Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Prayer Shawl

A few months ago, I finally managed to get to one of my knit group's get-togethers. My attendance this past summer had been sporadic, mostly because I wasn't willing to leave Tom alone for more than a couple hours.

But he was having a good day, and he encouraged me to go. The group was having a going away party for Mary Adrian, who had just taken a great job in another state.

When I arrived, I was quite surprised when all the gals gathered around me and handed me a gift bag. Inside was a beautiful blue prayer shawl. It's tradition in this group to group-knit a prayer shawl for any member having a rough spot in their life, and the ladies each took turns lovingly knitting on my shawl and saying a prayer for me at the same time. I was overcome by their generosity and compassion. Lots and lots of tears. It meant so much.

The photo below shows the members of the group at the going-away party. Several who actually knitted on my shawl weren't able to attend that day. I am thankful for such wonderful, caring friends. That's the party girl Mary Adrian front-left, and me in my beautiful shawl on the right.

I took the shawl home and showed it to Tom. I was in tears again; the emotions that shawl released were overwhelming. He understood - and gave me a huge hug. I wrapped that shawl around both of us, and we just sat there holding on to each other for a long, long time.

These past months I wore the shawl when I was feeling down. Our journey became increasingly rough, and I would wear it even when it was way too hot to wear a shawl. It was very calming to me, mostly because I knew how much love was being shared when it was being made.

When we went to Ann Arbor in early September, I didn't take it with me. After all, we were just going for a quick consultation with a pain specialist - I had no idea that Tom would be admitted to the hospital, and that we wouldn't be returning home that day.

After two weeks in the hospital, I managed to get back home for a few hours of bill-paying, paperwork catch-up and cat checking. I saw the shawl as I was walking out the door to return to Ann Arbor, and threw it over my shoulder. I can't explain why I did that. Somehow it just seemed like it was necessary. At that moment, I had no idea that Tom wouldn't be coming home.

Two weeks later, I was holding Tom's hand when I realized that he needed my prayer shawl. I tucked him in it as he was sleeping. I knew it was going to be his last weekend on this earth, and felt much better sharing my comforting, prayer-loaded shawl with the most important person in my life. He slept, with me holding his hand, surrounded by that beautiful shawl.

That weekend, his sons came up from Florida. He slept some of the time, resting some of the time with his eyes closed, but was awake frequently. He was fully aware that they were there with him, and although he wasn't able to talk much, he was able to communicate with them with hugs and hand motions.

One of his sons brought a new photo of our youngest granddaughter, Shaylen, with her newly-discovered Mona Lisa smile. That last morning, I tucked the photo next to his hand, above the prayer shawl. Even though he was sleeping, he knew what I'd done. He squeezed my hand, showing me that he realized I was sharing with him things which are important to us - friendship, love and family.

I miss him. He's in my heart, every moment. But it's sure not the same as having him sit with me on the sofa. I'm okay with his leaving, but I wish with all my heart that he was still here. That he was able to squeeze my hand so strongly just moments before he died was a special, one-of-a-kind gift - it meant he knew where he was going, and he was saying goodbye.

I love you, Thomas.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Scream Therapy??

Well, I gave it my best shot. I tried scream therapy, thinking that some extreme-loudness while in the shower would make me feel better.

The first scream was less than impressive - since I haven't done much screaming in my life, I'm just not very good at it. It was sort of squeaky, and my volume wasn't anything to be proud of. I still had lots of hot water left, so I gave it another go. Absolutely pathetic. Maybe I'm not doing it right (there's a "right" way to scream???), but I sounded like one of my cats when I accidentally step on her tail. More tries, sounding worse than better, and I suddenly thought about what Tom must be thinking: "The woman's gone completely nuts. Who screams in the shower??" Tom used to sing, badly, in the shower.

That thought brought a big smile. He couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. But it was a good memory. Maybe scream therapy isn't going to work in the traditional sense, but since it brought me a small giggle and smile, I guess it's working backwards. That seems to be my story right now - so much of my life seems backwards since Tom died - so it must be okay to scream and then end up smiling at how stupid I must sound.

