Rod passed peacefully in his sleep after about a day in a coma at around 10:35 PM on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Curt and Carrie were at the house in Estes Park with us for dinner. Carrie’s father had passed on Saturday and she was working on a photo montage with Greg when I got to the house that afternoon. In the evening, we had Hunter Stew in the dinning room. Rod slept through it all breathing regularly but shallow..
Curt and Carrie were here earlier in the evening and we all had dinner together next to his bed. After they left and three of us fell asleep, Jane and Linda stayed up to watch a movie. About 12 minutes before the end of the movie, Jane noticed that the shallow rhythmic breathing that was ever present in the house, was silent.
Linda came upstairs and woke up Greg and I with the news and we all came down to the dining room. Indeed, Rod was still and the room quiet. We milled around a little fidgeting like we knew we were supposed to do something but not sure what it was. I sat in a chair and just stared at a Rod for long minutes.
Laura called Science Care and then hospice. Of course, because it was late at night, it was going to take some time before the hospice nurse could make it out. Science Care wasn’t going to dispatch their team until the hospice nurse confirmed that Rod was dead and they were driving up from almost 2 hours away. It was going to take some time.
I have a hard expiration date (time) at about 10 PM. I don’t stay up much past then gracefully. I decided that it would be better if I went back to bed. I tried but it wasn’t going to work so I got back up and sat with the rest of the family. We all poured some drinks and got comfortable.
Carol the hospice nurse indeed arrived almost an hour later. She was efficient as always. Then it was another couple hours wait for Science Care.
Leading up to this time, I was curious how it would feel when Rod was gone. What emotions would we express? Would we all be on the same page? This is a huge event, right?
I expected relief. I expected for the suspense to be resolved like a diminished chord giving way to major tonic. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it wasn’t relief; I just felt nothing. I felt numb. Perhaps I was too tired to process what was happening at the time or possibly too self-conscious. In retrospect, I think I was just in shock.
A nice man from Science Care arrived about 2 AM to take Rod away. He was very polite, professional, sensitive, and proper. He had to be, of course, but it seemed he was so overly patient with us when he didn’t need to be. He explained that Rod was going to be moved from the hospital bed to the gurney, first shrouded in a sheet and then covered once on the gurney. We would be able to say goodbye once he was moved to the gurney and then he would take Rod to the car. He encouraged us to leave the room while he moved Rod.
It isn’t my place to speak about anyone else in the house except for me and, well, Jane. This was obviously a very personal time and our choices were deeply personal. I chose to watch and Jane chose to help. The Science Care guy seemed a little surprised by both of us but accepted our decisions. Jane put on the purple gloves and with the professionalism and compassion that was a trademark of her work throughout, helped.
I was surprised that this was a one person job. Rod was very thin but still his full 6’3″ height. Assistance seemed necessary and I wondered how he would have faired without Jane. I was surprised and moved by the care the two put into the task. There was no sudden or rough movements. They treated him as gingerly and gently as he was treated when he was alive. They treated Rod’s body with the respect that I hope we had afforded Rod throughout.
For those that want to know, the professionals executed an elegant ballet that I watched from near the foot of the bed. First, the covers were removed but not his clothes or the catheter. He was rolled to his left and a lengthwise fold sheet placed where he was. Then they rolled him to the right and unfolded the part of the sheet beneath him. Then they laid him flat and wrapped the sheet around him. With a count of three, he was lifted to the gurney. Rod, of course, was too long and they had to reposition him. Jane and the tech moved quickly with few words spoken or necessary. The tech covered Rod in a charcoal black covering with a single fake red flower in a pocket and announced that he was done.
We all remerged and stood for a brief moment in silence. I think he expected us to do “something” but we had nothing left to do. We were exhausted in every way.
Sleep came easily after he was gone but being greeted by the silent house the next morning was difficult. Pastor Jess came over in the morning and we sketched out the memorial service. It was decided that Monday afternoon was the best time. I had a sales call to support in late morning. I did my best and then signed off. Over the course of the day, we did more planning and picked out pictures for the photo montage. Many of us napped, of course. Curt and Carrie came over and brought lunch. It was a blur.
I was always curious about the days between the death and the service. I wanted to provide a picture of what it was like but the word ‘blur’ pretty much sums it up. I will do my best but must say that it was just a pile of small tasks, many errands, and conversations punctuated with laughter as well as tears.
Friday started with me scanning photos for the montage and then Jane and I packed up to go back home. Greg and I worked on the program and the montage as the women escaped to do some shopping in Loveland. In the afternoon, Rod’s sister-in-law Marsha called and something about her voice on the phone absolutely wrecked me. Marsha’s hip surgery was going to keep her from coming to Colorado from Sioux Center, Iowa. Marsha is the matriarch of the ‘huggy’ side of the family and a woman that I find absolutely delightful. I had to close the door to the office while I spoke and cried with her.
