My Grandfather: King of the Little Things

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James Bodenbender was born in 1933. He died on November 13, 2016. His mother was dearly loved by all who knew her for the way she made her home a haven to those who entered. His father died when he was just 10 years old. He didn’t graduate high school, because he signed up to join the army. He fought in the Korean War, serving his country well. He was a scrappy young man with a love for beer and ladies. Always ready with a swagger and an outrageous story to tell.  He was a boxer, and no stranger to bar fights. Apparently even once fighting a peacock in a bar! That’s the man I’ve heard tale of, but he isn’t the man I knew in my lifetime. He would always tell us stories…elaborate, unbelievable stories. We never really knew if they were true or not, but then again, Grandpa was such a character anything seemed possible. Some were from his boxing days…or stories about other interesting characters he knew. We had nicknames for him…Grandpa Dundee because of his Crocodile Dundee hat and most well-known, Grandpa Holy Mackerel…due to his vivacious love for the phrase: “Hoooooly Mackerel!!”

What I didn’t know about my grandfather is that he achieved the unheard of honor of working his way from general laborer to superintendent in his construction career, educating himself on engineering by reading books. My mother described his work as blowing up mountains to build roads and bridges through them. I’m sure it was much more complex than that, of course. But, he was a proud, hard-working, intelligent man who did not allow the lack of a traditional education to keep him from educating himself and achieving his goals.

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He married my grandmother, Marge, and they had six children. Their relationship was tumultuous, as he continued his outrageous antics. Both with fiery personalities and a strong will, they divorced while the children were still young. Proud and stubborn, neither admitted it much, but a tender place remained in their hearts beneath the pain. For, they did dearly love each other once. And, that kind of love doesn’t just disappear.

Doris was the woman I saw him with the most when we were growing up. He would smile with his entire face, eyes disappearing, as he put his arm around her, or my mother, or me. Many of our family vacations included visits to the various places he lived. He usually lived in places that had hills or mountains…so it was always a beautiful drive. Much more to feast our eyes on than the flat lands of our home in the Midwest. I especially loved to visit him in the fall when the trees were changing colors. Gorgeous tree-covered mountain splendor. We would play car bingo and eat snacks on the way. He had an Atari and an Intellivision that we loved. And a keyboard that played different rhythms. One time, we found the best walking stick ever and walked around the mountains with our find. My brothers loved it! You really can’t beat a good walking stick. Grandpa was telling us stories about mountain lions (which may or may not have actually lived in the area) while we walked. Doris was a southern lady, and always looked at our grandfather with such admiration. She was welcoming and kind, although they two had their troubles. After they parted ways, he moved to our small town for a time, much to my mother’s delight. She always had a special bond with him and it meant so much to her to have him close. My youngest brother, Sean, took a special liking to Grandpa in those days and they’ve continued their bond through the years. They  are two peas in a pod, full of bologna, crazy antics, and unbelievable stories.  His time with us included a whirlwind road trip, a pet pig (in town), and holidays with his famous grin.

Elaine was the woman who loved him during the last 12 years of his life, caring for him in sickness, watching the Molly B Polka Show, and laughing with him. They called each other each night at 7pm if they were apart.  Grandpa loved her and her children and grandchildren as if they were his own. He was so grateful for her part in his life, and so are we.

Reflecting on his life and love in the last few weeks, I wrote…

We talked today about the thing that matters most as we reflect back on our lives…love. He held my hand tightly, whispering, “There’s so much love…so many different kinds of love…in this world. So many, I don’t even know. It’s the only thing that matters.”

My grandfather was a simple man, shopping at the Goodwill store and flea markets. Oh, how he loved a good deal! He found simple treasures everywhere. Jars and jars of his beloved marbles. Bells he collected, rescuing and repairing the broken ones to fill his time. In the last days of life, he said, “You don’t think the little things matter much, but they do. They mean so much. The little things are everything.”

