It was around six o’clock in the morning. I stood at the bathroom sink and got ready to comb my hair, wash my face and get ready for this busy day. My cousin, Jon (one of the cousins that I’ve got “going and coming” by virtue of his Papa and my Daddy being brothers and Our Sweet Mamas being sisters) and his good wife, Heleen, were in the area and had called for anyone who wanted to, to come to the local coffee shop for coffee, breakfast, or just to be together.. Amity Coffee Roasters is also a family business, as it is owned by a nephew, Elmer Slaubaugh and his wife, Melody, and I certainly wanted to go!
My cousins and I are getting older. On my Daddy’s side there were 60 of us. The youngest of the 60 is now 56. The oldest is 80. Sometimes I think about how these years have passed and the age old axioms rattle around in my brain like so many loose marbles. “Where did the time go? How did I get this old so soon?”
On this morning, the face looking back at me in the mirror is lined and the chin sags. I need glasses to see things clearly and they aren’t on at the present, but I’m pretty sure that I look every bit of my 69 years. “H-m-m-m-m,” I think while pulling the comb through the tangled hair that is more gray than dark, “Maybe I’ll pull out my wrinkle cream from Olay and put some of that on this morning. It’s getting chilly out, so some moisturizer certainly won’t hurt. I don’t want to look too old when I go to see my cousins!”
I finished combing, washed my glasses and face, pinned on my prayer veiling, put on my glasses, made my bed, got dressed . . . and never thought about Oil Of Olay Wrinkle cream again until I was in the middle of breakfast. And then it didn’t matter any more.
For those who are interested: (Clockwise from left to right) James Bontrager, Karen Bontrager, Joan Mills, Uncle Jesse, Paul Yoder, Ilva Hertzler, Leslie Yoder, Sarah Slaubaugh, Jon Yoder, Heleen Yoder (peeking out from behind the head of) Mark Yoder, Jr., and me.
You see, I looked at these familiar and beloved faces. The youngest was my sister Sarah, the oldest was my Uncle Jesse, and even though there were some wrinkles there, I didn’t find a single wrinkle among us all that I found offensive. Quite the opposite. I’m partial to people with smiley wrinkles, and that is something a good many of the Yoders have in abundance. But even the other lines spoke volumes to me of the grief, the struggle and the living that has gone on in the lives of these people and the people they love. It was a wonderful time together. We laughed and talked, caught up with each other’s lives and came away hoping to do it again before too long. We are not young. In fact, most of us are “Too Old to Die Young” at this stage of the game. But that’s alright. We have so much more!
Certain Man invited me on a golf cart ride this evening to see the gorgeous full moon over our Delaware countryside. It’s there every month, but there is just something breathtaking about how it rises over the south east horizon and climbs its way high into the sky before we have a chance to think or look twice. Especially the Autumn Moons.
The day has been busy, but also so close to normal that my head was able to think about more than what needed to be done. There was bread to bake, soup to make, custard to bake, and of course, lots of dishes to wash. I hadn’t gotten things done after our “First Sunday Potluck” so there was quite a mess in this kitchen. So my hands were busy with lots of kitchen things, but my heart was far away . . .
Far away? Yes. In Canton, Ohio. In Washington, DC. In Cold Spring, New York. In homes not so far away in Harrington and Milford and Greenwood. And in Heaven.
Heaven? Yes, especially Heaven. Thoughts of My Sweet Mama swirled around and around in my head as the sting of missing her took a fresh spot in my heart. And there was a reason.
Last night, Certain Man and I went to a drama program at Greenwood Mennonite Church put on by the Lititz Area Mennonite School. Our granddaughter, Charis, went with us. The production was very well done, and left me more than a bit pensive. After it was over, Charis and I were getting into the car when she suddenly said, “Grammy, may I go and find Grandma Yoder’s Grave?”
“Of course!” I said. “I’ll come, too!” Grandpa was still talking inside the church house, and I figured we had time. She headed out towards the cemetery, and I got things deposited in the car and followed. I watched her stride across the parking lot and thought about this young woman, and how she loved her Grandma Yoder. The loss of her Great-grandmother was huge and there was a picture of her at the grave that has epitomized childhood grief in my mind. The grave was so new that the date (6/16/15) had not yet been engraved.
It was dark in the church cemetery. I have not been there lately and the gravestones looked surprisingly foreign to me, but by the time I got there, Charis had already found the stone that marked the final resting place of My Sweet Mama, and her beloved “Grandma Yoder.” My phone caught this teen as she once again knelt by the familiar stone and traced the letters with her hand.
My heart caught in my throat. My Sweet Mama loved this little girl with all her being. She had prayed unendingly for Christina and Jesse to have a baby and she always had time for a bouncy little girl with shining eyes and undying devotion. On Sunday afternoons, Grandma Yoder and little Charis would spend hours playing a made up game with squishy hand warmers accompanied by shrieks of laughter on both sides of the game and a whole lot of running on the part of the short team. No one ever won or lost, it was just pure, unadulterated fun and I would give almost anything to hear it again.
Charis’ Mama and I usually cleaned up and washed dishes while they played, and then I would drive My Sweet Mama home to her quiet house.
“I’m so tired,” she would usually confess. “It makes me so tired to play with her, but she loves it so much, and I enjoy it, too. I just don’t want to not play when I can!” I reassured her, as I always did, and soon another day was over, and another memory was in my overflowing trunk of good generational memories.
There came a Sunday in early May of 2015 that was the last time.
They came into the laundry room last Saturday after I got home from Ohio. Middle Daughter and Oldest Granddaughter. After the hugs and “welcome home’s” they said they had a question for me.
