Name Game…

There are special people in my life who are in it for the long haul. Others, through no fault of their own, flit in and out. I read a quote stating people in your life are a blessing or a lesson. Since I’ve been married (to the same guy) for 45 years, I would venture that John is “in it” for the duration. Except for some teenage angst years, Shannon, Joshua and Adam have always been in my corner. These four have always had my back and are true blessings.


Josh, Adam and Shannon, 1984. BTA (before teenage angst)….

But this isn’t about them. This is about a special couple who came into my life through my job as Parish Visitor. How and why God placed them by me. And who still benefits from the blessings of this supposedly short term relationship. When I started as Parish Visitor at my second church, we had a senior pastor and a chaplain. Which meant I didn’t do very many hospital visits. They did. After I got to know my group of people, I always visited them when they were sick or had surgery in the hospital. Usually though, I saw folks in their own home, independent, assisted living or a nursing home.

I went to Wednesday staff meetings, reporting on who I had seen the previous week. Always tried to tell a story or 2 (that’s me, Duh-Neese, the storyteller) about a couple of my visits to make them more human and give them some depth for the staff. Many of the staff didn’t know this group from Adam. These were the people who no longer attended regular church services. Before I tell you about a very special couple, let me tell you just a little story about someone else.

Her name was Ann. Not legally though. It was “Norma,” but she always went by Ann. She lived alone about 15 miles from me. Her husband had died several years before. Ann was about 88 when I started visiting her. Not an easy task. Her house had been vandalized years before when she was on vacation in Florida. Since then she had become somewhat of a recluse. A little bit suspicious, and really didn’t like leaving her home. Or strangers. It was a tough sell the first couple visits. She was cordial, but cool. She had a little Yorkie named Babe. (Yes, Babe was her real name) Babe hung her tongue out of the side of her mouth constantly. Looked kinda weird. After the first few awkward visits we grew to love each other. (Me and Ann, but Babe was OK too)


Ann (legally Norma) about 85 years old…


Over my 12 plus years of visiting, I would guess about 200 different people on a regular basis, I can truthfully say about 10% of them ever asked a question about me. Nothing wrong with that. Older people have a tendency to dwell on themselves. (Now that I’m older, you can probably tell that about me too). These folks wanted to know what was going on at church. More specifically, certain members who had once been their dear friends. Many of them were literally starving for a little conversation. And needed to talk, so I listened. Of all the possible topics, well anything about Denise wasn’t high on their list. But Ann was different. Always asked how my kids and grandchildren were doing. Never forgot to ask about my Dad after he moved to Michigan. Not just to be polite. She was genuinely interested in my life. I am humbled and dumbstruck by this notion. And eternally grateful. Ann started failing about 5 years ago. Couldn’t live alone anymore, and moved into a long term care facility. I had not seen her for 2 years since I retired. Her son called me a couple of days ago and said she had passed away at the age of 99. Wanted me to know how much her family appreciated all the visits and food I brought. Ann had talked about ME to her family. I’m so glad God gave me Ann (legally Norma) for awhile. I was much more deeply blessed having her in my life than the other way around. That happens to me so often lately.


Ann (legally Norma) seated holding a cutie. In her 90’s…


Back to my lead story. During these staff meetings after my report, preacher man would give his own report. During my first couple months of work, an almost weekly report would be about a guy named Kent. He’d been in the hospital for an extended period of time, but I hadn’t met him yet. One week both the preacher and chaplain were going to be gone. Preacher asked me to visit Kent at the hospital. Sure thing Boss. Got to the hospital and there was no patient named Kent. Thought maybe he had been discharged. Nope. Found out later that his legal name is “Raymond.” In Michigan, if you can’t state his real name at the hospital’s front desk, you are NOT getting his room number. No one had told me his legal name.

Several weeks later preacher says, “Denise, Kent has finally been discharged. Would you put him on your visitor list?” “Sure thing” I answered. A few days later I walked up to their front door and rang the bell. Call me shocked. A beautiful, light auburn haired gal close to my age opened the door. Assumptions. We all make them when we don’t have all the facts. Since Kent had been in the hospital for a long period of time, I assumed he was 80 or more. Either he had robbed the cradle or was a much younger man. Well Kent was about about a dozen years older than me. He had suffered a debilitating stroke a few years before and had to retire. He was coping with heart problems, diabetes, eye and kidney issues, now requiring dialysis at home. Kent was funny, gregarious and talkative. He spoke often about a eccentric brother who reminded me of my sister. We found lots to talk about. He was an avid hunter, and had been a super jock in high school sports.


