Saturday, April 14, 2012

Working 4 You

1998 represented something of a personal roller coaster.  Work was great.  I was professionally at the top of my game and the station was one of the most successful FOX affiliates in the country.  We were successful despite a change in station leadership.

Stan Knott had come on board as our GM.  The first thing he did was piss off the reporters and photographers which resulted in the photographers unionizing and the reporters just falling short in their efforts to follow suit.  I think it stands as the only time that a FOX owned and operated station had a group form a union.  Stan also got rid of the best reporters to ever grace the Kansas City television market.  He refused to renew Dave Helling's contract.  It was a move to save money and I don't fault Stan for doing what he thought was in the best interest in the station financially.

But also rained on my parade.  Part of my deal with the station was that I could work 4 days a week while going to grad school.  I took a cut in pay to do that and it was a verbal agreement when I came back to work in 1995.  When Stan arrived he put a halt to that making school and work an almost impossible combination.

But it was on the home front that life got difficult.  First my Uncle Bob had surgery to remove part of a cancerous lung in June.  Shortly after that my mother who had lost a leg to cancer in the mid-1980's was told she had lung cancer.  Frances was a lifelong smoker.  The prognosis wasn't good.

This was all happening along with the release of my documentary about Kansas miler Jim Ryun.  It was well received in the running community and praised by Track and Field News.  I should have been on top of the world but my mother was dying from cancer.

Over the course of five long months my mother slowly deteriorated.  I was lucky that she was just a 40 minute drive away and treasured our times together.  Early Sunday November 22nd my little sister, a registered nurse, who was caring for mom called in full frantic.  I thought it was the end but Mary exclaimed that she simply needed a break because mom was making her crazy.  I raced to Lawrence to offer some relief.

When I walked in the house on Emerald Drive I saw my Aunt Ann with a look on her face that told me everything.  Next came Mary walking in from mom's bedroom and I knew.  It was a long day.  Frances was hanging in there but her color was terrible and her breathing was labored.  My brother-in-law Bob and oldest sister Dianne arrived.  My other sister Karen and her husband Keith were in Tennessee.  They had said their goodbyes a few weeks before and we're waiting in Clarksville for the inevitable.

At one point sometime just after noon mom stopped breathing and turned blue.  But slowly she came back.  It was agonizing.  She was in complete misery and I said a prayer asking God to ease her pain and take her to a better place.  I felt guilty for that prayer but I didn't know what else to do.

Ann, Mary and Dianne were in my mother's bedroom when I walked in about mid-afternoon and she had suddenly stopped breathing again.  Slowly she turned blue and this time there would be no going back.  We waited 5, 10, 15 minutes.  Dianne broke the tension asking a great question, "I wonder who she'll choose?"  She meant would Frances choose her first husband Russell Rinkenbaugh, our father, or Mary's father, Leland Longhofer, when they met in heaven.  We also snickered.  I'm betting on Leland.  I never knew my father, but I knew Leland, who had died the year before.  He was a smooth customer.

The experience was surreal but in the end it made me value more than I ever did in my self-centered adult wife.  It brought me closer to my sisters and especially to Mary, who had shown unbelievable strength and courage in handling my mother's illness on a daily basis for nearly 3 months.  It brought me closer to my brother-in-law Bob, who showed me a gentle side that he had kept well hidden for 25 years.

I remember the next day we went and selected a casket and I headed up to Rim Rock and the NCAA cross country championship.  I saw my friends like John Broholm and Steve Riley who both mean the world to me.  I saw Adam Goucher of Colorado earn a deserved national title on a brilliant fall afternoon in the beautiful hills north of Lawrence.  Bob Timmons had built a cathedral to cross country that deserves to host another national meet someday.

I'll never forget the funeral and most importantly the people who came.  Friends came that I never expected to see like Alice Edwards and her mother.  I remember playing guitar with my cousin Mike back at my mom's house after the ceremony.  For me it was like getting to play catch with Sandy Koufax.

But my mom was a great woman.  She lived by the golden rule.  Frances Longhofer loved unconditionally.  She had a big heart and loved her life and friends.  She didn't take any crap from anyone.  She was a feminist while hating everything that word stood for.  I wish I could be like her and I miss her everyday because she challenged me to be more than I ever thought I could be and put up with an endless amount of heartache from her children that no mother should ever have to endure.

It was a horrid end to 1998.  Just three weeks later my mother's older sister, Virginia, died from cancer.  Her death came as a complete shock.  Aunt Virginia had gone to have a hysterectomy.  When the surgeon opened her, he found she was full of cancer.  She died the next day.  It was heartbreaking.

1998 was saved to some extend by my best friend Mike Bloemker and his wonderful parents Gerald and Jan.  We all went to Las Vegas together in the last week of December.  Mike and I had a five day adventure fest.  Gerald and Jan treated me like a prince.  But the roller coaster rider was far from over.

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