Another open letter to Jordan Kauflin of Redeemer Arlington. In this letter I reflect on attending a funeral in Fresno, California and being a reverse caregiver to my Mom. In this post I also pose the question, how many funerals, and stories of illness do I have to write about before Andrew White and the leadership of Redeemer Arlington understands what happened? How long before they do the right thing? How many heart felt posts like this am I going to have to write to Jordan Kauflin and Eric Simmons?
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”
J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings
“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.”
Tia Walker from The Inspired Caregiver
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Matthew 25:36 NIV
The 1993 San Joaquin Memorial Panther Varsity Football team. I am in the top row third from the left. Justin Garza is the bottom row at the far right.
I had a hard five days but I decided to reflect on the experience and in light of the unresolved conflict with Redeemer Arlington I thought it was time to share what recently transpired. I hope you, the leadership, the congregation and Andrew White can learn a thing or two about life and how fundamentalism harms and destroys. As you know Jordan this blog was born out of an incident from your church. I don’t want another person to endure what I endured from Andrew. No one else is going to be hurt by Redeemer Arlington again Jordan. So having said all that let me walk you through the last few days.
I took an American Airlines flight from Reagan National Airport on Wednesday night March 1, 2017. The plane was overbooked and they had to remove three passengers. As a result they also had to find those passenger bags and get them off the plane. I was nervous about the connection in Phoenix, Arizona to Fresno, California. I explained to the flight attendant on the flight that I had a funeral the following day. They moved me to the front of the plane so I could be one of the first individuals off. When I deplaned I largely ran half way across the Phoenix airport and got their as the door was ready to be closed. “You made it!” the gate attendant for American said. This was the last flight into Fresno and I didn’t want to miss it. I couldn’t miss it. On the plane both from DC to Phoenix and into Fresno I spent time reflecting on the funeral the following day. Who will I see? What will be said? How will people grieve? And how will I react to the entire experience? After all Justin Garza’s death was unexpected for me. But I was also out of the loop as I live in the Washington, D.C. area.
That Wednesday night after I landed my sister Cheryl picked me up at the Fresno airport. I was starting my third visit home in three months. My Mom is in a hospital bed in our living room as her medical situation continues. So I was going to have a busy trip. When I got there I saw my Mom in the bed and she smiled when she saw me. I said a couple of things to her but let her rest. My Dad was sleeping as he had work the following morning. I said hello to him quickly and let him resume sleeping. My Dad wanted me to let him know that i had arrived. I then called it a night, and knew that tomorrow was going to be a long day.
Attending Justin Garza’s Funeral in Fresno, California
Thursday morning I got up and helped my Mom with breakfast. I helped feed her and talked with her. My Mom is still recovering her strength and she ate slowly. I had to clean her up when food missed and landed on the bed. I joked with her and gave her a high five a couple of times. My Mom is eating more today than she did when she was in St. Agnes Hospital back in December and January. We are trying to get her to gain weight. After talking with my Mom a bit I looked at the time and realized that I had to get ready for Justin Garza’s funeral. When I was growing up my Mom always liked to look at me to see how I presented myself. Sometimes she liked to fix my tie or give advice. So this particular morning after putting on a suit for a funeral I went to the living room and stood next to my Mom’s hospital bed. “Mom does this meet your approval?” She smiled and I hung out a little longer before I left.
Justin’s funeral started at 1:00 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Fresno. I got there an hour early. I knew that it was going to be packed. Given how Justin’s life had touched and transformed so many people, many, many people would be in attendance. When I got there an hour early the church was mostly packed. They were out of memorial cards, so I never got one. There was one thing Jordan that would make this funeral stand out. This would be one of the only funerals I ever attended that would be standing room only. I sat through the Rosary and then the funeral started at 1:00. They sang Amazing Grace and Justin was at the base of the alter. It was a somber and exceptional heavy funeral. As I stood there and participated in song it still blew my mind. 41 years old and leaving behind two kids after a six year battle with cancer. Watching Justin’s young son in the funeral was heartbreaking. Words can’t describe the sight. Father Pat McCormick who used to sub at San Joaquin Memorial High School led the service. When they had communion I watched the people going up, and one after another I saw different people that I knew. Some of these people I have not seen since high school 20 years ago. In the talk Father McCormick shared some memories from San Joaquin Memorial of how Justin helped people study for a trigonometry test. The service ended with Justin’s brother, football coach Wayne Koligian, and his wife Regina Garza. Listening to all three were heartbreaking, watching Coach Koligian get through without breaking down, was hard. I was crying, and most of the people around me were. Regina shared how she was set up on a blind date to meet her husband and gave the details. Many people laughed. Father Pat McCormick ended with a blessing that Justin planned for his funeral. As the funeral ended Justin was escorted out of the church.
