Prairie View

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Faith Becomes Sight

This event happened within the last few hours before my mother died.  For some reason I don't understand completely, the marvel of it didn't sink in for me until more than a week after that.  When it did, I found it a great comfort.  It involved our family friend Jayapradha, from India.  She now lives in the United States.

Jayapradha has loved my parents ever since she first met them about 44 years ago, and they have had sporadic contact.  If you're a longtime blog reader you may remember the story of when she and her neurosurgeon-in-training son spent Christmas with our family several years ago.  They stayed in the home of my sister Lois and her family.  Jayapradha and Lois talk on the phone several times a month, on average.

As a young girl, Jaya came to know and love Jesus when He appeared to her and introduced Himself. She endured a great deal of suffering as she began to follow Him, to the distress of her Hindu family.  Through her others also came to know Jesus.  After about ten years of ministry in India, at the age of 16 she first came to U.S.  It was on that trip that she visited in our home and ate at our table and spoke to a small group of church friends on a weekday evening.

Later she married a fine Christian Indian man and they had two sons.  When the boys were still young, their father died of brain cancer.  Jayapradha has since married an American man.  Her parents are Christians now.

Jaya knows many things only because the Holy Spirit reveals them to her.  The first time she was to speak to an audience in the United States, she spoke in English, despite never having studied or learned English.  Repeatedly, on the phone, when Lois has begun to describe a situation she'd like Jayapradha to pray about, Jaya will talk and pray aloud, mentioning accurate details that Lois hasn't told her.  She has explained simply that sometimes "I see things because God shows them to me."  On the way home from the hospital, when Lois called to tell her that Mom had died, Jaya already knew, although no one had notified her.  When Mom had unexplained bleeding after her heart surgery, Jaya told Lois that she will be alright, and she was.

Before Mom died, Jaya had called and talked to Lois first and then asked to talk to Dad.  At that time, she wished to talk to Mom, but it didn't work out, since members of the family were individually telling Mom goodbye.  It was after she had died that she told Lois that she had seen God taking Mom into heaven's Holy of Holies.  She also said, "I saw the Savior and the angels welcoming her, and the angels were really, really happy."

In 1971, when Mom cooked up that delicious meal of Indian rice and curry for Jayapradha and the Holdeman family who brought her to see us, who would have thought that all these years later, in a sad time of parting, that same young slip of a girl would be "with us"  to bring sight to our faith?  The Savior and the happy angels welcoming Mom. . . it would surely have been true, whether or not human eyes had glimpsed this.  To have the great gift of this comfort from God is a real treasure.  Praise God!


A Bright Spot for a Sober Subject

Because I wish all the parents of our students could have been at our parent-teacher's meeting last night, and because even if you're not a parent of one or more of our students, you might benefit, I'm going to do something of a blow-by-blow retelling of what we heard.  Mark N., our school board chairman, delivered the message.  In general terms, it was about the need to keep secular culture from becoming part of Christian School culture.

Much of this will be directly from my notes, in sound-bite form.  Many "quotes" will have minor editing to compensate for my truncated note-taking or to explain what I understood to be the intended meaning.

--It's comparatively easy to observe and even to manage a problem, but not easy to bring about definitive change.

--Bringing about definitive change is complicated by the fact that it often takes effort from more than one person to effect change.

--The word "gapiose" is a homemade word that means a gap of undetermined (and perhaps indefinable) size.  This word was used late in the presentation to refer to the space between secular and Christian culture.

--Hebrews 11:9 tells us that Abraham (a God-follower) was a stranger in a foreign country (among people who did not follow God).  Christians are strangers in the world of secular culture.

--Secular and Christian cultures do not run parallel, but run counter to each other.

--Children typically engage the world around them primarily with their eyes and ears.  To what extent can our children engage with the culture without becoming assimilated?

--We can't live like natives [in a secular culture] and be an alien at the same time [citizen of the heavenly country].

--We must be on guard against the possibility of our children becoming assimilated into secular culture.

--Please don't let your children come to school and contribute to popular [secular] culture.  In such a situation, the weaker creature becomes a victim of the stronger.  In effect, the less informed are made to feel less "with it" than those who are highly informed--regarding secular culture.  (This was a temporary shift to a second-person focus.)

--Our school should never be the place where secular and sacred cultures compete.

--Our community can benefit from the synergistic effect of families, schools, and churches working together [to support efforts to nurture a Christian culture and to resist being assimilated by secular culture].


Mark named movies, secular music, and sports as elements of popular culture that students sometimes seem to have too much access to.  He reminded us that not having radio or TV in our homes represents a very insignificant means of control if we exercise no restraint in the use of the internet via cell phones or otherwise--where all the same things can be accessed.

In a timely reference to impending events, Mark referenced the Superbowl as an element of popular culture.


I endorse Mark's message, and heard in it many things that I have said or written myself.  I can't remember that much was said about video games--another time-wasting, critical-thinking-killing black-hole preoccupation.

I wished to hear from the parents gathered there what they would like for teachers to do who listen in on promotion of secular culture among students, but I didn't ask.  I probably hear less of it than if I hadn't taken some decisive measures to curb it in the past.

I liked hearing what Paul H. said about providing interesting and useful activities for children to engage in alongside their parents as a way of combating the tendency for children to get sucked into less worthwhile activities.  That's something that homeschooling parents and maybe "farmer parents" usually "get," but I'm not sure that nearly all parents of classroom-schooled children do.  So it was really nice to hear from someone who does.

