Rod Mulder — Eulogy

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:

Rod Mulder

Rod Mulder

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:

Jane and her dad from long ago.

Jane and her dad from long ago.

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:

http://youtu.be/Tu2BK_Ik-_Y

Front of the program from the memory service.

Front of the program from the memory service.

The memorial service order.

The memorial service order.

The long obituary from the memorial service program.

The long obituary from the memorial service program.

Back of the program from the memorial service.

Back of the program from the memorial service.

Rod Mulder — Rebound and Glide Path

15 March

And today was interesting. I thought the night was good and easy. It mostly was. Morphine happened at about 2 AM administered by Linda and Laura. In the morning, the pillow under Rod’s legs and head were no longer in place and his legs were hanging off the bed. It looked like he was trying to get up which would have ended poorly, of course.

I woke up feeling dread. Good days are followed by bad and, well, we were due. In the moment when adrenaline takes over, we deal pretty well but waiting for it to begin is stressful to me. Rod was asleep when I got downstairs. His breathing was even more irregular than before with 4 or 5 non-rhythmic breaths followed by 30 seconds or so of complete silent stillness.

Laura and I debated church and she decided that talking to everyone was not something she wanted to deal with. I decided to go partially to check in with the pastor who had adjusted his vacation because of Rod.

The first worship song was 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord) by Matt Redman. The third verse reads:

  And on that day
  When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore
Forevermore

The stress of the past couple days combined with this prayer struck the raw nerve that I’ve become. It was not pretty at all. The service was good and Rod was a sermon illustration in a way that made me proud to call him my father-in-law.

That which I dreaded never materialized. Instead, Rod got better and better as the day went on. He was interactive, awake, funny, interested, and generally not thinking about dying any time soon. At one point, he wanted to call Curt to ask about the house. Rod, who hasn’t been the least bit interested in the phone since he got back from California, suddenly wanted to make a call. He and Laura called Curt and it sounded to me like it was a completely normal phone conversation.

It wasn’t until later that we thought about how totally freaky this probably was for Curt. When Curt saw Rod Friday night, Rod was in a coma. Now he is calling him up for the first time in a month to have a little chat about house construction?

Linda gave Rod the controller to the hospital bed and he played with it for about a half hour before I final called down from the loft that it isn’t a toy or a carnival ride. Then he was hungry AND COULD EAT AGAIN. He was better this afternoon than he had been in weeks. Even the hoarseness that was a symptom of the brain tumor since the beginning was milder.

He was like a cat that wants to go outside but then wants to be inside, then outside, then inside. Argh! Pick one! Commit!

So, we don’t know but we think that this might be something the DVD that hospice gave us called the Lazarus phenomena but I don’t think that is the common name for it. I’ve seen it called a “rebound” and it is apparently somewhat common among terminal cancer patients. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last and when it happens, it is typically right at the end which really pains me to write.

Today was a beautiful day and a real gift to us. We talked with Rod for a long time today about his youth, his grandparents and family, and, of course, more Dutch profanity.

18 March

Many factors went into our decision, but we (Greg, Maggie, and I) went to Beaver Creek for a couple days. It was good for all of us. We heard through Linda and Jane that Rod was concerned that we got discount lift tickets. We most certainly did. Thanks to Eric, we scored free tickets and there was great rejoicing. I shared that with Rod and he was very happy about it.

We got back to Estes Park tonight. Eric also scored us a couple cases of beer which came in handy because Rod wanted a beer. I showed him the good stuff and then poured him a little PBR which I was pretty sure he would like more.

Rod is confused and sleeps all the time. He thinks Linda is Laura much of the time even when they are both in the room. He still has a good appetite and likes his ice cream and coffee.

Thanks to everyone that was concerned because there were no updates. Rod continues to surprise us. Sometimes he is incredibly lucid and others, just entirely out of it. He is happy and friendly most of the time. Sometimes, I would even say he is playful, funny, and sort of cute.

20 March

Eeek, I almost missed another day! Last night, I left my computer in the wrong room and couldn’t get to it. Tonight, well, I got tired.

Rod is sleeping most of the time. His anti-seizure medicine had to change to one that is more sedative. We aren’t sure how we feel about that. Though Laura talks to him sometimes, his interest in Curt and Carrie’s house, Chuck’s back crisis, and Marcia’s hip replacement has waned. There are times when he pulls the blankets over his head almost like he wants to shut out the world. Soft conversations around him seems to calm him but if it gets loud, he isn’t happy with it.

We seem to be at a new plateau point and we are all becoming comfortable again with our positions and roles. Maggie is flying back to Michigan Sunday to get back to Calvin before classes begin Monday. Linda and Greg are going to prolong their stay a little longer. Jane moved from short term FMLA to long term today. I am planning on going back home more often now that the weather is better. In other words, now that Rod has stabilized again, we are preparing for more and an indefinite duration.

Words like “stress”, “shock”, “numb” &c. pop up in our conversations. It is surprising still how emotionally drained we are and how that translates into our energy levels in general. Nothing about this has been “normal”. No one has any guidance for us and I think we have basically given up trying to understand what is happening. Though maybe that is a good thing, there is stress in uncertainty and a sense that our lives are on hold waiting and dreading what we wait for.

Tonight Curt and Carrie came up for dinner. All three children and their spouses were here and it was good family time. It was sweet as we all talked but also bitter that one of us still in the room was silent.

22 March

Rod is mostly confused and incoherent when he is awake which is very rare. He is still here but seems to see things and sometimes reaches for things that only he can see. He is worried about where his watch, wallet, and glasses are but also wants to know if we have reservations, where he is, and whether there is a suite available in the other building. Everything he says is a whisper or mumble. I don’t understand much but I caught a couple jokes today and got a smile or two out of him as well.

His breathing this morning was very irregular and he was sleeping sometimes with his eyes open. Tonight he and I talked for a while which was nice though very challenging and all over the map. After a while he started singing “Just A Closer Walk with Thee”. His singing was just barely a whisper but I picked up on “this world is not my home.”

I figured it was worth getting that song playing and pulled up three versions: Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson & Patsy Cline duet and, of course, the original Patsy Cline. The best version, by the way, is Willie and Patsy’s because anything Willie Nelson does is the best always.

He fell asleep during the hymn and I queued up the Gaither Vocal Band’s Hymns album. He is sleeping and breathing regularly as I write this. After the frustration and confusion he seemed to be experiencing tonight, it is a peaceful way to end the day.

That was Sunday night. I headed into Boulder on Monday to make an appearance at my office. Working remotely has actually been very productive but that feeling of my life on hold was something I needed to move beyond. Also, my absence would leave the office vacant and allow Greg a place to work. The house was full and all bases seemed to be covered, so it felt like I would be most useful evacuating for a couple days.

