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Monday, April 30, 2007


Everyone who knew Rocky loved him in a different way. We never knew “why” we loved him, he just drew us in to the biggest heart in the Universe. I first loved Rocky as my high school “sweetheart.” At that tender age I will have to say the attraction was to the external part of him. He was beautifully built, powerful neck, shoulders and arms, (a little butt, girls) packed into jeans. His attire at school was always the same…….tee shirt with a flannel shirt over and tucked in (his winter wear)……then in the summer, a tee shirt that was always stretched over all those muscles. He was one handsome guy.

Though we each married someone else, had children and lost touch, there was always a place in our hearts, reserved for one another. It was 40 years later that he would come back into my life at a High School Reunion. Until that time we had been invisible to one other…….the Class had no address for him in all those years and not one of us ever knew what happened to Rocky.

God has such perfect timing, I am still amazed that we ever found one another again. Within the span of four years we were both widowed and alone…….. it was God’s gift to bring us together, eventually. We had almost 6 years together, today being our wedding anniversary. Six days short of being 6 years.

There are no words that could describe our joy on this, our wedding day. The years have been all too short for this world, but will go on forever in the next. We didn’t “lose” Rocky, he didn’t “pass” away……..with a few easy breaths, he took the one last step beyond our sight. He was lovingly cared for by one of his daughters, my daughter and me.

Rocky, the man, was a big ‘ole humble guy with an enormous chest to cover the big heart he had. He was always a champion for the poor, down-trodden and the weak. He was a simple man of few words…….but if you hung around a little bit you would learn a lot about character.

We do not have a “hole” in our hearts since he left. Our hearts have become bigger. We haven’t lost anything, we know where he is……..

……….God just changed his address.

Until the next time, I am,
Essentially Esther

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


At 9:35 PM Central Time Rocky passed away.

Our family deeply appreciates all the thoughts and prayers offered on his behalf.

I will update here later, but for now I wanted to let everyone know.

Until the next time
John Strain

Friday, April 20, 2007


Why are we sleeping in a store? Where are we? Where are we supposed to go now? I don’t remember where we are. Where is our house? Why am I so weak? I’m heading home now. Where do we live?

These are the questions in Rocky’s head now. He doesn’t talk much but when he does he is wanting answers. I quietly tell him where he is…… “We are home, honey…..in the prettiest little house in all the world. We don’t have anyplace to go now, honey. Just rest. You are weak because you have come a long way….your body is tired. It’s all right, you can rest now. You are home with Esther Belle.”

He falls into a deep sleep for several more hours. When he wakes, I offer him something to drink or eat. He does take a little and using a straw has helped him drink without having to attempt sitting up.

He cannot walk alone. Once he is standing I have him put his hands on my shoulders and we take baby steps to the bathroom or living room. He resists any thing he isn’t familiar with, such as the oxygen. Yesterday he asked for it once he had walked to the living room with me.

He has not wanted help to drink or eat but yesterday and today he has allowed me to feed him or hold his glass. His voice is weak and words are few. He is not irritable, he is just my gentle giant who has never known what it is to be dependant on someone else for anything. He has always been the giver and always “been there” for everyone else.

In his weakened state he is still more of a man and a gentleman than any one I know. I do not have time to grieve because I am on alert for any need he might have. There is no room in my heart for anger. I have been blessed and I know it. To have spent 6 years with Rocky and his wonderful family have been more happiness than I could have wished for. It will be enough to carry me through the next years I must live without him.

But I will not be alone. He will always be part of me and he is taking part of me with him……..

Until the next time, I am,
Essentially Esther

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MY HERO..... 

I know many of you are wondering about Rocky and I will try and let you know what we have been going through since I last wrote. Rocky’s condition is taking a toll on him but he still has a lot of fight left in him.

Most men at this stage of cancer would be bedridden and need pain pills around the clock. Rocky has had his cut in half because he gets by better with less. As weak and sick as he is, he still gets up every morning and dresses. It is very difficult for him to even get in and out of bed, or to walk down the hall to the living room but he does.

It was his habit to make the bed every morning because he usually slept an hour later than me. The past few days he hasn’t been able to and so I know how difficult it is for him to do normal things. Still, he struggles to dress and be in the living room except for a morning and afternoon nap.

Our two cats and Mandy have taken up residence wherever he is sleeping. They seem to know he is sick and they stay with him to offer what comfort they can. Our pets know much more about us than we do them, often times.

His eating is very irregular because the many chemicals he has ingested over the past 15 months has ruined his ability to taste. Still, he eats what I fix, for the most part and doesn’t like to be helped. He has dropped three glasses of juice and water but it is easy to clean up and I want him to be independent of help he doesn’t think he needs. We are grateful, though nauseated at times, he has never had the severe vomiting many have with cancer.

