Reflection on December 7 2017

As I look back over my posts from this week a year ago, I’m struck by things I had forgotten. 1. Lynette’s speech difficulties lasted longer than I remembered. 2. I had forgotten that problems with fluid on her RIGHT lung became obvious early in the week. She had had a “pleural drain” inserted on her LEFT lung at MD Anderson on November 10. She had, of course, had breathing difficulties that showed up intensely on Thanksgiving Day and she had come home on oxygen. Fluid accumulation on her RIGHT lung was new. That tells me that “disease progression” had accelerated. Whether that progression was behind her neurological difficulties is not something we ever got answered and is, maybe, not that important now. 3. I began the week believing that we could still have a goal of her returning to mobility and handling her Activities of Daily Living to a degree that would allow her to return to MD Anderson for the Clinical Trial. She had said “You hide and watch” to indicate HER confidence in that same goal.

I know that by Tuesday or Wednesday of that week, I was becoming skeptical that this was going to happen. I had a lengthy Facebook Messenger conversation with Clare Richardson Biedenharn about how she had come to decide that her husband Jim needed to move into Hospice care. The way I framed the question was “How did you know it was time to stop?” By Thursday, December 7, I had not come to decide it was time for US to stop, but the question was now in my mind and heart and in conversation with another person walking the same path.

I watched Lynette during those days doing her level best to cooperate with the Occupational and Physical Therapists. She was always “game” to try what they asked and always pleasant and cordial with anyone who came into the room. It’s also the job of such persons to be encouraging. The combination of “optimisms” may have been a little misleading to me.

The circumstances of Lynette’s being at St. Dominic’s meant that the hosptialists overseeing her care were not as familiar with her case as they might have been. It took until Thursday, December 7 for the St. D. hospitalists and Lynette’s UMMC oncologists to get into contact. New scans were ordered for December 7 and 8 to see where things stood with the “disease progression.” Lynette’s last UMMC scans had been in September and her last scans at MD Anderson had been in early November. Things certainly CAN change in that time.

I’m holding the rest of this story until tomorrow. In many ways, December 8, 2017 was the worst day. While some details from earlier in the week had become fuzzy, the details of THAT day are ones I will never forget.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflection on December 7, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

December 7, 2017

The hospitalist and Lynette’s UMMC oncologist have been in contact. They did a repeat MRI of her brain today. They will do a repeat CT of her chest and belly tomorrow. They want to know how much her cancer has progressed since September.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

16 Months of Storms, Part 16

The Spring of 2017 was relatively “unremarkable.” We were processing our move to Harrisville, but things went smoothly on that front. One memorable event came on Maundy Thursday. Jack Lofln, my first District Superintendent and father of my Millsaps and Elders Ordination classmate, Vicki Loflin Johnson, had his funeral that day. Lynette and I attended. The close of the service included the robed Conference clergy in attendance singing Jack’s favorite hymn, “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.” I found myself unable to sing through my tears as the song was sung. Certainly, Jack had been important to me, but, in retrospect, I think there was an additional death I was grieving, though it hadn’t happened yet.

Lynette’s nephew, William Hargrove, graduated from Samford University on the second Saturday of May. The four of us traveled to Birmingham for the event. I got a chance the next day to make pilgrimage to 16th Street Baptist Church and to Kelly Ingram Park. Lynette, Sarah, and I looked forward to Sarah’s graduation from Millsaps the NEXT May. We all PLANNED to be there.

Annual Conference was a little strange, as Lynette was announced as being on Disability Leave, rather than under appointment. There WERE some happy events. Sarah Jo Adams-Wilson, who had been a high school youth in Lynette’s Petal Church, was ordained Elder. We got a chance to celebrate that milestone with her and her family. We looked forward to the expected Commissioning of Lynette’s sister Linda Little at Annual Conference 2018. My appointment to Harrisville was “fixed.”

Between Annual Conference and moving day, we traveled to Greenville for my 40th anniversary High School class reunion. It was VERY good to see that group of folks again AND to make “pilgrimage” to the building where so many pivotal events in my life happened from 1975-77. I also took Luke and Sarah to see the houses where I lived during my Greenville years (1971-81) and the church I attended. While we were in the Delta, we also went to Greenwood. Lynette showed the children the house she had lived in, her elementary school and the church where Lynette and I were married. We also had lunch at the Crystal Grill. I’m especially grateful that the four of us had THAT time together.

We endeavored to cull as much of our “stuff” as possible before our move to Harrisville. Nevertheless, we loaded the largest U-Haul Truck available as full as it would go, and found we still had stuff left over. Ultimately, three ever smaller trucks were necessary to complete our move. We also engaged a specialist to move our THREE pianos (Another long story)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

16 Months of Storms Part 15

Shared with Public

I mentioned a couple of posts back that Lynette went on disability leave through the United Methodist Church’s Comprehensive Protection Plan beginning January 1, 2017. St. Paul very generously kept her on partial salary through the end of June. It was clear, though, that someone else would need to take over the work that Lynette had been doing for St. Paul.

