The footsteps faded, vanished. He shouted, no one answered. And
suddenly he knew that he had taken the wrong path, that he was lost.
And in his heart there was an immense and quiet sadness, and the
dark night of the enormous wood was all around him…
It’s no secret that I do not fully trust modern medicine. Never have, for lot of years. I don’t run to the doctor for every little cold, or every little injury. And when I say I don’t trust those people, I’m not talking about when you break an arm or a leg, or get all whacked up in some accident. I trust them to heal bones. But I don’t trust them to heal diseases, or conditions of the heart.
And yeah, you can go right ahead and call me a nut. I don’t care. But I believe for every pharmaceutical drug that’s been developed for any particular symptom, there is a natural equivalent out there, if you do the research. A natural equivalent that’s much cheaper, and way better for you. And that’s why I was so depressed and devastated, all those weeks ago, when I got released from the hospital after my heart operation. Well, they call it an ablation. Whatever. They went in there and they poked around and seared muscles and stuff. And when I came back up out of it, and got ready to be released, the doctor told me. They were putting me on a serious blood thinner, to keep my blood from clotting and giving me a stroke. A serious thinner, for the first few days, where I poked myself in the stomach with a needle and pushed the stuff in. Stuff that made it impossible for my blood to clot. But after that, it was on to the pills. And the drug they prescribed was a vile one. Coumadin. I’d have to take it once a day, every day, and always at the same time of day.
I was pretty bleary-eyed and bleary-minded, when the doctor unloaded the news on me that last morning just before Ben released me. And I remember telling him. I don’t want to be on that stuff for long. And he asked. “How long?” Not more than a month, I said. He looked extremely dubuious. It was depressing. And he said. “Well, we’ll see. I think it’s going to be a good bit longer than that.” I was too tired to mouth back at him. So I said nothing. All I wanted to do was get out of that place.
Coumadin is bad, bad, vile, evil stuff. It’s poison. And it depressed me, right down in all the way deep, to be sentenced to taking it every day. Because I knew what it was. And I knew I didn’t need it. Because I’ve been taking some natural stuff, for the past four years, or so. And I knew that natural stuff was way better than anything pharmaceutical. I knew it, because I saw it working, and I saw firsthand what it was and what it does.
It all happened back in 2010, early in the year. February. To my co-worker, David Hurst. We’ve called him Big Dave, among other nicknames. He’s not that tall. But he has a serious weight problem, because of some metabulism issues. He’s tried every diet out there. And he’s lost a few pounds, here and there, over the years. But he could never seem to get a real handle on the weight. And at that time, he was losing out, health-wise. He was having serious issues with his heart. Right around Valentine’s Day, he went to the hospital for a stress test. And while taking that stress test, the man had a real heart attack.
They rushed him to intensive care, and they stuck a stent into his heart. To keep his valves open. And he was home within a few days. And back to work a few days afer that, in his wheelchair. The doctors prescribed Plavix. A blood thinner. Dave did not get along well with the drug at all. It made his legs swell. And he felt bad, just bad, overall. We all could tell, those working with him. He was in pain. So the man went on the internet and began a process of exhaustive research. Something natural, that’s what he was looking for. And within a week or so, he decided on a product. Cardio Cocktail, I think it was called back then. Since then, the name has morphed into Cardio for Life.
He told us all about it, as he started taking it. Actually, he wouldn’t stop talking about it. I listened. I believe in natural vitamins. I’ve taken Dr. Schueltz’s Superfood for more than ten years now. I give that stuff all the credit in the world, for keeping me half healthy back in 2007, when my own world blew up. Cardio for Life was all natural, Dave claimed. It’ll clean out your veins and regrow your heart. Some of my coworkers rolled their eyes. I didn’t. I just watched. And Dave took the Cardio Cocktail religiously, three times a day. And right before our eyes, over the next few months, we saw the man heal his own heart.
I remember it clearly. He was in a wheelchair. And he’d trundle down past the counter, now and then, to use the restroom, right outside the door leading to the warehouse. And then one day, he asked me. I could see the bathroom door. He asked me if it was open. I said yes. And the next thing I knew, the man was walking down the counter, leaning onto it, as he headed out. He needed some support, to walk. But he was walking. And he went to the bathroom. And walked back out.
He kept claiming his heart feels real good. It was growing stronger. And soon enough, he became a dealer for the product he was using. He got a little machine, where you attach a metal wash pin to your finger. The machine takes your heart rate, and other measurements, and spits out a piece of paper. Tells in detail exactly what shape your heart is in. I took the test. My heart was pretty good, had just a bit of an off beat. But it was strong. And I decided at that time that I would take the Cardio stuff every day, once a day, in the morning when I got up. Just for maintenance. And so I began that program, back in 2010.
Dave’s heart was healed completely. It worked as he claimed it would. The Cardio for Life rebuilds the heart. And not only that, it cleans your veins of all the plaque. In the past four years, I’ve seen a whole lot of people with serious heart problems stop by to see Dave. And if they follow his instructions, their hearts always either improve or get cleared up completely. Always. I’ve seen it too many times to have a shred of a doubt about it. Dave always tells them, when they start taking the stuff. “If you have blocked veins, you’ll get itchy. That’s the plaque breaking loose. Don’t stop taking it. If you do, and that loose plaque is floating around, you could easily have a stroke.”
The Cardio for Life really works. It really does. I’ve seen it happen so often, I can’t tell you how often. I strongly recommend it to anyone. Anyone, doesn’t matter if your heart is strong or not. I give it all the credit that I was in as good shape as I was, when they operated on my heart, which had been beating wild for years. The Cardio keeps your blood from clotting. And that’s the biggest danger, when you have a wild heart like I had. That the blood will clot, and you’ll have a stroke. Mine didn’t. And I knew it wouldn’t after the operation. But there was no way I was gonna convince any doctor of that. So I never bothered to mention the Cardio for Life. When I got home from the hospital, though, I tripled my daily intake. I took it morning, noon, and night. Three times a day. Right along with those shots of whatever drug it was that I stuck into my own stomach. And when those were done, I took the Cardio right along with the Coumadin.
I’ve grumbled pretty savagely about it before. They shut me off from my Superfood. Because that stuff is made of concentrated green plants. All kinds of vitamins. And you can’t have the dark leaf vitamins, when you’re on Coumadin. I was pretty much emotionally shot, when I got back home. From the operation, and from a few other things going on. But the thing that depressed me the most was the Coumadin. It lurked there in the back of my mind, always. Pressed in on me like a heavy weight. Day and night. I was trapped. Trapped, with no way out. So I just hunkered down, kept slogging on through, and took it. Took the Coumadin, and kept right on taking my Cardio for Life.
And, of course, it didn’t help my state of mind any that I had to go in and get my blood checked every few days, those first few weeks. To make sure I was taking enough Coumadin. The Lancaster Heart Group has a clinic not far from my office, about fifteen minutes away. So on the appointed days, I headed over on my lunch break. Walked in. They were always friendly. And I was always cheerful to the nurses. It wasn’t their fault I was there. And it took only a few minutes. Sit down. She pricks the end of one of your fingers. Then draws blood into a tiny little glass tube. Then she places the blood on a tiny little measuring machine. And about a minute later, it flashes on the screen. 2.1 one day. 2.5 the next. Between 200 and 300, that’s where you need to be, they had told me.
I barely hit the 200 level on time, after the last needle had been stabbed into my stomach at home. I had to hit 200. And the next day, I did. Just. Right at 200. And always, on the drive back to the office, my cell phone rang. A call from the main Heart Group place, in Lancaster. “We evaluated where you are. Increase your Coumadin dosage to such and such.” They were always real bossy, the people who called to tell me what to do. I’m not talking about the regular nurses, or any of the people I met. I’m talking about the ones who made the follow-up calls. They were like some kind of “Nurse Ratched.” Yanking me around. They talked like there wasn’t any way they could be wrong. And I never argued with them. Never. I always increased the dosages, just like I was told to. But inside, I seethed.
It was like being in a prison. I can’t find any better way to describe that whole experience. I was caught. Trapped. Roped in. Tied down. And told what to do. By controlling, clinical people, mostly women. And all the while, I knew better. I knew the Cardio for Life was cleaning me out, clearing my veins. And keeping my blood from clotting, better than Coumadin ever can or will. But I could never say such a thing. I didn’t even think to try to tell them. They would label me a crackpot.
