A Tribute to Cookie: Take Us with You

Beverly Bartel Regier wrote:

Yesterday afternoon we stopped by the funeral home during visitation for our friend, Cookie, who passed away on Monday.  Cookie’s sister was just beginning to set up memorabilia from Cookie’s life.  She had stacks of photos, albums, art, etc., and she enlisted our help.  It was such fun doing that, because we’ve known Cookie for so much of her life that I was familiar with a lot of the memories in a personal way.

One book caught my attention more than the others.  It was a scrapbook our small group had made for Dave and Cookie and Abra before they left for Chad.  We had filled our pages with photos, memories, and blessings for them as they left.  And I had written a letter.

Part of that letter was a plea that they take us with them along to Chad.  I wrote that this new adventure would change them, would cause them to ask questions and search for answers, would give them new perspectives, would help them define better ways to live.  I wanted to not be left behind.  I wanted to grow alongside them, asking the questions, struggling for the answers, gaining the new perspectives and wisdom.

Now in the middle of the night before the funeral, I lie awake realizing that all along, even before I wrote that plea, they have taken us along.  It has been part of who Cookie is to be open, vulnerable, and not afraid to speak the questions or share the answers, not afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or make things right after those mistakes.

Read the entire tribute which Bev shared during the funeral lunch on Bev’s blog, Vintage Navelgazer.  Thank you Bev!

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Cookie’s Memorial: Circles™ of Hope

It has been a week since Cookie’s funeral and burial, but the flowers are still beautiful as they sit in our dining room window.  I’ve tried to resume a semblance of routine which has been hard since everything I do brings a reminder of Cookie.  As I went through Cookie’s papers earlier this week,  I saw the outline of her life story which she had shared in small-group a couple of months ago.  She also thought it could be the basis of her obituary.

Cookie’s first point was simple: poverty.  Not “I was born on a farm.”  Nor “I was the baby of the family.”  Not even “I played alone most of the time.”  Even though each of these is true and affected who Cookie later became, what Cookie chose to say was stark and unambiguous, “Poverty.”  Until they moved to town when Cookie was in 3rd grade, Cookie’s family lived in a house without indoor plumbing.  The source of water was a cistern in the front yard.  The toilet was an outhouse in the back.  Her Dad struggled to successfully farm land that probably shouldn’t have ever been plowed with its thin, rocky soil.  The straw that broke the camel’s back came when he bought a small herd of dairy cattle that had Bang’s disease rendering them infertile.   Refusing to go bankrupt the family moved to town and Cookie’s Dad and Mom both worked hard for more than a decade before paying off their farm debt.  When Cookie went to college, she didn’t expect nor did she receive financial support from her family.  But it was the era when the federal government had good student aid programs, so by dint of her own hard work and a good financial aid package, Cookie was first member of her family to graduate from college.

But childhood poverty has its effect even in adulthood.  When Cookie saw the financial advantages that friends continued to accrue from their families she struggled with envy.  She  chose to present herself as “different” rather than facing the feelings of inadequacy she felt.  She often felt trapped by circumstances beyond her control.  She was mulling over this one day while walking to the grocery store when she had what she would later refer to as her “aha” moment.  She went in one moment from feeling sorry for herself to experiencing deep empathy for those still in poverty and those facing racial prejudice.  “Oh my gosh,” she thought, “this must be how it feels to be poor.  This must be how it feels to be discriminated against.”  After that day, I never heard her compare herself to those who were better off than she was; her only concern was to lift up those who were worse off.

Beginning in  2004, the Newton community has held several seminars based on Ruby Paine’s book, “Bridges out of Poverty”, helping local educators, business leaders and church members to better understand how to work with and assist low-income families.  Peace Connections coordinated a class based on Phil Devol’s “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World” for those in poverty wanting out.  Organizations had to recommend and sponsor students.  This is where Cookie became involved, co-teaching the class with Pam, a social-worker with a local agency.  It soon became obvious that a class and the support of a sponsor was not enough; there needed to be more follow-up.  The community was ready, but the connections weren’t being made.

