Sunday, May 29, 2016

For Memorial Day - "Live this day - A Birthday Book of questions & reflections" - by Penny Andersen on November 25, 2014.

"Live this day - A Birthday Book of questions & reflections of Penny Sue Andersen on 11/25/2014".

Editors note: **Please note that everything is written as she wrote it - grammatically and as she punctuated. This is Penny's gift to her friends, family, strangers she never met, and the world (and especially to a little one just born after Penny passed - Meira Penny Zurawski - who now has a guardian angel - her grandmother "Penny".) **

Question - "What is the best gift you've ever been given?"

  • Friendship: The unconditional love of my friends, mostly my best friend Michelle, and my best friend in Christ.
  • My 2 children: Both gifts from God.

  • My Husband: My true love.

  • My life: I have been blessed with God's healing many times:
    • 2 fevers of 108 degrees (1992 & 1993)
    • Being shot in the arm (2001)
    • Bladder cancer (2012)
    • Septic shock (2012)

  • My sisters & brothers in Christ:
  • Fox Valley Church - is my church home & my family. I've never been loved in my life like they love me. Pastor Tom & Pastor Adam have given me the education to understand and apply God's scripture into my life. My small group ladies! Brad Payne, Gail Blair, Linda Halka, Jeff Madsen, & Donna Nardulli also walked with me in my journey in growing in love with Jesus, & learning how to follow Jesus.
  • God's Promise:  John 3:16
    • For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Whoever believes in me shall not perish, but have ever lasting life.
  • Too many gifts to have a favorite.
Question - "What was the biggest surprise you've encountered this year?"
  • Being told that I was Cancer free in June, 2014 and again Sept 26, 2014.

Question - "What makes life fun for you?"
  • My small groups! We all have so much fun when we have socials or go on trips together, or just going out to lunch or shopping together.
  • I love spending time with my girlfriends from school. Our birthdays, social occasions, , going to the movies.

  • My Dogs - Love my girls.

  • The times I have alone with my children are very special to me, I keep those moments close to my heart.
Question - "What would be a perfect day look like,  from morning to night?"
  • Waking up next to my husband rubbing my back. Talking while in bed. Him making me breakfast (he hasn't done that in a long time). The going antique shopping with him and my son - maybe even Sondra too! A nice lunch in a cute cafe, seeing a Movie. Then a date night with my husband - out dancing, maybe some darts, a drink or two - then home for private time in our bedroom - Real love making with lots of passion. Falling asleep in his arms. Yeah this would be so nice.  Editors note: **A last comment has been redacted as it is too private to share on a blog** ;-)
  • Would also be nice if he stopped at a flower shop and actually bought me some nice flowers - like at spare of a moment. He's NEVER done that. Editors note: **He actually did, on the first anniversary.... but he'll let that one slide.** ;-)
  • Or a second perfect day would be waking up watching my husband go to work, kissing me goodbye. He comes home early to surprise me with flowers and plane tickets to the tropics for a week or maybe to take us all to Walt Disney. Ha ha... only in my dreams!! =) Editors note: **We actually had started to plan on that tropical vacation AND going to Walt Disney world this autumn (for our 25th wedding anniversary - when it became clear our financial situation was going to improve). Our last week was spent starting that planning (and she was so incredibly excited). She was even secretly planning on flying me to see our daughter and grandchildren in Phoenix (and coordinating this with Brandie). Alas, that was not to be as Brandie and Kaden came to Penny's funeral instead.**

Question - "How would you describe yourself?"
  • Sweet, giving, easy going, flirtatious at times, romantic, stationary, not good with change. A country bumkin', fun, spontaneous, crafty, homemaker, loving, forgiving, but most of all I love unconditionally. I'm sensitive, get along with most anyone, I'm active, can't sit very long. I love Jesus, believe in family traditions, value family, respect my friends. I can be crabby, I'm an introvert most of the time. Love making oothers happy, I try to be there for you in times of need. Don't like asking for help, but learning too. I like to do things myself, my way. I expect to be treated the way I treat you. I'm considerate to others, I would starve so my family can eat. I love my pets, they are like children to me.    
  • I'm compassionate, and have been told I have a "minx" in me - but at the end of the day I will always love you - no matter how good or bad things are.

  • I always try to smile, to be positive, to trust God and when I'm really down in the dumps - God is my salvation - my best friend - I pray, I talk to God, I ask Him for help and healing and guidance. And always thank Him for all of his blessings. my favorite thing I love about every day is the Artist God is - not a day goes by I don't notice his canvas - the trees, flowers, birds, clouds, rail, snow, sun - especially the sunsets, and the wind in my hair.