Even if parents of classroom-schooled students do "get it," they often feel that their hands are tied because they feel that "being supportive" of school efforts demands that schoolwork trumps family-planned activities.  I'm sure that some students are not above using school obligations in an unwarranted way--as a ticket to freedom from onerous household chores, etc., and some teachers do not act mindfully regarding what they require of students, so this is not entirely a parent-created problem.

Another parent wondered aloud if even the tiniest signal from a parent--with reference to popular culture--is not often magnified by a child when it's retold among peers.  I can easily believe this, given what I know about the dynamics of peer pressure.


For the parent-teacher meeting we spent most of the evening around tables decorated with a Kansas'-birthday theme--154 years ago on Jan. 29.  On a cold, rainy evening, the inside space was bright with sunflowers and golden wheat bouquets, thanks to some of the grade school teachers who pulled it together.  We started with hot drinks and continued after Mark's talk with carry-in finger foods.  Discussion continued around the tables over snacks.  I feel sorry for those of you who missed it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Match, A Fuse, and Dynamite

I know this blog seems stuck on a single subject, of late, but I plead a need to keep processing, thereby getting ready to move on to other subjects.

Another overwhelming impression I have from my mother's funeral is that an amazing number of people will drop whatever their busy lives involve to attend the funeral of someone whom they knew and loved or were related to or who was related to or loved by someone they know.  Others who are unable to attend will go to great lengths to show how much they care.  This outpouring of caring is not easy to understand but is so easy to be thankful for.

I'm going to attempt to list here some of the people who came, mostly for my own benefit, and in the interest of preserving a memory.  No one will ever know if you skip reading any farther, and you're welcome to do so.  Those who see errors or omissions, please feel free to speak up.

My mother was a Beachy who grew up in Iowa.  She came from a family of ten children and was number eight in the family.     Surviving are an older brother and sister and a younger brother and sister.  All of them were able to come for the funeral, although traveling was not easy for all of them.
Mom's older brother Joe and his wife Mary (who is Dad's sister) came from Iowa.  Their sons Landon and Kenneth also came from there.  Another son Lloyd came from Canada, and a fourth son, Ellis, came from Alabama.  On a recent trip, Mary suffered both a stroke and a heart attack, but did not seem much the worse for either of those health problems.

Mom's younger brother Jesse and wife Ruth came from Gladys, VA.  Their daughter, Esther, and husband Richard Bowman traveled with them.  Richard had spent a summer working here at Miller Seed about 30 years ago, and many of us remember him from that time.  Ruth was a friend of my mother's before she was a sister-in-law.  She grew up in northern Indiana, with family at Woodlawn.  I think she was a Bontrager.

Mom's older sister Fannie Jane Miller came from Florida.  Her son Harold (Harry) came from Texas and her only daughter Lillian came from California.  Fannie Jane's husband died some time ago.  Harry is a pastor and works with hospice as a grief counselor.  Who knew?  Another son lives near our son in Asia.  Aunt Fannie Jane traveled with Dad's brother Mahlon and wife Fannie from Florida.  They had gone there to spend the winter.  All three of them had wheelchair service in the airports en route, and the wheelchair attendants were thoroughly confused by the two Fannie Millers they were to transport-until Fannie Jane helpfully spoke up and provided a middle name.

Mom's younger sister, Esther Zook came from Iowa.  She is a widow, and most of her children also came.  Larry and his wife Jewel and their two children and Jason and one of his sons, and Ella Jean Walker all came from the Kalona area.  Leon and Emma Zook came from their home in western Iowa with their family.  Aunt Esther's daughter Joyce and her husband Jerold (sp?) Martin came from South Carolina.

Cousin Ellen and husband Don Gingerich represented  my Uncle Ray's family.  They came from Stover, Mo.  We have visited in their home, and visited our friend Eunice Officer nearby several times before we discovered how close Ellen lived to her.  Don and Ellen came to help celebrate  my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 2000, and visited here again last summer.  We appreciate their interest very much.

From Uncle Glen's family, came six of my first cousins:  Ruth, Roy, Alvin, and Timothy Beachy.  Two of their married sisters also came, Anna Mae and Mary Sue.  Anna Mae's husband Clayton and daughter Lois also came along.  These cousins of mine are also cousins to the grown children in the Alvin Yoder family, so they hosted some of these relatives.

Mom had three remaining siblings, John, Earl, and Jonas.  A wedding among Earl's descendants and a funeral in Jonas' family prevented most of the people from these families attending.  John's descendants who live in Iowa were from the church where the deceased man attended, so they were not inclined to leave at such a time.  The deceased man had five siblings who are married into Uncle Jonas' family, so they didn't come either.  Victor Kauffman, who lived with us for some time but now lives in Missouri, represented Earl's family, when many of the others had gone to the wedding in Pennsylvania.

So there you have the Beachy relatives' attendance summary.  The count stands at 42, by my calculations.


At the small gathering for family before the funeral, my uncle Jesse shared a saying his brothers used to repeat among themselves about their sisters.  They called Esther the match, Mary, the fuse, and Fannie, the dynamite.  While Esther's and Mary's personality and role might be just a trifle ambiguous from this, no one will miss the implications of Fannie's designation.  Now, at the age of 91, she still shows evidence of that childhood identity.

