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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sometimes the World Seems Up-Side-Down

But God is in Control...

A Major Shift in My Temporary Duties
Two updates have been added to the bottom of this post...
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The medical team practices standard “scrubbing” protocols before, during, and after our clinics among the hill tribes, but a setting can only be so “sterile” when pigs, chickens, and dogs roam freely between the legs of those being treated. Of the many images my camera captures each day, the most ironic are those of molting chickens pecking at the dusty ground between triage and pharmacy and nameless dogs napping in the shade of the dentist’s table.
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One of the last scenes recorded on my camera, is a case in point. The dentist, who is also a full-time ER doctor, had just put away his instruments when he was approached by a boy with a fresh cut in his foot. Soon a small crowd gathered around as the hooked needle and blue thread tugged through the gaping skin and each suture was tied with quick precision . It took eight to close the cut. Weaving through the dusty feet of little spectators was a mother hen and two chicks, eager to be close to all the excitement, but oblivious to what was going on above.
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In a way there is something very comforting about sharing space with animals indifferent to human suffering. This is not unique to the hill-tribes in Thailand. We have a version of this phenomenon in America’s modern hospital settings that make use of huge aquariums and aviaries in family "waiting rooms."
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This post is not coming from the mountain regions of Thailand. My journey with the medical team there was cut short last Saturday evening when I called home and learned that my mother, who has been fighting stage 4 cancer for many months, had taken a severe turn for the worse and was on a ventilator in the ICU. The lead doctor on the team did not hesitate when he said, "Tom, we need to get you home." It was our prayer that I would be able to make the long trip back by myself in time to be with her and my family.
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I was able to keep my composure as I traveled alone… except for one moment at the Bangkok airport. All around were thousands of kind but distant faces. That airport plays a steady stream of classical music through hidden speakers all across the terminal. I was pulling my luggage from the escalator to my gate when I heard Dvořák's "Going Home" theme all around me. The words were fresh in my mind since I had just posted them the week before this trip. Walking through that looming airport with those words in my head, I never felt so alone and far away in all my life. I went to a wall of windows and stared out at nothing until I could proceed. It was a fragile moment that somehow gave me strength for the long trip ahead.
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Julie and the girls were waiting for me in Grand Rapids. It was great to see them. Our prayers had been answered: Mom was still alive. She had been unresponsive Friday evening and Saturday. But I was pleased to hear that she had a few waking moments that day, which was Sunday. Only 36 hours passed from the time I got the news to the time we were going up the hospital elevator. It was about 7:00 PM.
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I was prepared for how Mom would look in her bed. (You can imagine all the equipment she is hooked up to and of course, the ventilator hose in her throat renders her completely mute. She can communicate only with her eyes.) When I approached the bed she opened her eyes and was very glad to see me. I pointed to my clothes and told her that this what the outfit I'd been wearing since a day-and-a-half ago in Chang Rai, Thailand. She tried to smile but could only do so with her eyes. I held her hand and said, "It's good to be home." She squeezed very hard and nodded and tried to say words but nothing could come out. I gave her a brief update about the medical mission trip, etc. since she had encouraged me to go, but I quickly got around to more important things like telling her it was great to see her and that she looked very good--she shook her head "no"... not buying that... but I peered into her eyes and said it again. Her eyes are as I remember them. She dozes off and on. I stayed with her for about an hour. She was asleep but did not let go of my hand.

