Chapter 20–Our Journey Ends

In Spiritual Stories by Gary



The journey for Maxine and I began on February 7, 1962 and ended on June 4, 2005.  This is the story of how our forty three years of togetherness ended.

Our Journey Ends 

Maxine Horness and I began our journey together on February 7th of 1962 during our senior year of high school.  On that day I asked her for a date for a Valentines dance. Later I would learn she had been working for six months to get my attention.  Within two weeks I had given her my high school class ring.  We were “going steady.”  In June she accepted my proposal for marriage.  We were married on June 12, 1965.  Our journey together would lasted more than 43 years.  It was a wonderful experience as we learned to live life together.  We raised 4 children to be responsible citizens and had many adventures together.  Our journey on Earth ended on June 4th of 2005 when Maxine died after a short battle with cancer.

I retired from Deere in December of 2001 and in February I took a part time job. That job was expected to last for six months.  Maxine continued to work as a nurse.  We did a large remodeling project between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003.  The project provided a large family room and a large garage for use in our retirement.  Maxine designed the family room and I designed the garage.

At one time I wanted to retire to Prescott, AZ.  It took me five years to get Maxine’s answer to change from “hell no” to “no”.  After our daughter Kim was killed in June of 2000 neither of us had an interest in retiring to Prescott.  We decided to invest in our retirement by doing a major addition to our home in Hudson.  Maxine designed the family room for dual capability. If necessary, it could be easily converted to a bedroom in case we couldn’t climb the steps to the upstairs at some time in the future.  So we settled into the work of landscaping and other details to complete the remodeling.

Maxine retired from nursing in March of 2004. She had planned to retire in May.  She retired early because it was next to impossible for her to get an extra weekend off.  She wanted to attend the family reunion that year.  Retiring was the only way she could get the weekend off, so she did.

We went to the reunion in March and in June we went on a 16 day trip to Alaska.  We went with Rita and John Wagstaff, long time friends.  Maxine and Rita had been girlfriends since first grade.  Rita’s mom Peg had been a second mother to Maxine and then to me.  The Alaska trip was spectacular.  We flew to Anchorage to start the trip and flew home from Vancouver, BC.  The journey involved trains, buses, river boats, and a cruise ship.  It was the first time I had really seen Maxine happy since Kim was killed.

My six month part time job had now turned into more than 3 years.  I could be very flexible in my schedule.  Maxine and I had taken time off to travel on short trips and long trips.  All seemed to be right with us.  The remodeling had positioned us for retirement and the future looked bright.  All that changed in the spring of 2005.

In July of 2004, Maxine’s younger brother Virgil had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.  The chemo treatments were not very effective and he died in February of 2005. Three weeks later, Maxine was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.  Maxine’s right shoulder had been sore for about a month.  That was nothing new.  Periodically the shoulder gave her problems.  It was a repetitive problem from lifting patients.  A shot of cortisone had always taken care of the problem.  Maxine made an appointment to see the doctor. She got the shot and the shoulder started to feel better.

As the back of the shoulder started to feel better, the front started to hurt, and hurt significantly.  When Maxine complained of pain, you knew there was a problem.  The doctor ordered a liver scan.  The doctor wanted to check for side effects from Maxine’s blood pressure medication.  The liver scan showed a growth on the liver.  It was possible the growth was cancerous.  A chest and abdominal scan was ordered and was completed a few days later.  A week went by and we had not gotten the results.  Maxine had a terrible cold and cough.  She started to cough up blood.  We made a Saturday trip to the emergency room.

Maxine told the on-call doctor about the scan. The doctor was upset that she had not gotten the results.  He did some investigation and said we would hear from somebody on Monday.  Maxine got some medication for the cough and we went home.

On Monday we were told the results would be ready by Tuesday.  Tuesday afternoon Maxine called me at work.  It was cancer.  We cried.  I closed up my tool box and went home. That was the last day I would work.

The results showed two baseball sized tumors.  One on the liver and one in the right lung.  We were given an appointment at the cancer treatment center.