Fannie provided many an entertaining moment over the time of the funeral, but early in the following week she became quite ill with Influenza, Type B.  She had been staying at the home of her cousin Lena (married to Vernon Miller).  It was clear that she would not be able to travel back to Florida on Wednesday with Mahlon and Fannie, and she moved instead to Marvin and Lois' house to finish recovering.  Late in the week, Lois took her to the doctor, who diagnosed the problem.  We were all relieved it wasn't pneumonia, which her deep cough made us fearful of.

Present plans are for Marvin and Lois to accompany her to Florida this coming Wednesday, a week later than originally planned.  The doctor thinks she should be able to manage that travel if this illness takes its normal course.


I never realized until the time over Mom's funeral that she was precisely 4 1/2 years younger than Fannie and 4 1/2 years older than Esther.  The oldest in the family were boys, and brothers were interspersed between the sisters on either side of Mom in the family.  Esther is the youngest.


Another revelation for me was something Myron picked up on more than I ever did--that Mom probably always felt some longing for Iowa, even after being away from there for 64 years.  Except for one very short time period--a year, perhaps--when her sister Esther lived in Kansas, she never again lived near her sisters.  Her brother Joe lived in Kansas a short time after he married a Kansas girl, but they moved to Iowa after that time.  Jesse moved away from Iowa relatively early in his marriage, and John did so late in life.  Fannie moved to Florida after their children were all gone from home.  Otherwise, most of the family lived and died in Iowa.

We always marveled at the diversity in Mom's family regarding church affiliation.  Two of them were in a "Nationwide" (Non-conference conservative) group, two were Old Order Amish, and two were "Sunnyside" (Conference Conservative).  Otherwise, no two of them attended the same church.  Mom was the only "Beachy" in this Beachy family.  Mom's parents, however, were among the people in Iowa who took a keen interest in the movement that eventually birthed the Beachy church, and attended a "missions" meeting in Kalona shortly before my parents' wedding.  People from here attended also, and I heard Willie Wagler refer to that meeting as a pivotal event in establishing what eventually became the Beachy church.  My grandparents stayed Old Order.

On a side note, I remember my mother saying that Dad was asked to be moderator at that meeting in Iowa.  The bishop who was to marry my parents (Will Yoder?), however, counseled him not to do so, and he refrained.  It's not clear to me whether the minister gave that counsel based on his own reservations about the wisdom of the direction this might take people (I didn't get that impression) or whether he feared that it would arouse concern from others.  Further randomness:  My impression is that the Amish in Iowa who stayed Amish actually became more insular after this, and less open to change and reaching out to others beyond themselves.  In 1950, the Amish in Iowa and Kansas had a lot in common.

Making a home in Kansas could not have been helped by the fact that the early years of Mom's living here coincided with very disagreeable and extreme summer weather.  As Myron described it, she  must have felt that she had left Eden for the Great American Desert.

I'll have to write another post on the people who came for the funeral, as I didn't nearly make it all the way around.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

By Heart

Picking away piecemeal at the copious harvest of emotions, memories, and impressions after my mother's death doesn't seem quite right, as if momentous occasions call for momentous expressions.  I can't manage grand expressions though right now, and I realize I may never be able to do so.  So I'll settle for what comes to mind, banal as it is.

One overwhelming impression I have is the blessing of song--with profound words, with accessible music, sung often and learned by heart.  That impression was driven home for me on the last two days of Mom's life especially.  All of us who could get there gathered in Mom's hospital room for Sunday afternoon and evening and again on Monday afternoon and evening.  We didn't sing all the time, but we sang a lot.  No one had thought to bring along song books, so it was all from memory.

Our family is all over the map when it comes to natural musical ability, but my siblings and I all had the privilege of singing regularly as we were growing up, and we all got better at it as we got older, thanks to some good examples, good teachers, and lots of participation.  Each of these singing experiences allowed a deposit in our "song bank," and made possible those hours of constant withdrawals around our mother's deathbed.  Our spouses and children added their voices to the  mix and helped make the songs ring.

As we sang, I didn't always travel back in memory to the time and place where I learned the songs we sang, but I did enough of that to resolve to do what I can to raise awareness of how significant these "forgettable" singing experiences can be.   Songs can carry you through some of the darkest times in life, and treating singing opportunities as the treasures that they are makes good sense.

Some of the songs we sang came from songbooks we have used as hymnals in our church services.  Church and Sunday School Hymnal was the first English songbook I remember using.  "Glory Gates" came from that book.  The next one was Church Hymnal.  "Lift Your Glad Voices" came from there." Within the past year or two we have purchased Hymns of the Church.  Many songs we sang came from all of these books.

When I was in grades seven and eight in school, we sang from Songs of the Church for devotions.  At least one song we sang came from that book.  How's that for a public school singing experience?  We were blessed by  having my uncle Perry as our teacher and principal.  "Sunset and Evening Star" came from that book.

At Calvary Bible School we used first the Christian Hymnal and then Christian Hymnary.  I think we sometimes also used Gospel Choir.  Choir was a daily activity there.

At our Sunday evening youth singings we used a variety of songbooks, usually whatever the host suggested, and we sang for an hour.  These included Songs That Live, which was used at Messiah Bible School at one time, Favorites, some books from the Inspiration Series, and many of the above hymn books.  In recent years, Songs of Faith and Praise has sometimes been used, as has Mennonite Hymnal.

We often sang a song or two during family devotions.  Sometimes they were children's songs, but often at least one hymn was included.

Students who attend Pilgrim Christian Schools learn many songs there, although I'm not aware that any specific hymnals are used regularly in the classroom.  I never attended Pilgrim, but some of my younger siblings did.