“Mama,” said Middle Daughter, hesitantly. “What are you thinking about the Thankful Wall?
I was puzzled. “What do you mean,” I asked. “What about the Thankful Wall?”
“Are you planning to have one this year?”
“Of course!” I was really confused. Why would they think we would break with this nearly 30 year old tradition?
She and Oldest Grandchild looked at me and then in a quiet voice Middle Daughter said, “Well, I thought that with the way this year has gone maybe you were just going . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“Oh, Deborie-Girl!” I felt my heart give a strange leap as I looked at this adult offspringin’ whose year has held so much reversal and loss, and The events in our family over these last four months went spinning through me head like a rapid-fire machine gun.
Here in Delaware, there was a breast cancer diagnosis, a bilateral mastectomy, a deep vein thrombosis, a pulmonary embolism, infection, a second surgery and a prolonged recovery.
In Washington, there was ongoing concern over the chronic stomach disease of our Girl With a Beautiful Heart, plus Youngest Daughter and Beloved Son in Law #2 both had Covid.
There was the surgery and roller coaster diagnosis issues until we found out that our Youngest Granddaughter did, in fact have a rare form of childhood cancer (a synovial sarcoma) in her right leg and needed additional surgery as well as radiation. There was a miscarriage in our family, and other crisis among the grandchildren. I got Covid when I went to Ohio to help out in August and gave it to Youngest Granddaughter. Certain Man caught it later somewhere else and Oldest Daughter, Beloved Son in Law #1 and Oldest Granddaughter also caught it. (And there were challenges that I actually forget)!
But God was there! We were not alone, and in just as rapid fire, I saw the blessings piling up in my head.
“Oh, my Deborie-girl! We have so many things to be thankful for! This year of all years, we need a Thankful Wall! We need to remember all the good things that we’ve been given.”
And so they went away. It looked like a big job to this “still not fully recovered” daughter, but Oldest Granddaughter was going to help her and they were going to get it done. One thing led to another and none of their plans worked out, so Middle Daughter finished it up on her own this week and brought it over. and she and her Daddy put it up.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” she said sadly. “It’s really simple. I started one thing, and it just didn’t look right, so I cut it off and started over!”
I was too delighted to care. “Deborah, it’s just fine. I like it very much. Simple is good. Thank you for doing it for me!”
And it is just right. Except that it is lacking signatures and there is a lot of space. After these pictures were taken, I decided to add one notation a day for this month at least, but so far, that is all that is up there. Therefore, this is an open invitation to stop and jot your addition to it.
The last four weeks have held adventure and pathos. We have traveled out of the country and came back home unscathed, (but not unchanged). There has been both a wedding and a death in our church family. I spent five days in Washington, DC, helping out with childcare while Lem and Jessica were on vacation, then Certain Man and I traveled with Rachel and Rob to Guatemala to visit our “Almost a Daughter,” Lupe, and her husband, Ervin, and their three children, Nicole (13) Joshua (almost 10) and Sofia (6). We came home in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, October 12th, and we had a few days in our own space. We celebrated my 69th birthday (with more good wishes and accolades than I felt comfortable with, but the kindness and support were heart-warming and very much appreciated) and then we turned our eyes towards finalizing plans for our trip to Canton.
The days had passed swiftly. There were several times when I heard Certain Man say that we were going to Ohio, and then he was going to leave me there for probably two weeks to help out, and he was planning to come home. I perused the postings of our daughter in law to see if the timing was good, if they really needed me to stay, and if, in fact, I would be of any help. I wanted to stay if I was going to be helpful, but I wondered if maybe I would be of more help later in the course of Ellie’s six weeks of treatment. Daniel decided that he would give Raphael a call. Ever the one who tries to prepare for whatever, just in case, I messaged Regina and asked her if she and Raphael could discuss the options before Daniel called. Her response was swift and defining for me. And another whammy for our family.
Ellie had started her radiation on Thursday, but in the middle of all the already chaotic scheduling, our oldest grandson had a health crisis and was accepted into a two week Partial Hospitalization Program beginning Monday. While the admission to the program was nothing short of a “God-Thing,” the ensuing scheduling chaos reeked of the other kingdom. Regina and Ellie needed to leave for Cleveland at 5:30 am to get to her appointment in Cleveland. Raph needed to leave by 7:20 to take Si to his PHP and then go on to work, but that left the two younger boys with no one to get them on the bus. Then, at 1:50, pretty much in the middle of Ellie’s naptime, someone needed to head out to pick up Si from his program at 2:30. For once there was no beating around the bush, but rather, “So all this to say that starting Monday through the next two weeks, we will take all the help we can get.”
I was actually so relieved to know exactly what would be the most helpful, and Daniel was pretty much vindicated in his prediction that he was going to take me and leave me for two weeks while he went back home and got ready for chickens (and get into any of a number of projects that he wanted to do). And so, I started once again to pack for an extended stay. There were lots of loose ends to catch up, and I felt like I couldn’t think. We decided that we would leave right after church on Sunday since Daniel was scheduled to preach, and the projected deadline kept me plodding along, hoping that I didn’t forget anything integral.
Sunday morning. Daniel had been working on his sermon steadily and there were times when I was curious as to just what his topic was. Often when we would talk, both of us were in tears as we tried to process all the things that had happened in the months preceding. I, as I usually do, turned to music for comfort and encouragement and to set my heart straight. One of the songs on my playlist kept repeating itself over and over in my mind and I finally asked Daniel if this song would conflict with his sermon, or if we could possibly play it somewhere in the service.
