Chapter 10, Part 2: Celebrating Life and Facing Death, 1984-1996

Bill and Meta had contributed generously to the founding and development of the Memorial Home just south of Moundridge, which had served as a retirement home beginning in 1958. By the 1980s, the complex had expanded to include facilities for independent living, dependent living, and nursing care. Bill remembered the difficult final years and months of his grandfather Carl Juhnke's life, noting that the family could have used such a facility then. But Bill believed that people who were still able to take care of themselves should not move to a retirement center. He adamantly refused suggestions that it would be best for him and Meta to make the move while they were in reasonably good health.

Then on January 9, 1990, still at the house by Elyria, Bill's declining health collapsed definitively. He became "delirious" and that morning fell into the bathtub when Meta was trying to help him get dressed for the day. Meta called neighbors to get him out of the tub and transport him to the Bethel Deaconess Hospital in Newton. It soon became clear that the time to move to Moundridge had come, and that Meta and Jim should get legal authority to do so. With her family's help, Meta on January 22 made a down payment on an apartment at Pine Village, adjacent to the Moundridge Memorial Home. The next day they moved furniture, kitchen items, and other things from the Elyria house to the Pine Village apartment. On January 23, Bill was moved from Bethel Deaconess Hospital in Newton to a "respite care" room at Mercy Hospital in Moundridge. A therapist who came to his room asked some questions. "How many fingers am I holding up? (6)" "Four," replied Bill. "What are your goals in life?" Said Bill, revealing primal priorities, "I want to drive my car again. And I want to attend the dedication of the new Eden Church."

New Eden Mennonite Church, built 1989-90.

After a month, he had recovered sufficiently in mind and body to accept a move to the Pine Village apartment. Meta wrote in her diary that night, "Candy, Tara and I got Bill home from Mercy Hospital at 1 p.m. So far, so good." "Home" was now at Pine Village.

The apartment for independent living that Meta so quickly learned to call "home" was where they lived together until Bill died just over a year later (February 14, 1991). Then Meta lived there alone until she fell and broke her hip not quite five years later (October 2, 1994). Meta's role in her final year with Bill was akin to that of a full-time caregiver, especially in the later months. He always yearned to return to the farm where he could check out the farmstead or chop weeds and trim trees in the pasture. On March 16, 1990, Meta recorded in her diary that Bill had "walked to the Home and asked if he could put up a request for a ride to Elyria. Lois (Memorial Home administrator) asked him if his wife knew he was there. He said yes he told her." Lois called Meta to learn the truth.

With the passing of time Bill recovered enough to be able to drive the car and get himself to the farm by himself, but Meta always wondered if he would find his way back. On one occasion he filled the car with gas at a self-help pump at the Moundridge Co-op station and forgot to go in and pay for the gas. Someone at the Co-op fortunately saw him drive off and telephoned the Juhnke apartment. Bill immediately returned to pay the bill. Fortunately they lived in a small town community where everyone knew everyone and realized what was going on.

The last photo taken of Bill and Meta and their children,
Candace, Janet, Sharon, Bill Jr., Ruth, and Jim. September 1990.

On Christmas Day 1990, Meta wrote "Bill hasn't improved. He still seems to be in the denial stage." Meta could not share the most private details in her letter, but one reality Bill had trouble accepting was that sexual relations were no longer possible for him. Dr. Kaufman had been quite forthright on the point. Bill's condition and the medications he was taking ruled out sex. Nevertheless, Bill would blame Meta when he couldn't perform. Meta wrote, "I'm trying but find myself getting impatient too often. It would be worse if he had to take care of me."

Meta's caring for Bill was complicated by her own physical infirmities. For years she had to deal with pains in her feet that the doctors identified vaguely as "peripheral neuritis" and for which the prescribed circulation medicine did not work. She had no more luck with acupuncture or reflexology. In addition she was afflicted by macular degeneration, an eye disease that prevented her, after about 1988, from continuing her beloved work of quilting. She continued reading with magnifying glasses as long as she could.

Bill's final decline moved quite rapidly. On January 26, 1991, he was admitted to Mercy Hospital in Moundridge. On February 6 he was removed to nursing care at the Memorial Home where he soon lost his ability to take adequate nourishment to stay alive. Meta, with the support of her children, made the difficult decision not to arrange for intravenous feeding. He died on February 11. The community network of support swung into action with donated food, gifts of flowers and expressions of condolence. The funeral at the Eden Church was well attended and included the customary elements: burial service in the cemetery just west of the church; separate family sharing prior to the main service; singing by the Eden men's chorus (twenty-three voices singing "In the Rifted Rock I'm Resting" and "O Mein Jesu Du Bist Wert); tribute by the oldest child; sermon by Ed Stucky, Bill's former high school student; meal of sandwiches, chips and pie; and a time for wider sharing of memories with Bill Jr. presiding at the microphone.

Though her grief was profound, Meta soon learned to take advantage of her freedom from full-time care giving. One major task was preparation for the sale on June 1, 1991, of the farm homestead, the farm tools and machinery, and accumulated goods of a lifetime. It was an occasion for more family sharing and bonding as they made decisions about what items to distribute to the children and what to let go. Two nights before the sale, a windstorm blew down the large old mulberry tree west of the house that had grown up with Bill in his early years and for decades had provided large sweet mulberries for the Juhnke family. The family speculated that the tree had decided it didn't care to continue living if Bill Juhnke was not going to be there. The sale was well attended and the bidding for major items was brisk. The family was pleased with the financial results.

