Readers, 2012 was a doozie for TOC. There hasn’t been a year in my life when so many things came at me and my family so fast. I’ll catch you up just a little bit, as I have been away from the blogs for several weeks, and I know some of you are concerned.
The onslaught began in February 2012, when my dear cousin, Joan, who is less than a year my senior, found out she had breast cancer. Some of you may know the long slog it is to battle this disease. The treatments have improved considerably since my maternal grandmother died of complications from breast cancer in 1973. But they aren’t any more pleasant. Joanie went through a course of chemo, had surgery in August, and completed a course of radiation in the fall. It is a great blessing that she was pronounced cancer-free at a follow-up appointment in December. For her (and my prayer list), 2012 will live in memory as the Year of Defeating Cancer.
She has two active teenage sons, one of whom is a high school senior this year and is applying to colleges. The timing – and cancer’s timing is never good – could hardly have been worse. But she’s on the road to recovering her life, and whatever absolutely has to get done is getting done.
Through the spring and summer, I had the conviction that my book on Reagan’s strategy in the Cold War was about 6 weeks from completion. But there was more cancer in the family; my awesome brother-in-law, Mark – an Army chaplain stationed in Hawaii – was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and ultimately scheduled for surgery at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. So in June, I was in San Diego with Mom to help out my sister, who would have charge of their toddler, Samuel. Mark and Stephanie planned everything with admirable efficiency, but you can’t make prostate surgery a minor event.
I was very glad to be able to sit with Stephanie in the waiting room during the surgery. Many prayers went up. The Navy surgeon is one of the best in the country, and the procedure went very well. Mark, too, appears to have defeated cancer.
Hardly had I gotten back on a regular routine than I heard the sorrowful news in July that a very dear aunt, my father’s younger sister, had passed away. Aunt Susan had a core of spun steel, with an outer layer of wonderful. She had suffered various ailments for a number of years after a bad accident, but mentally and emotionally, she was strong, peaceful, and always ready with a glorious smile. At the end, her going was both a shock and a blessing. I was the one from among my siblings (five of us) who would be able to make it to the funeral in Maryland.
Funerals tend to double in my extended family as get-togethers among relatives who haven’t seen each other for a long time, and Aunt Susan’s was no different. It was wonderful to see the cousins again, and my Uncle Norman and Aunt Rosemary. There is peace in the sorrow when you are certain where the beloved person has gone after death.
Life had almost gotten back to normal by mid-August, when the tornado hit. I discovered that my home had been overrun with bird mites – Northern Fowl Mites, to be exact – and it quickly became unlivable. The mites require birds if they are to live and propagate, but in the absence of birds, they will find the closest human and start biting. If they are infesting your home, you can’t keep them off of you for more than a half hour or so after a shower. You can’t keep them out of your clothing and bed linens for more than a day.
Weather had created the perfect storm for the mite infestation. It was extraordinarily hot and humid in inland SoCal in August, reminding me forcibly of the coastal climate in the Persian Gulf (e.g., in Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain). Most years, it’s hot and dry here, but in 2012, you could cut the humidity with a knife. Basically, it was so awful, the birds left. Some sparrows had built a nest under the roof over my patio, and when they left for a better climate, the mites had nowhere to go but inside my house to look for a meal.
My air conditioner was on the fritz, and I was hoping to get through the summer without having to have it repaired. So I was throwing open the windows at night to cool down the house. This amounted to rolling out the red carpet for the invisible mites. They don’t move fast, but they will get into your home while you don’t know they’re there. By about 20 August, I couldn’t sleep at night for all the biting. I did determine that I needed to remove the nest over the patio, and got that done. After a few days of tearing the house apart, washing everything in sight, vacuuming, spraying Clorox on walls, etc – and dousing the driver’s seat in my Xterra with Windex every time I got out of it – I had to move to a local motel for several days and treat the house. Every time I went back into it, however, the remaining mites would find me.
The bottom line was that I needed to vacate the house for at least two weeks. Without a blood meal, the remaining mites would die off in that period. So on Labor Day weekend, I decided to drive to Oklahoma and stay with Mom. Merely being able to sleep at night had become a sort of Holy Grail. I was able to spend a blessedly mite-free two weeks in Oklahoma City, but I began suffering shortness of breath during that time. It got worse when I returned home, and I developed a truly epic case of bloating in my mid-section and legs as well.
It turns out that this is a rare but typical reaction to the pesticide chemicals that were used on my house. There’s no “antidote”; it just has to work its way out of your system. I moved back to the motel for a few days to avoid steeping in the lingering chemicals. By the second week of October, my wind was back to normal and I was back to normal size. But I didn’t feel a whole lot better. Over the next month, some days were excellent and others were pretty bad. It was a great relief that the mites were gone and the weather had cooled. But I wasn’t getting back to my normal state of robust health.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, I became alarmed at the activity of my heart, which seemed to be trying to beat itself out of my chest. By this time, my hair was falling out and I had lost quite a bit of weight in the previous month. Something was wrong. The doctor heard my new symptoms and immediately thought I might have a thyroid condition. Because I had atrial fibrillation in the EKG performed on me at his office – which was probably caused by the thyroid problem – he sent me off to see a cardiologist, as well as having other tests done (such as the mother of all blood panels, which required the drawing of – count ‘em – 16 vials of blood).
I spent December doing these tests (which included, as a general preventive measure, my very first colonoscopy, performed on my birthday – and don’t think it wasn’t fun). I couldn’t see the endocrinologist until 20 December, but the cardiologist put me on a beta-blocker to keep my heart rate down in the interim. All the usual indicators – blood pressure, cholesterol, results of the echocardiogram, mammogram, and bone-density scan – were as stellar for me as they have always been. I’ve always been healthy as a horse. It seemed very likely that the key was my thyroid.
