Saturday, April 24, 2010

April Newsletter

From Judith … Gerald’s father, Dean, died earlier this month. This was our first time to lose a loved one so close to us – first among our parents, siblings, and children. (We’ve lost four children to miscarriage but, though we grieved those deaths, it’s not the same as losing someone we’ve known so long and so well.) This is a new journey, but God is ever near to us. Gerald and his mother, Sherry, and the rest of us are all doing well as we move through our sorrow and come to grips with the finality of his death.

Though nearly fully keeping up with his usual activities, Dean fought bile duct cancer (very rare and deadly) for a year and a half. After the initial attempts with radiation and conventional chemotherapy, he moved into study-drug treatments. (Surgery wasn’t possible.) As of late February, when he and Grandma called Seth for his birthday, he was still feeling pretty good and was on a second wave of the study drugs.

By late March the tumor apparently grew to block his stomach, making it impossible for any food to stay down. A week after the last food stayed in, and one day after their birthday call to Anna, Sherry took Dean to the hospital. That was Tuesday, March 30, and he died on Friday, April 2. We were talking to Sherry throughout that week. We all, along with some of the medical team, had no idea what was causing the vomiting until a CAT scan was done. Once they saw the blockage, they said nothing more could be done and guessed he might live about a week. We got that shocking news on Thursday.

That night the Wades came over and we all prayed and wept together. Then we made travel plans, even though we didn’t know if we would be making one or two trips up since he was still alive at that point. We just knew we had to get there. On Friday, in a rush, we were preparing to be away from home for an indefinite period of time when, at noon, Sherry called to say Dean had died. On Saturday morning, April 3 the Wades flew and the rest of us drove to Colorado. We drove 14 hours to Raton, New Mexico, on Saturday and arrived the next afternoon.

Dean was cremated. On Tuesday morning, April 6, there was a graveside service for family and some of their close friends, followed by a memorial service at their church. For the memorial service, Gerald’s mom had asked us to sing and the officiating minister had invited us to share about Gerald’s dad. We sang “It is Well with My Soul” in harmony. For the sharing we all fed out thoughts to Gerald and he blended them into a message he delivered. (It was a challenge, but we all made it through without breaking down.) May the Lord use these offerings to his glory. There were hundreds of people at the church and we saw many familiar faces. (Gerald and I met and married at that church.) Everything went smoothly, though it was hard for Sherry to be standing on her feet at the reception afterward; but she was able to relax in the afternoon. John and Ray headed for the airport to fly home immediately after the service. Katie and Peter rode home with us later in the week.

Our time in Fort Collins was a mixture of fond memories of Dean/Dad/Grandpa, painful memories of his death, and practical matters concerning Sherry’s function and adjustments. We left for home Friday morning, April 9. The tears flowed again as we said goodbye. We arrived home the next night.

It’s going to take a while to get used to him being gone. During our time at their home, I kept thinking he was just in the other room or out on an errand. It doesn’t feel so strange here in Houston, but it will be intensely noticed when we are with Sherry and at Pedersen gatherings.

We have been greatly blessed by the cards and e-mails we have received from our loved ones. Thank you. One particularly touching expression came to Gerald’s parents’ home from our church family while we were there. I was near the door when the florist arrived. I received the dish garden, assuming it was from friends or relatives of Gerald’s parents, and took it to Gerald’s mom. When we saw that it was from GfBC, she and I both were quite moved by such a thoughtful kindness. Gerald and I, and our children, immediately felt the closeness and the prayers of our church family. Here was tangible evidence of our local body reaching into our hearts across 1100 miles.

From Laura, 11 … For me, when I heard the news that the doctors were estimating no more than a week for Grandpa to live I was so shocked. I had known that Grandpa wasn’t getting any nourishment, but I kept holding onto the thought that it was just something that would pass, and soon he would be able to eat. So that Thursday afternoon was really the first time it actually hit me that Grandpa’s end was probably very soon. We had plenty of tears that day, for even though he was still alive at that point, we knew it wouldn’t be for long.

From Becca, 13 … Through this time of sadness I have been blessed to have a loving family. There was something comforting and almost peaceful about being in the arms of my father and sisters sobbing out the grief we all shared and were overcome with. It released some of the tension that had built up in me ever since I heard that he was about to die. I felt rather relieved and cleared up. I believe God has used this to bring us together and make us trust him.

From Seth, 17 … Now that Grandpa has died, it is sometimes hard for me to believe that I will never again be with him on earth. He has been so much a fixture in our family for my whole life. Death is a poignant reminder that this life is not all there is, and that our only hope is in Christ, who has conquered death. It is tough though, when you lose someone close to you. We will miss Grandpa.

From Anna, 20 … Because Grandma and Grandpa called me for my birthday just four days before he died, I was the last one from our household to speak to him. At that point, he was already not getting any nourishment, and when I asked him how he was doing, he came right out and said that he was not doing well. Throughout Grandpa’s battle with cancer, he kept his sense of humor and was always optimistic. For him to say that he was in bad shape, I knew that he really was. In spite of his pain and suffering, though, he wanted to hear about our campout, and didn’t want us to worry about him. We were grateful that the end came quickly after he was put in the hospital. It would have been so hard on everyone to watch him suffer.

From John, 25 … Our time in Colorado reminded me of how important it is to invest our lives in the people around us. Grandpa was loved and will be remembered fondly not because of his achievements, though they were not inconsequential, but because of the relationships he invested in over the years. For me, the most valuable inheritance he left was a model and legacy of hard work, common sense, and commitment to loved ones.

From Katie … It's still hard to believe that Grandpa is gone. I'm thankful for the times we had together, and will miss him. I'm reminded of how important it is to not take our friends and family for granted, but to seize every opportunity to bless them and learn from them. I'm particularly grateful for the way Grandpa readily welcomed Ray and Peter to the family, and for the chance they had to get to know each other. Grandpa was special to many people, and they are now gathering around Grandma to comfort and help her. I was blessed by seeing that when we were there.

From Gerald … What do I say about the death of one who has been my loving father for nearly 56 years? I always knew that I could go to him if I needed anything. I have an almost overwhelming sense of now being the patriarch of our family. It has increased my sense of responsibility, not only for my children, but also for my mom. I want God’s best for all of them, even as I always knew that Dad wanted the best for all of us.

This has also been a time for us to ponder and reflect on our mortality. We are all dying, it is just a matter of time, and no one knows when that time will come. I am so thankful for the eternal life that is in Christ Jesus for all who have faith in Him and repent from their sins, not trusting in their own good works, but on His death and resurrection.

Our Love, Gerald, Judith, John, Anna, Seth, Becca, and Laura

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In Memory of Dean Pedersen, 1934-2010

The last few weeks have been full. I was trying to find time to write about our camping trip and our outing to the zoo when we received the call to tell us that Grandpa had only a few days to live. He passed away the next day, April 2, in Colorado. I will probably write more about our travels and experiences at some point, but for now, here is what Papa wrote and shared at the memorial service on the 6th.

I had a brainstorming session with Judith, my wife, and our children, to share ideas of what I should share with you today. It is hard to compress the many thoughts and emotions into a few minutes, but I am grateful for this opportunity.

Dad had a dry sense of humor. He would warn his grandchildren not to swallow watermelon seeds because the seeds would sprout and grow out their ears. Sometimes his humor required knowing the inside story. For example, sometimes people would meet me and say to him that he did not look old enough to have a son as old as me. He would reply “Oh, he is my son by my first wife.” Now, you need to know that he married his first (and only) wife at age 19 and was married to her for the past 56 years.

This also illustrates his loyalty. He had an unswerving commitment to his wife, family, friends, co-workers, and associates. Even if he did not agree with you or believe you were making the right decisions, he would never let that get in the way of the relationship. He was generous with his time and money.

He had a great love for his grandchildren. He wanted them to be the best they could be and not waste their potential. He was willing to do silly things with them such as jumping on a pogo stick or riding in a toy wagon while they pushed him around. He and Mom would walk the newspaper route with the children when they came to visit. A few weeks ago our youngest daughter, Laura, made a camping shelter from an old tarp, and when Dad called us the weekend before last, he wanted to know how her tent had worked for her.

Even though Dad was well-qualified in many things, he was approachable and humble. Many people do not even realize that he had a doctorate degree. He was a diligent, hard-worker, even when he did not need to be. It was hard for him to just sit around the house. He always needed to have a project to work on. He never settled for second-best. He told us the story of planting corn the day after coming home late from his high-school prom. He said he had to look at those crooked rows all summer long.

Those of you who have been with Dean during the last year and a half have seen his optimistic good spirits even in his battle with cancer. He seldom complained about personal inconvenience and continued to work and maintain his various involvements until the end. He understood his limitations, but kept doing whatever he could.

My dad taught me many practical things and I want to close by mentioning one of them today. When I was a boy, we spent time each summer on the farm where Dad had grown up. During one of those visits, we were helping do some job on the farm. I don’t remember what it was exactly, but it involved gathering something and feeding it to a machine to be processed. I felt like I needed a break and was probably slacking off. Dad explained that we needed to keep the machine running. It was not that we couldn’t take a break, but rather that we would need to get ahead so the overall process could keep moving.

It was not until years later that I learned about critical paths in project planning. If we can identify what tasks are critical to the schedule either because of the time they take or because other activities depend on them then we can focus on making sure they are taken care of and let other tasks fit in as needed.

I’m sure that Dad did not have any thought at the time of any spiritual significance of this lesson, but allow me to add one. In life, we make many choices, but the critical decision is whether or not to repent and believe in Jesus as the Savior. My family has always been involved in the church, but has been private about their faith. In recent years I have seen increasing evidence of Dad’s spiritual journey. He has shown more concern for others. Last fall he told me that he was not afraid of dying and did not have any anxiety for himself, but was concerned for Mom after he was gone. I have also seen an increased interest in personal devotions and prayer. It is my strong belief that on Good Friday last week, my dad left the land of the dying and joined the land of the living.

He has left behind a legacy – a family heritage of commitment to loyalty, love of family and friends, hard work, and optimism – seasoned with a sense of humor.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Augustine on Prayer

"Clear is your counsel, not always clearly accepted. Your best suppliant is not the one who asks to hear what he wants but to want what he hears."