Back From the Brink: MennoMedia Board Member’s Near-Death Experience

Dan Jack and his wife Marguerite live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Dan is a small business owner specializing in custom gutter installations. Some Canadians call gutters “eaves troughs.”

For many years Dan served on MennoMedia’s Board as one of three Canadian representatives. He was forced to resign in the fall of 2013 because of deteriorating health due to Crohn’s disease and complications from surgery two and a half years earlier.

As his health worsened, he sought another surgery to remove a pulmonary embolism from his right lung. The clot was reducing the oxygenated blood available to his body and damaging his kidneys and liver, which in turn were causing his heart to fail.

In mid-December, 2013 he had surgery in Ottawa which removed this massive clot from his lung, made repairs on his heart, and restored his lung function. The surgery lasted 26 hours.

Damage to his liver and kidneys slowed his recovery. He left intensive care on January 6, 2014, and on January 22, Dan was transported by air ambulance from the Ottawa Heart Institute to the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary, close to his home.

Dan Jack Medical Flight                                                             Dan Jack being transported from Ottawa to Calgary by air on January 22, 2014

At several points during Dan’s prolonged illness it wasn’t clear whether he would pull through. But he did, and we are thanking God! One of his doctors called him “a walking miracle.” I hoped to meet with Dan back in August; in an email exchange with him on August 6th in preparation for a trip to Alberta, he wrote, “You may be surprised at my health progress–thank God.”

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Dan and Marguerite in their home in Calgary on August 21, 2014, eight months after his medical ordeal began. He has faced death and lived to tell the story.

DanJack                                                              Dan and Marguerite Jack

My oldest brother, who will turn 70 next year, is in very good health but is clearly thinking about his own mortality. He is a writer and recently sent me the following poem which I am posting with his permission.

Realms of Light & Darkness

Light informs,
nurtures worlds,
tells of distant stars,
planets and moons.

Measures
incalculable distances
from distant candles.

Light is allegory,
a duality of
particle & wave
mind & body.

While realms
of dark matter disavow
light’s blessings;

a mythic kingdom
embracing
darkness,

as we spin toward
and away
from our sun

travel through days
and seasons, its
saga of opposites

awaiting our
ultimate
eclipse.
© Bill Carpenter

Dr. Glen Miller has also faced his own death. He experienced two heart attacks and one cardiac arrest (which means the heart stopped) and lived to tell the story. Actually he has written skillfully about these experiences and more in Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well: A Doctor Explains How to Make Death a Natural Part of Life, which Mennobytes wrote about here. He writes, “I now know my ‘terminal illness’—congestive heart failure.” In this new book he challenges his readers to reflect on their 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 of your nose. His premise is that everyone deserves a good death and to achieve that takes planning. His book contains many personal reflections.

Living Thoughtfully

In addition to providing a helpful check list, Dr. Miller recounts occasions when 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 gives 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 for themselves. 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 or would like to supplement Dr. Miller’s book, in 2007 Mennonite Media produced a DVD documentary resource on this topic, called Embracing Aging: Families Facing Change.

Embracing Aging                                                                                     DVD Embracing Aging

***

How have you addressed end of life issues with your aging parents?

It is a difficult fact we sometimes ignore—we will all die. In light of that fact, how do you want to go?

Do you know your “terminal illness?”

Have you communicated your wishes to those who will care for you?

We’d love to hear your comments, questions, ideas!

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

Demystifying the End of Life: Sitting Down to Chat with Dr. Glen Miller

 

P1050650Dr. Glen Miller is a man with a passion for dying well. But he is also all about living well—and is clearly enjoying each new day he lives because he survived two heart attacks and one cardiac arrest. He is the author of a book Herald Press published this spring, Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well for which I served as editor.

I had to ask my sister, an R.N., the difference between the two. Maybe you’re fuzzy on that too. A heart attack can be mild or severe where blood flow slows down due to blockage, but in a cardiac arrest, your heart actually stops. Unless something happens to start it up again, you are dead dead. Luckily for Dr. Miller, someone gave him CPR and several years later, he not only wrote a book and got it published, but is on the lecture or book tour circuit to share ways all of us can realistically and lovingly prepare for what is inevitable.

P1050649P1050647 P1050646Earlier in May I not only had a chance to finally meet this author I had worked with by phone and e-mail for over a year, but heard him speak to a group of about 45 in Goshen, Indiana. Organized as a Lifelong Learning Institute class, he and Jep Hostetler (author of another Herald Press book, The Joy Factor) presented a wrap-up workshop on “Living Well, Dying Well,” the theme of their jointly written blog.

P1050644Jep Hostetler is also a magician who usually has some tricks up his sleeve, and a real love of life.

I also had the opportunity to sit down with Glen and his wife, Marilyn, in their lovely sun-drenched breakfast nook for a healthy breakfast of granola, yogurt, muffins and coffee.

P1050651Marilyn and Glen Miller in their home.

We talked families, chattered shop, the book, the blog, about opportunities for him to share with wider audiences than Mennonites about the content of his book, which is rich.

Living ThoughtfullyThe morning was rich and too soon I needed to head to my next activity, which was helping with my mother’s care in the rehab unit of the health care section of Greencroft Retirement Community. She will be 90 this summer and yes, the book is perfect for me and my siblings as we deal not only with her upper years, but our own aging. As someone has said referring to how much longer people are living, “Ninety is now the “old old.”

Mennonite pastor Ron Guengerich, in the documentary Embracing Aging, (produced by Mennonite Media) talks about how for many, the beginning of retirement seems like the “golden years” –many enjoy new freedoms from traditional jobs, and childcare obligations. It is frequently only as we reach the later 80s and 90s that things change, sometimes drastically, and life slows down, becomes more hemmed in. That feels like what is happening for my mother. But that’s ok. That’s life.

As Ira Byock says in that same documentary (which aired on ABC, NBC and Hallmark), “It’s time for we baby boomers to grow the rest of the way up. It turns out that we’re mortal. We have to face that and get over it.”

It seems that many people are getting the idea: a recent article in The Washington Post focused on “Death cafes” where people come together to open conversation and demystify the end of life.

Dr. Miller’s book, Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well gives stories, medical insight, worksheets, and insider viewpoints of a survivor who has spent his life working as a doctor and hospital administrator. I wanted to listen and learn from the wealth of experience he’s had.

What are the key issues you face for yourself or your family in thinking about aging and dying? Has your family had “that talk”? We’d love to have your comment.

***

2MillerGlenIf you’d like to invite Dr. Miller to address your group, church, Sunday school class, retirement home (especially families of patients and staff), or civic group, he is planning a trip east in September (focused on Pa. and Va.). You can contact him through his blog: http://www.livingjoyfullydyingwell.com/appearances/

***

Don’t take my word on the merits of this book, I’m prejudiced. But you might want to check these words from others:

Mark Derstine, a chaplain at a retirement center in Souderton PA has written a review in the Mennonite Health Journal. Scroll to page 16 to find the review where Mark says: “Best of all is when older and younger generations read and learn from this book together so that dying well becomes a source of renewed faith and love together in Christ.”

Ron Mathies, former Executive Secretary of MCC wrote in an email to Dr. Miller: “Your personal experience with heart disease, your medical knowledge, your faith and your over-arching gracious and positive perspective on life and death all come through powerfully, in a profoundly practical and deeply spiritual manner. Thank you!”

***

To purchase copies of Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well: A Doctor Explains How to Make Death a Natural Part of Life, click here. (Note that “group study shelf” discounts of 25% off are available for any purchase of five or more.)

To purchase the DVD of the Embracing Aging documentary (with study guide and bonus content), check here.

Dr. Miller is also the author of Empowering the Patients: How to Reduce the Cost of Healthcare and Improve Its Quality (Dog Ear Publishing, 2009).

We’ve had a previous post on Mennobytes mentioning Glen: here.

***

Melodie Davis is a managing editor for Herald Press and author of nine books. She keeps a personal blog at www.findingharmonyblog.com MelodieDavisBlogPhoto

Why I Blame Herald Press Authors for My Poor Job Performance

As an editor, I like to stay on top of what our Herald Press authors are doing: where they’re giving talks, what publications they’re writing for, and where their books are being reviewed. I see it as part of my job.

These days, however, I’m not doing too well at it. Herald Press authors are publishing so many pieces, having their work reviewed in so many places, giving so many talks, and doing so many signings that, frankly, I can’t keep abreast of it all. So while it sounds like my fifth-grader’s justification for why he’s not responsible for some recent skirmish with his younger brother, I’m going to say it anyway: it’s not my fault!

Take the other day. I went out to get my mail and was pleased to find a copy of Bearings, a publication of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research in Minnesota. I spent a glorious week at a writing workshop at Collegeville a few years ago, and I still enjoy receiving this journal from the institute, where Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox thinkers gather for study, dialogue, and prayer.

Opening up Bearings to check out the lead article, I was pleased to find none other than a Herald Press author! The first piece is an interview with Dr. Glen E. Miller, author of the recently published Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well. This spring issue of the journal deals with aging and end-of-life issues, and Glen, who was a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute in 2011, gives a thoughtful interview on our death-denying culture, what constitutes a good death, and how Christians might “lean forward” as death approaches. When we conceive of death as a spiritual event, Glen says, “We can begin to see death as natural rather than morbid or taboo.”

Living Thoughtfully

Then a few days later, I was just as happy to learn that Guideposts’ website featured an excerpt from Rachel S. Gerber’s Ordinary Miracles, published by Herald Press in March. “The Laundry Pile Miracle” reframes the ordinary household task of folding laundry into what Kathleen Norris calls a “quotidian mystery.”

OrdinaryMiracles

Then, late last week, I learned that Ervin R. Stutzman’s historical novel, Jacob’s Choice, the first book in the Return to Northkill series, was mentioned in The Budget, an Amish periodical. Ever since then, Herald Press customer service has been fielding a lot of calls from Amish readers who want to buy the book.

JacobsChoice

Those are just a few of the written pieces featuring Herald Press authors. I’ve given up trying to keep track of the indefatigable Shirley Showalter, author of Blush, and Saloma Miller Furlong, author of Bonnet Strings. Both of these women are on tour now or very soon. Saloma has upcoming events in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana. I get tired just looking at her schedule.

WeddingOutdoors2

For fun, an old photo: Saloma and her husband, David, on their wedding day.

And Shirley and her husband, Stuart, are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, but that doesn’t mean she is slowing down. May, June, and July will find Shirley doing talks and signings in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Minnesota.

newlywed-frolic

For fun, another old photo: Shirley and her husband, Stuart, soon after they were married.

I haven’t even mentioned a fraction of what these authors are doing in terms of blogging, corresponding with readers, personally contacting booksellers, and, in some cases, holding down other jobs. And these are just some of our recent authors. Add all the Herald Press authors who wrote books several or many years ago and whose books continue to sell well and transform lives: well, do you see why I’m not keeping up with this part of my job?

I should add that, thankfully, someone at Herald Press is keeping up with our authors—as much as possible. As part of her sales support for authors and bookstores, Jerilyn Schrock in our marketing department keeps a comprehensive list of all the places our authors are traveling, and she usually has an idea of where they are writing and being reviewed as well. It’s just a small portion of what she does, but Jerilyn does a great job of keeping the rest of us at Herald Press informed on all the things our authors are doing. She tells me that she is thrilled to work with such an outstanding community of people.

I hope it’s obvious by now that I’m glad that Herald Press authors are outpacing my ability to keep up with them. I admire their commitment to using their gifts and talents for the inspiration of their readers, the upbuilding of the church, and the transformation of our culture. I am excited by the ways in which their ideas are circulating so widely, and I am grateful for their work and energy.

And what about the fact that their incredible output of writing and speaking means that my job performance suffers? So be it. If my failure to keep up with our authors comes up in my next performance review, I’ve got my answer ready.

It’s their fault!

ValerieWeaverZercher Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

You can keep up with Herald Press authors, too, on their author blogs (links above) and on the MennoMedia Facebook page. We invite you to attend their talks in your area, post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and elsewhere, and spread the word.