In Bill's absence Meta was able to take advantage of social, cultural and educational events at Pine Village, the Eden Church, and Bethel College. She had become comfortable living her retirement community where she knew so many people who had been part of her church. Her sister Marjorie, and brother in law Marvin Stucky, lived at Pine Village. Meta loved to reminisce about her early years, as well as to keep in touch with the progress of her grandchildren. A year after losing Bill, Meta dictated (and Candy wrote, as writing had become difficult for Meta) a contribution to the Goering round robin letter that indicated the texture of her life at that point:

"I continue to take part in the activities available to me here at Pine Village. Last night, we had a pot-luck dinner. Today, I was invited out to lunch at Pizza Hut with two neighbors. Tomorrow I will go to Bible Study and then to Life Enrichment at Bethel College. Friday I will eat lunch at the Senior Center.

"As I look forward to spring, I think of planting garden, of Easter celebrations (including the Messiah with Clyde, Marjorie, Jessica & Candy singing), and graduations (of grandchildren)--Eric from Graceland College, Karl from Reed College, Celeste from El Camino High School, and Carrie from 8th grade."

One measure of Meta's new independence was in the realm of personal finance. In April 1991, less than three months after Bill died, she decided to purchase long term care insurance. Her son, Jim, impressed with the high annual premium of $900 per year, advised against buying the insurance. As it turned out, Meta paid the premiums for just under four years, and then, after surgery and a stroke, lived in the nursing section of Memorial Home for two years. The insurance payments of forty dollars a day for Meta's nursing care saved the family more than $25,000.

On May 1, 1993, Ruth Juhnke married Chester White in a ceremony at the Eden Mennonite Church. Chester was employed as a set designer and builder for the Repertory Theater at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. Meta, with her traditional views of gender roles, took great satisfaction in knowing that Ruth now had someone "to take care of her." Meta was also delighted with the birth of Ruth and Chester's daughter, Angelica Shanti White, on May 5, 1994. Angelica was Meta and Bill's thirteenth grandchild.

Meta died at age 80 on October 31, 1996, five days after a severe stroke. She was the oldest of twelve Goering siblings, and the first of her family to die. Her name was already beside that of her husband, Bill, on a memorial stone just west of the Eden Church. The memorial service was a great extended family, church and community event. The gatherings included a Friday evening reception at the funeral home in Moundridge , the Saturday funeral at the Eden Church (burial ceremony, pre-funeral meeting of family members for instructions and for memory sharing, the funeral ceremony itself including sermon and special music, the post-ceremony meal and open-mike sharing of memories of Meta), and a Sunday afternoon meeting of Meta's siblings and their families at the Moundridge Memorial Home. Candy, Meta's youngest daughter, functioned as head of the family in making local arrangements and hosting the family gatherings. She and Vance served twenty-seven people at the meal before the funeral on Saturday.

Janet, the oldest daughter, presented the tribute to Meta at the funeral service. How can we, she asked, "summarize briefly a life of eighty full and busy years. Do we say daughter, sister, wife, mother? Do we say scholar, teacher, homemaker, farmer? Or how about cook, seamstress, gardener, launderer, manager of accounts, nurse, arranger of schedules, chauffeur, wiper of runny noses, comforter of hurts, hearty laugher at jokes, taskmaster and disciplinarian, applauder of performances, encourager of best efforts, counselor to broken hearts, believer in potentials? We must say committed Christian, church volunteer, pray-er, giver, carer, potluck contributor, baker of pies for funerals, Bible-reader, hymn-lover. . . ."

William and Meta Juhnke gravestone in Eden Mennonite Church cemetery.

For the grieving children and grandchildren of Bill and Meta Goering Juhnke, Meta's death in 1996 marked a passage of generations, freighted with meaning. One way to deal with that passage was found in one of Bill's letters, written nearly two decades earlier to a friend who was grieving the death of her own father. Bill had recently attended the funeral of Linda Kaufman (Mrs. Paul D. Kaufman) where Linda's nephew, Dr. Gordon Kaufman, Professor of Theology at Harvard University and the son of Bill's mentor, Edmund G. Kaufman, had given the meditation. On May 25, 1967, Bill wrote to his friend two paragraphs that he called a "paraphrase" of Gordon Kaufman's message:

"In the event of death we are brought to the deepest mystery--especially when the life has been useful. Sometimes we wonder if Life is not a cruel mockery when in death all is gone. It is when death strikes that we wonder what has true meaning. There is so much to be thankful for: a life companion; children who have come to bless the home and whose nurture has been shared in; a vocational service has been shared in the community; a faithfulness to Christ has been promoted; support of the Church and its mission have been championed. This memorial remains even as a reminder of what has been lost.

"Our final destiny is hidden from our lives. It is not really in our hands. As we face death we face the ultimate powerlessness. Then we can see what Faith in God really is. Then it is that we can put our trust in the hands of a loving God without reservation. Perhaps it is painful but it can lead us into an understanding of the real meaning of Life. It enables us to turn in faith and trust and love to the God of our Creation."

Back to Chapter 10, Part 1

Appendix: The William and Meta Juhnke family members, August 2009

Return to the So Much to be Thankful For Table of Contents

By James C. Juhnke,

Web page by Joanne Juhnke,
Last updated 13 August 2009.