The Coumadin was just vicious. They told me. You can’t eat any real greens, you can’t eat Vitamin K. It causes blood clots. I knew all of it was way wrong, right from the start. But I never said much. Just grumbled a bit. And my body almost went into shock, when I went off the Superfood. Went off, cold. Just stopped taking it. Almost immediately, I caught a savage head and chest cold. There was nothing I could do, to fight it. The Coumadin beat back all my natural defenses. And there I was, all sick and miserable, with no recourse. It was all so maddening, and it almost drove me to despair. But I had determined that I would listen to what the doctors told me, at least short term. And I did. I don’t know if I would, again. I guess you have to, or the insurance people would freak out on you. That’s what I figured, anyway. It was all so brutal, the whole thing. And in my heart and head, I plotted to escape these people.
The Heart Group doctors would never take me off, from taking Coumadin. They’d pretty well insinuated that much already. They wouldn’t do it. And one Nurse Ratched came right out and told me I’d be on it for the rest of my life. They didn’t want the liability, if something bad happened after they released me. So I figured I’d have to find a doctor who would. A real MD, but one who believed in both natural and pharmaceutical treatment. I’m not hostile at pharmaceuticals for short-term “crutch” treatment. But long term, I am. You take one drug to treat the original symptoms, then another drug to counter the effects of the first one, and another to counter the effects of the second one, and so on and on and on. I knew there were doctors out there who would listen to me, when I told them about Cardio for Life. I knew there were. But how to find them?
I did some sleuthing, some research online. There were two doctors up north a ways. And one, down in Jersey. I talked to Dave about it, at the office. Do you think they’ll recognize what Cardio for Life is? Do you think they’ll help me get off this evil Coumadin? He didn’t know. But he gave me some backup liturature. And I determined that I would walk forward, one way or the other. I would escape from this madhouse. Escape from these Nurse Ratched people.
And then I heard from the wife of a good friend of mine. She had a real serious disease, stomach related. Ulcerative Colitis. And the doctors put her on pharmaceutical drugs. That didn’t work. Her face and her whole body swelled, and she was miserable. And she found a real MD, a “natural” doctor, right here in Lancaster County. In the city. He had a shabby office. She went in and told him what all was going on. And how miserable she was. She was sentenced to a lifetime of drugs, just to keep her going. And those drugs were most definitely not working. The doctor listened. And he took her on, as a patient. And over a very short period of time, he had her on a purely natural treatment. He took her off all her medications. Told her what and how to eat. Managed her diet. Today, she is happy and completely herself. Her face radiates her joy. She now lives completely free of all pharmaceutical drugs.
That’s the place I wanted to reach. A place like that. Where the Nurse Ratcheds of the world can never reach you, or boss you around. And I talked to her, my friend’s wife, a few weeks back. How do I get hold of this doctor? I’m going to go in and ask the Heart Group doctor to take me off Coumadin. You and I both know he never will. How do I get hold of your doctor? And she gave me his number, and told me. “You have to keep bugging them. They might not answer the phone. Leave a message. Tell them I told you to call them. They’ll get back to you. They’re way busy, and overbooked. But if you mention my name, I think they’ll take you in.” And right there it was. My backup plan, to get off Coumadin. Well, I just figured it was my up front plan. I knew I’d have to go that route.
And all the while, I humbly submitted to the Nurse Ratcheds. When they called to boss me around, I just took it. Increase your dosage. Two full pills, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. One and a half pills on all other days. It was all so very depressing, and there was no way to get out from under it. And I asked a Nurse Ratched, when the first bottle of pills got close to empty. What do I do? “You have three refills, on that order,” she snapped. “Just go in to your pharmacy. They’ll refill it.”
It didn’t happen that way, though. When the bottle got right down close to empty, I called in to CVS in New Holland. An automated voice instructed me. Punch in the code. So I did. And the automated voice came right back. You’ve used up your presription way too fast. It cannot be refilled.
And I raged and seethed inside. What the heck was this? I’m only following orders, from the Nurse Ratcheds. And now, I can’t get a refill? This is BS. The next morning, I called the Coumadin people. I need a refill. The lady was all cold. Call the refill hotline. She gave me the number. I called it. An automated voice answered. “State your name, date of birth, and your pharmacy. The prescription will be filled in two days.” Well, I didn’t have two days. I was almost on empty, here. And if this drug was as important as they claimed it was, someone had better step up. I called a Nurse Ratched, direct. I’m out, empty here. And she assured me. “Stop by the CVS tonight, and the order will be ready.”
It wasn’t. The CVS people looked at me strangely. And I told them. The order was supposed to be called in, today. I have half a pill, here. I’m supposed to take that half and one more. The pharmicist lady was very kind. “By law, we can give you three pills, just to hold you over,” she said. I took those and thanked her. Walked out, feeling pretty depressed. This is bondage. You get ordered around, and you get yanked around, and they don’t follow through. How important, how life and death can this actually be, when they yank you around like that?
The next day, I went to have my blood level checked again, over lunch. It was right where it should have been, at 2.3 or so. And sure enough, I had barely started back to the office, when my cell phone rang. A Nurse Ratched. “We need you to keep your daily dose just like it is,” she said. And I launched into her. I’m out of Coumadin, here. And the CVS people gave me three pills last night, just to get me through. What in the world is going on, here? Someone had told me the prescription would be ready. It wasn’t. How important is this all, anyway? Nurse Ratched seemed a bit subdued. “I’ll call you right back,” she said. And she did. Someone had placed the prescription order at their main pharmacy in Lancaster. I sputtered. I’m not in Lancaster. I’m in New Holland. I pick up my stuff at the CVS there. And she assured me that my Coumadin prescription would be ready at that CVS that evening. I thanked her and hung up.
It’s downright depressing, to walk into a pharmacy to pick up drugs. The CVS in New Holland is a real nice place, nearly new. The people are very friendly. What’s depressing is that huge rack on the wall. Stacked clear full, every shelf, with drug orders ready to be picked up. All stapled up and tagged in little white paper bags. It’s like everyone is on some sort of prescription. I’ve never paid much attention to details like that before. But I’ll bet that 80% of people over forty are on some sort of drugs. Just a wild guess, I have absolutely no factual basis for that number. But there’s something seriously wrong with any society where drugs are prescribed like candy. It’s a racket, is what it is. And I want no part of that racket. It’s all about control, really. Control, and money, too, of course. It’s about worship, too, about “God” speaking, about what you better do or not do. About how humbly you must approach the altar, and submit. I’m not saying it’s always like this, and I’m most definitely not saying there aren’t a lot of good and decent doctors out there. But way too often, the patient just accepts the doctor’s proclamations and prescriptions on blind and unquestioning faith.
I kept ingesting my daily dose of poison. And soon enough, the first bruises appeared. A small one, on my wrist. It came out of nowhere. And then a large blotch showed up on my stomach. A big bruise, probably three inches across. And they came to stay. They would not fade, and they would not leave. It freaked me out pretty seriously. There’s no way something that does such a thing to your body can be good for you. I felt bloated, like a tick that’s about to get popped.
And that’s the state of mind I was in, when Mom left us a few weeks back. The state of mind I was in, when I gathered with my family to bury her. I talked to Janice about it, as we traveled up to Aylmer. She was pretty horrified. “You have got to get off that stuff,” she said. I know, I said. But there’s no way the Heart Group doctors will ever do that. I have an appointment in late May, for a checkup. Janice wasn’t impressed. “Make an appointment, the second you get back home,” she told me. “If you need me to come and go along in with you, I’ll do that.” I promised her I’d make that appointment. And I told her I’d be fine, going in by myself. Thanks for the offer, though.
And that’s what I did, the next Monday morning after I got to work. Called the Heart Group people. The lady was real nice. I’m not getting along with my Coumadin, I told her. I’m not feeling well, and it’s bruising me. I want to see a doctor, and I want to get taken off this stuff. She fit me in for that Wednesday, after lunch. And as that day approached, I felt all pensive. It wasn’t going to work. I was convinced of that. But I might as well try. I had my backup plan. After lunch, I drove to the big gloomy Heart Group facility in Lancaster. Dave wished me well as I left the office. Pray for me, I said. I’m gonna need it.
