December 11, 2004
To our dear friends and family,
The sun has risen and the dry leaves outside lie still, awaiting their journey to places near and far, where their wintering transformation will bring them into the circle of life. Inside the house everyone lies still in sleep. Most will awaken, stretching in the energy of a new fall day while one continues his long sleep, waiting on the Lord to lead him on his final earthly journey, taking his place in the circle of life.
John loved the concept of the circle of life, and used it a lot in his talks. Our family’s three-month journey has circled us back to our old neighborhood. The folks here at Fountain Valley School, where Matt attended high school, have graciously provided us a temporary home. The location: a spacious ranch with a beautiful view of Pike’s Peak to the West and sprawling grazing lands to the East. Several ponds glistening with ice crystals beckon us to a peaceful place of prayer and meditation. This is the plane, one mile from our former home, where John and I used to walk in the dark of early morning and watch the sun scatter its rose-colored glory all over the mountains. It was my favorite time of the day when the two of us would share our hopes and dreams (and sometimes tears and fears) and breathe in the earth’s energies to bless our day. It’s good for us to be here as we wait and prepare for the coming of the Lord. We have been so blessed!
Blessings abound in this most difficult time in our lives. Outpourings of love and support from family and friends are the bread of our lives as we hunger for peace and comfort in our loss of communication with John. Thank you all! I hope those who have heard the story won’t mind its retelling for those who haven’t. It’s John’s story and deserves to be told.
On October eighth John fell, head first, from the loft where he and Matt were working. Matt and I attended to him while we waited for flight-for-life to carry him to Penrose Hospital, where he worked for almost 15 years as a chaplain. He had just retired in May.
The emergency room doctor found two bleeds in his brain. The neurosurgeon decided to wait until morning to do a second CAT scan, which showed that the bleeding had stopped. So they proceeded with surgery on John’s Tibia, which had been shattered in the fall. He was released on October thirteenth, with crutches, to the mountain cabin on loan to us from wonderful new friends we had made. John dealt patiently with the headaches and nausea, especially when the doctor’s office told us that was to be expected and to return in two weeks for another CAT scan.
He was overjoyed when Jessie and Jonathan arrived Friday evening. In fact, he was so happy that when the three kids picked up his guitar and began singing he said, “I’m almost glad this happened so we could all be here singing together like this.”
On Saturday he finally kept down a few bites of food and spent the afternoon looking over the second-floor framing Matt and friends had completed. He played a game with us in the evening and even kept score. Playing games was not his favorite activity, but he joined in with no complaints at all. On Sunday he rested and enjoyed our company as we baked some cookies. He ate one, the first bit of sweets since his fall. That may amaze those of you who know of his passion for food. We spent that evening
philosophizing and theologizing on his situation. He said, referring to his injuries, “It’s just one small bump in the road.” I said with some displaced anger, “It is one hell of a big bump.” I was lovingly chided by all about forgetting the blessings that come from accepting what is. It was the best shared homily I’ve ever experienced! And so I went to bed that night feeling as though fear had been lifted and things would finally be alright.
The following morning, October eighteenth, I spoke to John twice at one and three, but at four I heard him roll out of bed. We all rushed to his side to find him unconscious. He was transported by air to St. Anthony’s in Denver where he had a three hour surgery on his temporal lobe. They removed a large clot, but an MRI later revealed that the pressure had caused strokes in three areas of the brain. The one in the brain stem is what keeps him from awakening. The doctors gave him only a five percent chance of waking up, and not much hope of any quality of life if he did.
We’ve waited almost two months, hoping John’s love of life in addition to prayers from all over the world would bring us another miracle. After watching his body make no effort to respond, we made the difficult decision to do home-care Hospice without the feeding and hydration tubes. It is the most difficult decision we have bad to make, and I have some anger at God for putting that decision in our hands. It’s medical science that got us to this point and actually it’s a blessing that we’ve had this time to begin our process of letting go. Another gift from John, and God of course. Our experience at the three hospitals put us in contact with compassionate chaplains and caring nurses, but we are so grateful to have John at home where we can give him our undivided attention and care for the needs of his beautiful, holy body and his gentle loving spirit.
