Vannen was admitted to hospice at age seventy-three with end-stage Parkinson’s disease. Vannen was a master auto mechanic and taught automotive technology at the Pike County and Pickaway-Ross Vocational Schools. According to Eleanor, “Vannen could fix anything”.
Even though Vannen was enshrouded by his illness, his personality and sense of humor still broke through from time to time. Vannen’s wife, Eleanor, recounted, “The caregiver brought him two chicken drumsticks one day. After he ate both of them the caregiver said, ‘I should have brought you another one. Then Vannen replied, ‘I never saw a three legged chicken before.’” On another occasion, Vannen, alone in his bedroom , appeared to be confused and rambling and talking to someone. Eleanor asked him, “Are you talking to me?” Vannen replied, ‘No, but you can join in if you want to.’ Eleanor added, “It’s funny but it’s not funny.”
During one of my visits Eleanor asked, “Do you want to see our pond?” On our way Eleanor stopped by the garage and scooped up some fish pellets. I followed her along a path of embedded concrete blocks through a field behind their house. The pond wasn’t immediately visible. The path lead to a small wooden dock with a leaning rail overlooking the pond. Eleanor broadcasted the fish pellets into the water and several large orange, yellow and multicolored fish rolled to the surface to feed. They were accompanied by a solitary turtle, a large catfish and several blue gills. Eleanor explained, “Those orange and yellow ones are Japanese Coi,” and she pointed out the ones with “fan tails”.
On the way back to the house, I asked Eleanor, “Who laid all these blocks?” Eleanor explained, “Several years ago I had a bad ankle and I couldn’t walk on uneven ground. So Vannen laid all these blocks so I could still get to the pond. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the pond together.” I commented on what a monumental task it must have been to embed so many blocks. (424 to be exact, I counted). Then Eleanor, with a coy girlish smile, declared, “He loves me”.
I’m reminded of the story about a Rabbi and a young man. The Rabbi, as was the custom, taught his disciples as they walked along the city streets. A young man watched from a distance and grew fond of the teacher. Mustering up the courage, he approached the Rabbi and said, “Rabbi, I’ve watched you from a distance and I’ve grown to love you and I’d like to become one of your disciples.” The Rabbi asked the young man. “Do you know what brings me joy?” The young man answered, “No”. Then the Rabbi asked, “Do you know what brings me pain?” Again the young man answered, “No”. Then the rabbi asked him, “Then how can you say you love me?”
I believe many of us have a vague concept of love. Unfortunately vague concepts leave us directionless and without a clear purpose or intent. The best operational definition of love I’ve ever read was by Charles Finney in his book, “The Principles of Love”. Finney purports that love is first of all, volitional; a choice, not a feeling. Secondly, love is intentional. It cares enough to explore and understand what brings another joy and what brings them pain. Thirdly, love is benevolent or “good willing”. It is dedicated to the highest good of another for its own sake, without regard to personal satisfaction, with no strings attached. In Vannen’s case, love was willing to lay 424 concrete blocks to enable Eleanor to reach what she loved and enjoyed.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at [email protected]. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course” at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.