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Sharing memories of my brother

NIAGARA, Wis. — January provided a tough start in the new year for me. My brother died suddenly – and, sadly, alone — in his Kingsford apartment. Early on Jan. 13, our breakfast was interrupted by two Niagara police officers knocking on our door. They had been notified by a Kingsford Public Safety officer who had been called upon to do a wellness check by the manager of his apartment complex after other tenants had reported not seeing him around for a couple of days. I was listed in his apartment records as the one to notify.

While I certainly was not expecting the notification to come quite this soon — my brother was 68, only 15 months younger than me — I had imagined such a scenario. He had not been aging well and had not been taking care of his many health issues. He kept his medical appointments, but did not follow any of the advice his doctor gave him. He knew he should be eating healthier, taking his medications as directed, actually using his CPAP machine, and exercising. But for whatever reason, he never was able to make the lifestyle changes that were needed to prolong his life.

At this point, I cannot change the situation. As his “big sister” I tried hard to help him in any way I could. I made suggestions, gave him healthy recipes, got him a medication minder to help him keep track of his doses, cleaned for him from time to time, took him on errands when necessary or when he just wanted some company. But I could not live his life for him. In the end, all I could do was make one last trip to his apartment on that awful morning to say good-bye and then do what needed to be done to tie up the loose ends of his life.

The first order of business was handled according to plans already made with the funeral home. I was able to manage that with the wonderful help of Scott Lutey. My husband helped with the next, and most monumental, task of emptying out my brother’s apartment. Oh, my goodness, was that a big job! My brother was a collector of old things. He enjoyed nothing more than to spend a summer day at an auction, an estate sale, or a flea market and always came home with something to add to his ever-growing cache of collectibles.

As I watched his collection grow and threaten to completely overtake his apartment, I would gently remind him that an item was only “worth” the money if someone actually bought it from him. I did not share his enthusiasm for old things. On one very memorable occasion, we attended a big auction in the Ruth Butler Building on the state fairgrounds in Escanaba. I saw a chair I wanted to bid on, and he coached me on how to go about it. We were successful, and I brought the chair home. When he learned that I had actually had the chair stripped, stained and upholstered to “match” my living room, he just had a fit. He could not understand my need to have it look like new, and I could not understand his love of the aged lacquer and old cracked leather. We agreed to disagree, and I now cherish the memory of that day spent together every time I sit in that chair.

I did what I could — cleaning out the lightweight items in the kitchen and bath — and I went through his desk to find all of the important papers I would need to finalize other matters. I found I could not spend more than a couple of hours at a time sifting through the pieces of his life — emotionally it was just too difficult. My husband, bless his heart, did the lion’s share of the work over the course of two weeks. Because of his efforts, donations were made to the Salvation Army’s food pantry, St. Vincent’s store, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, Maryhill Manor, the Cancer Loan Closet, and a Marquette artist’s cooperative. My brother would have been pleased to know that his belongings had found new homes with people who could use the items or even treasure some of the things as much as he had.

Family dynamics are always complicated. I notified my youngest brother and sister, and while they were surprised, they were not as saddened as I was. Our personal relationships with him were so very different, and I eventually understood and accepted this fact. For me, as the oldest, he was always my younger brother. He would forever be someone for whom I felt partially responsible. He never married. I kept track of the many twists and turns he made throughout life, and at least 15 years ago sent him bus fare so he could move back to Wisconsin from a short stay in upstate New York. He lived with us in Niagara until he got his feet on the ground, found a job and an apartment. I was always just a phone call away, which was a comfort for both of us.

For my youngest siblings — the “twins” — he was their big brother and, sadly, a major disappointment. I was in college and then married young so was gone for the drama that affected their lives. To say that he was a free spirit who lived life on his own terms was putting it mildly. Suffice to say he was “into a lot” in his younger years throughout the 1970’s — a tumultuous time in history that matched his adventurous soul. Truth be told, I sometimes envied his free-wheeling attitude toward life and his unflinching willingness for the next big adventure. As the “second mom” of the family, I was a rule follower and enforcer and older than my years.

I remember one of the many conversations we had about our youth. He was telling me all about different places he had been in neighboring towns and asked me if I had ever been there. I told him absolutely not and asked him how in the world he had ever gotten permission from our mother to go and do all these things. He looked at me with this amused look on his face and simply said, “Permission? Heck, I just said goodbye and see ya’ later and left.” I was floored.

Despite all of the twists and turns he made throughout his life and the many difficult situations in which he found himself because of poor decision making, I will always remember him as totally embracing life and living it on his terms. He always had a job and managed to persevere through some tough situations. And he had a big heart. If a friend needed something, he was there. When he lived in Chicago for a while, barely scraping by himself, he left quarters on a particular brick window ledge for a neighborhood homeless man to find. Back then, you could at least buy a cup of coffee for a quarter. When he lived in New York, he took in a stray cat and planted hundreds of tulip and daffodil bulbs for his landlady.

His legacy is not what many people think of, and admire, when they remember the grand accomplishments made by some upon their departure from this world. There is no college endowment fund in his name or building named after him. He left no heirs or anything to inherit if he had. But somewhere in upstate New York there are tulips and daffodils every spring. And in Niagara, there is a sister who will always hold his memory dear.

——

NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus are not being published to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities that residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they reopen, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers that are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the numbers listed here.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pick-up-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays through Thursdays. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Meatballs, mashed potatoes, California blend vegetables and lettuce salad.

Wednesday: Sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, corn and tomatoes.

Thursday: Chicken cacciatore, noodles, broccoli and lettuce salad.

Note: All meals served with milk, bread and butter, fruit and dessert.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Spaghetti, meat sauce, mixed vegetables and garlic bread.

Tuesday: Pork chops, baked potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Wednesday: Roast beef, mashed potatoes and cauliflower.

Thursday: Baked fish, cheesy potatoes and baked beans.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk or juice and fruit.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Pork chops, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots.

Tuesday: Swedish meatballs, buttered noodles and green beans.

Wednesday: Baked fish patty, rice, winter blend vegetables and pudding.

Thursday: Cheesy macaroni casserole, carrots and applesauce.

Friday: Chicken Alfredo, noodles Italian blend vegetables and dinner rolls.

Note: All meals served with a choice of skim milk, juice, or no beverage.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at (906) 774-2256

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Menu for the week —

Monday: Shrimp, pasta and broccoli.

Tuesday: Ham casserole, peas and salad.

Wednesday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and carrots.

Note: All meals served with skim milk or juice.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week –

Monday: Cheese omelets, hash browns and sausage.

Tuesday: Beef dumpling soup, ham and cheese sandwich.

Wednesday: Pizza and three bean salad.

Thursday: Open faced turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and dessert.

Norway Center

Director: Michelle DeSimone

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick-up — those picking up must call ahead and wear a mask. Menu for the week —

Monday: Sloppy Joes, mixed vegetables, tater tots, fruit, juice and dessert.

Tuesday: Italian sausage roll-ups, winter blend vegetables, garlic bread, fruit, juice and dessert.

Wednesday: Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, Brussel sprouts, fruit, juice and dessert.

Thursday: Shepherd’s pie, mixed vegetables, glazed carrots, biscuit, fruit, juice and dessert.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Chili, cornbread, carrots and fruit.

Wednesday: Lasagna roll-up with meat sauce, mixed vegetables, garlic bread and fruit.

Thursday: Turkey roast with gravy, roasted potatoes and green beans.

All meals served with fruit and choice of skim milk or juice.

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