Notably absent from my personal repertoire of songs-by-heart are songs I've learned from recordings or from live concerts.  I won't bother to explain or defend that--only to point out that modest ability and regular participation in group singing really are sufficient preparation for times when no words seem right and some expression is called for.  

I hope the people growing up now don't neglect to include lots of singing investments in this time of their lives.  Needing to sing around the bedside of a dying parent is only one of the times that hymns by heart offer a rewarding return on those investments.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Funeral Video

This is the video recording of my mother's funeral.

Our son Shane is the soloist and song leader, and the first ensemble is the Anonymous Somebodies singing group, with Hannah and Christy Miller substituting for Heidi (Kuepfer) Overholt.  Shane, Crystal Y., John M., and Willard M. (singing bass on Shane's solo) are the others in the first ensemble.  The group singing during the viewing is another mixed ensemble.

My brother Ronald reads the tribute, and my cousin Gary moderates the service and reads the obituary.  Dwight (married to cousin Karen) has the opening meditation and David Y. has the message.

Aaron Mast is the videographer.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


This is the text of the tribute my brother Ronald read at Mom's funeral.  My brother Myron and I worked together in writing it, with input from my sister Linda.  We were all pretty sure it was longer than usual (and maybe longer than it should have been), but we decided to go with it anyway.  Thank you for indulging us.  Those who were with us at the funeral, either in person or electronically, already heard what is given here.  I regret that I can't seem to fix some of the formatting issues.

A Tribute—Memories of Mom

We wish to give thanks publicly for the rich legacy our mother left us, by this means giving glory to God Who created her, directed and sustained her, and has now received her to Himself. In looking through old pictures and in remembering, we have retrieved a picture we’d like to share here, especially for those who learned to know her only in recent years.

Mom’s roots grew deep in rich Iowa soil where she spent her growing up years. She walked or sledded downhill to Evergreen school a half-mile away and also attended the German school her father taught every winter. Others tell us that Mom was an excellent student and a fast runner during her school years. She learned from her mother how to make things grow, Her mother also showed her where to find horseradish roots along the roadsides and how to harvest edible mushrooms on their farm. Mom always kept a bit of Iowa in her heart. On the day before she entered the hospital for the last time, she attended the Christmas service and her face registered delight and recognition when Alta, her age-mate and cousin from Iowa spoke to her. She was the only person to elicit that kind of response that day.

During World War II, five of Mom’s brothers left home on assignment from the United States government in Civilian Public Service. It was on a visit to a CPS camp in Dennison, Iowa with her parents when Dad first met Mom. His cousin had discouraging news, however, when Dad inquired about Mom. The competition was stiff, and he was unlikely to succeed in winning her. Thankfully the cousin had misjudged the situation.

After she turned 21, Mom served for a time as cook at Brooklane Farm, a Mennonite mental health care facility in Hagerstown, Maryland. During that time Dad was in Virginia as a student at Eastern Mennonite College, so they were able to get together occasionally. It’s hard to say which was more unusual for Amish young people during those days–young women working voluntarily in the mental health field, or young men attending college.

In August of 1950 Mom undertook a major transition by marrying Dad and moving to Kansas. By October of 1954, life had handed her a number of significant challenges. Kansas was suffering from devastating heat and drought. Mom remembered that the dishes she took out of the cupboards felt hot to the touch. Dad had transitioned from earning a living as a teacher to working as a farmer. At the age of 27 he had been ordained as a minister. Mom and Dad had three daughters ages three and under. More followed in rapid succession. As she adjusted to life in Kansas and life as a wife and mother, she developed friendships with the women among her in-laws and age-mates, and looked up to women like Lydia Yoder and Mary Martha Miller–mothers just older than Mom.

Over the next several decades, parenting, homemaking and hospitality occupied center stage in her daily activities. She did her parenting alone whenever her husband was away in church and community work, for three weeks at a time whenever Dad was teaching at Calvary Bible School. Early on, she taught her daughters to work alongside her in doing household tasks, gardening, and hosting guests. The older children helped care for the younger ones. “Marshaling the forces” is how she often referred to the project of harnessing her offspring’s energies constructively.

Practicing hospitality was one of Mom's most consistent character traits, whether cooking an impromptu meal for out of state relatives, her children's peers or college friends, or visiting ministers and colleagues of Dad. None demonstrates it better than the time she found several men walking west of Partridge along Trail West Rd who, having recently crossed our southern border in search of work, were now very hungry. Mom knew what to do when people were hungry. You feed them. Though 
they could barely communicate, Mom had them get into her car, drove them to the house and cooked them a sumptuous meal. They were strangers and she took them in.

Mom had a strong practical bent and tried her hand at various things. When the light switch in the bedroom needed to be replaced, she did it herself. When the screened-in front porch needed an upgrade, she enclosed it herself. Early summer mornings found her patrolling her huge vegetable garden, setting up irrigation and planning how to “marshal the forces” after breakfast. She learned how to make coverings for the girls as well as suits for the boys and found a way to learn whatever else she needed to know. Linda remembers Mom often being very specific in honoring the various people who taught her what she had learned.

Picnics and camping in nearby locations were usually Mom’s idea, as was the purchase of a large station wagon to carry the whole family to Colorado for a week of vacationing in a campground lodge. The Colorado trip happened just before Linda left home for the first time. It was the only out-of-state family vacation we ever took, though there were out-of-state trips to visit relatives or to accompany Dad when he traveled for church or board related work.

