Rosemary. I’d noticed her in our church choir. Since most the choir members were of retirement age, she kinda stuck out. Beautiful girl, maybe 40, brown shoulder length hair in soft ringlets, glasses, trim figure. I had no contact with her since she was under my (Parish Visitor) radar of being at least 75. One Sunday morning the choir was doing their glory-to-God-thing, a handsome new guy in front of me set down the clipboard. The clipboard was the church’s way to track attendance. You filled out this short questionnaire, then if you didn’t show up 6 weeks in a row, inquiring minds would want to know. Could barely make-out Craig something from Boston, a friend of Rosemary’s.


Rosemary in Hawaii


I was always recruiting new volunteers from the congregation to help visit folks. Several reasons. Then “my little people” would feel more connected to the church. Different face than always seeing mine at their door. They still saw me, but I liked folks to be seen by others too. My ministry wasn’t for everyone though. Some people felt uncomfortable visiting the elderly. Sometimes it was hard to get a conversation going. Older folks can be kind of tight-lipped with people they didn’t know. Many times it took months or years to gain their respect, confidence and love. Preacher/boss # 2 said Rosemary had indicated she would like to visit some folks. Called her and invited her to our monthly meeting. Sue, Betty and I would go over the list of folks on from the previous month. Making sure all of us were on the same page, or talk over someone who was slipping, needing more attention or adding to our list. They were coming over for lunch. Rosemary would make a nice 4-some.


Rosemary was as nice as she was pretty. She had a demanding job with a huge loss-prevention company in Boston. But she could live anywhere. She had lived in Grand Rapids (50 miles away) for several years, but her father had passed away and left her 10 acres of woods about a mile from Lake Michigan. She had just finished building her dream home. It was a beauty. Slate floors, lots of windows, cherry wood kitchen with a 6-burner stove, double oven. Be still my heart. A baker-canner’s dream. She had a wood-burning outdoor furnace that looked like a fancy outhouse about 10 feet from her driveway.

Rosemary’s job required alot of travel, so she did not have a lot of time to devote to parish visiting. And she didn’t want to do a lot of driving between visits. Hmm. I chose an assisted living place that was now home to 4 or 5 church ladies. That way Rosemary could make one stop and see them all. Plus they were all dear, sweet ladies and still very sharp. She enjoyed them and they loved her. When she went on a business trip, she would mail postcards to these gals from her location. When I stopped to visit them, each would say, “look what I got in the mail from Rosemary! She’s in Seattle, or San Francisco!”

I didn’t realize that Rosemary had just been through a serious medical crisis. She had found a lump in her breast. Her mom had died from breast cancer when she was in her early 40’s, about same age as Rosemary. As a preventative measure, Rosemary decided to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy. She had now been cancer free for about a year.

We became very close friends, me more in the mom role she had been without for 20 years. John and Rosemary hit it off right away. They had many things common, leaned the same way politically, in business and theology. He was the dad figure she needed. She had him doing all sorts of odd jobs around her house, giving her rides, or helping when she had car trouble.


Rosemary taking some downtime


She confided in me one night she had made a doctor’s appointment because she had a cough. Stopped over a couple days later visibly upset. The doctor had diagnosed bronchitis, but had also noticed several “spots” on her lungs. Back to her oncologist for further testing. We soon learned that the cancer was back and with a vengeance. This wonderful young woman had no parents, no kids or spouse. She had 2 brothers, one she was very close to. Brian lived nearby. Our role as adoptive parents became serious. She needed more chemotherapy. Rosemary would receive these treatments at our new state of the art Johnson Family Cancer Center. She’d get some kind of suped-up platinum chemo cocktail. Her oncologist practiced in Grand Rapids, but was in Muskegon once a week. Since treatments took several hours, I usually drove, then spent the day with her. She would sleep, but we brought along books, magazines, and snacks.

Soon I was bringing treats for the whole chemo section. Helped pass the time. Rosemary had extraordinary hearing. While I was offering the goodies to the folks receiving chemo, their family, and friends who were with them, she was listening to our conversations. And these individual compartments were several feet away. When I got back to our cubicle, she’d check out how many bars or cookies were left on the platter, then say, “what’s wrong with the lady 2 doors down today?” I’d rack my brain trying to remember, “Umm they haven’t taken her blood count, she’s still fasting.” Rosemary knew more about the people she couldn’t see but could hear than I did.

One day I drove to her house to help her for awhile. I was going to trim some outside bushes, then bring her back to our house for supper. Rosemary had thee-worst-dog-on-earth. Vicious, horrible little snot named Aggie. Half Chihuahua, half miniature Doberman pincher, adding up to full freaking maniac. Aggie tolerated me, adored Rosemary and hated all men-except John. That miserable little so and so loved John to pieces, but would try and bite her brother Brian every time he came over. And Brian was a dog guy. When Rosemary went out of town, we (John) would dogsit the little monster.

