was creative in fixing meals out of whatever was in the cupboards when we ran out of grocery money the middle of the month. We couldn't afford a telephone so we had to walk several blocks to the mailboxes to make Christmas calls on a snowy Christmas day.
What I should have said, and should have said many times over, is that Velna and I together earned four college degrees. Velna sacrificed her own education until I completed my school years and then, after years of persistence in taking classes and three or four universities, laboring on correspondence courses, and dogged perseverance, she earned her own college degree. She never wanted to think that she was not capable of earning a degree and she never gave up until she completed her bachelor's degree.
We were always near the breaking point on income during most of our early to middle years of being a college teacher since college teachers weren't deemed important enough to get paid very much. And yet Velna, in her frugal wisdom, always seemed to stretch my parsimonious income to meet the needs of her family. I can never thank her enough for her uncompromising loyalty and continuous work as she helped me earn my degrees, supporting me in every way she could to keep me going. Only a fraction of the students I started the Ph.D. program in economics at Michigan with ever successfully passed all their exams and had their dissertations accepted and so, once again, the blessings of perseverance and the attitude of never giving up that Velna fostered was instrumental in whatever I achieved. Velna never wavered in her faith that I could achieve my goals.
I realize today that I never gave Velna enough credit for what she did for me, for the continual and uncomplaining and loving support she gave me through my struggles to get through my college degrees. The kids still remember when she remained typing away on my dissertation late at night after working all day and doing all of the household chores at night while I worked night and day to write my dissertation in a little less than a year. I realize all too clearly that I could never have achieved a fraction of what I was able to accomplish without her at my side. I realize that her name should have been on my college degrees and that, in so many ways, I could never have earned those degrees without her continuous and unstinting help. Dear Velna, I wish you had stayed long enough for me to show proper appreciation and gratitude for all that you did for me. The least I can do is let your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren know how much you helped and what an example you were for them to follow as they seek to find the way in their own lives. I tried to help you in every way I could think of during your last years of pain and suffering, and I kept telling you I was trying to pay you back. But I never did enough, I never came even remotely close to giving back to you the many years of loyal and uncompromising support and love that you gave me every day of your life. Oh dear Velna, how lucky I was and how grateful I am for the treasured memories of all of those years that followed that January day in 1950 when I rang your doorbell at 615 Flint to go on a blind date to a square dance. Do you know how afraid I was?
As my blog followers have noted, I stopped writing a few days ago. I simply couldn't write any more. I felt that I had emptied my thoughts and my sorrows and my pain and my memories. But maybe we never reach the end of thinking about those memories that burn so brightly in our minds that they stay there forever, nudging us now and then, and reminding us of those rare and precious moments that make up the core of our lives.
So now I'll tell you a bit about what I have been doing. The most difficult problem I faced after Velna was gone was that of unraveling the bill paying process. I had to go through each bill, one by one. Velna had paid the bills for decades and I had no clue about how to do it and I had to figure it out piece by piece with some starting help from my sons. I had to make phone calls for many bills to change addresses and to remove Velna's name from accounts. Removing her name from credit cards and bank accounts was more complicated, requiring a death certificate and some times other verification and notarized documents. Her filing system was some times a system known only to her and she was not here so I could ask her. Endless battles with robots on phones trying to reach an actual, live, intelligent person occurred daily. So one by one, I tackled the job and, this morning, I finished the last challenge. Advice: if you are letting your spouse pay the bills, spend some time with him or her so you learn the bills and don't get into the awful bind that I got myself into.
Six of my family came by Tuesday night and decorated a Christmas tree for me and got out the Christmas relics and decorations that had been in St. George for 20 years since we spent our Christmases in southern Utah. I wasn't sure at the beginning I wanted this to happen because the memories of all of the decorations are too sharp, too pleading, too close to a tearful surface but, in the end, I had to agree it was a good thing. Besides, I didn't have a whole lot to say about it. I was descended upon by elves who did what they wanted to do. So bless them all for their kindness and attention.
And I did spend Thanksgiving Day with Jim and Sharman and their families. Then my sister Ann took me to Costco yesterday. So I have been more or less distracted and spending less time dwelling on the empty house I must live in.
So I have some questions:
Why are there 40 NCAA bowl games involving 80 teams? Do we have 80 teams that played well enough to go to a bowl game? Out of the 40 make believe bowl games, how many are worth watching?
Why, when you are standing directly over a waste basket dropping something in, and you drop it straight down, does it veer off at a 45 degree angle and land 3 feet from the waste basket?
Similarly, why is it so difficult to remove wet dental floss from your fingers?
Why, in the world of politics, does everyone in each political party assume that every one in the other political party is an imbecilic moron?
Is Steph Curry damaging his teeth by chewing so hard on his mouth guard?
Meanwhile, I will try my best to keep going. I have had so many people show me so much continual kindness and compassion and support. I know I am not the first to go through a tragedy like this one, but it is my only experience and that makes it seem imponderable, mysterious, and unbearable to me. Maybe some day in the not too distant time I can get a handle on life once more and make some progress going into an uncertain future.