On one of the Sundays in January (I don’t know if it was the 15th or 22nd) Lynette and I went to pack up her office at St. Paul, so that the person succeeding her could move in. There was a certain sense of “finality” to that act. The treasures of 29 and a half years of ministry were in the boxes we packed and moved that day.

On a Sunday in February (again, I can’t remember the specific one) St. Paul had a reception for Lynette to thank her for her ministry there and for her to thank them for their support. The necessity of saying “Thank You” and “Goodbye” was never particularly theoretical to me, but I will always be quite grateful for that day.

The appointment process moved faster than I was used to during 2017. I was notified in late February that I had been appointed to Harrisville United Methodist Church in northern Simpson County. “Announcement Sunday” for that year was the first Sunday in March. Sarah’s Junior Voice recital was that same Sunday. I had (as was allowed) made that appointment public after the close of morning worship. Unfortunately, Sarah found out about it by reading Facebook, rather than by our telling her face to face. I hope she’s forgiven us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

16 months of Storms Part 14

Jonathan Larson famously told us that a year is 525,600 minutes. Lynette’s and my 2017 had just 496,800 minutes, give or take. I’m not sure how many entries it will take to tell the story of those minutes (plus 10,800 more), but here we go.

Lynette had a “maintenance chemo” infusion on December 29, 2016. We always had an office visit with Dr. Hightower a week later, so that would have been January 5, 2017. I don’t recall the specific details of the clinical picture Dr. Hightower drew, but Lynette said “So, our goal is to keep me here as long as possible.” I perceived that our living situation, with Luke, Lynette, and me living in Gulfport, while Sarah was in school in Jackson, three hours away and Lynette’s sisters living in Duck Hill and Iuka, 5 and 7 hours away, would not be viable for all of 2017. I communicated to my Pastor/Parish Relations Committee at Mississippi City and to my District Superintendent that I would be asking to move closer to Jackson, beginning in late June 2017.

Sarah and the Gospel Choir would be singing as part of Millsaps’ Martin Luther King Day observance on January 16. That was the first conversation I had with Connie Connie Mitchell Shelton, the East Jackson District Superintendent, about my next appointment. Our connection to Connie would become one of the great blessings of 2017.

Lynette had completed taking as much Herceptin as she could. Her next medications would be two oral chemotherapy drugs. It’s somewhat amazing to me that I can’t recall the names of either drug now, as I was the one who was responsible for her dosing schedule. I DO know that diarrhea was a known side effect of the medicine. We dealt with that, and had to cut back on the dosage. It’s possible that Lynette would chide me for disclosing that particular detail. All I can say to that is that everyone who has walked this path has dealt with uncomfortable stuff. We were not exempt.

Many Republican candidates are echoing former president Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud and declining to say whether they will accept November’s election results. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection — the riot that delayed the certification of President Biden’s victory — has always required looking both backward and forward. Backward, at whom to hold accountable. Forward, at what it means for elections in November and in 2024.

Whichever way one looks, one important relationship to keep in mind is the one between the unprecedented violent interruption of the peaceful handover of political power and the months-long campaign President Trump waged to discredit the 2020 election, and his defeat.

Which gets us to Republican election denialism since the riot. As The Daily 202 wrote nearly one year after the insurrection, false claims of voter fraud have fueled frequently successful GOP efforts at the state level to take control of the country’s electoral processes.

Whitewashing Jan. 6, putting either-we-won-or-it’s-fraudulent officials in positions to decide the outcome of elections (or even trying to give a state legislature a veto over the outcome) and Trump championing candidates who deny 2020 are all reasons to worry about the midterms.

Will they or won’t they concede?

My colleagues Amy Gardner, Hannah Knowles, Colby Itkowitz and Annie Linskey documented this weekend how a majority of Republicans they surveyed in important battleground races are refusing to say they will accept the November election outcome.

“In a survey by The Washington Post of 19 of the most closely watched statewide races in the country, the contrast between Republican and Democratic candidates was stark. While seven GOP nominees committed to accepting the outcomes in their contests, 12 either refused to commit or declined to respond. On the Democratic side,17 said they would accept the outcome and two did not respond to The Post’s survey,” they reported.

Strategists of both parties still see Republicans retaking the House. But the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule the Roe v. Wade precedent that protected access to abortion, and Republicans’ subsequent efforts to implement bans in various states, have reduced their expected margin of victory, and left control of the Senate to something akin to the political equivalent of a coin flip.

And, my colleagues reported, “[m]ore than half of all Republican nominees for federal and statewide office with powers over election administration have embraced unproven claims that fraud tainted Biden’s win, according to a Washington Post tally.”

It’s entirely possible that, in two months, multiple losing candidates could refuse to accept their defeats — notably some seeking governorships or Senate seats from Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“All but two — incumbent senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida — have publicly embraced Trump’s false claims about 2020, according to a Post analysis.”

(My colleagues noted that Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams cited voter suppression in 2018 when she refused to concede defeatto Republican opponent Brian Kemp. “But unlike Trump, Abrams never sought to overturn the certified result or fomented an insurrection.”)

