Dad’s New Wineskins


“People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” – Matthew 9:17, from today’s gospel.

Every time I hear or read this Gospel, I think of my wonderful dad. His blood vessels and veins had undoubtedly weakened from years of inadequate blood flow, as surely happens to all people whose heart can no longer efficiently pump blood.

In my humble opinion, his vessels couldn’t handle the new flow of blood. Their elasticity was compromised from years of “drought.”


    – New Lease on Life

    – New Medical Issues

When the LVAD created a firehose effect — much greater pressure on inelastic tissues — the vessels weren’t quite capable of handling the new demand.

New Wine. Old Wineskins.

That’s why he needed frequent (almost monthly) blood transfusions. I ain’t no doctor. But years of reflecting and studying this stuff bring me to this intuitive conclusion.

Anyway… That’s the Readers Digest version.

God, I miss him!


New Wine in Old Blood Vessels


“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the wineskins, and the wine will pour out, and the wineskins will be lost. Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins.” – Mark 2:22

Except when you get a VAD. Then you get new wine into old, brittle wineskins. Not sure if anybody thought about that…

Dad, Mom, and everybody Easter Sunday 2016 (03-27-16) _MG_8398

Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016 – Dad with his LVAD batteries holstered

I can’t hear (read) this Gospel any more without thinking of Dad, my dad, Norb Kwiecinski. He got a new lease on life in February 2014. An LVAD, a Left Ventricular Assist Device because his left ventricle was failing. It couldn’t sufficiently empty blood from his heart any longer. And he was dying.

450_300_mayolvad rendering of LVAD courtesy Mayo Clinic

Rendering of a Ventricular Assist Device, courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Lack of blood supply means lack of oxygen. Lack of oxygen means dying a slow death.

The LVAD gave him new life. It pumped blood through his body for him. But that lack of blood flow for so many years meant veins that had turned into old wineskins. And Dad’s new wine, in the form of a vibrant, fresh blood supply, was too much for the old wineskins to handle.

After being discharged from his four-month journey through intensive care, five staredowns with death, and an incredibly intense physical rehabilitation, Dad became a frequent visitor at the hospital.

Why? He constantly needed more blood. Where was it going?

Despite numerous tests, there was little evidence of a single source of a leak. It wasn’t showing up. So why did he need blood? Where was it going? Was his body like an old automobile engine, burning oil?

My humble, yet considered theory is that his arteries and veins — and especially the fine, delicate capillaries that deliver blood to the extremities and up to the skin — had become brittle from years of poor blood flow. When the LVAD powerfully and efficiently delivered blood, this force was more than these delicate tissues could handle. And the blood was absorbed into the body. It had seemingly disappeared. But it really hadn’t.

Is that really what happened? Is this really the explanation for why Dad consistently needed blood transfusions?

Nobody can convince me otherwise. No one else had a better, more plausible, more scientific explanation. And my theory seems to make sense.

Anyway… today’s Gospel triggered these memories today. Always happens. And the memories of those troubling, yet exhilarating and joyful months come flooding back into consciousness as if they happened yesterday.

I love you, Dad. Still miss you like crazy. Still blame you for my coffee addiction. Still ask you for help with the simplest home repair projects. And I still hear you say, chidingly, “atta boy” when I finally figure it out.

And we have the most serious man-to-man philosophical discussions… well, sure, they’re slightly one-sided. But they’re real. And really serious.



Reflections on My Dad’s Example


Norb Kwiecinski, my dad, knew how to make you feel completely comfortable.

Oh… he could make you squirm, too. Make no mistake! Don’t forget. He was also the toughest guy I ever knew.

And I may have provoked his “tough guy” side a time or two over the years…

But at his core, Dad’s enormously compassionate heart shone through.

Today, I took some time to reflect on Dad’s disarming, loving example. Please take some time to watch:

#dadupdate – Funeral Arrangements


Sometime during the first overtime.

Reality walloped me.

Right in the back of the skull. Like an accelerating two by four.

Like a battering ram. Reality came crashing through the walls of my defenses.