I walked in and signed in. The receptionist told me where to go. I sat in the waiting room. Figured I’d be there for a while. But amazingly, right on time, a nurse called my name. She smiled and greeted me. I smiled back nervously. God. Give me the right words, to speak, I thought. When the doctor comes. She led me to a small side room. I sat down. She took my blood pressure, temperature, all the stuff they do. And she asked me a bunch of questions. She left, then, but soon popped back in, dragging some sort of machine. The doctor wanted an EKG test done. I lay flat on my back on the couch. And she hooked up all the wires on my chest and ankles. “It takes much longer to hook you up than the test takes,” she said, apologetically. Not a problem, I said. And then she did the test, and left the room. “The doctor will be in soon,” she said. Thank you, I said.
I sat there, waiting. And I remembered the last time I sat in a doctor’s office, waiting for the results of an EKG test. Back when I had the bloody eye. I shivered. And then the door opened, and the doctor stepped in. A younger guy, probably my age. I hadn’t seen him before. He smiled cheerfully and greeted me. And we just talked.
He asked how I’ve been doing. Real good, I said. Except this Coumadin is real bad stuff. It’s giving me bruises, and I don’t feel well at all. And then I looked at him. I want to be taken off all pharmaceutical blood thinners, I said. There. It was out. Amazingly, the man didn’t seem all shocked. He kept smiling at me. It was a surprised smile, but real. And then he waved the paper that held the test results. And then he spoke.
“Well, according to these results, I have some very good news for you.” I pretty much gaped at him. It was a dreary day, outside. But that second, my world exploded into a beautiful place of blue skies and sunshine. He had good news for me. That could only mean one thing.
He was very surprised. He tried not to act like it, but he was. And he told me. “When we went down your throat with a camera during the operation, we looked very closely at your heart. There was no evidence of any clotting whatsoever. Your heart was very weak, from beating so fast for so long. It was at about 25% strength. But when you came in for your first checkup, two weeks later, we did that echo-gram. And at that time, your heart was pretty much back to full strength.” I gaped at him some more. No one had ever mentioned that little fact to me before. Seems like someone could have called, with good news like that. But I wasn’t fussing. He continued. “From what I’m seeing on these EKG results, I see no reason to keep you on any blood thinners.” And just like that, I was released from the gulag. And from all those bossy Nurse Ratcheds.
I laughed. Joyfully. And thanked him. Now, am I gonna have to wean myself off this stuff, or what? He smiled. “Just stop taking it.” How about vitamins? I asked. Can I take my Superfood? “They won’t do you any good, but you can take all the vitamins you want,” he said. “You can eat any food you want, too.” I couldn’t believe it. And I asked him. That’s worth a high five. Will you give me one? He laughed. “As long as you don’t hug or kiss me,” he said. And we high-fived, my doctor and me, right there in that little room. I was almost in a daze. I simply could not believe what was happening. This was the most joyful day I had seen in a long time, certainly in the last few months.
He got all stern, then. “How’s your alcohol intake these days? How much are you drinking?” He asked. Doctors always think they have to scold you about stuff like that. I’ve cut back a good deal, I told him. I’m going to bed earlier. I’m sleeping better. He kept right on scolding. So I told him.
Look, I said. I like scotch. I write. Writers drink. (At least most of the ones I’ve found worth reading do, I thought. I didn’t say that, though.) Those are choices, things like that. And yeah, I know I was drinking way too heavy, back when my eye got all bloody like it did. I’d just got yanked around, pretty bad, by a woman. And it threw me for a loop. It was a bad choice, to drink like that. But it was a choice. It’s all choices, what we do.
“Well,” he said, all professional. “Too much alcohol could make your heart fibrillate. If that happens, I’ll have to put you back on Coumadin.” That was quite a threat. Spoken to make me shrivel and promise to do better. I just looked at him. I didn’t say it, but I thought it. Think again, my friend. You’re threatening to put me on your brand of poison, if I don’t stop taking a poison you don’t like. And your poison hurt me pretty bad in six short weeks. No, thanks. No doctor will ever put me on Coumadin again. Not ever, not if I can help it.
We were winding down. I had brought along a copy of my book, just in case. I reached into my briefcase and pulled it out. I want to give you something, I said. I showed it to him. The doctor was very surprised. He had no idea. And he got very excited. If you hadn’t taken me off the Coumadin, I wouldn’t have given it to you, I told him. He laughed. “It’s a good thing you didn’t show me that before. It might have been a strong bribe.” And I laughed. I signed it for him and handed it over. He thanked me profusely.
We shook hands. “Come back and see me in six months,” he said. I smiled. Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t, I thought. But I didn’t say it. He walked out. And I walked out of the room behind him. Walked out the front door of that gulag into the beautiful cloudy day. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve felt it all the way down, felt so deeply what freedom is.
A few closing thoughts on a few things. I’m not crowing that I’m all healed and heading on into a long and fruitful life. I don’t think that way. I’m intensely aware of my own mortality, and aware that my heart might give out at any time for any reason. Or that something else may go dreadfully wrong in a serious way. There is no promise of any tomorrow for any of us. I grasp that reality, way deeper than I ever have before. I am grateful every day, for for every breath of life. There is little doubt at all in my mind that Cardio for Life probably saved my life, these past few years. By keeping my blood from clotting. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Cardio for Life is what got me off the Coumadin. It strengthened my heart, almost back to full capacity. It kept my blood clean. The doctor tried not to act surprised, that day. But he was. I could have told him why. But I didn’t bother, because he wouldn’t have heard a word I said.
Dave is still selling Cardio for Life. He still has health issues. And he uses a wheelchair now, to get around, mostly because of pain in his legs. But his heart is strong. He moves a lot of that Cardio stuff. And he helps a lot of people. Here’s the link to his website, if you want to check it out. Look it over. Read the materials. I’m not telling anyone what to do. Make your own decisions. I’m not telling anyone to go off their meds unless it’s under the guidance of a real doctor. Most definitely, do not do that. But I’m telling you the stuff works.
Lately, I’ve done a little research on heart ablation, the procedure they did on me. And I am a little troubled by what I found. They didn’t sear just one muscle in my heart. They seared a whole bunch of them, like a jigsaw puzzle. And according to what I read, if you’ve had atrial flutter for as long as I had it, there’s a pretty decent chance it will return in some form, at some point down the road. I plan to keep a real close eye on things. And I can’t quite imagine that I’m ever gonna allow anyone to go in and sear any more of my heart muscles. There has to be a better way. There has to be a natural way. There simply has to be.
There is some artistic talent, scattered out there among my extended family. My sister Rhoda paints. Quite well. She’s totally self-taught. There’s some real musical talent, here and there. My nephew, Steven Marner, had his own grunge band for years. He’s as good with a guitar as anyone I’ve ever seen or heard. All that to say this. After Mom’s funeral, another nephew, Reuben Wagler, got a U Tube video together. The backdrop singing is an old Amish farewell song I often heard in church, growing up. These are real Amish people, singing at a real Amish church. Somehow, someone recorded it. It’s a beautiful and fitting tribute to Mom, from all the extended family. It always brings tears to my eyes, when I watch it. Thanks, Reuben, for creating a tribute for the ages.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For, those whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death,…
I don’t know how to even begin. So I’ll just start here. If you’ve been reading my stuff, you’ll know this much. Mom has been way under, these last three years, with that cruel and brutal curse that is Alzheimer’s. She hasn’t been here, with us. Not in any sense, really, except for the occasional twinge of coherence. She’s been totally out of it. Totally, in every way. Except her body clung to life. Stayed and lived and breathed. In the past year or so, her condition deteriorated, to where we thought she can’t get any lower, that it can’t be very long, now, until she is called home. It didn’t happen, though. Through it all, she still held on. Held on to life, and to this earth. It was such a brutal thing to see.
She’s been real sick, too, now and then. Not talking about the Alzheimer’s, here. She was sick with that, all the way through. That was her condition, her burden, the Alzheimer’s. I’m talking sick, as in having a fever, or some such thing. She’s been there, so often. And every time that happened, the news trickled out to the family. And every time that happened, we grasped for some small sense of hope. Hope that she could go, now. And we prayed that she would be released from all the pain, all the suffering that she could never tell us. We could see it, the state she was in. But she had no voice to tell us. So we simply prayed. That’s what you’re supposed to do, that’s what all the preachers tell you. Lord, take her this time. She has nothing left here. And we prayed that prayer without guilt. Who wouldn’t want their mother to be released from the senseless suffering of such a world?
