I concluded All the Days of My Life, first book in my memoir series, with Elsie’s approaching death. We had been married 66 years. This writing picks up the story following her memorial service.
Life alone was different I assumed I would continue living with son Kevin and Tena in the home Elsie and I bought in 1978. They had come to help with Elsie’s care following her accident and later bought the house.
I had no plan for the future. I would take whatever came, leaning on Philippines 2:13: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Epilogue tells about what came accurately as memory affords.
The Angel of First Avenue West
Social Security requires notification upon the death of a person receiving benefits. On a cold, blustery Monday morning, I set out to full that requirement. The office is located in the U S Bank building, Fourth Avenue West and Superior Street.
Just before 9:00, hoping to be first in line, I hurried along the sidewalk, head down, leaning into the wind. Suddenly I was falling, tripped up by an errant brick. I lay stunned, assessing the damage. I found nothing broken, but I could not get to my feet and there was not soul in sight.
As I scrunched toward the building, hoping for a handhold, a man rounded the corner, coming from Michigan Street. He hurried to me, gathering my hat and glasses. After determining I was OK, he helped me to my feet. “You look familiar,” he said. I gave him my name. “Oh, you just lost your wife! Then he added, “I sure enjoy your books.” He gave me his name and guided me to the bank entrance and walked on. To his day, I have no idea who he was.
I’ll Tell You When to Quit
Son Kevin sat with me at Lakewalk Surgery Center awaiting colonoscopy results. The doctor arrived, his demeanor speaking before he did: “I’m sorry to tell you; you have rectal cancer. I recommend immediate treatment.”
I paused for a moment. “OK, we’ll run the tests. If the cancer has spread, I’ll do nothing. My faith is intact.” My primary care physician, Dr. Ingrid Nisswandt, set up blood work, x-rays, scans, the works, which found no hint of cancer elsewhere. In late November, Dr. Melissa Najarian whacked a foot or so off my intestine and hung a bag on my belly.
In late November, 2011, following four days in St. Mary’s, a van hauled me to Lakeshore Rehab. I felt less that perky with no appetite. On the evening of day two, a nurse came with a tray, insisting I try to eat. She spooned something into my mouth and my belly exploded, spewing black gunk. “Feces,” said the nurse and summoned an ambulance.
The ambulance staff laid a warm blanket over me, wheeled me to the unheated vehicle, and left me untended while they completed paperwork. The ambulance was bitter cold out and the blanket soon lost its warmth. Discouraged, sick, cold, in utter despair: I cried out, “I’ve had it; I quit!”
I don’t hear heavenly voices, but from somewhere, clear as a bell, the thought came: “Quit what? You never started anything. I’ll tell you when to quit.”
Peace flooded my soul as the ambulance rattled ice furrowed streets to St. Mary’s, where masked people poked a tube up my nose into my belly and hooked onto a pump. I fell asleep, warmed by word from heaven: “I’ll tell you when to quit.”
Frustrated in Tucson
After Elsie died, son Joel and his wife Sue invited me to their winter retreat in Tucson, Arizona. I enjoyed Tucson and returned in autumn, 2010, but cancer delayed my return until March, 2012. That’s when the miracle of Woodland Garden began.
I was living with son Kevin and his wife Tena in the Duluth home Elsie and I bought in 1978. They moved in to help me care for Elsie after her accident. After her death, they bought the house and made space for old Dad.
Back in Tucson after colon cancer surgery, I pondered living alone—first time in my life. I chose Duluth. A computer/phone search jolted me. Social Security and preacher’s pension (my only assets) could not handle even the cheapest apartment.
Joel told me about HUD, Section 8 Federal rent-assistance program. I began an online and by phone search and Lakeland Shores in my old childhood neighborhood topped the list of possibilities. Though a one-room studio apartment, it seemed ideal, walking distance from most everything I would need (I had quit driving). I phoned for an application.
Along, complex Federal form arrived. I fired it back, confident I had found my new home. The manager’s reply shattered my dream. The HUD computer said my income exceeded the ceiling by $196 a year. Unless my income came down or deductions increase, I did not qualify.
Knowing nothing about deductions, I emailed the manager for clarification. No response. I phoned and got an answer machine; no return call. No reply to urgent letters. My frustration mounted and I grew ornery. I grumbled to God and all who would listen.
Enter Duluth daughter Sally. I had kept her posted. One day in casual conversation with friends, she mentioned my plight. One friend suggested I try Woodland Garden. I had not heard of Woodland Garden. The facility had not surfaced online nor had senior services mentioned it. I leaned later Woodland Garden did not advertise—it was always full, with a waiting list.
Sally visited the facility and talked with manager Jill, who gave Sally an application form. It was the same as the form supplied by Lakeland Shores. I emailed Jill, Woodland Garden manager, telling her my rejection story. I asked what might be different at Woodland Garden. She immediately replied, “Leave that to me; your next address will be Woodland Garden, but expect six months to a year wait. Wait I would, though it was early June and Tucson was getting hot.
Then, within days, Jill emailed again: a Woodland Garden resident had died. Jill hoped to fill the vacancy by early July. Could I come?
Hearing the news, Kevin and Tena headed for Woodland Garden to look around. They found the building secured, but a resident in the lobby spotted them, asked their purpose. She walked them through the facility. Finding my apartment (301) locked, she showed them hers (313), which was configured like mine.
