Thursday, April 28, 2005

Together Again

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” ~ I Corinthians 15:19

You had love for your family
Love for all people
Love for the Father, and Son
Your heart will be heard
In your unspoken words
Through generations to come
There’s so much that I don’t understand
But I know . . .
You’re dancing with the angels
Walking in new life
You’re dancing with the angels

Dancing with the Angels ~ recorded by Monk & Neagle

I realize that most of you who read this column did not know my sister, Patricia. But I also realize that most, if not all of you, have probably lost someone you loved. For this reason, I hope there is no need for me to apologize for writing about my sister’s life and death one more time in my Reflections column.

When I expressed this concern to a friend of mine, she encouraged me with these words:

Eileen....It is fortunate for us that you are gifted at grieving ~ in prose. So many of the things you have written or copied from songs, scripture and poetry have touched me deeply. Since my mother died in December, I am reminded of her in so many little ways.....and of course, in the big ones. Reading your words about your sister's early passing from this earthly place, and from your family, simply allows me to feel what I need to, and also to be thankful, like you, that I had the privilege of knowing this wonderful woman, of being alive, of loving and losing, and for all the pieces that continue to fall into place along the journey....Love, Kat

My manuscript editor, Barbara Lerma, said that it sounded like Patricia had the “ideal life and the ideal death.” To be vacationing in Mexico, splashing in the water, and feeling like a kid again, right up to your last moment, is a pretty good way to leave this world. Not to mention that she didn’t have to suffer. And the day before she had taken that picture of a sunset which she titled, “What I came for.” Yes, there is some comfort in the knowledge that Patricia was doing what she loved, with the people she loved, right up until the last second of her life. Of course the pain of losing her and the loss felt by those left behind, is still ever-present.

This Saturday, April 23rd, marks one month since our Patricia passed away. It is also the day that Patricia’s partner, Nikki, will be hosting a Celebration of Life service in Patricia’s honor. The ceremony will be held on Whidbey Island in Freeland, Washington, where Patricia and Nikki shared a home. Friends and family from as far away as Alaska, Arizona, Tennessee, Minnesota, Nevada and Iowa will be there.

I had always wanted to visit Patricia and see the home she loved so much on the island where she enjoyed the beauty of nature. The last pictures she shared with the family (via email) were some amazing photos of bald eagles which she took during a walk on the island. You see, Patricia was someone who not only stopped to smell the roses; she took pictures of them, too.

Patricia's Eagle in Flight taken on Whidbey Island

It’s kind of sad that I am finally making that trip after she’s gone, yet I feel the need to connect with Patricia’s world; to see where she lived, walk where she walked, and meet the members of her extended family who loved her so much. I sincerely hope that it will help with the healing and perhaps bring some closure – if there is such a thing.

The first poem I‘d like to share this week is one that my sister Mary came across and was printed in the program for Patricia’s funeral.

You Never Said Goodbye

Author Unknown

You never said I’m leaving
You never said goodbye
You were gone before we knew it
And only God knows why

A million times we needed you
A million times we cried
If love alone could have saved you
You never would have died.

In life we loved you dearly
In death we love you still
In our hearts you hold a special place
That no one could ever fill.

It breaks our hearts to lose you
But you didn’t go alone
For part of us went with you
The day God called you home.

After Patricia passed away, I went back and read the “Reflections” column I had written for her 53rd birthday in 2003. After talking about our family and what a diversified group we are, I finished the article with the following words:

“The bottom line is love. When my mom was on her death bed, she was repeating the word, ‘love, love, love.’ My sister Mary asked, ‘Do you want everyone to know that you love them, Mom? Is that what you’re trying to say? Do you want me to tell everyone that you love them?’ Her eyes widened and she nodded her head up and down. Then she whispered softly, ‘Always stay together….all nine.’”