And we’ve prayed and prayed, and prayed some more, these past few years. Prayed that she could go home, that she would be released from her misery, the dark night she was in. All to no avail, it seemed like, as the years came and slipped on by. I remember my last blog of 2012, where I wrote that I hope that 2013 would be the year that she could go. Well, it wasn’t. She was still right here, hanging on all strong, when 2014 rolled in. And it got to where I despaired of even asking God to take her. It seemed so futile to pray, and so utterly senseless that she remained. It just seemed useless, to believe that God even heard anything we asked of Him, when it came to Mom. We got pretty hardened to it all, the children. When you hear that Mom is sick, don’t get your hopes up. She’ll pull out of it all soon enough. That’s just the way it’s always been.
That’s the state of mind I was in, a few weeks ago, when the word came from up in Aylmer. Mom was sick again. They thought it was pretty serious, this time. Sure, I thought. It’s been serious every time. But this time, they said, it might be different. This time, she had the flu. A serious flu. High fever. That was serious enough. But this time, there was something more. She had the flu. She had a high fever. And she couldn’t cough. She had no strength to. I can’t imagine what that would be like, and I hope I never find out. But think about it. You’re lying there, in misery. And you can’t cough up the crap that’s building up inside you. That’s where Mom was. And I thought to myself. That’s a pretty cruel place to be. Lord, take her soon. Take her now. Please don’t allow her to suffer much.
And we stayed connected, the family, as that week closed in and swirled around us. Naomi had planned to travel up to Aylmer, anyway, to help take care of Mom. To give a bit of a breather to Rosemary and the others in the community. It is a huge thing, and a huge burden, to take care of someone in Mom’s condition at home. It’s a constant struggle, a tough road. Get her up. Put her back in bed. Feed her. Get her up again, for a few hours. And on and on, and over and over. Day after day, week after week. And as time rolls on, year after year.
Naomi arrived, and soon she let the rest of the family know. Mom was sinking. If anyone wanted to see her on this side of life, it would be good to come up now. I’m not sure of the sequence of events, of who decided to go, and when. By mid week, I think, Joseph and Iva headed up from their home in Kentucky. Joseph called me just before they left. “We’re going up,” he told me. “Are you coming?” And I told him. I’d settled it in my heart, last summer when I was there to see Dad. I would not go, in this situation. I told her good-bye then. So no, I said. I’m not coming. I’ll wait until she either passes, or gets better.
And every day, we heard the updates on the family chat line. Every day, that week, the message was the same. She’s sinking. But still, she’s hanging on. Thursday and Friday rolled around. Still she’s sinking. She hasn’t been able to take in any food or water since Wednesday. She probably won’t last the night. It was an extremely tense and troubled time, that week. Your emotions get yanked around, all over the place. Today her fever is better. And today it’s worse, again. After Wednesday, she could take in no food or water. In the state she was in, no food or water. God. Just take her. That was the prayer of all her children. And still she hung on. Her heart beat strong.
By Friday, the end seemed imminent. This time, she would go. Very soon. That night, probably. Steve called me. He and Wilma were heading out that afternoon. They’d arrive tomorrow, on Saturday. I wished him a safe trip. And told him I’d come when something happened. I’m not sure she won’t pull out of this yet, I said. And Steve agreed. “She might well. She always has before. But we’re going up, just in case.” Those are decisions we all have to make for ourselves, I said. By all means, go. Give my greetings to the others. Tell them I hope to see them soon.
And that day, that afternoon, I called my friends at Enterprise. Told the nice lady what was going on. I think I’ll need a car tomorrow. I won’t know for sure until then. Can you reserve me something? Of course she could. And that night, I pretty much figured I’d be heading out the next day. The tension inside grew and grew. I slept. Got up. No news. And by mid morning, the message was on the chat line. She’s still here. Sinking. But her heart seems real strong. It might go on for another few days. I groaned inside. And I stopped by to see the Enterprise people. Explained what was going on. We expect her to leave real soon. But I’m not heading up today. Can you just keep my reservation on hold for a few more days? Of course they would, they told me. The Enterprise people have always treated me right. I thanked them. And the weekend crawled along.
You only got one mother. And there’s all kinds of emotions involved, in letting her go when death comes calling. She can only leave once, like that. But in a sense, Mom had already left us long ago. First into the twilight, then into the sheer and brutal darkness that is Alzheimer’s. What do you do, when those opposing emotions collide? You want her to be released from all that pain and crap she’s going through. But your heart doesn’t want to release the woman who gave birth to you, the woman who brought you into this life.
That week, as she sank lower and lower, my emotions bounced all over. But the strongest one was a deep longing to see her released from this earth. Maybe I’m a bad son. I don’t know. But that’s what I felt, and I would bet that’s what all my siblings felt, too. It was just so frustrating, as each day came and went. Lord, please call her home to You. Please. And yet, He wouldn’t. Day after day after day, as she sank into a weaker and weaker place, her heart still beat, strong as ever. It was all pretty maddening.
Saturday crept by, then Sunday came. Again, the family message, this time from Joseph. “She’s still here this morning.” A pause. Then, “I don’t see how anyone in her condition can even be alive, at least not for long.” And that morning, in church, I talked to my pastor, Mark Potter. Told him of Mom’s condition. How she’s clinging on. And how we are praying for her release. Mark jotted down a few notes, and included my prayer in public that morning. He spoke Mom’s name. Her age. Her condition. “The family waits for the ugliness of death,” he said. Those were his words. The ugliness of death. Yeah, I thought. Yeah, it’s ugly. But what has her life been, these past few years, if not ugly, too?
And I told my friends at church how it was. They’ve all known. Still, we think it’s getting close, I said. We just don’t know. Pray that she’ll leave us soon. And all that day, no news. That night, I sat here at my computer, writing. And right out of nowhere, all at once, I just got real mad.
Pastor Mark has always preached. God is your Father. A father wants to hear what’s in your heart. If you’re not happy about something, if you’re angry about something that’s going on in your life, just tell Him. He wants to hear it. Tell Him. And that night, sitting here, I did just that.
I was pretty mad. And I let Him know that. I told Him. You are God. Why in the world are you keeping this poor woman here? She’s suffering, just as she’s been for years. What purpose can you possibly have, to let her linger and waste away like that? Come on. You can call her home anytime you’re of a mind to. Call her to you. Now. Tonight. Why, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s such a simple thing. Call her home. Take her to you. All it takes is one word from you, one breath of your command. Call her home. Now.
I slept fitfully that night. The next morning, I got up. It was Monday, April 28th, 2014. I immediately checked the messages. No news. Mom was still with us. I got ready and drove on over to work. And I remembered my talk with God the night before. And I remember exactly where I was driving when I muttered to God that morning on the road. Yeah, I’m still mad. You can take her home. Why don’t you? Just do it. Right now. And it turned out that pretty much right that moment, when I was muttering at God to hear me, He did.
I got to work, and parked. Walked in. It was only Rosita and Dave this morning. Andrew was out of town for the weekend, getting back that night. And they both asked. “Any news about your Mom?” Nope, I said. She’s real bad, and sinking. But her heart is strong. She’s still here with us. And just about then, a few minutes before seven, I heard the ping. A text. I’d been jumpy about those for days. I pulled out my iPhone. And there it was on the screen. A message from Steve.
Mom died at 6:42.
That was it. And I felt it rushing through me, a huge wave of relief, mixed with a whole lot of other emotions. She’s gone, I half shouted to the others. Mom is gone. She just died a few minutes ago. At 6:42.
What can you possibly remember about a moment like that? Or try to write? But I focused in. The next thing I needed to know, when is the funeral? They had told us, the Aylmer people. There was a wedding on Thursday. Weddings take precedence over funerals, as they should. So depending on when Mom passed, the funeral would be on Wednesday or on Friday. And it was getting real tight on a Monday morning, to have it on Wednesday. I texted Steve back. When is the funeral? And then I sat at my desk and tried to focus on my work. That was impossible, of course.
And my cell phone started ringing, right along. Rachel called. And Maggie. I’m not sure who all else. They got it decided pretty quick, up there in Aylmer. The funeral would be on Wednesday. The day after tomorrow. That’s not much time, to get up there. I fretted. I couldn’t just leave my work. There weren’t enough people to keep up. Ah, well. I called the Enterprise people again. Yes, the young man said. They had reserved my car. A compact. I asked, as always. Do you happen to have a Charger on the lot? “Actually, I do have one,” he answered. “A brand new black one.” Wow. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. A Charger. And a black one, yet. What better steed was there to ride to my mother’s funeral than that? I want it, I told him. “Not a problem at all,” he said. “It’ll be just a few more dollars a day, and we’ll treat you right.” Thanks so much, I said. I’ll be there soon after lunch to pick it up.