Jeremy hadn’t had a home cooked meal in a while so we made some steaks Monday night. I tried to do some laundry and repack for spring. When this dance started, it was winter. Spring roared into Colorado this year and I was overdressed everyday.

Wednesday, I decided to work in the morning and support a sales call just before lunch and then make my move up the mountain directly from the office. On Monday, I realized that I was not feeling well and had caught a cold. Did that stop me from working out in the gym Monday or swimming Tuesday? No, of course not. I did, however, forego a 20 mile bike ride Tuesday evening because I felt terrible and because there were 45 mph wind gusts.

Rod Mulder — Dip and Reflection

If you have been reading up to now, this will be a departure. This isn’t a theology or attempt at a coherent explanation of the universe. It is the ramblings I jotted down while struggling to find answers, reasons, justification, and comfort.

13 March

Today started well. Jane stayed up and administered the good stuff to Rod at about 2 AM. The nurse came in the morning and the pastor a little later. Rod was in and out of it. The coughing was back making it hard for him to breath and sleep. Outside of high blood sugar, his vitals were rock solid.

I went to the gym and got back with some yummies around 1:30. Jane caught me at the door wearing gloves and I made a quick right turn into the office. This was best for all of us. I ate my chicken peacefully oblivious to the business of the moment.

About two hours later, things got, well, bad. He claims he isn’t in pain, but something was clearly making him miserable. Laura was on the way out the door to the insurance agent and Rod didn’t want her to go. She stayed until he fell asleep and then ran the errand. Some time after she was back, Rod complained to Jane about chest pains which he thought was heart burn. Jane, being the sort of nurse that knows a thing or two about cardiac care, was clearly concerned.

Then bad went to worse. I could hear the badness from the office and emerged. It was about 4 PM and Rod was not only feeling terrible but actively calling for help. Laura stayed at his side holding his hand trying to comfort him. She called the hospice nurse and I took her place at his side during the call.

The nurse had a conversation with Laura and then Jane and the hospice nurse talked in nurse-speak for a few minutes. A new plan was hatched and Jane got cooking.

Over the next couple hours, someone was sitting within a few feet of Rod pretty much at all times. A couple times he seemed to be choking and couldn’t breath which he rightfully found very distressing. So did we. Other times, he hugged his chest like it hurt. His eyes were not focused at all. He didn’t see us even with his eyes open. He called for help but sometimes doesn’t seem to know he is doing it. He also calls out “Christmas” and a few other words that don’t make much sense in context or, well, at all. If he did try to speak, it is just slurred mumbles and gibberish.

Of course, we are praying for peace for Rod. For the first time today, he asked “why me?” It was, honestly, one of a dozen things he said today that we understood. Laura pointed out that this was the first time in the entire journey where he has felt even a little sorry for himself. Early this evening, he seemed to slip into a coma.

Curt came over this evening and we ate dinner that Jane cooked while sitting around Rod’s bed. As we talked around the bed, Rod seemed to calm and relax. I think our voices are soothing to him. His breathing is better now which I think is thanks in large part to Jane the chemist. She did “something” and about an hour later, he stopped choking. Now he breathes with difficulty for maybe 30 seconds and then not at all for 15 to 30 seconds.

Clearly something happened this afternoon. A resource we have contrasts the organ-by-organ shutdown typical of other cancers to brain cancer saying: “the brain, as a master circuit breaker, has the capacity to shut down the body in one swift motion, without taking it organ by organ.”

Sorry to end on a down note but I have no energy to put a positive spin on this. Frankly, we are preparing for a challenge. Thanks for reading (if you made it this far).

14 March (real time)

It is about 5 AM and I am alone with Rod. Jane stayed up to 2:15. Laura got up at 2:34 and just went back to sleep fifteen minutes ago or so. Rod’s breathing is slowed and more or less the reverse of what it was the night before. He breathes “normally” four or five times for about 10 seconds and then not at all for as long as 30 seconds. He calls out “help” in his sleep, scratches his head, and fidgets with the covers. He has called out the name of his brother, Theron, who passed two years ago, I think, after a relatively short stint with Alzheimer’s. Laura thought he was thirsty and tried to give him a sip. He bit down on the straw and wouldn’t let go but didn’t drink anything.

He doesn’t seem to know we are here. My experience volunteering at the hospice and as a chaplain has taught me differently. The person in the bed might not understand us, but they know that we are here and our presence can be a calming influence. People fear public speaking, being alone, and dying: in that order, I believe. I am happy that I don’t fear public speaking and I wish I didn’t fear the other two as well. I guess if I didn’t have these fears, I would be a superhero. I’m not a superhero and if I was, there are still those spiders that would be my Kryptonite.

The question I’ve been told never to try to answer is “why is he/she suffering now?” For me, the question is more about the purpose of this suffering. Rod is calling for help because he is in distress, right? It is the one word he seems to always get right. Ironically, I don’t think Rod ever called for help normally. He was the one we all looked to for help. He had the answers, the calm, the measured approach that no matter how complicated or emotional the problem, we could look to Rod for help.

But now he calls for help and there is nothing any of us in this house can do. We don’t even twitch anymore. Only Jane has the power of the chemicals to calm him. My powers are useless now. As a chaplain type, I provide spiritual, emotion, psychological, and sociological support and comfort. I have minimal power over the physical except when it relates to those aspects.

So, why suffering and why now? What purpose does this serve to Rod and to us? These are the questions we are never supposed to answer and, well, never say never.

The light has no meaning without the dark. The good isn’t good unless it is contrasted with evil. This isn’t punishment for Rod’s sins or even ours. This is the result of the human condition and that is all there is to it. It isn’t personal which is why we should never answer this question. It isn’t because the answer is wrong but because it is not satisfying. In our time of distress, we want a personal answer even if the answer is “because he sinned” or “because we did a terrible thing” or whatever else as long as our names are in the answer and tied to a specific action.

Rod Mulder is dying of brain cancer. It isn’t because of anything that this is happening to him except that we live in a fallen world. It is a philosophical and theological reality. Atheists can point to this time and say that this just proves that there is no master plan. I think people of all faiths can point to this time and say that exact opposite. There is a plan and even though we can’t understand the fullness of the plan, we can know that something went wrong. The fact that we know it went wrong means that we know that it should have gone right. Could it have gone right? I would say ‘no’ but that is a much uglier conversation.

No, I would suggest that without this time of trouble, we won’t value the time of peace. Without this specter of death, we won’t appreciate life. It is why young people allow themselves to be sent to war. They do not understand the value of their lives and they allow rich, old people to convince them to throw their lives away for causes that are always lies.