I don't know why, out of the countless memories of a lifetime, a few stand out and keep resurfacing all of our lives. One such memory is of my wife Velna when she was my teenage girlfriend. She was still in high school when she got a part-time job at the Campus Shop at the soda fountain and lunch counter just across from the campus. I met her there one day after she was through work and just taking off to walk home. The image I have of her is that she was wearing a skirt with sunflowers on it. Maybe it was my imagination all these years, but that is the way I remember it and so that is the way it was. What I remember is that she took off down the street, almost at a lope, on her way back home, blonde curls bouncing, in a hurry to get home. I can still see her going on her way as this memory continues to resurface over and over. And now I know that Velna has always been my sunflower. She always turned toward the light, turned toward the sun, measured her life and her blessings by the sunny side, and always weathered every storm and crisis with great courage and faith. I like to think that she is in a field of sunflowers, running and dancing and free of her years of excruciating pain that kept her a prisoner in her chair, uncomplaining and always hoping, never giving up praying for a better day, for some reduction in her pain. I don't know that anyone besides me and Velna herself will ever come close to realizing the extreme pain and lack of mobility that Velna suffered these last several years. I lived with it every hour of every day, reading the pain lines and strain marks in her face, watching her struggle to stand on her feet for even a few minutes, watching while she faced the difficult challenge of combing her hair and putting on her makeup and getting ready for the day, something she did every single day without fail no matter how much the struggle cost her and no matter how long it took her to recover from her difficult efforts. And yet she never failed to do everything she could to bolster me up, to give me courage, to thank me for all of the little small deeds I tried to faithfully do for her, to tell me that my photos were wonderful, that my blog posts were wonderful although too wordy, that I would be all right when I had a health worry. I like to think I can see her now, smiling, among the sunflowers and the beautiful gardens, blessedly free at last from her crippling and horrible pain, going at a lope as I remember her cheerful walk some 65 years ago. Dear Velna, wait for me in the sunflowers, I won't be too long in following you.
Son Russell with his mother Velna at our first family reunion. Velna did everything she could possibly do to support and bless her family. She was never happier than when she was surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
When we think back over our lives, we can all remember pivotal moments, often unanticipated and perhaps not even apparent at the time they occurred, that changed our lives forever. I am grateful today for two such moments in my life.
The first moment came in late December 1949. I had graduated from Powell High School (WY) in the spring of 1949 at age 16 and turned 17 on September 17. I enrolled at Powell's new fledgling junior college housed in a rebuilt white frame building next to the gym and took classes that fall. I worked for a local weekly newspaper during the fall selling advertising and doing chores. Unfortunately, the paper closed, but I received my last paycheck for $75. I desperately wanted to go to the University of Wyoming, over 400 miles to the south, but had no money or resources to go. I met my classmate from Powell High School at a basketball game that December evening. My classmate asked me if I wanted to bunk with him at the University Stock Farm, where bunking meant staying in a student room in the hayloft of the sheep barn. The room would be cheap, he said, and I could put in a few hours a week helping to milk cows. I had hoped that when I said goodby to Blackie and Blondie at home that I had seen my last cow, but apparently that was not to be the case. In three days, I packed up my worldly possessions into one box and my suitcase, including two or three pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts, and my life time treasures, and left my home in Penrose, a farming community twelve miles from Powell where I attended school, on a cold January day just after New Year's. I had $75, a cheap place to stay, and a possibility of earning a few dollars which, I later discovered, were helpful in financing our diet of Van Camp's pork and beans. I never received a penny from home, not because my parents were stingy, but because they simply did not have the extra money to send me. But my new life direction was firmly charted as I never doubted for a moment that I could figure out how to eke out an existence so I could attend the University of Wyoming. And so I did, from one part time job to another, from long nights of janitor work with short sleep and tired eyes at my eight o'clock classes, but I stayed with it, cleaning the empty and lonely buildings on the University campus and several businesses down town.
The second pivotal moment came as my friend and I were driving from Penrose to Laramie. I remember sharply and clearly that we were 17 miles north of Laramie, just past the Wheatland cutoff, when my friend told me that his girl friend had a cute girlfriend that I should get a date with and go to a square dance soon after we got to Laramie. I was a bit skeptical since my romantic accomplishments in high school were nil since I was only 16 when I graduated and one or two years younger than the girl I thought I had been in love with all through high school who clearly was not interested in me. So why would anyone else go out with me? I would soon find out as I rang the doorbell at 615 Flint St. on a cold Laramie January day and met, for the first time, a girl named Velna Black. And so began, at that moment 17 miles north of Laramie, three years of dating and nearly 63 years of marriage.
Two pivotal moments in time. Two random events that occurred without previous thought or plan. The first event launched me on eight years of college study and nearly 45 years of college teaching. The second random event led to the greatest blessing in my life, one that forever left me astonished and grateful that a cute little 16 year old blonde girl would actually go to a square dance with me on a cold January day in Laramie Wyoming in January 1950. And how grateful I am on this lonely Thanksgiving morning for these two events that altered my life and charted the greatest blessings I would ever receive.
Carolyn Nielson wrote: (This post originally appeared on Facebook but is reproduced here for a more permanent record)
I've been thinking about all the things I'm thankful for and wanted to share the experience that our family had with Hearts for Hospice and Home Health. We were able to bring my Mom home for her last two days where she could be in familiar surroundings with family. We could not have done it without the care and compassion of these amazing professionals who care every day just like my Mom who are at the end of life. They showed us how to care for Mom when they weren't there and allowed us the privilege of attending to Mom in her last hours. Every one of these people deserve our sincere gratitude. . . from the driver who brought her from the hospital (who routinely works 12-14 hour days and says he does it as a way to serve and help others) to the amazing music therapist who came and played the guitar and sang to Mom for 45 minutes. She had the most sweet and calming voice that truly spoke peace to all who were there! When I expressed our appreciation to the hospice nurse and told her how grateful we are to people like her who do this difficult job, she replied that she feels blessed to get up every day and go to a job that she loves. Clearly, this is much more than a job to these people who care for those at the end of life (and their families) with such Christ-like love and compassion. So, thank you, you have blessed our lives.
As Velna's husband, I add my tearful appreciation of Carolyn's beautiful words. To you wonderful and saintly people at Hearts for Hospice, our family sends our love and our forever appreciation for giving us the peace and light we needed as Velna ended her time on earth.