The last time we were out, Rocky wanted to go by his gym and tell Craig, his friend and owner of the gym, goodbye. When we came in, Craig was at the front desk and took us into his office. He took one look at Rocky and could see the obvious jaundice. He asked, “What’s going on, Rocky?” and Rocky said, “I just came to take one last look around.” Craig’s eyes filled with tears and that big guy who is twice Rocky’s size, grabbed him up in his huge arms and started crying like a baby.

“God, you’re such a good man, Rocky……this sucks!! You’re just such a good man!!” The two of them cried together a minute and then said their goodbyes. We left for our last time. The gym and the weightlifting young men that Rocky worked out with had always been a lot of fun for Rocky…….they were good times, indeed.

This man who once earned World, National and State APA awards for lifting now was finding it hard to lift a glass to his mouth or to keep his balance. Yesterday Becky and her Lieutenant dropped in for a visit. Lt. Hicks had been a supporter of Rocky at the gym and admired his character and strength. When they stood to say goodbye, Rocky attempted to stand to shake hands. “You don’t need to stand, Rocky,” Lt. Hicks said…..but I said, “It’s all right…..he wants to.” Rocky managed to stand and the men shook hands.

The look that passed between them is something that only men understand…………….

Until the next time, I am,
Essentially Esther

Sunday, April 15, 2007


We have met the Hospice folks from the entry level to the Chaplain, the nurse and the Social Services lady. We have liked them all and if needed we can arrange for a Volunteer to come “sit” with Rocky while I run errands or whatever is needed.

While we are grateful for the options I can’t see we will be needing the Volunteer for some time, if ever. We are used to pitching in and taking care of the necessities and with Becky next door she will be glad to run errands while I stay with Rocky. At the present time he is able to ride along and enjoy getting out but I know one of these days he won’t be able to do that.

Rocky has had a couple of bad days. The nurse called a prescription in for Ativan and after three pills he couldn’t walk, keep his balance, make sense with anything he said and has slept almost all of two days and nights. Something about the Rockenbach kids makes medicine work on them that way. One mg will act as five or ten for them. I stopped giving them to him last evening and he is still trying to wake up. Just a bump in the road until we get the dosage down to where it’s working correctly.

He is becoming more yellow every day. I don’t know how long the liver will be able to fight off the onset of the cancer but Rocky is sure trying. I dread the day when he will tell me it’s just too hard to go on. I know that day will eventually come but in the meantime we keep working for another week, another day, another hour. He has put up a whale of a fight…….Rocky is my hero.

I am a firm believer that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. We come from a Finnish, German, Danish and Irish background so we’re tough…..at least in our hard heads. Sometimes that’s a good thing. No one likes to be a quitter and I sure can’t say that about Rocky……hopefully not myself.

I cannot say often enough how much we appreciate the phone calls, the emails, or the comments on the blog site. Having a good support group is always beneficial to those of us who are beyond helping ourselves. More than anything, the prayers. If you ever wonder how many friends you have……become seriously ill. It is the great “eye opener” of how many and how much.

I believe it is important to always let your family and friends know how much you love them. They cannot hear you once they are gone and they cannot see or smell flowers you might bring at their death. My mother always had a plaque over her cedar chest that read: Give me my flowers while I live….I shall not pass this way again.”

Some people live their whole lives and never hear a kind word. I never want to be guilty of missing the chance to tell someone I love them. Those three little words are the most powerful by far…………

Until the next time, I am,
Essentially Esther

Thursday, April 12, 2007


It is hard to write about your husband’s illness when nothing can fix it. I watch a man who had the strength of a lion slowly grow weaker each day. This man who came back into my life when I thought I would never see him again……..yet I did.

Somehow we found each other after forty years of silence. The joy of knowing our high school romance never died in either of us……that over those years of separation there was always the hope we would see each other again. And we did.

We carried life experience with us…….forty years of being separated gave us both time to grow, to mature and to realize the really important things in life. God has a way of weaving miracles into our lives…..comedians say “timing is everything”….I think it is that way with God.

We go about our daily lives and there is always a smell, a sound, a look……that brings a person very close to you. Out there in the space of miles and time those thoughts mingle with each other and bring a loved one close. It was that way with Rocky and me……forever in each other’s hearts.

Grown ups call those high school romances puppy love. The idea that it won’t last, it isn’t forever and not to be taken seriously. But if you stop to think……puppy’s are a bundle of love, innocence and loyalty, all of which intensify as they grow into a dog. Our love should be no less.

Love without abandon, realize it is the most treasured gift you can give another and……. you can never give it all away. While our bodies are deteriorating every day our hearts grow larger…..while our abilities decline and fail us….our soul is growing. Death is not the end but a doorway we pass through to the love and understanding we have sought all our life. It is forever and created by love.

I call Rocky my gentle giant. I am not angry because he will be leaving me in the near future…..I am happy for the six years we have had together. I am happy to have known the “grown up” Rocky. He is still the wonderful person I fell in love with again and again.

I am happy I am the one to place him into our Savior’s hand……that I am the one who gets to give him comfort until that hour. I will go on…….but….
………..my heart will be with him…….

Until the next time, I am,
Essentially Esther

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


While Rocky is resting I’ll write to bring you up to date. Thursday afternoon, his brother and wife (Richard and Helen) arrived and were here when the Hospice rep came to call. She was very helpful and is sending a nurse this afternoon to see what is needed for his care.

Mid-afternoon, the next day, we were surprised with Becky’s daughter and son-in-law (Mark and Jennifer) who flew in from Connecticut. It gave Rocky and I a chance to introduce some of our family to each other and we had a wonderful dinner that night. Richard and Helen brought another beautiful roast with all the trimmings so we could spend more time visiting. They were leaving from their motel the next morning to travel home….we always enjoy their visits.

Marc and Jennifer stayed with Becky at night but spent their days here so they could visit with Rocky and me. They left yesterday around 1:00 pm and the house sure seemed quiet after all the visiting.

Sadly, Rocky suffered with nausea the whole time they were here. He took several naps in between visiting and managed to enjoy the family members who came. He’s already had a visitor today, had breakfast and is sleeping as I write. Rocky never complains but I have become very sensitive to his demeanor so I know when he should either rest or take pain medication.

He isn’t a high maintenance patient so I have to be aware when he needs something. After the nurse leaves this afternoon I’ll extend this post so you will know what she plans to do with us. Right now I’m going to take a break and rest a little while Rocky is resting. I will see you later…….

Our nurse’s name is Sheryl and she came promptly at 1:00. She was very personable and explained the kind of care we would be getting and answered the questions we had about treatment. We liked her and look forward to seeing her on Tuesday’s and Friday’s. Sometime soon we will be visited by a Chaplain. That’s pretty much “it” until tomorrow. I’ll try and write again to let you know how Rocky is doing.

We personally want to thank all of you who have written comments on the blog site or emailed us. We feel your love and prayers and consider all of you to be our support group. We are so thankful for the many friends we have made over the internet. God is not lax in supplying our needs……and our love for Him and each other grows stronger every day.

God bless you all!!
Essentially Esther

Thursday, April 05, 2007

SAD NEWS..... 

Today was not a day for good news. The CT showed pretty much what we expected so it wasn‘t a surprise, even though we hoped for better results. It was not to be this time. The cancer is growing larger in Rocky’s liver. There is nothing left we can do.

Dr. Morgan has put Hospice in touch with us upon returning home and a rep will be here later this afternoon. I will keep him at home with me and the pets, Becky will come and go as she can and we’ll be OK.

Rocky and I will live every day we have as long as we have breath. I am so happy to be the one who takes care of him on the end of his journey. No one can love him as much as I do.

I will try and post as often as I can and we know your prayers, love and support will travel with us. There is always a last chapter in every book and one day that last chapter will be written for each of us.

May God bless you all, richly…….

Until the next time, I am,
Essentially Esther

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


We have a morning appointment with Rocky’s Oncologist tomorrow and he will have the CT back with the results. We haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it because it’s senseless. It could mean anything from A to Z so we’ll just wait until we get there to hear what he has to say. I know he will have a plan in mind because he’s a very serious doctor, well thought out, and considers all the angles. I know we couldn’t have a better man than Dr. Morgan looking after us.

As far as all the girls are concerned, Rocky is their most favorite because he’s always upbeat and jokes with them a lot. It makes their job easier when they don’t have to be the cheer leader for him. They have the satisfaction of making his life better for the time they have him. I have the satisfaction of knowing he’s getting the best care at home and he has the satisfaction of being adored by us all. Sounds like a winning team to me.

When we finish with the Cancer Clinic we will hurry home to be here when Rocky’s brother and wife come from northern Illinois. Becky will join us for supper and we’ll have all day on Friday to visit.

I will post Rocky’s results when we get home tomorrow so our extended families and friends will be able to get the news quickly. We hope you are well and happy wherever you are and enjoying this big wonderful world we live in.

Until then, I am,
Essentially Esther

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


How does an acorn grow a root and know how to reach for the sun.? We tied a rope around our ornamental red crabapple tree and kept it that way two years. The other end was tied around our large oak tree in the front yard. Our friends teased us asking if Rocky was trying to straighten the “oak” tree. Rocky took the rope off last fall thinking it had been long enough to grow straight. Straight meaning to our way of looking at it.

This Spring I see it is growing back to the east where the morning sun is not hindered until mid-afternoon. The afternoon sun must peek through the oak and two large white pines to reach it from the west.