During the last part of the busy years of raising a family, Mom enjoyed teaching Sunday School, especially after she and Dad attended a Dale Carnegie course together, where she had the opportunity to practice making short speeches. One of her classmates introduced her once as “one of our best speakers.”

In later years, when Mom finally had time for flower gardening, she often learned the botanical names of flowers and used those names as easily as the common ones. Her vegetable garden often included a novel item like broomcorn or cotton or comfrey. Her cooking included variety and artistry. Pecan pies had one carefully-placed pecan half topping each piece of pie, and potato salad was sometimes garnished with geometric designs composed of hardboiled egg whites and yolks mashed separately, and radish flowers with parsley leaves.

Mom read the Hutchinson News and Time faithfully, at least in later years, but never developed a Budget reading habit. World affairs interested her, as did issues related to the environment, health, and ethics. Mom appreciated nature as demonstrated by the fact that she ordered both a simple field guide to Kansas flowers and Kansas birds at a time when money was hard to come by and our reading was mostly from periodicals, or from the school or church library.

Mom loved her freedom in the sense that she did not want to be enslaved by any habits. After having learned to enjoy drinking coffee and reading the comics, she stopped indulging in either of them after concluding that she was in danger of needing them too much. In later years, she started drinking coffee again on Sunday mornings to help her stay awake in church. We all smiled to ourselves in recent years when she had trouble keeping track of the days, but frequently inquired if today was Sunday, hoping that it might be a coffee day. In recent months she once wondered aloud whether she was giving her coffee maker too much vacation. The comics habit stayed permanently banished.

Mom didn't neatly fit into boxes. Most of her life was characterized by simplicity. Plain was good and
personal ostentation was a clear indication of misplaced values. Yet her flower gardens were
characterized by a riot of extravagant color and Mom surely reveled in their beauty.

Mom believed in discipline but told a daughter-in-law upon the birth of her firstborn when discussing child rearing that there are plenty of occasions for “no.” Try to use no sparingly and yes whenever possible. She allowed her children to pursue learning and service opportunities with a spirit of optimism and parental blessing.

Mom warned against living life in reaction to persons, words, circumstances, or disappointments.
When life is lived in reaction, whatever you react to controls you. Reflect and respond instead with
what is best, what is right, what is true.

Mom liked to say, “they that compare themselves among themselves, are not wise.” She wanted us to remember that there is a higher, more reliable standard than peers and others' personal agendas.

Mom was no slave to public opinion and she did not lay the public opinion yoke on her children. We
never heard “what will people think?” as a consideration for determining our own course. Yet Mom
was deeply loyal personally to group sensibilities developed over decades or even centuries of time and really loved seeing her children embrace those same sensibilities.

Mom prayed without ceasing. It was not uncommon to see her kneeling beside her bed. Her prayers at family devotions were seldom petitions for favor from God. Typically, they were prayers that God
would act in the world to set things right. Be they struggles her children were having, someone
rejecting God, someone suffering from illness or accident, or world problems such as war and
poverty, she implored God to intervene. But we heard little of requests for having things a little easier.  We know that she prayed earnestly for all of us, as we often heard her do so.

Mom liked interesting words, and freely mixed English words into Pennsylvania German syntax and sentences. As her mind began to fade, she began to use her advanced vocabulary more freely. A group of grandsons walking past the window, BB guns in hand, were not just little boys out hunting, but “a contingent of marauders.” Thinking about the day ahead did not involve asking “What’s up?” but “What does the day portend?” She looked out her south windows at home and was disappointed that she wasn’t seeing anything “arresting.” A variety of vegetables on her plate made “a colorful repast.” After she heard a series of emails read aloud regarding dad’s condition after surgery, she summarized it by saying “Quite a litany.” During the past year when she was asked if she could finish her grape juice, she said, “No. I’m satiated.” When Linda once asked if she was awake, she said, “Just about.” Recently, after Rhoda tucked her in one night, she prayed this prayer, “Please keep watch over us tonight and keep tabs on our situation.”

Heart surgery at the age of 80 allowed Mom to experience several more years of good health. A gradual decline set in after those years, however, and Mom and all of us had to adjust to accumulating losses. Dad and Linda were often the ones to compensate for these losses most directly, and the rest of us are deeply grateful for the kindness and respect with which they did this. In the final weeks, her doctors and the staff at the hospital in Lyons provided excellent care, a welcoming atmosphere for family involvement, and as good a setting for her home-going as we could have wished for. We were able to say farewell individually and privately, to sing and pray and eat meals freely together in the spacious hospital room (to which Mom was taken on Sunday at noon). Nurses came and went as needed, serving all of us unselfishly and wiping tears with us. It was the nurses who called our Monday evening meal together “The Last Supper.”

Some time ago Mom announced that she doesn’t like to look in the mirror at all anymore because all she sees is an old woman. Early in 2013 she asked, “How many days did we live today?” And then she promptly added, “It just seems like we did so many things.” Advancing age and busy lives both emphasize our need for the watchful eye of God to “keep tabs on our situation.” Today, we believe that Mom is no longer tempted to avoid mirrors or cram several day’s worth of activity into one, and, in the presence of God, she is certain that God has tabs on her situation, and on ours.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Nitty-Gritty Details

A livestream of Mom's funeral can be accessed at

The funeral is at 10:00 on Saturday morning, and calling hours are on Friday from 2-4 and 6-8--all at Center Amish Mennonite Church, 7611 W. Morgan Ave., Hutchinson.