He loved nature, building a house in the country with a fish-filled pond near the woods where deer and the occasional fox would wander. He made the best venison jerky around. He fed the birds and laughed at the squirrels from his porch swing. A mighty, strong man, he overcame a stroke, various forms of cancer, heart disease, and more throughout his time on earth.

Regarding one health scare in 2009, (from a former blog post):

“Grandpa was just battling for his own life in the hospital recently. He woke up not able to walk. He crawled to the door and drove himself to the hospital. After frightening a nurse when he motioned to her to come to the car (it was the middle of the night.), someone finally brought him a wheelchair and got him into the hospital. Yes…most people would have just called the EMS. Grandpa Dundee is not most people. After being told, his chances were very grim. And if he walked again, he would have to recover in a nursing home, Grandpa said, (not so sweetly) that he would have none of it. He walked out of the hospital several days later. And he is currently at home, in his house in the country, refusing a nurse’s care. Watching the squirrels slide down the pole (that he greased, so they couldn’t steal the bird seed in the bird feeder!) And eating his six year old turkey jerky. Because he can.”

He lived 7 more years after that.

Much of his last days brought back memories of watching our mother at the end of her life. I wrote these words one week ago:

At the end of her life, my grandfather sat beside my mother’s bedside, just to her left, for 4 weeks. While others were in and out, it was mostly the three of us: my youngest brother Sean, Grandpa, and me…sitting by her bed, interpreting her moans, listening to her raspy breathing patterns, stroking her hair. Me singing or saying a prayer. Mom occasionally waking for a one-liner.

I have buried three of my children, and I can honestly say…those 4 weeks of watching her suffer were the most traumatic of my life…of our lives. It was an honor and a privilege…beauty in the broken…but it was utterly…life-changing…devastating.

The three of us understood like no one else what she endured. My love for our grandfather…and desire to honor him for staying with her…with us…is beyond description. Not only did we not want to leave her in those days…we didn’t want to leave each other…like soldiers in battle together.

Yesterday, I walked into the hospice center…and sat beside him to his left…

We spent so much time with him this month, soaking in his last days. He spoke some of his regrets and I reminded him of the grace and forgiveness Jesus gives us. Nothing can separate us from His love. While looking through boxes of pictures and other mementos he kept throughout the years, I sat in awe, picturing him with a proud grin as he cut out newspaper articles from when his son ran for County Sheriff, my feisty mother’s letters to the editor on a crusade to right the wrongs of the world,  or when his grandchildren were featured in the newspaper for their sports achievements. He was quiet and proud, spending so much time alone. But, it was evident that his family was never far from his heart. I had no idea how much every note, every picture displayed with pride on his refrigerator…meant to him. How he treasured every little piece of our lives. He was in hospice care for 3 weeks at home and spent one week in the in-patient facility before passing on to glory. He said several times that those 3 weeks had been the best of his life, surrounded by love and family. He had seen his family more in the last 3 weeks than he had in the last 30 years. Those words pierced my heart in a way I hope to never forget.

Many precious hours have been spent holding my grandfather’s hand the last few weeks. In the picture above, as my sister-in-law, Megan, and I were holding his hands, he put them together. Such beauty in the holding of a hand. Even when there are no words spoken, love is expressed.

Time stops at the beginning and the end of our earthly lives, so that we soak in the moments that matter. I wish we stopped a little more in the middle, sometimes.

 

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Ways to Create and Keep Memories With Your Baby ~ Before and After Goodbye

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Guest post by Andrea Soergel

                It is a naturally human thing to desire to be remembered.  In our quietest, deepest times of soul-searching, I think most of us would admit that we ponder what we have done that will leave a mark on this world.  What will be left for future generations to know that we existed?  That we were here, and we lived and loved and we meant something.  There are some things we can do to leave that lasting imprint.  First and foremost, if you’re a parent, you can raise children that are made to feel loved and secure.  We do our best to guide them and provide boundaries that will create adults who do THEIR part to have a positive impact.  If we don’t have any living children, we may do some kind of work that has lasting value, be it our actual job or volunteering.  We can all leave a positive impression on our world.