I've been staying busy with "stuff." Mostly it's things I have-to-do - paperwork, phone calls, re-arranging our accounts, etc. My brother has been here for several days, and is helping me with chores around the house, plus errands that must be done. I'm still mostly operating on auto-pilot, but I'm sure looking forward to that time when I can do some want-to-do-things instead. Soon. Maybe. Right now, auto-pilot is keeping me going. That's okay.

After reading Tom's obituary, several of you wrote me asking how you can donate in Tom's memory towards his Masonic Lodge, or how you can help with funeral expenses. Thank you for your kind offers. I'll leave the "Helping Tom" PayPal donate button up for another week for those who wish to help. If you could specify which is your preference - Tom's Masonic Lodge or funeral expenses - I'd appreciate it.

Thanks for all your wonderful support. It's been a rough 18 months. After my stroke, Tom and I decided that God must have a plan. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. Little did I know that God's plan was to have me take care of Tom while he battled cancer. This past year allowed me to find courage in the face of true adversity, and to love Tom even more than I thought possible. Sometimes, when you think you are dealing with the worse possible situation, you actually find out that good things can come out of bad. It definitely happened for us.

And now, off to bed for me. There's an emergency candy bar waiting on my nightstand. Chocolate has become my new best friend.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A Good Day

We said goodbye to Tom today.

So many good friends showed up at the Masonic hall. Tom's former co-workers, our old friends from law enforcement days, my knitting friends, our antiques dealer friends, Tom's fellow massage therapists, our neighbors, and so many of his Lodge brothers all came to honor him. Even our attorney was there.

A large photo of Tom, centered in a huge wreath of woodland theme, was center stage. I'd love to show you a photo of that wreath - it was very "Tom". It was lovingly designed by one of his former windows clients, a floral shop he'd done business with for more than ten years. They knew him well and captured his woodsy character. I loved it. Masons aren't comfortable with cameras within their Lodge room, so no photo. But that really wasn't important - what was important was the beautiful celebration service the Masons presented their fellow brother. The thoughtful eulogy showed a strong emphasis on Tom's willingness to help others in need, as well as his dedication to the Masons. Through the tears, I couldn't help but smile - Tom did love to help others, and it was so comforting to me that he was recognized for that great trait.

I hold close to my heart the special appearance by a long-time friend who never attends funerals. He just doesn't do funerals. Never. I've know this about him for 30 years, and never ever did I expect to see him walk in the door. That he would honor Tom and me with his presence was like a warm blanket around my soul - it meant so much.

The spaghetti dinner made by the Masons, complete with dessert, was excellent. The portions were huge, leaving hardly any room for dessert. I wasn't very hungry, so I did it backwards - a lovely large piece of chocolate cake for an appetizer, then salad as my main course. Never got to the spaghetti - I just didn't have room. Well, that's what I told everyone. But really, my appetite just hasn't quite yet returned. It will soon. In the meantime, my scale is appreciative - I've lost eight pounds in the past three weeks. Positive things happen in strange ways.

Surrounded by all that Tom-love from our friends was overwhelmingly wonderful. Lots of good tears, and plenty of smiles and laughter too. Only 90 minutes in all, from the beginning of the service until the end of lunch, but it's helping me heal. Sure, it's going to take time to find my place in this world again. But I carry Thomas everywhere with me, and that's my balance point.

One more thing.

Tom is still helping others. His corneas have been donated to two people who desperately need that special gift. Somewhere out there, there's pieces of Tom that will be giving sight for years to come.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Thomas Duane Pulsipher 1952-2009

Thomas Duane Pulsipher
August 29, 1952 - October 6, 2009

Tom passed away softly, without pain, from esophageal cancer at U of M Hospital on Tuesday, October 6, with his wife Beth holding his hand. He was born August 29, 1952 and raised by parents Ada and Duane Pulsipher in Muskegon, Michigan. He lived a full, happy life – over the years he was a Corrections Officer for the State of Michigan, a Motor Carrier Officer for the Michigan State Police, in grounds maintenance for the Kalamazoo Country Club, and also self-employed as a fulltime partner in his wife Beth's antiques business, as well as his own businesses in commercial window washing and as a Certified Massage Therapist. He was a hard-working man who was always willing to help others. Tom loved to travel, and made friends everywhere he went. His laughter was contagious, and he enjoyed friendships with people from all walks of life. His hard-fought battle with cancer lasted 12 months, and he proudly participated in successful trial studies that will help others in their own cancer fight. Besides his wife Beth, he leaves behind his sons of whom he was so proud - Shawn (Shannon) and Shane (Janette) of Florida, grandchildren James, Skyla and Shaylen, mother Ada and sister Debbie (Bob) of Muskegon, and brother-in-law Andy Chernecki of Detroit. He was preceded in death by his father, Duane.