Question - "What is your heart's desire at this very moment?"
  • To feel loved, to feel good about myself, to have security again.

Question - "What dream have you had since childhood?"
  • I remember wanting everything "Barbie" had. The big house, the convertible, a pool, lots of kids, especially 10 kids!! Haha... The perfect man - "Ken", lots of money so we can go on vacations, a boat, the RV, and a dog.
  • In High School I wanted to be a children's cerebral palsy therapist after a very good book I read.
  • Then when I met my first boyfriend Michael Rice, I wanted to get married & have 10 kids. LOL!!! What was I thinkin'?
  • I also wanted my Mom & Dad to get back together again. =( 
Question - "What are you obsessed with right now?"
  • What I look like, my weight.
  • And organization in my home.

Question - "What do you consider to be your defining personality traits?"
  • Giving
  • Compassionate
  • Sensitive
  • Loving

Question - "What are you most grateful for?"
  • Being alive.
  • Being a Christian.
  • Family.
  • Friends.

Question - "Where is your sanctuary"?:
  • With Jesus.
  • On a beach.
  • or in a Craft Store. =)

Question - "What do you look for in a friend?"
  • Loyalty
  • Trust
  • Dependability.
  • Unconditional Love.
  • Honesty.

Question - "What do you love about yourself?"
  • I love that God gave me a loving heart, that I am kind and giving, that I am forgiving, and that I get along with almost anyone.

Question - "What is your personal motto?"
  • Treat others the way you expect to be treated.
Question - "What would you tell your younger self?"
  • Trust Jesus!
  • Don't have sex until marriage.
  • Respect yourself, - (Self Respect).
  • Don't try so hard to please others, I matter too!!
  • Tell if anyone touches you on your private places.
  • Don't worry about what people think - in 20 years they won't even remember you!!
  • You're pretty and you don't need to be like the other girls!
  • Beauty is what's inside, the outside is just a "book cover".
  • You can achieve it if you really want it, never give up.

Question - "What would you tell the person you'll be one year from today?"
  • Because you had faith, and believed in yourself is why you achieved your goals!!
  • You made a decision - you followed thru.
  • I'm proud of you! =)
  • Editors note: **Her goal was to beat Cancer. She did. She made it a point in her last year of life that she needed to make decisions and then follow through. She did that and SO much more. I'm VERY proud of her!!!** =)
Question - "What is the best advice you were ever given?"
  • Trust Jesus.

Question - "What do you want to spend more time doing?"
  • Following Jesus.
  • Getting to Know God.
  • Self improvement.
Question - "What will you do differently this year?"
  • Take care of myself.
  • Eat better nutrition.
  • Concentrate on my health.
  • Lose weight!
  • Let go of fear!
  • Follow through!
Question - "What motivates you?"
  • Being surrounded by positive people, those who encourage me.
  • Knowing I have Security.
  • Being loved.
Question - "What makes you feel deeply alive?"
  • The sunshine
  • The beach
  • Spending time with my children
  • A day without pain
  • Being told "I love you".

Question - "What memory would you like to relive?"
  • The day I met Steinar. he was like out of the movie "The Notebook". We met our eyes, & "WHAM"! He took me on a ferris wheel, the zipper, the rocker - took me & Michelle to DQ in his Limo, then walked me to my car, asked me on a date & kissed me on the cheek. I felt swept off my feet.
  • Editors note: **Yes folks, there IS a romantic side to me. I also took her to a Jewelery Store and literally said "Pick One, whatever one you want" and she picked out a large rock/set - before it was ever in the movie Sweet Home Alabama.  So she adored those 2 movies after that (and there wasn't a month that she didn't sit me down to watch them with her).** ;-)

Question - "What are you beginning to discover?"
  • That I've allowed myself to spiral down and allowed myself to be manipulated.
  • That I don't need to hide behind food. That is what is hurting me.
Question - "What have you always known, deep down?"
  • That my dad is selfish & self centered. He's all about him. That I'll never get his approval.
  • Also that my husband never really loved me. He tolerates me.
  • Editors note: **The second one was personally VERY hard for me to read. I pray that this has been resolved as she knows my inner thoughts now. My dreams are full of our conversations and interactions. I truly let her down if she felt that way deep down inside (because there wasn't a day I didn't tell her that I loved her either by action or saying it or interacting with her by touch). This is the one thing that will haunt me for the rest of my days.** =(
Question - "What inspires you?"
  • My son inspires me.