And I called Janice, too. A few years back, I had told her. When Mom dies, all the children will have someone with them. All of them are married, except Nathan. And he has a girlfriend, Juanita. She’ll be with him. I have no one. Will you come and walk with me, past the coffin? And Janice promised that she would. And now, this morning, we called back and forth. She was in Phoenix. She would fly in to Buffalo that night. I would drive to Buffalo and get a room. And we’d connect and drive out the next morning. It all seemed to be working out. I made a few calls to my builders, to tell them I was out for the week. Just to let them know, so they wouldn’t get frustrated if I didn’t return their calls. They were all sympathetic and wished me well.
And by 1 o’clock, I told Rosita and Dave. I’m leaving. Andrew will be back tomorrow morning. And Reuben said he’ll be here by mid afternoon. It was hard, to leave them loaded down at the office like that. But I simply had to leave, or I wouldn’t get to Buffalo until midnight. That wouldn’t be good for anyone. They wished me a safe trip, and I was off.
The Enterprise man was true to his word. He told me. They usually have limited miles in Canada. Above those, you pay by the mile. But he was waiving that requirement, since my mother had died, and all. I thanked him. He brought up the Charger, a beautiful gleaming black rocket of a beast. I got in and drove to my house to pack.
By 3, I was on the road. The Charger was gassed up and pulsed along silently. I can’t say enough good things about that car. One of these days, when I get a little more cosmopolitan in my ways, I’m gonna get me one of those. And my phone kept ringing, right along, as I was driving. Janice. She wasn’t going to get in until eleven, at Buffalo. And I mentioned it to her, that I figured to get to her motel. “Oh,” she said. “I have a lot of points saved up. Let me see if I can get you a room.” And she called back a bit later. She had booked a room at the Courtyard Marriott, right by the airport. The place where she was staying. “Just walk in and tell them your name,” she told me. “They’ll have a room for you.” I thanked her. We’ll connect tomorrow morning, I said.
And then Reuben called. My boss and cousin. “Thanks for hanging around at the office for as long as you did today,” he said. “I’m planning on coming up tomorrow, for the funeral. I’ll get there tomorrow evening, sometime. And I’m ordering you to use your company credit card for all your motel bills on this trip.” I stammered about that. Thanks. I would never expect such a thing. “When you’ve worked for a company for as many years as you have, the least we can do is pay for your lodging when you go to your mother’s funeral,” he said. I appreciate that, I told him. Like I said, it’s not something I would ever expect.
And right around 8:30, just as my GPS had claimed, I pulled into the Courtyard Marriott parking lot. Just a little over 5-1/2 hours from home, that’s how far Buffalo is from me. It was a very fancy place, the hotel. Large and new and gleaming. The nice lady checked me in, camo jacket and all. I almost brought no jacket of any kind with me. It was warm back home. But at the last minute, I threw the light camo jacket in, from my truck. It was the only coat of any kind I took. And I would come to regret that, big time.
I settled in my room, then walked down to the little Bistro in the lobby. Sat at the bar, and ordered a sandwich and a scotch. Janice had texted earlier. Her flight was delayed again. She wouldn’t be in until close to midnight. After relaxing with my food and drink, I walked back to my room. Tomorrow would be a different kind of day. A very different kind of day.
There had never been a death of any kind in my immediate family. Never. Dad and Mom had eleven children. From nine of those children came fifty-nine grandchildren. Those fifty-nine grandchildren so far have had ninety-eight great-grandchildren. And out of all those people, none have died. My family has never had any funeral of any kind, not to where the others would come. Sure, I think there were four or so stillbirths, along the way. But those don’t really count, because those stillborn children never lived or breathed. And that’s pretty astounding, any way you look at it. All those children, all those grandchildren, and all those great-grandchildren. And no funerals for any of them. It has to be some sort of record, I’m thinking. Or close to one.
And now a funeral was coming. As funerals should come. Children burying a parent. Not the other way around. It’s come close, to where it would have been the other way. Titus comes to mind, with his accident, back in 1982. He almost died. He would have, with another twenty or thirty seconds under the water. And he was wounded, very much so. But he didn’t die. Joseph got real sick, with his disease, too. He almost died a few months back, from pneumonia. And, of course, I’m just coming out of my own heart problems. I could have died. But none of us did. We all hung on. There never was a funeral before, not in my immediate family. Not a funeral for a real live person who had lived and breathed. That was all coming up real soon, though. Those are the thoughts I had, that night at the Courtyard Inn, while waiting for Janice to get there.
Janice got in real late. And I went to sleep, before she ever arrived. The next morning, we met, down at the Bistro. She was a bit groggy, and hungry. I ate some yogurt. She ordered French Toast, and gave me a slice. And then we were off, in the Charger. I had to gas up first, before we got into Canada. They charge crazy prices up there, for petrol. I told Janice. I can fill up here, and it’ll be enough to get us there and back.
We filled up, at a station. And then it was off, to the border. The rain started coming down, hard. The Charger took it all in stride, though. There’s no better car to drive through the rain than a Charger. And soon enough, we arrived at the border. A glum lady guard took our passports. “What are you doing in Canada?” She asked. Going to my Mom’s funeral, I said. She made no noises of condolence at all. Just handed back our passports, and waved us through. And then we were off, into the rain.
It was some of the craziest driving I’ve ever done. Traffic was heavy, all around. The rain came down hard, in sheets. You couldn’t see a thing, except the vehicle in front of you. I grumbled savagely to Janice. What is it, with these Canadian drivers? Driving through crap like this, and their lights are off. We dodged in and out and in and out. I wanted to move, to get there. The Charger was a real high class steed, I’ll say that again, because I can’t say it often enough. And we pushed our way along, in and out through the traffic, and on and on and on and on. And soon, Aylmer loomed. Our destination. The place where Mom was.
It was calming to me, as we approached the area. The flat earth. The little forests of trees, scattered here and there, on the land. This is the area where I grew up, I told Janice. This is the land I knew as a child. And we drove along, straight south. Aylmer was coming right up. And then we arrived. And headed right on west to St. Thomas and our motel. The rain came and subsided. St. Thomas finally was before us. And the Comfort Inn, where everyone was staying. We pulled in and parked. Other vehicles sat parked, from all over, looked like. We met some of my nieces and nephews from various places, all milling about, getting ready to head out to the farm where Mom was.
Thirty minutes later, Janice and I had changed into “funeral” clothes and were ready. I felt it stirring inside, the moment that was coming. Yeah, I had felt mostly relief when Mom passed. Huge relief that she’ll suffer no more on this earth. But now, now I was actually heading out to see her. It just felt very strange. This is a new place for me, I told Janice. “It’s a new place for all of us,” she said.
We arrived, out at Joe and Rosemary Gascho’s farm, where my parents have lived in their little Dawdy house for the past few years. We parked over to the south of the house in a little lot set off for cars. Everything was muddy, everywhere, from the rain. And now the wind was blowing hard. Lester, Rosemary’s son who has taken over the home farm, met us outside. We followed him across the planks laid down over the muddy yard and garden, up to the old red brick farm house.
It was probably 1:30 or so. They had eaten at noon, but saved some food for us. We’ll go in first, to see Mom, then we’ll come back to eat, I told the cooks. They smiled patiently. And Janice and I walked up the washhouse steps, into the kitchen. There weren’t many people around, right that moment. Mostly my siblings, and a few neighbors and friends. Dad was nowhere to be seen. He was upstairs, taking a nap, they told us. My sisters, and my brothers, Jesse and Steve, came to greet us. We all hugged each other unashamedly. Rosemary came, too. They all looked exhausted. But Rosemary smiled in welcome. “We’ll take you in to see Mom,” she said. And they led us into the little bedroom on the northwest corner of the house. A small room, really. It had been the bedroom for Rosemary and Joe for decades. We walked through the door. The coffin was set up in the middle of the room. There was no other furniture, except for one dresser on the far north side by the wall. On that dresser sat a small mantle clock. Stopped at 6:42. The moment Mom had died.