Kent and Jo on their 25th anniversary. 1984…


His wife Jo was very quiet. I know she realized the visits were for Kent, but rarely joined our kooky conversations. Well, she had a lot on her plate. Sometimes she’d zip to the store for a couple things while I was there. Her nights were totally messed up. She was often on the verge of collapse. Caregiving. One of life’s toughest jobs. Kent was on dialysis during the night and the equipment made constant noises. I remember after he passed away she said the dialysis machine noises that drove her nuts during the night keeping her awake were still driving her crazy. Because the machines were now silent. Jo kept waiting for those too familiar noises requiring her attention. Not anymore.

About a year into visiting them, Kent landed back in the hospital yet again. He had a sore on his foot that was not healing. After several days of tests, the doctor had bad news. Kent’s foot could not be saved. They would have to amputate. Kent decided he was done. Lost his will to keep fighting. At 67 he was too tired and sick to go on. Ready to meet his Savior face to face. With heart issues, eye problems, diabetes, dialysis, and the long term affects of his stroke, losing a foot was the last straw. He was done with treatments and wanted to go home. After one final dialysis treatment, he was discharged home with hospice care. He didn’t last a week. Kent was one of my first losses, passing away a couple months after my good buddy Charles. (Charles-in-Charge post from September of 2014 if you got a hankerin to know a real quirky character). Now after a dozen years and losses of over a hundred folks who I visited from weeks, or months, to almost a decade, losing these 2 guys within 60 days of each other were still among the toughest. The ones that have affected me the most along with Rosemary and Pat who I lost a month apart. Each one of them so different from each other, but each made a huge impact on me during their lives and in their deaths.


Kent (legally Raymond) in much happier, healthy days…


Jo had a lot of support. Four grown kids, 3 live close, and one only 40 miles away. Several grandchildren who doted on her, often spending the night at grandma’s house. Distracting Jo from not hearing Kent’s dialysis equipment noises. A few weeks after Kent passed away, I stopped over to see Jo. Mentioned that it might be nice if we went out for breakfast or lunch sometime. Jo was game. She was no longer interested in cooking for one. We started meeting once a week for breakfast. Soon it was lunch a couple days later. For nearly 10 years we’ve met once or twice a week. Becoming dear friends. Learning about each other’s families, keeping Kent close in our hearts. We both agree Kent is smiling down from heaven every time we do something together. He is thrilled beyond belief that he was the conduit for our treasured friendship.

Jo and I took a trip a couple years ago. She wanted to attend a family wedding out east. She wasn’t keen on flying or going alone. I jumped at the chance. We drove, starting our trip by staying at my favorite spot, Niagara Falls. Jo and Kent had been there years before. We stayed several days in New Hampshire visiting her relatives. I was against attending the wedding. I wanted to stay in the hotel with a good book. (Plus you know how I detest getting dressed up. Ever. “Jo, if you insist, can I please wear capris, a t-shirt and my Keen’s”)? But Jo didn’t want to go alone, so I trudged along. I knew 1 person besides Jo. Her cousin Fred who was father of the bride. It was a lovely wedding. And the food was great. Steak and cake. Two of my favorites. Doesn’t get any better than that! What to bring as a gift was a problem since I didn’t know the bride or groom. I decided on my old standby. A pretty basket with a dozen jars of my home canned goodies, wrapped with nylon gauzy material and a fancy bow. Tell you what, I had more people stop to ask and compliment me on my basket. Yup, I was a surprise hit that night. Well my canned stuff was. Since I had not been to many of these states we did some sight-seeing. We drove right through downtown Boston just a couple days before the Boston Marathon bombing. Terrible tragedy.

Jo and I discovered some odd things in common. She and Kent were married on August 22, 1959. John and I were married September 22, 1969. A decade and a month apart. They had just celebrated their 46th anniversary a few days before Kent passed away. Recently Jo was hospitalized. No, she’s healthy as a horse and takes great care of herself. But a couple of her parts are wearing out. She had knee replacement a month ago. We met for lunch a couple days before she went to the hospital. It was a cold, miserable, snowy day. As we were walking through the parking lot to our cars, I turned to say goodby and give her a hug. A little teary she said, “Denise, don’t forget if you come to the hospital. When you stop at the desk to get my room number, my name’s not really Jo or Joann. Legally it’s “Marilyn” …





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