We sat in the waiting room of the cancer treatment center waiting for our appointment. We sat silently, trying to be optimistic.  We watched people come and go.  Suddenly we recognized a fellow firefighter, his wife, and their daughters entering the waiting room. Unexpectedly meeting friends in the waiting room of a cancer treatment center was stress for all of us.  All of us sat there in shock.  We agreed not to tell anyone we were there until each of us found out our prognosis.  That unexpected meeting was stress upon stress.

After a short wait, Maxine and I were directed to an exam room.  The doctor explained more tests were necessary before chemo treatment could start.  A test to determine if the lung tumor was in the lungs or the brachial tubes would be needed.  The choice of the appropriate chemo drug required knowledge of the exact location of the tumor.  Before we left, we scheduled another appointment one week later.  Early the next week, the additional test was conducted.  When we returned to the cancer treatment center we would learn the tumor was in the lung.

On the morning of the next appointment, Maxine’s face had started to swell.  It was not a great amount but it was noticeable.  I didn’t think too much about it.  I just chalked it up to the stress of her knowing she had lung cancer.   Based on our life experiences, both of us knew that lung cancer is always terminal.  There is no recovery.  Virgil had seven months from diagnosis to death.  We expected about the same.  The doctor told us the cancer was stage 4 and very advanced.  The options for chemo were limited. There was only a 35% chance the chemo would be effective.  The doctor explained the swelling in Maxine’s face.  The tumor in the lung surrounded the vena cava blood vessel and was compressing the vessel.  Blood pumped to the head could not easily return to the heart.  Our EMT experience and Maxine’s nursing experience told us this was a very serious condition.

After Virgil was diagnosed, Maxine and I had several discussions about cancer treatment.  We agreed an acceptable option was not to have chemo treatment, or any treatment.  We agreed the decision of chemo or no chemo was solely up to the person who had cancer.  On this day, we were thankful we had those discussions.

The doctor told Maxine she did not have time to wait for the normal pre-chemo therapy that takes a week to complete.  If she wanted to do chemo, she needed to start now. We were left alone for a few minutes to reach a decision.  In the exam room we sat across from each other.  We looked into each others eyes.  After 43 years together, we could silently communicate our love for each other.  I told Maxine I would support which ever option she wanted.  She decided to do the chemo.

She told the doctor her decision and he marched her across the hall.  She sat down in a chemo treatment chair.  The nurse sat down and laid down a handful of syringes.  She saw the shock on our faces.  She explained how normal pre-chemo therapy worked and what was going to happen today.  Essentially Maxine would get a weeks worth of pretreatment in the next 15 minutes.  She would also have to go to the hospital tomorrow and get a shot to strengthen her blood count.  The treatment room was not big enough for visitors.  I returned to the waiting room as the chemo treatment was administered.  Two hours later we left the treatment center.

Maxine was a very determined person.  She always kept her chin up.  She did not let things like cancer interfere with her desire to live life.  Our grandson Garron had come to visit us on Thursday.  Locally there was a display of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Maxine and I were taking Garron to see the display.  So after Maxine received the chemo treatment, we went home, picked up Garron and went to the dinosaur display.  I took many pictures of Maxine and Garron viewing the fascinating dinosaur.

The next week we ordered our headstone.  We had intended to complete this task shortly after Kim’s headstone was placed but never quite got it done.  Maxine and I set down at my desk to look for a Bible verse to be engraved on the headstone.  From Kim’s death and funeral, verses from Ecclesiastes were important to us.  We reviewed them.  I reviewed verses I had highlighted in my Bible and Maxine did the same from her Bible.  We each picked a couple of favorites.  We cried together as we read the verses.  We finally chose her favorite verse, Corinthians 13:13, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”  Maxine lived her life by this verse.  Her faith was strong, she always had hope, and her love was unconditional. I find it ironic that Corinthians 13:13 was the favorite verse of a girl born on Friday the 13th.