That night we retrieved Maggie from the airport and shuttled her up the mountain. Jane and I slept at home together Friday night for the first time in five weeks.
I went for a ride Saturday morning with Swift and rode well but felt like I was still fighting the cold from earlier in the week. Then we packed up again and headed back up the mountain. I picked up Jane’s aunt Phyllis and my nephew Andrew from the airport and drove them up. Jane brought Jeremy up. That night, twelve of us went to dinner together at Twin Owls which was excellent and then headed back to the house for a little. At some point, I started to feel and act strange. I got real tired and felt like I just needed to close my eyes for bit.
That night at the hotel, I developed a fever of at least 101.5 which for me is up there in the hallucination range. The hotel was loud and I couldn’t get warm. At some point in the middle of the night, the fever broke and was accompanied by really cool nightmares. Call me crazy, but I find it fascinating that my subconscious can crank out such weirdness given just a little extra heat. Still, I felt terrible in the morning and Jane chased me off to go seek medical help.
I went to the Estes Park Hospital emergency room and was greeted by the lonely attendants like polar bears welcome wounded seals. The nice doctor diagnosed me as having sever bronchitis and then loaded me up with a Z-Pak, inhaler, and some really awesome cough syrup. I filled the prescription and got a bunch of San Pellegrino water bottles. The fever from the night before was giving me just an awesome headache.
Back at the house, I worked on my eulogy but kept falling asleep. It was another blur of a day for me. I kept running outdoors to go hack in privacy. My ribs hurt even. Jeremy went to pick up Eric in the evening.
Monday morning started with the more or less cromulent breakfast buffet at the hotel with the Wisconsin Mulders. I had taken a good swig of the cough syrup before bed the night before and it took most of a pot of coffee to clear my head. I got myself into my suit and went out into the parking lot to run through my eulogy a few times. The boys opened their window and heckled me for a while: “more passion,” “I’m not feeling it,”, “you suck.”
I finally got to see Kelsey when we got to the church. That was very nice. The place was beautiful and the service was coming together perfectly. The Rocky Mountain Church crew are all professionals, for sure.
After just a couple last minute changes, the service was underway. I had had only a couple coughing fits before the service but I was plenty nervous I would have one during. My voice was trashed from all the hacking and my ribs were still tender.
Jeremy’s picture of Rod at Christmas was the on screen during most of the service:
Curt eulogized Rod first and highlighted how he was always helping people. Of course it was from the heart and deeply moving. Greg was very polished, of course, and followed Curt with a eulogy about how Rod exemplified the love described in 1 Cor 13. I followed with this:
Thanks to all of you for coming today. It means so much to all of us to know that Rod was loved, liked, and respected by so many.
I am Derek Brouwer, the husband of Jane, Rod and Laura’s youngest. I will try to speak on our behalf about Jane’s father. As many of you know, Jane, who is a nurse, and I relocated to Estes Park about five weeks ago to assist Laura with caring for Rod. Many people asked me how Jane was and the truth was and remains, she is a rock. Steady, stable, professional, compassionate, but largely OK.
Rod was diagnosed with the brain tumor about a year and a half ago and Jane noticed changes to her father almost immediately. Leading up to the first surgery and immediately after it, Jane was at her saddest.
As her father’s little girl, she had always looked up to Rod as the gentle giant that he was. He was the smart man in control of the situation. He could solve problems, quietly command respect, and always spoke with an otherworldly authority.
As the disease attacked him, it stripped away some of his mental quickness, poise, and coordination. It was then, over a year ago, that Jane mourned the loss of her father the hardest. It was then that I realized the vacuum that was forming in her life and how little consolation I would be.
I don’t feel ashamed saying that Rod Mulder has shaped my understanding of God. He is a good father to not only his own children but their spouses as well. Rod & Laura were delightfully normal and stable when perhaps I needed to know that normal was possible.
Watching Rod was like watching the archetype of a Christian man. I should be clear that my father is a great man and I want to be just like him in every way but my father is different. He set his own course and paved his own roads. Rod colored inside the lines more often that not. He was methodical and calculating but also kind. Rod was an elder at the church for way more years than he had to be. He was the very definition of “elder” and there are so few men that can fill that roll as perfectly as he could.
To me, he is a picture of the immovable rock that is the father God. That love that cannot be shaken. The sense of normal, calm, right, good, and proper that is a world without sin.
And Rod Mulder was interesting. He grew up in northwest Iowa where he brought two important gifts to farming: hard work and technical expertise. And then he left farming and set his sights on technology. How amazing is that? Admittedly, there were factors that caused him to leave the Dutch enclaves: there was only so much land to farm and those that could do something else were encouraged to do so. He could leave and he did.