Daniel preached on the Sovereignty of God that morning, and the song was played at the end of the service. Our church family, ever supportive and sympathetic, and some of our favorite people ever, gathered around us and prayed for us, for our extended family, and especially for Raphael, Regina, Simon, Liam, Frankie and Ellie. They wept with us, hugged us tight, and blessed us in the going, the staying and whatever else we felt we needed to do for our Canton Family.
We pulled into Raphael’s and Regina’s around 8:30 that evening, and were enthusiastically welcomed by our four grands and their Mama and Daddy. The schedule fell into place the next morning, Daniel left for home Tuesday morning, and so we have completed the first week of the two weeks that I’m planning to spend here. Canton is beautiful in her autumn dress. It’s amazing the colors just outside the front door that I see each morning as I watch Liam and Frankie get on the bus.
In other updates: Ellie is finished with 7 of her 35 treatments. It’s no fun for this little girlie, but the personnel at Cleveland Clinic are beyond fantastic. They are working very hard to make things as easy for her and her Warrior Mama as they possibly can. There will always be things that just do not quite suit a little miss of four that has to endure so much more than it feels like she should have to, and it would be easy to spoil and give in and let her get by with a lot. She is opinionated, determined, and surprisingly strong for such a pint-sized girlie. (Last night one of her parents was commenting on “words that are most used in the household,” and the general consensus was, “No, Ellie!!!”) I’m proud of the two of them for the effort they exert to teach her obedience, kindness and helpfulness. She’s resistant, but they are tenacious (as she, though it aggravates her sore, needs them to be).
One of the things that the clinic does is have prizes for Ellie to choose each day. One day last week she came home with a 63 piece puzzle for ages 5+. She made good progress on her own, but I helped her finish it the first time. The second time, my help was very minimal, and the third time, she put every single piece in by herself! She’s done it on her own a couple of times since. It fascinates me because she does not start with the outside. She always starts with the same area every time and actually seems a little put out by the edge pieces. She’s really good at this, and it makes me wonder what she has going on in that brain of hers that allows her to see from the “inside out.”
Last week, I stood at the door of Ambleside Cottage, looking out over the lawn and trees. The squirrels were busy, and the jays were scolding. The air was crisp with a temp that is unusual for mid-September. I thought about the summer that had slipped away without much notice from me. Certain Man had watered flowers more often than he probably wanted to, and garden things had been sadly neglected. There were tomatoes that got quietly put onto the compost pile and even a couple of handfuls of lima beans that turned sour in the small bag in the fridge. (It was their own fault! Those beans of mine hardly produced enough at a time to even make a meal for CM and I! I would shell my paltry few and put them in the fridge, hoping to get some to add to them, and then, next thing I knew, they smelled funny. I did get my first two bags in the freezer just before I left for DC, but even so, the pickin’s have been slim!)
It’s been three months since Deborah had her bilateral mastectomy. The blood clots, the infections and the complications have made this recovery far longer than we had hoped. She ended up with a second surgery about six weeks ago, and she is healing well, but she just isn’t quite there yet. The days have been challenging for her, but there have also been glorious accomplishments. She finished her Bachelors Degree in Nursing (BSN) and she did it with a 4.0 grade average. (She wouldn’t tell you that, but I’m allowed! I’m her Mama!) She has actually started back to work at Delaware Hospice, but is only allowed to work from home because she is still under fairly stringent restrictions (no driving, no combing or washing her hair, no reaching up too far, no reaching out too far, no leaning forward or bending over, no driving). Fortunately, Delaware Hospice has been more than accommodating, and she has enjoyed getting back into the swing of things- at least in part.
Last week, anticipating this week’s daily trek to take 4-year old Stella to school, I started to walk over to Deborah’s house for the morning chores there. I had hoped to get a little used to the walk. The distance is somewhat similar. The terrain? Not so much. Leaving the back yard door, the walk is uphill almost all the way to her school. And there is mostly blacktop and sidewalk. It’s not that far, (only .2 of a mile) but I’m almost 69 years old, and I have two replaced knees and there is that crazy thing called “spinal stenosis” that wants to remind me when I’ve slept in an unfamiliar bed. Which causes me to sometimes have a peculiar gait.
Yesterday, Stella said to me, “Grammy, why do you sometimes wobble when you walk?” (Please note. She did not say “waddle!”)
I said, “Well, Stella-girl, Grammy’s back is kinda’ hurting today.”
“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully, “And you are really, really old, too!”
Yes, well. That, too! (She told me the other day that she thought I was “a hundred years old” so I guess that does make me a old. A little bit old, anyhow.)
September mornings are delightful here, though, in spite of the trek that makes me puff. I come into the alley behind Lem and Jessica’s house and the squirrels are scolding, the walnuts dropping, and the yellow flowers are blooming by the back fence. There are neighbors who don’t do well with their trash, and the other day I saw a city rat nudging through the garbage, but he went his way and I went mine. This morning the crows were scolding loudly about something and in this section of town there are lots and lots of trees providing shade and privacy. I’m not a city girl by any chance, but these mornings, so full of life and a bit chilly are invigorating.
Tomorrow morning, Lord Willing, after walking Stella to school, I plan to come back here, pack up and head back to Delaware and that Man I Love the Most, our little farm and the next door girlie that I still comb, and make sure that she has what she needs to live and move and have her being. I will feed her old cat, JuJu, and give him some Grammy treats and it will be so sweet. Tomorrow night, if plans carry, I will spend time with my sibs and their spouses (Except for Nel and Rose) and I’ve been looking forward to that with an almost ache.