I’ve been feeling so sad about losing Patricia and having to adjust to being a family of eight instead of nine. How can we stay together when one of us is gone? Then my sister Connie reminded me that we’re still nine; it’s just that one of us has gone on ahead. One day we will all be reunited again, but for now, those of us who remain will try to honor Patricia’s memory by living our life to the fullest, the way she did, and the way she would want us to. In addition, we can rejoice that our precious mother and sister are together again – dancing with the angels on those streets of gold.

This next poem was written on the way to Patricia’s funeral Mass in Minnesota; I later read it as part of the eulogy.

Still a Family
By Eileen Umbehr

They say that there’s strength in numbers
And I know for a fact that is true
But now our numbers are down by one
And we’re wondering how we’ll pull through

First came our sister Peggy
The matriarch of the clan
Followed by Patricia
Everyone’s biggest fan

Then along came Connie
The sweetest soul there ever was
And then there was Joanne
Who filled our home with song and love

When Joseph, the firstborn son arrived
Buttons burst left and right
Then Mary came shortly thereafter
To be our family’s shining light

And although that sounds like quite a crew
Our parents weren’t done yet
Along came number seven, Eileen
The family’s poet laureate

Bill was the next little brother
Giving Joe some company
Oh, how we laughed when we heard him sing
“Oh, my baby.”

Bob came along five years after Bill
Adding one more boy
He was and always will be
Our family’s pride and joy

Although today we gather to grieve the loss
Of our sister, Patricia, so dear
We know if she could she would tell us
To carry on and not to fear

So even though we’ll never be the same
And we’ll miss her terribly
The important thing to remember is
We’re still a family

Finally, I’d like to share a poem with a message that I think Patricia would echo:

Feel Joy
By Liz Hoffmeister

If you can,
Feel joy for me.
Feel joy.
I’ve gone where I most long to be.
Feel joy.
In every babe’s face that you see
From here on out,
See me and thee.
And if you can,
Oh, if you can,
Feel joy with me.


Give the kids a kiss for me
And say hello to the family
Tell ‘em all my future’s lookin’ bright
Well, I miss ‘em, but I’m doin’ all right
I said I miss ‘em, but I’m doin all right.

I’m All Right ~ recorded by Jo Dee Messina

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” ~ Romans 8:18

Mother and Daughter: Together Again

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Patricia's Story

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, He rescues those who are
crushed in spirit.” ~ Psalm 34:18 (NLT)

Nine Minus One
By Eileen Umbehr

Nine minus one
I don’t like that equation
Nine minus one isn’t right
We’re a family
And families always stay together
“Patricia’s lost,” Keen said.
I wanted to physically push the words back -
Back through the air to where they came from.
“We lost our Patricia today,” Nikki said.
“Why did you tell me that, Daddy?” Caitlyn asked.
Kyle cried. Right before his birthday.
We all cried.
We cried together.
And now we cry again
As a family of eight
Instead of nine
Five girls and three boys just isn’t right
Our circle is lopsided now
Without our Patricia
Nine minus one
Nine minus one

Will we ever get used to this?

I’d like to begin by thanking everyone who sent cards, letters, emails and even flowers – all expressions of sympathy to me and my family after the unexpected death of my sister, Patricia. Every word, thought and prayer has touched my heart. Thank you so much for letting me know that you cared.

“. . . weep with those who weep.”
~Romans 12:15b (NKJV)

This note from my dear friend, Scott, was very special to me:

“Accept the heartache you feel, and cry the tears that come naturally. It is the balm of these tears that begins to heal the broken heart. As long as there is still a twinge of memory in your heart, Patricia will live on. As long as her life's story is told in your column, she will live in the hearts and minds of countless people. When I think of the loved ones I've lost, I remember this quote: "Some people think we're made of flesh and blood and bone. Scientists say we're made of atoms. But I think we are made of stories. When we die, that's what people remember, the stories of our lives and the stories that we told." --Ruth Stratton
Hang in there, my friend. Cry for Patricia, and never, ever stop telling her story.”