Death and the suffering that surrounds it must be. I really wish it were not so but I fear that it is. I obsess over my health and fitness partially because I wish to avoid a miserable and premature death. That is far from the only reason, but it is a little part. The buddhist idea that we can’t avoid suffering so we must rise above it–transcend suffering so that it doesn’t bother us–truly is the opiate of the masses that Marx warned against. No, we should not rise above it; we should be see suffering, evil, and death for what they are: wrong and difficult.

I am not saying that there isn’t beauty in this time or that it isn’t natural or sacred. It is, but it isn’t going to be pretty nor should it be. The writer of Ecclesiastes creates bookends for life in chapter three. He describes the edges as a time for peace and time for war, a time for life and a time for death, et cetera. We appreciate one because we know of the other. If death were peaceful, easy, completely without fear or suffering, we would not know the value of life.

The truth is that Rod’s suffering was short and even now as he calls out in his sleep, he isn’t suffering. I know this and even though it is disconcerting to us in the house, this is biological in every sense of the word. We were built by our creator to fight for our lives. This isn’t a choreographed Rocky fight or a WWF match or even the UFC style; this is a bar fight. It isn’t fair and it was over before it even really began. One guy had a knife, gun, bottle, or chair and the other guy never had a chance.

And just like a bar fight, it isn’t really personal. It feels personal, but it isn’t really. Maybe that is comforting in its own way or maybe not. There are two things in life that are not optional: birth and death. Every other aspect of life is entirely optional though most of us choose to do things like breath, eat, poop, walk, talk, et cetera. I find it interesting what people will choose to vicariously experience and what they want to experience first hand. Frankly, I think most people have those things exactly reversed. Having experienced a multi-course French meal and a meal from McDonalds, dude, why eat at McDonalds, right?

My point is that from the perspective of how bad this could be, we did it right and up until yesterday afternoon, Rod was comfortable, and loved. The last thing he said before the turn was about how much he valued his family.

Thursday night, Jane and Laura were off watching a show and Rod was sort of awake and wanted a sip of Diet Coke. One thing led to another and I got him a “chewy cookie”. Sitting beside him, I decided to read to him the prayer written on the label of his quilt. It is a beautiful little prayer about how each knot in the quilt is itself a prayer for him. Then we talked. At one point, he tried to tell me a secret. I have no idea what he said so I hope it wasn’t where the gold is buried. We talked a little as men do when they want to share their feelings: poorly. I asked to pray for him and he let me.

It was the last conversation I had with Rod and I am incredibly blessed and honored that it happened. It was, I think, the longest he stayed awake all day. That probably had much more to do with the cookie than me. The conversation ended like all conversations like that end between men, just like the conversation between the rock star and the manager when the rock star confesses that the manager is the love of his life in Love Actually. There was grunting, eye contact was averted, and if he could have, we would have smacked each other on the back painfully.

One of my theological problems with Christianity through the ages has been this idea that we are just worthless sinners no matter where we are in our walk with our God. As much as I’ve read and studied the words of Jesus and the theology of the Bible, I’ve never gotten the impression that we are supposed to just wallow in our ineptitude. Certainly before we know Jesus or know our need for Jesus, we are ripe and bloated with sin. But then the saving nature of Christ’s crucification lances us as well and drains our sin away.

I am not proud of that picture I just painted. No, wait, I am. Sorry.

This isn’t to say that the infection isn’t still present (let’s just ride this train a little further, shall we). The sinful nature is still there and the work of sin in our lives continues to cause us problems and pain. The point that bothers me is that we never seem to progress or if we do, we aren’t allowed to mention that we have progressed. The work of Jesus is not a cure that we only realize when we die. It was supposed to be transformative in that we are supposed to actually and very really and tangibly transform. We are supposed to become more Christ-like.

I look at Rod Mulder and see a man that was transformed. His pastor asked him yesterday when he came to know Jesus and for a moment I was happy that Rod wasn’t speaking intelligibly and the question went unanswered. Rod never knew a world where Jesus wasn’t an option. Faith was like air and church was not optional. Contemporary evangelicalism forgets that prior to the 18th century, being outside of the community of faith was impossible in most of Christendom. I read a book by James Joyce (just one and it was enough for me) where the young man confessed that he was an atheist to his friend who was shocked (as was I at the time). There was a world were being born-again made no sense because there was never a time when you didn’t know Jesus.

Rod grew up in northwest Iowa where church are as ubiquitous as corn, cows, and barns. There was probably a time when he made the faith his own (edit: 14 years old, as it turns out) but it was likely much like my story: a progression over time rather than a light switch being flipped. As such, the faith permeated him. He didn’t know Jesus as a revolutionary diverging away from society but as society. After he left that world, my understanding is that he took that with him wherever he moved be it Iowa City, Chicago, California, or Boulder. Rod and Laura’s home is not riddled with Christian symbols but there is a sense here that Jesus simply is.

My point in this is that 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. Funny that all three of the in-laws come from interesting family situations. Rod (& Laura) were delightfully normal and stable when perhaps all three of us needed to know that normal was possible. This isn’t to say that they were better or surrogate parents, but they were hope that normal was entirely possible.

Watching Rod especially 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 many 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.

Today started very rough. Jane stayed up to 2 AM so that she could administer more medication. Rod wasn’t calm right away so Laura got up and sat with him. I woke up sometime and heard him calling out so I got up around 4 AM. Laura and I sat together until Laura started to fade and went back to bed. I stayed up writing my blog entry about all this until Laura re-emerged around 8.

During the night, Rod’s breathing was very uneven. He would breathe normally for about 4 breaths in ten seconds and then there would be a pause for about 30 seconds before he would gasp for another breath. During my watch, he would call out but the only intelligible word was “help”. During Laura’s time, he called out “Theron”. Theron is his brother that passed away a couple years ago from Alzheimer’s.

While Laura and I were discussing plans for the day, Rod turned toward me, and focused! I said, “you had a rough night Rod but we’ve been sitting with you the whole time.” He nodded, closed his eyes, and fell back asleep. He focused on Laura later but that is her story to tell.

Over the next eight hours, Rod slowly emerged from what I can only describe as a comatose state. I don’t know if that is really what happened, but he slowly emerged first motioning that he wanted a sip and then actually saying the word. He wanted food but he can’t swallow anymore.

Linda and Greg rolled in late this afternoon. Jane administered the medication that dries him up and seems to relieve the coughing. Once that kicked in, he was much more comfortable and interactive.

Still, the breathing is halting and he falls asleep with no warning. He asked for a cookie and fell back asleep before Laura got back with it. I got him a sip of Diet Coke one time and he said something to me that I couldn’t even pretend to understand. Rather than placate him, I thought I would try something else and just said, “Rod, I have no idea what you just said,” with a smile. To my delight, he looked away with the first smile I’d seen all day.