Today in Ohio, our littlest grand is fighting the biggest battle of us all, and I watched a clip of my tall son cradling her to his chest while they both sang, “What a Wonderful World,” and I weep. There is so much about this old world that is wonderful, and I love these September mornings. My heart gives grateful praise, but along with that, this Grammy’s heart is heavy.
She is life and light and movement and spirit and song and fire. And she dances. There is no stopping the feet and the voice and the personality that has trusted and engaged and loved without reserve. She knows no strangers. She knows what she wants and when she wants it and how she wants it, but she has also learned that sometimes you just cannot have what you want and when and how.
Gift to our family. A Sacred Trust.
There have been hundreds of people who have said, “How lucky she is to have this family!”
Oh, Ellie-girl! We are the ones who have been so blessed. And there was no luck involved. You came to us, a six week old baby, and we wanted you to stay from the minute we laid eyes on you.”
It was a long journey, with many tears and uncertainties and times when it seemed that she was gone for good. There was a day in July when a state car took her away for her new life, and we wept and prayed and felt the grief that was worse than death. But in Washington, DC, a client cancelled and Uncle Lem locked the door of his office and got down on his knees and pled for mercy and intervention. People all over were praying, for something to happen.
And God chose to intervene and sent an angel in the form of an unknown man who warned the case worker. He showed up and followed her around while she surveyed the premises of the intended placement and when no one was listening, he hissed, “Don’t you leave that baby here!”
“Don’t you leave that baby here!” He offered some brief words of explanation, and then was silent.
The caseworker called her supervisor and Elise came back home. The story wasn’t over, there were still hurdles to cross, and there were 5 times (all together) when an actual date was set for her to be moved to another placement, but each time, something (rather, Someone) intervened.
My Ohio daughter in law was given the family name when she joined our family, “Ohio Heart Throb.” Just for the record, she has a new name. “Warrior Mama.” She’s earned it fair and square and has the scars to prove it. She faced imperious case managers, biased directors and held her own with honest and objective directives when she had had enough of the dilly-dallying of bureaucracy and the indifference of a state system. I’m so proud of this woman. She has known relinquishment and broken dreams and grief. She has given up when she realized it was in the best interest of the child. And this time, she knew what was in the best interest of Elise and she fought for her future. And won!
On April 19, 2019, the baby known as “Sweet Baby E” became Elise Evelyn Yutzy.
Most of you who follow this blog know that our Ellie-girl is facing a huge challenge. This week she starts a “five day a week for six weeks” radiation therapy for a synovial sarcoma in her leg. The risks are great, but the risk of not treating is greater. But she still dances. She still bosses her brothers and plays with her dollies and watches her “shows” and does all the things that she wants to and can. She doesn’t begin to understand to import of what is happening. She doesn’t even know the catch in her family’s throat, the sadness in her daddy’s eyes, the unrelenting hurt in her Mama’s heart, or the fear that her brothers are grappling with. And it’s better that she doesn’t.
People have been so kind. From the beginning of this journey, people have given and shared and prayed and loved and given some more. Nothing is taken for granted. Raph and Regina find the generosity and outpouring of care and concern hard to believe. For them as well as for us, the love and the prayers have been the best gifts. I call it “wrapped in a bubble of Grace,” where a sense of God’s provision and presence gives me courage and strength. I’ve said it more than once because, though I cannot explain it except by God’s grace, “This is hard, and I am sad. But I am not afraid, and I am not frantic. I’ve walked with this Heavenly Father for over 60 years, and He has never failed me yet. He hasn’t done everything the way I wanted, or spared me from heartache and loss, but He has carried me when I couldn’t make it on my own. He promised not to leave me or forsake me, and I don’t believe that He will stand apart from my grief now any more than I would stand apart from the grief of one of my children. He is here and He is not silent. My heart gives grateful praise!”
There are a lot of expenses connected with Ellie’s cancer treatment, and Ellie’s Uncle Lem and Auntie Jessica have started a gofund.me account to help out. As the families of Raphael and Regina, we are helping, but there is always more that is needed. I’m attaching this link so that if you are so inclined, you can access it without too much trouble. Thank you for listening, for reading and for caring and praying. The prayers are still the best gift!
This week I changed the calendars at our house. Five of the ones I changed, I changed from July to September. They never got changed to August. I think there was only one that got changed back when August dawned, and that was the central appointment one that helps both Certain Man and I keep track of our lives. It’s a funny thing about calendars. I remember over 40 years ago when Sherilyn Schlabach (now Gant) lived with us, there was a time she commented, “You know, it’s such a funny thing! In America, you guys have clocks in every room. In Costa Rica, we have calendars!” Somehow that made an impression on my mind as a young homemaker, and I began putting calendars in almost every room, hoping that it would remind me that I needed to live for the long term, not the immediate.
But as I thought about the whole thing of how I had missed changing all these calendars for a whole month, it didn’t carry the connotation of slowing down. At all. But the more I pondered this “lost month” and all that had happened in the month, my heart was suddenly very quiet before my Heavenly Father. I realized in a startling way that while my head and hands were too busy to really mark the days, He had carried me safely through and brought me through a month that I would remember, not for individual days and the terrible things that happened on those days, but rather a period of “severe mercy and extreme grace, (and my heart gives humble, grateful praise).
To pick up the story again-
When I realized that I had tested positive for Covid at Raph and Regina’s house, the immediate concern I had was, of course, the fact that I had exposed this very vulnerable household to this confusing disease. Of course, I prayed they would not catch it, prayed that I wouldn’t be too sick, prayed (“Oh, Lord Jesus, Have mercy!”) that Ellie, especially, would not get it.
