Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Roger Henry Erber
March 12, 1926 ~ September 6, 2011
Born to an unwed teenage girl in 1926, my grandfather - Roger Henry Erber - was orphaned less than three years later when his mother, Elsie, died at just 20 years old. Elsie left her young son to the care of her own parents, Emil & Emma Erber, who raised him as their youngest son, and Grandpa knew them as "Pa & Ma."
Records indicate his baptism and confirmation in the Lutheran church, but we know little else of his childhood other than that Elsie's sister and brother-in-law wanted to adopt him (being unable to have children themselves), but "Ma" would not give her consent. (Aunt Ella did remain close to my Grandpa throughout her life and we have very special memories of her.)
After finishing 11 years of schooling in 1943, at the age of 17 Grandpa enlisted in the US Marine Corps. "Ma" gave him her blessing to go, but with this caveat - "You know that the Germans will win."
While serving with the Marines, Grandpa maintained an occasional correspondence with his hometown newspaper giving us candid looks into his life in the military - even back then he had a way of saying things that was distinctly recognizable as him.
He always felt that he wasn't "really" a Marine since he never saw combat, nonetheless we hold that his work in mechanical maintenance and repairs (primarily on the Corsair) was no doubt appreciated by those who were actually facing the enemy. He was stationed on islands throughout the Pacific as well as on mainland China, where he mastered one accomplishment that he boasted of all his life - the ability to count to 10 in Chinese.
After returning home from the war, he met and married my grandmother, Ethel, on May 7, 1949. Arriving home from their honeymoon, Grandpa found his father-in-law digging the foundation for a home for the new couple. He often recounted how out of place he felt actually owning a home. He had never dreamed that he, the unwanted son/grandson of a German immigrant farming family, who returned from the war to help support his widowed "Ma," would actually climb so high as to own his own home.
My grandparents lived in that home for over 61 years, until late November 2010 when they moved in with us.
For almost 40 years (starting after his return from the war), Grandpa worked as a carpenter in Chicago and suburbs, and we have a variety of anecdotes that we remember him sharing of the men he worked with, jobs they worked on, and pranks he played. During the 1950's he also became father to a son, Roger, and a daughter, Jill (whose twin did not survive).
Following his retirement in the 1980's, Grandpa kept himself busy making crafts in his workshop, volunteering at his church, playing pinochle and other card games, cheering on the Chicago Cubs, and spending time with his grandchildren.
All together, he would live to see 8 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren (11th due in a couple of months)!
As time progressed, the mental and physical health of both of my grandparents became such that living on their own was no longer an option for them.
Over the summer of 2010, our family prepared our home to accommodate them as well, and on the day after Thanksgiving 2010, they moved in.
On March 12, 2011 we celebrated Grandpa's 85th birthday with all the family here. Just hours later (during the night), he fell and severely broke his leg. The next few months were spent in the hospital as he waited for his leg to heal, only to find that the extended period of immobility had completely removed any option of using his legs again. His brain apparently "forgot" how to move them.
Other medical complications ensued, but on July 6, he moved back home with us - confined to his bed or wheelchair. His condition, however, continued to deteriorate. By mid-August he was completely bed-bound and hardly eating. Joseph & Josiah (his youngest grandsons), and Mom (his daughter-in-law) handled most of his care through the last weeks as gangrene and MRSA ravaged his feet and lower legs.
On August 19th he was admitted to Hospice care, and we are very grateful for the assistance they have offered us. In fact, many have helped with the hands-on care for Grandpa in our home - MiHee, Josh & Katherine (friends of our family), Tammy (with Home Health), Denise, Stacy, and Louise (with Transition Hospice) have been great blessings to our family and we are thankful to have known them and had them in our home over these last couple of months.
By September, it was obvious that Grandpa was growing much weaker and on Saturday, September 3rd we didn't think he would make it through the night. After that he was mostly unconscious and unable to accept any food or water (though we worked to keep his mouth moist, he would not swallow at all), although occasionally he would open his eyes or indicate with some response that he was aware of our presence.
Monday, being Labor Day, all the family was able to come over and spend the day at our home. In the early afternoon Grandpa was surrounded by his son and daughter-in-law, and all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren (excepting one granddaughter-in-law and newborn great-grandson who stayed outside of the room). We let him know that we were all there, and then sang to him the hymn that has been his favorite for as long as we can remember - How Great Thou Art. By the time we sang the last verse, several voices had dropped out due to tears, but we rejoiced in the words, "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration, and there proclaim, 'My God, how great Thou art!"
Tuesday morning, Sept. 6, he was still breathing - but quite a bit of time passed between each breath. By mid-morning it became obvious that he would be leaving us very soon. Mom quickly called us all back to his bedroom and we let him know we were all with him - and then watched for each breath. At about 10:00am, he left his weakened and diseased body behind and headed to glory!
We have many special memories of Grandpa that we will cherish through the years to come. In them, we remember a kind, strong, generous gentleman, with a twinkle in his eye, a sense of humor that kept us smiling, a reverence for God and respect for the church of Jesus Christ, and a steady faithfulness in every duty that shone as an example to us all.
On a side note, every person on staff at the various hospitals/clinics he interacted with commented on how much they enjoyed having him as a patient; how nice he was, never complaining, always smiling and saying "thank you" for every little service - even when in pain, or heavily medicated. And that was true throughout his life. As Mom sat with him one afternoon a few weeks ago, he told her he felt guilty that he was taking her time. He was one of the most grateful people I've known. Humble, reserved, hardworking - and always ready with his twinkling smile and a "thank you." Perhaps some of that is due to his feeling, from his family circumstances as a child, like he was a bit of an underdog - unworthy of any real notice. He was always willing to give, never demanding anything, and never wanting anyone to go out of their way for him.
A day or so before he died, I was sitting with him just holding his hand when he started trying to communicate something to me, but his voice was so weak I couldn't make it out. So, I kept guessing and he kept working at trying to talk. Finally, after he got his need communicated (change of position) and we got him all settled again, he made one more great effort at speaking and got it out - "Thank you!" I believe those were the last words I heard him say.
I'll miss you, Grandpa!
Visitation will be held Friday, September 9, 2011 at 11am,
until time of the Funeral Service, 12:00pm, at:
Immanuel Lutheran Church
855 Lee Street
Des Plaines, IL 60016