Fort Custer National Cemetery

My husband and I visited the Fort Custer National Cemetery today.  We were impressed by the entrance to the cemetery.  All along the main road were rows and rows of flags.

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This Avenue of Flags was dedicated May 26, 1986. It is composed of 152 flagpoles located along the main road, and an additional 50 flagpoles arranged in a semi-circle at the head of the thoroughfare.  These flags are displayed from Easter through Veterans Day with 50 flags from the 50 different states are flown on special occasions.

Named after General George Armstrong Custer, a native of the state of Michigan, Camp Custer was built in 1917.  In response to mobilization for World War I 2,000 buildings were built to accommodate some 36,000 men.  After the end of the war, the camp was  transferred to the Veterans Bureau.  The Battle Creek Veterans Hospital was completed in 1924.

In 1943 Fort Custer Post Cemetery was established with the first burial.  Army rules at that time required officers and enlisted men to be buried in separate sections.  Today you will find Section A filled with graves of enlisted servicemen and in Section O the graves of officers.  Today there is no separation.

During World War II more than 5,000 German prisoners of war were held at the Fort.  The POW’s were used to supply farm labor because of a shortage of workers due to the war.  After the Germans departed back to their country, 26 Germans were left behind, buried in the Fort cemetery.  Sixteen were killed in a car accident and the others died from natural causes.

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Every year on Volkstrauertag, which occurs in November, the cemetery hosts a ceremony of remembrance for these 26 German soldiers.  Volkstrauertag is a day of mourning for Germans and honors their war veterans.

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The National Cemeteries Act of 1973 transferred the cemeteries from the Department of Army to the National Cemetery System, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In accordance with this Act, Congress created Fort Custer National Cemetery in September 1981.  The Fort Customer Military Reservation and the VA Medical Center all donated land for the cemetery.

We found the arrangement of the graves here different from any other national cemetery we have visited.  Instead of long row after row of white tombstones stretching out one after another, this cemetery is filled with areas of trees with sections of graves in between these groups of trees.  With the tombstones flat with the ground, it was almost like driving through a park with areas of trees and then open beautiful green grass areas.

A place of history, a place of honor, a beautiful place.

 

Mom, You Left Too Soon

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My mother, Fern, and me, Barbara Fern

 

In the last years of my mother’s life she lived in southern Illinois while I lived over 300 miles away in northern Illinois.  I worked a Monday-Friday job and my husband was a pastor which meant his job required work on the weekends.  Thus, it was hard to have a chance to get away for a few days to visit her.

We took some vacation time and made a visit three or four times a year.  When we drove in the driveway she was always standing at the door anticipating our arrival.  Every time we left she would stand on the porch and wave until we were out of sight.

Becoming interested in doing genealogy research on my family I began asking Mom and Dad to tell me more about their childhood.  On one of our last visits, they took my husband and I to the cemeteries where grandparents were buried, to the place where my mother grew up, to the school my dad attended as a small boy.  My husband took a videotape of our adventures that day.

In February 2006 my husband retired and I was so excited as that meant we would have weekends free to visit my parents.  Now I could visit more and begin writing down their stories and take pictures of places from their childhood.

So, early in April we sat out to visit my parents.  I knew Mother would be so happy to hear that I was going to be able to start coming down more and that I wanted to hear more about her childhood and her family.

My excitement soon turned to worry.  When we arrived I found my Mother in great pain.  She had made a doctor’s appointment for that afternoon.  I took her to the doctor expecting to hear that she had some “bug” that would require some medicine and rest.  All prepared to stay and help her recover, I was shocked when the doctor admitted her to the hospital for tests.

The first couple of days seem pretty routine and we had some great visits in her hospital room – just the two of us talking.  On the third day Mom took a turn for the worse and I called my two sisters to come.  Something was wrong – much more than routine.

Mom quickly went downhill as the days passed and it became clear she was not going to make it.  The time came when we had to make that dreaded decision.  Do we continue to do treatments that were clearly painful or do we let her die with dignity and in peace?  A tough decision.

A few days later Mom was gone.

Gone – before I got to write down those stories.

Gone – before I got to spend more time with her.

It has now been thirteen years since Mom left.  As I age myself I begin to understand her more.  I find myself doing and saying things to my children that she once did and said to me.  Often I see that my comments are not welcome.  I’m being bossy, old-fashion, interfering.  All the things I once thought about my mother.  Now I realize while she may have been (and I certainly am) bossy, old-fashion and interfering, her motives were one of love.

Gone – before I could say, “Mom I understand you now.”

Gone – before I could say, “Mom, I’m sorry.”

 

The Call We Didn’t Want – Can’t Forget!

It has been four years since we got that call – but the memory is still fresh in our minds.