I approached the coffin, Janice beside me. The others stood around close. And there she lay. Mom. Small, shrunken, impossibly frail, in a new black dress and a new large white head covering. Lying there, in the white-lined coffin, her head resting on a small new pillow. I stood there, beside the coffin, and just looked at her. Here was Mom. Here was death. So real, and so final. It was here, in this room. Janice stood close, her arm around me. I felt it all deep down inside, and the tears trickled out. My sisters wept with me. Mom. Right here. Gone. She would never suffer on this earth again. But still. She was gone. And I whispered to Janice. Is it OK if I touch her face? “Yes, yes,” she whispered back. “It’s all right.” I reached down and gently stroked her cold and leathered cheeks. Mom.
And my sisters and brothers told me of how it was, the last few days. The details of her journey in those final days. How she had passed peacefully, in that last hour. They were there when she died. Staying up with her. Her hands had gotten real cold, in the early morning hours. And they knew it was coming. Jesse said she wouldn’t die until the day broke. And she didn’t. When the time came, they saw her breath of life giving up. From her chest, on up it came. Then through her throat. And then to her mouth. The breath of life expired, right there. That’s what they told me.
And there are always the stories, the stories that come. It’s such a part of Amish lore and tradition. Always, there are stories, the stories of dying. And there, as we stood looking down on Mom, Rosemary and Naomi told me a very special one.
Back the week before, as Mom was sinking, the nurse that came out to check on her told my sisters. “It’s important that the family releases your mother. You must tell her. It’s all right if she goes. Otherwise, she may hang on for longer than she has to.” So on Thursday, Rosemary and Naomi cleared everyone out of her bedroom and closed the door. They stood on each side of her bed and held her hands. And Rosemary spoke to Mom. “We are here, Naomi and me. We want to tell you that it’s all right for you to go. If you hear Jesus calling you, go to Him.” And she talked some more, about what a good Mom she had been, and how she was loved by all her children. And at the end, she told Mom. “Now, if you heard what I said, can you squeeze my hand?” And Mom squeezed the hand that Naomi held. It was her strongest hand, the one that Rosemary held was barely functional anymore. So they figure she heard what Rosemary told her. And understood.
The Amish have stories, and they also have dreams and visions, especially at such a time when death approaches. It’s just part of the culture. And Rosemary told me of one such dream. On the Saturday night before Mom passed, the neighbors came around to be with her, too. There was someone at her bedside, twenty-four hours a day. And that night, at midnight, Junior and Wilma Eicher came to take their turn. The preacher of my childhood, Jake Eicher’s son, and his wife. They came to stay from midnight until six in the morning.
Wilma was very tired, so she retired on the bed off to the side of the room. And drifted off into deep slumber. I don’t know how she heard what she heard. But she told the others. She heard beautiful, beautiful singing. Mom’s voice, joined by a man’s. Startlingly clear, and utterly beautiful, that’s what she claims she heard. When she stirred a bit later and came out of the dream, she asked her husband. “Were you singing with Mommy? I heard beautiful singing. And there was a strong voice singing with her, from a man.” And Junior told her. “No, I’ve been awake. There was no singing, not that I heard. She’s lying here, just the same as always.”
Dreams and visions. Who knows what was really going on? Maybe those were angels, singing with Mom. Or maybe it was just a dream, from the exhausted mind of an exhausted woman who slept by the deathbed of my mother. They take comfort from such dreams and visions, the Amish. This time, it was a dream of Mom singing. Of angels singing. And right that moment, when I heard about it, that dream gave me comfort, too.
We walked back out to the kitchen, then. There were no flowers anywhere. That’s one thing you’ll never see at any Amish funeral. It’s just the way it’s always been. It’s a somber time, a funeral, and not a time for flowers. A row of chairs was set up in front. A bench along the back wall. Facing all that, just outside and to the right of the bedroom door, there was a comfortable office chair. For Dad. And a single chair beside his. Dad wasn’t around, right then. He was upstairs, taking a nap. And soon enough, the word came down from Dorothy, Janice’s older sister. They had told Dad. Ira and Janice just got here. And right away, he wanted to come down. Right away. He wanted to see Janice.
There is a special bond between Dad and Janice. There always has been, seems like. She is his favorite grandchild, or certainly one of them. It’s because she reminds him so much of her mother and his daughter, Magdalena. Somehow, there’s a serious connection there. We walked into the living room, and opened the stairwell door. Dorothy was helping Dad down the steps. It was a little tricky, with his cane. Janice went halfway up to help them both. And I met them at the bottom. He shook our hands and greeted us. Then he walked into the kitchen and sat on his designated chair. Janice sat beside him. And the two of them just talked, oblivious to the clamor of the room.
I had wondered, on the way up to Aylmer. Sure, my clan will come in force. But will the others come? Mom was just a few months shy of her ninety-first birthday when she died. How important will it be, to the other families? Dad’s nieces and nephews. They live, scattered all over creation. How important will it be, for some of them to come? And that afternoon, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. Not a lot of people around, except family. And it seemed right then like there wouldn’t be that large a crowd, showing up.
After visiting with Dad for half an hour or so, Janice got up. I went and sat on the chair beside Dad. He looked old and very tired. The man was almost beside himself with grief. But he was there, with it. He fully grasped what had happened. And he told me little snippets of his memories of Mom. How she was always so helpful and kind to everyone. And how she worked so hard. “She didn’t have a slow speed. When she walked, she almost ran,” he said. His voice was slow and very heavy. He was alone, now, all alone. And the realization of all that was pressing in on him.
Janice and a group of nephews and nieces headed back to the motel to rest up a bit for the evening. I kind of wanted to go along. I was beyond tired, almost exhausted. But I figured I’d better stay with the family. This is Mom’s funeral. You have to stay and absorb all you can. We sat there, and people trickled through. By late afternoon, Titus and Ruth arrived with their boys. We got Titus up with the portable ramps he had fetched along, and got him comfortable in the kitchen. We all went into the room with him where Mom was, and my sisters told him all the stories they had told me. Dad came in, too. He stood there, forlornly, beside the coffin. He suddenly reached down and covered Mom’s folded hands with his own.
Supper was served at five, and the grandchildren got back for that. After we ate, the siblings lined up, pretty much by age, on the chairs and benches in the kitchen. And all at once, it just seemed like the flood gates opened. People began arriving, from all over. Strangers, total strangers, at least to me, from the nearby Amish communities of Lakeside and Mt. Elgin. Plainer places. These people came, because they knew and remembered Mom. And the relatives poured in, too. Uncle Abner Wagler’s children came, the locals, and some from far away. Phillip Wagler walked in, having come from his home in Michigan. I asked if Fannie Marie was along. “She really wanted to come, but she could not make it,” Phillip said. Others of Abner’s children arrived from up north, and from northern Pennsylvania and northern Indiana. Yeah, the clans would make it. I needn’t have fretted about that. As the people filed through and shook our hands, I thanked each one for taking the time and making the effort. Oh, we wouldn’t have missed it, they said.
Dad’s younger sister Rachel (Homer Graber) got there early that evening. They had traveled from Kalona, Iowa. (Every living member of Rachel’s family made it to the funeral. That was a huge honor to my family.) Rachel hobbled up to Dad with her cane. He didn’t see her until she was close. And he struggled to his feet to greet her. The two of them are all that remain, of all their extended families. Everyone else has moved on. And they stood there and just talked. I could not hear the conversation, too much noise and too many people. I saw Dad leading Aunt Rachel into the bedroom where Mom was. My sisters followed, and they shut the door. The memories flooded in for Aunt Rachel, too. They had even shared their wedding day, she and Mom. A double wedding. And she just stood there, bent on her cane, and looked down on Mom with gentle grief as the memories swept through her.
People just kept coming and coming. They had removed every stick of furniture from the bottom floor of the old red brick house. And set up rows and rows of benches in every room. After visitors had filed through the bedroom where Mom was, they filed past us, Dad and the children. And then into the back rooms, where they were seated on the benches. A steady hum of visiting voices buzzed through the house. Two van loads of people arrived from Daviess County, Indiana. Mom’s younger sister Annie’s children, and a dozen or so Amish relatives, nephews and nieces and such. There is something pretty distinct about the Daviess people. Their dress and their features. You can tell if someone comes from Daviess. I thanked each one as they filed past us. Thanks for coming. Thanks for honoring my mother.