This week I’d like to share some of “Patricia’s story” with you, as told through the words of those who knew her best and loved her most.

From Connie, Patricia’s sister:

“Her quick wit made her such fun to be around. Her laugh was contagious . . . I think I’ll be able to hear her laugh, see her laughing, always ….”

From Amy, Patricia’s niece:

She hated to be in front of the camera. She wanted to be behind it. She wanted to be snapping pictures of Connor's funny faces. She wanted to catch me with my hand on the back of my swim-suit, after a nose dive onto the sand. She wanted to say "Get closer together! Zach! Lean in!" – as the cousins laughed, and tried to hold photogenic smiles. She wanted to create collages, calendars, greeting cards – each bearing a bit of her heart – a bit of her spirit, joy and passion in each photograph. She wanted to be outside her home, taking the most fantastic pictures of birds, of green fields, of the people she lived for. The people she lived for. . . .
It makes my head reel and hurt and my fingers go numb, grabbing tissue after tissue after tissue to soak up tears, to soak up memories, to soak up the muffled sound of my mother saying "...Patricia..." into my dad's shoulder.

From Nikki, Patricia’s partner, in a letter to friends and family:

“We are all crying a lot and laughing a lot and sitting quietly a lot. (It is Semanta Santa weekend, the biggest holiday in Mexico, so we have to wait until Monday to do paperwork.) More friends and family have arrived and are continuing to arrive and I am grateful for that. Our Patricia was so loved! And the outpouring of love has been incredible.

The reality of the permanence has not scratched the surface. What everyone knows, without a doubt is that Patricia died while laughing, without pain, and surrounded by people who loved her and the Sea. As Diana said, Patricia’s hand is on all our hearts, helping us. We are so sad and so blessed.”

From Roxy, a dear friend of Nikki & Patricia:

Patricia would always be so choosy when she took a picture. She always had to take it from just the right angle so it looked its best. I think she did the same with all of us. She saw us with all our flaws and quirks, strengths and weaknesses, then chose to look at us at just the right angle. Seeing us as special and talented, wonderful and witty in a way no one else could.

From Joanne, Patricia’s sister:

Patricia, Patty, Patty Paprika
My sister and friend
As children and women
Memories, laughter, crocodile tears
Too few years
To know and love you
And though I know you’re
“Dancing with the Angels”
How my heart will miss you
My sister, my friend
Joanne, Janny, Jan

From Patricia’s niece, Melissa (excerpt of poem by Melissa & her fiancĂ©, Mark)

She’ll surely be missed, today and every day
But we find comfort knowing, she’s just a thought away
And that’s thanks to her pictures, smile, and wonderful memories, too
I know she’ll keep snapping photos from her heavenly view
I understand one of her last pictures, was of the sunset and its beautiful ray
Fitting, I guess, because it will come up again to start a new day.

All of these memories were printed in the program for Patricia’s funeral mass in Minnesota on April 2nd. Our sister Peggy, who was only 18 months older than Patricia, shared several memories under the following subheadings: “The Artist” (Patricia drew balloons on the wall with her name written in the middle of them, but denied any involvement), “The Gardner” (Peggy & Patricia picked a “bouquet” of poison ivy for our mother), “The Traveler” (she once “escaped” from the house to the playground, and she loved to travel as an adult), “Team Player” (they would be in charge of babysitting their seven siblings and would consult about who should get a checkmark by their names), “Musician” (she loved to play the viola as a child and the recorder as an adult), “The Walker” (they would walk to Our Lady of Grace School in Edina, Minnesota, and Patricia continued to enjoy hiking), “The Navigator” (Patricia learned to read a map at an early age so she could sit by our Dad on long trips, instead of being crammed in the back of the station wagon with the rest of us), and lastly, “The Listener.”