To get the headstone we went to Nevada, my home town and where we graduated from high school.   After Kim’s funeral, a series of events created by the Holy Spirit connected us to the Nevada Monument Company.  Kim worked with the daughter of the couple that owned the monument company.  Kim had been to their home several times. They had offered to help us create a headstone for Kim.  We accepted their offer. Together we were able to create an elegant but reasonably priced headstone for Kim. She would have been proud of it.

It was raining when we got to Nevada.  We looked at some black headstones that would match Kim’s stone.  I gave Maxine the umbrella and she walked the display area and picked the headstone.  It was a tearful event for both of us.  I can only imagine the thoughts in her head as she chose the headstone knowing she only had a short time to live.  Ordering the headstone was an emotionally draining event for both of us, but we were happy we could do it together.

The next appointment at the cancer treatment center was a week after the first treatment.  This appointment was for a blood test.  The test showed Maxine was doing well and on schedule for the next chemo treatment in two weeks.

The next activity was for Maxine to order a wig.  She had already made some inquiries at the beauty shop.  Maxine never spent extravagantly.  She had chosen the wig but wanted my assurance it wasn’t too much to spend.  The cost wasn’t nearly as much as I expected.  She ordered the wig.  When the wig came, it fit her well and was a match for her natural hair.  She looked great in the wig.

In early April, the Hoya plant above the kitchen sink was blooming with multiple blooms. A first time event.  A slip to start the plant had been give to Maxine 38 years ago. Peg Reinhart, Maxine’s second mom and then my second mom, had given the slip to Maxine.  It was a gift on the event of the first birthday of our first child.  The plant was known to bloom only every few years.  Maxine only recalled one bloom about every eight to ten years.  She was in the kitchen and I was in my office when she called with excitement to bring the camera.  She said, “Look my plant has 3 blooms on it, please take some pictures.”   The pictures were taken and she explained the rarity of the blooms.

The plant continued to bloom in the days that followed.  There were seven blossoms in all.  What a rare and unusual event we thought.  Later I would come to understand the blossoms were a sign from Peg.  A sign that she was with us during this tragic time in our lives.  There were many times during her treatment that Max and I felt alone.  However, the spirit of our second mother, Peg, was surrounding us with blossoms and her love.  She was sent by the Holy Spirit to provide a smile and joy in the midst of cancer treatment.

The next chemo treatment was given on schedule.  A few days later, the side effects started to occur.  Medications to counteract the side effects were available and Maxine obtained them.  As the number of side effects increased so did the medications.  We had been given a list of possible side effects.  Maxine decided the side effects were not a question of if but when.  Every side effect on the list was starting to occur.

Maxine’s chemo treatments were on Friday.  She felt okay on Saturday and sometimes Sunday.  On Monday and Tuesday she would be wiped out.  She would start to recover on Wednesday and by Friday could usually be up and around.  By now, Maxine’s sister Hazel had come to stay with us.  We were both grateful Hazel could be with us. Maxine’s best friend Brenda would stop in from time to time to visit with Maxine.  Maxine and Brenda were essentially sisters.  I usually left them alone so they could have their “sister time.”

The second blood test after the second chemo treatment showed the blood levels to be low.  The third chemo treatment would not happen on schedule.  Maxine needed more time to recover and build up her blood.  Another body scan was scheduled to check on the progress of the chemo treatment.  The chemo had some effect on the lung tumor but not a great deal.  The liver tumor had grown significantly.  The small amount of optimism we had left, evaporated.

The Wednesday before Memorial Day, Maxine awoke with a significantly swollen face. We called the cancer treatment center and got an appointment that morning.  The chemo doctor examined Maxine.  The chest tumor was compressing the vena cava and an urgent intervention was needed.  He left the room to consult with another doctor.

He arranged for an emergency radiation treatment.  Maxine and I walked down the hall to the radiation department.  The radiation doctor talked with us and she told us what needed to happen.  Because of the seriousness of the situation and the upcoming holiday, the normal schedule for radiation treatment would be revised.  Maxine was immediately taken to a room to map out the location of the tumors.