Cremation has taken place. Services will be Friday, October 9, at 11 am at Kalamazoo County Masonic Center, 4371 West U Avenue, Schoolcraft (1/8 mile west of US 131). Please join us in celebrating Tom's life, and for a light lunch after the service. Arrangements provided by Avink Funeral Home Cremation Society (, Schoolcraft, and the Kalamazoo Anchor Lodge #22.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Kalamazoo Anchor Lodge #22 at KCMC. He loved his Masonic brothers and all their good works; his family requests that you honor his memory by helping them help others.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Tom's Final Days

We're still at U of M hospital. It's been 24 days.

Our plans of using hospice didn't work out. He needs more physical care than I can manage, meaning that at-home hospice wouldn't work. Both of the Kalamazoo area in-patient hospices were unable to take him. We will remain at U-M until the end.

The hospital was finally able to find him a private room, which has made both of us much more comfortable. The staff even ordered him a special air bed from a local medical supply company - it's big and thick and soft, and he's enjoying it very much. They even arranged for meals to be brought for me, so much appreciated since the hospital patient food is so much better than the cafeteria.

Tom's now on his final journey, and is resting comfortably with plenty of morphine to quell his body's disagreements. He sleeps a lot now, but occasionally wakes up to find me holding his hand and talking about whatever is on my mind at the moment. He hears me talk about family, friends, our cats, knitting, the great nurses we've been blessed with, the now-changing Fall colors outside our window, the U-M hospital helicopters that we see frequently through our big picture window. Most of the time he just rests with his eyes closed, sharing an occasional smile.

Once in a while he still talks, though usually it doesn't make much sense to anyone but him. The other night he talked all night long, but most of it wasn't understandable. The morphine has clouded his words. I agreed with everything he said, just in case.

He sees people in the corner of the room, and when he tells me who, it's someone I don't know. But I'm glad he has company visiting him. He told me he saw snow on the ceiling. He told me there were "little Emilies were all over the floor - lots of them!!" Turns out he was seeing little baby Emilies, dozens of them. We don't know any Emilies, adults or babies. But it gave me a smile.

His humor is still strong. His night nurse - one of our favorites, a man who has truly connected with Tom these past weeks - came in the other night at the end of his shift:

Bill, the night nurse: "Well, Tommy, I'm about done with this shift and just wanted to know if there's anything you need before I leave?"

Tom: "Yeah . . . "

Bill (patiently waiting, since it was taking Tom a few moments to get it out): "What can I get you, buddy?"

Tom (with a huge grin): "A hooker!"

I laughed so hard I was crying. Leave it to Tom to come up with such an unexpected, hilarious answer. After a moment of re-grouping, hysterically-laughing Bill the nurse said: "Tommy, you are one in a million!"

That exchange made my day. And there's been other funny moments, as he meanders though his life's final path. The other day he was picking something imaginary off his blanket, then motioned that he wanted to place it in my hand. Holding my hand out, I watched him carefully place it in the center of my palm. I asked him what it was that I was holding for him, and with a look of digust (what was wrong with me - couldn't I SEE it??!!) he then loudly said "Butter knife!!!!!"

Well, heck, I didn't know he was collecting imaginary butter knives . . .

This all from a man who is completely comfortable with the concept of dying. He told me the other day that he's not afraid, and that he's looking forward to seeing loved ones who have gone before. We've talked about serious subjects, and laughed about silly ones too. We are okay.

Even when he's sleeping, he hears me. He squeezes my hand sometimes. It's comforting to me, and I appreciate his attempts to connect even though lately he's not been able to say much.

I've been staying at the hospital most of the time now, sleeping when I can in the big LazyBoy recliner the staff set up for me. Time is getting shorter for us, and I'm trying to be there with him as much as possible.

His sons Shawn and Shane have flown up from Florida for the weekend, and have been here most of the time. Sometimes he's awake enough to recognize them. He's not talking much, but I can tell he really appreciates that they are here. Me too.