What He Left Behind ….

On March 11th, 2010, I was sitting in the back of our car. The car was parked in a car park near Ridgedale in Minnesota. I was listening to the anguished cries of my step-son’s mother as she yelled down the phone at the coroner’s office.

“You will not touch my son!” She exclaimed. “He is my son and I don’t give you permission! When can I see him?” Not satisfied with the reply, she got angrier and angrier, completely engulfed in her distress and grief.

Eventually, she hung up. She gave my husband my cell phone. “You call them,” she cried. “Don’t let them touch him!”. My husband was gentle with her, reaching beyond his own grief, to comfort her and help her with her pain. “They have to. It’s the law.” He said gently. “I’ll find out when we can see him”.

He dialed the number on the cell phone. “Hi, this is Sonny Wren, Lohr’s dad. Yes, he was brought in last night. When will we be able to see him? Yes, I understand. You need to know the undertaker we want to use? Okay, I will get back to you on that as soon as possible.”

Lohr’s mum grabbed the phone. “You will not cut up my son!” She cried. “I forbid it!” She slammed the phone shut.

My heart ached for them. I would feel the same way about my child. I reached out to touch their shoulders. “I know that this is hard for you. We need to find an undertaker so that you can see Lohr as soon as possible.” I said. ‘Do you have any preferences?’

Lohr’s mum thrust a piece of paper into my hand. “A friend recommended this one”, she said.

“Okay,” I said. “Sonny, I can make this call if you want me to, but they may not speak to me. Do you feel up to making it?” My husband, through his tears, nodded his head. I read out the number on the paper as my husband spoke with the coroner’s office. After he had finished, I called the undertakers to find out where they were located and asked them to call me when my step-son’s body arrived.

Lohr’s mum, Annette, was engaged with my husband, turning her grief onto other subjects where she got angry about how people with homosexuality were treated. As my husband listened, I wondered if the coroner received phone calls with parents and other loved ones like the one he had received from Annette on a daily basis. How hard for them to be dealing with the anger of heartache and despair of people in grief.

My husband had woken me up at 11 p.m the night before. “Penelope, wake up. Lohr is dead”. I shot up from the bed.

“What? What did you say?”

“Lohr is dead. The police have just left”.

I pulled my husband into my arms. “I’m so so sorry, honey.” My husband broke down and wailed. I held him for a long time.

“How long were the police here? Why didn’t you wake me up?” I asked after awhile.

“They were here for about an hour?” He said. “I told them to contact Lohr’s mum. They are going there now.”

“Are you up to calling her?” I asked. He nodded. “I will in a minute. Let’s give them time to get there and then I’ll call”.

“Do you know what happened?” I asked.

“He jumped. He finally did it and jumped”.

Lohr had attempted suicide several times before. He had tried pills and he had often wandered to the top of the car park at the Mall of America in Minnesota. When he had felt like he was going to jump before, he would call his Aunt and she would talk him down. He had done this several times. This time, his Aunt was unavailable as she had had a stroke and suffered from aphasia. Lohr had been visibly shaken by his aunt’s downward spiral of health. She was like another mother to him.

Lohr had been admitted to the hospital about a month earlier. He was severelyimg_0054 depressed. After a week there, he was unable to get out of bed. As he was over eighteen we couldn’t consult with the hospital staff about his treatment. This was the worst that I had ever seen him. I sat by his bed and just stroked his hair. After visiting with him, I went to speak with the staff and said “He’s really, really depressed. I haven’t seen him this bad before. Whatever meds you have him on are not working. I’m very concerned.” I felt like I was talking into thin air. Of course, they knew he was depressed. His dad and I were so frustrated that we didn’t know what was going on.

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Lohr was discharged from the hospital at the end of the following week. I was surprised that they released him so early. He had been committed again, so it is not like he had a choice in the matter. Lohr lived in a half-way home as he was on probation from his several attempts at suicide. This was a measure to try and keep him safe. Lohr had suffered from bipolar since he was about ten years old. He also had a suspected diagnosis of schizophrenia.

I was brought back to the present as Lohr’s mother accelerated in her barrage of words. She was highly distressed. She also was bipolar and had not taken her meds and was roaring away in a torrent of understandable mania as she grappled with this unfathomable loss. I could see my husband waning under the onslaught.