We visited with family in the waiting room (with the aquarium) until it was late. I was exhausted from the trip. We said "see you tomorrow" to Mom, went to my sister's house to sleep, and returned Monday morning.
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As I sat with her Monday, along with my nephew Ben who flew in from Seattle, a nurse was in the room and Mom asked for a note pad. She was able to scribble a short scratchy note. She wanted me to tell the nurse that I had come home from Thailand and what we were doing there. This was somewhat of a relief because my time in Thailand was still fresh on my mind, and though I would not have considered it a suitable topic under the circumstances, I remembered that Mom has always enjoyed keeping total strangers up to date on all the details of her children's lives.
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When we're not in Mom's room, my siblings and I gather in the very accommodating waiting room around the corner with a large 300-gallon aquarium. In it, lives a large "Yellow Angelfish" [not a goldfish] who is a favorite among the nurses because he swims belly up. He is not dead, nor is he dying. He’s stuck dorsal-down because his gas bladder has permanently inflated. He cannot rise and descend effortlessly like the other angelfish in the tank. With some work, he can swim down to a cleft in the rocks and rest at the top of that small grotto [in the center of the photo below], but eventually he loses his grip there and floats above. In addition to the challenge of permanent buoyancy is the fact that he will forever see the world up-side-down. Other than that, he is a normal fish.
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We've been watching this fish when we're not in with Mom. At first, I thought he must feel like I did the time I tried to ride atop a large a plastic 55-gallon drum in a pond only to roll , still clinging to the barrel, trapped belly-side-up under water. Though forelorn, there is no panic in his eyes. He can breath and seems to have accepted his lot.
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I can relate to our up-side-down friend. Returning unexpectedly from the far side of the globe, amid these dramatic turns of life, it seems my world has been--not spinning but--tumbling pole to pole for three days (and counting), but I know God is in control. In spite of the cause for this family reunion, it is a joy to once again be gathered 'round our loving mother who taught us so well the meaning of home. We, too, have found rest in the cleft of the Rock as Mom so often sang in two of her favorite hymns: "He Hideth My Soul" and "Rock of Ages."
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Update: written sometime in the night, very early Thursday, February 1: Julie and I spent last night with her. This morning I played for her a scene still on my video camera from an Lahu village in Thailand. The small group was singing the old hymn “I must tell Jesus. I must tell Jesus. He understands my burdens alone…” They were singing in Lahu, of course, but Mom nodded along to the tune when I asked if she remembered it. Sometime around 7:00AM her oncalogist came in and said we had to meet as a family with Bob at 9:15. The difficult decision was between subjecting Mom to intrusive abdominal surgery [which she most likely would not survive but, if she did, would keep her on this ventilator for 6-8 weeks only to wake to the final stages of cancer] or to remove life-support if it was required to sustain her for more than four days [as was her written request]. There was no "good" decision and both led to the same inevitability. Still it was excruciating to carry out her wishes.
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Mom was removed (as per her request) from "life support" yesterday afternoon [Wednesday], but so far she is holding her own through the night. When they called us to her bedside, we spent wonderful hours around her as a family singing and praising the Lord with all the hymns she used to sing at the piano in our living room. Mom tapped her foot as my sister-in-law held it. She tried to mouth the words of “Amazing Grace.” We prayed for freedom from pain, peace, a presence of her Savior, and a willingness to recline in His arms. She gradually became less and less responsive, but her weak vitals remain consistent.
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Pray for her husband, Bob, (my step-father since 2001) who has been a loving and caring companion since they renewed their friendship at their 50th Reunion for the Class of '48. They married in 2001. His bedside manner has been wonderful for Mom all these years and especially during this ordeal. . My brother Jim and I and Bob are spending the night. We’ve each spent time beside her and each dozed off for moments. A while ago, I brushed her hair with the brush from her coat pocket. (She always like when my girls did that for her.) and then went down to the empty chapel on the first floor where I could talk and cry and pray out loud.
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As a new day begins to glow through the window behind the reclining chair where I write, I realize God is still in control.... We now face only the acute awareness of the rhythms I wrote about last May.
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The Rhythm

Life is danced to rhythms
we soon forget are there.
The blink of eyes,
the beat of hearts,
the breath and sigh of air
are lost to cycles of the sun
and pass with little care.
They slip our mind as measures
in time until we're unaware
we wake t’thm, walk t’thm,
work t’thm, talk t’thm,
laugh t’thm, cry t’thm,
live t’thm... die t’thm.
It becomes a most ungraceful dance
when we ignore the Hand that grants
the Grace and gently taps... the rhythm.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink
We are in those delicate hours when loved ones step beyond the desire to extend hope of time and rather help reflect the hope for time no more. We continue to share love as we know it on earth, but our whispered affections are of things to come. We are now experiencing that long indefinite farewell when holding hands is the final form of letting go...
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Please pray for us in the hours/days ahead. .
He Hideth My Soul
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life in the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
Fanny Crosby, 1890
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Rock of Ages
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
Augustus M. Toplady, 1830


Update: Evening of February 1, 2008. Mom is still with us, but we have been moved from ICU to “hospice wing.” Her doctors are surprised that she did not pass this first day, but all the signs show continued decline toward her final rest. In the meantime, we continue to hold hands and talk at every opportunity. Before I left the hospital tonight she squeezed my hand when I asked if she could hear me.
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Through the years, all of us children have spent countless hours on Mom's front porch and beside cars before returning to our homes far from “home”… Mom always did have a way with long goodbyes. =)