We got home around … hell, I don’t remember … 10:30? It was the third period of the hockey game. That’s all I know.

Sharks and Preds. Game four. Round two.

That’s how I tell time during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I’m not joking.  The world sorta stops for a few hours almost every single night for two months. A playoff game is on!

And it’s thanks to Dad that I watch with such fanatical fervor.

Like a kid. Still. Almost 58 years old.

That’s a topic for another time. More later.

But this week… and more particularly on this night… things are different.

I sat on the right edge of the bed. My side. TV on. Hockey game on. Kathy sawing logs behind me.

I’d taken my contacts out, so I was pretty much blind. Didn’t bother finding my glasses. I sat there and stared at my smartphone.

I looked at some Facebook notifications, posts and comments that Facebook decides are important to me. I saw Doug’s post about Dad’s funeral arrangements. Then Stephanie’s post.

I  shared Stephanie’s post on my Facebook page. Then I decided to share the actual obituary.

Earlier in the evening, before we left Mom and Dad’s house, I made the last-minute decision to cancel my appointments this morning.

It was too late to call anyone. I have a rule not to call a client after 9 PM. I sent texts and emails to cover all the bases.

One client acknowledged me immediately via text and asked for details about Dad’s services. I wanted to share a link to the obit.

The obit on the funeral home’s mobile website didn’t appear to be shareable. Before I shared it with my client, I tested it out to see what page opened when I typed the address into my browser.

It took me to a generic page for Simkins Funeral Home.

“Well, that’s no good. I want to give him information, not send him on a wild goose chase. He’s being very kind.”

I wanted whatever I sent to be complete information… didn’t want to make him work to answer his own question.

There was a link to the full website. That’s what I was looking for. Clicked on the obits. Clicked on Dad’s name.

There was his obit. With that great picture.

Was the link shareable? That was the most important part of this experiment.

I tested it.

Yes. That link took me directly to Dad’s complete obituary.

I sent the link to my client.

So there I was, sitting on the bed. After sharing Stephanie’s Facebook post, I decided to share this direct link to the full obituary.OI2047625967_Kwiecinski

Countless numbers of people have replied to Facebook posts and have sent me personal messages.

I haven’t seen most of them. We’ve been too busy with funeral arrangements, the cemetery, funeral Mass prep, fighting traffic…

As I sat on the edge of the bed, TV no more than four feet away (all I can see are shadows without glasses or contacts), I read some of the messages.

All of the emotions of the words written by friends and family welled up inside of me as I read and responded.

But none of the words hit me harder than gazing at that picture of Dad’s smiling face.

I’ll never see your smiling face again.

I’ll never hear another smart-ass wisecrack.

Doesn’t it look like he’s got one on his lips?

One look at that picture and tears flooded my eyes. I sobbed hysterically. And I pretty much haven’t stopped since.

I’ll never hear him tell me “Love you, Dave” again.

I’ll never hear his voice. I’ll never hear his laugh.

I’ll never kiss his puckered lips again.

Yes, we kissed each other on the lips.

Men, if you don’t kiss your Dad, start. Look directly into his eyes. Tell him you love him. While looking directly into his eyes.

And give him a kiss. Doesn’t have to be on the lips. But if you kiss your Mom on the lips, find a way to start kissing your Dad on the lips. Or on the cheek. Make it tender. Make it loving. Make it heartfelt.

I’ll never get to do it again.

Here’s Dad’s obituary:


Who Comforts You?


Father Fred’s dog died.

Father told us what happened this week to his dog, Annie, his constant companion of twelve and a half years.

She had not been well. He took her to the vet this week and received the awful news that she was not going to get better and it was best that she be euthanized.

It’s okay to do that to dogs. Not humans.

He confessed to the veterinarian, whom he had never met, that Annie’s illness was difficult for him to handle. While they talked, he told her that he was a priest. She told him that she, too, was Catholic.

The vet asked Father Fred if he wanted to pray.

She sought to comfort him. A total role reversal for him.