“I know you guys aren’t up to this right now,” I interrupted, “but why don’t we go to the undertakers and assess what we need to do there – choose a coffin, decide on clothes, etc. Then everything will be ready for when Lohr arrives.”

Doing something practical seem to help them to move on through this moment. Annette left the car and went back to her car. I got out the back and slid into the driver’s seat. We found the mortuary and went inside. I introduced us to the staff and they put us in a room where we could talk. The lady who was helping us went through the procedures and the choices of service, coffins, etc. She then left us to decide. Sonny and Annette were distraught and unable to focus for longer than a few minutes.

Annette said that she would sell one of her paintings to pay for the coffin and the funeral services at the mortuary. I asked them gently if they would prefer to have the service at our church or whether they would prefer it at the mortuary. Annette expressed a strong desire to have the funeral at the mortuary and Sonny was okay with her request. “But I want him to wear white”, he said. Annette conceded to his wishes. I will order the trousers and shirt tonight, I said. I can hem them as well. I will just need a pair of Lohr’s trousers to get the right length. They very quickly decided on a nice but moderately priced coffin. My husband decided that Lohr would be buried near his dad in St. Paul.

I managed to get them to plan out the services – what hymns they wanted and who would speak. They both wanted to speak and would have our Bishop speak. We worked out the obituary for the mortuary to get out in the paper and online. It took awhile as their grief worked against their focus.

img_0056We had just finished, when the undertaker came in to tell us that Lohr had arrived. They said it might be better to see him later when they had time to work with him, but both Annette and Sonny wanted to see him as soon as they could. Annette wanted to go in first and alone. About forty minutes later, she left and went home, after letting Sonny know that she had his blood-stained clothes.

Sonny wanted me to come in with him. I was nervous; I didn’t know what shape he would be in. I hoped that I would know how to support my husband as he got his first taste of the physical reality of the situation.

We walked in. My husband made an audible gasp. I held his hand as he went over to his son and rubbed his back as the tears flowed down his face. He caressed his son’s chest and wept. He spoke to his son and wept some more. One of Lohr’s eyes was not completely shut and I hoped my husband didn’t notice and feel more pain. I gave my husband some space. After a long while, he indicated to me that he was ready to go. He kissed his son and we left the room. I let the staff know that we were leaving and thanked them for their kindness. We would be back tomorrow.

When we arrived back at our house, there was a meal for us on our doorstep. Our Bishop came over later that night and talked with my husband and I. He gave him a blessing. I let the Bishop know the details of the service on Friday and he said that he would take care of the programme and let the members of our congregation know. He said that he would arrange for a meal for our immediate family after the service and the burial.

My husband soon fell asleep as he stared at the television that night. I got a blanket and covered him up. I went into the bedroom and got ready for bed. I climbed into bed. The events of the day caught up with me and, now that I was alone and didn’t have to be strong for anyone, I laid down and sobbed.

Gossip or Pride?

100_0653-7During a trip back to Minnesota last year for training on my new job, my trainer whispered conspiratorially that she thought that our manager gave her work that she thought that her manager should do. “I’m not the one who has to write the reports”, she said. Earlier in the day, she had spoken to me not so quietly that the previous payroll person was just awful at the job. “I always had to correct him”, she exclaimed. “He just couldn’t do the job. I had to keep telling him the same thing over and over again!” She also told me that the new payroll person, wasn’t picking up the job as quickly as her past experience indicated that she could.

I didn’t respond to any of her comments. I should have come back with something a lot stronger than silence. My mind wasn’t so quiet. I knew the previous payroll person. He had left the company because of the way my trainer had treated him for the past eighteen months. She had been demoralizing him and criticizing him constantly. In a state of anguish, he had finally resigned. He had told me that he really liked the company and the other people that he worked with, but he just couldn’t take any more from my trainer who had made his life unbearable and caused him so much stress and degradation. I was quite astounded that she would also say something about her manager. She and the manager were pretty cozy.

image-18I learned a long time ago when I lived in Climping (outside of Littlehampton in West Sussex) never to believe what another person tells me about someone else. I was serving in a church leadership position and needed to find someone to oversee the homemaking meeting for the ladies at church. I felt inspired to suggest a particular lady’s name. I will call her Lynn although this is not her real name. Lynn accepted the call to serve as the Homemaking Leader and I worked closely with her. When she was called, I was approached several times about Lynn with people telling me to be careful as Lynn was a terrible gossip and very unreliable. This information did affect my relationship with her at the beginning. However, I learned very quickly that Lynn was not like that. She was such a sweet lady and would do anything for anyone. She also never talked badly about anyone in my presence. After this specific learning experience, I vowed that I would make my own mind up about people and not listen to what others say.