My next concern was about my ticket home. I called, and the only way I could reschedule was if I waited for five days to reschedule. I rescheduled for Wednesday. Problem solved.
Then I was concerned about my prescription meds and vitamins of which I had only packed a week. An SOS call home sent Deborah over to the big house, and between her and Certain Man, they got everything figured out, packaged and overnighted to Canton. Another problem solved. (They actually were there by the next day! Yay for the US postal service!)
And so the days passed. Sunday morning I came downstairs to find Ellie wrapped up in a blanket on the floor.
“First Covid Sickie,” Announced my resilient Daughter in law with a lot more cheer than I felt.
“Oh, no!” I mourned. “Really?’
“Yep, She tested positive!”
I was so sad. I figured it was only a matter of time until the whole family came down with it. But astonishingly enough, she was our only “casualty.” Raph and Regina had a mature and careful response and they were amazing! The boys had a healthy fear of catching it and there was no problem with them keeping their distance. There was that time when the three of them were engaged in one of their frequent skirmishes that was getting out of hand and I said, “Listen up boys! Your Grammy hates fighting every bit as much as you hate Covid. If this fighting doesn’t stop I’m going to give every one of you Covid!” They looked up surprised and questioningly. “Yes, siree,” I intoned soberly. “I’m going to lick my finger and wipe it right on you . . .” BLITZ!!! My three handsome grandsons were gone in three different directions. (“But Grammy, would you really???” “Probably not, But—“)
Thankfully, I didn’t feel too terrible, and the days flew by with lots of activity and joy. Ellie had only one day of feeling bad and then was back to normal. Out of precaution, she had to delay her appointment for receiving the results of that last surgery, but otherwise, things progressed fairly much the same as before. Tuesday evening, Raph showed up at my bedroom door with a Covid test.
“Mama,” he said, tentatively, “Would you want to take another test before leaving tomorrow, just to be sure?”
I looked at that test and almost didn’t let him finish. “NO!” I said, more forcefully than necessary. “I don’t want to know. I’m going to put a mask on and wear it all day and I’m going to go home and then, I’ll double check. So, No! I just want to go home!”
He looked a little startled, but seemed to understand and went away. I sat there in my room and thought. I thought about how I would feel if I knew someone else was in my shoes, and I wondered if I had made the right decision, but I figured that I was at least a week into this, I had waited the five days that was required by the airline, I had been vaccinated and boostered and I just wanted to go home. I finished packing my bags and spent a restless night, but my resolve did not weaken.
Early the next morning, Raph drove me to the airport. He stood in the early morning darkness, my tall son, and hugged me, kissed the top of my head (as he has taken to doing over these last years) and thanked me for coming. My heart was full. This son of mine and his brave wife were facing far more than just their little girl’s health issues. There are stories that are not mine to tell. My heart ached for my “Canton Six” and repeatedly, I packed them up in my mind’s eye and set them fully at the only place I’ve found for my anxiety, grief, uncertainties and pain: The Foot of The Cross.
(” . . . when you’re terrified, I will carry you!”)
I landed in Washington without any trouble and Certain Man was there to pick me up. He had accomplished a lot of things in my absence, and I was very impressed with all that had gotten done. I was also suddenly weary beyond belief. We came into the lane of our home, and I looked at the familiar landscape, picked up my phone and texted the family.
“We are safely home.”
It was so sweet to be home. The Crepe Myrtle was showing off, the familiar old farmhouse was beckoning me in. The last eleven days were packed full of so much living. I enjoyed being in Ohio so much, and Raph, Gina, Si, Liam, Frankie and Ellie are some of my favorite people. But now it was time to be back home and get on with the things here.
I did not know that I was coming home to another non-stop merry-go-round of life events that would keep me on my toes and my knees. But that will be in the next segment. This one is long enough.
I didn’t even want to think about it. I decided that I wasn’t going to google it, I wasn’t going to listen to any of the dire predictions, I was just going to pray and wait and bide my time. A CT scan of Ellie’s abdomen and chest as well as an MRI of her leg were scheduled promptly, and we all waited anxiously for the results. The first report was encouraging; there was nothing suspicious in the chest and abdomen. The MRI of the leg? Not so much. “The MRI showed another spot that they need to get out along with tissue around the last tumor and possibly part of some muscles and a tendon. They said that there shouldn’t be any long term effects except possibly a numb spot on the inside of her calf. They’ll send everything out for testing and see where the numbers (cancer markers) are at to see if next steps are needed or just doing scans every several months.” Surgery was scheduled for Thursday, August 4th.
We got that text on Tuesday, the 2nd. Two days before the scheduled surgery. That night I got a call from Raph. Regina was having a miscarriage. Regina and Raph, longing to be parents since shortly after their marriage, had battled infertility and when they were told that the chances of ever having a biological child were slim to none they went the route of adoption through foster care. They were unaware that Regina was pregnant, but when I thought about the timing and the implications and the emotions that my brave, resourceful daughter in law was dealing with, it seriously felt like a bad dream. They asked some questions, took advice and called the doctor in the morning (which was now less than 24 hours until Ellie’s scheduled surgery) and after close questioning and considering symptoms, it was deemed that it would be okay to wait – at least until after the surgery.
I got awake the next morning to a missed call from Raph at about 1:40 AM (I don’t take my cell phone into the bedroom at night) and then a text at 1:45 saying that they were at the ER with Regina who was having severe abdominal pain that would not subside. The wait time was 5-7 hours, and they needed to leave to take Ellie for her surgery at 7:00. I read the note and heard the desperation in his words and thought my heart would break But wait! There was another text, sent an hour later, that said, “We are back home. She’s feeling better. Please don’t call or text before 8:00.”