After that phone call I stopped blogging for several months.  But finally, I realized that is not what Keith would have wanted.  Today – we still remember not just that terrible phone call – but we recall the memories we have.

For my husband the memories are multiple.  Keith was his first born.  Named Paul Keith he was known to all but the family as Paul – but to us he was Keith.

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Paul’s oldest son, Paul Keith Lane with his sister, Loretta

I did not meet Keith until a few months after I married his father.  Keith was 24 at that time.   Paul’s daughter, Loretta, was very ill and in the hospital.  Paul had flown down immediately to be with her.  I waited until our son, Will, could get home from college so we could fly down together.  At the Dallas airport I asked them to page Paul Lane to meet us at the main terminal.  I was quite surprised when Keith walked up and said “I’m Paul Lane.”  What a way to meet your step-son.

But step-son is not a word I like when talking of Keith.  I came to love him as my own and I’ll never forget the day he asked if he could call me “Mom.”  Memories of all the times he came to visit and the close relationship we were able to build are mine to treasure forever..  He loved to cook and when he would visit he always made the best potato salad in the world.

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We had a red bud tree planted near his grave in his memory.

 

Here is what I wrote when I began blogging again.

—————————————————-

Unexpected, Unwanted Call

I last posted on my blog in April. While we were on vacation, we got that unwanted, unexpected phone call in the night. A police officer called to tell us that our son had been found dead in his apartment. While we knew he was not in good health (a disabled veteran) and would probably not live to be an old man, we still did not expect to be planning his funeral. As my husband sadly said, “No one should bury their own child.” Yet, we know that many do – some burying their children at a much younger age than our son.

I stopped blogging

At times of great grief, your world seems to come to a halt. My husband and I are great Scrabble nuts as I shared before in

Confessionns of a Scrabble Addict  (https://barblaneblog.com/2015/02/22/confessions-of-a-scrabble-addict/) .

But suddenly we no longer wanted to play. It was as if continuing with our favorite game was somehow to make his death seem unimportant. Every time I sat down to blog, I could not decide on a subject. Should I continue to write about the silly, every-day part of my life. How could I do that when I’m supposed to be grieving? Should I continue to write on more serious subjects. I just did not have the heart for that. So – I stopped blogging.

But the world does NOT stop turning. 

But, even if we would like it to, the world does not stop turning.  Life goes on – and that is a good thing.  While we will always miss and grieve the loss of our son, we are so blessed with other children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  We do no service to his memory to stop loving life.

Let the games begin – the blogging continue

So – tonight we are going to play a game of Scrabble and I am returning to my writing.

 

When Will Daddy Stop Being Dead?

Yesterday it was 37 years since my first husband was killed in an accident.  He died when the car he was working on fell on top of him and crushed him.  My two young daughters came home from school and found him there.  Needless to say, it was quite a traumatic experience for them.

All of the events surrounding that day are forever entrenched in my mind.  But one memory that still haunts me occurred about six weeks after the funeral.

At the time of his death as I tried to comfort my daughters, my youngest daughter seemed not to really be upset or need any comforting.  As family and friends came in for the funeral she enjoyed playing with cousins and friends and appeared to have no sorrow for her father’s death.

At first I thought it was just shock but after the funeral was over and weeks began to pass she still shown no sign of any trauma or sorrow.

I began wondering what kind of daughter I was raising.

Finally, about six weeks later she came to me and asked a question I will never forget.

“Mommy, when will Daddy stop being dead and come home?”

Oh my!!!

It was then I realized what she had been thinking all this time.

A few months before his death he had injured his back and was in the hospital for almost two weeks.  At that time the hospital did not allow young children in the rooms so when I went to see him I would have them stand in the yard just outside his window.  He would come to the window and wave at them.

When he was discharged from the hospital we had a party!  The girls made a sign “Welcome home Daddy” and we hung it just over the door to the kitchen.  We had cake and ice cream and celebrated that Daddy was home with us once again.

At that moment, I realized my young daughter did not understand what “dead” meant.  She had apparently thought it was just another injury and that Daddy would be coming home again.

That moment was one of the hardest times of my life.

I sat her down and sadly had to tell her:

“Daddy is dead,  Dead means he will never come home again.”

I still remember her face!

Tears swelled up in her eyes and she fell into my arms and cried.  Clearly her heart was broken.

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No one can measure the trauma and pain both my daughters experienced because of their father’s accidental death.  Or the pain I felt seeing them hurting and feeling so inadequate for the task of helping them in this difficult time.

But one thing I learned – and I trust they did too.

Although death – or sometimes divorce or abandonment by a father – can leave us fatherless, we still have a heavenly father who loves and cares for us.