State by state

What would happen if these candidates lost on Nov. 8 but contested their defeats would depend on the state. In 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore went to court to settle the question of who won Florida. The Supreme Court ultimately handed Bush the presidency.

After 2020, Trump acolytes battled it out in the court of public opinion, where they seem to have won over vast swaths of the Republican Party, and in actual court, where their lawsuits were di

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Luke’s Birth Part 2

On February 23, 1994 (also a Wednesday)we arrived at Methodist Hospital North about 9:00-9:30. The nurses were a little irritated with us. They were expecting us at 8:00. That information hadn’t been given to us. Lynette began her Pitocin drip. She continued to have contractions through the day, but never dilated. We had visits from Lynette’s parents, my CPE supervisors, and the staff chaplain at Methodist North. Around 4:30 p.m. Lynette’s doctor checked her again. She still had not dilated at all. The doctor said “This baby has a bad case of WTO (won’t come out).” Lynette REALLY did not want a Caesarian delivery and started crying. Going home and trying again later was not really an option, since she’d been showing symptoms of pre-eclampsia the day before. Luke Altman was delivered by Caesarian around 5:30 that afternoon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Luke’s Birth Part 1

On February 22, 1994 Lynette woke up feeling “twinges” that might have been labor. We made an appointment with her OB-GYN in Memphis. They didn’t detect labor, but did detect elevated blood pressure and excess fluid around her ankles. The doctor said “Do you want to have a baby tomorrow?” So, we went home to get ready to meet Luke Altman the next day,

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sixteen months of Storms, Part 13

Jon Altman

Olctob5uiet98r 2po2,c3ns8agcrc 2018  · Shared with Public


As I said, the research nurse at MD Anderson had said that Lynette needed to be back at her November 13 “baseline” of self-care and mobility in order to participate in the clinical trial. Lynette was receiving daily Physical and Occupational Therapy. Her speech difficulties had (mostly) resolved, i.e. she could make sentences and communicate, but the reality was that she was NOT getting better at mobility and self-care. She was now pretty much bedfast and not able to do what Occupational Therapists call “Activities of Daily Living.” For the first time since her diagnosis about fourteen months earlier, I began to ask myself if it was time to “stop” efforts to slow the cancer’s progression down. I was aware that another Mississippi United Methodist clergy with cancer, Jim Biedenharn, was by then on hospice service. I contacted his wife, Clare Richardson Biedenharn, also a Mississippi Conference clergy and healthcare chaplain, to ask how they had come to make the decision to “stop” curative treatment. Clare basically went through a brief history of their clinical journey. I actually don’t remember that she even said what was the final trigger. It just was clear that she “knew” when it was time to stop. At this particular point (Tuesday, December 5) I didn’t “know.” Most of Lynette’s care at St. Dominic’s was under the direction of the St. Dominic’s hospitalists. It was somewhat odd that they were treating a cancer patient, but her oncologists (who had staff privileges at UMMC, but not at St. Dominic’s) were not readily available. Eventually, Jackson Oncology WAS consulted. I spoke with THOSE doctors about where things stood and gave them the names of her UMMC oncologists. One thing that was clear was that we needed updated scans to see where things stood with Lynette’s cancer progression. Her last UMMC scans had been in mid-September and her last MD Anderson scans had been in late October/early November. Friday morning, December 8 dawned with an inch, plus of snow on the ground in central Mississippi. Though this likely seems inconsequential to people from Northern climes, it’s a crisis in central Mississippi. The “snow removal plan” is “wait for it to melt.” I couldn’t do that, though. I needed to get from Harrisville to St. Dominic’s, a distance of some 15, plus, miles. I got there and didn’t slide. Lynette was scheduled for her scans that morning.I saw her off, and waited. About noon, she returned from the scan. As she was being transferred back to the bed, her oxygen saturation levels (“sats”) dropped into the 70s. She was quite distressed, in air hunger. As the nurses went through their protocol to try to help bring her “sats” back up, they asked me “If this does not work, do you want us to put her on a ventilator?” It was the “final exam” question for which I’d been studying for more than twenty years, without knowing it. All I could do was shake my head “No” and sob. I knew the answer. I knew what Lynette would want. I knew that “life” on a ventilator is no “life” at all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Clergy Appreciation 4

Clergy Appreciation Month 4: There is, of course, just one clergy who lived with me for 35 years, gave birth to our two children, and was partner with me in raising them. Lynette was able to sit for an interview with Joe Reiff in the summer of 2017, while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Her story, with her perspective on it, will be told in Joe’s upcoming book. From my perspective, she experienced all the “hard things” she anticipated about being a clergywoman in Mississippi. She would share her hurt and anger with me, and a few others. What she didn’t do was turn that hurt and anger into hatred or harm to those who were its source. She loved the people to whom she was appointed, even when they didn’t love her back. In her last month, I was amazed at the number of people from past appointments who stepped up to care for her and express the love they didn’t always show when she was their pastor. I may not be as forgiving on her behalf as she was, but she certainly continues to challenge me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment