Amid the Flood

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Days before reading and re-publishing Linn Ullman’s lines about memory and the loss of it (“You just can’t think too deeply about it”), one of the four remaining classmates of what we’ve called The Chicago Seven, The Gathering, and now The Old Dogs, sent the rest of us an article on Alzheimer’s our latest deceased brother, Wayne, had published years ago.

Chicago Seven Gathering L to R: Wayne Boulton, Harry Strong, Gordon, Steve Shoemaker, Dale Hartwig, Don Dempsey, Bob Young@ McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, 2004.

As Wayne had imagined his ship going over the far horizon, his worst thought was not death. It was that he would live on, like his father had, without remembering how to tie his shoelaces and without recognizing Vicki, the love of his life, his sons Matt and Chris, daughters-in-law Liz and Libby, and the grandchildren who brought him such joy.

That nightmare didn’t happen. He went out with his mind in tact, as much as a hospice patient’s mind is ever fully there. Aside from his last few days, Wayne’s mind was clear and his heart was full. The article Harry sent the three other surviving Dogs is a reflection on Psalm 90:10, 12 (RSV):

The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away. teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

When he died in 1989, the sum of Dad’s years came closer to fourscore than to threescore and ten. With the psalmist, I attribute this number to his strength, but I would not wish the manner of his death on anyone. He died of complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.

It was my first experience with the death of an immediate family member, so I was no veteran. I found myself up against a more complicated reality than I had anticipated. I remember thinking at the time that some portion of this is just plain death: nasty, sad, the way death always is. But it is not natural death. It is something else. In the words of Martin Luther’s signature hymn, the disease threw every member of Dad’s little nuclear family—his wife, daughter-in-law, and myself—into a “flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

Amid the Flood,” Wayne G. Boulton, Reformed Review, Western Theological Seminary, December 1, 2000.

Wayne died the way he lived and lived the way he died. Faithful son, husband, grandfather, and friend. Wise. Compassionate. Pastoral. Realistic. Hopeful. Consoler. Prayerful. Private. Counselor. Social critic. Political wonk. Brilliant Christian theologian-ethicist. Follower of truth wherever it led him. All of that and so much more. But, if I had the pen to engrave his epitaph on the simple grave stone in the cemetery of the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, if might read,

A sheep of Your own fold, a lamb of Your own flock, a sinner of Your own redeeming, humble servant his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ amid the flood of mortal ills.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 5, 2019.

Dawgs

Pouring over his 2,000 book collection today, Steve found “DAWGS!”, published in 1925. Six old friends call ourselves “The Dogs”. After receiving Steve’s e-mail, I read the inscription to Barclay, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel friend who naps with me every afternoon. Barclay liked it as much as the Dogs in Arizona, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota. Barclay looked up with sad eyes and repeated word for word: “Yes, Dad,” he said, “I’m your Guardian and Friend. I’ll be faithful to the end.”

Dogs Dawgs

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 18, 2016

 

Ever wish you were a dog?

The voice in this video is Barclay’s favorite sister, Kristin, who’s “babysitting” while Barclay the soccer dog’s parents are away. Sometimes I wish I could turn on a dime and have this much fun entertaining myself. Listen for the “Woof!” in reply to Kristin’s “Good boy!”  We miss you, little guy!

 

 

 

Verse – Old Age and Dogs

When my dog’s on a trail I can’t see,
And I call him to sit by my knee,
It never takes long,
His idea is just gone,
And with age it now happens to me!

Steve and his constant companion

Steve and his constant companion

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Jan. 28, 2015

NOTE: Steve and Nadja’s Collie enjoys the tall fields behind the Shoemaker home on the Illinois prairie, but his ears are tuned for his tall friend’s invitation. I [Gordon] would include his name, but I’ve forgotten.

 

If you want attention…

Maggie caring for her sick friend Doug

Maggie caring for her sick friend Doug

Sparky and Doug Hall, Wabasha, MN

Sparky and Doug Hall, Wabasha, MN

Ever since posting about the loss of Maggie and Sebastian we’ve been flooded with affectionate Facebook comments.

Dogs touch the deepest parts of us. These photos were taken in the home of Doug and Mary Hall in Wabasha, MN several years ago. Doug, a “street lawyer” (John Gresham) if ever there was one, founding Director of the Legal Rights Center, Inc. in Minneapolis, lawyer for American Indian Movement occupation of Wounded Knee, and restorative justice pioneer, was dying of cancer.