The endocrinologist pronounced hyperthyroidism on the 20th, with the highest T-4 level he had ever seen. It isn’t supposed to be above 1.8, and mine was 5.2. He expressed amazement that I was functioning. So I’m on a thyroid pill now, and hoping to see improvement soon. It would be nice if the hair would stop falling out. I have to have some nodules on my thyroid biopsied this month – they were found during an ultrasound in December – and may have to have them removed. The fun continues.
It was a great blessing to head for Oklahoma again to be with family for Christmas. I didn’t know how great a blessing it would be that I had a good chat with my brother, Mark, the night I arrived, and had dinner with his family the day after Christmas. He was suffering from a nasty winter bug on the 26th, coughing and hacking and not feeling very good. I caught his bug that evening. But he and his wife, Liz, and their six children – ranging in age from 18 to 4 – headed off to Branson, Missouri on the 27th for a few days of the local fun.
The bug had me feeling steadily worse over the next few days, and by Saturday, the 29th, I was in pretty bad shape. The usual over-the-counter remedies were doing nothing at all for me. It was as if I wasn’t even taking them. I decided to stop the thyroid pills for a day or so to see if that would make a difference, and that was like flipping a switch. Suddenly, the cough medicine and dry-your-sinuses pills started working.
But early Sunday morning, we got a call at Mom’s house. Mark had been taken to the ER at the hospital in Branson late Saturday night. The bug that had me dragging had developed into severe pneumonia in him, and sepsis was setting in. Things were looking bad. Mom and I loaded up in the car and headed for Branson, which is about a five-hour drive. My brother John, who lives in Norman, Oklahoma with his family, was also driving to Branson.
Mark had already lost consciousness when we arrived on Sunday evening. After a long nighttime vigil, on Monday morning, Liz understood that the worst was at hand. The measures being taken by the excellent, very professional staff weren’t doing any good. Mark was not improving. After she made the agonizing decision to cease the final measures, it was only half an hour or so. With me holding his right hand and Liz holding his left, John reading aloud Mark’s favorite Psalm (Psalm 1), Mom watching over all, my baby brother Mark departed this earth at 9:25 AM, on the last day of 2012. He was 51.
You can’t be prepared for this, not even after a year of setbacks and horrors. All your priorities change in an instant. The staff at Skaggs Hospital couldn’t have been kinder if we had been their own brothers and sisters, and the mortuary did a very professional job – but this one just has to hurt.
Mark’s funeral, delayed by New Year’s Day and the need to move him back to Oklahoma City, was on 5 January. His church was overflowing with beloved friends; he and his family are very much loved. Relatives, including Stephanie and our other Mark, and my sister Susanna and her husband Greg, traveled from Hawaii, California, Texas, and Missouri to be there with us. Mark’s closest friend, Neil, and his lovely wife Carol, came in from Atlanta.
The five of us siblings have sung together – church motets, mostly, as taught by our Dad, who loved choral music – since we were very young. We sang for Dad’s funeral in 2005, but with Mark, we lost our bass. So to sing for him on the 5th, I moved down to tenor, and John moved down to bass. We sang Palestrina’s “Crux Fidelis,” which Mark loved, at the funeral. (The recording here was made in 2005, with Mark singing bass.) Five of Mark’s dear friends spoke superb and very moving eulogies for him, as Liz wanted to have different aspects of his life commemorated. The church’s senior pastor, a close friend of Mark and Liz, who was visibly moved, had wonderfully encouraging words to say.
I spoke words for my father at his graveside, but I couldn’t have uttered a eulogy for Mark to save my soul. I wouldn’t have lasted through it. Mark came into my life when I was 15 months old, and he and I always had a special bond, as Siblings 1 and 2. The memories go back a very long way. In recent years, we mostly sent each other emails – usually with little jokes and funnies – and talked of Oklahoma State football and old Z cars and firearms and Formula 1 racing. Rarely anything important; just staying in touch. Oddly enough, now that he is gone, I will probably do a better job of staying in touch with Liz than I did with Mark.
But Mark was the first close contemporary. I didn’t reflect so much on mortality and the next life when Dad passed on in 2005. You expect your parents to go first, even if they go early (Dad was 68). Losing Mark is different. For the first time, I feel my own grip on this present life loosened, just a bit. For me, this isn’t having a foot in the grave, but having a foot in heaven: in the next life. Mark is truly in a better place, and his untimely passing is a reminder that this earth is not really our home. Memories are bright, and anticipation is sweet. I can imagine a day, as I never bothered to before, when memories and anticipation will be as strong as the joy of the present moment. I can even imagine a day when they will be more important.
I mustn’t conclude the commemoration of Mark without citing a poem Mom taught me when Mark and I were very small, and there were only two of us. It is by Dorothy Aldis:
I am the sister of him,
And he is my brother.
He is too little
For us to talk to each other.
So every morning I show him
My doll and my book,
And every morning he still is
Too little to look.
Mark Richard Dyer, 13 Mar 1961 to 31 Dec 2012
Husband, father, son, friend, certified public accountant, runner, racing and football aficionado, high school wrestler and supporter of OSU wrestling, project-car manager extraordinaire — and brother in Christ
Requiescat in pace
As for me, I have 2013 looming before me, with a thyroid issue, and America and the world with a lot of problems. Maybe I can finally get my home sorted and cleaned again. I didn’t imagine a year ago that I would learn so much about the sentiment expressed by Horatio Spafford in the famous hymn below, which we sang as a congregation for Mark’s funeral. But it is as true for me as it was for Spafford, after he lost all five of his children in the space of two years, between 1871 and 1873. Perhaps it will be the TOC anthem in 2013.
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Refrain: It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,” Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the blog Liberty Unyielding.
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