They were both retired when they moved back to Muskegon, 20 some years ago. Ann had an aging mother, and a spinster aunt living here, both of whom needed help. Bob and Ann had lived most of their married lives in Greenville, which is northeast of Grand Rapids. Muskegon is northwest of Grand Rapids. They were familiar with the area and had their church papers transferred back to the same church they had attended when they lived here years ago. It was like coming home. There were many renewed friendships, and this move fit them like a glove.
|Ann and Bob, about 2000…|
Ann had taught elementary school for many years. Helping form young minds. She loved her work. Bob had been an engineer. He was also an avid golfer. Playing as often as he could since he retired and could conjure up a foursome. Ann stayed busy caring for her mom and aunt until they both passed away. Plus she was involved in several organizations, like retired teachers and PEO. They had 2 grown children. Their daughter lived about 150 miles away. Their son was on the west coast. For the first couple of years of my Parish Visiting stint, the only time I saw them was in church. They had gotten well into the swing of our aging congregation and were active participants.
They were not on my radar because they were doing fine. I really took no notice of them. My plate was full enough with an ever growing list of elderly, not doing fine for me to visit. Our church didn’t have a lot of young people, youth or kids. I was then in my early 50’s and John and I were some of the younger members of the church. But you know how that goes. Things change, we all age, and pretty soon their name popped up.
Preacher said it had been brought to his attention that Bob and Ann had been absent for a few weeks. Would I be so kind as to stop there and see how they were doing? Sure. They lived in a beautiful condominium complex. Actually about 6 couples from our church were living in that string of condos. A couple days later, there I was, driving 8 miles an hour, trying to find their address. Got out with my little basket of goodies. Bread and Butter pickles, pickled beets, and an assortment of jams and food. Honest, that’s probably the only thing that got me in the door. Holy moly, Ann was hot, and I was the (un) lucky recipient of her wrath. What in heavens name did I do to deserve this? Plain and simple, I got reamed that day.
Guess they had actually missed 4 or 5 months of church in a row. And no one from the church had called on them, or at the very least, given them a phone call. One of their neighbors had been in the church office and casually mentioned that Bob and Ann were noticeably absent from all activities lately. The church had measures in place to insure this would not happen. During the church service, you were supposed to fill out this little welcome form. It got tossed in the collection plate, separated and brought to the office. Then someone was supposed to track members attendance during the week, letting the higher-ups know WHEN AN OLDER COUPLE MISSED 16 SUNDAYS IN A ROW. Or maybe a titch before 16 weeks had passed. Wow, that ball had been dropped. All I could do was apologize. And promptly put all the canned goods, cookies, soups and bread on the counter as a small peace offering, and wait for the dust to settle.
|Typical goodie basket I brought folks when visiting…|
From that day forward, they were on my parish visitor list. And the friendship that grew was extra special, considering our rather rocky start. But Bob was failing. Legs were messed up, losing strength. He’d perk up for a few weeks, then have another relapse. A couple hospital stays thrown in. He was losing ground. After one particularly bad bout, he had to spend some time at a long care facility. (Don’t care for 2 terms used frequently in my line of work. Nursing home is one, so I usually say long term care facility. Makes it sound like you might just get out of there yet. The other one even more problematic for me. Shut-ins. So gross, hate it. I say home-bound which is about as bad, I guess. But to me it doesn’t sound quite so hopeless or helpless). Sorry, I digress. Now where was I? Oh yeah, Bob was moved from the hospital to care facility for some re-hab.
I totally remember the day. I stopped at the care facility, which was right next to the hospital to check up on him (them). Their daughter was just leaving as I walked in. Bob seemed to be doing pretty well. We were having a great visit. There was a dusting of snow on the ground. Bob’s bed was right next to the window. As we were discussing various local assisted living centers and the the possibility of Bob moving as soon as he was stronger, a (bunch, herd, flock, gaggle?) of wild turkeys started strutting their stuff right outside his window. A wonderful distraction and some lively conversation ensued.
After work, I headed out of town to spend a couple days in Jackson with Shannon’s family. I was only working 20 hours a week, which I usually tried to complete in four days. Unless a broken hip, illness, ER visit messed with my loosey-goosey schedule. I wasn’t at Shannon’s a day when I got an email from Mary. She was in charge of the congregational prayer chain. Many times a person on my visiting list or a family member would call me before they called the church or Mary. Whoever got the call first passed it on or called the appropriate people. This disturbing email said that Bob indeed had been moved, but to a new Hospice facility in town. Massive stroke. Not good.