The temperature on that day is expected to reach the low fifties, with sunshine.  I'm hoping that the blustery winds that are also predicted will hold off till after the burial.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Plan Your Mother's Funeral

Start with a copy of a form to be filled out.  If you're lucky, this will have been distributed ahead of the family funeral-planning meeting.  If you're even more fortunate, the funeral director for your congregation is one of your siblings, and this process can be expedited because of that.  Or not.  In our family's case, not.  We feel far too free to weigh in with our highly varied and heavily-weighted opinions in the presence of a family funeral director.  We are careful, however, not to reveal too much of this in the presence of Gwen, the highly competent and wholly appropriate funeral home representative present for the first part of the meeting.  There was, however, that bunny trail about her last name . . . (sounds like something healthy and herbal--Oh yeah.  Comfrey.  Almost like Gumfory.  I think she forgave us.)

Warn all of your family not to embark on bunny trails, just ahead of your own foray down a bunny trail.

Speak in wildly ironic terms that elicit belly laughs from everyone around the planning table.  Refer to Mom's penchant for seeking luxury and ease and suggest that her name might just as well have been Mary Epicurean Miller as Mary Elizabeth Miller.

Look at pictures of Mom when she was younger and talk about how beautiful she was.  Remark that she looked a lot like Liz-Taylor-beautiful cousin Ella, Mom's niece.  Ask "Dad, did you marry her for her looks?   How was her eyesight when you got married?"  Dad has the good sense to laugh about this dig regarding the relative merits of their appearance and the fact that she definitely was the winner in this contest--which of course was never a contest at all.  Mom would have been horrified if anyone had ever had the terrible judgement to suggest such a thing in her presence.

Entertain many novel ideas about how a funeral could be done.  Discuss them thoroughly.  Consider holding out for one or more of them but decide against it.   Eventually discard nearly all of the novel ideas and return to the original tried and true, staid and solid, comforting and compelling traditions of our faith community at such times.

Try to figure out how best to put to use all those wonderful minister friends who plan to come for the funeral.  Search for the schedule one of the local ministers regularly emails to certain selected individuals to see who would be displaced in the schedule if a visiting minister preached on Sunday.  Note that some home ministers are scheduled to speak elsewhere on that Sunday.  Call this practice "prophet sharing" instead of pulpit exchange.

Decide on a photo to put in the paper, after overruling the dissenters who thought the studio photo from 1988 was better (true, of course, but there were those big glasses, and it was too different from how anyone born since then ever saw her).  Extract Mom's image from the picture cousin Marland took on July 27, 2006 when he brought his mother Fannie (Mom's sister) from Florida to Iowa.  Then Mom traveled there too where they all were raised, and Mom, Fannie, and Aunt Esther were all together for the first time in many years.

Make phone calls to verify that the oldest grandson from each family will be able to attend and can serve as casket bearer--except for Joel, who we miss terribly right now.

If you have a smartphone, read aloud some of the messages from friends who heard about Mom's death and let us know they cared.  Turn on the phone speaker when Jan calls from the Netherlands.  He drives a tour bus that Myron and Marvin have utilized when they led travel tours to Europe.

Hear about various people who plan to travel here for the funeral and marvel at the effort they're willing to put forth to do so.

Lament the poor manners of those who stay for the funeral meal and take seconds before everyone has been served.  Experiment with wording for an announcement warning against doing this.  More belly laughs.

Reflect on the fact that this is not how you expected the funeral planning to be.  Remember those tears in the hospital room and alone at home and accept the fact that at such a highly emotional time, the emotions may be highly varied.  Remember also that Mom would have joined right in on the belly laughs in her better days, as Dad does now.

Breathe a sigh of relief when the form is filled out.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Gone Home

Tonight my mother traveled from earth to glory--a little before 8:15.  Her respirations had diminished throughout the day from 20 to 11 per minute, and then, with no apparent disturbance of any kind, she simply waited a very long time to breathe, took one or two more breaths, and they were the last ones.
At the hospice nurse's suggestion, some of the absent family members called in and we put the phone to Mom's ear while they gave Mom their final messages.  Each of us present took our turn alone in the room one final time with Mom.  She could not respond, and we don't know for sure what she heard, but I believe she knew she was loved and cared for.   She might have heard us sing one song after another--several dozen of us there in that large room.  I don't know if I'll be able to sing those hymns again without a memory of having sung them today.

About an hour before Mom died I had reached Joel by phone, and he had a chance to "talk" to his grandmother.  He was her first grandchild.  Grant and Clare came just a few minutes before 8:15.  Shane had spent several hours there during the afternoon and evening, but had left before she died.

With three high-school-age nephews in tow, I hurried away from school around 2:30 today after I got a call saying things were changing, and it was time to come.  I had planned to leave anyway about that time, having made arrangements to hand off my typing class for the day.

One of the griefs of this time is the fact that my brother Marcus cannot be present with us.  He is incarcerated.  He was very loyal toward Mom, and was quick to offer the gift of his presence when others were grieving.  I know Mom's passing must be very difficult for him.  We're praying that he finds comfort by opening his heart to the God of all Comfort.  We had a time of prayer for him together today.  We had hoped that he might be able to make a phone call to Mom, but it didn't happen.

I'm going to bed tonight with some sense of relief.  I feel other emotions as well, but this is the one I will give thanks for now.  The prayers of many who have remembered us to the Father are very much appreciated.


