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Thursday, September 28, 2017

A table in the valley

This week has been a walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  We know it ends with a feasting table, an Isaiah 25 celebration of abundance. Yet that over-running cup of mercy is poured right out in the dark valley with the enemy, death, present.

From Friday to Tuesday, we spent much of every day in a small sunny room at Bayview Villa home.  Scott held his dad's hand, read to him, talked to him.  We played St. Olaf choir singing hymns on a CD.  We sat with Ruth and talked together.  We met with nurses.  We went in and out.  Friday Dave was responsive and emotional.  Saturday and Sunday he had a more vacant look, but would still squeeze hands.  Monday mid-day he seemed to hear his neighbors' voices as they visited, but by Monday afternoon his breathing changed.  Tuesday he was never conscious, and clearly dying.  It was his 9th day without any food or drink.  As the sun set, the staff encouraged us to go home for some rest.  So often, they said, families want to be there for the last minutes, but the dying person is waiting for them to leave.  We drove back over the hill to Half Moon Bay, and within a few hours we got the phone call that he was gone.

(with baby Scott, 1960)

David Vernon Myhre, Jan 4 1932 to September 26 2017, 85 years and on to eternity.  He was the 6th child born to no-nonsense farmers, first-generation Norwegian immigrants whose parents moved to the USA with a wave of Scandinavians seeking opportunities in a time of upheaval at home.  Dave was born in Canada where they had migrated seeking better farmland, and he lived there until he was five, speaking Norwegian at home.  In 1937 they bought a farm in Abercrombie, ND, where he then grew up, quickly learning English in school.  He drove and tinkered with farm machinery, one time rolling a tractor which could have ended his life.  All four of our parents were the youngest in large families in the WW2 generation whose older siblings served, but by the time they were teens enabled to go to college.  Dave graduated with a degree in chemistry, then did a master's and went on to University of Minnesota for a PhD.  Even a couple of years ago as he reflected on that opportunity, he marveled.  So much grace to a quiet, careful, intelligent farming boy.

(our wedding, 1987)

At the University he met another graduate student of Norwegian/Swedish descent, Ruth, who was studying to teach home economics.  They were married in 1957, had Scott in 1960, left with his PhD in 1962 to move to Cincinnati and work for Proctor and Gamble, had Sonja in 1963.  He never left P&G, working for 32 years in a research lab for carbohydrate chemistry.  He basically invented Pringles, which is pretty cool, though in the late 70's he began to be more interested in health and gravitated towards gardening, running, then biking, making his own whole-grain bread.  He taught Scott to play baseball and basketball, cheered at a million games, took up tennis and suspended golfing to spend more time with his kids. He had a garage full of woodworking tools and created some lovely artful pieces, even after he lost two finger in an accident with the planer.  He was serious about his faith, studying his Bible, dedicating many hours to his roles as a deacon and elder at the church.  He was frugal with himself and generous with others, dependable, hard-working.  In retirement he and Ruth adventured around the world, and when Sonja settled in California they decided to move to Half Moon Bay to help her with kids and enjoy the closeness of family and the beauty of living by the ocean.

(24 years ago, goodbyes as we headed to Uganda)

In his final decade, a bike accident with significant brain bleeding followed by more strokes marked a downward progression of dementia.  We watched the person we knew slowly ebb away.  He battled the disease, trying diet, exercise, hearing aids, various augmentations to stay active and involved as long as he could.  In January we had the kids out celebrating his birthday, and he was still going on walks to the ocean and participating in outings.  But within a month or so his decline accelerated.  In March Scott made an emergent trip back to confirm that even the in-home helper his mom had tried was not enough, so he and his mom made the painful choice of a nursing home.  Sonja came back from Norway several times too.  By the end of August he had had a pneumonia, and entered hospice care in the nursing home, no longer really knowing any of us we felt.  In mid-September while Ruth was visiting Sonja in Norway, friends looking out for him told them to hurry back.  But when they arrived he rallied, so we continued on our trip until it became clear that Dave was no longer able to swallow, and Ruth needed us here, and we came.

(50th anniversary, 2007 in Wengen, Switzerland)

Death in all forms shows us the world is not right, is broken.  Death from dementia is particularly grievous, as the personality declines out of sync with the body.  Grief becomes chronic as the days become unpredictable.  The gradual slope sometimes drops off abruptly with a hospitalization, then levels again.  It is painful and frustrating for the person and all around him to march back through developmental milestones as the privileges of adulthood (driving, having a check-book, using a computer, traveling, then even walking out the door or going to the bathroom alone) fall away.  Watching, mostly from afar, intermittently up close, the nitty gritty of a life winding down, we look beyond the things which are seen to those which are not.  Beyond the fragility of a body near the end, to the glory of a soul entering eternity.

(Half Moon Bay visit, sunset by the ocean)

This week we spent in the shadow of death, but we fear no evil.  We will celebrate life and hope as we gather on Wednesday, 3 pm, at Community United Methodist Church, in Half Moon Bay.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Praying for you all today and in days past. Will continue. It is a hard and beautiful thing when that feast is set on the table in the presence of our enemies. So very hard. Praying for you my friends.