It feels like this last crisis is in the past. He is comfortable and stable though diminished from where he was Friday morning. Conversation is not possible and he can no longer eat.

It is good to have more help. Linda and Greg are up to speed on the “sip” protocol and I hope that many hands will make light work overnight. I am also happy that Rod is more or less medication free and comfortable at the moment as this gives us options should he become distressed again.

Still, this job is not done and though a momentary pause in the storm allows us to regroup, it also allows us to reflect on what we’ve experienced and dread what lies ahead. It feels ominous to me–like a weight on me that I can’t identify or move. There is nothing to do but wait for the next attack and pray that when the trouble comes, we will rise to the challenge yet again.

Sounds like a Psalm. Sounds like a bunch of them actually.

15 March

Last night was quiet which, rather than leaving me energized and optimistic, makes me think the other shoe is just about to fall. This is why I don’t go near Disney World; all I can think about are the high prices, sweaty people inside the costumes, the world beyond the facade and how all of it is there to distract us from the real horrors, beauty, and adventure of the real world so that we will slavishly pay for lies to be stuffed down our throats and broadcasted before our eyes. Sorry, I should really see someone about that.

Truth is that last night, Rod came back to us. We sat around the bed and he talked. He tried to tell jokes and even thought some things were a little funny. Hints of a smile at moments. Still, understanding him is challenging and it takes so much of his effort to construct and say a sentence. In the past, the effort to engage and communicate is exhausting to him which one would hope would simply put in to sleep and keep him there for the night. That hasn’t always been that case. It seems more like the effort robs from his ability to stay comfortable and merely breath. He goes from “normal” to distressed rather than to tired.

That said, the night was quiet. Frankly I was surprised when I came downstairs to find him still breathing. Laura was at his side as were both of his pillows: the one under his head and the one that keeps his heels off the bed. His breathing is very irregular. The four or five breaths are without rhythm and are followed by 30 seconds of total stillness. When this started Friday, the pauses involved facial twitches like his was preparing for a breath. Now, he is sometimes completely still. He still rubs his eyes and they are red and bloodshot.

Rod Mulder — The Slog

After we got into a pattern and learned how to live in Estes Park, we realized that we weren’t leaving any time soon. We were just waiting and waiting is a slog.

6 March

Jane and I made a run to the house yesterday. We were gone longer than we wanted to be but we got to have some dinner with Jeremy which was most awesome. Tried to get Rod a Sunggie but apparently we missed the news that those were recalled or something.

Knowing that I wasn’t going to have time for a swim today, I decided to go to the 5:30 AM Masters Swim at the aquatic center. Rod perked up as I tried to sneak past and asked who was there. Our brief back and forth woke up Laura and caused me great guilt for causing the commotion.

Rod was confused yesterday. He wanted to–let’s see, what euphemism haven’t I used yet?–drop the kids off at the pool. Even though he hasn’t been out the bed in a week, yesterday he made it to his feet and onto the bedside commode. This I know only second hand. Jane speculates that he simply didn’t remember that he hasn’t been out of bed in a week and not knowing he couldn’t do it worked in his favor. However, she said it was pretty shaky. He never really had his legs under him or was supporting his own weight.

Rod also told Laura that “we should take the neighbors to breakfast.” I couldn’t hear the whole conversation but Laura essentially asked who the ‘we’ in that statement was referring to.

So, he was delusional and confused today which may be because of the excitement Thursday. Generally he is not angry, sad, depressed or mean, just friendly and confused.

No Dutch lessons last night; I was too tired.

7 March

Even though last night was good, we think that Saturday was pretty rough which makes it two bad days in a row. Jane and I were speculating that our standards are changing. Maybe what was a bad day a week ago is a good day now? It is difficult to be objective.

Rod obsesses about things like food and something in his teeth. He had lunch and then fell asleep for a little while. When he woke up a short time later, he asked if he should be hungry. Jane interpreted this as less about being hungry and more about him not feeling well and knowing that food can make him feel better.

He likes us in the room with him. However, his breathing is sometimes disturbing to listen to so, you know, we have a small challenge there. He is back to clearing his throat often and coughing sometimes quite violently. This is sort of what we saw before the hospital bed and it is no fun now that it has returned.

There is some confusion but he is such a nice man that he accepts our suggestions when we tell him that he is wonky. He has been very talkative today but all over the place and sometimes asking questions out of nowhere. Usually he just wants a cookie which is awesome. One time I answered him with “don’t we all?”

I think he looks pretty good. When he is sleeping and his face is relaxed, he looks peaceful and not as old.

Eric called this morning partially to ask if he was supposed to be reading something between the lines. What is the real story? The real story is that we think we are looking at one to two weeks. The rate of decline seems to have slowed but we are still seeing daily changes. We are seeing less physical and more cognitive change. The trouble breathing as well as the compulsive eating might be symptoms of that.

But, of course, he is still very nice, friendly, and thankful. The softest and best part of his personality is what we usually see.

8 March

Rod seemed confused this morning. Laura said that he was certain he was going to die the night before. He is uncomfortable but not in pain. He wants things that were small comforts to him like ice cream, cookies, and coffee. For the moment, he gets a little pleasure from them and that makes him feel a little less blah.

He has been asleep most of the time but wakes up disoriented. Laura was out shopping today and he woke himself up calling for help. Jane asked him a couple questions and it was clear he didn’t know that he had called for help or why he was calling for help.

We have had music on today which he seems to like. Laura picked up some chewy cookies at the store today which he and I both like. They aren’t going to last long. He likes it when we are in the room and I think he especially likes when we are talking but not necessary with him. He and I had a couple conversations today but they were very short. I recounted the sermon to him this morning and this evening I showed him some pictures from the hike Jane and I took as well as some others. I was surprised when he read something off my computer screen because reading has been difficult for him. He wears a watch but it takes him about a minute to read it.

He is not joking around today and he isn’t appreciating humor much either. It hasn’t been a “good” day but it hasn’t been difficult either. He is quiet and as long as he has something to drink and a steady supply of cookies, he is sort of content in an unhappy sort of way.

It is a little blue in the house but we are taking turns going out which seems to be helping us cope.

I went to bed early. There was a kerfuffle downstairs after I made my exit which I am sure I will hear about in the morning.

9 March

Look, this is my blog and so I can write about myself a little, right? I am trying to remain “in shape” during all of this. I am certainly not working out as much as I could if I was at home but I am putting in a good effort. At home, I lift 3 times a week, swim twice, and ride 2 to 4 times depending on the weather.

