I began my series “Girl With Dragon” in the beginning of July 2018. Little did I know then how the images and funny little story that welled out of me during those hot, muggy nights foresaw a great calamity that was to befall me and my family. On July 25, 2018, my beloved father suffered a heart attack. It took first responders 15 to 20 minutes of CPR to get a shockable pulse. They finally got one and transported him to their local hospital where he was stabilized. Then, he was flown by helicopter to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. When mom called me the next day, dad had been placed into an induced coma and body temperature lowered to preserve as much brain function as possible. The situation was dire, so I told the small Lutheran non-profit where I had been working for just over 1 year and where I had raised more than $500,000 (including submission of two huge government proposals in June) that I needed to leave immediately to be with my father. Since this was a Lutheran organization and my father had recently been honored for 55 years of service as a Lutheran minister, this seemed to be a no brainer I would be able to go to be with my father for however long it was necessary; however, the CEO of this small non-profit fired me for being at my father’s bedside for the 10 days before he succumbed to the fatal heart attack he suffered on July 25, 2018.
It is for these reasons I am breaking up The Divine Dodo series to pay homage to my beloved father who died on August 4, 2018. I will return to the Divine Dodo after this post–which is a continuation of the Girl With Dragon series. I have come to understand in the past 2 month that these two series foresaw the circumstances and events that transpired since I sketched out the entire two series before my father’s heart attack. In addition, they hint at a way forward. The Divine Dodo will be followed by a new series to be co-authored and created with my collaborator and friend Donna Alena that we are calling the New Ancients.
Following is the Final Farewell I gave for my beloved father at his funeral, which was held on September 15, 2018. In my eulogy, I shared several of his superpowers and how they helped me figure out how to escape the jaws of the dragon (fate), and I believe these same superpowers may help others escape their fate, which may be defined in the case of this series the unconscious choices that lead us into the jaws of the dragon (circumstances).
Born: April 16, 1935; Died: August 4, 2018; Age: 83
My father… Monrad Mandsager… He is why you are here today… Monty! And, do you know what he would have said?
He would have said, “Goodness sakes… you’ve come all this way… for me! You shouldn’t have… thank you… thank you so much… thank you for coming!”
Showing Up & Paying Attention = Love
His whole life dad never felt worthy. In his mind, he was a poor, simple farm boy from
Iowa who could never quite do all the things exactly the way his dad wanted them done, and he grew up without his mother’s kind and loving warmth and support. These early beginnings always left him questioning his worth. But my dad would always show up and give any task (big or small) his best! For him, what was most important was making time, paying attention, and creating a space to understand the needs of others because dad knew this is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other… for it is the most basic way we show our love to each other. Dad’s capacity to create and hold a sacred space for others was one of his superpowers! He would listen with empathy, kindness, and unwavering attention to someone’s life story, latest frustration, or good news. And, he would remember what you told him and ask you about it the next time he saw you.
Superpowers of Attention + Listening + Understanding
Dad’s ability to pay attention and listen combined with his humbleness allowed him to be there for people at their greatest time of need. I remember one tragedy where dad demonstrated his tremendous capacity to empathize and be there for a grieving family after their 16-year-old son was killed in a hunting accident. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember my parents explaining to me how this family had lost several children before this tragedy and this was their last son. I remember going with mom and dad many times to visit the family after dad broke the terrible news to them. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of helplessness and sadness. But, I also remember knowing being there with my parents was important. I was no older than first grade, but I remember this experience vividly, and I’ll come back to this later for as I was reading through dad’s writings to figure out what I would say today, I found his reflections on this same tragedy for it had profoundly impacted him too. Grief it turns out is not bounded to one day or one week or one year… it is a deeply personal journey and dad understood this. He understood a time of grief is not a time to give people “pat answers” about why death or a tragedy occurred… neither is it a time to tell the person how and
when to recover from it. He knew he didn’t know, but what he did know was he needed to be there for however long it took and at whatever capacity the family or individual needed, even if it meant just sitting in silence with them.
I’m going to share with you several of dad’s amazing traits (I call them his superpowers), and now that he’s gone, I realize they were precious gifts given freely and in love to me and I suspect he gave them to many of you!