In the months and years ahead I have both experienced that heavenly father’s protection and love for me but also seen His help to my daughters.

I do not pretend to know why my daughters lost their earthly father but I thank God that we have a heavenly father who cares and who helps us when we walk through that valley of the shadow of death – or any other difficult time.

And I praise God that He has given both my daughters a family of their own to love and to have their love.

I also praise God that as a Christian I believe although that little girl’s daddy could not come back home to her – some day she will join him in the new home God has made for them both.

What a great reunion!

 

 

Christmas Past – Laughing Through the Tears

Recently I posted a blog on my memories of my favorite Christmas gift ever.  After posting that I have found myself awake in the middle of the night thinking of other Christmas memories.  Seems this first post has now led to more.

Christmas Past – My Best Christmas Present Ever

In my second post I shared how my future husband proposed to me on Christmas Day 1968.  We had thirteen wonderful years together and were blessed with two beautiful daughters.

One of the memories that came to me in the middle of the night was a Christmas that was lonely and difficult.  In March of 1982 my husband (whose proposal I wrote about in a previous post) was killed in an accident.

Christmas Past – I Said “Yes”

This was the first Christmas my young daughters and I spent without him.  Although it has been 36 years since that Christmas I can close my eyes and still feel the pain, the deep unspeakable sense of being alone.

But along with these sad thoughts comes one that makes me smile.

That year a friend had given my youngest daughter a book for Christmas that brought us some laughs.  Called the “Ugly Joke Book,” it had the usual jokes like:

  • Beauty is only skin deep …but ugly goes all the way to the bone!
  • I was such an ugly kid. When I played in the sandbox the cat kept covering me up.
  • You know you’re ugly when it comes to a group picture and they hand you the camera.

In this day of PC I suppose these jokes would not be appropriate to many.  That Christmas night, seeing the sad faces of my little girls, I was determined to not let their Christmas night end in terrible sadness.  Out came the book.  I had us all get in our pajamas, climb into bed and read the jokes.  Some of the jokes were funny, others not so much.  But I laughed at each one as if it was the funniest thing in the world.  After reading the book and staying up way past their bed time, I laid with them asleep in my arms and thanked God that in the midst of sorrow, if we look for it, we can also find joy.

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We had spent Christmas Eve with our extended family.  We were made so sad because during the entire day no one said anything about our husband/father.  It was as if he had never existed; as if his absence was of no importance to anyone.  Before returning home, I expressed my hurt to my older sister.

I think I made her cry as she explained they had all agreed not to mention his name because they were afraid of causing us pain.  They thought they were doing the kind thing.  Sadly they had not.

So – if you have family or friends who have lost a loved one this year – or really any time in the past – don’t be afraid to mention them.  Say how you miss them.  Share memories you have of them.

God has blessed us and He brought a good man into our lives a few years after this Christmas and my daughters have married and have a family.  Our Christmas this year will not be lonely and we are happy.

But we will always remember this wonderful man that made that Christmas one to remember.  And in the midst of our celebration, our thoughts will remember dear, dear Lonnie Lott.

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Can I Get An Amen?

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Thank God for music!

I love music!  My best times of devotion are when I listen first to a praise song and sit and meditate on God’s presence before I pick up my Bible or my devotional book.  In times of great joy or great sorrow in my life I have often gone to my piano and played a song expressing that joy, that sorrow.

One of my favorite musical groups is Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  This morning listening to one of their songs, “So You Would Know,” once again my mind roamed back to all the times God has been there for me in times of great sorrow or tragedy.

Thank God for help in times of great need!

I have shared in other blogs many of those times God helped!

The Day That Changed My Life

Coincidence or An Act of God?

I’m thankful for those times when God’s presence and help were so needed – and He was there.  Those times when I was weak and He carried me.  Those nights when he wiped my tears away.  Those times when pain racked my body and He sent healing down to me.

When you walked on this problem
Didn’t I step right in on time
When you got weak along life’s journey
My angel carried you

When the pains were racking your body
Didn’t I send a healing down to you

How many days must I be a fence all around you
How many nights must I wipe your tears away
How many storms must I bring you safely through
For you to know just how much I love you

Thank God for the everyday blessings!

However, while I thank God for help in difficult times, sometimes I forget to thank Him for day-to-day blessings, the many things I take for granted.