The people of Bloomfield never arrived, though. There are no grudges, when it comes to funerals. You can’t attend every one. But still, I would have thought that the Bloomfield people could have honored Mom a little more than they did. She lived there, among them, for more than twenty years. Just saying. This was my Mom. But who am I? Who am I, to grumble at people all busy with their own lives? It’s not worth the effort, to get all offended.
Rosemary had told me. At 7:30, the youth would come and sing. They arrived. There was no room for them in the house, so they lined up, standing in the attached wash house. The door between was open. And right on cue, they began. It was chillingly, chillingly beautiful. And everything got all quiet in the house, as everyone just sat and listened. A few German songs first. Then a few English ones. All about heaven, and leaving this vale of tears for that beautiful place. “Dad picked out those songs,” Rachel whispered to me. “Well, someone may have helped him.” And as the singing soared around us, I turned to Nathan, sitting beside me. Whispered. Do you want to go in to Mom with me? He nodded immediately. So the two of us got up, filed around, and walked into the bedroom. I shut the door behind us.
It was all so surreal, hearing those singing voices fading in and out, and being there in that bedroom with Nathan and Mom. The door opened, then, and Jesse stepped in to join us. We just stood around the coffin, and I reached down and stroked her face. Her poor frail body had seen and suffered so much. She looked peaceful, though, lying there. The undertaker had done a real good job, they told me. He had made her sunken face and cheeks stand out almost like normal. Jesse left us then, and Nathan and I just stood in silence beside our mother for a few more minutes. Then I opened the door, propped it open, and we walked back to our seats.
From Uncle Ezra’s scattered family, one son came. Lavern, from Wisconsin. I would never have known the man, but they pointed him out to me. He had Ezra’s wild shock of unruly hair, and a very bushy beard. He and his wife had come. After they filed through, they took their seats in the far back north room. Before we dispersed later, I walked to where they sat. Introduced myself, and shook their hands. He was smiling and friendly enough to this English son of David and Ida Mae. I told him I remembered his father, Ezra. I remember him reading the scripture at a church service right here in this house, I said. He smiled and beamed. And he told me. “I have a son named Ezra, and he was ordained a deacon, too, just like my Dad.” Wow, I said. So it continues, somehow, that lineage and that name. He smiled and beamed some more. That was the first and only time I’ve ever spoken to that cousin in my life. Another generation, and all ties between his extended family and mine will be severed. That’s just how it’s going to be.
Just before nine, the crowd was dismissed. A preacher I didn’t know got up and stood at an open doorway between two rooms. Spoke in a loud, firm voice. Everyone got real quiet. And he spoke for a few minutes, a short devotional, and a few memories of Mom. The Amish don’t focus on the name of the deceased. Or much of what they ever did while here. False praise, they call that. But still, a little of that is OK. This preacher spoke of death, and how it must come for us all. The important thing is to be ready. Then he asked us all to stand, as opposed to kneeling, and read a High German prayer from a little black prayer book.
I had called the Comfort Inn people the day before. And told them. Get ready for a huge influx of people. They were quite accommodating, and gave a special discount rate for anyone, not just family, who came for the funeral and stayed there. And that first night, they offered us their conference room. So we could gather and just hang out. By the time I got there, things were buzzing. Janice had ordered food for all. Pizza, wings, breadsticks. And soda. About an hour later, it was delivered. And a huge crowd assembled. People I knew and people I didn’t. We all feasted, loudly and merrily. It got so loud and so late, the front desk lady finally had to come and shut things down. And so small groups assembled in various rooms. I hung out with a few friends and nephews and Janice in my room. Soon after midnight, we all retired.
The next morning, I dressed in my white shirt and black suit and shoes. There was a private service at 7:30 at the house. The funeral would start at nine. I arrived just as they were ready to start. They’d moved the coffin into the living room and set it up. A few benches were lined up in front. Mostly for my Dad and siblings, although anyone from the extended family was welcome. We sat there as my cousin, Simon Wagler, Abner’s son and a preacher, stood to speak. He still sounded the same as he did when I was a child. A good voice that carries well. And he, too, made mention that at their funerals, they don’t falsely praise the departed. But he had many memories of Aunt Ida Mae, and he shared a few. About how she was always so cheerful, always smiling, and always hard at work. Some brief admonitions followed, then we knelt for prayer, again read from that little black prayer book.
And after that, the pallbearers came, and closed the lid. And they carried Mom from the house. The funeral would be about half a mile north. In a huge shop, where they manufactured gazeboes. Everything had been cleared out, and countless rows of benches were set up. I arrived around 8:30 or so, along with most of my siblings. They had a special section for all of us, right up front by the coffin. We settled in by age, all my siblings and their partners. Aunt Rachel was given a seat of high honor among us. The place filled up to the brim. Hundreds and hundreds of people. All filed in silently, all were directed to their seats. All had come to honor Mom.
There is no singing at an Amish funeral. Just two fairly short sermons, and a prayer. A few minutes before nine, local bishop John Martin stood. And so the service began. The funeral service for Mom. John preached hard, and sat down right on time. Then another bishop stood. Tim Coblentz, from May’s Lick, Kentucky. My parents had lived there, in his community, for a few years with my brother Joseph. So he knew them. The poor man had a bit of a cold, but somehow made it through.
By 10:15, the preaching was done. We knelt for a long prayer, and then were seated again. And they began filing past the coffin, all the assembled masses. It takes a good bit of time for six hundred people to get through. That’s how many they told me were there, later. Six hundred. That’s a pretty huge crowd. And finally it reached my family section. They filed through, all the grandchildren, many with children of their own. Slowly, some lingering to look at the woman they have always known as “Mommy.” And then it came to us, the children. From the oldest down, we went. One by one, and we each had a brief moment alone with her. I reached down and stroked her tired face one more time. And then we were seated. And Dad struggled to his feet, and hobbled slowly to where his wife lay, waiting for him.
He stood there, half bent, over her. He looked so tired, and so alone. He reached down again, and covered her small hands with one of his. And then the children, just the children, got up and went up front to join him.
It’s always a deeply moving and touching thing, the family surrounding the coffin of a departed one. We stood there, huddled around, and wept with our father. It was the first time since 1971 that all of us were together, that close to each other like that. It’s just how it happened back then. A few of the older ones left the Amish. And somehow, it never worked out in forty-three years that all of us were together at the same place at the same time. That’s a long, long time, and it’s a real shame. But it is what it is. We were all together, there, around my mother’s coffin. And after a few intense minutes, we turned and walked back to our seats. And soon the service was dismissed.
They loaded the casket into the hearse, then. Well, it was a buggy. Specially built. To function as an everyday buggy. But also to function as a hearse. And the train of buggies lined up, behind. We wouldn’t join that line, not with our cars. No. This day, we respected the place, the community that cared for Mom all these years. The Aylmer community. We puttered about, those of us in cars. Janice and I stopped by the home place, where Mom had been. Just to clean up a bit, and use the restrooms. And then we headed over on the main drag through the community. A different route than the buggies were taking. And we pulled right onto the gravel road leading to the graveyard. Plenty of cars and vans were already parked. I parked in line. And we got out, and walked to join the crowd.
The grave had been dug the day before, right in the driving rain. But they’d covered it up with plywood. That old Daviess adage still holds in Aylmer, I think. Don’t ever let it rain into an open grave. If you do, someone else will die within three weeks. They hadn’t let it rain in. And today, this day of the funeral, they had a canopy set up. Right over the grave. I can’t imagine that such a thing has ever been done before, in Aylmer. But today, they did it. For Mom.
We gathered under the canopy, the family, the ones who got there in cars. Waiting for Mom to arrive in the buggy. The pallbearers stood around. And I approached them, and talked to them. The sons would like to help fill the grave, I said. It wasn’t a request. I was just telling them. And they smiled, and told me. That will be no problem. Just wait a bit, after the coffin is lowered. We get down, two of us, on the wooden lid. And we fill all that dirt in by hand. They do that, in Aylmer. I’m not sure if that’s a universal thing, or a remnant of tradition from Daviess. But they step down, right on the lid of the box enclosing the coffin. And the other two pallbearers hand down the dirt, shovel full after shovel full. The two standing on the box fill in the edges. And then the top. It’s all done carefully. “Wait,” they told me, the pallbearers. “Wait until we step up out of the grave. Then we’ll hand the shovels to you and your brothers.”