Today’s Gospel was John 10:11-18.

“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11

Father Fred’s homily reminded me of the day Kit Kat died.

Kit Kat  was, as my daughter Martha called him, my first baby. He was the first cat that I ever had. He was a stray — a feral cat — who sort of adopted us when we lived in The Blue House (our kids identified our homes by the color of the house).

He was getting older and we knew he was frail. One weekend, I think it was October of 2010, we spent the night in Madison because Martha was competing in the collegiate tennis conference tournament up there during her senior year.

When we came home from Madison, we found Kit Kat dead. He apparently was walking from our bedroom into the hallway when he drew his final breath.

The anguish was overwhelming. My sorrow lasted for months. I don’t deal well with pet deaths.

That’s a story for another day.

Those memories came flooding back as Father Fred told his story about being shepherded by the vet, one of our deacons, Joe Casey, Joe’s wife, Mary, and our youth minister, Tracy Rapp.

I thought about how Jesus, the Good Shepherd, comforted and shepherded me.

I thought about the powerful image I had of Jesus, walking along a lush, green riverbank, with my little buddy Kit Kat. I saw a healthy, vibrant little calico cat, walking calmly and peacefully alongside our Good Shepherd.

And that comforted me.

We all have moments when we need comfort, when we need a guiding hand, a warm embrace, just some understanding.

Who do you turn to for comfort?

Is it Jesus?

Can you recall times in your life when Jesus has appeared at your side, perhaps in your thoughts or during prayer time, perhaps in the form of a fellow, caring human being?

Can you recall times when someone else has needed you to reach out to them for comfort. With a good word, maybe just a smile? Or a well-timed hug?

I think of Dad’s illness and the times when I knew Jesus was at my side… was at Dad’s side. The anguish that Mom felt, my sisters, Uncle Stan…

… the comfort I received — that we all received —  from so many people as we walked that journey.

And how we shepherded one another, too.

Father Fred told us today how easy it was to be the good shepherd to a fellow human.

All it takes sometimes is just a nice word. Or a nice smile.

Jesus told St. Faustina that he demands from all of us deeds of mercy, that we are not to shrink or absolve ourselves from it. That we can show mercy to others by deed, word, or prayer.

Do we?


It’s actually not difficult.


Thanks for taking some of your precious time today to read my thoughts. My intention, beginning Friday, April 17, 2015, is to post a brief, daily meditation based on the readings from the day’s Catholic liturgy. I would appreciate your help and encouragement. This is something I’ve been called to do for some time. I’m finally embracing it. Father, forgive me for procrastinating.

Discipline and Detention, According to Dad


Staci recounted her husband’s experience with a nun in grammar school. It was part of a Facebook discussion in Tribe Writers, a writing group we both belong to. That got me thinking about the wonderful nuns in my life. And I say that with honesty and respect.

For the first six years of grammar school, Karen, my sister, and I attended school at Ascension of Our Lord parish in Evanston, Illinois. Enrollment was meager and shrinking rapidly as the offspring of parishioners moved to more distant suburbs. Ascension announced that the school would close at the end of the 1970-71 school year. I think enrollment in that final year was 54 students. Yep, in all eight grades.

The ’70-’71 school year would have been the end of 7th grade for me. Mom and Dad decided to take us out of Ascension at the end of the 1969-70 year. They enrolled us at St. Nicholas School (now known as Pope John XXIII School), also in Evanston.

For the years I attended, Ascension had three classrooms for all eight grades. Sister Presentine taught grades 1, 2, and 3. Depending on that year’s enrollment in each class, Sister Egidia taught grades 4 and 5 or 4, 5, and 6. Sister Lourdine, the principal, would teach either 6th through 8th or 7th and 8th grades. Sister Egidia and Sister Lourdine were intimidating, imposing women.Loving, but firm. And I was often intimidated by them.

But I totally loved Sister Presentine. Sister Presentine demonstrated the love she had for all of us with one selfless, painstaking gesture. She glued together a ceramic pencil cup I smashed closing my desk lid.

Our family took a vacation to Pennsylvania. I think it was the summer before I started 3rd grade. I brought my cherished cup to school, excited to show her. I’m pretty sure it was the first week of class. The cup listed all the Presidents of the United States and the years they served. But when I brought it back to my desk and closed the desk lid, I smashed it into probably 100 or more small pieces.


Anyway, fast forward to late summer, 1970. We ventured off to a new school, St. Nicholas. It was the start of junior high school, 7th grade for me.

I discovered that the nuns and lay teachers didn’t have as much control of the classroom in this new environment. The 7th and 8th grade classes were two rooms each, I’m guessing between 25 and 30 kids per room. I also learned how to elevate my own brand of mischief. In 7th grade, then again in 8th grade, the angelic Catholic boys at St. Nick’s terrorized two poor, sweet Sisters right outta town. Back to back years. Sister Camilla and Sister Daniel.

One day, 8th grade, I got a detention for bad behavior. I needed to get my detention slip signed by a parent. Mom worked nights, so I presented the slip to Dad. Luckily, Uncle Bob (Mom’s brother, who’s really more like the big brother I never had than an uncle) was over for a visit and the three of us always had a great time together. Most times, it was sports related, either playing or watching or talking sports. I have no recollection where my sister, Karen, was on this particular night.

I also have no idea what Dad, Uncle Bob, and I had been doing that led up to this moment, but the mood was right for Dad to sign. In fact, it was so right, he didn’t just sign the slip.

He composed a poem.

“It was brought to my attention
That David has a detention.
So without further mention,
Keep him in retention.”

I will never forget Uncle Bob rolling on the floor, he was laughing so hard.

I took the note to school the next day and handed it to Sister Mary Dennis. I’m sure I had an annoying 13-year-old grin on my pudgy, bespectacled face. She looked at me, expressionless, as I ceremoniously presented the note to her.

Sister Dennis unfolded the note, read it, folded it again, and slipped it into her desk. Her expression never changed.

So did she take it back to the convent and share a laugh with the other nuns? Or did she burn it and race down to church to say a Rosary for the redemption of Dad’s and my soul?

Or did she slip out to the tavern?

Can These Peeps Get a Break?



Can these peeps ever get a break?

Mom has been complaining about heart palpitations for the last week or so. Is it any wonder? Dad just got home from the hospital Thursday, just in time for Mom’s birthday on Friday. No sooner home than he immediately had a dizzy spell and a little trouble getting upright from a seated position. Mom had to call Butch for help. Thank God he was available to help.

Dad’s shoulder is sore from smacking into the wall in early December. He has physical therapy exercise homework daily, but it’s no picnic. Some of the movements hurt like heck.

Now at Lutheran General for an infusion, Dad gets sent to Radiology for a scan. Just a precaution, but it was ordered, so they go.

Ran into a “customer service” issue with the receptionist in the department. Without going into detail, it got both Mom and Dad’s blood up to the boiling point.

Maybe the receptionist isn’t familiar with #DavesTwoRulesOfCustomerService. Hmm… perhaps I should hold an in-service.

It was a year ago today that Dad coded and the angelic staff of SVTU (critical care unit) at Christ Medical Center saved his life.

It’s also my Uncle Bob’s birthday (Mom’s brother). Happy birthday, Uncle Bob. I love you!
Please pray for Mom, that she can find a way to de-stress just a little.

Please pray for Dad, that he can gain enough strength to enjoy some quality time at home. And give Mom enough confidence that he’s “okay” enough that she can relax some.

Mom and Dad both appreciate all the prayers and kind words from all of you. They asked me to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of their hearts. They are sincerely in awe of all your support.

Thanks from me and my sisters and all the rest of us, too.

Happy Birthday, Mom, Pick Up the New Car, and the Joke’s On Me


Mom’s birthday was Friday.  I spent most of the afternoon with Mom and Dad, helping with a bunch of ‘odds and ends’ stuff. Putting away Christmas decorations. Going through a bunch of paperwork. Talking about stuff. About illness. About life.

Things settled down a little later in the afternoon and I was able to get a little work done while Dad sorted through mail (he had only come home from the hospital about 24 hours earlier) and Mom kept boxing up Christmas decorations (it may take her another week to get it all done; no joke) and fielding phone calls from all the birthday well-wishers. She was one popular gal!

Kathy’s work mate, Julie, lives near Mom and Dad. She drove Kathy to the house after work and we sent her home with a piece of Portillo’s chocolate cake. After singing to Mom, of course! After we sang and Mom blew out a candle, Julie surprised us by singing Sto Lat, the Polish version of Happy Birthday.

Martha, our youngest, joined us for dinner. We left around 10.

Saturday, we picked up the new car. I need a separate post about the car buying experience. We used to get a buying certificate for the car, but that was only the starting point for assuring the lowest price. ‘Twas a very interesting experience. Suffice it to say, Momma’s happy with her nice new wheels. That means everybody’s happy!

Stopped at the grocery store afterward, spent a ton of money and of course forgot a handful of items. Made a bunch of phone calls to notify all interested parties of the new vehicle, then Kathy and I did what we do best.

Took off on one of our famous “just get in the car and drive” junkets. We had no idea where we were headed. Ended up along the Lake Michigan shoreline in southern Milwaukee, meandered into the downtown district, taking in the sights, finding some cool new neighborhoods, just enjoying each other’s company and discovering a bunch of cool things about the new car.

Got home to an empty house. Thought the kids were going to be there, but they made last minute plans. We thought we were making dinner for a crowd. Not the case. Which was fine.

And today… the joke’s on me. Kathy gets the new car. I get a new alternator.

Just… not today. Got my car to the mechanic. He says “don’t drive it anywhere!”

So I managed to limp back to the garage, but he’ll be picking it up to do the work when he can schedule it.

In the meantime, my early appointment tomorrow morning gets cancelled. Kathy gets an unexpected ride to work. And I have to arrange for an alternate set of wheels until the job gets done.

It will be a delicate operation. My 2003 Nissan Altima has 282,000 miles on it. But it still runs well, is still fun to drive, still looks like new (yeah; looks can be deceiving!), and I really don’t want another car payment.

Day began just fine. Martha and I were the Lectors for 7 AM Mass. Then out to Cracker Barrel for breakfast with Martha, Stephen, and Kathy. Had some laughs. Talked some business. Enjoyed being together. Then the inevitable bad news with my car. I knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty diagnosis.

These are First World problems. Not life altering. Not life threatening. Just pains in the tail. We have more important issues confronting us. Like keeping Dad at home, getting him stronger, giving Mom a little breathing room.

But it was fun to write about. Thanks for “listening” to my meandering thoughts.

#dadupdate – Back in the Hospital


Dad is back in the hospital.

Not a fall this time. Not a new complication from the LVAD.

It’s an old issue. Fluid retention.

This is where we started last year. Summer of 2013, to be exact.

I’m pissed off. Pissed off at the pharmacy that didn’t grasp that a man with a weak heart couldn’t wait five days for a prescription to be filled. Pissed off that I wasn’t more proactive on Monday when Mom said CVS still hadn’t filled the prescription for Dad’s diuretic, called in on Friday. Why didn’t I insist that she call elsewhere? Why didn’t I call?

I’m pissed off at myself that I didn’t get more things done on the fitness project I’m working on. I let myself get derailed by a couple of financial matters that needed to get done, but maybe not in the order and at the time I addressed them.

I robbed myself of a couple of precious productive hours.

And pissed off that I couldn’t drag my sorry dupa (Polish slang for the backside) off the couch any sooner than now to put my thoughts down.

I’m pissed off that Dad is now likely to miss Emily’s Sweet 16 party on Saturday.

But amidst all the stress and anxiety, I’m still grateful to have my mom and dad here to talk to. To visit. To help. To have a meal with. To enjoy Mom’s cooking and baking. And her laugh. And Dad’s sense of humor.

How many people can say that their parents just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary? They are still here — both here — to celebrate.