Up here, the cycling is out. I’ve replaced that with snowshoeing which is just wickedly painful for me especially afterwards. My arthritic great toe lights up making everything difficult including sleep. I am swimming at the Estes Park Aquatic Center and lifting at MedX. Both of these are tricky because the pool is only open for a couple hours each day and MedX is somewhat limited compared to what I am used to. I swam with the masters group last Friday morning but those nut cases start at 5:30 AM. I have never been an early morning athlete. I think it is actually cheating because it isn’t fair not feeling the pain. The body isn’t fully awake and the brain is all foggy. Pain receptors are sluggish and so, yeah, it doesn’t count if you can’t feel it.

Anyway, the “spring forward” time change was yesterday and I was all freaked out about not waking up in time for the 5:30 AM waterboarding experience. Subconsciously, I was worried so, of course, my brain got me up on the hour every hour starting at about 1 AM. I was up plenty early and rolled into the deserted parking lot a couple minutes early. It remained deserted for the next 15 minutes while I thumbed through Reddit wasting time waiting for someone else to show up or for the cops to arrest me for being a middle age man parked next to a playground or whatever.

I gave up and came back to the house. Now, on my way out, I was a ninja. The bottom of the stairs from the loft where Jane and I are camped is right where Rod’s bed is. In the complete dark, I had to navigated those stairs on the way out, tiptoe past Rod, find my entry fee, USMS license, keys, coat and shoes, and got out the front door that is only 15 feet from his bed. It was tricky and I think I got it done. On the way back in, I had to reverse the delicate process. I suspect that I failed because after climbing back into bed, I heard Rod.

I felt responsible, of course, and when things didn’t seem to calm down, I got back up and dressed (a little) and went to check if there was anything I could do. Laura was solving the problem and I scared her asking if she needed anything.

Back in bed now around 6 AM, I figured I would try to get a couple hours of sleep and set my alarm for 8 AM. At 7 or so, the smoke detector in the guest room chirped. And then again a few minutes later. Not knowing if this is one of those systems where if one battery gives up, all of them start chirping and also figuring I wasn’t going to get any more sleep with even one chirping, I got up again, showered and got dressed.

I am sitting in the loft writing this for the past 15 minutes or so and there hasn’t been a single chirp since I’ve been sitting here. Am I hallucinating? Dreaming? Still dreaming? Rod is out and I don’t want to wake him up so I feel trapped up here.

The update for the day:

In spite of me, it has been a very quiet day. I was in and out of the house around 5:30 this morning as I tried to go swim and was deeply concerned that I was waking Rod up. Laura assures me I did not or I didn’t make it any worse.

After I disappeared to bed last night, there was some concern that Rod’s blood sugar was too high. Jane noted a couple things and there was a moment of great disappointment when Laura substituted string cheese for a cookie. The nurse today borrowed a glucometer from the hospital and even though he ate pretty much only a cracker all day, he was over 300. Most of us are under 125 unless we binge on cotton candy and funnel cake. So, a little high today and it was probably worse yesterday.

Rod’s been sleeping most of the day. Aides showed up this morning and gave him bath. He kept his eyes shut most of the time and only interacted minimally. They were very nice considering I backed into their car when they arrived.

For the nurse this afternoon, he was largely passive as well. When he is awake, he keeps his eyes closed. When she asked for his hand to do the blood test, he responded but didn’t flinch when she pricked his finger. He is still a tough guy. He has eaten very little today which is a BIG change. His speech is more slurred and he is difficult to understand in general.

On the positive, he looks peaceful and seems to be comfortable. It is beautiful out today. All the windows are open and the room is bright. I have started liking the Gaithers so I relocated to the living room while Laura was out shopping and decided to further confuse my Google Play recommendations by playing their Hymns album again for Rod. He asked for a sip and in the process of getting him some Diet Coke, he accidentally punched me in the throat. I am not taking it personally.

The other night, Rod said that something he has had time to do in his situation (his words) was remember the words to the old hymns. Then, without breaking eye contact, he recited the third verse of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”:

I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

   Refrain:
   Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.

10 March

I wish I had good things to write today. I don’t. I’m sorry.

When Rod is awake, he is miserable. He seems to like us in the room but he calls for help and we don’t know what we can do for him. He is having trouble breathing, clears his throat very often, and has terrible apnea when he is asleep. He is not conversational. One word answers usually. He talks more to Laura than Jane or I. Even when he is awake, his keeps his eyes closed. Many times when his eyes are open, they are not focused. Last night at about 2 AM, Laura couldn’t wake him up to take a pill.

OK, sorry for that. That is it for the bad news.

It was a beautiful day today again. Blue sky, sun, deer in the neighborhood, children playing outside, and a peaceful warm place in the house. As life goes on, to me, it felt quiet, peaceful and sacred in the house. The normalcy of life outside contrasted the sacred, important, momentous, and eternal inside.

There are moments, however, when he is himself. Jane knocked her knee agains the bed today. Laura asked if she hit her funny bone but before she could answer, Rod piped up with, “nothing funny about it.”

I am writing this while Jane and Laura do yet another puzzle. Rod is sleeping. Hymns are playing and we sing along sometimes.

11 March

On Wednesday, I commuted to work in Boulder (about forty-five minutes to an hour away depending on traffic in the canyon) to put a face to my name for the new guy that was hired. I am sort of a prickly-pear to work with unless you get to know me a little and realize about 90% of what I say and write is sarcastic, hyperbole, and meant as a joke. It was nice being back in my world but I could feel that I was tired and a little more seriously and somber than normal.

12 March

Sorry for lack of report Wednesday. I commuted to work in the morning and stayed at home for the night. Tuesday night was, however, awful. I slept very little as did Laura. The only nice thing was that I saw a fireball at 6 AM out the window because I was wide awake. I even filed a report with the American Meteor Society or whatever.

Rod was coughing up a storm all night. He was very uncomfortable and having trouble sleeping and breathing. It was disconcerting to all of us.

I talked to Jane a couple times during the day Wednesday and expected the worst each time. They gave Rod the good stuff (morphine) Wednesday night with a chaser of Ativan. When I got back this morning the report was that it was a good night. Jane slept on the couch until about 7 AM. This allowed Laura to sleep soundly. She reported that she slept so soundly that she woke up sore like she hadn’t moved all night.

Rod is much more comfortable today. Thanks to a lifetime avoiding narcotics, he has a nice low tolerance. Apparently a little goes a long way. There is a life lesson in this for all of us. I mean, too late for me but for the rest of you, yeah, don’t do drugs.

I’ve had a couple short and goofy conversations with Rod today. So have Laura and Jane. At one point he was mumbling and I asked if he needed something. “Just keeping tabs on everyone,” he said and then with a smile, “taking names.” He talked about going to Holland, Michigan, getting ready to go to bed, wondering where we were going to spend the night, and other things that were just on the border of making sense.

Happy, pleasant, peaceful, calm, and quiet. He is here and someplace else at the same time. His eyes focus at nothing and seem to just scan the room looking at or for something. When he calls for a “sip”, he seems a little surprised when I appear at his bedside even though I just walked across the room in his field of vision the whole time to get there. More and more, we can walk by him and not be noticed.

