Wisdom from Wibaux: Preaching By Living

Preaching by Living: Pastor Jeff Gannon on the Wisdom from WibauxThe Kramer Family

A little bit of back story to what I want to share with you this week about the Wisdom from Wibaux: Preaching by Living. One of my mother’s best friends, Shirley Kramer, was the County Health Nurse. She was the only trained medical person in our community–the volunteer ambulance crew could provide basic first aid at best. Shirley and her husband Jim had five girls. Their daughter Joy and I were classmates and she was their youngest daughter. Shirley’s husband, Jim, was a rancher and owned the Milton Hotel in downtown Wibaux. The Milton was the equivalent of a long-term stay hotel. Most of the people who resided there would have been homeless without a place like the Milton.

Caring for Bessie

The Kramer family lived on the main level of the Milton Hotel. Jim created the equivalent of a large apartment for the family. In my second grade year, Bessie, Shirley’s mom and Joy’s grandmother, suffered a massive stroke. She lost the ability to speak and was completely confined to bed. When she tried to communicate, all that would come out was, “boo-dah, boo-dah, boo-dah…” She made hand gestures, pointed and used facial expressions to get her meaning across. Occasionally, she giggled as she sought to communicate her thoughts and feelings.

The Kramer family moved Bessie into their home and created a hospital like room essentially. This room contained a hospital bed and a large opening to the living room so Bessie could see what was going on. The opening closed with a large sliding curtain only when it was time to change her diaper and clothes. Maintaining Bessie’s privacy was always a priority for the Kramer family, so hearing the rings slide across the dowel above the opening was a familiar sound because my mother and I spent a lot of time at the Kramer home.

I watched first-hand how Shirley and all of the girls would tenderly care for their mother and grandmother. They changed her diaper and cleaned her up without complaining.  Because Shirley was very busy as a public nurse, the girls were mostly in charge of feeding Bessie by hand (after having pureed the food) and changing her diaper multiple times throughout the day. Not one time did I ever hear them lament their lot as full-time care givers for Bessie. Not once.

Shirley’s Package of Lifesavers

Her heavy load as a public health nurse with five children and a bed-ridden mother gave Shirley heart problems.  The nearest major medical center offering open heart bypass surgery was 250 miles away. My mother and I drove to Billings, Montana, to see Shirley there the night before the scheduled surgery. She was in the typical hospital gown. After some small talk, my mother asked, “Shirley, would you like something from the gift shop? Anything you need before surgery?” Without any hesitation, Shirley said, “I would like a package of Lifesavers.”

Without wasting any time, we went down the elevator to the gift shop on the main level. Fortunately, they had a roll of five-flavor Lifesavers.  We went back up to Shirley’s room and my mother handed her the package of Lifesavers. Shirley said, “Thank you, I really need a Lifesaver right now.”

My fourth grade mind was observing and listening to everything going on in that hospital room. My mother was silent in response to Shirley’s comment. But, even though I was a child, I knew Shirley was communicating something beyond a desire for candy. When I arrived home from school the next day, I learned that Shirley died on the operating table. I can vividly recall her funeral at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church as if it happened yesterday.

Over the years, I have often thought of Shirley’s comment, “I really need a Lifesaver right now.” I believe Shirley knew she would not survive the surgery. I don’t think it was a negative attitude but a prepared mind and heart for what Shirley and God knew was coming. As the saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways” and Shirley was saying ‘good-bye’ and trying to prepare us in her own unique way.

The Wisdom from Wibaux: Preaching by Living

Jim and the five girls continued to care for Bessie for many years until the day she died. They did so without hesitation, limitation or reservation and with love, respect, and dignity.

The Wisdom from Wibaux is that the Christian life, more often than not, is “caught” rather than “taught.” I will always remember with gratitude the dignity and honor of the Kramer family, which took care of Bessie for years until the day she died. “Preaching the Gospel at all times and only if necessary use words.” Even though tradition attributes the saying to St. Francis, the Kramers lived it. Whenever I read or hear these sacred words of St. Paul, I think of the Kramer family. “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I Timothy 5:8

Next week, I will tell you a story about Jim Kramer and the Milton Hotel.

–Pastor Jeff Gannon



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