I thought it would never be eight o’clock! But eventually it rolled around and I was able to at least quiet my heart that Regina was feeling some better, the surgery for Ellie was going off as planned and everyone should be getting back to somewhat normal, but I was so uneasy. How would they ever manage. Regina wasn’t supposed to lift anything, and at that point we didn’t know if Ellie was going to be able to walk. If things went the way the previous surgery went, there would be nights when she would wake up and be restless. Regina would not be able to rest and recuperate like she should, and if Ellie couldn’t walk???
This Mama/Grammy needed to think.
I decided to check on airline fares into the Akron-Canton airport just 15 minutes from Raph and Regina’s house. Aha! I could get a one-way ticket for under $200! Armed with that information, I asked Certain Man what he thought I should do. He was 100% supportive. “I think you should go for it if Raph and Regina think it would help!” He said. And that was the general consensus of every single one of Raph’s siblings and their spouses! They all said that I should go.
I called Raph. “I won’t be much good at carrying Ellie around,” I said, “but she has big strong brothers that can do that if it’s necessary. I can cook, wash dishes, do laundry, take care of the kids, let the dog in and out , help pick up. I can be there so Regina can rest, and I will be happy to come if you need me.” He said that he would talk to Regina and let me know, but he thought that it might be helpful. He called back, and before I knew it, I had a one-way ticket for Saturday, August 6th, for a flight from Philadelphia to Akron-Canton via Washington, DC..
It was a bit strange, but very exciting to me how all the pieces came together in spite of what seemed like incredible opposition. I had this calm assurance that I was supposed to go to Raph & Gina’s, though and it did not waver through crazy traffic all the way to the airport (including reports of 3 accidents between us and the airport in the last 20 miles). Certain Man maneuvered his way through the most trying of situations and still got me to the airport a full hour before my departure time. I boarded and departed and landed in Washington, DC, according to schedule. That’s where things got a little hairy. I was supposed to have a 3 hour layover, (which really didn’t bother me at all) but the flight, scheduled to go out at 7:48 got delayed and delayed until I wondered if I was going to even get out of there at all that night. When it got delayed a third time time, the ticket agent, a beautiful black gal with an accent, in response to my question, “Could it be delayed even further?” Said, “Eet eess a distinct pooseebilitee. But I don’t found oot before you do. We get the same informa-see-un that you do!” So I went back to my book and waiting until, finally around 9:45, the little jet left Washington, bound for Akron-Canton where Raph picked me up around 11:10 and brought me safely home to their home in Canton. The boys were still up and I was welcomed grandly and enthusiastically.
I could write a book about the week with my beloved Canton Yutzys. I pretty much did what I had said I would do: Cooked. (grocery shopped, too) Did laundry. Took care of kids. Let the dog in and out. Helped to pick up. I did other things besides. I tried to interest the boys in weeding. They are more inclined to mow. I baked bread and made cinnamon rolls, cooked some old favorites of Raph’s and loaded the dishwasher and unloaded it. There was nothing that I had to do, but what a joy it was to do it and the Grace of God was incredibly real to me through the minutes and hours and days. Raph and Regina were so appreciative and affirming and easy to be with! The children are some of my favorite people, Ellie was doing far better than expected, and the week sped by.
On Tuesday, I was reading Ellie her nap or bedtime story. It was “The Little Engine That Could” and I was as always, putting heart and soul into it. And then we came to this page:
Well, there was a paragraph on this page that called for “bellowing!” And being the good Grammy that I am I bellowed. Except that the bellow got strangely broken in the middle. Something really strange caught in my throat. Oh, dear. I coughed, adjusted the volume and finished the story, and got Ellie settled into her bed. But the funny little tickle continued.
At the beginning of the week, Regina had some doctor appointments. She hadn’t been experiencing the excruciating pain, but she was still wasn’t feeling at all well, and sometimes I would see her face awash with an almost indiscernible look. I saw weariness, discomfort and grief mixed with a faraway look that concerned me so much. There were things I could not do – the boys needed to do school shopping and Ellie’s incision (a long, ugly thing) needed tending. Regina handled things expertly, resting often, but by the middle of the week, a procedure was scheduled for Friday morning. This was where Raph and I began to have some discussions about when I was going to go home. I had scheduled a return flight for Saturday morning, but I kinda felt like I should stay longer, and he said he would be happy if I did. I was getting anxious to be home and Certain Man’s birthday was on Sunday. On Thursday Raph, Gina and I sat down and discussed things. Regina’s family was standing at the ready to help in any way that they could. Her sister, Marilyn, was already planning to spend Saturday with her with the option of Sunday if needed. Her Mom, Saloma, was also ready to help out the next week if needed. I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch, but it sounded like they might be okay. Besides . . .
“There is one more thing,” I said. “I’m out of my prescription meds as of Saturday . . .” I was going to say that I could call Certain Man and the people at home and have them send them, but before I could say anything else, my Eldest Son said, very decisively, “Then you are going home on Saturday! That settles it!” And so, with great joy and even a freedom of spirit, I made my plans.
There was one thing, though. That tickle in my throat had continued. I could mostly forget it, but every now and then it would remind me that something was amiss. Then I started sounding like I had a frog in my throat. I had forgotten all about the “bellowing incident” and I kept trying to think what in the world was wrong with me. As is the custom with little children, they like the same book read over and over again, so I was reading that book to Ellie again and came to the bellowing page and was suddenly reminded of what had happened the last time. I was so relieved!!! I finally knew what was wrong with my voice. I was careful not to bellow a bit! And I told my sisters that night that I had finally found out what was wrong with my voice. It was actually funny to me at that point.