Jane is going to sleep on the couch again tonight because that worked.

He hasn’t been lucid much but yesterday he was very concerned about his sister-in-law Marcia who was having hip replacement surgery. He was relived to hear that the surgery was successful and that she is doing well.

Rod Mulder — The New Normal

We started to realize that if Rod was in the bedroom, we couldn’t hear him if we were more than a few feet from the bedroom. Over the next couple of days, the house was quiet. Except for a night I spent at home in Erie, I worked out of the office while Jane and Laura did puzzles within earshot of the bedroom.

An old friend called a couple days later from Lake Geneva, WI to see how Rod was doing. After a short call, he called back announcing that he had plane tickets to come out to visit. The day before John came out, Jane and I helped Rod get into a better and more upright position in the bed. It was an engineering feat that was surprisingly similar to what they had to do to get the Costa Concordia righted. We noted that he couldn’t really roll over on his own anymore. Hospice agreed that we needed a hospital bed and it was arranged that one would be delivered on Thursday.

John showed up Wednesday and immediately I noticed that he was a better and nicer person than me. I joked that he was the nicest person I’ve ever met. No one disagreed with me. On Wednesday, he sat with Rod a couple times. On Thursday, a hospital bed was delivered and Rod moved over. Laura took advantage of a break in the weather and made a run to Loveland to attend a support group. John came over to visit with Rod and Jane left him alone. I don’t know where I was but when Jane got home, Rod was asleep in the hospital bed and John was passed out on a couch. I think this is what men who are nearly in their eighties do when they visit each other. I look forward to it.

We put the hospital bed in the dining room. After taking almost all the leaves out of the table, we turned it sideways in the room and shifted it to the side. John and I used some velcro straps of mine to tie the light fixture up and out of the way. Jane is very upset that it is not perfectly level. Jane is learning to live with disappointment.

Almost immediately, the hospital bed was an improvement. I’m probably wrong, but he is in fine health except for the brain tumor. His parasympathetic nervous system and the organs that it governs are solid: liver, heart, kidneys, digestions, et cetera. It is the systems that are controlled by his brain that seem to be failing. This includes swallowing and breathing. When he lies flat, the swallowing and breathing issues are magnified. Once propped up, he seems to be clearer and not like he drowning.

This is my blog and I feel like I need to talk about me a little. We noticed that Laura is a stress baker, Jane eats when stressed, and I like to work out. The Estes Park Aquatic Center is very close to the house. On Monday, I hit the pool and copied a workout I just recently did in Boulder. Jane and I went to MedX to work out one day that week. On Wednesday (I think), I went back to the pool and hammered out 3 kilometers straight which is the longest I’ve ever swam without stopping. It was cathartic to just zone out and swim.

About this time, I started writing daily updated to family members:

28 February:

The house is calm and quiet. Rod is in a hospital bed in the main room of their house. The dining room table has been moved over to make room.

His voice is a whisper but when he is awake, he is alert and interactive. He is, however, rarely awake. His appetite is good and he is thirsty. The latter stages typically involve little input but we have been learning that brain cancer is atypical. Whereas usually all systems shutdown together, when the brain fails first, the automatic systems and organs remain healthy causing an asymmetrical reaction that is confusing to all. His vital signs are great which contradicts his inability to move on his own. Fine and gross motor skills are failing as is his ability to read and concentrate.

There is no pain and he is in good spirits. He is concerned with the car maintenance and things around the house that need to be attended to. He loves to hear about the weather and cries whenever we read letters to him.

A friend of Rod and Laura’s for nearly 40 years came out for a visit which was very nice. He was in town for a couple days but only spent a couple hours with Rod. Curt and Carrie came up last night and brought lots of food (which they left) and had a nice but also short visit.

It looks like Jane and I are relocated to Estes Park for the duration which is fine. I think our Europe trip is off though we haven’t officially made the call. Yesterday I discovered that we had burned through all of their internet’s data plan and had incurred over $300 in overage fees. I moved quickly to get AT&T on the phone and retroactively upgraded their plan to get that knocked down to about $60 of damage. I am working with three local companies to find a solution that will allow me to keep working from here without nearly the cost. It was a real “pit of the stomach” moment when I realized what was happening.

1 March:

I am locked in the office as Laura and Jane deal with some, um, business. Yeah, use your imagination. Business was done, let us say. He wanted to make a trip to the bathroom but he doesn’t have the strength for that and the wheelchair can’t get through the doors. It was clear that he was disappointed. Still, Jane is a pro and Laura a saint. I am neither so I stayed away.

When Rod woke up this morning, he told Laura he was sad. In what I believe is just an amazingly beautiful metaphor or something, Laura decided pancakes would cheer him up. I got all verklempt. Look, we are out of tools here. This is profoundly sad and what can you do? Laura reached into her bag of tricks and pulled out pancakes.

Laura and I went to church this morning while Jane held down the fort. Before we left, Rod was talking in his sleep repeating “oh my goodness” in a surprised and delighted whisper.

At church, their friend Steve prayed for them and it was beautiful, powerful, and wonderfully appropriate. Laura spoke to some people before the service but before the last song was done, we were out the door. Laura had had enough by the end.

Jane and I snuck out for some brunch of our own. When we got back, I got to work on the office. Rod, however, was in a talkative mood. Though his eyes were closed most of the time, he would latch onto something said and offer his opinion or even a joke. Knowing that I was working on his computers, he kept calling me back (through Laura or Jane) to tell me some hint about how things were put together. He is also very concerned that Laura get the struts fixed on her car and that we get the printer fixed. He needs to know that Laura can do Quicken, the accounts are balanced, the computers are in working order, the car running, et cetera.

To me at least, he is also very interested in the grandchildren. He likes stories about them and enjoys reminiscing. He is proud of all their accomplishments and seems to relish the fact that they are all so different from each other. Our conversations are short and end sort of abruptly as he dozes off.

Music–or should I say, muzak–plays constantly. Jane and Laura sit a few feet away from Rod and do puzzles continuously. Rod asks for cookies and sips of Diet Coke. Laura insists that he eats healthy. Jane and I sneak him cookies.

Today was his best day in a week. The last half hour was pretty rough for Jane and Laura, but until then, it was good. I hope we get more good days.

Pancakes. Who would have thought, right?

On Monday, I commuted to work in Boulder. It was a good idea the night before when the weather was predicting no snow but, of course, it snowed. The drive was OK except for the Texan that sped through the towns (where the roads were completely clear) and then slowed to a crawl when there was even a hint of dust on the roads.