The radiation doctor told us to go eat lunch and return in two hours.  While we were gone, the mapping would be used to prepare the radiation treatment.  The radiation would be given in very high doses today,  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The next week, lower doses would be given Tuesday through Friday to complete the series.  By the end of the series, Maxine’s body would absorbed all the radiation that could be given.  More radiation treatments would not be scheduled.  Again, the side effects of radiation treatment were reviewed with us.  Several things of the list were new.

Maxine and I knew more about chemo treatment than radiation. We were unprepared for how much strength would be taken from her body by the radiation.  Maxine had insisted she wanted to go fishing the Wednesday after Memorial Day.  She seemed too weak.  On Friday after the third high dosage treatment, Maxine was very tired. The three day Memorial Day weekend would give her time to recover and gain strength.  By Sunday the swelling in the face was beginning to go down.  By Tuesday morning Maxine was looking much better as we went to the next radiation treatment, but she was still very weak.

Understanding Maxine’s determination, Hazel and I were not about to tell her she couldn’t go fishing.  To keep her spirits up I worked on the boat and got it ready.  Both of us kept telling Maxine the weather was supposed to be okay.  She could go fishing if she wanted to.  On Wednesday morning before we went to radiation treatment, Maxine looked at us and said, “I don’t think I can go fishing.”  It was both a relief and a heartbreak.  It was a relief because of our concern the fishing trip would be very difficult for her.  It was a heartbreak because she was getting so weak that she had to give up her desire to go fishing.  There were very few times in Max’s life she could not muster the physical and emotional strength required to overcome an illness or an injury.

After the last treatment on Friday morning, I had to help Maxine walk from the truck to the steps in the garage.  I had to help her up the steps and into her recliner.  Shortly she moved to the couch to lay down and sleep.  She was in pain and had taken a pain pill.  The pain pill was not effective.  The doctor was contacted and he prescribed a pain patch.  I got the patch from the pharmacy and placed it on her abdomen where the pain was the highest.

In the late afternoon, Brenda stopped by.  Maxine was in pain and Brenda said we needed to go to the hospital for break through pain control.  It was not necessary for Maxine to be in so much pain.  I was unaware of break through pain control.  As we discussed the situation, Maxine sat up on the davenport and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”  We knew the pain was more than serious.  We called the doctor and took Maxine to the emergency room.

The hospital started IV’s of pain medication.  In an hour or so, Maxine was looking much better and not grimacing in pain.  The nurse asked Maxine to describe the pain on the 1-10 scale.  She described the pain as an 8.  We were shocked.  At this point, we knew Maxine had been fibbing to us about the severity of the pain over the last few weeks. But that was her way.  She endured without complaining.  Her biggest concern through this cancer treatment was that we would have to watch her go through it.  She was always more concerned about others than she was about herself.

Maxine was admitted to the hospital and moved to a room.  The room number was 413. The room number sent chills down my spine.  I’m superstitious about the number 13.  I rationalized.  It will be okay.  Maxine was born on the 13th and my favorite number is 4. It’s silly to be superstitious.

Later that night, I decided to go home and get some sleep.  Hazel and Brenda stayed all night with Maxine.  The next morning Maxine was looking much better.  She was sitting up in bed acting like her old self.  A social worker came in and talked to us about hospice care.  Maxine and I had already discussed hospice and planned to use hospice care.  On Monday we would contact the Cedar Valley Hospice. About three in the afternoon the chemo doctor came in and checked Maxine.  All things considered, she was doing okay.  We made an appointment for Monday morning to try a new chemo pill. The chance of success was 2%.  We were not holding out hope for such a small chance.  We thought we probably had a few weeks left together.

In the late afternoon Hazel and I went home to have supper.  As we were eating, Brenda called and said Maxine was not doing well.  I should return to the hospital. I returned to the hospital.  When I got there I could tell Brenda was really worried. She lifted the sheet and said, “ Maxine’s legs are starting to mottle.”  I knew this was the end.  I was shocked.  I was so glad Brenda had remained.  I was also glad she was keeping her wits about her.  This sudden change was so unexpected.  I was in shock.  Just a few hours earlier we made an appointment for Monday and talked of a new chemo treatment.