                So, what are we to do when our anticipated and much-loved child dies?  Where is their legacy?  Where is the chance for them to leave their touch on this life?  It lies with us.  The living, who loved them and nurtured them, whether it was only while in the womb, or for brief moments or days beyond.  We can carry their torch.  We can make sure their story doesn’t end with their physical exit from this earth.

                I was in this spot, and truthfully, feel that I will forever be in this spot, as long as the Lord allows me to be here.  Our son, Haven William, was diagnosed with anencephaly (a fatal neural tube defect) at twelve weeks into my pregnancy.  We were blessed with twenty weeks to enjoy with him, cherishing every little kick and hiccup.  He left us quietly at thirty-two weeks and was born still on February 13, 2004.  Our planning for honoring Haven began before his death and subsequent birth.  We have continued to keep him present in several different ways over the last twelve years.  I have also heard of a lot of really cool ways that other people are remembering and honoring their sweet babies, too. 

Before Birth:

                -Capturing your baby’s heartbeat.  One site (mybabysheartbeatbear.com) provides everything you need to record the heartbeat and place it inside a stuffed animal.  This is not the only place out there, of course, but you get the idea.  Doctor’s offices can often provide print outs of the heartbeat as well.  Some people even choose to then have this turned into a tattoo.  Of course, you can always just have the recording to treasure without doing anything fancy with it.

                -Paint your belly.  This one is fun for siblings to be involved with.  There isn’t a lot of prep work or cost involved~just get some paint, bare your belly, and go to town.  Of course, pictures to document are a necessity.  It is also a good chance to talk to your other children about what is happening with their baby brother or sister in a more light-hearted setting.  I also want to emphasize that, while this may be super fun for kids, you can have just as much fun doing this with you and your spouse or partner.

                -Make a belly cast.  This one obviously involves more prep work and cost, but can be a really meaningful remembrance to have.  Some people choose to have the casts painted and then display them in their home.  They are just as lovely unpainted and stand as a testament to the little life you carried.  The popularity of belly casts is growing and you can even buy kits at places like walmart.com and target.com, as well as many other places.

                -Maternity Photos.  This one is self-explanatory, but there are so many lovely ideas out there.  You can choose a place that is particularly meaningful or fun for you and your family and have photos done there or virtually anywhere.  I have seen beautiful portraits done in studios, as well as in the outdoors or their home.  Maternity photos are always meaningful, but even more so for a baby whose life is expected to be brief.  You can use a professional photographer or even just grab a friend and ask them to help out by snapping a few pictures.  You will be glad you did!

                -Celebrating the kicks.  Full disclosure here-this one is my favorite and it doesn’t require much explanation.  We loved having our other children and family feel Haven kicking away.  We enjoyed it immensely and it is something I will never forget.  One suggestion that I wish we had done was to record some of those sweet moments.

The birth day:

                -Photographs and more photographs.  Some people choose to have professional photographers there for the birth of their child and some prefer just to have family or to take the pictures themselves.  You can’t have this day to do over again, so make it what you want it to be.  Whatever direction you choose to go, you will never regret having a LOT of pictures.  Don’t forget the shots of different family members with baby, too.  My dad passed away two years after our son was born and I treasure the photos of him with Haven.

                -Footprints, Handprints, and molds.  You can purchase inexpensive mold kits in many different places.  Usually the hospital staff is very kind about helping you with the molds and prints.  Once you have them you can do different things with them.  We have Haven’s footprints framed on our wall and we also have a stamp that was made from one of his tiny, perfect feet.

*I have to take the opportunity to plug Sufficient Grace Ministries in this area.  The care they give to families and their babies is top-notch and they provide photographers as well as mold kits and supplies for hand and footprints. If you are in the state of Ohio, they will provide trained support doulas and remembrance photographers to walk with you and help capture precious memories of your time with your baby. They can also help perinatal hospice families with birth planning and offer online and teleconference consultations for families and birth professionals worldwide.