One day during the past week when Mom seemed restless, Lois asked her what she needed.  "I need to go home," Mom said.

When Lois told her that we had plans to bring her home on Wednesday of this week, she responded with a big smile.  As far as I know she never mentioned it again, but for that brief moment when she wanted that more than anything, I think she could almost feel it.  And now I know she feels the pleasure of being at home, and it's better than she imagined.  

My Mother--Still in Transition

On Saturday evening, our DLM family huddled over pizza to put a caregiving schedule in place in anticipation of Mom's coming "home" on Wednesday of this week.

Yesterday the doctor said she doesn't think we'll need to make a decision on whether or not Mom comes home on Wednesday, although she made it clear that if we believed there was benefit in taking her home, we were certainly free to do so.  She is no longer able to swallow, and the IVs have been discontinued.

Mom is being given relaxants and morphine by mouth (in small, easily orally-absorbable amounts), and she is on oxygen.  Her eyes are closed, except for tiny slits of blue eyes visible occasionally, and there are small movements of her head, hands, or feet.  We believe she is able to hear us at these times, and she's making all the response she is capable of.

As late as Friday she was feeding herself and eating well, and was aware and somewhat conversant.  On Saturday, she needed to be fed, and seemed much less aware of her surroundings.  That night was not a good night, and she could hardly be aroused by the nurses.

Yesterday, they moved Mom to the "comfort room," a large, well-equipped room for people who gather to be present at the end of life for a patient.  The hospital kitchen sent a pitcher of iced tea, a thermos of coffee, and a big plate of cookies.  Lois plugged in a crockpot of soup, and food from several baskets brought by well-wishers let us nibble as hunger prompted us.

Local family members gathered to be together and tell Mom "I love you" and goodbye.  Most of us came after lunch and stayed through evening.  Dad, Lois, Dorcas, Heidi, and Hannah stayed through the night.

There were no major changes during the night, although her respirations have slowed somewhat.

One blessing of the recent developments is that Lowell's decision about whether or not to go to Central America has been simplified.  They're staying home for now.

As everyone knows who has experienced something similar, you're pretty sure you don't know how to do this right, but you keep working at getting it right nonetheless, and rely heavily on the grace and mercy of God and the kindness and support of praying people to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And you thank God often for the hope of heaven.    

Friday, January 09, 2015

Quote for the Day 1/9/2015

In today's typing class, during break--

First Student (voluntarily reading aloud from Life's Little Instruction Book:  511 Reminders for a Happy and Rewarding Life*):
 Never become part of a church if they have padded pews and are planning to build a gym.

Second Student:  Oh my word,  that's us.

Third Student:  Don't let Mrs. I see that.  We'll never get our gym.

Me:  As if I'm the one that gets to decide . . . 


The book named here is published by Abercrombie & Fitch and has become a surprise hit among the ninth graders in typing class--probably because it provides multiple opportunities for lively arguments, ahem, discussions .  It's written from a decidedly non-religious perspective, but has the kind of common sense advice most fathers would be happy to see their sons follow.  It began, in fact, as the jottings of a father who presented it to his son when the son left home for college.  

My boys were vastly amused when I originally brought the book home from wherever I had spied it at a thrift store or garage sale.  They obviously knew a lot more about Abercrombie & Fitch than I did.  

Today the student reading aloud from the little book was bored with the Scrabble game and was seeking diversion.  I think more interesting snippets are in store.

A Grandma Chuckle

My niece, Maria B. posted this on Facebook, and my sister Lois also reported it in an email:

"I hope if I ever get dementia I'll be as sweet and unintentionally hilarious as my grandmother.
Nurse: Do you need anything?
Grandma: Yes.
Nurse: What do you need?
Grandma: Another blanket.
Nurse: Are you cold?
Grandma: Yes.
Nurse: Is this a recent development?
Grandma: Yes.
Nurse: When did it start?
Grandma: In October"

High-school-student-language alert:  I literally LOLed.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

An Update on Mom

This is an update on  my mother's condition.  She is still in the hospital, and the doctor expects to dismiss her mid-week, next week.  She will likely be released to in-home hospice care in Partridge, with family members providing as much care as we can manage.

While the initial infections seem to be abating, the side effects from the antibiotics have not gone away, the most obvious being skin infections, rashes, etc.  These cause her discomfort.  

She has had one very lucid day this week, in which she was able to take a good deal of pleasure in the presence of her two daughters who traveled from a distance to see her, along with granddaughters they brought with them.  At other times, she has been conversant and cognizant of who was with her and helping her.  These developments are a cherished gift.  With a lot of help, she has moved into a chair occasionally, and even walked a few steps several times.  Walking is something we did not expect her to be able to do.  In some of these ways, she seems better than she was when she arrived at the hospital.

The doctor has cautioned us, however, by saying that she is not really better than she was when she arrived at the hospital; she is worse.  From my non-professional perspective it seems that he is referring to her longevity and prospects for long-term improvement rather than more superficial indicators.  Yesterday he gave us a piece of information that provides further context for his cautionary comments.

Every morning, the doctor has gotten a Complete Blood Count reading.  Her white blood cell count has climbed steadily, and is now quite high.  Usually, at this reading, a person is very ill and has a high fever.  Mom's temperature is only slightly elevated, if elevated at all.  This makes the doctor suspect that she has a mild case of leukemia.  Definitive diagnosis is not his goal or ours, given the arduous process that would entail.  The doctor believes that this condition, whatever it is, is not more likely to shorten her life than some of the other health compromises that she has.