Scott Miller founder of Move the Mountain, author of “Until It’s Gone: Ending Poverty in our Nation, in our Lifetime”, says, “What truly helps families find a way out of poverty is to become part of a community of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds who have learned to care about one another.”   This was like music to Cookie’s ears.  In October of 2007, Cookie and Myrna, director of Peace Connections, went to Marshall, Missouri for a hands-on training for Scott Miller’s Circles™ Campaign. The key concept of Circles™ is that those in middle and upper class have not only financial advantages, but also have a circle of social assets which is often missing among those in poverty.  Participants in Circles™ are paired with local volunteers to provide those assets identified as a need by the participant. A “Getting Ahead” class which Cookie co-taught became the first cohort of Newton’s Circles of Hope.  Cookie became the local spokesperson for Peace Connection’s Circles™ iniative, speaking in local churches and organizations as well as at a state poverty convention.   She also helped coordinate the Scott Miller’s 2008 visit to Newton during which the Newton community shaped the future direction of the program.

When we left for India in July of 2009, the Newton Circles™ effort was small, but it had a strong group of volunteers.  By the time we returned in August of 2010 the program had gained momentum with group meetings often numbering over 50 people.  This fall seems to be the tipping point for the national campaign with stories about the program appearing on the CBS Evening News and CNN among others.

While we were planning Cookie’s funeral, someone asked me about the memorial; I had to admit that Cookie and I hadn’t discussed it.  But it only took me a few seconds to realize that Circles™ would be the perfect memorial.  It is, in fact, already a living memorial to Cookie’s dedication and joyful work.  Inviting others to participate by their donations assures its continued viability.  The flowers which I am still enjoying will eventually fade, but the lives changed by Circles™ will continue to be bright and beautiful.

 

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Posted in Whole-life Stewardship | 6 Comments

A full life, joyfully shared

Several years ago Celeste Kennel-Shank, visited Newton regularly as an editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review. She became a regular house-guest and friend.  Her tribute to Cookie has been published in the November 14 issue of MWR.

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Thank you

Thursday was a beautiful day.  The funeral was a joyful celebration of Cookie’s life and death.  The meal was a wonderful time of fellowship and story-telling.  The weather was perfect during the 3 hour drive to Beatrice.  We saw deer, a coyote, turkey, and many many hawks; Cookie would especially have appreciated the fall colors in the grasses and shrubs.  Our arrival at the cemetery confirmed Cookie and my choice of burial location.  It is a beautiful setting with the church and cemetery on a hill overlooking the Blue River valley.

I want to thank everyone:  Anita and Joan for leading worship;  Kay, Donna, Dwight, Ben and Daryl for worshipful music; those who provided the meal; those who shared a story or memory; those who drove to Beatrice for the committal service and burial; the hospitality committee of the Beatrice church for a delicious supper and time of continued fellowship. Also I would never have managed without the direct support of Birdie, Leroy and the Life-Sharing class.  You all were great.

I particularly treasure all the words of sympathy I have received in person or through this blog, email, facebook and twitter.  Cookie touched many lives around the world and they have reached back to her in this time of sickness and death. Thank you!

 

 

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Posted in Cancer, Whole-life Stewardship | 6 Comments

Life Sketch

A LIFE WELL LIVED –   MARY RUTH (COOKIE) WIEBE   (1954 – 2011)

