A few minutes after I posted my last blog about my rainy bike ride, my younger brother Matthew called to tell me that my older brother Marty had had the mother of all grand mal seizures. It happened as he was getting ready for work around 6:30 or 7 that morning, but living alone, no one found him until noon.
Marty will be 58 on August 14, the same day I turn 48. I always tell him I was the best gift he got that day. He tells me it was the transistor radio. In 1971, when he was 18, Marty was on a missions trip in Puerto Rico when the van he and his fellow missionaries were in crashed. Marty was thrown from the van and knocked unconscious. He was in a coma for 3 days.
A few years later, Marty started to experience these vacant moments in which you could wave your hand in front of his face and he would be completely unaware. The look in his eyes was cold and robotic, like he was dead with his eyes open. We know now that he was having petit mal seizures, but at the time he didn’t seek medical help. He just called them his “ghosts.” And they scared the hell out of him.
Then came the Des Moines flood of 1993. My brother and his kind heart ventured down to help the good folks of Iowa bag sand and clean the debris left by the flood waters. When all was said and done, he went back to Minneapolis, worked a few days, then wound up in the hospital with meningitis, which almost killed him.
A year later, he had his first grand mal seizure. It took several months and seizures for his doctors to fine-tune his medications, but once they did, Marty was able to drive again and enjoy a fairly normal life, despite chronic headaches.
|Matthew helping Marty cut up his hamburger.|
Thursday’s seizure wasn’t like the others. The post-ictal period (the time during which the brain recovers from a seizure) lasted several hours, and it was the next day before he recognized anyone. Five days later, he has no sense of time and yesterday couldn’t remember the words “blue jeans” when Matthew asked him what he wanted him to bring him from his house.
Marty is aware, however, of his feelings, and the feeling he’s experiencing most is sadness.
“I feel so low,” he told Matthew and my sister-in-law, Tracy.
|My family, taken at Dad’s 80th birthday in March|
Marty is one of the most positive people I know. In nearly 40 years, he’s never let his epilepsy or headaches get him down. To know he’s sad makes it that much harder for me living 1,000 miles away from him. I can’t hug him. I can’t even call him. I can only hear about him through my family.
I went on another bike ride today and wouldn’t you know it? It began to rain. When I got back to the car, wouldn’t you know it? There was a message from Matthew. Marty’s doctors found a shadow on the part of his brain that affects memory. They’re going to do a spinal tap this afternoon to find out if the shadow is due to an infection. The doctors are hoping for an infection, Matthew said, because an infection can be cured.
Right now, it’s raining in Marty’s world. I hope and pray it doesn’t pour.
My brother needs all the positive thoughts the world can send him. No need to comment because it’s enough that you are reading this and have Marty, even for a moment, in your thoughts. I promise to update you on his prognosis and progress. Thank you for your help.
Marty began writing essays several years ago after a little encouragement from yours truly. To hear his voice and get the essence of the kind of guy he is, I’m posting the essay he wrote in 2007 about his friend Leila who passed away.
“I Cried This Morning”
By Marty Haraldson
That may sound a bit unusual as a title for a personal essay, but this was an unusual day.
My Tuesday morning started out in the same way as most of my weekday, workday mornings. The short drive to the office through residential neighborhoods was pleasant, yet uneventful.
I made my usual stop at the corner Shell station for my cup of hot cocoa. Then, it was over the bridge, a right on Computer Av, and a left hand turn into our parking lot. Routine is a comfort to me. It helps me to be organized. Upset to that routine can be annoying.
After walking into my office, I set about my “routine” of getting things turned on and set up in preparation for the day of sales ahead. I moved my wireless mouse across my desk to rouse my slumbering computer. New emails had arrived overnight. The customary emails and spam dotted the screen. I was soon highlighting one email after another, then sending them all to the kingdom of “DeleteAll”.
One particular email stood out. The subject line contained one word only. It was a name
actually. It read, “Leila”. Even before I clicked to read it’s contents, I was certain what it would say. It was sent from Vesta, one of Leila’s daughters in Maine. I cried as I read it.
Back in October of 1991, I bought a small house in a quiet neighborhood in St Louis Park. My neighbor in the house directly to the south was a widowed elderly woman named Leila. I expect she was around 80 years old back then. Her daughters lived out of state. Leila did not drive. She depended on a volunteer agency in our city called “S.T.E.P.” to bring her groceries or give her a ride when requested. They would also send a volunteer over when a light duty repair was needed or to cut her grass.
I introduced myself to Leila one day while she was re-painting her front door trim. It wasn’t long before I began taking care of her yard, trees, and house. In the winter, I made sure the snow was cleared from her sidewalks and driveway. Eventually, I won Leila’s trust and favor.
The big event for both of us was our once a week trip to the big new “Rainbow Foods” store in Eden Prairie. Leila looked forward to that. She’d be waiting by the door, dressed up, purse in hand, ready for me to help her “up” into my big truck for our shopping adventure. It was a slow journey through the aisles of the stores. She had to look at everything while carefully selecting the items she wanted. One of the cashiers “adopted” us as her customers. She looked forward to seeing Leila each week as much as I delighted in bringing her by.
Years ago, an ambulance was sent to Leila’s house. She had fallen and had no idea where she was. After a stay in the hospital, her daughter Vesta thought it best to move her out to Maine to be close to her. There was a very pleasant senior care center in the country near Vesta’s house. Leila was moved to Maine. I never had the chance to say goodbye to her.
While her family was getting things in order to sell her house, I was invited in to select an oil painting that Leila had painted in her younger years. I did not know how talented she was. The picture I selected is a magnificent portrait of a mountain with trees and a lake. The frame is equally magnificent, made of carved and painted wood. In the corner of the painting, Leila signed her name. I was honored to receive such a generous keepsake.
I kept in touch with Leila and Vesta these past years. Although Leila’s eyesight had deteriorated badly she kept a photograph of me and my lawn mower near her bedside. Leila continued to believe that one day, I would drive out to Maine in my truck and take her back home to her little house in St Louis Park.
The email was short and meaningful. It read – “Hi, Marty. Leila died this afternoon. I think Leila’s body and spirit finally just wore out. She died very peacefully – just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Thank you again for your friendship to us through the years. It meant a great deal to Leila, who adored you. It meant a great deal to all of us who were not able to be close to her to know that you were next door, keeping an eye on her and helping with the things she was too frail to do on her own. Best wishes as you make your next life decisions.” Vesta
That closing remark about “next life decisions” albeit rather odd, really hit home with me. After 28 years in sales here with the same company, I have been wondering lately if what I am doing really matters? Perhaps I should consider partnering with a missions agency to do some “good work” overseas, whatever that may be.
Then, an email like this one comes along to remind me that my life has not been a series of haphazard accidents. No matter where I have been, I have had the opportunity of helping someone. That someone can be a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker, or total stranger. I need not think that there is some “better” place for me to be or people elsewhere more deserving of my time and talents. I am where I am meant to be.
I did cry this morning. I liked Leila. And, to hear someone tell me how much I meant to this elderly woman, was a bit emotional. It’s time for me to once again to look for the opportunities in “my world” where I can help to improve the life of someone else. I encourage everyone to look around them to see how they can help another. You’ll never know how much of an impact you can have in someone’s life unless you try.