I got very little done at the office beside talk to people which is part of my job so that was fine. I left at about 4 to go run a couple errands, pick up stuff at the house, and meet the St Vrain Chain Gang cycling group in Longmont so that I could get the club’s kit that I had ordered. I dropped off one of Rod’s old computers at CHaRM in Boulder and headed home. Jeremy wasn’t there and I quickly got what I needed put together and headed out the door. Up in Longmont, I actually had a call with Jeremy who wanted to talk. I reversed course and had dinner with Jeremy where we talked about his grandfather the whole time.

3 March:

Rough day today and it followed a rough night. My first impression this morning was that Laura looked sad and tired. Rod hasn’t been very communicative in any sort of conversational way. There is lots of talking in his sleep and moments of alertness that don’t stick for long.

This morning, I came down the stairs to find Laura at Rod’s bedside. We nodded at each other but the look in her eyes said that something was happening between her and Rod. I snuck into the office and kept quiet.

A little while later, I emerged with the intention of foraging for food. A few minutes out of the office convinced me I could wait. Whatever was happening was not finished. I tiptoed back into the office and waited. I learned later that he was restless but her presence calmed him.

Some of what Rod is saying in his sleep or twilight is disturbing. He calls out for help seemingly in distress. But then the moment passes and he calms down. The outbursts are wearing on Laura the most.

I spent most of the day out of the house finding the hotspots around Estes Park (a new connection will be installed Thursday morning). It has been angrily snowing all day but without much accumulation. The day has been gray and depressing which I don’t think is helping the mood in the house. Jane and Laura are doing puzzles with a vengeance.

I made cookies tonight and Jane made dinner. In the middle of dinner, Rod woke up and, um, business is now being attended to while I again am hiding in the office.

The tentative plan for tonight is to sleep in shifts with someone always in the room with Rod. He seems most distressed when he can’t see Laura or Jane.

Laura asked me to pray before dinner. I prayed for strength and patience, mercy and grace through us and for us. The task before us is sacred and terrible as well as beautiful and trying. Please make this your prayer as well.

Sometime in here we learned that my step mother was sending us a surprise delivery of some sort of food like thing. I expected a chocolates or a snack box from Harry & David. Instead, we were overwhelmed to find a feast from HoneyBaked Ham company. I had to mention that because much of the food that is mentioned over the next couple days makes reference to that particular delivery.

4 March

Another good day! It followed a good night as well!

Just a couple notes from a thankfully uneventful day:

This morning, Rod wanted hash browns. The hospice nurse came and delayed the hash browns but then Laura came to the rescue a little later delivering the good stuff.

After dinner tonight, Rod drank plenty of decaf coffee, had a piece of lemon cream cake, and ate two cookies. We talked for a bit about some of his early jobs like climbing the telephone poles when he worked for the phone company and creating the “no. 2 pencil” test grading system that eventually became the one used for the ACT.

He is in good spirits and making many corny “dad” jokes. Having a discussion seems pretty exhausting to him. Dozing off in almost mid sentence happens a lot.

I wasn’t going to write an update but then thought it would be good to ask if he had something he wanted me to pass along. It wasn’t fair to spring that question on him after talking for so long; he was pretty worn out but said he is very thankful for friends and family.

5 March

Last night was good and today was pretty good as well. Rod has a bed sore that is sometimes painful. This is happily the only pain he has and thanks to Jane, it is pretty well controlled.

Tonight Curt, Eldon, Corina, and Lauren came up for dinner. It was a difficult time for some of us but Rod was very interactive and sociable. We were prepared with a plan for if the night became too much for him but didn’t need to put it into action. We know that commotion and loud noises can be distressing for brain cancer patients. Though there was a point where we did feel we had to dial the volume down, Rod seemed to enjoy listening to the conversation around him. After everyone left, he said that listening to us made him forget about what was happening to him.

We, correction, I went through an incredible amount of the ham tonight. Two helpings while everyone was here and then after they left and my shame could be limited to just Jane and Laura, I attacked it again.

Rod and I chatted for a while after everyone left. The conversation covered topics like his first beer, time working the fields in his youth, and what they did for fun when he was a young adult in northwest Iowa. He’s been teaching me to swear in Dutch. From swearing he segued to reciting a verse from a hymn.

Jane and I are going to make a trip to our house tomorrow to pick up supplies (Brachs Chocolate Stars, for instance) while the nurse and aide make their respective visits.

Rod Mulder — The Beginning

One Sunday in January, I got a call from my brother-in-law Greg. He had a conference in California that he extended so that he could visit his in-laws. On Sunday afternoon, he had started helping Rod set up his laptop computer and was stuck. Rod wanted it to do “something” but couldn’t express what it was exactly that it was supposed to do. There was frustration on both sides and it seemed like maybe I would have something to offer. From where I sat in Colorado, I could sort of feel what he was trying to do but I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. After a couple phone calls, text messages, and glasses/bottles of wine, Greg and I gave up.

Greg went home and sent his wife Linda back out. She stayed for about ten days in Palm Springs during which time Rod and Laura decided to come back to Colorado. They all left California the day President Obama flew in for a golf vacation. It also happened to be Valentine’s Day.

Jane and I picked them up from the airport. We hadn’t seen Rod in almost two months and the change was striking. His face was puffy from steroids but the rest of him was thin and gangly. The wheelchair didn’t fit him. It was designed for width and not length. He looked uncomfortable as he slouched in the chair. His big feet didn’t fit well on the rests and he seemed at risk of sliding right off the seat. I couldn’t help but think about the time at our house when he seemed to be listing drunkenly off our couch.

In the car, he was quiet and seemed very tired. His voice was mostly a hoarse whisper. We picked up Chick Fil-a on the long drive from DIA to Estes Park. Once home, he went straight to bed. The neighbors had prepared the house with some food and had turned up the heat.

Jane and I stuck around to make sure they were settled. Rod fell and we had to help him up not so much because he couldn’t get up but because the fall had sort of wedged him between the bed and end table. He walked with a walker quite well.

We thought maybe we should spend the night but weren’t sure it would be necessary. We had packed a little just in case. Since it was Valentine’s Day and all, we thought we should do something so we decided to go up to the Stanley Hotel’s Whiskey Bar for a drink before heading back home. It was undecided if we should spend the night so we said we’d be in town for an hour or so in case Laura felt like we should stay.

We got the call. This changed our plan of attack considerably. We had more time and made many friends at the bar. We also discovered something we now call “bar bacon”. This is the special bacon that they have in a tray for Blood Mary’s. It is candied and just awesome. Everything is for sale at the Whiskey Bar except when it is free. Yum. There was also German chocolate cake which I suppose I should mention even though it had no bacon in it.

