Appropriately, I think, I tend to keep personal updates off of my OMG Facebook page.

But several people have asked me to compile some of the more recent private posts about my mother’s dying into an OMG entry.

I hadn’t thought about doing that, frankly.

Between her rapidly declining health, her funeral this week, and Christmas being upon us, I’ve simply had no time to sit and ponder it all (I have often noted the irony that Mary, mother of Jesus, “pondered these things in her heart” while those of us who follow her son struggle to remember the meaning of the word “ponder” during the pre-Christmas rumpus).

Writing a blog about her death needs some strung-together-seconds that I haven’t had.

And, well, it’s personal stuff.

But a number of friends have said that that’s precisely the point.

Dying is both personal and universal, as is watching a loved one die.

And so here is my offering to you for this morning.  A glimpse of my mother’s last week–excepting her repeated references to the angels.

That is worthy of sitting and pondering before I write.

One more thing: I wish only that I could reprint all of the stunningly kind and beautiful comments that the Facebook Communion of the Saints wrote after these posts!  What traces of the grace of God they were!

Peace to you.


December 12, 2013

A mama update: Yesterday, she was essentially comatose.

Leaving on the wall the decorations we’d brought, I gathered up all of her other belongings last night, stuffed them in some bags, and brought them home.

All night I expected The Call.

But by this morning, it still hadn’t come.

And so I went back to hospice this morning, and found her like I’d left her. Once in her room, I touched her gently, and told her that I’d arrived. She smiled faintly, eyes closed. I said I was going to make some coffee and then be right back. Her eyebrows went up, eyes still closed. I asked her if she wanted some of my strong coffee, and she mumbled that she did, and nodded.

So I made some press pot brew, found a swab, rinsed the mint flavor out of it, dabbed it in the cup, and offered it to my mother.

She barely opened her mouth for the sponge, but when the coffee hit her lips, her eyes flew open, and she said, “Oooooooohhhhhhhh, that…is….so…..gooooooood.” And she asked to sit up, and she had more coffee, and she had a very little lunch, and said a little of this and a little of that.

Dad and I were stunned, and he joked with her that perhaps now all she needed was a little gin.

This time, her eyes got really big and she said, “YES!” and Dad looked for the bottle….which I’d brought home the night before!!


And so now I’m going to drink a glass of it myself on her behalf, raising it right on up to my coffee-loving-gin-drinking-still-living mother.

Feel free to join me in the toast, with gin or coffee or any other life-giving beverage of your choice.


December 14, 2013

Well, last night, while I held my mother’s hand, Dad and I reminded her about joyful reunions, and we sang her Shalom, and Silent Night, and even warbled Willie Nelson’s “I’ll Fly Away,” and we told her of Jesus’ and the angels’ reassurances to not be afraid, and we made the sign of the cross on her forehead, and of course we raised our gin, each of us tipping our fingers in the libation to share on her lips our toast to her with her, and her breath became gentler, and lighter, and at 9:39, it stopped. Death came and it, coupled with hope, gives us all peace.

The funeral will be at St. Mark’s Lutheran in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Wednesday, December 18th, at 10:00 a.m., with burial following in Brookings. You are all welcome to join us in mourning and celebrating Marge Stenslie Madsen. Thank you so deeply for your words and care along this two-year-long path!

December 20, 2013
The Christian Church has this sense of something called the Communion of the Saints, a connection of hope and presence between the dead and the alive. We were in its midst at my mother’s funeral on Wednesday. Those gathered in the sanctuary, and the texts read there, the sermon preached, and the coffin of my mother resting before us all converged into a Holy Moment of communion.After the funeral, and after the fellowship–which itself was served and enjoyed by a Communion of Saints!–the family packed into our cars and drove up to Brookings. My father was born and raised there, and my grandparents are buried there, and so is my late husband.Now my mother is too.Afterwards, it was only fitting that we had the funeral lunch at Nick’s Hamburgers, a Brookings landmark serving up gorgeous burgers and malts. (I am largely a product of Nick’s Hamburgers, a regular at its counter when we visited Grandma Madsen.) Mom had no patience for falderal, and Nick’s was the only way to offer our final familial send-off of the day.Below is her obituary. She was quite something.~~~~~

Marjorie Ann Stenslie Madsen was born on January 18, 1937. Born to Kris and Marian (Elsberry) Stenslie of Watford City, ND, she was raised with sister Judy (Darryl) Haugen and brother Jim (Norma) Stenslie.

In Watford, music, acting, and newspaper editing claimed her attention. She pursued these interests at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. With a major in English, she pursued vocations in social work and teaching and received an MA in education.

Her primary vocation was her family. On September 1, 1961, she married George Madsen. Their early years took them to St. Paul while George earned an M.Div.; to Denmark which stole her heart; and to Princeton, NJ, while George pursued his Ph.D. Daughters Anna and Else were born in 1969 and 1971, while George taught at Concordia. In 1974, they moved to Duluth; in 1976, to Eau Claire, WI.

There, Marge learned to fly her hot air balloon and started her own business designing and fabricating flags. These waved for years at the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee. She also set up shop at juried art fairs across the Midwest and the East Coast. While George served in the national offices of the American Lutheran Church, they lived in Golden Valley, MN for five years.

They lived in East Lansing, MI between 1989 and 2001. Then they set off for an adventure as volunteers for two years at the Bible School in Martin, Slovakia. George taught, and Marge welcomed, fed, and nurtured the staff, students, and international visitors.

When tragedy struck Anna’s family in 2004, Marge and George flew to Germany for six weeks to help with the losses. Marge flew to Sioux Falls to ready for the return of Anna’s family and never left.

Marge’s essence could be found in her love of family and food, in the quirky and irreverent, in her concern for the downtrodden and troubled. She is loved and will be missed by many, including George and daughters Anna (Karl, Else), and sister Else (Jon, Noah, Ben).

Memorials in honor of Marge may be sent to St. Mark’s Lutheran, 2001 S. Elmwood Place, Sioux Falls, SD, 57105 or the Dougherty Hospice House 4509, Prince of Peace Place, Sioux Falls, SD 57103.