September 6, 2022 at 5:00 p.m.
Rieland compiles calendars for a cause
Above the fireplace mantel in Amy Rieland’s Little Birch Lake home hangs a photo of husband Rick standing on a dock at sunrise May 6, 2021, framed with barn wood Rick helped choose. It is her favorite photo and one she captured on her camera.
She has taken hundreds of nature and wildlife photos, many with Rick driving her around a 15-mile radius of their home.
This spur of the moment photo came following a discussion they had about living life after Rick received a terminal cancer diagnosis.
“He said, ‘Let’s get the sunrise. I don’t know how many I have left,’” Amy recalls.
Life, like photos, can be fleeting.
Two months after that sunrise photo was taken Rick passed away, a rare, aggressive cancer taking his 60-year-old life July 9, 2021, less than three months after his diagnosis.
Thanks to ongoing support from family and friends, Amy is a survivor. Instead of wallowing in her grief, she focuses on the 42 years she shared with Rick, 36 as his wife.
“It wasn’t about taking the pictures; that was the bonus. It was about spending time with Rick,” she said Aug. 17, explaining why she loved their adventures.
Good came from their cancer experience and the photos Amy took. She compiled a 2022 calendar of her photos, with proceeds donated toward anaplastic thyroid cancer research. She is choosing baby wildlife-themed photos for her 2023 calendar, with funds raised donated toward a child loss organization, in memory of family friends who lost a child after a premature birth and family members who suffered miscarriages.
She never envisioned her life with Rick would be cut short. The two grew up four blocks from one another in Melrose. Rick was good friends with Amy’s brother Bob. They married July 21, 1984.
They shared “comfortable silence,” especially when driving around, often holding hands in the vehicle. Sunday mornings, when driving around, Rick would suggest they turn the radio on to listen to Ed Brady’s gospel show.
“We were more spiritual than we were religious,” Amy said. “We’d see God in the sunrises and sunsets because no human could do that.”
Amy went with Rick scouting when hunting. In the winter they’d check if the ice was ready for fishing. And she always had her camera with. There wasn’t much Rick could say, since he was the one who suggested their daughters buy Amy a camera as a gift.
Headaches and a lump on his neck sent Rick to see his Melrose physician, Dr. Kurt Schwieters, April 19, 2021, who did lab work, a CT scan and sent in orders for a biopsy. The biopsy determined he had anaplastic thyroid cancer, with spots on his spine and liver. Surgery to remove his cancerous thyroid tumor was not an option. When asked what his chances of beating the cancer were, the doctor said, “single digits.”
Wanting to spend more time with their family – daughters Nikki and husband Trey Swanson and their children, Finley and Harlow; and Hanna and husband Chris Lundeen and their children, Gracelyn and Lakelyn – Rick chose to fight the cancer. He had two rounds of chemotherapy and 20 radiation treatments on his neck, the last one June 30, 2021.
Goals were set. This avid fisherman, hunter and outdoorsman wanted one more hunting season and to spend Christmas with their family.
They treasured time spent together, although drives to capture photos got fewer, and Amy did more of the driving.
“There were less sunrises and sunsets,” Amy said.
Rick’s pain worsened and his medication, including morphine, was increased. They saw a palliative care doctor who suggested medical marijuana, which was approved, but he never got to use it.
Pain sent him back to hospitals in Melrose and eventually St. Cloud. Amy noticed he was more confused, and he could no longer stand. A CT scan showed the spot on the spine had grown, and the cancer had spread to his brain, lung and bones.
There was talk about being referred to the University of Minnesota or Rochester for experimental treatment, but when Rick was first diagnosed they had many talks and decided if he could no longer enjoy the things he liked to do, it was time to stop treatment.
“Rick said, ‘No, I wanna be around my kids,’” Amy said.
Even though it was during COVID-19 restrictions, Amy was allowed to stay with Rick in his room at the St. Cloud Hospital to help keep him calm, with daughters visiting and assisting with decision making. During one of Rick’s restless times, he kept saying, “Amos, Amos,” his nickname for Amy, while holding Hanna’s hand and feeling her wedding ring.
“I sat next to him, and I said, ‘Honey, I’m here,’ and I realized he was feeling my wedding ring, and he calmed down after he knew I was now holding his hand,” Amy said.
Amy, Nikki and Hanna felt it was important for Rick’s brothers to visit him, to possibly say goodbye.
“One of the girls said to the nurse, ‘Dad has four brothers and they are close. They hunt and fish together,’” Amy said.
Two at a time, his brothers were allowed to visit.
On July 7, 2021, Rick was transferred to CentraCare Care Center in Melrose where visits included family, friends and his co-workers at Carstens Industries.
“It was so wonderful. Rick worked for Carstens for 40 years with his co-workers and some wanted to say goodbye,” a teary-eyed Amy said. “Some came and stood in the room, some whispered to him.”
A Celebration of Life was held for Rick July 15, 2021, at Patton-Schad Funeral Home in Melrose, with many stories shared. The following day a private burial service was held at Oak Hill Cemetery in Melrose where Rick’s remains, in a mallard decoy he and his brothers used for hunting, were buried. His favorite Kansas song “Dust in the Wind” was among songs played while they toasted Rick.
These days Amy’s constant companion is a cane. It stems back to an incident at 5:30 p.m., Feb. 8, 2022, when this 60-year-old woman slipped on a patch of ice at home and broke her ankle in two places, including an open fracture with a bone sticking out of the inside of her left leg.
Her ankle was so swollen they couldn’t do surgery to repair the breaks for two weeks, but during her first surgery an external fixator was put in place to hold everything in place. During her second surgery on Feb. 22 nine screws and a plate were inserted in her ankle.
“The plate holds one of the bones together and stabilizes the ankle, and the screws hold the plate in place,” she said.
In July, one of the screws, holding the tibia and fibula bones together, was removed during the third surgery, because her injured ligament healed.
During her 3.5-month recovery she worked from home, thankful her employer Warrior Boats in Melrose hooked her up with a laptop and printer.
Early on, her sisters, Mary Kay Jorgenson and Sue Branyon, and friend Deb Duclos became her caregivers, giving her around the clock care, because she was confined to her home.
Life is resuming to a new normal. Amy is back to work full time. At times, she will be excited to tell Rick something, realizing he is no longer waiting for her at home to give him a hug and a kiss, something the last one of them returning home did daily.
She said death is often difficult for adults to understand, more so for children. Her granddaughters would often ask where “Pops” was.
“I’d say, ‘He’s in the sky.’ And they’d say, ‘Did he take a plane? I’d say, ‘No, he grew angel wings and went up to the sky. He’s our special guardian angel,’” Amy said.
They will sit on the deck with their binoculars, just like Pops, looking for Grandpa Rick in the clouds.
The end of July Amy visited both of their parents at the cemetery – Marv and Lu Rieland and Ray and Agnes Maus – something she and Rick did together; having a beer at each tombstone because they shared an anniversary date with Rick’s parents.
Amy saw a cardinal.
“I said, ‘Well, Rick, you wanted to join me wishing your mom and dad happy anniversary,’” Amy said.
She is excited to complete her 2023 calendar, which will again be produced by Dan Schmidt Printing in Melrose. On last year’s cover was a photo of an eagle in full flight Amy took – Rick’s favorite photo.
She knows Rick would be happy she is doing something worthwhile with the photos he had a hand in.
Amy is capturing life’s moments with her camera.