On that trip to Minnesota, I had been working twelve hour days without breaks. On the day before I flew back home, I took a lunch break for an hour with one of my friends from work who had been brought into town at the same time. It was nice chatting with her and catching up on each other’s news. When I got back to my desk, I grabbed some papers that I wanted to scan in so I had access to them when I got back to Utah. Whilst I was at the photocopier, I heard my trainer say to my manager in a surreptitious manner, “She’s back!” That just confirmed to me that the trainer was also talking behind my back about me in a derogatory way just as she had our manager and the two payroll people.

This behaviour is a good example of duplicity – when a person will talk about somebody when they aren’t present in a critical and demeaning way – but wouldn’t dream of saying the same things to the person if they were there. It can be guaranteed that a person who exhibits this type of behaviour with you will be saying things about your weaknesses or other untruths to someone else when you are not there. This is the opposite of integrity. Having integrity means to be loyal to those who are not present. In these types of situations, one should defend those who are absent. When you defend those that are absent, you build trust with others. My husband is a very good example of this. My husband and his first wife are divorced but my husband never says a bad word about her. He never runs her down. I know that my husband will never talk badly about me to someone else even if we have had a disagreement.

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In an earlier post, I talked about the acronym of ‘HARD’. To review, this stands for:

Honest
Appropriate
Respectful
Direct

I spoke about how it was hard for me to be ‘Honest’ and ‘Direct’. I particularly find confrontation and speaking about my feelings to be difficult. This amounts to dishonesty as one is not being honest due to omission. It also leads to being just like my trainer. I won’t tell the person that I’m upset with them but I will vent to my husband or a close friend. I do not see much difference in that than with the behaviour of my trainer.

I am a great fan of Stephen R. Covey and reading his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ about sixteen years ago really helped me put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. He says in this book that ‘Integrity includes but goes beyond honest. Honesty is telling the truth – in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words – in other words, keeping promises and fulfilling expectations’. He further extrapolated “Integrity also means avoiding any communication that is deceptive, full of guile, or beneath the dignity of people. ‘A lie is any communication with intent to deceive,’ according to one definition of the word. Whether we communicate with words or behaviour, if we have integrity, our intent cannot be to deceive.” (Pg 195 and 197).

Instead of remaining silent when my trainer was sharing information about my manager and the payroll personnel, there is an alternative choice. Stephen Covey puts it like this: ‘… Suppose you were to start criticizing our supervisor and I basically told you that I agree with the content of some of the criticism and suggest that the two of us go directly to him and make an effective presentation on how things might be improved. Then what would you know I would do if someone were to criticize you to me behind your back?” This is something for me to seriously consider doing when these circumstances present themselves again. That way I will be ‘honest’ and ‘direct’. This will take great courage but it will help me to be congruent with myself. This is what I need to aim for.

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It is easier to take the course of least resistance: to belittle, to criticize, to betray confidences, to gossip about others behind their back. This is also a form of pride. One form of pride manifests itself when one seeks to build oneself up by pulling another down. Belittling, criticizing and gossiping function to knock the person it is aimed at down; at the same time aggrandizing the perpetrator. Pride is really destructive and possessing it is the means of destroying an individual, a family, and a society. When one is seeking to build oneself up at the expense of another person there is no respect for another person; there is no love. Stepping all over another person to gain respect or success is detrimental and self-sabotaging. How can one trust a person who does this?

The way in which you treat one person says a lot about you. It shows whether you can be trusted or not. What I learned from my parents was to have values and to make choices in my life based on principles. When I interact with any people, I need to do so by maintaining the same set of principles across the board. I wish to be a person who has integrity. There are some cracks in my armour as I have just discussed and my goal is to close up these weaknesses by learning to be honest and direct with those that I associate with. It is a work in progress but the most important thing is to be moving in the right direction.

(First published in Roaming Brit on 24th April, 2018)

Geesed!