And I passed the word around to the family. My brothers and I will step up and help shovel the dirt in. If any of you, any of you nephews want to step up, too, get in line. This is Mom. We need to get involved, to cover her up.
The buggy train arrived, then, soon. And parked off to the little lot out on the south side of the graveyard. The hearse pulled right in. And they unloaded Mom, and set up the casket on the west end of the grave. Opened it up, for the last time. There would be one more viewing. Sometimes it seems like they almost overdo things, the Amish. We’d all viewed her, back at the service. And now we’d all view her again. They lifted back the coffin lid. And there she lay again. Open, to all the world for one last time.
This, this is what I’d asked Janice to come for. At Uncle Abner’s funeral, the children all walked up, one by one, with their families. But strangely, that’s not how it came down for Mom. The crowds filed by, one last time. And then it was time for the family. Janice stood beside me. But we didn’t walk up, one by one. We walked up in line. We filed through. And then Dad stood there, alone, and covered Mom’s hands again with his, one last time. Then he hobbled back to his seat. The Amish funeral director stepped up. Folded down the coffin lid. I craned, and caught a last glimpse of Mom’s face as the lid closed. He stood there, with his screwdriver. And drove in the screws. Then he stepped back. The pallbearers approached, and lifted the coffin. They had set two boards across the open grave. They set the coffin on those boards.
They set the straps, then, under the coffin. Lifted it a few inches. The director removed the boards set across the hole. And then they lowered her into the earth, into the wooden box down at the bottom of the grave. They rolled up their straps. And reset them, on the box lid. Then they lowered the lid. And again, retrieved their straps.
Two of them got down into the grave, then, just as they had told me they would. The other two handed down shovels full of dirt. The two men standing on the box carefully placed that dirt around the edges. And then they carefully placed dirt above the lid they were standing on. It was a somber and respectful thing. Minutes passed, and still they were handing down shovels full of dirt. And placing it carefully where it needed to go.
But then the moment came. The lid was covered. The two men in the grave scrambled out. This was our time, now, our time, my family’s. I whispered to Steve, who was standing right beside me. It’s time to step up. He whispered back. “Are you sure it’s all right?” I didn’t answer. Because the man closest to me was turning to me, just like he had said he would. Handing me his shovel. I stepped up. And Steve stepped up. The pallbearers stepped back. We walked to other side of the grave. I stabbed my shovel into the mound of soft, sandy dirt. And turned and dropped that dirt onto Mom’s new house.
It was purely symbolic, what I had in mind. It’s not like we had to cover her grave all the way to the top. Just a few shovels thrown, that’s all I wanted to do. Steve was off to the left side of the grave. I was on the right side. And after about a dozen throws of dirt, I stopped. Turned back to where the family stood. And motioned to Nathan. Come. He stepped up, and I handed him the shovel. And right then, Steve handed his shovel off to Jesse. I stood back, among the family. And right before my eyes, the most beautiful thing unfolded, the most beautiful thing that I’ll ever remember about my mother’s funeral.
They started lining up, and they stepped up, one by one. First, the sons. Then the sons-in-law. A moment only, for each of them. It could have stopped with us, the immediate family, Mom’s children. But it didn’t. All of a sudden, the nephews were lining up. And stepping up to take their turns with the shovels. The men of the family. They came, and shoveled the earth onto the grave. And then, suddenly, four of my sisters stood in line. Magdalena, Naomi, Rachel, and Rhoda.
Such a thing has never happened in Aylmer before. Never. I don’t think the sons stepping up ever happened before. And now, here came the daughters. And more nephews and then the nieces. All stepping up, to bury their mother and grandmother. I look back on the whole experience, and this moment was the most precious of all the moments. A purely beautiful thing of respect and love. I almost choke up, thinking about it even from here.
And eventually, the family was done. The last ones handed back the shovels to the pallbearers. And Mom got covered up real quick, right after that happened. And then the ceremony was over. Janice and I left soon after it ended. Too soon, I think. Because the grandchildren broke out in song, right there beside the grave. A huge no-no, in Aylmer. You don’t sing, at a funeral. Not that anyone was paying much attention to any rules.
And here, close to the end, I will say this. I’ve had my issues with the Aylmer leaders over the years. I’ve grumbled pretty savagely, here and there. Held them to account, for the things they did and the people they hurt. But on this day, I harbor no ill will at anyone up there. Today, they are not what they once were. Today, the old guard has aged a lot. And changed a lot. They seem much more open and relaxed about things. Mom’s funeral was just exceptional, in almost every way. At any Amish funeral, the bereaved family doesn’t have to worry about a thing. Everything is taken care of. Everything, from the digging of the grave to feeding the masses of six hundred people. It’s all done for you. It’s all such a cultural thing. And I have a deep and abiding respect for that culture.
And here, with my voice, on my blog, I publicly thank the people of Aylmer. It was a vast communal effort, just to take care of Mom these past few years. Of course, most of that burden fell on my sister Rosemary and her family. It was a hard and wearying thing for them, but they never complained. They just did what they needed to do, to show Mom that she was loved. And to make her as comfortable as possible. It was a hard thing to do. It had to be a hard thing. I thank them, my sister and her family, for all that. They never shrank from that tough and messy job. The people in the community, the people of Aylmer came and helped, too. And during Mom’s final days, they came at night to sit with her. There is a deep aversion in the Amish culture. You don’t allow anyone to die alone. It’s important, that the dying person has people around. And all through the night, every night, they took turns, in six-hour shifts. That takes effort, and that takes commitment. They came through, strong and shining, the people of Aylmer. And I thank all of them from the bottom of my heart. All of them. Thank you for caring for my mother. Thank you for loving her, even in that helpless state.
We all gathered, back at the big shop, for the noon meal. The Aylmer people fed us, a huge horde of people, for two days. I walked through the line, got my food. Ham and cheese sandwiches, noodles, mashed potatoes, and potato salad. Simple food. But good food. And I sat way off to one corner by myself, to eat. But not for long. Soon, very soon, people wandered by to see me. I was a little startled at such attention.
The first person was an old man, gray and half stooped. I recognized him. He sat on the next bench over, as I ate. “Do you know who I am?” He asked. Yes, I said. I know who you are. And he spoke half apologetically. “I’m sorry that you had to carry my name, all your life. I’m Ira Stoll. I was working on the farm the day you were born. You were named after me.” I laughed. Don’t apologize, I said. I used to hate my name. But I don’t, anymore. Actually, I like it. I’m proud of it. It’s pretty unique. And we talked about the things he saw, the world he knew, way back when I was born. It was a special moment.
The large shop was swarming with people. And I talked with a whole lot of them. Just a minute here, a minute there. It’s impossible, to really catch up with anyone at an Amish funeral. Impossible. I’m glad I spoke with those I met. And I apologize that I didn’t get to greet and speak with those I missed. It wasn’t intentional, any of it. It’s just how it all came down. I thank everyone who took the time to come and honor my Mom. Everyone. I don’t care who you are, where you came from, or what you believe. Thanks for honoring my mother on that day.
Nathan and I had one last thing to do on that day, as late afternoon approached. We had talked about it, and agreed on a plan. And we walked out and got into the Charger. Drove over to Aylmer, and stopped by the flower shop at the west side of the square. We walked in. The place smelled just lovely. And we picked out two beautiful red roses. “Do you want anything with these? Baby’s breath?” The attendant asked. Nathan shook his head. “Nothing. Just the roses.” She wrapped them in separate plastic sleeves. Nathan paid her and thanked her.
The skies were spitting random drops of rain as we pulled up to the graveyard. The place was empty and deserted, all cleaned up. The canopy was gone. I parked off to the side of the road, and we got out. Nathan handed me my rose. This wouldn’t take long. We climbed over the low wooden fence, and walked to the grave. We stood there side by side in silence for a moment. Then we stooped together, and placed the roses on the soft earth above our mother.
Nathan spoke to her. “You were a good Mom,” he said. “A good Mom. You had a hard life. I’m so glad you can finally rest now.”
Yes, I said. You were a good Mom. I’m glad, too, that you are at peace now.
And then I turned to Nathan and told him. Of all her sons, of all her children, we hurt her the most, you and I. We caused her the most turmoil, the most anguish, the most pain. Of all her sons.
He nodded. “Yes. We did.”
We stood there, heads bowed, for a few more seconds. And then we turned and walked back to the road.
Behind us, Mom slept peacefully in her new house, where the cold and bitter winds can never reach her.