Brenda was shocked I didn’t bring Hazel.  I had not understood how serious the situation was.  Brenda called her mother and arranged for Hazel to be driven to the hospital.  We realized Maxine is going downhill fast.

We used a cell phone to call the kids.  We told them mom had taken a turn for the worse and might not make it until tomorrow.  We were able to get Garrett and Karmin to talk with her on the phone and say goodbye.  As soon as I told Galen, he said they were on the way to the hospital.  It is a two hour drive.

A severe thunderstorm was raging outside.  Thunder boomed and lightening flashed.  A tornado warning was issued and the nurses closed the curtains and shut the door to the room.  They said if a tornado was sighted we would have to evacuate the room.  I told Max about the thunderstorm.  I told her it was just like the terrible thunderstorm we had the night we graduated from high school.

I called my “adopted sister” and best friend Eileen.  She had instructed me to call her when the end was near.  I tried her home, no answer.  I tried her cell phone but no answer.  I needed to hear her voice.  The world as I knew it was about the end.  I was scared.  After a while she called my cell.  She was in the boundary waters on a canoe trip with her family.  The Holy Spirit had connected us.  We shared tears over the cell phones.  The compassion in her voice gave me strength.  Sisters are amazing.

Maxine was getting groggy and less responsive.  Hazel, Brenda, and I all took turns holding Maxine’s hand.  We each told her we were with her and we loved her.  We told her Galen’s family was on the way and to hold on.  I knew from EMT training and reading about death that hearing remains until last.  We encouraged Maxine to hang on and Galen’s were on the way.

I whispered in Maxine’s ear that it was okay to go.  Together we had learned that from watching the TV show Crossing Over with John Edward.  Often dying people try to hang on and hang on when others are around them.  Then they die when left alone.  Maxine and I had talked of this before the cancer.  We decided that when it’s time, it’s time, and we would tell the other it was okay to go.  So I told her, several times.

Maxine became unresponsive to the point she could no longer speak but we knew she was still with us.  We continued to talk to her, encourage her, and tell her that Galen’s were on the way.  Maxine’s breathing became labored.  I will always believe that Kim’s spirit was with Maxine.  Kim’s spirit was encouraging her mother to persevere.  Kim, like her mother, was determined.  About 10:30, Galen and his family arrived.  Maxine could not respond verbally but tears ran down her cheeks.  She could hear each of us.  She was aware we were all there.  We all took turns telling her we loved her.  Her breathing continued to slow.  Everyone said their goodbyes and about 10:55 Maxine’s soul returned to God.

It was just like she went to sleep in her recliner.  Slowly her head just lowered to her chest as we had seen her do so often in her recliner.  Her breathing stopped.  There was no last gasp for air like we had heard so many stories about.  We were grateful for that.  Maxine was always a gracious lady and she died graciously.

Her cancer was just 10 weeks from diagnosis to death.  So rapid.  The time was just a blur.  She did not want a drawn out suffering.  We did not want to see her suffer.  Her death just ripped out our hearts.

Hindsight would tell us the Holy Spirit had acted to get all of us together to be with Maxine.  To be with her as her earthly live ended and her heavenly life began.  The chain of events and the people involved could only be the work of the Holy Spirit.

As time went on and our grief began to heal, we were all very thankful for the events that happened during her diagnosis, treatment, and death.  The Holy Spirit was guiding all of us.  It was not a coincidence that certain people showed up at certain times and brought comfort to us.  That people from many religious denominations were praying for us.  That Brenda’s wisdom led us out of the confusion of pain to the emergency room.  That Brenda, Hazel, and I were together with Maxine during her treatment and her death.  That Brenda, Hazel, and I were able to draw so much from each other because none of us could have handled Maxine’s diagnosis, treatment, and death by ourselves. That circumstances would guide us to Pastor Victoria for Maxine’s funeral.

So after more than 43 wonderful years the earthly journey of Maxine and I ended.  The earthly journey ended but our love for each other will remain forever.  Only God knows when our spirits will be reunited in the next life.  So I write stories and continue my earthly journey with patient endurance.





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