Beyond:

                This is the part that can be so daunting.  It can be easy to come up with ideas to honor our babies when we are right in the midst of the situation.  It is always present in our minds and hearts.  But, as time passes, it can take a little more effort to think of ways to keep our baby’s story going.  Of course, it is always right there in OUR hearts and minds.  It doesn’t go away.  There are some creative ways for your precious child’s memory to endure, even beyond the walls of your home.

                -Love letters in the sand.  I cannot take credit for coming up with this idea, but it has really been huge for us.  When our friends or family travel, they write Haven’s name in the sand, take a picture, and send it to us.  Sounds pretty simple, and it is, but I really can’t tell you how much it means to us.  When we first started doing this, about eight years ago, I wrote a post on Facebook asking anyone who was going on vacation that summer if they would write Haven’s name for us.  It has taken off in a way we never would have expected!  We don’t have to ask anymore and people have sent us pictures from all over the world.  At the time of this writing we have Haven’s name on four of the seven continents.  We hope to get all seven eventually! (Sidenote:  Know anyone in Antarctica??)  This is so easy and I think you will find that your friends and family are more than happy to do this for you.

                -Book drive.  When the year arrived that our son would have started kindergarten we felt like doing something a little bigger.  I am a book lover and so it seemed a natural fit that we would do a book drive for our school library.  We have two older children and we sent out letters to their classmates’ families, as well as to our family and friends, asking them if they would consider donating a book to the school library in Haven’s name.  It was very successful and we added over seventy amazing books to our collection.  They had their own special shelf and each book has a label that says, “This book was given in memory of Haven W. Soergel by the loving donation of family and friends.”  We also had friends and family who donated books to our church library, as well.  I know that any public library would also welcome a donation and they are happy to have labels inside with your baby’s name.  In a similar vein, for one of Haven’s birthdays we requested donations of the book A Gift of Time be given to Sufficient Grace Ministries in his name.  SGM puts a label in the book, which they send out to grieving families all over the world.

                -Random acts of kindness.  I really love this idea.  The idea behind this one is to ask people to do a “random act of kindness” in honor of your baby and then report back to you what they did.  This is such a great example of using your pain and loss to put beauty out there in the world.  An example of what this looks like can be found on the Facebook page, “Acts of Kindness for Manny’s Birthday”.  Stacey and her husband lost their son, Manny on August 7th, 8/7.  Their idea is to try to get at least 87 acts of kindness done in Manny’s name on his birthday.  How cool is that?  This could obviously be tweaked in a lot of different ways to make it personal to your child.  It costs you nothing, brightens someone else’s day, and honors your baby’s memory.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

                -Christmas pictures and family pictures.  I love Christmas and I really get into writing a family Christmas letter and planning out our Christmas picture of the kids each year.  One of my favorite parts of the picture is figuring out how we will include Haven.  Sometimes we do it in obvious ways, for example, one year we had the bigger kids holding a picture of Haven.  Sometimes it is more subtle, and we actually have friends and family who look forward to see how we have incorporated our boy each year.  We have positioned the children in front of the tree so that one of Haven’s ornaments is in the picture.  We have a blue bear that represents him in other pictures.  Some families use their Comfort Bear in each family picture or other beloved item to represent their baby. One year our youngest son was wearing a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Ribbon.  You can get so creative with how you include your little one.

                These ideas are just a little taste of the numerous ways you can memorialize your baby in your life and the lives of your family.  An added benefit of doing any of these activities is opening up the door for others to speak to you about your baby.  In the babyloss community we all know that so many people are afraid to talk to us about our children because they don’t want to upset us or “remind” us.  When our loved ones see us actively including our baby, it gives them permission to do the same.  And ultimately, don’t we all want the chance for our baby’s story to continue and have an impact?

For more ideas and information about creating memories during pregnancy when a baby’s life is expected to be brief, to find in-person or online support, to request resources, or for memorial ideas after birth and goodbye, please visit the links on the Sufficient Grace Ministries below:

SGM Perinatal Hospice Services

Making Memories Before Birth

Birth Planning

Memorial Planning

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