Category Archives: My Story

The Gift Of Mr. Loeppky

I was quite unaware of it at the time, but looking back over the years now, I realize I was fortunate as a teen to have two men to observe at close quarters. By their attitudes, their thinking, their lifestyle and values, each set an example that would play a determining role in shaping what I valued and how I would live. In many respects, they were virtual opposites. One showed me a path leading upward to constructive significance, the other showed me a path leading downward to unhappiness and futility.

The first was my father, the second was our next door neighbour, Mr. Loeppky. I loved my father and, although I certainly didn’t think in those terms at the time, I suppose I also loved Mr. Leoppky. To this day I place a high value on the time I spent with each of them.
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Mr. Loeppky lived almost next door to us. Only an empty lot separated our home from his. We referred to him as “the bachelor”. He was a bachelor not by choice but by divorce. His wife had divorced him many years before I got to know him. His fortunes had deteriorated badly since then and his home now was a two room shack, which he had constructed himself.

IMG_0280It was evident that no paintbrush had touched the exterior walls in many years. Inside it was equally rustic, with little more than a kitchen table, an old green fridge, a woodstove and an aged chest of drawers. There was no indoor washroom, but he did have cupboards and a sink with hot and cold water in the kitchen. A sheet hung in the doorway to the bedroom. His bathroom was a one-seater out house.

Mr. Loeppky’s surroundings had not always been so sparse. In his earlier, better days, he had owned and managed a successful GM dealership in a small prairie town. A skilled mechanic, he had at first done much of the service work himself, always as he volunteered to me one day, “with a flask in my back pocket.”

He was regarded as one of the elite in his community, a man people looked up to at least in part because of his business success. His home was one of the finest in the town. When I met people who had known him then, I noticed that they invariably spoke of him with a trace of awe, as someone they respected and admired.

Mr Leoppky had money , then, and he loved to party. In conversation he was engaging, and people clamoured to be around him.

Somewhere along the way a fondness for strong drink had apparently overtaken his earlier good judgment. His business acumen began to slip and his wife, possibly
aware that financial ruin might be approaching, entered into a romantic relationship with a local lawyer. Listening to him over more than half a dozen years, I concluded he had not understood the harm he was doing to his marriage and his family. He had not seen the divorce looming.

When I began visiting him as a teen, he had already lost everything, his wealth, good standing in his community, his family and also his sense of self esteem and respect. Still, even at age 65, there lingered about him more than a trace of his earlier good looks and outward refinement. But the total loss of his former life had exacted a bitter toll.

Even now I have only a vague understanding of why a 14 year old kid was drawn to visit this once proud, successful man, so completely fallen from his former high position and no longer esteemed by society. Possibly it was his doughnuts, and maybe his pies. He made them only occasionally, and I understand now that he may have continued to make them only because he knew I delighted in them. It is possible that I experienced some compassion for this lonely man whose only other visits were from a sister and brother-in-law who came now and then. He didn’t like his sister’s husband.

Sometimes when we were sitting at his kitchen table and he was talking, my lungs rebelled at the thought of taking in one more breath of the smoke from his cigarettes. I don’t think he ever consciously decided to tell me his life story. Certainly he didn’t take me back to the early years  and  lead me through a logical sequence of events to the present time. Rather, the story came out like pieces of a puzzle put in place over the years.

An episode or a bit of information might slip out when he had a bottle of gin on his table, after he had collected his pension cheque at the end of the month. While his trembling fingers rolled clumsy smokes from a fresh can of McDonald’s tobacco, his mind  slipped into the past. If he had doughnuts, he’d place the large tin can before me and say “eat.” Sometimes they were no longer fresh and his many cigarettes had tinged them with the flavor of tobacco  smoke. I ate them anyway. While he talked, I watched those faded blue eyes as they remembered scenes from a better time in his life.