How does a bird hatched in the Spring come out of an egg and know how to fly, to eat the right stuff…..followed by finding a mate and building a nest? True, the parents help get them started but they don’t hang around for the wedding and house building.

Who teaches them to sing? Every species has it’s own song. Almost. Consider the Mocking Bird…..he is the true copy-cat. Sitting on our deck is the best place to watch a concert. Hearing is one thing but when you spy the singer it is joy personified. They fill their little throat with air and look towards heaven singing their little hearts out. Praise in a pure form.

Why is the grass green and the sky blue? How do we see color or feel cold or joy or fall asleep? Why do we take so many things for granted when the five senses give us great capacity to see, to touch, to feel, to hear or to smell?

God gave us and his other creatures a perception of senses to enjoy the world we each live in. There is something for everyone and enough variation to keep our attention sharp and clear.

Now that I am older, I am much more like the little girl I once was. I love watching clouds roll by, I love watching the moon and stars at night. I love a storm….to see and feel the power as it passes by. I love simple things and shoes that fit.

The time comes when it is just you and what you hold dear. If everything be taken away from you……what would you have left?

Travel light and wear a smile. Carry sunshine in your pocket. Wear a good attitude and don’t forget to be gracious….there are weary travelers on the way and their journey has been long. What you give away will return so you can give again.

It is how we make the journey that decides how long it is………..

Until tomorrow, I am,
Essentially Esther

Monday, April 02, 2007


We had a different kind of a week-end for a change. Becky was gone and wouldn’t be back until Sunday evening but some of Rocky’s family came and we did lots of gabbing and laughing.

Rocky’s son Michael and wife Julie arrived on Saturday around ten o’clock. They brought along their three-month-old baby, Quintin, and Julie’s oldest son, Levi. Little Quintin has grown like a weed and is pretty as a picture. He almost looks like he’s been laying in a tanning bed……beautiful skin color, pretty little head and happy as a clam. The only time he fussed was upon waking, when he wanted a clean diaper and when he was hungry. Otherwise he was sleeping or contented.

I was intrigued with the change in baby apparel since I had my three children. I had to laugh at some of the slogans on the rompers……”Automatic sprinkler” “Instructions not included” and “I cry over spilt milk.” Some of you young mother’s or grandmother’s who are around more babies than I am are probably more informed but it was educational for me.

During the afternoon Rocky’s sister Marie and husband Harold drove down from St. Louis. It was a good time for all of us to catch up with each other. Michael and family left around six-thirty and Marie and Harold left around eight-thirty. They had a motel for the night and came back in the morning to visit a little before leaving for home.

Rocky did fairly well during the visits but nodded off a few times and left to take a nap once. Some of his medication makes him sleepy and the cancer robs him of energy and strength. Even so, he looks very good for all the chemicals he has ingested and I dare say he’s stronger than most seventy-five year old men. It is good for his family to see how well he looks and experience his determination. My hero!!

Becky made it home safe and sound after her rush trip to Kansas City on Friday. She had a nice visit with George and her dad, along with her best friend, DiDi, all of which was her main reason for going. I understand what she means about hating to leave because finding time to go back is always hard. No matter who we are or what our situation is, time is always in short supply. It’s something we have to utilize to our best advantage or it‘s gone.

Now we are looking forward to his brother Richard and wife Helen who will come on Thursday afternoon. That morning we have an appointment with Dr. Morgan, the Oncologist, who will chart our next course of action. We can only hope the CT doesn’t show up any adverse results.

For you Napoleon enthusiasts, I have a funny story. He came by the window where I’m writing this blog and heard the keys clicking. He gave me an indignant look and let me know he’s ready to eat. In the meantime, Rocky came in from mowing and I stopped to talk to him a minute…….then forgot Napoleon and came back to the blog. Time passed. Pretty soon I heard this hair-raising screech which evolves into a honk……and I remembered that I didn’t feed him.

I rushed to the front door (which was open) and he was laying down on the flagstones next to the walk where I always feed him. Wish you all could have seen the look I got. So now he has become so smart he is ordering me around….I think he has me pretty well trained. I took his canned cat food and an oatmeal cookie to him (that bird loves cookies) and he ate with gusto. He is such a hoot!! Always entertains us one way or the other.

Our weather is perfect. Clear, sunny, not too hot……everything is in bloom. I forget from one year to the next just how fragrant those blooms are. When I walk Mandy past the honeysuckle or lilacs it’s almost intoxicating. Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a poem that always comes to mind……she talks about how beautiful the world is and that she cannot hold it all close enough, how the sheer beauty of it almost rips her apart…..then writes a phrase that always describes my feelings…….

…… “Lord, I do fear you have made the world too beautiful this year.”

Until tomorrow, I am,
Essentially Esther