One of his wonderful superpowers was his adventuresome, wandering spirit. Little more than 6 weeks after being ordained at Luther Seminary and marrying mom, they took off to Brazil where dad was to serve as a missionary in Sao Paulo and the surrounding area. Mom and dad had to learn Portuguese and spent almost a year studying and learning it before dad began his mission work. He was one of the first missionaries to give all of his sermons in Portuguese, and of course, this is where I and my brother Craig were born. We learned Portuguese too and spoke it to everyone outside of our immediate family. I am told when we returned to the states, and I met my grandparents for the first time, I sat on their knees chattering happily away in Portuguese as they smiled and enjoyed meeting their granddaughter and grandson for the first time. I was pretty young in Brazil, but I have snap shot memories of life with my parents such as galloping on my father’s shoulders through the jungle with monkeys shrieking at us from high in the trees (that was magnificent)! Watching a steel drum band at a gathering and marveling at the beautiful music coming from the steel cans the musicians had turned into their drums dad had explained all this to me for he loved the steel drums! I also remember traveling with dad in our jeep over muddy, rutted, red roads and being surrounded by hundreds of sheep on their way home, leaving dad and I to revel in the wonder of the moment.
From Brazil, we flew back to the Midwest, this is where my brother Phillip was born. From there, dad helped his brother-in-law Bob start a new church in Southern CA – so, we moved to Sunnymead where my brother Peter was born – and, then our family was complete! I won’t go into all the places we moved or family vacations we took, but dad loved to travel, and he wanted us to experience and see the vast, beautiful, wondrous places of this land, and we saw many thanks to him!
The Dreamer & Learner
My father was also a dreamer and lifelong learner! He loved geology, astronomy, anthropology, paleontology, and even astrophysics; he transferred his love of learning to me and my brothers! Dad would tell you that his love of learning and interests in science was sometimes disturbing to his faith, and he often navigated between the waters of faith and doubt. But, this made dad stronger, not weaker for he was able to transform his doubt into a deeper, vaster faith in God.
In his own words, he says, “Since I am often between faith and doubt, my stockpile of “pat answers” has diminished considerable. Life is discovery, growth, affirmation of faith in God in the midst of doubt. Life is affirmation of the creation of oneself, of others, of the goodness and love of God. Christ is our best light of this, pointing us to a loving Father God through the goodness and light His life has given for us in loving service through suffering even onto death.”
And, so here again you glimpse dad’s superpowers of kindness, compassion, and deep empathy for people and all living beings, and this guided him through his journey between the waters of faith and doubt; and it greatly informed his ministry for he saw himself as a humble servant who would stop to help anyone in need—and this is a gift he gave freely and frequently!
Transformation of Faith
As I was reading dad’s writings, I found one piece he titled an Account of My Life to Age 43 where he describes honestly and elegantly his life journey, especially about the transformation of his faith. Here he accounts the same story I remembered about the 16-year-old boy. (I’ve changed the names for it seems even after all these years, the family is entitled to their privacy) Dad writes: “…the summer of ’72, we moved to Redway to serve Grace Lutheran Church. At that time, the KindFamily was a family of four: Joe, the father, a Roman Catholic and lumberjack; Corothy, the mother, a member of Grace; David (16) had been confirmed that Spring; and Lucy (13). Previous to our acquaintance, they had been a family of 7—two boys had been born with progressive muscular dystrophy and died in their young teens and a baby girl died of lung cancer at age 3. … About two months after our arrival Corothy talked about going to stay with her husband for a week in the woods – something she had never done before. She was apprehensive about leaving the kids. They ended up taking Lucy, while David was to stay with the next-door neighbors who were trusted friends. They left Sunday. Late Tuesday afternoon, council member, Karl came running up our steps, out of breath, a strained expression on this face. “Pastor, Pastor, something awful has happened, they found David dead beside his motorcycle and rifle along a trail. He’s been shot! This is awful. I can’t believe it… David’sthe only boy they had left! They were so proud of him. He was such a good kid. What are we going to do?” Dad writes he was equally shocked as he attempted to reassure Karl that with God’s help they’d find a way to help the Kinds. Karl asked if dad would be there when the family arrived home to tell them what happened. Dad said yes, and he’d like Karl to be there too since he was a supporting friend of the family.” This event solidified for dad at a moment of great tragedy and grief, it is not a time to theologize or to tell a person not to protest to God as they grapple with the question why… why… why… Dad describes how he simply sat in the ditch with the father as he wept, and when he asked questions dad answered them simply with the information he knew. Then, they wept together, talked a little more, and wept again. Dad was there for days and weeks later walking with the family one small step at a time. He came to understand, as he tried to answer the agonizing question why, that we live in a world where accidents and disease happen, death is a mystery, and we don’t know all the answers. He came to believe it is not God who appoints the hour and manner of death, but more evil and death have come into our world through the backdoor (as it were). However, God is on the side of goodness and life; nevertheless, since evil, accidents, disease, and death have come among us, God Himself in Jesus, went through suffering, sorrow, and death… because he loves us and wants to show us he understands, cares, and shares our burdens and carries them with us during our greatest times of grief, pain, sorrow, and need. And, so the gift of faith was given to me—a gift dad demonstrated vividly throughout his life!