He forged a new life but never lost the values of his youth: integrity, hard work, family, and friends. He landed in Boulder, invested in Crestview Christian Reformed Church, and had a long career at StorageTech in Louisville. I should point out because it has been pointed out to me many times, Rod and Laura were RCA and NOT CRC. They begrudgingly had to settle for CRC in Boulder as there was no RCA church available.
When Rod was 36 and because they were in Colorado, Rod and Laura learned to ski. Always in control, his skiing personified the style of the old school cool. Something about Rod enjoying a beer at the bar at the base of Lion’s Head in Vail is one of the memories that we all hold dear. Perhaps it is because a man who worked so hard relaxing with friends just seems so right.
I do need to say that Rod had some faults and we would be remiss if at least one of us didn’t mention these.
First, Rod’s taste in beer was truly atrocious. He likes Coors Lite. He completely non-ironically liked PBR. He was accidental hipster.
Rod had a sense of humor but it was certainly not the most refined sense of humor. Rod liked Gallagher. He was never going to make it as a comedian but loved to tell corny jokes. As a child, he was motivated to learn Dutch so that he could understand the punch lines of the off color jokes the adults told. I think he simply enjoyed life and it never took much for him to smile or laugh. He just thought everything was delightful.
As the disease progressed, it was this kind, funny, and cute part that emerged. The filters came down and he became childlike and playful. So many of us when faced with these same circumstances would act out bitterness and anger. Rod certainly was uncomfortable. Some days he was sad and depressed; not his best by any stretch. Then there were the days that he tried to teach me how to swear in Dutch—like I need more profanity options—or tried to peel his thumb like a banana.
At his core, when so much of him was stripped away, Rod became even more the person we knew and loved.
I married a woman who was the daughter of a great man and a loving father. I have been trying to fill his big shoes for almost three decades now. He raised the bar for me and then taught me how to clear it. Thank you, Rod. I love you.
During my part, this picture was on the screen:
The service was an excellent testament to Rod. The gospel was proclaimed and he was honored. Hymns he loved were sung and the service included all the components that he would like.
After the service, I was surprised how exhausted I was. Certainly some of my exhaustion was from the speaking in front of everyone but I think the bronchitis also factored in. As I suspected, there were people at every place in the mourning and grieving process and it was challenging to accept the greetings and words of sympathy from everyone. Everyone was very nice, of course, and it tickled me inside to talk to those who were most uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable and being uncomfortable is completely appropriate and honest.
I suspected that as news of Rod’s decline spread, some people had to separate themselves from us. Death is inevitable and certainly there are people that meet this part of our humanity poorly. That seemed to be the minority. I suspect that for most of the people that had to withdraw, the situation was just too painful. Rod was a good, giving, helping, loving, and kind man. Seeing him at his weakest was painful to people. Some I am sure were and are dealing with their own losses. Besides, it isn’t a test of friendship, love and compassion to be at his bedside through all of this. I was blessed to not only have the honor but also to be in a place where I could perform the task.
Truth is, I needed to do it. That doesn’t make me a good person; perhaps it even makes me a bad person. I think it just makes me who I am. I took one of those vocational tests while in seminary because it was free and the counselor that went over the results with me said that it appeared that I like to be in or near the action. Like, I didn’t want to be the hero but I wanted to hang out with the heroes. And I did. Jane and Laura were the heroes; I was just the support crew. I changed batteries in smoke detectors in the middle of the night, shoveled snow, reached high places, did some heavy lifting, fetched stuff, and hopefully provided entertainment. But when the “Code Brown” alerts happened, the real heroes went to work. Laura cooked and baked up a storm, sat with Rod for hours, made a thousand difficult decisions, and remained a rock throughout. Jane simply executed like the professional nurse and loving daughter that she is.
Of course, others were involved like Linda and Greg who were like the reserves showing up at just the moment before we were overwhelmed. Curt and Carrie were a constant resource. Pat and Paul from next door never said no to any request neither did Steve and Allison (thanks for dinner!) or Joy and Fred or anyone from Rocky Mountain Church or the hospice. Or the number of people that sent cards, emails, and text messages that we read to Rod. Or how about the people that Jane and I ran into in Estes Park who would start crying when they learned who we were and why we were in town.
I hate going to memorial services for great people. No, honestly, there is nothing like being in a room with a couple hundred people honoring a single person that makes me feel like I have done nothing useful with my life. Theoretically, I should have hated Rod’s memorial service. We gave little warning and did the thing in almost the least convenient place possible and still people showed up from across the country. Rod was loved, liked, and respected by so many. It was an honor to serve this man in his time of greatest need and to speak and write words of memory about him.
Here is a link to the photo montage following that are the pages of the memorial service program: