One year ago, close to this time, my father died.
I was with him when he died. I was reading him the story I have been working on for the past 7 years. The previous night, I made a very difficult decision. He had been making phenomenal recovery from what should have been a fatal event 10 days earlier. But on the 9th day, he was sitting up in his hospital bed. He had a bible under one hand, and a pen and paper in the other. He immediately greeted me warmly when I walked in with a huge smile on his face, and I greeted him equally warmly. I asked him what he was doing. He told me that he had a lot of thank you letters to write but didn’t know where to begin. The nurse came in after a little while and fed him his medicine crushed up in pudding so he could swallow it. That was the problem. The day before, he had been more in a state of delirium than lucid consciousness. That day he worked his feed tube out of his stomach 4 times due to coughing or by using the back of his tongue. His entire critical care team was flummoxed by how quickly he was working it out, requiring it to be reinserted (not a pleasant experience… in fact, quite traumatic). The night nurse that night decided to leave it out. Dad rested peacefully. And, then I found him so happy to see me and wanting to write thank you cards. Everyone was so excited. Nurses who had cared for him earlier popped in to make sure I saw him. There was so much hope he would pull through this devastating event–where his heart had been stopped for more than 15 minutes as first responders worked so hard giving him CPR to get a shockable pulse.
So, here was the problem. To get him back to full health, he needed the feed tubing reinserted to get all the medicines he needed, and the doctors were not certain yet if his swallowing reflect had been damaged. How could we know after reinserting the feeding tube this final time that it would send him into a delirium he would never return from. That’s what happened. If I could do this over, I would have followed my gut and not allowed it. He would have died… I know this… but he would have died possibly more peacefully.
After almost 48 hours of non-stop movement of mind and body, my father was lost in space and time and utterly exhausted. The medicines were not calming him any more. Just before I was about to leave at midnight on the 10th night of him being in the ICU, his night nurse said, “If he was on Comfort Care, I could give him more medicine to help him calm down and rest.” The doctors had talked to us earlier that day about our options. I knew Comfort Care meant he was dying. And, so before I left, I gave instructions to move him to Comfort Care.
The next morning, he was sleeping. He nurse told me he had cleaned him and was doing everything to make him comfortable. He looked peaceful. He never woke, but I talked to him. I had a vision that morning about what I needed to do for him. So, after the nurse left, I told dad what I was going to do. Earlier that summer I promised to send him the latest part of my story. I hadn’t sent it yet. It is set in the time of the Vikings. My father was pure Norwegian. The girl in my story was on a glacier between Odda and Rosendal, Norway. My father’s family is from Odda. This girl in the story had just been in a terrible accident that left her companion unconscious and with broken ribs. My father’s ribs were broken from the CPR.
I told dad I was going to read him the story. It was going to be a sleigh made of sound to help him get across to the other side. In my story, my girl had just made a sleigh out of a bear hide to pull her injured companion across the glacier. So, my voice and this story they were going to serve as a sort of sleigh to help him cross. I told dad that his mother, his brother, brother-in-law, and all the people he knew and loved who had already passed were waiting for him. I told him he could leave any time during the story or wait until the end. Then, I started reading. The hospital Chaplin came after a while, and I told him all about dad. He said a prayer incorporating all the things I had told him. And, he recited Psalm 23.
I continued reading the story.
I read to him until 2:40 p.m. I held his hand as I read. I had just finished reading the part of the story where the priest meets a woman who mysteriously washes up on the shores of Dublin, Ireland. He helps her recover, find work, and get a home. They fall in love. They have to keep it hidden. They have a baby, but she dies during childbirth and the priest cannot admit he is the father, so he gives his daughter to the nuns who live in a nearby nunnery to be raised. I had read to him about this girl’s early childhood and a very scary nun she encounters. I was about to read him the part about Resurrection Sunday when I heard his breathing change–dramatically. I saw his pulse rate dropping–dramatically. I knew what was happening and rushed to him, my heart pounding. I told him mom and my brothers were 15 minutes away, he needed to wait. His breathing quicken and pulse went up, but only briefly. Then, it plummeted again. I knew the nurses could give him a drug through his IV to bring his pulse back up, but I also knew I had moved him to Comfort Care last night. Instead of running to get the nurse, I threw myself over him and hugged him fiercely. His nurse and doctor came in. They held my hand and hugged me. No one said anything. After some time I looked up and asked the doctor if he had gone. With the kindest face and deepest empathy, he nodded. Neither he nor the nurse left. They stayed with me and never once did I feel like they had anything more important to do–though I knew they were responsible for many people in very serious conditions. My mother and brothers arrived 10 minutes later. They had indeed been 15 minutes away, though when I told dad I had no way of knowing this. My brother thinks at the time of dad’s passing they were at the last rest stop, and mom was picking daisies. I had just been reading to dad about daises.
So, one year later, this is my telling of the journey I have been on since his death. It is told through music and art. The starting image I drew on the plane on July 27, 2018 as I flew out to be with my father one day after this heart attack. As I drew, I listened to Asura’s Life2 album. I listened to one song in particular over and over as the image took shape. This song was Celestial Tendencies. Each song from Asura’s album held special meaning and energy for me during this time. The music was a way to hold onto some divine and sublime at a time of great crisis and ultimate tragedy. The visual journey is an expansion of my original drawing in my notebook. Please forgive my indulgence as I spent a lot of time drawing the different layers. Ultimately, I decided to use each of the songs that helped me to be strong for dad and my family during this terrible time. I realize it is a video that probably only I will ever watch in its entirety.
The visual story of this journey can not be viewed. I have tried, but I believe algorithms used by most of the major social media platforms flagged this image possibly as a man on a cross and this has been tied to White Supremacy. I understand this concern. It is validate given our time. I would just say that this is how the vision of my father appeared to me as I flew out to be with him, and that during my 10 days with him, he indeed held his arms out this way many times for he was suffering. I think outstretched arms like this are also a symbol for the suffering of the world, and my father felt this deeply, our collective human suffering. It powered him and transformed him as a force of compassion in the world. As this image progresses, it transforms from an image of human suffering into one of transcendence. I am sorry I cannot share this work at this time, but that is our current reality and I accept the collective wisdom of our time.
You may be able to view the video if you can get to my Art Page on Facebook; here it is pinned to the top of the page.
As COVID-19 has steadily made its way around the world and really hit the United States of America particularly hard, I have thought a lot about those 10 days in the hospital sitting by my father’s side, hoping for the best but knowing he was skating between two realities–one was life, the other death. No one wanted to talk about the death reality, but it was there. It was always there. I could see it in the doctors eyes. I could feel it in the nurses voices. I drew it as I flew out to be with my beloved father.
He fought for life, absolutely he did. But, he was up against incredible odds, unbelievable odds that cannot be conveyed to a living person in good health because until you are at this threshold, you do not know. But, healthcare professionals learn to recognize the signs of approaching death, especially when people are fighting to just breathe, which is what dad was doing at the end because his lungs were filling up with the fluid. The doctors were watching for it because they knew Pulmonary edema or pneumonia is often a result after CPR because to do it right to save a person’s life, the first responders has to push hard often breaking ribs and pushing debris into the lungs, which causes the pneumonia.
This episode that I just heard on This American Life captures so vividly what I saw dad suffer through. I tuned in just as the nurses were describing what has to be done to save a person’s like can feel like torture. And my dad absolutely felt this way that day when he woke up, and he was writing thank yous, and we had a precious, fleeting moment of normalcy, until the feed tube had to be reinserted. This haunts me so much because he was wide awake and to him it felt like torture and he was counting on me to stop it…and I failed because I wanted to save him.
And now so many beautiful people are suffering through the very same thing. To find out more about this episode, click here.
I would like to end with two stories about my father that were given at his memorial service. One is by one of my brothers and the other by me. My father was one of the kindest, most caring, and compassionate human beings anyone could ever hope to encounter. His deep and unconditional love for everyone was felt by all who got to know him, even when they messed up, he held them in patience and love. What a lesson for the times we live in now.
This is my brother’s eulogy:
Monrad Kicks the Hell’s Angels Out of Yellowstone
As we go through life, our impressions and feelings toward our parents change. I’m going to share with you some impressions from my childhood, Around the age of eight or nine when we lived in South Dakota. At this age boys want a tough dad with street creds and unfortunately, I was convinced my father was a wimp. The previous sunday he had preached Yet another sermon on love. By my count the 4th sermon on love that summer .
But it didn’t matter because we were about to commence on a treasured family tradition ; the summer vacation. We’d take a popup camper and head out West for one or two weeks . On this trip, I believe we went to either Grand Teton or YellowStone, let’s just say it was Yellowstone.
We had the camping routine down pat. We’d set up camp, spend a few days hiking or fishing then move on to the next location. In these popular parks you needed to get to the next campsite early, well before 5 pm, or the campsites could fill up. On this particular day we had had a long drive and almost all the sites were taken but we finally found one and a nice secluded spot at that. After we had set up camp and were settling in, some loud motorcycles pulled up to a clearing just across the road from our camper. They wore leather jackets and skull caps. We kids immediately knew who they were because they had been covered in last week’s TV news. This was none other than the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. About this time Monrad notices what is going on and Yell’s across to the gang “that is not a campsite, you can’t camp there.” The reply came back to “Mind your own business” or something similar. Monrad responded even louder and more angry “That is not a campsite you can’t camp there “. We kids were terrified, we were sure our dad was going to get beat up … or worse. But to our surprise after a few more exchanges, maybe a few insulting gestures exchanged as well, the bikers revved up their engines and moved on.
That was the day I was proud of my father, he just kicked the Hell’s Angels out of Yellowstone.
This is my eulogy:
Born: April 16, 1935; Died: August 4, 2018; Age: 83
My father… Monrad Mandsager… He is why you are here today… Monty! And, do you know what he would have said?
He would have said, “Goodness sakes… you’ve come all this way… for me! You shouldn’t have… thank you… thank you so much… thank you for coming!”
SHOWING UP & PAYING ATTENTION = LOVE
His whole life dad never felt worthy. In his mind, he was a poor, simple farm boy from Iowa who could never quite do all the things exactly the way his dad wanted them done, and he grew up without his mother’s kind and loving warmth and support. These early beginnings always left him questioning his worth. But my dad would always show up and give any task (big or small) his best! For him, what was most important was making time, paying attention, and creating a space to understand the needs of others because dad knew this is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other… for it is the most basic way we show our love to each other. Dad’s capacity to create and hold a sacred space for others was one of his superpowers! He would listen with empathy, kindness, and unwavering attention to someone’s life story, latest frustration, or good news. And, he would remember what you told him and ask you about it the next time he saw you.
SUPERPOWERS OF ATTENTION + LISTENING + UNDERSTANDING
Dad’s ability to pay attention and listen combined with his humbleness allowed him to be there for people at their greatest time of need. I remember one tragedy where dad demonstrated his tremendous capacity to empathize and be there for a grieving family after their 16-year-old son was killed in a hunting accident. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember my parents explaining to me how this family had lost several children before this tragedy and this was their last son. I remember going with mom and dad many times to visit the family after dad broke the terrible news to them. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of helplessness and sadness. But, I also remember knowing being there with my parents was important. I was no older than first grade, but I remember this experience vividly, and I’ll come back to this later for as I was reading through dad’s writings to figure out what I would say today, I found his reflections on this same tragedy for it had profoundly impacted him too. Grief it turns out is not bounded to one day or one week or one year… it is a deeply personal journey and dad understood this. He understood a time of grief is not a time to give people “pat answers” about why death or a tragedy occurred… neither is it a time to tell the person how and when to recover from it. He knew he didn’t know, but what he did know was he needed to be there for however long it took and at whatever capacity the family or individual needed, even if it meant just sitting in silence with them. I’m going to share with you several of dad’s amazing traits (I call them his superpowers), and now that he’s gone, I realize they were precious gifts given freely and in love to me and I suspect he gave them to many of you!
One of his wonderful superpowers was his adventuresome, wandering spirit. Little more than 6 weeks after being ordained at Luther Seminary and marrying mom, they took off to Brazil where dad was to serve as a missionary in Sao Paulo and the surrounding area. Mom and dad had to learn Portuguese and spent almost a year studying and learning it before dad began his mission work. He was one of the first missionaries to give all of his sermons in Portuguese, and of course, this is where I and my brother Craig were born. We learned Portuguese too and spoke it to everyone outside of our immediate family. I am told when we returned to the states, and I met my grandparents for the first time, I sat on their knees chattering happily away in Portuguese as they smiled and enjoyed meeting their granddaughter and grandson for the first time. I was pretty young in Brazil, but I have snap shot memories of life with my parents such as galloping on my father’s shoulders through the jungle with monkeys shrieking at us from high in the trees (that was magnificent)! Watching a steel drum band at a gathering and marveling at the beautiful music coming from the steel cans the musicians had turned into their drums dad had explained all this to me for he loved the steel drums! I also remember traveling with dad in our jeep over muddy, rutted, red roads and being surrounded by hundreds of sheep on their way home, leaving dad and I to revel in the wonder of the moment.
From Brazil, we flew back to the Midwest, this is where my brother Phillip was born. From there, dad helped his brother-in-law Bob start a new church in Southern CA – so, we moved to Sunnymead where my brother Peter was born – and, then our family was complete! I won’t go into all the places we moved or family vacations we took, but dad loved to travel, and he wanted us to experience and see the vast, beautiful, wondrous places of this land, and we saw many thanks to him!
THE DREAMER & LEARNER
My father was also a dreamer and lifelong learner! He loved geology, astronomy, anthropology, paleontology, and even astrophysics; he transferred his love of learning to me and my brothers! Dad would tell you that his love of learning and interests in science was sometimes disturbing to his faith, and he often navigated between the waters of faith and doubt. But, this made dad stronger, not weaker for he was able to transform his doubt into a deeper, vaster faith in God.
In his own words, he says, “Since I am often between faith and doubt, my stockpile of “pat answers” has diminished considerable. Life is discovery, growth, affirmation of faith in God in the midst of doubt. Life is affirmation of the creation of oneself, of others, of the goodness and love of God. Christ is our best light of this, pointing us to a loving Father God through the goodness and light His life has given for us in loving service through suffering even onto death.”
And, so here again you glimpse dad’s superpowers of kindness, compassion, and deep empathy for people and all living beings, and this guided him through his journey between the waters of faith and doubt; and it greatly informed his ministry for he saw himself as a humble servant who would stop to help anyone in need—and this is a gift he gave freely and frequently!
TRANSFORMATION OF FAITH
As I was reading dad’s writings, I found one piece he titled an Account of My Life to Age 43 where he describes honestly and elegantly his life journey, especially about the transformation of his faith. Here he accounts the same story I remembered about the 16-year-old boy. (I’ve changed the names for it seems even after all these years, the family is entitled to their privacy) Dad writes: “…the summer of ’72, we moved to Redway to serve Grace Lutheran Church. At that time, the KindFamily was a family of four: Joe, the father, a Roman Catholic and lumberjack; Corothy, the mother, a member of Grace; David (16) had been confirmed that Spring; and Lucy (13). Previous to our acquaintance, they had been a family of 7—two boys had been born with progressive muscular dystrophy and died in their young teens and a baby girl died of lung cancer at age 3. … About two months after our arrival Corothy talked about going to stay with her husband for a week in the woods – something she had never done before. She was apprehensive about leaving the kids. They ended up taking Lucy, while David was to stay with the next-door neighbors who were trusted friends. They left Sunday. Late Tuesday afternoon, council member, Karl came running up our steps, out of breath, a strained expression on this face. “Pastor, Pastor, something awful has happened, they found David dead beside his motorcycle and rifle along a trail. He’s been shot! This is awful. I can’t believe it… David’sthe only boy they had left! They were so proud of him. He was such a good kid. What are we going to do?”
Dad writes he was equally shocked as he attempted to reassure Karl that with God’s help they’d find a way to help the Kinds. Karl asked if dad would be there when the family arrived home to tell them what happened. Dad said yes, and he’d like Karl to be there too since he was a supporting friend of the family.” This event solidified for dad at a moment of great tragedy and grief, it is not a time to theologize or to tell a person not to protest to God as they grapple with the question why… why… why… Dad describes how he simply sat in the ditch with the father as he wept, and when he asked questions dad answered them simply with the information he knew. Then, they wept together, talked a little more, and wept again. Dad was there for days and weeks later walking with the family one small step at a time. He came to understand, as he tried to answer the agonizing question why, that we live in a world where accidents and disease happen, death is a mystery, and we don’t know all the answers. He came to believe it is not God who appoints the hour and manner of death, but more evil and death have come into our world through the backdoor (as it were). However, God is on the side of goodness and life; nevertheless, since evil, accidents, disease, and death have come among us, God Himself in Jesus, went through suffering, sorrow, and death… because he loves us and wants to show us he understands, cares, and shares our burdens and carries them with us during our greatest times of grief, pain, sorrow, and need. And, so the gift of faith was given to me—a gift dad demonstrated vividly throughout his life!
The Gift of Courage
The last gift I’ll mention today is courage. It was a heart attack that took him down the evening of July 25, and it was the heroic efforts of first responders and hospital staff in Albert Lea and the Mayo Clinic that brought him back along with our good neighbors who brought Mom to both hospitals that night to be with Dad. One nurse who had also been an EMT told me about 4% of patients flown in after such an event survive, so dad was a miracle—even if it was just one week. Each day on the ICU was a battle, but dad made amazing progress regaining consciousness and recognition surpassing the tempered hopes that the excellent doctors and nurses held for him and worked tirelessly to achieve. The best the team could work out is dad probably went without oxygen to his brain for 15 to 20 minutes—most agree after 9; severe brain damage can begin. Despite tremendous gains coming back consciously, his body continued to reel from catastrophic system failures. The doctors figured out one problem was a blockage in an artery in the heart, which they fixed this with a stint, but the other required a pace maker. This was a challenge because dad had several broken ribs since CPR is really only effective when ribs are broken. But, pneumonia set in creating a vicious cycle of needing to cough, which caused pain that sent him into cycles of delirium. It was a delicate balance the medical team at St. Mary’s walked, moment by moment to figure out what dad needed.
Two days before his death—I call it his Lazarus day. I arrived in the morning. He was sitting upright in bed with wonderful color to his face and a sparkle in his eyes. He was holding a pen, paper, and bible and exclaimed happily as I walked in: “Debbie!” I returned: “Dad!” I sat down beside him and asked him what he was doing. He told me he had a lot of thank yous to write but was having a hard time getting started.
The day before had been pretty rough for he had worked his feed tube out 3 times, earning him the title of the Hundi of Feeding Tubes. He still did not have it reinserted, and so his nurse fed him pudding with his pills crushed in it. It was slow, and dad was having a hard time swallowing. But, this day, everyone was so hopeful he could recover at least to this point; however, to do so, he would need the feed tube reinserted. This sent him into a delirium he would not come out of, and this is where the courage comes in… I had to have the courage to see the totality of his reality – I needed to reconcile the hope of his recovery with the despair of cascading system failures in his body. After 36 hours of continuous delirium, I made the tough decision to move him to comfort care, allowing the nurses and doctors to give him stronger medications to keep him comfortable and out of pain. The Mayo team was magnificent in providing me and our family with all the options ranging from further invasive interventions to comfort care, and it was his night nurse, Luis, who said something about being able to give dad stronger medicines that night, which finally made me understand the reality of dad’s situation. We had never made it out of the Sea of Delirium, and dad was suffering and needed me to make a courageous choice. So, I did.
When I returned the next morning, he was sleeping—the delirium was over. His day nurse told me he had cleaned him, and they were making him comfortable. He looked at peace. I could hear the gurgle of the pneumonia in his lungs, but he was not struggling for air. I sat down next to him and began to read part of the book I have written for I had promised to send him the manuscript but had not yet sent it. The Chaplin came in after a couple of hours. I told him all about dad and the past week. He recited the 23rdPsalm, and then he said a prayer incorporating everything I had told him. I resumed reading. His nurse came back to turn him. I continued reading holding his hand, comforted by his warmth. Less than 45 minutes later, his breathing suddenly changed. I looked at his monitor and saw his heart rate dropping just as it had been doing over the past week (this is why he needed a pace maker). I felt panic and pleaded with dad to wait for mom to arrive (for I felt she was 15 minutes away). Dad breathed, and his heart rate went up, but for less than a minute; then it plunged again. I wanted to run and get the nurse to give him a drug to increase his heart rate, but I didn’t… I knew he was going and I needed to let him go… this took tremendous courage… how could I let my father go? I couldn’t, so I threw myself on him, hugged him and cried. His nurse came in and put his arm around my shoulders as I held onto dad, and his doctor came in and held my hand. After a while, I looked up and asked, “Is he gone?” His doctor simply and compassionately confirmed dad had gone. My brothers and mom arrived 10 minutes later. His nurse and doctor stayed with us for a long time. I did not feel for one minute they had anything more important to do than to be a witness to dad’s passing and our grief—a tremendous gift.
The Gift of Love
So, thank you all for being here to remember dad and to celebrate his life and the many gifts he gave to so many of us.
I know dad never felt he deserved this sort of attention, but dad, if you are listening, you deserve it, every last bit of it for your gifts have healed so many people in our broken world, which desperately needs the compassion you shared and your capacity to listen and be with others during their greatest hour of need and to do so in kindness and with empathy, all of which came so natural to you.
We love you dad!