Back to my visit. When I knocked on the front door, Aggie came running down the hall, snarling, growling, barking, but no Rosemary. She was getting a little wobbly from the cancer, more likely from the chemo treatments. She still refused outside help. John had just installed railings on the garage steps to help her get into the house easier. She was such a fierce, independent fighter. I looked through the window, now concerned that she might have fallen, because Aggie was barking loud enough to rupture ear drums. Finally I noticed the smallest movement. Rosemary, so frail that I hadn’t noticed her sitting in her recliner. I thought it was just a blanket in the chair. I got in and asked what I could do to help? She said she wasn’t feeling real secure alone in the bathroom anymore. Would I help with her shower? I helped her out of her sweats, which just hung on her thin frame when I noticed a massive green/black bruise from her shoulder all the way to her butt. Biting my lip to keep out the quiver I ventured, “honey, what happened?” “Oh, I got a little woozy during the night when I went to the bathroom. Ended up sliding down the wall to the floor. Then I couldn’t get back in bed because it was too high. So I pulled the blanket on the floor and slept with Aggie. You can’t tell Brian!” Oh Rosemary. A few days later she suffered a seizure. Test showed several lesions on her brain.

Rosemary’s cancer had metastasized through her body. It was everywhere, leg, lungs, ankle, and now her brain. That was the toughest part, poor kid. Chemo doesn’t work very well on the brain. The brain has all kinds of protective measures to keep chemo out. Wouldn’t it be great if the brain did a better job of keeping the cancer lesions out instead? She now needed radiation treatments. She wore a special helmet with small openings where the radiation needed to go. Looked like a hockey helmet. Every time she had one, millions of her brain cells were being fried. Her personality changed. A few weeks later she was found on the floor unconscious. She was rushed to the hospital. After consultation with all of her doctor’s, Brian and Craig, it was decided that there would be no more treatments. Aggie stayed with us for awhile. John was ready to keep her, but both of us had huge misgivings about ever being able to have company again, especially our grandkids. Another one of Rosemary’s friends who already had a menagerie asked if she could adopt Aggie? We felt not only relieved, but knew she’d have a good home.

Poppen Hospice House would be Rosemary’s home for the last 3 weeks of her life. Either Brian, Craig or I were with her most of the time. Her daily visitor list took up page after page on the sign up sheet. Rosemary regained consciousness for a couple weeks, but the progression of the cancer was horrific and fast. On Sunday September 20 I noticed a change. Breathing was different. More labored with long silences in between. Called John and said I was spending the night with her. I brought in my trusty hymn book from the car. I sang, read, and prayed with her all night. And cried. A lot. She made it through the night, still unconscious, not much change. I went home to get some sleep and before I returned, she slipped away. Brian had just gone home too. She was quite private. One of the Hospice nurses told me many folks seem to wait until they are alone. Didn’t make me feel much better. Rosemary had just celebrated her 46th birthday. I still dream about her and can hear her voice as clear as if she were in the chair right next to me. She was a delightful combination of one of my kids and one of my best friends.

A few months before her death, I was at her house to take her to acupuncture and a massage. Craig was leaving to go back to Boston. He asked Rosemary, “aren’t you going to give that thing to Denise?” “Oh yeah I forgot. Where is it Craig?” Craig left, came back with a small black leather case. Inside were Bose headphones. Rosemary used them when she was flying. Craig showed me how to charge them, where all the buttons were. Rosemary said, “I think you’ll enjoy these when you walk in the morning. Think of me.” If you’ve never had a good set of headphones, at least to this very hearing impaired person, they are awesome. One of the first days I wore them, I was listening to the Black Eyed Peas on my playlist. This song had been on my list for months but I couldn’t understand half the lyrics. Normal for a deaf person. Sometimes I’d ask Landon or Peyton to listen and unscramble the words for me, but if the lyrics might be questionable, I’d rather just guess or make up my own. So it’s early morning, still kinda dark and for the first time I clearly hear the words to the song, My Humps. I’m alone and BLUSHING. Told Rosemary and she cracked up for 10 minutes.

Months after she passed away, Brian called. Said he just couldn’t have a sale of Rosemary’s stuff. Didn’t want strangers going through her things. He had donated a lot of her household items to several charities. Did I want to come to the house and pick out a few of her things? These are my favorites from Rosemary. I have used the sugar bowl and her coffee mug everyday for the last 4 years. The electric water/tea pot is like having an extra burner on my stove on canning days. Thanks Rosemary. I still love and miss you a lot…



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