The Gift of Courage
The last gift I’ll mention today is courage. It was a heart attack that took him down the evening of July 25, and it was the heroic efforts of first responders and hospital staff in Albert Lea and the Mayo Clinic that brought him back along with our good neighbors who brought Mom to both hospitals that night to be with Dad. One nurse who had also been an EMT told me about 4% of patients flown in after such an event survive, so dad was a miracle—even if it was just one week. Each day on the ICU was a battle, but dad made amazing progress regaining consciousness and recognition surpassing the tempered hopes that the excellent doctors and nurses held for him and worked tirelessly to achieve. The best the team could work out is dad probably went without oxygen to his brain for 15 to 20 minutes—most agree after 9; severe brain damage can begin. Despite tremendous gains coming back consciously, his body continued to reel from catastrophic system failures. The doctors figured out one problem was a blockage in an artery in the heart, which they fixed this with a stint, but the other required a pace maker. This was a challenge because dad had several broken ribs since CPR is really only effective when ribs are broken. But, pneumonia set in creating a vicious cycle of needing to cough, which caused pain that sent him into cycles of delirium. It was a delicate balance the medical team at St. Mary’s walked, moment by moment to figure out what dad needed.
Two days before his death—I call it his Lazarus day. I arrived in the morning. He was sitting upright in bed with wonderful color to his face and a sparkle in his eyes. He was holding a pen, paper, and bible and exclaimed happily as I walked in: “Debbie!” I returned: “Dad!” I sat down beside him and asked him what he was doing. He told me he had a lot of thank yous to write but was having a hard time getting started.
The day before had been pretty rough for he had worked his feed tube out 3 times, earning him the title of the Hundi of Feeding Tubes. He still did not have it reinserted, and so his nurse fed him pudding with his pills crushed in it. It was slow, and dad was having a hard time swallowing. But, this day, everyone was so hopeful he could recover at least to this point; however, to do so, he would need the feed tube reinserted. This sent him into a delirium he would not come out of, and this is where the courage comes in… I had to have the courage to see the totality of his reality – I needed to reconcile the hope of his recovery with the despair of cascading system failures in his body. After 36 hours of continuous delirium, I made the tough decision to move him to comfort care, allowing the nurses and doctors to give him stronger medications to keep him comfortable and out of pain. The Mayo team was magnificent in providing me and our family with all the options ranging from further invasive interventions to comfort care, and it was his night nurse, Luis, who said something about being able to give dad stronger medicines that night, which finally made me understand the reality of dad’s situation. We had never made it out of the Sea of Delirium, and dad was suffering and needed me to make a courageous choice. So, I did.
When I returned the next morning, he was sleeping—the delirium was over. His day nurse told me he had cleaned him, and they were making him comfortable. He looked at peace. I could hear the gurgle of the pneumonia in his lungs, but he was not struggling for air. I sat down next to him and began to read part of the book I have written for I had promised to send him the manuscript but had not yet sent it. The Chaplin came in after a couple of hours. I told him all about dad and the past week. He recited the 23rdPsalm, and then he said a prayer incorporating everything I had told him. I resumed reading. His nurse came back to turn him. I continued reading holding his hand, comforted by his warmth. Less than 45 minutes later, his breathing suddenly changed. I looked at his monitor and saw his heart rate dropping just as it had been doing over the past week (this is why he needed a pace maker). I felt panic and pleaded with dad to wait for mom to arrive (for I felt she was 15 minutes away). Dad breathed, and his heart rate went up, but for less than a minute; then it plunged again. I wanted to run and get the nurse to give him a drug to increase his heart rate, but I didn’t… I knew he was going and I needed to let him go… this took tremendous courage… how could I let my father go? I couldn’t, so I threw myself on him, hugged him and cried. His nurse came in and put his arm around my shoulders as I held onto dad, and his doctor came in and held my hand. After a while, I looked up and asked, “Is he gone?” His doctor simply and compassionately confirmed dad had gone. My brothers and mom arrived 10 minutes later. His nurse and doctor stayed with us for a long time. I did not feel for one minute they had anything more important to do than to be a witness to dad’s passing and our grief—a tremendous gift.
The Gift of Love
So, thank you all for being here to remember dad and to celebrate his life and the many gifts he gave to so many of us.
I know dad never felt he deserved this sort of attention, but dad, if you are listening, you deserve it, every last bit of it for your gifts have healed so many people in our broken world, which desperately needs the compassion you shared and your capacity to listen and be with others during their greatest hour of need and to do so in kindness and with empathy, all of which came so natural to you.
We love you dad!