Cookie Wiebe, 57, life partner of husband, David Wiebe, died Monday morning, October 31, 2011.  She was born in Newton on February 1, 1954 the youngest child of Alfred G. and Clara Voth.  She graduated from Newton High School in 1972 and Bethel College in 1976.  After marrying David in 1978 and starting a family, Cookie chose to be a stay-at-home mom rather than starting on a career path.  During this time Cookie did some part-time and lots of volunteer work.  From 1989 – 1992, Cookie and her family served with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) doing community development in Chad, Africa.  Returning to Newton, Cookie continued to work with MCC as workroom supervisor which inspired her later interest in human resource development (HRD).  From 1995-1999, Cookie and David, worked at Woodstock School in India.  One of Cookie’s roles was new staff coordinator which furthered her interest in HRD.  Upon returning from India, Cookie attended Friends University earning a Masters Degree in HRD.  Cookie used her skills and knowledge in several jobs including another MCC term in N. Newton as HR director, wellness coordinator for Harvey county, and most recently interim HR manager at Woodstock School. It was there a bit more than one year ago, that Cookie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer which would ultimately be terminal.

Married 33 1/3 years, Cookie and Dave demonstrated their strong faith and firm commitment to whole life stewardship.  For their 25th anniversary, Cookie and Dave purchased a tandem bike. They participated in several BAK rides and two longer fund-raising trips to Mennonite Conventions in N. Carolina and California.  Given Cookie’s propensity to document everything, either photographically or journalistically, this past year she has inspired many with her blogs (www.charitableliving.net) about her disease and life convictions and by sharing her fabulous photos taken on daily walks along Sand Creek bike path.  In her bucket list of things to do before she died, Cookie included two things, an art gallery photography showing of her portraits taken of regular people in India with whom she and Dave came into contact and to see the birth of their first  grandson.   Both of these wishes were graciously granted.  In life, Cookie was an excellent teacher and public speaker, passionate about many things such as helping people overcome poverty and injustice, and interested in great ideas and meaningful discussions. She loved movies especially foreign films with subtitles.  She sought to live life intentionally, with no regrets.

She will be especially missed in this life by husband, David of Newton, daughter Abra (husband Phil Staffin) and new grandson Cassius Staffin-Wiebe of Minnesota, brother John (wife Colleen) of Derby, sister Birdie (husband Tim Vander Molen) of Illinois, nieces Amy Voth, Jane Vander Molen and nephews David Voth and Tim Vander Molen Jr.   Cookie was preceded in death by daughter, Bethany Ann Wiebe, and her parents. Cookie and Dave also belonged to an extraordinary Sunday School Class at First Mennonite in Newton, where they journeyed together with others in their faith.   Cookie will be sorely missed by this group of wonderful friends and sojourners in life.

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Posted in Cancer, Whole-life Stewardship | 7 Comments

Plans

Public viewing: 
Petersen Funeral Home,  Wednesday, November 2 from 1:00 – 9:00 pm.
(Family will be present 6:30 – 9:00.)

Funeral service:
First Mennonite Church, Newton, Thursday, November 3 at 10:00 am.

Committal Service and Burial:
First Mennonite Church Cemetery, Beatrice, NE, Thursday, November 3 at 5:00 pm.

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Posted in Cancer, Drivial Drone, Whole-life Stewardship | 2 Comments

Final Good-bye

Cookie finished the race this morning.

Cookie has been ready for some time. Yesterday evening sister-in-law Colleen, a nurse, told me that she thought Cookie might go during the night.  I asked her if she had told Cookie.  She hadn’t, so I decided to go ahead and tell her and got a big grin and a thumbs up signal from Cookie.  Most of the night she had difficulty breathing; only occasionally was she able to breath smoothly.  Then around 7:40 this morning her breathing slowed for a few minutes then stopped, and Cookie got a big smile on her face.  She took a couple of more shallow breaths and coughed a bit then she was finished.  Earlier in the night I had told her I loved her and she responded, “I know, (smile), I love you too.”

Thank you for all your prayers during Cookie’s illness.  She ran the good race and has earned the prize.

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Posted in Whole-life Stewardship | 42 Comments

Going soon?

Cookie started out the day as usual: bright-eyed, alert and cheerful.  I treasure the smile of recognition she gives me every morning when I first walk into her room.  But this morning was different; she wanted to talk.  She said that she thought she would being “going soon.”  I asked if she meant today and she said yes.