In the end, his breathing became laboured and one day he said, “the doc told me I have lung cancer. Guess it won’t be long before the Grim Reaper comes to take me away.”  He continued to smoke.

Occasionally he still made a batch of doughnuts.  “I make them just for you,” he told me one day, turning away to cough into a large polka dotted handkerchief. Because he  had stopped eating the doughnuts  himself, they lasted even longer and I was increasingly aware of the taste of cigarette smoke.  I knew it was important to him, so even though they had lost their appeal, I continued to eat them. His cough had become harsh and frequent, and it troubled me.

In all the years he was our neighbor, his two daughters stopped in once for about 10 minutes on their way to an appointment. His son came for only one short visit. During his last year as he grew progressively weaker, his children never visited.

He passed away in spring and I notified his son.  My family organized a memorial service for him at the local funeral home. We had told our friends about Mr. Loeppky, and many of them came to join my parents and myself to bid him farewell. I was surprised and pleased when the son and two daughters arrived.

At the end of the memorial service, his son came to me and asked, “do you know what my father died of?”

When I could slip out I walked around to the back of the funeral home, because a deep sadness was overwhelming my emotions. My friend Henry, a local photographer was already there,shedding his own tears. I had introduced him to Mr. Loeppky in the last year of his life.

Even before Mr. Loeppky passed away, I had already begun to understand that I didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of this man I had come to care about deeply. Standing beside Henry now, I knew I must do everything possible to ensure that my life would not end in despair and futility. It was Mr. Loeppky’s gift to me.

Words To My Dying Father

When I went in to see Dad Tuesday evening, I could not be sure he knew who I was.  He simply looked at me without expression in his eyes or on his face.  He didn’t speak.  My attempts to engage him in conversation were fruitless.  He drifted in and out of sleep several times.

After watching him sleep for about an hour, I decided to talk to him, in the hope that his subconscious might absorb something of my words.  In essence I said, “Dad, you have been a good Dad to me and to Vi and Linda.  You have been a wonderful example of how to live a good life, a life of integrity.  You have been a mentor to us and our children.  You have also been an example to our friends.” (I have many times repeated to him the positive comments made about him by my friends.)

“You have also been an example to your brothers and sisters.  I can tell that they have a tremendous respect for you.  What you have sought to accomplish with your life will be carried on, even though you can no longer do it yourself.  You have done your part.  Now it’s up to us to continue your work.”

When I ceased speaking I thought there was a flicker of a response in his expression, as though he was accepting what I had said.  I prayed audibly for him then, and again he seemed to acknowledge the prayer.

As I sat at his bedside that evening, I wondered if we would lose him that night.  His breathing was loud and he fairly regularly pretty much stopped breathing (I think this is called chain stoking).  It seemed that his life force had been spent and there was little left to sustain him.  I left when it seemed he had drifted off for the night.

Amazingly, Gail came in to an entirely different person the next morning.  He wanted to talk and recounted several incidents from his past.  He remembered having gone to a street corner in a rundown area of Vancouver to do music with Nick Klassen.  One of the songs they had sung there came to his mind and now he and Gail sang it.

At one point in their discussion, he asked “what does a man have left?”  He didn’t provide an explanation of the question, but I wondered if it indicated an awareness that the number of his days is dwindling.

In response to his question my mind went back to the morning when he went out to his machine feeling deeply disquieted by a longstanding misunderstanding between two men in the Mennonite church he attended.   They had not spoken to each other for some time.  Dad started his machine and let it warm up.

He had no peace,however, and so he shut it down and drove to the home of one of the men, in the hope of persuading him to seek a reconciliation.  When the man realized that Dad was willing to sacrifice to achieve a reconciliation, he agreed to go with him to find the other man.  That morning the problem between them was dealt with and they were again brothers.

Increasingly, I’m finding that I want people to know about Dad’s values and how they directed his thoughts and actions.  Having been positively impacted myself by his life, I feel a responsibility and desire to speak and write about how he has lived, in the hope that possibly others will benefit.