I’m a blessed, fortunate guy.

Had a discussion this evening with someone who is severely depressed. Recently lost a parent. Sees no joy whatsoever in this life. No feelings. No sense that prayer is important. No sense that life is important.

What do we own? What can we claim as ours, now and forever? Only our thoughts. Only our relationship with God. When all is said and done, that’s all we’ve got, folks.

Everything else besides how we touched other people, how they touched us, and our relationship with our Creator means nothing when it’s time to say goodbye to this life.

When everything around us is hopeless or when we encounter a person who is in hopeless despair, what’s our most powerful method of combating the enemy?


It’s better than sending a check. Or a box of chocolates. Yeah, sometimes the money comes in handy for things that make us more comfortable or for necessities.

But when the need for all of those things are gone, what do we have left? What do any of us have?

Our relationship with our Creator.

And we better be prepared.

In the meantime, we have to live our lives. We should function at the highest level possible, given our station in life, given our income level and skill set.

And yes we need prayer and a strong spiritual life in order to do those things. But we need something more basic, more fundamental for our temporal world.

Take care of your body.

Yes, we need to take care of our minds. But if we neglect this vessel of flesh and blood, it will betray us as we grow older.

We only have so many years on this Earth. Some of what determines that is our genetic predisposition.

But our health and functionality as human beings also depends on lifestyle.

How do you treat your body?

Are you taking care of it?

Are you doing everything you can to keep it operating as efficiently as it can and should be?

How many years do you have left?

Are you prepared for what comes next? After this life?

Are you prepared for the years you have left? Has your lifestyle increased your risk of heart disease or diabetes? What about fluid retention?

What about functional fitness? How prepared are you for a slip on the ice? Could your body hold up against a sudden thud to the ground? How sturdy are your bones? How strong is your heart? How efficient is your cardiovascular system?

Let’s ponder and answer these questions together. For the benefit of the people whose lives we touch. And who touch our lives.

And with that, bedtime. Still exhausted after too little sleep yesterday. Hopefully, these words make sense.

Thanks for Celebrating Dad With Us



Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for taking time to send a birthday greeting to my dad (Norb Kwiecinski). We had a large crowd gather in shifts at RML on Saturday and Sunday, all family. Without question, Dad was overwhelmed by it all.

But he needs it.

He’s just now coming to grips with where he is, how long he has been in the hospital, how long he’s been lying in bed, what it‘s done to his body, how challenging it is to do the simplest things now. So when he has a crowd of people come to see him, for his birthday no less, and he realizes that he’s still in the hospital, and he barely remembers that it was still early January when he walked into Lutheran General, yeah, he’s going to be completely overwhelmed.

He has a lot of time on his hands these days. His mind is getting sharper. He is anxious to improve. He knows he can’t do much of anything. He can’t hold a damn newspaper for longer than five minutes if he’s lucky, for God’s sake, before his hands and arms tremble from the exertion.

So what do you do with all of that time?

Wonder if it’s all worth it? Wonder if anyone remembers that you’re still alive? Wonder if anyone cares?

I don’t know. But any of us can imagine and conjure our own thoughts.

So when he has a crowd of people converge on him, you bet he’s going to be overwhelmed. I would. Any of us would. It’s so hard to relate to what he is going through.

But that same overwhelming crowd brings life. Vigor. An essence of existence that may seem commonplace or routine or normal to us. But vital to Dad.

He sees, understands, and feels that there is something to live for. There are countless someones to live for. He needs a reason to practice swallowing so he can take a sip of water or simply suck on an few small chips of ice. He needs a reason to sit up for ten minutes, feeling like it’s ten hours, and know that he needs to progress to three hours of therapy a day.

Baby steps. Not only does he need to take those baby steps, he needs to have a reason to take them. He needs to see those reasons. He needs to see and hear and feel the love, the life, the beauty of his family and friends.

Dad’s coming back to us. But he still has a long, challenging road ahead of him. It’s time for more support than ever.

I wish I had time to write more. Thanks again, everyone.

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