Doug and Mary’s dog Sparky, a lovely Labrador retriever, never left Doug’s side.

Click Nature Boy for Nat “King” Cole singing there was a boy who wandered far only to learn that “the greatest thing is to love and be loved in return.”

If you want attention…No…if you want to love and be loved in return, become a nature boy or girl. Get yourself a dog or two. You’ll be blessed by them. And, when they finally leave your side, your friends will sympathize.

The only animal dumb enough…

Kay, Maggie, Sebastian

“We are the only animal dumb enough to not be where we are.”

The words popped out in the barber chair at Great Clips when Dee, the barber (I still call them barbers), told me that the person who had sat in the chair before me had spent her whole time playing on her iPhone. Never said a word. Never looked up. It sure seemed to Dee that her client was there…in the barber’s chair…but she was somewhere else, while the barber with the real scissors that were cutting her real hair in the real chair at the real Great Clips in the real Chaska Commons was…well…not there. How dumb is that!  “We humans are the only animal dumb enough to not be where we are.”

I spend my days alone with my dogs. Maggie and Sebastian live where they are. They don’t miss a trick – no pun intended; they’re not very well-trained – but they pay attention to every little thing. Every movement I make, every bird that flies across the window, every word spoken, every sound that might hint that Mom’s home, or that Dad is leaving…or taking them for a walk…or a ride in the car. They live where they are.

Sometimes they have to bark to jerk me away from my desk when I pretend I’m not there, checking my emails, surfing the web,  or writing a story. They know I don’t know how to be where I really am. They know that I’m not as smart as they are, but they’re  forgiving of my chronic weakness. They never look down on me.

We human animals think we’re so smart. We are. But what have we lost in ADHD heaven? If it hadn’t been for Maggie and Sebastian, I might not know; the words would never have popped out of my mouth in Dee’s barber’s chair.

When I got home, I shared with my furry companions the conversation with Dad’s groomer and what I had said: “We are the only animal dumb enough to not be where we are.” They were proud of Dad. I returned to my computer and ADHD heaven. They came along side the desk, gave me their paws, and said in unison, “We’re always here for you, Dad.” Then they asked if it was time to go for a ride in the car.

“Wait ’til Mom gets home!”

Over the Memorial Day Weekend, my only conversations are with Sebastian (Shih Tzu-Bichon Frise), and Maggie (Three quarters West Highland White Terrier and one-quarter Bichon Frise).

Maggie and Sebastian romping in the snow

Sebastian keeps asking, “Where’s Mom?”

“She’s gone to the cemetery.”

“NO!”

“Yes. She’s gone to TWO cemeteries!”

“NO!!!!”  “Not TWO.”

“Yes, two cemeteries.”

“No! Mom’s dead?”

“No… she’s gone to the cemeteries.”

“No. You’re pullin’ our tails…she can’t be buried in TWO cemeteries. Only ONE. We’re not stupid.”

“Okay,” I say. “You’re not stupid. You’re both very bright. Mom’s not been taken to the cemetery like you guys will be if you keep peeing on the rugs and on the corner of the new kitchen island …she’s not buried. She’s DRIVING to the cemeteries in the car.”

“DRIVING? In the CAR?”

“Yes…in DAD’S CAR.”

“We’re going for a ride In DAD’s car?”

“No,” I say. “Mom has Dad’s car. She’s gone to the cemeteries…in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s Memorial Day. Besides, no rides in Dad’s car until you stop peeing in the house.”

“Aw! That’s not fair. We want to go for a ride in the car…right NOW. Like you always say!  ‘Where the ____ is Mom?'”

“Bad dog, you’re not supposed to talk like that. Where’d you learn to talk like that?”

“Mom taught us. We love Mom more than you.”

“I don’t care. She’s not here!  I’m all you’ve got until Mom gets home.”

“Mom’s home?” They run to the door.

“Oh boy, oh boy, Mom’s home! Mom’s home!”

“No. She’s coming home tomorrow. Maybe, when she brings Dad’s car….”

“Dad’s car? Ride in the car?”

“No. You have to listen. When she gets back from the cemeteries, Dad will take you for a ride in the car…OR…if you keep peeing in the house, Mom will take you both for a ride… to the cemetery.

“No, no…not the cemetery!” shouts Maggie.

Sebastian saunters over to the island.

“You’re pullin’ our tails,” he says. “Mom wouldn’t take us to the cemetery.”

He looks right at me and lifts his leg: “You’re mean. Wait ’til Mom gets home!”

Sebastian and Maggie with Momoh Freeman