Little did I know when Bethany wrote her colorful article on Garden Art in the June issue of Across the Fence (publication of the Master Gardeners of Allen County, Indiana, of which I am Editor) that I would soon receive an unexpected gift of my own!
About 5 years ago I decided to send a letter to the owner of my childhood home. There was a unique piece of garden art in the backyard placed there over a dozen years ago by my now deceased Mom. Is it still there? If it is and you find that you no longer want it, would you kindly let me know? I didn’t hear anything and never drove by the house during that time to see if it was still there, visible from the street. Life went on until I got a surprise phone call on Friday, June 5, 2020.
I found your letter in the back of a bathroom cabinet when I was remodeling a few months ago. I have the metal piece sitting outside against the house in the backyard if you want it. I figured it would be meaningful to someone. Give me a call if you do . . .
I was in shock! Holy cow! Mark J had removed the garden gate from the garden “hill” on the side of the house, concrete and all, and had it neatly secured with pavers against the red bricks of the old house. I talked to my husband (always up for a driving adventure), thought about it overnight. And then I got really excited! I called Mark on Saturday and said YES! We’ll come get it!
My childhood home is in Warren, Michigan. I had moved away in 1983 after college to the Chicagoland area then again north of Fort Wayne in 2007. Favorite plants made the journey here as well. But I never would have expected that this prized possession of the original garden master in my life would come home too. I called my brother right away and had some fun reminiscing about our garden projects with our mother over the years. I sent him photos of the garden gate on Saturday when Mark forwarded them to me. Plans were coming together to drive up to Michigan on Sunday to pick up our new found treasure and have a quick visit with my brother and his family as well.
The visit never happened. Or at least not yet. Twenty-six minutes before Mike would have received the photos that I sent by text, he went into a medical crisis that would end his life. He never saw the photos. We did not drive to Michigan that weekend. I never saw my brother alive again . . .
The meaningfulness of this experience and simple piece of garden art is now greater than ever before. Mike made his gateway to heaven the very day after our Mom’s garden gate came back into our lives. When this time of mourning has passed, my beloved and I will make our way to Michigan for a Memorial Service and retrieval of a memorable artifact from my personal heritage. It’s a little thing in the scheme of life yet I’ll bet that I’m not the only one out there with meaningful touch points in his or her garden beds that reflect your own stories as well.
Still in shock from the news, with tears coming forth without notice
I grieve the sudden death of my brother and all that it means.
Where do I begin to tell the story of his life and mine intertwined?
I just can’t write very well right now.
One dynamic is clear though.
Just before he died, he had come to know and convey despite horrific suffering
That life in Christ is worthy of our primary focus. It supernaturally transcends the incredible chaos of our time whether it be in our own broken frame or the society at large.
I don’t think he lived this belief out perfectly in all areas of his world. But in conversation with me, his witness was clear: LIFE as in LIFE IN CHRIST is the most important matter of our days.
With this I find it curious that his final words to his companion and caregiver of many years were, “I don’t want to die.” But Mike, to live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil 1:21), ultimately to be with the Lord and perfectly whole. Why did you not give in to death when in a coma, when seizing, when facing searing pain and be truly free? No one would know and no one would blame you for letting go. You didn’t even do so until the Lord called you home. I am seeing in you this gift of perspective that I have not been able to realize in my own time of battling serious illness. You got it right! I need to get it right too.
Thousands of waking seizure attacks have ravaged my body over the past 8 years. The health complications that came along the way have brought much grief, guttural cries out to the Lord for relief. Experiencing my brain on fire when I am still awake has brought traumatization, triggered memories of past incidents of trauma, stirred emotions that took me down, down, down. If there was lingering bitterness from the abuse of my past then it had no where to go to heal when every month it seemed, there was a new medical problem/diagnosis/treatment to consume my days. Sure, I tried to live around the compendium of illness; weather sick or faking wellness, I see now that my focus has been in the wrong place too much of the time. I need more of Jesus Christ and less of everything else NO MATTER WHAT IS GOING ON AROUND OR WITHIN ME.
I have struggled to read my Bible and pursue even passive activities that can strengthen my relationship with my Savior. It’s been really, really hard to do so. Somehow my brother Mike figured it out despite his suffering. He could only use one hand! His body erupted into violent spasms without warning. The simplest of self care tasks were laborious beyond belief. He has been bedridden for most of the past few years. And the pain. I don’t know if anyone really knows how much he endured, how much medication or cigarettes it took to numb the torture of severe contractures from a stroke about 5 years ago then subsequent medical mismanagement (or minimal management). So did he talk about all of this with me? NO! He chose share what he was studying in his Bible instead. He asked me important questions that I was barely able to answer. Mike meditated on the significant issues of life itself. He saw beyond the life his broken frame, not wanting it to end despite his suffering. Mike dwelt for hours each day in the presence of our Lord and blessed me in return by his doing so.
Mike really did not want to die. I get the sense that it was because he wanted to be here when the Lord returned in glory for His church. Mike thought he would be here for the rapture. Sometimes I think that I will be here for the rapture too, and that it might not be far away with the absolute chaos going on in our country. Despite my own faith in Jesus Christ, many times I have wanted to die. I have been overcome with despair, enough so that I could not imagine living another day with my own suffering (described here many times, portrayed on my YouTube channel). My faith has wavered at times when challenged by the worst ravages of chronic illness. I am not proud of it. This is important to share however, as I know that I am not alone. Tis better to bring these issues to the light of day in the right way at the right time. Now is that time. My brother’s witness to me that I finally got to see in his passing from this life is a proverbial fork in the road for where I want my life to go from here. I got this perspective from you Mike. Thank you. You have finished well, the task of ministering to your older sister whether you knew or not that you were doing so.
Thank you my dear brother in Christ. On Friday you told me that you knew that one day you would be healed. That prayer was answered just one day later! I rejoice that you are now leaping like a deer on high places as you dwell with our majestic Savior in the heavenly realms. See you one day when the Lord calls me home too. Until then,
As soon as we made it across the States to his hospital bed in that massive place
I was overcome with the smell of sickness, gloom, and death beeping along the layers of sheets and tubes.
Therein lain my dear brother, eyes swollen shut and breathing guided by the lifeline protruding from his mouth. Are you in there Mike?
Four days he would sleep, barely stirring when painful procedures ensued . . . then we knew: he is waking up! And out came the feeding tube with one sharp yank. Ouch!
It wasn’t long before he was demanding this and that, or so I am told, as the old cravings for smokes also awakened in his stiff, ace-wrapped frame. Let’s hope “the patch” holds him over.
I can hope for better days once he starts to move a little more yet I know better than that. He and his love/caregiver will have to figure out how to make it past this first major crisis since his stroke 6 years ago. Yet there were others with seizures from meds prescribed amiss.
Long term care sounds better to me but I am not the one in the driver’s seat even as my beloved and I returned home from our whirlwind Sunday visit. So glad there will be more days together, to come.
I saw her love for him and that was enough for me to let the “big sister syndrome” go. To just listen will be my way of showing support when she calls me now and then, returns my own.
Dear Mike, do find meaning in this broken phase of life: something to give yourself to and to care for the vessel albeit wrecked with pain and parts that don’t work right at all. Our Lord will sustain you and treasure you through the many hours alone when your body begins to spasm or shake. This I do know. He is there both inside and out of the woods you know . . .
I love you Mike. JJ
UPDATE: Mike woke up about 4 days later and was discharged home another 3 days thereafter, to be with his fiance. He was shaken up from not remembering those early days in the ICU yet is seeking a renewed direction for his life. This is good! Oh, and his insurance issues giving rise to medication issues and this medical crisis are largely resolved as well. Praise the Lord!
Rainy weather working its foggy magic on a landscape is beautiful. A rainy day encourages introspection. Or at the very least a nap. I love the rain in all of its spirited and benign forms. But we have had rain day after day without much respite. This is rain of a different sort. Too much rain foments rot both above and below ground. Too much rain spoils blooms. Too much rain dampens the spirit. We have had all of the aforementioned.
The Star of Palmer Lake is the claim to fame of this small town in Colorado by the same name. Built on the side of Sundance Mountain in 1934 and rebuilt in 1976, this 500-foot star shines above the city in December and on special occasions every year. I got to see this local wonder in the year 2003.
Robert had a gentle spirit as a kid. He talked less than his older brother and sister yet they often knew what he was thinking based upon the look on his face. A stern look that made his face turn as red as a stuffed sausage meant that this little kiddo needed to get to the bathroom right quick!