Peggy concluded: “Patricia was more than her talents and abilities. She had a heart and soul alive with love. May she continue to shine that light of love upon us all.”
From Joe, Patricia’s brother:

We will miss her beyond what words can say. However, I believe her spirit is now with us all, and we will never truly be without her. I think Josh Groban’s song, You Raise Me Up,” says it very well: “I am strong when I am on your shoulders; “You raise me up to more than I can be.” Patricia has raised us up, all of us.

I hope and pray that Patricia will experience in eternal life what she has shared with us in her earthly life: God’s great strength, eternal peace, and immense joy.

Peace, Patricia.

“…we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord.”

~ II Corinthians 5:6b (NLT)

Our Patricia, 2004

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Premature Passing

"The Lord’s loved ones are precious to him; it grieves him when they die.”
~ Psalm 116:15 (NLT)

I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don’t let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories

I Will Remember You ~ recorded by Sarah McLachlan

On March 23, 2005, my life changed forever. I was working on book revisions at our house in Manhattan when I heard the doorbell ring. “I’ll ignore it,” I thought. Then I heard knocking on the back door. Perhaps it was our next door neighbor. “Who is it?” I asked. The voice on the other side of the door answered: “It’s Keen.” I wondered what he was doing in Manhattan when I had just talked to him on the phone two hours earlier.

When I opened the door I saw a look on his face that I hope to never see again. Following right behind Keen was our son Kirk and his friend, Sam, wearing the same somber look on their faces. My mind began racing through all the dreaded possibilities as I struggled to imagine what horrible thing happened that they had to tell me face-to-face.

“It’s your sister, Patricia,” Keen said. “She was swimming in the ocean in Mexico….They tried to save her but there was nothing they could do. I’m so sorry.”

The awful news was more than I could bear to hear, comprehend, process or accept. I sobbed. Keen hugged me. I hugged Kirk. After the initial shock wore off, Keen helped me gather up my things so he could drive me home and Kirk and Sam drove the other car back to Alma.

The next couple of days are a blur. The only thing I could focus on was going through photo albums and pulling out pictures of Patricia. Then I scanned them into the computer and called Gordon Schmid from Council Grove to see if he could help me create a DVD. Unfortunately, he wasn’t available. But with the help of God and my son, Kirk, we figured out how to use a basic DVD program that came with my computer. The result was a collection of pictures of Patricia which played to the music of Sarah McLachlan’s song, “I Will Remember You.”

As anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows, the grief is unbearable – whether the death is sudden, like Patricia’s, or the result of a prolonged illness, like my mother’s. Either way, you never really “get over” the void left by their absence. Our family will never be the same.

Patricia and her partner, Nikki, along with several other friends, were vacationing at the Pueblo Bonito Resort in Mazatlan, Mexico, when Patricia was stricken with what we now know was a brain aneurism. She had been complaining of headaches for several weeks, but apparently her doctor didn’t think there was any cause for concern.

Patricia was an avid photographer who especially enjoyed capturing the beauty of nature. The night before she died, Patricia took the most beautiful picture of the sunset over Mazatlan, which she later downloaded to her computer and titled, “What I came for.” That night, she and Nikki and all their friends sat around and talked and laughed for two solid hours. Afterwards, the conversation turned more reflective and several people around the table told Patricia how much she meant to them and what a difference she had made in their life.

Here is Nikki’s explanation of what happened on the following day:

“Caroline, Bev and Patricia were playing in the surf...moments before she slipped into the sea Patricia laughed and said—“Isn´t it amazing how being in the water makes us feel like little children again?” Patricia was full of joy at that moment – bouncing in the waves and laughing with her friends. They laughed and played in the waves for a long time. Bev and Caroline turned away for only seconds and when they turned back Patricia was floating on her back. They thought she was playing--Patricia liked to float. Then a wave turned her over and they realized she wasn’t playing. They carried her to the beach calling for help but there was nothing that could be done. The doctor said Patricia died quickly without suffering of a brain aneurism. It is so hard to believe that someone could be so full of life one moment and gone in the next breath. . . .”

