Living Thoughtfully Dying Well by Steve Carpenter

In early April I had the privilege of helping my Mom celebrate her 92nd birthday.

Steve & Chris with Elsie Carpenter, a young 92.

Steve, his mother Elsie (a young 92), and his wife, Chris.

My wife, three brothers, and their spouses all gathered in Rhode Island, my home state, at a very nice Italian restaurant close to North Bay Manor, my mother’s assisted living facility, for a lovely evening together. Mom is doing remarkably well. She’s doing even better than she was two years ago when my brothers and I last gathered around her on her 90th birthday. About two years ago her medicines were adjusted and she seems to be much more alert. She doesn’t get out much anymore but still manages with a walker and a bit of help at the curbs and when getting in and out of a car. It was a joy to be with her, and the rest of my family, to celebrate this happy occasion.

Carpenters2014

Elsie Carpenter, center, celebrates her 92nd birthday with her four sons and their wives.

In addition to the usual cake and candles, my brother Bill and I, with some help from our wives, wrote Mom a song to the tune of the 1920s jazz classic, “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” However, rather than extolling her “five foot two, eyes of blue” we sang:

Born in England in ‘22
Sailed across the ocean blue
Now she’s almost 92
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Married George in World War II
Had four boys, two by two
Now she’s almost 92
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Loves her family through and through
All the boys and in-laws, too
Her apartment has a view
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Now she eats off a menu
Breakfast, lunch and supper too
There’s almost naught for her to do
Has anybody seen my Mom?

At North Bay a big to-do
When they go in search of you
She must be hiding in the loo.*
Has anybody seen my Mom?

Has anybody seen my Mom?

*In England a bathroom or water closet is sometimes called a “loo.”

Reflecting on Mom’s long life, I would say it has been well lived.

Herald Press author Dr. Glen Miller, in his new book Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well, challenges us to reflect on our own lives and make preparations for a “good death.” By that he means a death that comes while resting comfortably at home, surrounded by family and loved ones, not while lying in a hospital bed surrounded by machines with tubes coming out your nose. His premise is that everyone deserves a good death and that takes planning. The book contains many personal reflections including a heart attack which nearly killed him while he was giving a Power Point presentation to a group of clergy and medical professionals, about the high cost of health care in America.

 Living Thoughtfully

In addition to providing the expected check list of needed things, such as a living will and an advanced medical directive, Dr. Miller recounts stories where the patient’s wishes, clearly expressed in those documents, is ignored until the doctors decide there is nothing else they can do. Through stories and role-playing he demonstrates the decision points where the family (sometimes inadvertently) give control back to the doctors, even when it goes against the patient’s expressed wishes.

This book is especially helpful for those who are caring for aging parents or who have recently retired and are making important life and end-of-life decisions. Following Dr. Miller’s advice will help avoid “futile care” performed on the grievously ill while planning for a measure of dignity and privacy in death.

For those who prefer video stories or would like to supplement Dr. Miller’s book, in 2007 Mennonite Media produced a DVD resource on this topic which aired on national television, called Embracing Aging: Families Facing ChangeWe also produced a website with much helpful information, stories and links. Find the website here.

Embracing Aging***

How have you addressed end of life issues with your aging parents?
Do you have a story to share of a good dying or one which was not so good?
It is a difficult fact we sometimes ignore—we will all die. In light of that fact, how do you want to go?
Have you communicated your wishes to those who will care for you?

SteveCSteve Carpenter, Director of Development

Catching Laughter is Sacred Space (book or show!)

by Steve Carpenter

I was at Ohio Mennonite Conference’s annual assembly at Bluffton University in early March and had the pleasure of seeing Ted Swartz perform “Laughter is Sacred Space” before an audience of more than 300 people – in a space that maybe seemed not so sacred. The venue was an old gym with bleacher seating extending to the edge of a worn basketball court – not exactly Carnegie Hall. Yet, Ted was engaging and the audience was enthralled. This was my second time seeing Ted perform “Laughter” and it was just as funny and poignant the second time as it was the first time.

TedSoldOutShowI’m sure many of you have seen Ted perform, perhaps as one-half of “Ted and Lee,” or more recently as the lead actor of Ted and Company TheatreWorks. He and Lee were perhaps best known for their roles in Fish Eyes which debuted in 1994*. In it they portray Peter and Andrew, disciples and brothers who walked with Jesus in his final days on Earth. However, when Lee took his own life in May of 2007 Ted lost his business partner and best friend. “Laughter is Sacred Space,” the show and book, tells the story of Ted’s struggle with that devastating loss and his faith journey through the mist of overwhelming grief. In this one-man play Ted recounts the first time he met and worked with Lee and of their growing friendship and business partnership. Though props, photos, and reflections, Ted describes how he and Lee honed each other’s skills and created a drama company capable of bringing fresh insights into biblical passages while providing them both with a respectable living as theater professionals.

Ted will be back in Ohio to perform “Laughter” again, this time at Central Mennonite Church, on Friday April 4 at 7 pm. For information about this and other upcoming performances check out Ted’s web site at: Ted and Company TheaterWorks.

For those of you who have not been able to catch a live performance of “Laughter is Sacred Space,” I recommend reading Ted’s book by the same name, available in two different covers:
LaughterIsSacredSpaceChicken9780836195590

In September 2012, Ted paired a live performance of “Laughter is Sacred Space,” to a sold out crowd at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg, VA where Ted and his wife Sue live, with the launch of the book. Since then more than 1600 copies of the hardcover book have been sold, along with nearly 750 sales of the electronic version. Both the book and audio download, which is performed by Ted, are available through MennoMedia’s store.

This was my second time at Ohio Mennonite Conference’s Annual Assembly and both this year and last Eliot and Seth Nofziger, two brothers from Ohio who perform original skits under the name The Living Script, have put on dramas which introduce a scripture passage for further reflection by the delegates. These men are young, Eliot is a student at Bluffton. Ted has been doing drama in church settings for more than 37 years. Seth and Eliot’s work seems to have been inspired by Ted and Lee in that both teams use humor to bring a fresh interpretation to scripture. It’s good to see the vision of one generation pass on to the next. It’s even better to see how both The Living Script and Ted and Company have been used of the Holy Spirit to cause audiences to take a fresh look at familiar Bible stories and laugh in the process.

***

Have you seen Ted or the Nofzinger brothers perform? What did you think?
Have you read Ted’s book? Which parts did you connect most deeply with?

*For those in Virginia: Celebrate the 20 year anniversary of Fish Eyes, an unforgettable and funny series of detours through the Gospels, with Ted Swartz as Peter and Jason Hildebrand as Andrew. Fish Eyes will be at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg, Va., on April 10, 11, 12 at 7:30 p.m. and April 13 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Seniors, students and groups (10+) $12 in advance, $15 at the door. More information here.

The Dove Visits Our House Each Year

December at the Eby house means watching Dove Tales. While we watch this DVD at other times of year, it gets played most often in December. Ever since we bought Dove Tales, the day we decorate the Christmas tree always includes the retelling of the Christmas story, compliments of the Peanuts gang and Ted Swartz, Lee Eshleman and Ingrid DeSanctis. (That’s high praise, considering my kids were seven-years-old and ten-years-old when we first bought the DVD.)

We’ve watched Dove Tales so often that we chime in on certain lines such as:

  • “Joseph, if you cannot deal with this pregnancy, how are you going to handle the really tough things?” – Mary (Ingrid)
  • “I also happen to be Joseph’s first cousin twice removed  . . . once against my will.” – photographer at Joseph and Mary’s wedding (Lee)
  • Where did you get that donkey?!” – Mary
  • “You can be sore. You can be afraid. But you can’t be sore afraid.” – shepherd (Ted)

Sample the magic here:

My favorite scene is where the very pregnant Mary tells Joseph three things he can do to keep their marriage together. (I won’t spoil it by saying more.) My favorite line happens in the scene where Joseph and Mary meet after several months apart. Joseph shares that he still loves her, but no response. He asks, “Can you help me out here, Mary?” Mary pauses then replies, “I’m pondering.” My kids, who grew up with the New International Version of the Bible, and not the King James Version, will never think that line is as funny as I do.

Elizabeth, who is now thirteen years old, had a hard time picking one favorite scene or line. “I always liked the more physical scenes like Zachariah and Elizabeth communicating through pantomime and Gabriel and Joseph fighting in Joseph’s dream. For the first couple of years, I was confused by Gabriel’s line at the end of that scene when he says ‘Marry her.’ I kept thinking he was saying, “Mary her.’ Now when that part comes, it makes me smile, just because I get it now.

I also asked sixteen-year-old Nathanael why he still enjoys watching Dove Tales. “I like the way the actors become the characters they are portraying. They are very expressive in how they speak and act. Each character is unique and recognizable. It’s fun that Nigel is in it as the innkeeper because I like him in other sketches. Best of all, it’s clean humor about stuff that really matters—not just punch lines.”

My husband, Rick, added, “It’s a fresh but authentic take on the Christmas story and about people with real human frailties. We tend to forget that the characters in Bible stories didn’t know what was going to happen or if things would work out. Dove Tales is a great reminder of this.”

That’s the beauty of Dove Tales. So many layers and each one enjoyable. There are the pratfalls and the chance to make animal sounds that even the youngest child can enjoy. There are the familiar scenarios where we laugh when we recognize ourselves or people we know well. There are the odd, quirky characters who are simply fun to watch.

Dove Tales is also about relationships. The husband, who wants to say the right things to his wife but can’t seem to manage it, and the wife who loves him anyway. The brother and sister shepherds who are content with whatever comes their way, from foot rot to a message from angels. Gabriel and “the lesser cherubim” who are simply excited to be part of the God story, even when their plan doesn’t go as planned.

And most of all, Dove Tales is about how our God—who wanted so much to have a closer relationship with us—chose the surprising solution of sending a small baby to a humble couple to raise. This is a story that will definitely go “forever on.”

DovetaleRachel Nussbaum Eby
Managing editor of Shine: Living in God’s Light

If you don’t have your own copy, you may want to think about making it a gift for the whole family. You can also learn more about the current Ted & Company Theaterworks here.

For Ted’s memoir check out Laughter is Sacred Space.