We're grateful, again, for a doctor who is on the same page as we are in relation to end-of-life issues.

One surprising benefit of being at the Lyons Hospital is that the person we're working with in making arrangements for Mom's care after dismissal is Evelyn Wagler Sauer, who is the daughter of my dad's lifelong friend and co-minister, Willie Wagler.  She's a great help.

A complication of planning for Mom's care at home is that Lowell and Judy have plans to leave for about four weeks.  That would leave us minus a significant part of our care-giving force here.  They have tickets to fly to Costa Rica this coming Monday to spend time caring for Judy's parents, and to visit Judy's brother Pablo's family in Nicaragua.   We're all praying for them to know whether they should change their plans, and invite you to join us.   An Arenal reunion (for the first Beachy group that settled in Costa Rica), loss of ticket money, a need in Costa Rica, and a normal winter slow-down in Lowell's farming and building activities are all in favor of leaving the travel plans as they are.  A care-giving need here and uncertainty about what the next four weeks will hold make it difficult to decide to leave.

Thanks to those of you who are taking an interest in our family's journey.  We appreciate it.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Coming Home or Going Home

It's been a week now since Mom was admitted to the hospital.  She is still there, and not doing nearly as well as she was this past Sunday.  At that time the UTI seemed to be resolving, and with adequate hydration, she was more alert and had more strength than she had for a week or so before then.

Within the next few days she showed symptoms consistent with Clostridium difficile overgrowth (C-diff), which tests have not confirmed, however.  This sometimes develops after people have been on antibiotics--a case of killing off good bacteria with the bad, and then leaving a few surviving "baddies" to grow unchecked, without the good guys to run interference.  Not everyone is sure that the test is completely accurate--a possibility the doctor acknowledged yesterday.

Yesterday her UTI was back again, along with pneumonia in her lower left lung lobe, and the IV antibiotics were started again.  Her breathing is somewhat labored, and her irregular (and fast) heart rate continues.  She has some edema in her hands and feet, probably from the heart not keeping up with all its circulatory duties.

Her blood oxygen numbers are good.  That's a blessing.  Today again she ate well--another blessing.

The steep declines we saw yesterday seem arrested.  Overall, however, her condition has not improved to how it was on Sunday of this past week. The goal of being dismissed as soon as she can walk to the bathroom with a walker, which seemed realistic last Sunday, seems very unlikely to happen, at this point.

In spite of significant losses because of dementia, my mother has a sweet demeanor and is as cooperative as she knows how to be--another blessing.  My sister, Linda, who is her main care-giver, often asks Mom "would you  like ___________?" and Mom usually responds with either an affirmative or negative answer, except when it comes to taking a drink.  Then it's usually, "Mom, I'd like for you to take a drink."  She doesn't say much anymore at any time, but since she's been in the hospital, she said "Thanks for coming" once, and another time she said "Thanks for your support."  These glimpses of cognition and appropriate verbalization are really good to see and hear.

We're all very happy to hear that my sister Dorcas and her family are en route to Kansas from their home in North Carolina.  Bill is an experienced nurse and Dorcas is a newly certified nurse's aid--both very helpful kinds of expertise for the needs in the family.

Matthew and Clara hope to come soon from Ohio, but Matthew has his own health crisis to deal with.  He's scheduled for a chemo treatment on Monday.

It's hard to know at this point whether it's homecoming or home-going we should be preparing for.  Either way, this hospital stay seems like the beginning of a transition to some new realities.   Your prayers on our behalf are appreciated.


Tomorrow is the funeral of Irma Hodgson, my brother-in-law Roberto's mother, who died at the age of 91.  She lived in the DC area.

If her life story were written, it would make interesting reading.  She married an African American who was from Bluefield, an island off the coast of Nicaragua that had at one time been populated by people of British descent who were slaveholders.  Roberto's father spoke English only until after he married a Latina and learned to speak Spanish.  The children grew up in Nicaragua, and suffered through the turmoil of the Sandinista years.  A doctor grandson was coerced into treating wounded fighters, knowing that if the other side ever learned of it, he would become a target for that side.  The doctor's father was shot randomly while riding his motorcycle one day, and never again had the use of his lower limbs because of a spinal injury.  He died several years ago in Nicaragua.

First Irma's daughter Elsa came to Christian faith, and then one by one, other members of the family did so also.  Gradually, most of them found their way to the US, and took up careers here.  Roberto, the youngest in the family, became a pastor and now is the Nazarene church's denominational director for Hispanic congregations in the US--about 1,000 of them.  Elsa works in a bank and Elena has a very responsible position in an office.  (I think I'm remembering this right.)  The US is a better place because of these immigrants, but these immigrants are in a better place than many native-born Americans because of the power of God to change lives.

Irma was always a feisty lady, and in recent weeks she  had fallen and broken her wrist, and was quite inconvenienced by the injury.  After that she simply refused to eat and gradually faded away.  Right after Roberto and Carol returned from Nicaragua on Christmas Day, Roberto went to his mother the next day.  After he got there, she seemed to feel at peace about leaving, and she died on Tuesday.

That leaves my sister Carol much farther away right now than she usually is (she lives in the Kansas City area).  She had headed here for our family Christmas gathering when Roberto headed east, and ended up visiting Mom in the hospital before going home the next day, so she's been here recently. We'll all rest easier after she gets home again.