  • He is a wonderful young man. He always smiles no matter the kind of day he has and no matter how he's feeling. He is always positive, and tries his best. He never lets anyone get him down. he loves his family and friends unconditionally.
  • He never complains. When Travis does anything, he does it "All in".He stands up for what he believes in. I'm so proud of him. he is my Sunshine. =)
Question - "Whom do you admire?"
  • I admire my son. he puts so much effort into everything he does. If he is sick or hurt, he keeps going and never complains. With all of his limitations and struggles, he is strong and doesn't give up. He is always positive. Always thinks of others. Is there for you in a heart beat. Travis is very compassionate. Not afraid of what people think!! =)  He's a big ball of Sunshine! He is an old fashion soul, loves unconditionally. He is a blessing, my angel from God.

Question - "What do you want to be better at?"
  • Evangelism, reaching out to people who don't know Jesus.
  • Loving myself.
  • Follow through.
Question - "What's worth taking a risk for?"
  • Family.
Question - "How do you want people to remember you?"
  • Loving, unconditional, giving, encouraging, hard working, faithful to God. A good Mom, wife, friend. Someone you can count on, fun to be with.

Editors note: **Penny Sue Andersen passed away on February 6th, 2016 from a Heart Attack (in her sleep) around 10:30 pm. She had been fighting Bladder Cancer for just a week shy of 4 years (and was considered Cancer Free in December of 2015 after major surgery in June of 2015 at the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Zion, IL). We were married for 24 years (and were going to be celebrating our 25th silver wedding anniversary on 9/11/2016). Alas, it was God's turn to help her through her struggles and she went with him knowing with her every being that she would be with God always (through Jesus) and would be meeting up with all of her loved ones - especially with her little Brandon. It is now my duty as her husband to keep her voice alive in this world. If I come across more journal entries that we think will help inspire others, we will publish it. No embellishment or creative writing of what she may have meant - but her exact words structured as she wrote them. She was a VERY smart woman (and she LOVED God). Who am I to stand in the way of her words? **  Steinar Andersen - 5.29/2016 (Penny's widow). 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Blog WILL continue.

I've come across some journals of Penny's, and there is gold in her words of faith and affirmation.

Travis and I discussed this, and so we will post at least ONE of her journals (unedited - save for 3 personal references that are too private to publish).

Her voice was silenced almost 4 months ago, and if there is going to be any one post that will give Penny's voice back to those who love her (in written form) - it is her journal from 2014 (a day in her life) which covers about every thing that mattered in her life. These will be her words, unfiltered and unedited...... it sounds like Penny as it is her in written form. She loathed sharing on the Internet her true feelings, which is why she never posted to this blog (she was a very private person). However, of this....... of those I have talked to about this, all agree she would be happy to provide inspiration from beyond (and her words of faith and affirmation will be incredibly powerful to those who knew her).

And maybe someone on this world who didn't know her, will be inspired by her words also. Over 17,000 people have read this blog over the past 3 years, and I am hopeful that her upcoming post will be one to inspire and constantly be referred to as long as blogspot remains on the Interweb (and will gather so many more views than anything I have written).

Penny was a special woman, and her voice needs to be heard (more than ever). I am looking forward to sharing it with everyone soon.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

We thought she had beaten her cancer. And yet, the unthinkable happened on February 6th, 2016 - Penny passed away in her sleep. =(

My wife passed away around 10:30 pm on Saturday - February 6th, 2016. The above is the last picture that I know of (that she would approve of) that was taken of her prior to her passing. I need to say the following to put perspective on what this all means.

The above picture was taken in 2012 (February 18th, 2012) when Penny was on Life support at Sherman ICU due to sepsis after the removal of the 4 lb tumor from her bladder (the first time I am posting this picture as how hard it was at the time, I just couldn't). We weren't sure she would make it out of the hospital then (and of course, she was a miracle - she woke up from her coma with her full brain activity intact and then some) and was talking/walking 10 days later. It was this hospitalization that weakened her substantially and she was never the same after that (she was always in much more pain). I went to Fox Valley Church the first service I could after that (and FVC became my home too). Penny prayed for me for 7 years to join her at her church and her wish came true. How awful of me to not get past my pain from a previous church and waste 7 years not joining my beautiful wife in worship at such a wonderful church.