I got home from Jackson late the next night. No more news from Mary, the church or Ann. By the next morning we had 6 inches of new snow. Yuk. I hopped in the car about 6:30 and slid my way 10 miles south to the mall because they open their doors at 7 for walkers (not of the Walking Dead variety). As I’m chalking up my laps, listening to hip-hop, I planned my day. Going to slide my way back home, shower, turn right around, slide my way back. Practically to the exact spot I was right now. Our new hospice facility, Poppen House was about 3 blocks from our mall. Wait a minute. That’s really dumb. I should just stop while I’m already out here. Would Ann or Bob really mind that I’m wearing sweats, and my hair is crazy-scary from wearing my oversized Bose headphones? Probably not. But I hadn’t showered yet, or found some plaster to make my face presentable. Bonus points though cause my teeth are sparkly clean. Well, heck with it, I’m gonna risk it.
Your signature is required and who you’re visiting when entering Poppen House. I signed in, asked for Bob’s room number and slunk through the familiar halls as inconspicuously as possible. A nurse was in his room. She turned to me and quietly asked, “are you his daughter or family?” “No, I’m just the Parish Visitor from his church.” She curled her finger for me to follow her to the hall. “He’s not doing well at all,” she whispered. “Um, have you called Ann? Or his daughter,” I asked? “Yes we have, but with the weather, Ann doesn’t want to drive and is waiting for a ride” she continued. “Do you want me to go get her?” I offered. Hesitantly she said, “I don’t think Ann would want Bob to be alone. And she will be here as soon as her ride arrives.” “Alright then, I will not leave Bob’s side until family comes, ok?” Clearly relieved she said, “That would be great, thanks.” I stopped in one of the all-purpose rooms where families can gather and picked up a hymn book. Or else it was another trip trekking back out to my car where I kept one. I pulled a chair next to Bob’s bed, clasped his hand in mine. Started singing in my awful, off-tune voice my favorite hymns. His breathing got slower and more shallow by the minute. I assured him that God, Ann and the kids loved him very much, and everything was going to be ok. Forty-five minutes after I got there, Bob breathed his last.
I found the nurse, then called our minister. Explained what happened. Told him I really didn’t want to break the news to Ann, period. Especially looking like I belonged on the set of The Walking Dead. He said he’d jump in the car and come as quick as he could. I left. He made it there before Ann did, thank heavens. Traumatic for me, but so glad I was there. Still wonder about that odd morning. Racking up my 3 miles, listening to hip-hop, when I suddenly decided to forget what I looked like, and just stop in for a minute to see him.
Ann and I continued our close friendship after Bob’s passing. Some time later I invited Ann and a couple other gals over for a soup and salad luncheon. It was a beautiful spring day. They loved coming to my house, watching the lake. I set the table with my fancy china. Ann walks in with an old Sass shoe box, covered with masking tape. Barb walks in with a pretty African violet for me. Ann plunks the box in my hands. “What’s this?” “Ah, open it after we eat,” she says. Such a nice afternoon. When they were getting ready to leave, Ann instructs me to open the box. Inside is a stunning piece of Lladro porcelain. Ann held up her finger to shush me. “You know I’m moving out of the condo, and into independent living. I asked my son if he wanted the Lladro? He said no. Asked my daughter? She didn’t even know what it was. Remember the time you stopped a couple years ago? We were busy talking, when all of a sudden you piped up, “Ann, is that a Lladro? Well, when Bob and I were in Spain, we bought this piece and I carried it on my lap in the plane. We were traveling with friends who also bought a couple pieces of Lladro. They had theirs shipped. They never got them in the mail. I don’t know anyone else who’d love and appreciate it like you will. Don’t say a word Denise. Not one word.”
|Lladro gift from Ann. Mother and Baby…|
Ann’s had a couple setbacks of her own. Fell and had to wear a neck brace for several months. Later had to have gall bladder surgery. But she’s still doing ok some 7 years after losing Bob. She was one of my staunchest supporters when the big church snafu occurred. Stood up, grabbed the microphone and said, “Denise has one of the most important jobs in this church. She is loved by many, and eliminating her job would be a grave disservice for those of us that she visits regularly. She’s really the umbilical cord from the church to those who are no longer able to attend.” Wow.
|My retirement dinner. My son-in-law Tracey talking with Ann. 2013…|
When I decided to retire, the church had a lovely luncheon for me after a Sunday morning service. The phenomenal amount of cards I got was unreal. Even more so, the stuff people wrote in the cards. Here’s how Ann summed hers up:
D-elightful: She visits the sick and the 60+ group.
E-nergetic: She makes to give; pickles, jams and soups.
N-ostolgic: She wants to return to her dear family.
I-mpressive: She imparts: CUM does care about me.
S-miling: She brings sunshine into one’s day.
E-njoyable: She arrives, chats, and too soon AWAY….
|My retirement thank you card from Ann. She is special to me…|