Didn’t I wake you up this morning
Were you clothed in your right mind
Didn’t I put food on your able
Show UP! when your bills were due

So today I thank God

  • that I woke up this morning still in my “right mind.”  (And at my age, that is a blessing!)
  • that I was able to walk all by myself
  • that I was able to see the colorful fall trees
  • that I was able to hear as I watched the news and now as I listen to the music
  • that I had plenty of food to choose from for breakfast:  bagels, cereal, bacon and eggs
  • that I had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me fixed by my loving husband (and at our age, to still have my husband alive and well is a blessing!)
  • that I have a warm house and warm clothes as these fall days turn colder
  • that while I am not rich by any means, all my bills are paid
  • that I have clean, running water

And the list could go on and on.  Things I just take for granted.  Things that a majority of the world does not have.

Today can I get an Amen?

I want to encourage anyone who reads this to take a few minutes to think about all the things God has blessed you with.  And recognize how many times we complain about our very blessings.

  • We complain about our “busy” schedules instead of thanking God for the children we have or the friends we have that take up so much of our time.  That we have a house to clean or a grocery store and money to buy food for our family.
  • We complain about the weather instead of thanking God for the air conditioning and heating that makes life so comfortable on those hot or freezing cold days.
  • We complain about our jobs instead of thanking God that we have employment (if we are still young enough to work) OR
  • We complain about our aches and pains and loss of energy as we age in retirement instead of thanking God that we have lived long enough to be retired.

Thank God for the greatest gift of all!

But the greatest blessing in my life is not that He delivered me from cancer, He strengthened me when my husband died or all the material blessings He has given me.  The greatest blessing is that as a young child He helped me to see my need of Him and to understand how much He loves me.

When you were lost in sin and sorrow
I died to set you free
So you would know just how much I love you

Can I get an Amen?

Join with me in praising God today for His blessings – both the BIG ones in times of GREAT need but also the EVERY DAY blessings we take for granted.  And as you count your blessings, let it be a reminder of HOW MUCH GOD LOVES YOU!!!

 

The God Who Sees Me – Part 3

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Studying the names of God, I continue to reflect on the name Hagar, the Egyptian Slave of Abraham and Sarah, gave to God in her encounter with Him.  It was a moment of great despair and hopelessness for her.  Despair and hopelessness until she realized that God saw her and cared about her.

As I continue to think about this concept that God sees us, I continue to be reminded of times in my own life when things seemed hopeless, but then God reminded me that I was not alone, that He saw me and He cared.  I shared the first two times in my life – at ages 14 and 33 – when God revealed Himself to me so vividly in The God Who Sees Me – Part 1 and The God Who Sees Me – Part 2

Perhaps the greatest time God showed up for me was when I was fighting for my life in a battle with an aggressive cancer.  After a mastectomy, the surgeon apologized to me because he said he had to cut a lot more nerves under my arm than he wanted to, including the main nerve running through my underarm down my side.  He had found so many lymph nodes full of cancer and he wanted to make sure he got all of them so he cut away more than he preferred to do.  He said I would have more pain than normal, but he felt trying to save my life was more important than inflicting some pain.  I totally agreed with him.  I wanted to live.  If that meant some pain, so be it.

Meeting the cancer doctor for the first time he told me my cancer was a very aggressive type and far advanced.  The type of cancer they found would also not respond to any further treatment after chemotherapy and radiation.  His first words to me will never be forgotten.  He said:

The odds are not in your favor!

After undergoing 16 chemotherapy treatments with three different powerful drugs, I began a radiation treatment which would include 35 sessions radiating not only the chest area where the cancer had been removed, but my underarm, the left side of my neck and the left side of my upper back.  Because so many lymph nodes had been cancerous, the doctors wanted to radiate all the lymph nodes in that area of my body to make sure any cancer cells left were destroyed.

Starting the first radiation treatment I was already exhausted from almost nine months of chemotherapy.  Several hours on two different days were spent in the radiation department as they worked to set up the computer to deliver the radiation to all four parts of my body.  They had to be careful to avoid my heart and my lung as the cancer had been on my left side.  Then the day arrived to begin treatment.

As I entered the room where the treatment would be given, I saw a sign on the door “Danger!  Radiation!”.  The technicians helped me on the table, working to get my body placed in the exact position needed so the radiation rays would reach the right places.  They then left the room and the heavy door slammed shut.  I lay on the table in a very painful position and watched the big x-ray machine begin to descend toward my chest.  Feeling so frightened, I never felt so alone.

As tears ran down my cheeks, I cried out to God telling Him I felt so alone.  At that precise moment, the elevator music they had been playing stopped and a song from my childhood came over the sound system.

Yes, Jesus loves me!  The Bible tells me so!

The song was so comforting reminding me that I was not alone.  When the treatment was finished I thanked the technicians for playing that song.  They did not know what I was talking about.  The music they were playing was canned music already programmed and that song was not on the program.  They also said they did not hear that song.

But I heard it.  The God Who Sees Me – the God who saw Hagar – was there.  He saw me, heard my cry, He cared.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.