Kevin said, “She is the nicest lady! Her name is Norma.”
My Woodland Garden Home
On July 7, 2013, I moved all my earthly possessions into apartment 301 at Woodland Garden. My living room soon became a museum—every item on the wall whispered a memory.
Fellow residents welcomed me—54 women and 8 men. I joined the routine of life at the Garden. The place felt more like a college dorm than a seniors’ residence. I became acquainted with Norma the librarian, the girl from 313.
We discovered many common interests beyond books. Regular evening chats in the library stirred chatter among the women. Though I grew fond of Noma, a 19-year age difference quelled any thought of romance.
One evening Norma told me, “I prayed five years for someone to talk to, someone who shared my interests. And you showed up!” Our ancestors hailed from the same part of Finland When they moved to America in the late 1,800s, they settled in adjoining townships in Northwest Wisconsin. Norma was Lutheran and I was Baptist, but we knew the same God.
The Lost Week
About a year after my move to Woodland Garden, a medical adventure broke our routine. I checked into St. Mary’s for relatively minor surgery then to Lake Shore rehab. Once again, things fell apart. I have no memory of the ambulance ride back; to St. Mary’s. I was unaware of being wired and plumbed in a hospital bed fighting pneumonia and intestinal infection with life-threatening complications. Instead, I entered a strange world. .
Scenes kept changing; some I later identified as related to my hospital care. I talked with strangers and felt desperate thirst. There was no sense of time.
Then I heard hospice, palliative care, and Dad, you have to fight. I was dying! There was no fear but a sense of exhilaration.
Then the transition to reality began. I found myself in a hospital bed, propped up by pillows. A garden, dock, and rustic boathouse lay just behind my bed. Friends filed by, some crying. Word had gone out to my Hole News blog list that Grandpa Lloyd was dying.
Shortly after, hospital officials approached Kevin. “You have three days to move him. Your insurance will cover hospice but not rehab.” Apparently, I was going to live!
But still to come was the most terrifying encounter of my life.
Throughout the hospital ordeal, Kevin had watched over me. He grew dissatisfied with information he was getting and negotiated a new doctor. He scanned my chart and affirmed the diagnosis—my life support system was breaking down. With nothing to lose, he withdrew all treatment, and a remarkable recovery began.
The search for a rehab site led to Chris Jensen Health Center. A bed would be available, meeting the deadline. I face three more nights in the hospital.
Nights were torture. Sleep refused to come. I begged for help, but nothing worked. I watched every hour pass on the clock.
On night three, I was assigned a new nurse. Thing severe pain caused my sleeplessness; she came with a syringe and squirted strange-tasting fluid in my mouth. “What is it?” I Asked. “Morphine.” “Will I sleep?” “Oh, you will sleep!”
But I didn’t. Instead, the morphine plunged me into unimaginable terror, a vortex sucking me down, down. Nearby, old men in dark suits piled furniture made of rough-cast concrete on a pile. A taunting voice said, “There is a theological issue here, and you are responsible, but you can do nothing about it.”
I recall shouting, I don’t care the consequence; I will do what’s right!” In that instant, all delusion cleared; I was in bed, my mind clear. On Fourth of July weekend they loaded me into a van—I could not walk—and I moved to Chris Jensen, facing six tough weeks of rehab. I made it home Woodland Garden in time for my 90th birthday celebration.
The Mailbox Caper
The lost week and morphine delusion left their mark. Emotional responses grew less stable. I became increasingly reflective. I understood the physiology of aging fairly well, but I had given little thought to the philosophy of aging—purpose, life interests, relationships. I assumed falling in love belonged solely to the young. .
I had been away from Woodland Gadon nearly two months. The residents welcomed me warmly. As Norma and I resumed evening chats, I realized how much I had missed her.
One morning in late summer, we joined the cluster of residents in the lobby to wait for the mail. Spirits were high with the usual banter. The mailman finally arrived at the 60-plus mailboxes arrayed on the wall opposite the elevator. Norma moved just ahead of me. She retrieved a fistful of envelopes and ads, then, fitting the jovial mood of the morning, she playfully kissed me. She turned to the elevator.
Something unprecedented walloped me. I elbowed my way to box 301, arthritic fingers fumbling with the small key. The lock finally yielded and I turned toward the elevator, possessed by a desire to hold Norma and tell her I loved her.
The elevator finally arrived and I punched third floor. The elevator opens to the library. But Norma was gone. I didn’t dare knock on her door; I grabbed a book and sat for two hours, pretending to read. I pled for librarian Norma to appear to tend the books.
Finally I returned to my apartment. Lunch held no interest, nor did afternoon chores. The irrational longing persisted. Toward evening I returned to the library and puttered with books and magazines. Time dragged.
I returned to my apartment, but sleep was out of the question. I fired up the computer and began a mushy letter, fully intending to delete it: Dearest Norma, please doesn’t laugh but I have fallen in love with you.
Romantic clichés poured out. I wrote and rewrote, easing my spirits. I poured over the page one last time and reached for delete, but, with foolhardy abandon, I hit print, hunted out an envelope, and padded down the hall to 313. I slid the letter under Norma’s door and returned to my apartment in near panic. What kind of fool was I? Norma was 19 years younger than me! Certainly she would laugh. A long night followed.
Finally, daylight. Woodland Garden came to life. I was making morning coffee when someone knocked on my door. There stood Norma, love letter in hand. And she wasn’t laughing.