As we tend to John’s needs we are being nourished by the love of all of you, who bring encouragement, prayers, food, and support. My heart is full of gratitude to each of you and especially to Jessie, Jonathan and Matt for putting their lives on hold and staying to care for John, and to support me and make our dome-home dream become a reality.
We asked you to pray for a miracle, and I believe we’ve seen many during this journey.
-Having John survive his fall so that we could have an unforgettable final weekend together
-Bringing the kids and I together for an experience that will shape our futures and offer us growth in ways we’d never planned
-Having friends, family and acquaintances be God’s hands, heart and feet in their pouring out gifts of time, love, shelter, food, and support
-Perhaps it is a miracle that John did not awaken to a life that would not allow him to remain the wonderful, gentle, brilliant, compassionate, creative, loving person God created him to be.
And so at this special time of waiting on the Lord we wish each of you a heart full of hope and peace. We know that the tapestry of your life has John’s colors woven into
it. He has touched so many lives and I feel blessed beyond words that he touched mine so intimately. May you live each moment of your life as passionately as John did! Let’s keep in touch and share our stories. Have a wonderful celebration of our Lord’s birth.
Mickey, East of Pikes Peak
December 20, 2004
This morning my dad died with the Christmas-time sunrise. He couldn’t have chosen a better time. As the new sun rises in this birth-filled season, he assures me that. his nourished spirit lives on. And I see him – a fiery angel – playing in the thin open air, never looking back, holding hands with the sun.
December 23, 2004
A note to Dad
We have just finished sending you off, Dad, a glorious and uplifting good-bye party with a few hundred of your friends. Songs that you loved, touching stories, beautiful prayers, bells, candles and flame. I could feel your smiling presence fill the entire auditorium. Through the poignant stories your friends have shared with us, I have come to know you on a deeper level. I am astounded by how much love and beauty you have given to so many people, how your gentleness, integrity, and compassion have so profoundly affected people. I’ve learned how you made everyone you encountered feel respected and welcome, how your constant genuine smile opened so many hearts, how your music and art brightened the world, how your voice, your kind words, your simple wisdom and insight have comforted many weary souls. You have left the world a much more beautiful place and I can see that this is great success. I know now that what I have to do to lead a good life is to give and receive love as freely as you did.
I am so honored to be your daughter, to carry on a legacy like yours. Knowing that you live on in me makes it easier to love myself, encourages me to follow my visions with fervor and passion as you did, challenges me to be present in every moment of this wonderful life. It is a privilege to be with you in this transition. I get to experience being in your shoes, in your domain. I get to be a chaplain for you… what better way to know you fully than through the work you so loved.
In the past months of being with you, caring for your body, and helping you to make this transition gracefully and comfortably, I have gotten to experience unconditional love (and also come to realize I’ve been experiencing it all along). Both for you, from you, and for each other. I have only great love and gratitude for you; anything else that ever existed just falls away. What lasts is love.
We’ve traveled through a whole life together, our family, and now as we stand on this verge, with only an immense, open, and expansive unknown ahead and no way to turn back, we can only trust that as we step forward, you will continue to accompany us with your beautiful presence. I can trust in what you’ve taught me. I trust that you have prepared me for the life ahead, so I can plunge more fully into it without hesitation, with confidence and an open heart. I will always follow your example of walking fearlessly and gracefully towards love and light.
January 5, 2005
I miss my dad. I’m sad that he won’t be here to finish his house, to enjoy his retirement. But, regardless of my questions about God, heaven. I know he is still with us. I can see him in the air as a flock of geese glide down into the reservoir near Fountain Valley School at sunset, where a thousand other birds are resting. I can feel him when I make decisions, his peaceful wisdom guiding me. So much that is good about me comes from him. And I know that he is alive in many many people whose lives he touched. He had about as full a life as anyone could hope to have on this earth and he left it in the best possible way, peacefully, doing what he loved, at his peak. And so the biggest thing I feel is gratitude, for all the love and joy and peace that he left us with. I am so lucky to have him as such a big part of my life. Thank you, Dad.