Nikki later told us that several people on the beach gathered around Patricia to pray for her, along with a “woman in white” who had a calming presence and who comforted Patricia’s anxious friends. Then the woman said to Nikki: “You have to let go; she’s gone to be with God now. All you can do is pray.”

Grief is such a painful and difficult emotion. Two days after Patricia died Keen made supper and set the table for four since Kirk’s girlfriend, Loretta, was joining us. When I came to the table, I couldn’t even look at the food, much less eat it. “You’ll have to excuse me,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll be very good company tonight.”

When I went to our bedroom and closed the door, I could hear the conversation and even laughter coming from the kitchen. Then I heard the television playing. It didn’t seem right that I was drowning in grief and they were carrying on as if nothing happened. So I called my sister Connie and we cried together. Connie is an RN who works in hospice care, so she has had a lot of experience with death and dying. “How can they eat? How can they laugh? Don’t they know my sister died? Show some respect!”

“I know, I know. It hurts,” Connie replied in a soft, soothing voice – almost a whisper. “But thank God you can cry, because you need to cry. You need to get it out.”

"If you suppress grief too much it can well redouble." –Moliere

Then Connie played the most beautiful, comforting song for me over the phone. The song is titled, “With Hope.” It was written and recorded by Steven Curtis Chapman.

With Hope

This is not at all
How we thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you've gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you

But we can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
There's a place where we'll see your face again
We’ll see your face again

Never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God's plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father smile and say well done
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
'Cause now you're home
And now you're free

So we can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope

There's a place … by God's grace
There's a place where we'll see your face again

We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope

“Now also we would not have you ignorant, brethren, about those who fall asleep [in death], that you may not grieve [for them], as the rest do who have no hope [beyond the grave]. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep [in death].”
~ I Thessalonians 4:13,14

Patricia's Last Sunset

Thursday, April 07, 2005

A Day in the Life of a Trashman (Part II)

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” ~ II Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)

January 21, 1994
Journal Excerpt
(continued from last week)

On Tuesday, Keen and our loyal employee, Jimmy Hinck, began the difficult task of picking up the towns of Harveyville and Eskridge in our small truck. This involved multiple trips back and forth to the landfill in Alma. Afterwards, Keen and Jimmy decided to go to Flint Hills Foods to borrow a hoist so that they could remove the old engine from big truck for repairs. Well, there was a tragic accident. Keen was pulling the engine hoist on a trailer behind his pickup truck and Jimmy was walking alongside of the trailer to keep the hoist steady, when all of a sudden the hoist fell over, pinning Jimmy to the ground and breaking his back!

Jimmy is going to have surgery on Monday. Keen is praying so hard for him. When he called and heard Jimmy’s weak voice, he cried. He feels terrible. He keeps seeing Jimmy’s face and it’s just tearing him up inside. Jimmy has been one of our best employees ever. He is so dependable and enthusiastic. He actually does cartwheels between stops. He’s always talking about how fun his job is and how much he enjoys working for Keen. We are just devastated that this has happened to him.

Thank the Lord that we have worker’s compensation so Jimmy will receive a portion of what he normally gets paid from us and all of his medical expenses will be covered. He also works part time for Flint Hills Foods and they have a disability policy that will pay him $100 a month. It’s not much, but it helps. It’s just so tragic.

So on Tuesday after he got all of Eskridge and Harveyville picked up, he was headed for Alta Vista when he stopped on the road to pick up a customer’s trash. Just then Norma Conrad was driving by, so she pulled over to see if Keen was having trouble. She told him she was sorry about Jimmy and the truck. “Just remember that things are going to get better,” she said. Somehow those words of encouragement really boosted Keen’s spirits. Just the night before in the trash truck, Keen and I both agreed that despite the chaos and panic all around us, we both had this underlying peace that everything was going to be okay. It was a weird sensation – sort of like looking at the waves and the storm and just knowing that somehow you were going to make it through.