Perhaps Rob was more sensitive than they realized: the kind of kid who took in the good and the bad without saying much while growing up in a single-parent home. Rob looked like his dad which may have given him some slight favor . . . or at least that is what his older brother, Mike and their mom would say. But Rob was too young to really get to know his dad before he divorced his mom then eventually became estranged from the family altogether. How did Robert Matthew Lech get to be so mechanically inclined anyways? Decades later it became very clear that the instruction manual for the Motor City Gear Head that Rob became was in his DNA as well as from those years as a young child when his dad was still around tinkering with this and that in the basement workshop. Just like his Dad, Rob could fix just about anything!
There’s one thing, however, that he could not fix. Rob could not change the fact that his dad left without a trace until many years later. All of the kids would be grown up by the time they learned that “Ted” was living in Florida. The older sister had moved to Chicagoland and the older brother had returned from the Navy. Rob had completed an aviation mechanic certification course with his buddy Karl, then never took the test to actually become certified. Rob drifted a bit then became the Grease Monkey who could answer most any question when you dropped by to see him at the local NAPA auto parts store near Palmer Lake. He would often help his customers fix their cars as well, no charge. Rob had many friends for sure. Many of them joined him at the bar of the bowling alley in the evening, much like the camaraderie of the 1980’s television show, Cheers.
Rob reached out to his Dad some time after receiving his Dad’s address from his mom. It might have been when the family received notice of his Dad’s brother’s passing that they all saw Ted’s address in Uncle Fred’s legal paperwork. Someone had found Ted! Ted’s sister, Lori, went to visit and Ted reportedly shunned her. But for some reason Rob needed to try to reach out to him anyways. Something inside of him still needed to know his father, the one he had come to be like. These things would be revealed many years later, of course. No one got to know Ted just then. Ted responded to the letter that Rob finally sent to his Dad, telling Rob not to contact him again. Ted said that he had a mental illness and he had found a way to live with it which included estrangement from his family and everything in his past. Ted slipped away into anonymity once again. So very sad, really.
Rob was devastated. Rob had another close friend, Dewey, who had passed away which was doubly devastating for this tender-hearted young man. Rob never seemed to overcome the loss of these two important men in his life. His drinking increased and his life crumbled. Before he died he had started to ask questions about God and may have even attended a local church to find some peace. Cans of food from a local food bank were found in his disheveled mobile home along with the slot cars from racing with his dad and brother at local tracks as a boy. Ted Lech, aka “Mr. Motor” was a champion slot car racer and design engineer behind Dyna-Rewind: the fastest motors in the cars on the tracks in the 1960’s. Mike and Rob’s best times were shagging cars during competitions, especially those where their dad smoked all the other race cars every Thursday night!
I found the letter from our Dad in Rob’s wallet when my mom, Mike and I got into town after Rob had died. I was devastated. I, too, carried big hurts from our Dad leaving us as children and so did Michael. We needed our Dad and he could not be there. I grieved the pain that my little brother must have carried to his grave. I loved Robbie so much! Then I found a picture in his wallet, the only one he carried with him every day. It was a picture of me. Oh dear. My brother loved me too! Sigh.
I am not quite sure why this memory is so tender for me right now. I am not quite sure why it still hurts so very much. I am not quite sure my little brother Rob knew how much I really loved him. Oh Rob, how I wish you were still here! I wish you could meet my really cool husband Steve and talk with him about cars and motors and carburetors and hemi engines and more! I sure miss you Raaaaaabeeee!
It is quite possible that Steve and I will do some travelling West this Fall. Lord willing, one of our destinations will be New Mexico and potential places north of there for us to live where the climate is dryer. We just may have to visit Palmer Lake, Colorado too.
Rob’s ashes were dispersed at the base of one of the stars on the side of the Palmer Lake Star on Sundance Mountain in the late summer of 2003. Mike and I climbed up the steep slope, hanging onto brambles, posts, and the cables that comprise the outline of the star while our mom waited and watched from the road below. Two of Rob’s friends from the bowling alley lead the way for us while we huffed and puffed fighting altitude sickness to complete our mission to place Rob at rest. His remains are part of the mountain that he called home: the second light fixture from the upper right point of the 5-pointed star. It’s also right next to the resting place of his friend and neighbor, Dewey. Kind of poetic in a way . . .
I do hope that somehow Rob made peace with his past through the tender love of our Heavenly Father before he passed away. I hope that I will see my little brother and his lanky frame, cute smile, and soft brown eyes when I reach the presence of the Lord someday. Hey Robbie, you will always be a shining star in my memories, my heart.
And thanks again for fixing up that 1974 Nova for me too! JJ