100_0653-7My first remembered adventure with geese was at University. The University of York has several small lakes. I was in Wentworth College where the residential halls were right next to a lake. We had a huge population of geese there. They were quite aggressive to people. I have been known to try to go out of my usual door, see a gaggle of geese in the pathway, go back in and walk the length of the building to try the other door. The geese would have moved over to that door, and I would go back the length of the residential halls and try the first door again. One of my friends got attacked by the geese. They got hold of his trouser leg and tried to pull him along and into the lake. Scary things, these Yorkshire geese …..

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Then there were the geese at a park in Portsmouth. I had taken my little boy to the park whilst his sister was at an activity. My boy was quite taken by the swans around the pond there and as he approached them, both the geese and the swans turned around and started chasing him into the water! There were the geese at the local duck pond in D506AC68-802C-4605-9264-6DC53DA36879 Priorslee in Telford. They were always at the same spot. The kids and I use to walk around the pond and feed the ducks. Yep, you’ve guessed it. At that certain spot, the geese either blocked the path, messed up the path so their business got all over the pushchair wheels and the shoes, or started to hiss at us. With the prior experiences of being haggled by the geese, this was very intimidating and I had to protect my little ones.

British wildfowl are very intelligent. I noticed their intelligence when my parents took my sister and I to the Peter Scott’s Wildfowl Park near Rutland with my uncle, aunt and little cousins when I was in my early teens. Inside the sanctuary, there were many caged areas for the birds. The fenced in areas were not enclosed at the top so that the birds would come and go. In each of the caged areas, there were signs identifying the birds and giving a little information about them. I looked at my mum and dad and asked them the question: “So there are these signs in these caged in areas. The birds come and go. How do they know how to get back into the right cages?” You can imagine the look on their faces. Perceiving that they didn’t know the answer, I said: “I know why”. Now intrigued that I had an answer, they asked “Why?” Smiling briefly at them, I retorted: “They can read of course!”

Arriving in Minnesota before the autumn, I found that geese were a very popular species. However, unlike the birds at Peter Scott’s Wildlife Park near Rutland, England, they couldn’t read and had problems identifying which were the places for geese and which were residential housing. So it was not uncommon to see geese on your front lawn or to discover that they had been there by what they had left behind. When they left a lot of stuff behind them, as they tend to defecate up to ninety-two times a day, the Minnesotans would say that they had been ‘geesed’!

image-14Every fall, before the chilling winter would come, you would hear the loud incessant honking of the geese as they straddled the sky in a skein or a wedge on their flight to warmer climes. Then when summer came (there doesn’t appear to be a spring in Minnesota – just winter, winter, summer, blink your eyes – autumn, winter), they came honking back.

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One Saturday in the summer, we came back from shopping. I took our little cocker spaniel outside to relieve herself. Rushing back into the house after she was done, I shouted out to my husband: “Oh no! We’ve been geesed! And it is REALLY bad! Like it is everywhere on the grass and it’s really dense!”

My native born, Minnesotan husband, rushed out armed with our dog ‘pooper scooper’ and a bucket with a plastic bag in it. He is wonderful and so diligent to clear up after the dog and now the geese. He’d been out there about an hour and a half and had one more section to go, when a nosey neighbor pulled over her car, rolled down the window and called out in a loud voice: “What’re you doing?” (Read that with your Swedish or Norwegian accent – and you can hear the Minnesotans’ dialect). My husband, being a friendly man, let the lady know that we had been geesed. The kind neighbour then said that she had been watching him for about an hour and wondered what he was doing. “I don’t think you’ve been geesed”, she said, “The landscaping people just aerated our lawns!”

I don’t know where we have lived all our lives, but we didn’t know about aerating lawns. Both in Minnesota and in Utah we lived in a town house. A town house in America is like a terraced house in England. The house in Minnesota was a quad town home which means that there are four houses in the unit. Two strung together back onto the other two that are strung together. In Utah we are an end terraced house. Both types of housing belong to an HOA (Home Owners Association) and we have to pay monthly dues which also cover the gardening and the snow removal. The gardeners (or the landscaping people) aerate the lawn by digging small holes in the grass. They leave the amount that comes out of the little holes on the top of the lawn. They look like poop! We just had our lawn aerated here in Utah,and when I always see that, I think about the time in Minnesota when we were geesed!

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