He said to me this week, “I want to carry on.”  It seems he still has reason to live and inspite of his hurting body and the dire predictions of the nurses, he is pressing on. His desire to live is giving a (limited) measure of strength to his body. He is sleeping a lot, but when he is awake he is alert and completely aware. Will he last until Christmas?

 

His Example Still Speaks

It is a fascinating experience and a privilege to watch my 95 year old father trending downwards. When I talk with my sisters, Vi and Linda, I realize that each of us is going through a precious and unique time with him. And each of us is increasingly impacted as we understand somewhat more completely who he is.

In his almost 6 years at Menno Hospital, we could say that he has a number of times teased the nurses and care aides, leading them to believe he was about to draw his last breath, and then reviving to virtually his former self. When he was in bed or in a Broda chair continuously for about two months, unable to speak above a whisper, he really was not expected to come back. But he did, and I can only conclude that his physical reserves have been quite extraordinary.

Now it seems that the battles of the last 5 years, including the prostate cancer and the various drugs, have depleted the reserves to a dangerous level. His PSA count is pretty much out of sight, his haemoglobin levels are low etc., his voice is again weak, he has little appetite, and he tires quickly.

Even so, he is still interested in the world around him, including American politics. Recently he asked me “What is Obama doing?” I need to pay more attention to what is happening on the other side of the 49th parallel so I can answer his questions.

He also asks about our families, especially our spouses. His frequent question to me is, “what is Linda doing today?”

Quite often when he appears very weary and is asked if he wants to go back to bed, he says, “I don’t know.” My sister Linda tried to sort out what he was thinking and he finally said, “I don’t want to waste my time.” This seems to suggest that he knows the number of days left to him is shrinking more rapidly than he would want.

On Sunday Vi brought her daughter Nicola and her boyfriend Adam to visit Dad. Adam, a PHd student in mathematics at UBC had not met Dad or the rest of the family before this. When we asked him about his studies, Dad became quite interested and asked a number of questions. It was evident he has not let go.

Yesterday he said to me, “what shall I do?” When I asked him what he had in mind he began talking about work. He thought he shouldn’t just be sitting in his bed. He should be accomplishing something. I reminded him of how hard he had worked as an equipment operator, the courses he had taken in night school, his involvement with his family and church. Then he said, “I guess it’s alright if I just sit here.”

Our friend Gail continues to do breakfast with him on week days. She has recently finished reading ”The Epicentre” to him, a book about the Middle East. It is pretty involved and requires some understanding of politics. He stayed with her mentally throughout the book.

Dad is used to being active and useful physically. He has always reached out to people, whether it was in his church, in the community, or until recently at Menno Hospital. The challenge for him now is to accept the fact that he can no longer make a difference in the lives of others.

I speak to him sometimes of the impact he has had, and still has, on the care aides. He has always shown an interest in them when they come into his room to wake him and get him ready for the day. Many times they have expressed their caring and respect for him when we talk with them.

I’ve been surprised at times when people at Menno Hospital who I don’t know address me by name and obviously know who I am. This includes both visitors and workers. I’ve come to understand that because everyone knows Jacob, many people also know me. Often complete strangers ask me how my Dad is doing.

Dad still says “I like to live.” He does not speak of dying, although recently he said to me “I miss Ann.” (my mom). I would like to know more of what is going on behind the scenes in his mind but I only get small snatches these days.

Much of the time he is uncomfortable physically, frequently he has pain in his back. It really is not a good time in the life of a once strong man who still wants to push onward,inspite of being totally dependent on others for every physical need.

I realize that in writing this, I’m attempting to more fully understand who my Dad has become. I’ve observed him as a father, as a skilled heavy equipment operator, as an active member of his church and community, and now as a man whose life is trending downward.

I really cannot adequately describe who he has become. I do know though that although his voice is very quiet, his example still speaks to those around him.