“Peace I leave with you; My own peace I now give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid - stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.” ~ John 14:27 (Amplified)

We just found out that our new truck is an automatic, so that means I could drive on residential days, [Tuesdays and Wednesdays], and Keen could throw the trash. Since Jimmy is in the hospital, we need a new driver. Plus, this would be another way to save money and make it easier to make our loan payment to the bank. God had that truck all picked out and prepared for us.

That night we returned home around 10:30 to find a note from Josh on our bedroom door. It read, “Mark Shumaker called and he wants you to call him no matter how late it is – even if it’s 11:00. He wants to help you on the trash truck tomorrow. He demanded that you call him so he can know what time to meet you at the shop.”

When I read that note I cried like a baby. It touched my heart so much that we had a friend who was willing to help us in our time of need. When Keen called him back, Mark told him that they so appreciated the way we made them feel welcome in this community. Now he wanted to do something for us. I just felt so touched. We don’t have many friends, but the ones we do have are more precious than gold.

It turned out to be a real gift from God to have Mark help, because if he hadn’t gone, then I was going to drive for Keen. So this way I was able to stay home and work on securing the financing we needed for our truck. I ended up being on the phone all day. Then the sooner we got it approved, the sooner Armor Equipment would put men on it nearly round the clock so it could be ready for us to pick up by Friday.

January 25, 1994

To pick up where I left off – we had applied for a loan at the Alta Vista State Bank and they approved our loan at 8% interest! This is the bank that has loaned us the money we’ve needed for everything we’ve ever done as far as business goes. So the wheels were really turning now.
It was Keen’s idea to ask Armor Equipment to provide two plane tickets and a hotel room and they agreed. Their men worked on it until 2:00 a.m. to get it done and it was ready to roll by 9:30 on Friday. (Grandma May’s birthday)

Keen and I were so excited with the truck – it was a gift from God. Everything was new and it all worked right. I drove it for two hours just to get my feet wet and did pretty well. We talked all the way back from St. Louis and marveled at how God worked everything out for us. Oh, to have a working truck! It’s all so amazing. We are in awe.

“I sought for the Lord...and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. Many evils confront the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” ~ Psalms 34:4

Tomorrow will be my first day on the job. Keen said, “The idea of going to work with my wife is so intriguing to me. I can talk to you on the route now, instead of these other guys. I mean, we got married because we love each other. All we’ve ever wanted was just to be together and now we can!” He likes the idea of having coffee with me in the morning while the truck is warming up. He’s really excited. Of course, I’m a little less excited; I guess you could say I’m apprehensive.

When I was driving the truck home from St. Louis he said, “I’m proud to be able to show the world that my wife is multi-talented. She can be a Memphis belle when she wants to be; she’s an accountant, a lawyer, a mother, a housewife and now she’s a truck driver.” He’s so sweet and he makes me feel so loved. He also gives me the confidence to believe that I can do anything.
So even though last week was probably the darkest and bleakest week of our life, the end result was the purchase of this truck that will make our life so much more efficient in the long run. God knew we needed it and He also knew we wouldn’t have purchased it unless our old truck had a total breakdown. Since we seem to barely make it financially as it is, we never would have willingly taken on the added responsibility of a large truck payment. In a way, I guess we were forced into this purchase, but now we’re glad we were.

So I conclude that many times life’s greatest joys are born from life’s greatest agonies. That’s why we should never give up. It’s like Job – he never quit believing in the goodness of God and in the end, God showed Job he was right. God will never, ever fail His children – no matter how bleak things may look at times.

“…be satisfied with your present circumstances and with what you have; for He Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake you nor let you down, relax My hold on you. Assuredly not!" ~ Hebrews 13:5 (Amplified)

Keen & Eileen with new trash truck
Photo by Refugio Garcia