Last night I Skyped with our friend and colleague Peter Eckerman about his work as director of Faith Inkubators/Australia. The fires there have become a national tragedy. 300 possible dead. Mass scale Oxygen sucked out of the air for anyone within 200 meters of the 100 meter-high flames.
This morning he sent me a link worth exploring. He writes:
A friend of mine (very clever) put together a very moving av using words from a famous Australian poem. You can view it here under the heading of Songs of Sadness and Sustaining.
I think it captures something of the Aussie spirit.
On Monday we moved dad to his new and probable last home, 10 blocks from my sister Ruth's house. He's moved from a house filled with antiques and memories to a room with a bed, a chair, an antique dresser, a televison, a whole lot of pictures, and a nurse station 10 feet from the door. Tuesday I cleared the last of his treasures from his apartment, blessed each room for the new people who will live there and turned in the keys.
I'll be going back again tomorrow to see how he's doing, close and open bank accounts and make sure all is well. If you get a chance and would be willing to do me a favor, drop dad a note:
Rev. Ray Melheim
Hi Acres Manor
1300 2nd Place NE
Jamestown, ND 58401
A week ago they found my dad pacing the halls at 3 AM in his best suit with Bible in hand. The retired WWII-vet-turned-pastor thought he was supposed to do a wedding and was wandering and wondering why his ride hadn't arrived yet.
On Thursday the assisted living place called and said Dad was found at the outer door at 1 AM, about to head out into the -20 Minnesota night. They asked him where he was going and he told them he thought he was supposed to help someone. He just wasn't sure who. They brought him back to his room. He sat on the bed and sobbed for a half hour. "I think I'm losing my mind."
They called Friday morning and said we needed to find another place for him to live. Someplace with better security. Now.
I talked to my sisters, then drove to Moorhead to spend the weekend looking for alternatives. We had a pleasant, lucid, wonderful day with fun conversations as if nothing had happened. As if nothing was wrong. We ran errands. Did some banking. Then we stopped at Dilworth Lutheran Church and looked at the 10 years of confirmation photos on the rack, naming names of all the kids he had confirmed as a pastor back in the 50s and 60s. He remembered nearly every one. After a wonderful dinner with my daughter Kathryn, a student at Concordia College, we prepped for bed. (That's Kathryn and Grandpa pictured above in a photo from a couple years back. Dad with his WWII hat, Kathryn as Princess Tahtiana in "A Midsummer's Night Dream")
At 3 AM I awoke to hear a sobbing prayer, "Please God, make the blood stop. Oh Lord, hear my prayer." It took more than a moment for me to register where I was and what was happening. I found him in the bathroom dripping in dark red blood. It looked like something from a CSI episode. His nose was bleeding mercilessly. Blood covered the sink, the floor, his pajamas. It trailed into his bedroom where the rug and sheets and waste basket were caked.
I pulled the emergency cord by his bed. Two nurses appeared and worked on him for 45 minutes while I mopped, sprayed and prayed. It finally stopped. He finally slept, propped up in his lift chair. I dozed in the couch 5 feet away.
Saturday morning we drove to Jamestown to a place where my sister Ruth had lined up an appointment. It's a nursing home where some of her friends have parents. Good reputation. Only blocks from her house. Bright, clean, cheerful. All one level. Nice chapel. "Good food," said three of the residents we interviewed. The folks there wear wrist bands that trigger an alarm if anyone happens to wander out in the middle of a North Dakota night. We shared a nice dinner. He took a long nap. Supper. Then we watched PT-109 and Casablanca back to back.
After PT-109, the old soldier pastor who had served in the Pacific during WWII thought out loud: "I wonder how many guys were left behind on those islands? Simply never found. Never rescued. How lonely that must have been."
While Casablanca played, dad clearly remembered and chuckled at the lines: "Play it again, Sam...We'll always have Paris... Here's looking at you, kid."
As the credits rolled, dad said: "I saw that movie in Los Angeles in January 1943 just before I shipped out." Moments later the announcer said, "Casablanca was first aired in Los Angeles in January 1943."
Bright and early Sunday morning we attended my sister's church, Trinity Lutheran in Jamestown. At coffee we were served buy a woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Erstad. "Her son Darin is the World Series champ outfielder," dad told me on the side.
We introduced Pastor Ray to both of Trinity's pastors and I told them they'd be getting a new retired pastor joining the church soon. "We'll have to put you to work," we joked.
On the drive back to Moorhead, out of the blue, dad asked me: "What should I do if they ask me to preach?"
"What do you want to do?" I asked. He thought for a moment.
"I think I'll let the younger guys do it. I could just do some visitation for them at the nursing home. Bring bulletins. Cheer some of the old people up."
Dad will be 89 in a couple months.
We stopped at Hornbackers and bought eggs. Bread, Depends. I remembered from college biology that potassium helps blood clot, so I bought extra bananas. Granddaughter Kathryn came over and helped me load grandfather's grandfather clock and a nice oak table into the Subaru. "Better take 'em now" he said.
I put dad to sleep for his afternoon nap, kissed him and stroked his hair. He patted my hand. "I don't know how much time I have," he said before drifting off.
"I know, dad. I know."
I watched him sleep for a while before I left. Then I drove out of the parking lot. Then I drove back and watched him sleep some more.
Well, I have a 16 year old son with a drivers' license.
Joseph Martin turned 16 yesterday with only a little fanfare. Arlyce got up and made him his favorit e blueberry muffins for breakfast while I cartooned a 16 foot "Happy 16" card across the kitchen windows. The moment the school bell sounded he was off to the license bureau to take his test. They arrived and found our back tail lights not working, so they scrambled to an auto part store, bought 'em, installed with frozen hands and got back for the test just before they closed. He passed with flying colors and mom and dad took him to Ruby Tuesdays for a big steak. (I had salad... rats!)
Of course we had to rib him on the "sweet 16 and never been kissed" deal... to which he responded "I'll just let you think that." We also had to rib him on the visit to the principle's office in 6th grade when he was reprimanded for a DPA (display of public affection) for holding hands with a girl on the playground.
Joseph's whole life has been a joy to us. It occured to me his whole life has also been spent with us trying off on our own with Faith Inkubators, trying to change the little piece of the parent/kid world that has been entrusted to us in the church. That's him in the hospital on Feb. 3, 1993, months before I left parish life. That's him on Waikiki during our first year on the road. He celebrated his birthday with a cupcake during a conference I set up there. That's him hugging his sister in Segovia this Christmas.
And that last one... that's just him.
Last night he stopped in for "Highs and Lows" before bed (our nightly ritual) and I just couldn't help thinking how grateful I am.