The second picture was of a sunrise outside her window the day after her organs were failing. Her organs had stopped shutting down and were starting to recover so I was looking at the hands of God helping her to recover from the sepsis. The entire body of FVC came out in force (the ICU staff actually had a line of people to go into the room and they were so accommodating our need to lay hands on her for healing). They called her the ICU unit "Rock Star" given the amount of people coming to see her. She was also one of the few patients to actually walk out that unit (I heard more code blues than one dares to count). That was the moment when I decided I needed to be at my wife's side for all of her needs despite work, despite the many responsibilities pulling at me. I was a broken man by the time she was released, and she slowly helped build me back up over the next 4 years.
She kept that red rose also.......

So, onto February 5th, 2016.

We had just started to think long term again about our lives together (after her "clean bill of health" from CTCA last December - 3 months ago). I was finally approved for Social Security disability and VA disability last October and the benefits were starting to trickle in. We were about to bring our mortgage back up to date using the back benefits and we were planning on visiting the grandchildren in Phoenix in March. On February 5th, Penny started to get a severe migraine headache. It got so bad, that I interrupted a visit to H&R Block regarding our taxes in order to immediately take Penny to the Sherman Ambulatory Clinic in Algonquin. When we got there, they noted her blood pressure was high (161/112?), but they had no technician for their scanning services available, so I then brought her to Sherman Hospital's ER. Yes, THAT Sherman Hospital (where she had almost died four years before... within a week of February 17th.... in their ICU unit after they had taken out the original tumor and had sent her home instead of keeping her overnight.... only for her to suffer from sepsis and my having to bring her back to the Hospital with her surviving the experience). They tried to manage her symptoms by giving her morphine via IV and also Benadryl. I told the P.A. and the nurses what her family history was regarding her mother passing away from a Heart Attack and also that she was at the end of her fourth year fighting bladder cancer (with over 16 cystoscopies plus chemo and BCG treatments). I don't know what her Blood Pressure was when they released her, but her migraine was reduced to the point where she felt slightly better and could tolerate her symptoms. In retrospect, I should have demanded they give her an EKG and checked everything regarding her heart (but they are the experts, they should have known given her symptoms and her high blood pressure plus history).

I stayed up keeping an eye on her until 8:30 am February 6th (and then went to bed next to her). Around 3:00 pm or so, I woke up and went to the living room (Travis had been picked up by his girlfriend's parents so we could sleep). I went about my day and checked on Penny every hour or so (and then sat to watch the Republican Debates) and she went to the restroom a couple of times during that time. When done, I watched a little news, turned off the TV and went to bed. When I opened the door and walked in the room..... I heard..... nothing...... no breathing or snoring as she tended to do. I quickly turned on the light, and there she was...... motionless (the first time I had ever seen her as such). I checked her for a pulse and she was still very warm (but I felt no pulse). That is when I noticed her tongue was starting to turn another color. I immediately dialed 9/11 and was instructed to get her out of the bed (we have a Temperpedic Mattress). It took all of my strength and using the sheet to pull her off of the bed (I have a bad shoulder and I was in the process of a gout attack, making it a difficult effort). Once she was on the floor next to the bed (because our bedroom is tiny), I was throwing the mattress off to my side of the room so I could get the space to stand/kneel so I could start CPR. That is when the police and first responders showed up (it couldn't have taken more than 90 seconds from when I called 9/11 as we live 1 block from downtown Huntley). They then took over and kicked me out of the bedroom. I started to make calls to get Travis to come home (and to get a hold of a close friend). That took 10 minutes (while they were still working on her) and our friend Deb Wolf showed up which then started to calm me down (she had gotten a hold of our Church's Pastor who was on his way). The first responders worked on Penny for 30 minutes and tried everything to revive her.... to no avail.

Our pastor (Pastor Adam Miller) then arrived and proceeded to do everything he could to keep me sane during the entire process (without Deb and Pastor Adam, I haven't a clue how I would have survived the process I went through). Travis showed up right after that, and I had to let him know that his mother had just passed away. I then asked the Huntley police to contact my step-daughter in Janesville, WI. Then the assistant coroner came and after about 2 hours, we were allowed to spend a small bit of time with Penny before the Funeral Home came to pick her up (everything from 11:00 pm to 2:30 am is a complete blur in my mind now). Our Pastor did everything he could to be a buffer of care during the entire process, and I will be honest..... Pastors do not get paid enough for the experience they go through with their congregation (I know it wasn't easy dealing with me, I can't imagine how they can deal with someone who completely loses it).

So here we are. Penny had beaten cancer, and yet she is still gone.

This is not what we thought would happen, we thought that given how many times she was at death's door during her lifetime (over 5 times, including being shot at a Restaurant by a madman in 2001), that God would not come for her as she still had more miracle testimonies to give to people. She fought a valiant battle and the Cancer had gotten her anyways (I am positive that the treatment contributed to her heart's ultimate inability to keep her alive plus her sepsis episode surely had damaged her heart to some extent). It is what it is, and I can't change any of that now.

All I know, is that I am officially a Widower and I haven't the clue how to live life without my beautiful wife.

Fox Valley Church and Penny's friends rallied around us and we were able to work things out so Penny had a beautiful wake/service on February 12th and Funeral on February 13th. As she had changed her mind about being cremated last year, I honored her wish to be buried. The problem was that we had decided on a National Cemetery in Joliet, IL. (given my Veteran Status)... and as far as I was concerned, because she had died so young.... that it would be unfair for me to do so regarding her family and friends (who would have to drive over 150 miles to visit her). So we chose Dundee Township Cemetery (where her Uncle and Aunt and her first son are interred) so all of her family and friends would be able to visit her as it is close by all of them. I then picked out a 2nd grave for me at that site (so when I pass, I can be buried next to her).

There is so much more to say, but that will have to be for another day. It took me a month to get up the nerve to post the above.... as the pain is still pervasive. All I know, is I lost my beautiful wife of 24 years and she is now with our Lord (at his side). I know that God has a plan, and that it was Penny's time to leave this blue orb called Earth. I don't want to sound too eager to anyone, but the day I am also with God and seeing Penny again is the day I will be at peace. I loved her with all of my heart and all of my being. And not having her here to share our lives together is almost more than I can bear.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die."
John 11:25-26


The below 2 photographs are from her close friends who got together the day after Penny passed and they toasted to her memory. What a blessing it was for Penny to have friends like that.

I am not sure if I will "lock" this blog after this, or if I will continue to post. It was about both my wife's and my journey through the many blessings and hurdles that life was presenting to us. We shall see.


A final word (if I do lock the blog).
I spent 26 years with Penny (24 1/2 of them married). Knowing how I feel, I can see why when one passes in their 70's/80's.... the other loses hope and also passes.
The hard part are meals (getting together as a family), Church, going places where we both enjoyed going together, needing to be picked up or dropped off, watching TV/Movies, reading the Bible together, having people over, listening to music together, talking about the future and other stuff that interested us (especially memories of things we've done), the simple thing such as taking off her bra late at night because it drove her nuts and scratching her back until she felt better, just holding her hand (and her hand always gravitating towards mine).

I am convinced if we had another 25 years together and she had passed, I'd be gone within a week of her passing. Because I am barely hanging on now..... the pain is palpable and is all encompassing. I am trying to pray and take solace in her being with the Lord. I miss her incredibly so. Her singing: "Oh baby you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, oh baby" (to the tune of "Oh Mickey")..... 2 or 3 times per day.... always... even when she was upset with me. And always pitchy / off key...... and she loved seeing my reaction (my perfect pitch hearing catching every "off" nuance). Our pet names for each other. Her making weird faces at weird times to see my reaction. Her incredible giving and forgiving heart and her love for our children.
Her incredible faith in my goodness (even when I wasn't good - especially after she was shot and our marriage suffered greatly).... and her trust in me to do the right thing by her no matter what we faced (and we always ultimately faced it together... no matter how upset we were with each other).
It was starting to really hurt for the first 3 weeks. No worries, I will survive. But I've never known such pain......
I speak about these things on the blog because it is hard to talk to people in any other way (its like having a journal). This is the only way people will remember Penny because I spent so much time with her and I want others to know that Penny as I knew her.... and the only way is unedited and raw (because any other way doesn't do her memory justice).
A month has passed since my soulmate took her seat in heaven. It took 3 weeks for the heaviness on my heart to slowly subside... (I literally can barely recall the first week / it is but a blur). The day after, I went to church and had never felt such heartache in my life. I got sick after that and Travis made sure I went for treatment at the VA when it seemed I was in bad shape. Once we were done with the services, it took over a week for me to recover from the cold. Since then, I've been concentrating on the finances and dealing with all of the creditors so that can all be resolved as soon as possible so Travis and I can then concentrate on the house (getting it straightened back out and can concentrate on our future).
Now it is time to contemplate life and see where my future lays. Alas, I still can't conceive of it without Penny...... but I really have no choice but to figure that out.

A month.... and it still feels like yesterday....
I saw the picture below and I think about the picture of Penny at Illinois State Beach..... and I dream of that day now occasionally. I think it is Penny whispering in my ear.
I wake up and the realization that she is gone is very hard still to handle. I pray that one day down the road when it is my time, I will wake up and will see her again (with the nightmare being over).