Monday, June 22, 2015

Remembering Arne

I was outside at work, walking Max, my new Bichon Frise puppy when my phone buzzed, indicating that I had a text message.  I opened my phone and smiled as I saw that it was from Paula.  As I opened the message and read the 17 word text, my heart sank.  She’d texted me to let me know that her Dad had passed away during the night and that he had loved me.

The death wasn’t a shock…he’d been ill for awhile and had been in hospice for the second time.  But the loss of a man that I was closer to than my own father for 18 years still hit me hard.  I can still hear the words he spoke to me the last time we had a conversation.  He was angry that I had lied to Paula and that it was going to result in our divorce.  He was concerned that I wasn’t being fair in the settlement and I had called him because Paula had asked me to explain what I agreed to do.  I can remember the first time I met him, travelling with him to a basketball camp where Paula’s son Jason was participating to show support.

Unlike my own father, Arne listened as I went through the finances and what I was doing and what I was giving Paula.  And when I was done he thanked me and apologized for his abruptness when he answered the phone.  We had a short conversation and he told me he loved me as we ended the call.  My dad would have interrupted and told me what he would have done.  But Arne was unlike any man I’d ever met.  A strong Christian man who walked his talk.  He could be intimidating as he would read his Bible and then out of the blue, ask me what my favorite scripture verse was.  When I met Paula, I wasn’t really a practicing Christian, although I believed in Jesus as my savior.  When we would visit their home over the holidays, every Sunday morning we would all go to church.  As we would enter, he would go out of his way to meet and greet and talk to nearly everyone in the congregation.   He sat in the front pew with Mom while Paula and I would sit a few rows back.

He treated Harriett like a wife should be treated…with love and tenderness.  The only time I saw him get angry with her was when she got home from shopping late and they had planned to go a basketball game and there wasn’t time for dinner.  But his anger lasted only a few minutes and he was soon apologizing to her and helped her unload the packages from the car.

Arne was a successful wheat farmer and generous to a fault.  He was dedicated to family and had the family at his house on Sunday afternoons for a big family dinner.   He took care of his father when he was in the nursing home and visited him every day.  He supported his sister and brother-in-law when they were in the mission field in Viet Nam and pretty much gave his inheritance to her.  He gave money to his children at Christmas that was extravagant.  He drove a new Cadillac sedan for a few years and then gave them to one of his kids, rotating so everyone would get one.  He enjoyed the Late Show with Jay Leno and football, basketball and golf on the television.  He was a proud man but never prideful as I remember him.  He would never allow someone else to pick up the tab when we went out to dinner at a restaurant. 

I have many regrets in life, but one of the greatest is the loss I experienced when Paula and I divorced.  I never got to say a proper good-bye to either Arne or Harriett.  I didn’t get to hug them or tell them in person how truly sorry I was for what I had done to result in the divorce.  I’m not sure I’ll have the chance to attend his funeral and pay respects to Mom and the rest of the family.  I’ll ask Paula if it’s okay and accept whatever she decides is best for the family.  It might be a time of solitary morning on my part and remembering an incredible man.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Wait

Paula and I parked in front of the large house on the corner and I turned the car off.  We got out and I took her hand and we started up the winding sidewalk and passed between two large azealias that squeezed against you as you walked through.  A few more steps and we were standing in front of the door.  It was locked so Paula pressed the doorbell and we could hear the chimes ringing as someone approached.  The door opened and a tall man with sandy red hair opened the door and Paula hugged him and said “hi Daddy” and kissed him.  He extended his hand and I took it and as we shook, I told him it was nice to meet him.  A woman then walked out of the kitchen in her apron covering a nice Nordstrom outfit, her dark black hair up on her head and a beautiful smile and walked across the room.  She hugged and kissed Paula and looked me over with eyes that were evaluating me. It was Thanksgiving weekend and my girlfriend had invited me home to meet her parents.

That was the first time I met a man and a woman who were to become more than just a father-in-law and mother-in-law to me.  Over the next 29 years, they would become closer to me than my own parents.  Strong Pentecostal Christians, they had strong moral convictions and a strict lifestyle.  They attended church three times a week and prayed at every meal.  Paula and I spent every Christmas and Thanksgiving in their home throughout our marriage.   We watched Paula’s son Jason play basketball nearly every weekend with them for his high school and college career.  We were there when Dad’s mom died and then his father.  We spent time in the hospital with them when their son Doug and Jason were in a bad car accident and we weren’t sure if Doug would survive…trading time between Jason’s and Doug’s hospital rooms.  They drove to Sandpoint and supported my mom and our family when my dad died. 

The last time I saw either of them was at Christmas in 2003.  We spent the holidays together in their Walla Walla home.  As always, the food was delicious and the gifts abundant.  Two of our kids and several of our grandkids laughing and playing…always the center of attention.  When I got in legal trouble a couple of months later, and Paula and I divorced, the relationship ended.  Before I went into prison, I talked with both of them and they told me they loved me.  Tears burned in my eyes as I hung up the phone.

I received a phone call from Paula yesterday.  I’d called earlier in the day as I often do.  She rarely answers the phone and I had left a message.  A smile crept over my face as I answered and heard her voice.  She seemed in good spirits and we talked for most of an hour.  Most of the conversation was about Mom and Dad.  They put Dad in hospice this week and they are not going to force him to eat or receive hydration.  He’s refusing to eat most days and the doctors don’t believe he has much time left.  Doug is flying up from Palm Springs to be with him this next week in case it’s time for him to pass.  It was hard for Paula to agree to sign the form putting him in hospice, knowing that he could be gone soon…and hard to tell me.  I got quiet as she told me about Mom and Dad’s health and how they are both failing.  Mom has cancer and is in severe pain, but she keeps fighting…both with Paula and against the pain.  She’s ready to give up and probably will when Dad is gone.

Although it’s been more than 11 years since I last saw them, I can still picture them clearly and feel the love and caring they showed me.  They both still love me, but the pain I caused Paula was too strong for them to overcome.  I often thought about showing up on their doorstep to visit Paula, but I respected them and their wishes too much to do that.

I expect to receive a phone call or text any day now.  I know what it will say and I’ll call to offer my comfort and support to Paula and the family.  I’ll ask to come to the funeral, not knowing what the answer will be.  It would be hard to be with the family again after an eleven year absence, and I’m sure that my shame and guilt will try to overwhelm me…but it will be harder for me if I’m not there.  For now, all I can do is wait like the rest of the family, not for the death announcement…but for what comes next.