It's Memorial Day and I'm thinking of the untold number of soldiers who died so that we could keep our beautiful country, families, friends, and communities living in freedom! This nation has its flaws and has always been filled with flawed leaders and policies, but it's the greatest nation ever known to mankind. I am thankful and grateful to be an American.
I'm thinking of my two favorite veterans today, both having passed on, and remembering how much I miss them. There's my father-in-law Ray, who served in major European-front WW II battles and survived -- he didn't think he would.
There's my brother, Tim, who passed in March. I still can't believe I'm writing that sentence ... Tim served in Vietnam.
I saw something about the history of our hometown on a Facebook page and thought instantly that I needed to talk to him about the cool post... I will miss him every day of the rest of my life.
His ashes were buried in my hometown graveyard, surrounded by plots containing our parents, my brother David, his wife Janet, and precious infants of nieces who have gone on before him. The day after Tim's service, we were told at the newspaper to go home and stay there, doing our jobs from home, due to the virus.
I didn't know if I could. Any success I would have with working from home depended on the kindness of people in the communities we cover. Would people work with me in returning calls to a phone number they didn't recognize? Would they take the time and energy from their own lives as either essential workers or while undergoing challenges of isolation to answer email questions for stories? What about take and send me photos to go with stories?
So tomorrow will be the first semi-normal day I've had since the day after Tim's burial. I'll be back in the office, assuming my normal part-time workweek schedule, although we are still to work via email and phone as much as possible for a while longer.
A couple weeks ago we visited my SIL Jeannie, Tim's wife. She handed us a plastic bag brimming with books. On the outside of the bag it read "To DONNA & BRIAN."
It was from Tim. Tim was an avid reader of all kinds of books, and he would make a selection from his vast library regularly and almost every time we saw him, we went home with a bag of books.
Tim had prepared a final bag of eclectic volumes for us at some point before he passed on ... it felt at once incredibly sad, and sweet -- bittersweet -- to take home those last books he wanted us to have. I'm saving the bag and took a photo of the selection so I would have it and remember Tim's thoughtfulness. Of course I will forever remember Tim. No photo is needed for that memory. But I have some to treasure.
By DONNA CRONK
Reprinted from the Saturday, May 2, 2020 New Castle Courier-Times. Last in a series looking at how local people with special challenges cope and hope during the coronavirus pandemic and their advice for you.
When you walk into Hinsey-Brown Funeral Service, it might be hard to say which you notice first about Wanda Jones--her pleasant smile or her big heart.
While part of her job working in advance planning and aftercare is to support those who grieve, it's her empathy that extends beyond a paycheck. She's no stranger to personal grief.
The tenth baby born in 1964 to the late Felix and Lovie Dishman, Wanda's mother died unexpectedly at 54 when Wanda was entering her teens. Her father died in 2007 after a brief illness, and months later, her best friend lost her life in a car accident.
Recently, grief visited Wanda again with the sudden March 9 passing of her beloved husband of 35 years, Steve, from a heart attack.
World is upside down
"Now I find myself trying to navigate this same path that I have walked with others," says Wanda. "My world has been turned upside down. I am in the depths of my grief and reality is beginning to settle in. The timing with social distancing has not been my friend."
Steve's viewing and funeral were days before the COVID-19 restrictions began.
"I am so thankful we didn't have limitations at that time," Wanda says. "Our family is huge and we had family come from five-or-more states to support us. My heart goes out to those now who are having to do things so differently. It just complicates things so much more."
Wanda says social distancing is difficult in itself but combined with losing a loved one, "it can be completely devastating. The support of family and friends is so vital when you are grieving."
Together, the couple have four children, April Forrest, Erica Jones, Ashley Denton and Shane Jones; 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Wanda has four sisters, Linda Loveless, Brenda Polston, Gale Poor and Joy Dishman-Harris; four brothers, Dave, Steve, Bob and Larry Dishman, and a stillborn brother, James.
Born in Springport, Wanda and family later moved to Winchester, then back to Henry County. She graduated high school at 16 via homeschooling.