We spent the an uneventful night and repeated the “we will be in town for an hour or so” move the next morning. We went to the Egg and I for yummy waffles and more bacon before heading down the mountain. Before we left, Rod wanted to go upstairs and sit in his chair. I walked behind him up the stairs. He wobbled and swayed a couple times but with the firm determination of proud Dutch man, there was never any doubt he would make it. I was less sure about the descent. Once he was in the chair, however, he was exhausted and clearly about ready for a nap.

Sometime in the midst of all this, we learned from Laura that the doctor in California had said to her that Rod had three months on the outside. She was going to tell Rod the news Sunday.

On Wednesday, they talked to hospice. On Thursday morning of that week, Rod was distressed as is common when one commits to their impending death. Jane felt it was time to go up to Estes Park and she wanted me to go with. After a couple fits and starts, we got out the door and arrived early afternoon. We wanted to be there when the hospice nurse was there but we couldn’t move quickly enough. Rod was pretty sure he was going to die that Thursday and when a determined Dutch man puts his mind to something, well, we thought it was a real possibility.

The neighbor had helped move Rod’s chair down from the loft and Rod was sitting in it wearing his red “Chicago” hat which I appreciate. Curt (eldest) and Carrie came up with their son Steven for dinner. We sat at the table and Rod stayed in his chair but participated in the conversation. At one point he called out “John 3:16” which wasn’t really part of the conversation at the moment. Carrie took the bait and had us all recite the verse though it was funny because we all said slightly different translations. It was like saying the Lord’s Prayer in an inter-denomination service and no one can agree on trespasses, debts, sins, ….

We snuck off for a family meeting while Steven had some time with Rod alone. Carrie ran things and pointed out that if you see changes over months, then a person has months to live. Weeks, then weeks. But if days, then only days. The difference between Saturday the Thursday that Jane and I noticed made us concerned that time was short. We talked about visitors but just two days before Rod had a visit from a close friend and then asked for no more visitors–EVER! It was speculated that the time to communicate with Rod was probably very short.

On Friday, Rod slept until 5 PM. Initially, he was restless but a yummy pill at 3 AM was just the ticket and then some. He was exhausted from the day before. Grandkids in Waco, TX and Grand Rapids, MI were interested in having a Skype call with Rod but he never woke up all day. We feared that he wasn’t ever going to really revive and interact again.

Late Saturday afternoon, Rod woke up finally and wanted to talk even! We moved with a purpose and after some mistakes largely caused by massive amounts of adrenaline, we got FaceTime conversations going with the two grandkids. The conversations were as one would expect. It is extremely difficult to be thrown into a situation like that have something profound to say. Real life isn’t like the movies. In real life, we talk about the weather, school, work, and sports rather than those nasty feelings. Instead, two men sitting for an afternoon watching football communicate about their marriage troubles without ever mentioning their wives. In real life, we communicate between the lines.

He spent a couple hours awake and responsive but withdrawn. This I know to be actually common among the terminal. They are shutting down their lives which means distancing themselves from their loved ones because it is sad and painful to be in contact with them. They shut the door and walk away. Reopening the door means that they will have to mourn the loss again. As the person makes the transition, the whole family has to be respectful of where in the mourning process each person involved is. He was deep in the process whereas the rest of us were just getting acclimated.

My notes that afternoon:

Wow, everything happened at once. Boring day and then he woke up! Asleep again now but for about an hour, he was awake, responsive and engaged. Not just engaged; he was everything we know and love. He isn’t getting out of bed. Sleeping all the time and getting weaker. We had to help him sit up. This is a big change from just two days ago. I am playing music off Google Play that I would never buy. Oak Ridge Boys, Gaither, … It is going totally going to screw up my recommendations. We are doing OK as well. The storm is big and nasty. …

The weather was indeed intense. We hunkered down and I tried to keep the snow from piling up on the driveway. It was a nice lazy day. We ate meals in the bedroom to be closer to Rod. There was hints about getting out of bed but the closest he got was sitting at the side of the bed.

Rod Mulder — Prologue

This got long and rambling as a single entry so I decided to break it up a little. As I read through my initial draft, I realized that it was about more than just my father-in-law Rod. It is about me too but why shouldn’t it be? It is my blog after all. I am not reporting on just something that happened to some folks I met at an airport bar. This is family and when a family member passes, it affects everyone in the family.


To be blunt, my father-in-law is dying. We knew something was wrong about a year and half ago. I first noticed that he repeated the same jokes. Then, at our house one time he had trouble with the stairs. Another time, he was “listing” on our couch. Rod is a big guy. Sorry, he is a big gangly guy. He is the sort of person that doesn’t fit in or on furniture. On our couch that night, it was like he had been drinking but no, that wasn’t the case.

Then, while watching a professional bike race that rolled through town, he passed out. Then he did it again. A couple hospital visits later and he was given a clean bill of health for every part but his head. He was in great shape and even greater health except for the brain tumor.

Surgery was necessary. He couldn’t drive anymore. There were interesting out of character moments. He was having trouble expressing himself. He was more than a patriarch; he was a man that all of the men in the family wished we could be. Calm, reasoned, smart, faithful, friendly, loyal, and loving. When his youngest daughter called him with bad news decades ago, the first thing he said to her was, “I love you”. I was terrified of him for the first year I was part of the family. It wasn’t until years later that I felt I could relax around him.

The surgery was as successful as those things are. Jane had worked the night before and was asleep in the waiting room while we all fretted. It wasn’t until she saw her father recovering in ICU that we all relaxed. Jane was in her element, calm, smiling, and chatting with the nurses using nothing but acronyms. We all knew instinctively that if there was a problem, she wouldn’t be smiling. We went to dinner and left her there. I almost had to break into the hospital later to bring her overnight bag to her so she could spend the night.

Rod recovered but the surgery knocked him down a little. He looked older and a little frail. He was frequently hoarse and had trouble communicating sometimes. He was also cold much of the time and though not in pain, he was not energetic. He was tired and though thin and thinning, he wasn’t hungry. I was surprised when watching a football game with him that there were no snack foods. What is football without piles of heart attack producing foods? Not having numbing in one’s left arm and chest tightness while watching the fourth quarter is crime in six states.

Laura and Rod knew the tumor was back before the scan was even scheduled. They were quiet about their suspicious until after the scan. Another surgery was scheduled and Rod handled that one with ease. The doctor gave him a year from the first surgery and he was holding steady after 13 months. Never one to be average, no one thought he would only make it a year.

Christmas was a miracle. Eric got off work for the first time since he started working at the ski resorts. Kelsey came back from England. The Smiths (all but Andrew) had seen Rod and Laura over the summer. After Christmas, Laura and Rod headed to Palm Springs where Rod would be warm. He was cold all the time in Colorado but in Palm Springs, he could be warm. Because of many doctors appointments, the trip was delayed a couple times but they finally headed out.