I’m not sure what to make of it.  It is 11:00 p.m. as I write this and today has been similar to other days this week.  Her O2 levels are down a bit from what they had been for several days, but not significantly.  She has been comfortable.  For the first time in awhile she stated directly that she was hungry.  She managed to drink water out of a small tumbler by herself without spilling much.   But still she feels that she is very close to the end.

I managed to create a bit of drama this evening.  When the humidifier on the oxygen concentrator was low on water I switched her to an oxygen tank so that I could refill the bottle.  I then noticed that the regulator on the bottle went to 15 liters/minute so I gave her that for a few minutes while I took care of the concentrator.  Afterwards when she was back on the concentrator, I checked her blood O2 level.  It had jumped up to 86-87 from the 78-79.  But the concentrator only goes to 10 liters/minute, so I decided to call hospice to see if there was anyway to provide more oxygen, realizing any relief it provided would be temporary.  After calling Dr. Wiens, a hospice nurse arrived with the options of a mask or an oxymizer, a sort of surge chamber for the cannula.  Cookie nixed the mask immediately and the oxymizer didn’t seem to have any effect due to Cookie’s mouth breathing.  Meanwhile Cookie’s O2 levels fell into the lower 70s.  In the end we have switched to using the original cannula in the mouth and her O2 levels are back up to 80.

Pray that we can remain calm when things seem to be going downhill.  That Cookie would continue to be comfortable and pain-free.

 

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Posted in Cancer, Drivial Drone, Whole-life Stewardship | 14 Comments

The New Normal

Cookie continues to be weak but, all things considered, is doing well.  All systems are functional, her blood O2 levels are staying stable in the mid-80s on 10 liters of Oxygen.  When she is fully awake she is bright eyed and smiling, but she has been sleeping a lot and is often a bit groggy even when awake.

Abra and Phil left for home (Minneapolis) Wednesday afternoon and arrived safely yesterday.  So now it’s back to Birdie and me providing the 24 hour care.   Generally I stay up late anyway so Birdie goes to bed early while I stay up with Cookie.  We may watch a Doctor Who episode on netflix and I give her her bedtime medications and make sure she is comfortable, keep her mouth and lips moistened, etc.  Then in the middle of the night 2:00-3:00, Birdie relieves me and I go up to bed.

Last night, the world series game put a kink in our routine.  We aren’t set up so that I can watch the game in Cookie’s room, so my watching meant that Birdie had to sit with Cookie.  When the game went into extra innings I offered to stop watching so that Birdie could get to sleep, but she insisted I should finish the game.  So it was very late for her when she got to bed and even later for me before I got to bed (5:30), although I did doze some while sitting with Cookie. But I got my reward when I came downstairs this morning at 10:00 and saw the bright smile on Cookie’s face.  Another day has begun.

Cookie is comfortable and at peace with her family, her friends and her God.

 

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Posted in Cancer, Drivial Drone | 2 Comments

Feeling Human Again

This morning Cookie awoke early, a little after 3:00 a.m., and felt normal.  She decided not to move or touch anything in case it was just an illusion but by the time she awoke again at 5:00, she was definitely feeling human.

In fact, she was feeling so human that she did a very  human activity, something that most of us do without much thought everyday, she had a bowel movement.  The trouble with that was she is now wearing adult diapers, and we are inexperienced with them.  I did my best to clean her up and get her re-diapered, but when she thought that she had done more I called hospice to come help me.  We will learn…

But I digress.  Cookie is feeling much better today.  She is more alert.  Her blood O2 level is better than it was on Monday and similar to yesterday.  She is taking more initiative in asking for things like a toothpick to clean her teeth.  She is still staying in bed and not interested in moving around the house in the wheel chair.  She also has told Abra and Phil that it might be okay for them to return to Minneapolis since she is “not going to die today.”

Pray for her continued strength and that we will face each day as a gift to be treasured.

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Posted in Cancer, Drivial Drone, Whole-life Stewardship | 4 Comments