Love of her life
"I met Steve when I was 19," Wanda recalls, adding that they married two years later on Feb. 15, 1985.
"He was 14 years older than me, and honestly, some of my family and friends were concerned that it wouldn't last but this past February we celebrated 35 years of marriage."
They loved to travel and vacation time was a priority. "I don't think we ever missed a year without one or more vacations," Wanda says. "Our family enjoyed many camping and fishing trips every summer."
Wanda came to respect and appreciate Hinsey-Brown while working with with staff there when she sold advertising for this newspaper.
Their services then brought her care and comfort when her dad and best friend both died within six months.
New fulfilling career
Ten years ago Wanda hoped to move into a part-time career that would be both enriching and fulfilling. She learned of an aftercare position at Hinsey-Brown.
Wanda said she had no experience "except for my own grief. They decided to give me a chance ..."
She became certified in bereavement care, and has additional training from grief educator-counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt.
"It soon became my passion to walk beside those who are grieving," says Wanda. "Not try to fix them or take away their pain, but just walk with them, be a companion to them, and stand witness to their grief. I have learned so much in the last 10 years from those who have traveled this journey."
Ways to help those who grieve
As for advice for those who grieving while social distancing, Wanda is willing to share what is getting her through.
"I can only think about today, how can I get through today," Wanda says. "I cannot at all look to the future. I am learning the meaning of one day at a time, sometimes it's more like an hour at a time or even a minute."
She continues. "Every morning when I get up, I know that God provided me the strength I needed to get through yesterday; he will do the same today."
Wanda finds working and a routine helpful. "Evenings and weekends are hard because that was our time together. But getting back to work has helped. I have been outside when I can, exercise helps, I planted some flowers this (last) weekend. But there are other times I just have to sit with the grief and let it in."
When it comes to helping those who are isolated, Wanda suggests phone calls. "You don't have to have any great words of wisdom. Just be a good listener and when this social distancing is over we all know your time is the greatest gift you can give someone."
Wanda finds comfort in all those who have reached out to say they are praying for her and in photos, stories, notes and cards that arrive when she needs them.
"I have been overwhelmed and amazed at the support I have received from family and friends and even older friends I hadn't seen in years, who will text or call and a few have stopped by just to talk a minute from their cars."
"I think sometimes people don't know if they should call or mention your loved one in a conversation," Wanda says. "I know from what I have learned from others and now what I know from my own experience is yes, we want to talk about our loss. We want to hear what you remember about our loved one and we want to tell our story. Yes I may cry, but that's OK."
Wanda continues. "I need to cry. I try not to apologize if I break down. I love my husband deeply and I want to grieve him well. This deep pain of grief is a sign that I have given and received love."
Seeking joy to come
Wanda says she will intentionally seek to find joy in the life she has left. "Sometimes it seems so dark, but then we are given a ray of sunshine through the laughter of a child, or the singing of the birds, or a sweet memory that comes out of nowhere."
She continues. "I want to savor these moments and thank God for his blessings."
It’s amazing what you can adjust
to when you have no other choice’
Second in a three-part series in the New Castle Courier-Times about local people who deal with special challenges during this time of quarantine. Their stories are about how they cope and hope not only now but routinely, and their advice for us. Tomorrow: Wanda Jones.
By DONNA CRONK
SPICELAND – In 1998, at age 31, Amie Thornburg was a young wife of Pat Thornburg and mother of their little girls, Emily, 6, and Lindsey, nearly 2.
The Tri graduate who attended both Purdue and Ball State also worked in exports for SMC Pneumatics in Indy. It was then that she was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“ALS basically causes your muscles to quit working. Eventually, all of your muscles,” Amie says, adding that she was able to work for several years after the diagnosis, as well as do many things because the disease has been slow to progress in her, “which is usually not the case,” she adds.
“Most people are told to expect to survive 2-5 years after diagnosis,” says Amy. There remains no cure.
For sure, Amie and family have had to adapt to her disability. Yet today, she continues to lead a full life where the name of her blog, “An incurably happy life,” says it all. (Visitors are welcome: https://incurablyhappylife.wordpress.com/).
The couple’s daughters are now 27 and 23, and the empty-nester couple even travels together via RV where the equipment Amie needs is easily accessible. Amie even has her own etsy shop where she enjoys selling vintage items in her store, called Zuzues Petals (at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ZuzuesPetals).
“I type and am able to use my laptop through the use of a computer program and eye gaze system called Tobil,” says Amie. “I spend a lot of time on my laptop since I cannot physically do anything by myself.”
As normal as possible
Amie says she and her family live their lives as normally as possible. “Doing anything with a disability requires lots of extra time and lots of planning and extra work, but most things are doable,” she says.
Several years ago, she planned a family vacation to Ireland. “I was in a wheelchair then too, so it was tricky, but we did it and had an amazing trip,” Amie says. “My husband and I go on vacation, these days usually in our RV. We have started spending part of our winters in a warmer climate, like Florida, except this year, unfortunately.”
The RV makes travel easier with ready access to her wheelchair, BiPAP machine, shower chair and other supplies. While the trips are a welcome break, mostly, Amie is at home.
“Adapting to always being in my house, due to my disability, came slowly,” she says. “As I was able to do less and less on my own, I stayed in more and more. It didn’t happen overnight, luckily, unlike the COVID-19 virus, where everyone was suddenly told to stay home. Adapting is also easier when you have no choice. I can’t physically go out on my own, so, unless someone helps me, a lot, I don’t go anywhere…”
Amie is at higher risk when it comes to the pandemic, which includes a decreased lung function, “so if I got this virus or even any pneumonia, I don’t know that I would survive it. Likely not. This is serious stuff, yet I don’t think we can stop living our lives.”
She says she possibly feels a bit safer due to widespread caution. “I don’t know how I’ll feel once everyone is back to work, and living their normal lives, probably a bit nervous because it would be so serious if I were to get sick.”Amie and Pat have reduced contact with people as much as possible, including not having family in as per usual.
“My husband still has to go out fairly regularly just to get supplies for us and our animals,” Amie says. “He tries to be cautious. It’s tough because I do need help with every daily function and a patient life.”
She speaks of the effort and help required for every trip to the bathroom, bathing, dressing and eating. “I have to have someone else come over to help me when my husband isn’t available, virus or no virus.”
Amie says she is fortunate that sister-in-law Jennifer Wolski is nearby and usually helps when Pat can’t, as well as daughter Emily. Amie’s mom, Sharon Day, also helps out.
“So, I have to take some risks just to live,” Amie says. “I really don’t think about it that much. We all just have to take precautions and be cautious, but keep on keeping, on, as the saying goes.”
Doing the at-home thing
Amie says she has “been doing this stay-at-home thing” for a long time. “I have learned that we can get by with way less than we think we need, no matter what the situation. I would never have thought that I could stay in my house and not go out for literally months at a time, but I have found out that it is very doable.”
“I would have said 30 years ago that I couldn’t imagine living without being able to move my arms or walk around, but it’s amazing what you can adjust to when you have no other choice.”
Do it yourself: Amie says If you keep your mind and brain active, along with your body if able, you find that you don’t need to go out daily, “that’s just what you are used to doing.” She mentions things people are accustomed to such as various aspects of grooming and how people can do those things themselves. She suggests YouTube videos for how-tos.
Take a break: Amie has learned “that anyone will drive you completely nuts if you are around them too much, even the people you really like or love.” Her advice is to have your own space “to get away from everyone however often you need to.”
She says most homes have more than one room for more than one reason. “Take a break from whoever you live with and stay in different rooms (or garage and basement, etc.) for a little while every day…”
Gift of time: Amie agrees with those who think the virus has a purpose. “We’ve seen many horrible things with this pandemic, but there is a lot of good that’s come from it too.”
Says Amie, “I just hope people have used this gift of time to learn a few things about themselves and their lives. We can survive without many material things, but times like this make you realize what is really important in life.
“As we slowly return to our normal lives, I hope we can find a new more meaningful normal.”