As I was walking out of the church one by one many people stated to come up to me. It started with Annette Castro and Harry Massucco. Then in the courtyard it was Rudy Puente, Joseph Dalena, Bobby Martinez, Pat Hinds, and so many more. I was talking with one when another person showed up, wanting to shake my hand and see how I am doing. I also saw my Biology teacher Mr. Duncan as well, and we talked for a while. I can’t put into words how this all felt. Meeting all these people and getting reacquainted amidst all this grief. Funerals do that, as they bring people together. The reception was at the Fresno Convention Center in downtown. When I got there it was packed with all these people who knew Justin. In talking with a couple of people I shared my thoughts and past interactions with him in high school. I was talking with one person who spoke to Justin and learned that his body was rejecting the bone marrow transplant. In the next couple of hours I spoke with people I knew from Memorial, and some players who Justin coached. It was hard in so many ways. As things were winding down a group of us from our class got together for a picture. Then I went and spoke to Justin’s Mom’s and introduced myself. I apologized for what happened and explained how I felt. I shared how I played football with Justin in high school. His mother was kind and talked about the San Joaquin Memorial community which came our for them, and she thanked me for traveling from Washington, D.C. I drove home in the early evening so emotionally drained from all the talking and just being wiped out from what I participated in. While the world is better because Justin Garza lived, it lost something incredible and all of us who interacted with him at one stage of life or another are grieving.
A Medical Crisis Continues
After coming home from the funeral I saw my Mom sitting up in her hospital bed. I told her about the funeral and who I saw. We had some dinner by the bed, and we all ate around my Mom. Sometime that evening or the following day one of the most beautiful exchange of words took place. I sat next to my Mom in a chair, and played with her hair as she likes it. I kissed her and told her how much she is loved and encouraged her to keep pressing onward. My Mom looked at me while I was comforting her and she thanked me for being there. My response is “No Mom…it’s I who should thank you. Thank you for raising me and teaching me well. Thank you for loving me and putting me through school. Thank you for helping me get through school with tutors. No Mom I should thank you as I would not be who I am today had it not been for your love.” It was a very touching moment between a son and his mother. With that I kissed her on the forehead.
The following morning I was up at 6:00 and quickly showered and changed. We needed to get my Mom to the endocrinologist and have my Mom’s diabetes looked at. My sister and I helped my Mom with the restroom. Then I helped feed her a quick breakfast. My sister and I tag teamed as we got things together. We got to the doctor’s office after a medical transport brought my Mom in her wheel chair. In the doctor’s office we both took turns speaking and explaining my Mom’s medical history and her medicine. My sister and I hoped we could get good news for a change. This time we did. My Mom’s doctor was positive about how her quality of life could be improved by better diabetes management. Afterward when my Mom learned that she could have a little bit of wine and my Mom smiled. It was the first time in three months that I saw my Mom smile like that. And smile she did as she was rolled out into the waiting room. I helped load my Mom into the transport and I had a quick opportunity to have lunch with someone who wanted to hook up. So I had lunch with Eric Pauls at Sals in North Fresno. In a booth over some homemade Mexican food I poured out my life to Eric. Told him about the challenges of this medical crisis, and of traveling back and forth from Washington, D.C. to California. He commended on me helping my Mom. The true hero is my sister Cheryl who works hard at helping my Mom day in and day out, from 6:00 a.m. until night for the last few months. My sister is the one who deserves the credit not me. We then talked about life and as things we’re progressing I looked at the time and bid farewell. I picked up a favorite French pastry for my Mom and Dad from Eddie Pastry. And then I headed home to get ready for another doctor’s appointment.
This time we headed to St. Agnes Wound Care to get my Mom’s wounds looked at. One of the complications of diabetes is that your wounds do not heal quickly or at all. My Mom has ulcers from vasculitis. While I was waiting one of my friends from San Joaquin Memorial Aaron Andres heard I was in town and asked if we could get together. Aaron is an engineer for Union Pacific Railroad. In the end it didn’t work out as I was there the entire afternoon at Wound Care with my Mom. And I am fine with that as Mom comes first, and Aaron understands. I stayed in the room and talked with my Mom. She was cold and I had given her my Marquette University sweat shirt. When my Mom layed on the bed I held her hand and played with her hair. She smiled when I did that. Then when the wound cleaning was painful my Mom winced, and was in pain. I told my Mom “Squeeze my hand…you’re almost done.” The wounds were basically the same. They had not improved but they had not gotten worse. My Dad, sister and I had a long conversation about what the endocrinologist said that morning. We had hope for my Mom’s wounds based upon what was said. After that appointment my Mom told my sister that she was going to miss me when I left. My sister pulled me aside and told me that. I went into the room I was staying just numb when I heard that. Here I am…my Dad, sister and I are dealing with this medical crisis. We are all working hard to get through it. In my case I have spent a lot of time and money in flying back and forth from Washington, D.C to California and my Mom notices and appreciates it. I, like my sister, can’t imagine doing anything less than giving our parents are full support.