Friday morning. Raph and Regina were leaving early for her procedure. I had had a restless night with a bad tickle and some more coughing. I came down in the early morning hours before they left and said, “Do you have any home Covid tests? You know, with leaving tomorrow, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t at least check. I’m sure it isn’t, but in the off case that it is, I guess I shouldn’t fly.” They had one. Regina got it for me and they headed out to the hospital. I didn’t feel like taking it. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I felt grumpy and tired and old. Finally I bestirred myself and did the nasal swab, twirled it in the solution and dropped the mandated drops onto the test strip. I didn’t want to watch, but I couldn’t help seeing that the positive strip turned up before the liquid even reached the test point.
“Oh, no! Maybe that’s why you aren’t supposed to check it for 15 minutes,” I thought. “Maybe I have the strips mixed up and this first one is the control strip. Maybe, maybe, maybe . . .” There was no such maybe. The control strip colored up while the positive only got brighter and brighter. I willed myself not to keep checking it but the enormity of the fix I was in, and the weight of knowing that I had exposed this already vulnerable household to Covid, kept drawing me back to that little white strip sitting on a small ledge beside “my” chair.
It’s funny how things come into your mind at a time like this, but this verse from James kept running through my head, paraphrasing itself as it scrambled about.
James 4:13, NIV: Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to Canton, Ohio, and spend a week there, thinking you are being such a big help! Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’
Well, I knew it was the Lord’s will for me to be there. I had prayed about it, and I was pretty certain He wanted me to go home after a week. But it was pretty plain He didn’t. It’s funny, looking back. I didn’t feel like God was punishing me or even scolding me. I almost felt like He was smiling, and telling me, “Daughter, your work in Ohio isn’t done yet. There are special days ahead. You will be glad that you had five extra days. Hold on, my child. It’s all good!”
And it truly was. The only one of the family who got Covid was little Ellie, and she only had one day of feeling bad. I masked up some, and the boys kept their distance, but when Ellie tested positive two days after me, I stopped worrying. I knew that anyone who was going to get it was truly going to get it from our little fireball. As it turned out, I was very grateful for the extra days. But the rest of the story is for another segment. Stay tuned!
I see that it has been over six weeks since I’ve updated this blog. Actually 45 days. There have been many days when I thought that I had to get on here and write everything that has been happening in our lives as a family, and in my life in particular, but there honestly never seemed to be time. There actually doesn’t seem to be time now, but it’s high time I let those of you who have been praying for our family have at least a little glimpse into our lives, and to give grateful praise for the promises that will never fail us. (The rest of you can listen in.) Because of the length of it, I’m going to write it in segments.
After writing that last blog, Deborah developed an infection on one side that has continued to give her trouble. For awhile, it looked like it was going to clear up with antibiotics and extra care. We were even given permission to take her to Ohio for the Yutzy reunion over the weekend of July 31st. Deborah was especially wanting to go because it was the weekend that we were also having her Aunt Lena’s memorial service. It was a lovely time! Deborah traveled out late and came back early and even though it was a stretch for her, she did well! She came back feeling pretty well, and when she saw the doctor that week, she was given permission to take her own showers and comb her own hair! We thought we were on a good track towards recovery. We were wrong.
Every time it looked like things were finally settling down, about the time that she finished a course of antibiotics, and we got hopeful, the next thing you know, here would come the swelling, increased pain, lots of drainage and the incision would start macerating and the stitches would come loose, creating more and more anxiety with each day. Last week her surgeon decided that more surgery was in order, and plans are for her to go back in and have that done this week on Friday, August 26th
Looking back, it would seem that we had enough to think about without adding a single thing to our emotional plates. Our daughter in law, Jessica, dealt with a major flare-up of her stomach disorder shortly before Deborah’s surgery, and that was on our minds as well, and even though it seemed like it was beginning to settle down, there was the ongoing concern for the residual pain left from the earlier damage. Into the middle of this, another issue raised its ugly head.
Our Ohio granddaughter, Ellie, had been dealing with sudden pain in her right leg for some time. She would suddenly stop almost mid-step and cry out and then sob while someone rubbed it for a bit, and then she would go back to being herself. She often walked with a limp, though, and even though it had been checked repeatedly, it was not thought to be anything serious. The hard part was that it would seem to disappear for a time, and then come back for a spell, and then quiet down again. This spring, it came back and seemed to intensify. There were numerous tests done, and it was decided that the lump that had been deemed a cyst needed to be checked out more thoroughly since it seemed that the pain was originating from that cyst. It was so small that the surgeon said that it would be just as invasive to do a biopsy as it would be to remove it and so he did just that. Following the surgery he said that it was a lipoma – nothing to worry about, they would send it to the lab, but he was sure that it was just a lipoma. The aftermath of that surgery was difficult. Ellie was in a lot of pain, and she couldn’t sleep. There was an exhausted, miserable little girl, and equally exhausted parents. A few days later the hospital called and said that they were unable to identify the lump, that they were going to send it to the Mayo Clinic to have it analyzed. They reassured Raph and Regina that they felt it was benign.