Please continue to pray for her and our family.
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February 2 AM: It was not my intent to write here daily, but I will today. Mom made it through the night, but she was not able to respond with a squeeze of the hand as she did yesterday. My brother Dave and niece Aimee stayed with her last night. For a few days now, I've been thinking of an old gospel Hymn that Mom used to sing at the piano in our living room. Her piano bench was full of "favorites" that could keep her company for hours. After the last note of each song she'd say, "I like that one" then pull out another. Sometimes we'd sing with her, but many times we were content to let her fill the house with song as we went about whatever else we were doing.
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The song in my head is "Come Home. Come Home. It's Suppertime." Some may think it unusual that I would include it here in this unfolding post, but I know Mom would like to hear this Youtube clip now if I could play it in her room, and If she could speak, I know she'd say, "I like that one..."
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PM: We had a family meeting today. It's very hard to think "practically" during such emotional times, but we are about to begin another work week and needed to make a new schedule of family "coverage" so that Bob and each of us continue to get needed rest. Sadly, there are other preparations to attend to now that we know it is simply a question of God's timing. Julie drove to our home in West Michigan to be with the girls and get some things in order for what this week yet holds. She will return Tuesday.
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February 3: Time on the hospice floor does not seem to pass in "days" but in hours and shifts of nurses as living continues while circumstance suspends part of our lives.
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Meanwhile there's the ebb and flow of mourning and mornings, but as a family we're able to talk about and "remember" things fondly even while we wait. My writing when and what little I can here has been cathartic... passing time like this has been very similar to grief, though death has not yet come. In fact, it seems we have stepped over and back across that line many times since Wednesday afternoon. Though Mom is in no pain, these pending days in ways are harder on those who watch and wait than the sudden preparations of an unexpected death. Still we trust in God's plan.
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Even now, Mom's presence with us reminds me of two paragraphs from the epilogue of the Duncan Phyfe story Mom helped me with last fall:
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"When I was a kid, Mom... darned our socks, and though I now appreciate that labor of love, back then I hated [feeling] the mend down there in my shoe. But Mom did another kind of darning--a kind done so skillfully I didn't know it at the time--she filled all sorts of gaps in our lives....[by keeping] our home happy whenever life "wore through" ...[and making] us feel blessed to be exactly where we were in time and space even when times were hard and space was cramped. She knew enough about darning to know that the secret is not pulling the gap shut--it's filling it in with newly woven threads."
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Here is the other paragraph from the Duncan Phyfe epilogue that has taken on new meaning as we pull together as a family.
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"With or without a table, we're all of us 'bringing home the Duncan Phyfe.' We're bringing it home each time we see a longing in our loved one's eyes and do our best to meet it; each time we strive to keep the windows of communication open; each time we learn to smile at what frustrates us...each time we salvage what we can from what's been broken. We're bringing home the Duncan Phyfe each time we look back and see that life, perhaps, has not turned out the way we thought it would... but we can embrace the good and bad, the pain and pleasure, the regret and hope... and find joy in living with the way things stand in the end."
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Time is a blur. I'll probably not write about these things for some time. Julie will return Tuesday whatever the case.

18 Comments:

Anonymous WSL said...

I always look foreward to your blog and new entries..so when I saww that you'd posted again I had the anticipation of another "good read". But I have to admit as I type, tears are flowing down my cheeks. I don't even know you or your family BUT I've had a similar experience with my own mom. Not the same, but similar and know the feelings etc. that you all are going through. I'm praying for you all!
I thought of how we all are linked together, somehow. I thought as I was reading of how I wouldn't have found you except for Nitty Gritty...and Jody too is going through her own "watch and wait", though very different from yours. We are all a part of the larger picture of "The Church" and I guess my tears are those as scripture says...when one of us hurts the rest of us do.
I know you'll keep us updated!
Shalom.......

31/1/08 8:17 AM  
Blogger jewell said...

I have been thinking of you all. I am praying for you today.

Jewell

31/1/08 8:35 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I have been praying for you on your trip but now I will pray for you and your family.

31/1/08 3:43 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

The prayers are flowing. Take Care, and please let us know if there is anything that you need.

