The Twins

Now that my dear friends’ condolences are being outnumbered by the question, “How are the twins?”, I realize that an update is due on them.  And photos, too, of course.

I have been helping Jon and Kerrie by taking care of Emma and Easton’s feedings every 3 hours throughout the night Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.  That means the next day (or 2) would be shot for me as I walked around zombie-like.  During my most recent Weds. night to Friday AM over there, Jon and Kerrie suggested a change that would let us all get at least 6-7 hours of sleep…and it worked!  I still do better with 7-8 hours of unbroken sleep but this new plan is very do-able and does provide unbroken sleep for J&K.  Sleep, sweet sleep!  No wonder sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique!

Little Easton was back at Spectrum Butterworth a couple weeks ago for 4 nights with a nasal feeding tube to get him plumped up.  He went home with the tube for the times he did not meet his intake goal, times which became more rare over the weekend.  If you are Facebook friends with Jon and Kerrie, you would have seen this photo with the caption:

“Raise your hand if you’re excited the feeding tube came out today!”

2014_06_20 Raise your arm... 2014_22 Ella Babysitting

And here is Ellison babysitting and serving as guardian of the pacifiers.

So the babies are gaining weight and are more alert and Ella keeps busy between kissing them and hauling her baby doll around giving us all heart attacks because it looks so real!

I have been busy with working out the final details for David’s Celebration of Life service on Saturday, July 5.  It was fun pulling together the photos of his life for the DVD which will be showing during visitation and during refreshments.  Thank you for your encouraging cards and for sharing memories of what David meant to you.  He was quite a guy and I believe a bit of him lives on in all of us.

Life is Good; God is Good.

 

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VISITATION

It has now been 2 1/2 weeks since David took his last breath and 3 weeks since Emma and Easton each took their first.  The time has passed like a blur and feels 3 times as long.  It has been a time when a sense of closure takes hold and healing begins.  On June 7 we said our final goodbyes in a very personal private family service and burial.  The hope of the future, our little twin grandchildren, have needed extra attention because of feeding problems so I have been able to help Jon and Kerrie and little Ella (21 months old today).  My heart and life are very full!

This spring, our Celebration, FL minister had made a comment to me about being open to the supernatural after David’s passing.  Yet I hadn’t heard his dear voice from the other room.  I hadn’t seen him round the corner just ahead of me.  Nothing.  And then in the early morning about a week after David’s passing, when I was helping at the home of the twin babies and was in that semi-sleep that comes when one ear is always open for the sounds of their stirring, David came to me.

I was sitting in the driver’s seat of our mini-van in a parking lot when, suddenly, there he was in the passenger seat beside me!  And his tall, silent companion had slipped into the back seat.  David looked handsome, charming, 80# heavier, and happy.  My initial emotion was one of “all is right with the world”, David is here.  But then I realized this wasn’t quite right.  Haltingly, I asked him, “But didn’t you die?”  My bemused stammerings were the only words spoken aloud during that time but mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart David shared with me an incredible sense of peace and contentment and encouragement.  We didn’t even touch but the moment was incredibly intimate.  And then he and his companion were gone.  Instead of being left with an aching hole in my heart, I felt incredibly uplifted and totally at peace with where David is now.  I awoke with tears of WOW!! streaming down my face.

Was this vision wishful thinking?  Maybe…although I haven’t been yearning for a final glimpse at David.  We had time for closure and for expressing our love and commitment to each other while he was still alive.  Was it a dream?  It could have been although my dreams usually are epic cinema events with multiple sub-plots and a changing flow of characters.  In addition, the whole dreamy scenario and its emotions usually evaporate from my memory within a few hours.

I believe David came to me to assure me that HE is even more than well.  And now 10 days later, that feeling deep in my soul is every bit as solid.  In the days after his death with all the busy-ness that follows the passing of a loved one, I had been fairly composed.  I would think of David with the abstract but real acknowledgement that he is now with the Lord, no longer struggling physically.  But what would always bring me to my knees sobbing my heart out was the memory of the physical and mental loses he experienced, especially in the 2 weeks before his passing.  He was aware that his mental faculties were going haywire as he tried to make lists and couldn’t even get beyond the title (“Items”) and numbering (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 6, 5, 7, 9, 9, 9).  My heart just broke for him.  Or when he would try to express a thought and the words were all jumbled nonsense.  Or when he tried to sit on the edge of the bed and his arms would be unable to support his weight yet he kept trying and trying, never giving up.  All that heartbreak lifted from me after he appeared to me in the front seat of the van!  And it hasn’t returned to torment me.  He is so beyond all that!  My heart sings for him now and those difficult memories do not have a hold on me!

I debated with myself about whether I should share this extremely personal moment with you or not.  But it is just too good not to share!  And it may serve as an encouragement to some of you who have gone through the loss of a loved one, too.

When I reflect further on David’s visitation, I recall a quirky but fun detail that always makes me smile.  I might be wrong but it sure seems to me that he and his silent companion (Jerry Swan??, the man who orchestrated our initial meeting of one another on a blind double date back in 1981) were dressed to go Up North fishing!

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David’s Obituary

In March David wrote his own obituary which I pass on to you here.  More later…

David's Photo for Obit

Dr. David VerLee, age 76, of Holland, Michigan died peacefully at home on June 3, 2014 from metastatic skin cancer. He was born in Mansfield, OH to Leo and Dagmar VerLee on October 1, 1937. At the age of 6 weeks he moved with his parents to Grand Rapids where he attended Alger and Burton schools and graduated from South High. He went on to the University of Michigan for undergrad and medical school.  After an internship at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, he then completed an ophthalmology residency at the University of Michigan and went on to do two years of medical research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He and his family moved back to Michigan where he practiced ophthalmology in Flint for 25 years. In 1989 he moved back to Western Michigan in Holland where he practiced for several more years before retiring in 1999.

David was a Rotarian for many years, both in Flint and in Holland, MI. He and his family are long-time members of Christ Memorial Church in Holland where he served as an elder. David was involved with many philanthropic organizations and charitable causes and contributed in many roles to the Kellogg Eye Center and the University of Michigan medical school.

He was preceded in death by his former wife Gwendolyn (Lawson) who died in 1998.

David is survived by his wife of 33 years, Jayne (Anderson) VerLee, and children Phillip and Jocelyn (Koning) VerLee, Amy and Rick Elias, DDS (children Jake, Lucas and Peter), Peter and Kristal (Glenn) VerLee (children Brendan and Ava), and Jon and  Kerrie (Notman) VerLee (children Ella, Easton, and Emma).  He is also survived by his younger brother Thomas VerLee, MD, and Tom’s wife, Lois (VanDerSchie) and family in Portland, ME.

Burial will take place at Pilgrim Home Cemetery following a private family service.  David’s “Celebration of Life” service will take place at 2:00pm on July 5, 2014 at Christ Memorial Church, 595 Graafschap Rd., Holland, with visitation prior to the service from 12:30pm-2:00pm.  In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to Hospice of Holland or Autism Support of Kent County. Arrangements are by the Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home, 315 E 16th St., Holland.  Please feel free to sign an online guestbook or share a memory at www.langelandsterenberg.com.

 

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David’s Home-Going

David’s struggle is over and he is now in the Presence of the Lord!

Yesterday (Tuesday) all the kids came out to our home.  David had been agitated for a couple days, was on oxygen and was catheterized, was too weak to get out of bed and needed to be turned in bed every few hours. He couldn’t communicate anymore but he seemed to know that each of his children visited him that day and had released him.  About 4:00 his agitation lifted and he was totally unresponsive but calm.  His Cheyne-Stokes breathing was unsettling to us all since he would stop breathing for a time and then gasp for air and breathe heavily for a bit before tapering off again.  The Hospice doctor was out that afternoon and told us that he doubted David had more than 2 days left and probably less.

Jon and Kerrie came out with their 4-day old twins, Easton Jeremy and Emelia (Emma) Jayne.  We took precious photos of those little ones with their grandpa.  After they left following supper, I went to sit with David.  He was sucking air in with great effort and then around 10:00 he slipped into a steady, comfortable breathing rhythm that just got shallower and shallower over the next half hour.  There was no sudden sitting up, reaching up to being I couldn’t see, or even a final exhaled breath.  He just slipped away peacefully.

I was so relieved at his release from his body and mind that had betrayed him.  I wrapped my arms around his still-warm body and held him close for a long time knowing that would be my final opportunity.  He loved physical closeness.  He claimed his 2 top “love languages” were touch and touch!  Oh, how I will miss him!  We all will.

Finally I called the Hospice nurse who came out to verify his passing (11:53 Tuesday night, June 3) and called the funeral home.  More waiting.  I dissolved when they took away his body; it just made it all so real.   When we bought our Holland home, David said he wanted to be taken out of here feet first.  He never wavered on that and last night he got his wish.

Then I found energy I didn’t know I could have at that late hour and I went through his meds and threw away every single one that represented all his physical problems: blood pressure meds, digestive meds, pain meds, dry mouth solutions (from his 2013 neck surgery and radiation), and anything else that would serve as a reminder of how his body had let him down.  Finally at 3:00 I fell asleep and slept hard, awoke at 7:00 to send out a couple important emails, and then slept hard again until 9:30.  Sleeping well has been a God-send for me throughout this ordeal.

Thank you, dear family and friends who have stood by us and held us up in prayer augmented by cookies and soups and running errands when I was housebound.  Now comes the next hard part of adjustment to widowhood. I even hate that word!  But I have joined the ranks of many who fortunately show that bountiful living can still continue for those of us who remain here for some time without our spouses.

Today I went to the funeral home and started working on arrangements for the private family service and burial this weekend and then David’s “Celebration of Life” service in early July.  I will keep you posted once we know the details.

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Precious Days

What a difference two weeks make!  We have gone from a point of me being able to take off to run errands or go to a meeting, assuring David that he can reach me by phone…  to being 100% available to him.  Each day he physically slips further and is now happy to use a walker or wheel chair.  He has gone from being frustrated at his short term memory loss to not being able to carry on a conversation without major gaps.  He doesn’t eat very much anymore and appreciates when I help transport the forkful from his plate to his palate.

I have already lost my best friend when it comes to sharing what is going on in my life and seeking his opinions and advice.  But I have never loved him more and I just treasure each day because I can see that it will be better than the following day will be.

This past week our family spent lots of time at our house…David’s brother, Tom and his wife, Lois were here Weds. – Friday as well as son Phil and Jocelyn.  On the weekend the other kids (13 in all counting in-laws, grands, and a significant other) came for 2 days and TOOK CARE OF ALL THE FOOD!  I felt like I was in vacation in our own home.  They each spent private time with David which was very special to both.  And there is nothing like two strong grandsons to get some of the heavy lifting work done around here. The kids continue to come back when their schedules allow just to spend time with their dad.

David also continues to be surrounded by friends who come for a few minutes just to say “Hi!”  He dearly enjoys the cards and emails sent.  He knows without a doubt that he is loved.  Both of us are carried by your prayers and loving contacts.

When I ran errands yesterday leaving David in Phil’s care for an hour, I found my soul singing … not only from being able to get OUT but from realizing anew how precious is the gift of life.  I seem to savor each day more than I ever did before.  While there is a deep weariness in me amid the swirl of David’s decline, I CHOOSE JOY!  And I am blessed with the Lord’s PEACE.

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Springtime in Holland

What a joy it is, dear friends, to finally be able to settle back into our Holland home!  We arrived Tuesday, May 13 at dusk and Wednesday it rained all day.  But today I finally was able walk around the yard and look at the yellow forsythia and the red and yellow tulips and the purple azaleas and…and…and…   I can hardly wait to get out weeding!  But there are many things to get done inside before I can dig in the dirt.

As some of you knew, David had been dreading the flight from FL to MI but it all went exceptionally well.    Going through security has never been as slick as it was with the wheel chair assistant.  And in Detroit, the wheel chair guy shot through the airport with David, up and down elevators, and on trams to where our son Phillip was waiting for us with our newly-unloaded van.  (If David and I had been on our own,  we’d have taken that much time just to figure out if we should go left or right from the gate.)

Many of you have asked about David’s appointments at the University of Michigan.  We must say that the two doctors he saw showed exceptional kindness and compassion and were, at the same time, clear in presenting us with the situation and the options…or lack thereof.  The surgeon, Dr. Bradford, said that his lung tumor most likely from a cell in the squamous cell carcinoma on his scalp which had slipped past his neck lymph nodes and had found a new home in his lung.  The medical oncologist, Dr. Worden, was in agreement with the Moffitt oncologist that, because of David’s other 2 kinds of cancer and his poor kidneys, every effective chemo agent was ruled out.  That would leave only those of questionable effectiveness that would still have all the side effects.  This is the end of the road for medical treatment.  And the doctor also affirmed that what I had read on the internet was true; that is, that the average lifespan of a person with untreated lung cancer is about 7 months.

Then Dr. Worden spoke to us of the benefits of Hospice care for controlling pain and maximizing David’s quality of life.  He’d been a Hospice doctor himself and had seen that people who received Hospice care early experienced far more benefit from it than the majority of people who enroll in it in the last week or so of life.  So he got the ball rolling and today the Hospice of Holland enrollment nurse came out to explain the services, not realizing that we’d already had the full talk and were ready to sign on the dotted line.  In the next couple days the case management nurse will come out to the house to evaluate David further and work out the specifics in more detail.  Already David has benefitted from Hospice care in that his medications were adjusted to provide more consistent relief from his back and rib pain since the previous regime was no longer enough to control it.

The most difficult part was telling our children the treatment options have come to an end and now we are focusing on making the most of each day…in comfort.  Even if one knows that time will come, it still cuts like a knife to hear it spoken out loud.  But now we move ahead and look forward to more frequent visits by our family including David’s brother and sister-in-law from Maine, Tom and Lois, who are coming next week.  And we are still planning every event already lined up at our house including the big family reunion in July…in case anyone in the Swanlund Clan was wondering.