A Difficult Conversation at Bedtime
However, there was a difficult conversation that I witnessed Jordan. I can’t put into words how this felt to observe. My Mom and Dad have been married for 52 years. At night my Mom would be in a hospital bed and one night said to her husband “Jack aren’t you going to come to bed?” My Dad would get uncomfortable and tell her that he could not, that he had to sleep in their bed in the bedroom. My Mom while being in a hospital bed would start to cry. I watched all this and was deeply uncomfortable. My family is trying to manage this situation day by day. I pulled my Dad aside that Friday night and asked him if he could sleep on the couch next to the hospital bed. My sister and I could make it up for him. My Dad agreed to do that and my Mom calmed down. The following morning I found out that my Mom slept well knowing her husband is near by. My sister and I discussed this and we decided to ask my Dad to sleep in the couch next to the hospital bed on weekends. This situation has been difficult in so many ways.
Closing Thoughts for Jordan Kauflin and Redeemer Arlington
Life is both precious and fragile. Its shorter than we think it is. It was on display in that sense in the past five days. Both through a funeral and in taking care of my Mom in her illness. I’ve addressed this theme from time to time. The last time I believe I wrote about this was last year. In “When Fundamentalism Comes to Steal, Kill and Destroy; Situations that Put Life in Perspective.” In that post I wrote about someone I knew who had a stroke, and then later on a brain bleed who died. That person was 38 when that happened and recently married in a commitment ceremony. That was in October of 2016.
Now here we are in March of 2017 and the theme is looming large again. In this case I attended a funeral of someone I played football with. They valiantly fought cancer and after six years it sadly and tragically took their life. 41 is too young to die and to leave behind two kids is heartbreaking. In addition to that is the health situation with my Mom which is still ongoing. My Mom has another round of chemotherapy coming up and I wrote her a note and am working on some cards for her. I plan to Fed Ex them to my sister so she can give them to her while she goes through chemo. We’re trying to get my Mom through all this. I can’t believe how an illness can change a person so quickly. That said, my sister and I and my family are pouring out our heart and time in working this issue. My sister is carrying a heavy load and I have flown back three times from Washington, D.C. to help out and be support my family. I know all this is having a difference on my Mom. The small tender acts go a long way in showing love. Its with that in mind that I have to say the following.
Jordan this conflict between Redeemer Arlington, myself and Andrew White is ridiculous. How many strokes do I have to write about before Andrew and the leadership of Redeemer Arlington gets it? How many heart wrenching funerals and battles with cancer do I have to write about before Andrew and the leadership of Redeemer Arlington understands? How many posts detailing a medical crisis and emotional hardship do I have to write before the leadership of Redeemer Arlington gets it? None of this should have happened, none of it. This conflict shouldn’t drag on especially when we are not guaranteed tomorrow. After all I could have a heart attack tonight or be hit by a drunk driver tomorrow. Jordan let me write something to you and it will be blunt. Your parents will not be this way always. And I honestly hope as they age that they do not have hardship or major health issues. I wouldn’t wish you or Devon, Justin or Brittany to have to help your father with the restroom at a later stage of life, or helping to feed him. I hope you won’t walk into a room one day and Bob has no idea of who you are. I would not wish that on anyone. Maybe when you go through that you’ll understand how precious and short life can be. Maybe that will be the eye-opener when you get it. That said I’ll weep for you because its foolish that it would take something as tragic as that for you and your church to understand. The ball remains with Andrew and Redeemer Arlington. I have a lot to write about still and I will use this blog for that purpose. You know Jordan many former members of SGM have told me that SGM is a cult. I have spoken to many families and had some interesting conversations on families and relationships that have been split. This blog casts a very dark shadow of you and Eric Simmons church and it looms as a warning. A warning to people to stay away. The sad part is that you never knew me, and get to know my heart. If these trips back and froth from Washington, D.C. to California don’t reveal it to you then nothing will. But this issue rests with you and Andrew. Until then I will keep pounding out the posts about Redeemer Arlington. I don’t wish you malice Jordan but I do want you guys to understand. I am going to leave you with a song I heard at Justin’s funeral. Its called You Raise Me Up. Since Justin was a football coach I found a variation that is linked to the movie called We Are Marshall which is about the tragic loss of the Marshall football team in a plane crash in the 1970’s. Until next time Jordan.