Julie in Muskegon

31/1/08 5:18 PM  
Blogger Cris said...

The poems are beautiful. I will be keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

31/1/08 7:50 PM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

i feel so sad right now Tom. i've been thinking about you in Thailand, and i'm glad you made it back home to be with your Mother. i will continue to keep you and your family in prayer.

1/2/08 1:41 AM  
Anonymous tom asdell said...

Tom
You and your family are in our prayers...

1/2/08 10:34 AM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

May you experience God's peace and love during this difficult time and may God grant that you be a vessel of that peace and love to minister to your mom and your family. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family.

1/2/08 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Hi Uncle Tom,
I've been checking your blog often since returning to Seattle. Your recent posts have helped my emotions "feel at home" even with the many miles of seperation. Your writing is blessing Mary and I. We really can feel more near the family. Mary and I have read all of "Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe" in the last 2 days. We've both remarked how we want to read it again. Thank you for the stories. Many years ago, while I was in high school, grandma and I talked a few times about me sitting down with her to write down some of her stories. I never followed through. I never could have done as well as you have...

Thank you for helping us to express our grief and hope in this time. Your poems and thoughts are healing. Love you.

2/2/08 12:11 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

WSL, Jewell, Dr. John, Julie, Cris, HC, Tom A., LGS,

Sorry I have not been able to respond individually to comments these past two weeks. I have read them and they have been an encouragement. I know you understand. Thanks for your prayers.

Ben,
I'm glad you got home safely to Mary. I'm glad you had a chance to read that draft of the story. I'm so glad I was able to get a copy of it to Mom for Christmas. Some time in the weeks ahead, I'll revise some thoughts and get you a better copy. I hope to include those thoughts we shared in the waiting room a few days ago.
It meant so much to Mom for you to be here. I think you made a very good choice to come home for time with her and us (rather than for the funeral if you can't do both).

2/2/08 8:28 AM  
Anonymous WSL said...

How bitter-sweet to read your comments at the end POI! If in your shoes I doubt I would be or could be doing the updates as you have done. Blessings to you and your family!

How wonderful that you were able to make it home and your mom is one for the "long good-byes"! That you could share with her and the rest of your family.

2/2/08 8:50 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

Thanks for the updates. It helps to center our praying.

2/2/08 2:53 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

WSL,
It has indeed been a difficult whirlwind of emotions for us all, and I probably won't update again until Mom goes.

Dr. John,
I'm sure in your years of ministry you helped families through circumstances where moments of death became hours and then days. Thank you for your continued prayers.

All,
Thanks for remembering us at this time.

2/2/08 11:35 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, I haven't been visiting many blogs lately, so I have just updated myself on your situation there. I am so sorry. The way you are describing your situation is just as it was with my mother as well, so I know how you are feeling. We are all thinking about you, and keep you and your family, and your Mom in our prayers.

3/2/08 12:39 PM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

hi Tom, i believe when you first started writing the Duncan Phyfe, you never imagined or envisioned all of the revelations you'd glean from it, or how it would touch the lives of so many people. i know i'm blessed and more the richer since reading it. i'm so glad you were able to finish it and give your Mom a copy at Christmas. you all are continually in my thoughts and prayers.

3/2/08 2:51 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

TOM~ I did not keep up with my blogging this week and even though your mom and you have been in my prayers, it was not with the urgency that you needed these last few days. For that I appoligize. Tears roll down my cheeks, as I feel (oddly) like I know all of you... almost like family, and my heart grieves for you. I never anticipated this from the blogging world and it really surprises me- as I continue to cry. Please know that my sympathy is genuine and so are my prayers. My heart aches for all of you. The Duncan Phyfe story has some of my threads woven in- somehow, connecting me, the reader and this connection has shown me the value of ministry through writing and GOD connecting us all for His glory. We are "The Church" and I am a better person because of you Tom... and Patterns of Ink. Blessings to you and your family. My prayers continue as you face the coming days.

3/2/08 8:44 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

Your mom and all of your family have been in my thoughts and prayers all week. My heart has ached for you as I can only imagine what you are going through. Yet I rejoice too, knowing that your family is so close and that you have shared so many years of love and memories. That is a gift many never get in their lives. I will continue to pray...and someday I look forward to meeting your mom when we all go Home.

3/2/08 9:24 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Strength Tom.

peace

mark

4/2/08 8:53 AM  

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