Month: August, 2016

Floating in the Abyss

I stayed in Dad’s room Monday night knowing I was not willing to leave him again.  I was with him when he stopped breathing, when his heart stopped beating.  Everything since then has been surreal.

For two and a half years he has dealt with lung cancer or bladder cancer.  He has had a continual string of appointments, scans, surgeries and procedures in Oskaloosa, Des Moines and Rochester.  I have constantly planned for my visits to him or where I needed to take him; what I needed to get for him, take to him, do for him.  I talked to him daily and tried to make our time together not only about medical stuff but enjoyable stuff: news, pictures, friends, walks, playing cards, funny videos, anything other than the ever looming doctor shit.

But now all of that has disintegrated.  It’s as if I was running as fast as I could with an ominous black sky chasing me, closing in for years.  It has caught me, consumed me. I’m floating in darkness.  There is nothing under my feet.  There is nothing onto which to hold, nothing upon which to stand.

At times in my life, especially dark ones, there are songs that replay in my head.  The one that has been playing since Dad stopping breathing on Tuesday is “The Sounds of Silence” by Disturbed.  It feels powerful and haunting and fitting.  All of the noise in my head, all of the “what next”, all of the scrambling and planning and packing and unpacking and repacking and back and forth has evaporated.  My father’s voice, my father’s breath, is gone.  The silence is deafening.



John Russell, 85, of Oskaloosa passed away Tuesday, August 23, 2016, at the MHP Hospice Services Serenity House in Oskaloosa.

John Wayne Russell was born April 25, 1931, in Iowa City, Iowa. He spent his first few years of life at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport. John was brought home to Oskaloosa by his parents, Clifford and Elizabeth (Mulbrook) Russell as a youngster and attended Prine School through eighth grade. He went on to graduate from Oskaloosa High School in 1949 and then went to work at Rollscreen in Pella. John was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1952. He served two years in the army, including a nine month deployment to Korea with the Third Infantry Division. After his service, he returned to Oskaloosa and worked at Pella Corp.

July 2, 1960, he was united in marriage to Lola Kay Thompson. They remained in Oskaloosa where they raised their three children. John was an over 70 year member of the Central United Methodist Church where he served as an usher for many years. He enjoyed woodworking, collecting coins and stamps, and riding his motorcycles and bicycles. John will be remembered for his gentle demeanor, generous nature, consistent resiliency and quirky sense of humor.

His family includes his wife, Kay of Oskaloosa; and his children: Michael Russell of Oskaloosa, Todd Russell of Florida, and Sarah Russell of Des Moines.

He was preceded in death by his parents.

As was John’s wish, his body has been cremated. Private burial of his ashes will be in Forest Cemetery. Garland-Van Arkel-Langkamp Funeral Chapel has been entrusted with the arrangements. In lieu of flowers or memorials, please consider an act of kindness for someone in need.

My Dad


April 25, 1931 until the morning of August 23, 2016


Dad's photo

Shades of Death

Traffic was coming to a halt in the middle of highway 163 a couple of miles outside of Pella.  Which is weird.  Very weird.  Even slow farm equipment doesn’t usually bring it to a stop.  I strained to see around the big diesel dually carrying 4 Amish gentleman in front of me but still couldn’t see what was happening.  It only took a few minutes and less than a quarter of a mile to find out.

As I rolled all the way onto the gravel shoulder to get around what was left of the car and the parts spread out on the road, my eyes followed a young looking man who crouched next to the passenger door.  The car looked like it had been compressed at a high rate of speed, presumably by running into a slow moving flatbed which was now stopped in the grassy median.  The young looking man was talking to the passenger who was not responding and I wondered if he was the driver.

I later found out that the passenger had passed away and that she was pregnant.  Just like that.  Gone.

Twenty minutes later, I’m sitting next to Dad’s bed at the hospice house, watching his labored, intermittent breathing.  His hands are at times moving as if he has things to do but just can’t get them done.  I want to help him, ease him, comfort him.  I talk to him, tell him I’m here.  I ask him what I can do for him.  His answer is only his raspy, struggling breath.

It’s been two days since I was here last.  Since then he has stopped eating, drinking, swallowing and as far as I can tell, communicating.  I don’t know if he understands I’m here.  The nurses showed me signs of his encroaching death.  “Could be five minutes, could be a couple of days.  Probably not tonight but you never know.”

When I saw him on Friday, one word whispers were the extent of his end of the conversation.  I sat on the floor next to his lowered bed and tried to guess what he was thinking, what he wanted.  He seemed uncomfortable, agitated.  When asked if he was in pain, he gave a breathy “no”.

I was with him most of last week except when I had to return to Des Moines for my own chemotherapy.  Every day revealed a noticeable decline.  When it was just the two of us, I would lie on the floor next to his bed which had been lowered to the ground.  I put my head by his feet so I could see his face through the bed rails.  I watched him.  I studied him.  I drank him in.  I wanted him to see me if he opened his eyes.  I wanted to read his face, his hands for any clue of a thought or need.

He not-so-slowly gave up his habits.  Reading the paper.  Watching the Olympics.  He talked less.  He ate less. He moved less.  Everything less.

And now he lays here.  He will not escape death this time.  In many ways, it has already happened.  My Dad is gone.  His shell is left but not for long.  I miss him already.