That weekend, the three grandsons came to Delaware for a week. What a week it was! This Grammy didn’t know if she was going or coming! Deborah, usually my right hand person when it comes to doing things with the grandsons, was not only incapacitated, she needed my help! Charis had just spent a week with Bontrager cousins and was rather peopled out, and it wasn’t feasible to have Christina help if Charis wasn’t here. There were various activities planned for the week for which Charis joined me and the boys, but Daniel was working and it was a very full week at First State Inspections so he was gone a LOT! Oh, we did things, alright: I took them swimming in a neighbors beautiful inground pool. Twice or three times. I took them to the Rehoboth Children’s Theater production of “Puss in Boots.” They were unimpressed. I loved it. I took them to Bob Evans for lunch. They were keyed up. And I’m not used to the dinner topics of a girl and three boys ages 10. 11. 12 & 13. The Restaurant was short handed, and the wait did not wear well on the restless natives. I took them to Chuckie Cheeses. They liked it. I didn’t. At least not much. And then on Thursday, Certain Man took off work and took the three boys and me to Sight and Sound to see “David” and it was a grand time. On the way home, CM stopped and the boys and he played a couple of rounds of miniature golf (and I might have sat in the car with the A/C on and slept). Friday was a bit of a catch up day for me. The rest of the family was coming in for the weekend and there was food to prepare and stuff to catch up, so I didn’t plan anything major for the boys. So they ran the golf cart and were on the computers and did young men kinds of things until their Uncle Rob and Auntie Rachel came and took over the entertaining until I got supper on.
Somewhere through that afternoon, we had a text from Raph: “Is there anyway that we can get everyone together tonight? We have something we want to discuss with the family.”
And thus began another saga in the life of our family. Our four-year-old granddaughter, Elise Evelyn, had received a diagnosis on the “cyst, tumor, lipoma, benign (but unknown)” area in her right leg that had been excised the week before.
On school mornings, I would comb her brown hair into two pigtails before school, and she always had an opinion. She would feel them gingerly, then hold up her thumb and forefinger and measure from her ear to the braid, then carefully holding the space between her fingers, check the distance from her other ear to the other braid to see if they were the same distance apart. Because I knew that this was going to happen, I would try hard to make sure that they were as even as possible. If they weren’t, she would tug and tug at the one that wasn’t right so that it would be a bit more compliant. I would secretly look at the result and think that the offending braid wasn’t actually moved that much, but it was the principle of the thing! At least she felt better about it.
There came a time, as a fifth grader that she wanted to go to New York City with her Grandpa and Grandma Yoder and decided that she would learn to comb her own hair. She didn’t want to have something as simple as needing someone to comb her hair to prevent her from having an adventure, and though she knew her Grandma would do it, she did not want to have to rely on anyone. And so, she learned.
The years passed. My girlie grew up. She graduated from high school, went to Bible school, went to Bangladesh, and from there set out to travel the world, taking any excuse to go on yet another excursion, independent, brave, and strong. She became an RN, and took a job as a hospice nurse which she has held for over 11 years. She made friends that were loyal, loved the many children in her life, bought land, built a house, loved her church and neighborhood and family with intent and abandon. She grieved the losses of things that mattered to her, and she laid aside her dreams of marriage and children without rancor or bitterness or resentment, though she sometimes cried when choosing what she knew was right over compromise.
She is still my girlie, though she is an adult.
These last weeks have been hard for her. There was the sudden diagnosis of breast cancer, and almost as suddenly, a double mastectomy. She had never been hospitalized, much less had even minor surgery, and the anesthesia and pain meds had a debilitating effect upon her. When she finally got awake enough to realize that she was the only patient left in recovery and that the nurses were staying late because of her, she forced herself to sit up, and then instructed those responsible to get her dressed and get her out of there. She came home nauseated and teary and in so much pain. Somehow the hospital messed up and didn’t get her prescriptions called in as they said they would and there was an anguished gap in some much needed meds. But we made it with some desperate, pleading prayers (with the help of some close, professional friends). The next five days were pretty much as expected but then came the nagging pain in the leg, then the shortness of breath, and then the diagnosis of deep vein thrombosis in the leg and pulmonary emboli in both lungs. This time she got admitted to the hospital, and spent two long days trying to find answers, solutions and resolution. It was a holiday weekend, and although her caregivers tried hard, the hospital was understaffed, orders got overlooked and the days were long. It was a huge relief to her to finally come home on Tuesday night to her house, her cat and the familiar.
One of the things that she is not allowed to do is comb her hair. It is hard for her to accept. Her bout with Covid caused her hair to thin, and just when it seemed like things were starting to replenish a bit, she got hit with this surgery and it’s falling out at an alarming rate. There is really nothing she can do about it, and even if there was, she couldn’t do it for herself.
So once again, this Mama is combing her girlie’s hair. I pull the brush as gently as I can through the thin tresses and then I braid it in one lone braid down the back. She never moves to measure distance, but I look at the braid and it isn’t straight. I wonder what she’s thinking. I resist the urge to try to tug it a bit to the right and say, “I don’t know, Deborie-girl. It’s not very straight . . . “
“I know,” she says, matter of factly. And then, as she has said a hundred times over these last two weeks, “It doesn’t matter. It’s fine. Thank you, Mama.” My eyes burn with sudden tears because I know that behind those quiet words is another decision. It does matter. I know it does. But she has decided that anything someone does for her is going to be considered a gift, and she is not going to complain. I pick up the brush and carry it to the bathroom and put it away. I think about courage and strength and love and hard decisions. I think about how hard this could be for us all, including Deborah, if she gave in to the preferences that sit firmly in her OCD’d brain and thank God for Grace extended – to us through her, and to her, through the One who gave her to us in the first place.
You know, It’s a pretty special thing to be able to comb my girlie’s hair. I am glad for this opportunity. I’m so thankful that I can walk this journey with an adult daughter, and have the opportunity to help in any way that I can, even if I don’t always get it right. And I’m glad that she isn’t measuring the distance from her braid to her ear. I would really come up short.
For this, and so much more, my heart gives grateful praise.