Many people have already asked what they could do to help.  David is mainly eating soft foods and nourishing drinks so meals are not needed although the offer has been appreciated.  He does enjoy receiving personal cards in the mail.  His energy level varies and he has frequent naps.  A phone call to check on the timing and a 5-minute visit on the phone or in person might be OK, depending on the day.  But don’t feel rejected if it doesn’t work out right then.  Also, don’t be surprised if you see him doing a slow ride on his tricycle through the neighborhood which he would dearly like to do if he gets a spurt of energy.  Who knows?  Only God knows the future and we know He is already there … as well as with us now.  Thank you for your loving concern and your continuing prayers.

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The Big Switch

David and I want to thank all of you for your loving care and prayers during this rocky time.  Sometimes those prayers are answered in delightful ways.  For example, on Easter Sunday we had guests coming for dinner so Saturday I was about to go out the back door to drive to the grocery store for some last minute groceries AND flowers to use as a centerpiece.  However, I decided to quickly check the mail (out the front door) first and there on a table in the front porch was the most delightful floral arrangement … with no note saying who left it.  All I could do was smile broadly and say, “Thank you, Lord!!”  (You angel, you know who you are.)    And the next day a Celebration friend of ours gave David a car quilt that she and others in the church’s sewing group had made for him.  With all our trips back and forth to Tampa, David has rarely been without that quilt over him!  Isn’t it manly-looking!

Easter Flowers2014 Rosemarie's Comfort Quilt copy

At the time of the last blog, David was on his 5th of 15 days of radiation.  Now that is over; David has graduated.  And I will definitely not miss the drive.  We did this daily drive for five weeks back in 2008 when David had his first carcinoid metastasis to a superficial bone that, fortunately, was in a location where it could be treated with radiation.  I don’t remember being this weary from that year’s driving.  (And please don’t say I am older now!) Suddenly it occurred to me that the difference between then and now is that David and I shared the driving then…and now I was doing it alone!

The pain in David’s rib cage that I mentioned last time just got worse and worse even though he was taking even more than the maximum recommended dose of Hydrocodone.  Poor fellow…it got so changing position or twisting at all sent jolts of pain through and under his entire rib cage.  It was rugged.  Tuesday all that changed.  One of the doctors he saw gave him a prescription for a long-acting, stronger pain medication which we filled immediately and it made the difference between night and day.  He is now able to work through the piles of paperwork and reading material that have been collecting over the past weeks.  His appetite is better.  He’s working harder at staying hydrated.  He is trying to do some walking, more than just from the bed to the bathroom and back.  It is definitely good to see this change for the better.  However, he is tired from the effects of radiation and that fatigue will increase over the next 10 days before it starts to get better.

Tuesday’s appointments included seeing the carcinoid specialist to find out the results of the OctreoScan. We had seen the written report but he showed us the actual scans with the evidence of carcinoid spread. Even though he gets a monthly injection of the maximum dose of a med specific to carcinoid, it is no longer totally effective in keeping the tumors dormant.   The ones that have been present are growing and there are new ones as well, mostly in various bones.  Neither chemo nor radiation works on the current sites except for one very active spot on a rib that the radiologist blasted out of existence.  David will continue with his monthly Sando shots since without them, there would be nothing to slow down the carcinoid’s growth.  But there is no point in further testing so David has basically said his goodbyes to the carcinoid team at Moffitt in Tampa.  He graciously thanked the doctor for giving him an additional 14 good years.  (If this had occurred several decades ago, he would have been dead with a carcinoid-caused bowel obstruction in 2000.)

The next appointment Tuesday was with the radiation oncologist.  She told us that the radiation is expected to have done what it was intended: to destroy the squamous cell tumor that was beginning to obstruct the bronchial (breathing) tube going to his right lower lung.  Now the air can keep moving through his lung and it won’t plug up, creating and blocking in a pneumonia mass.  The radiation resident spent a great deal of time with us so we could ask a lot of questions including about the feasibility of radiating the 2 “tiny” squamous cell tumors in David’s liver.  She talked about how radiologists can zap pretty much anything … but it is not always wise or in the patient’s best interest to do that.  Each person much be evaluated individually.  Basically what was done is considered “palliative” rather than “curative”.

Now our next step is to see the University of Michigan doctors on the 12th.  They will take over David’s care and we know he will be in good hands just as he was at Moffitt.  Son Phil is driving our loaded-to-the-gills van back to Michigan, leaving here on the 6th.  We will fly to Detroit on the 11th where Phil will meet us with our emptied out van (he’s stopping in Holland to unload) and we will stay overnight for the appointments on the 12th.  Then on the 13th we’ll FINALLY drive to Holland and our dear home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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