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Healing, growth with help from a drum beat

“The most beautiful people I’ve known are those who have known trials, have known struggles, have known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.”– Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.

By Deb Trygstad, M.S.

Doris Issendorf Linder, of Henning, used drums to help work her way through the grief of losing her spouse at age 44. Drums are now a huge part of her life. Photo by Deb Trygstad

Losing a spouse in the prime of their life can have devastating effects on life of the surving spouse. Finding a way out of grief, away from toxic behavior and into a new community of support was crucial for Doris Issendorf Linder. And it helped her life evolve and change into who she is today. Doris began a new relationship with a community of friends... and the drum.

Doris grew up on a farm in southwest Minnesota where her parents (in their late 80s) still reside on and continue to operate a cattle farm today.

After high school graduation Doris went to college for restaurant management. After finishing college, she and a friend decided to get out of Minnesota and try something new. It was during the oil boom, so they headed to Texas where she lived for three years, working at the Petroleum Club of Midland. She decided she did not like Texas because there were no seasons. So she moved back home for awhile and then decided to go to Colorado. In the meantime, she met Larry Issendorf (Izzy) while he was home for Labor Day weekend.

“It was just like that,” she said. Doris knew this was the guy from the first moment she met him. In that first year together, Izzy was working in heavy equipment construction in Utah and Doris lived in Colorado. When he got laid off, they came back to Minnesota together and moved into Izzy’s house in Henning.

They were married in 1989 and life settled into a happy routine. Doris worked at various restaurant positions until finally landing a job at Lake Region Hospital in the dietary department. She later took a two year course for her Dietary Manager Certification and became one of the Dietary Supervisors at the hospital. Izzy continued to work construction and was gone a lot in the summer. In the winter time, Izzy was laid off so they had more time together and one of their favorite things to do was to go ice fishing. When Izzy was 52 his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Izzy and his aunt went to Wheaton to tell his grandpa that Lowell (Izzy’s Dad) had cancer. Grandpa Ed died the next day. On a trip to visit his father, who by then was very ill, Izzy told Doris he also had a dull ache in his chest. Izzy decided to see the doctor and the day his dad died, Izzy found out he too had lung cancer.

Izzy had a surgery that removed part of his lung. Still, he was able to return to work on light duty, driving trucks. The cancer came back, and he had chemo and radiation. At that time, only three percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer survived, but Doris and Izzy did not talk about that.

“I never knew really how much pain he was in,” she said.

Izzy rarely complained, but Doris said she was sure he knew it was coming. She recalled how exhausting it was driving back and forth to the hospital in Fargo.

In the spring of 2002, after attending three high school graduation parties in a row, Izzy was exhausted and out of breath. They went to the hospital. Izzy had a stroke.

A drumming circle at an outdoor event last summer. Contributed photo

“After a few days, he said, ‘Get a wheelchair and get me out of here.’”

They went home the next day with hospice care. He came home on Friday and died on Sunday, two and a half years after he was diagnosed. Doris was 44 years old and alone.

This was a time of huge grief and growth for Doris.

“I would be driving back and forth to work, praying constantly. It was scary,” she said. “But I am not scared anymore. Death doesn’t scare me like it did.”

The first time she was introduced to drumming was at a Women’s Retreat at Maplelag Resort in Callaway, Minnesota. A friend saw a flyer and said that attending this retreat might benefit her.

“When we are in the circle, drumming together, it takes you out of your head and into the present moment,” she said.

After that, she attended the Women’s Retreat twice a year, in the spring and fall. She decided to make her own drum and bought a kit from Tandy’s Leather for a little frame drum. “After Izzy died I asked the neighbors for deer hides - six hides that first year. At first, it was making the drums, not so much drumming. To make a drum she fleshed the hides, which is soaking them in lye and water and scraping the hair off. Doris had never made a drum from scratch before but learned through trial and error.

“With those hides, I made drums and took them to the retreat. People were interested in them and they wanted to buy them. Making the drums was a good way to keep me out of trouble. It was something good to do to keep me grounded.”

Doris was depressed after Izzy died, and making drums was a good way to get rid of pent up energy. A couple years later she brought 65 drums to the retreat and then started to sell them. Later she started her own business.

A network of friends developed around the retreat and the drums.

“To have those gals around me was a life saver,” Doris said.

With the encouragement of her friend Bev, Doris decided to start a drumming circle of her own. When it first started it was not drumming but getting into a circle and talking about Earth Medicine. “Earth Medicine is for people of all beliefs, ethnicities, and identities, who want a deeper relationship with Mother Earth and all of her children… animal, plant, mineral, etc. Earth Medicine teaches us how to walk in the right relationship with ourselves and with all of our relations. We learn to heal ourselves and how to model healing for others in a healthy, respectful way”. The circle has evolved and gotten bigger and bigger.

Doris and Jerry. Photo by Deb Trygstad

Doris also found a new love, Jerry, who just happened to have been good friends with Izzy. At the time Izzy was sick, Jerry’s fiancé also suffered from lung cancer, and she died a couple months after Izzy. Since they had the same friends in common it became an easy relationship. Jerry, retired too, helps Doris by making the eight-sided drum frames.

Doris said, “He has helped make the drums better.” Doris has been making drums for 22 years and can’t say how many drums she has made, perhaps several hundred. Besides selling drums, she offers drum making workshops. She has drummed at nursing homes, schools, church services and several funerals.

“I love making drums and it amazes me that I have been able to sell so many,” she said.

Doris also continues to offer a monthly drumming circle which has evolved to include men and women, ages 20-80. The following testimonials came from people who have benefitted from Doris’ drums and drum circle.

Karen Weego, Hewitt, age 70: “My first experience with the drum was at my first women’s retreat many years ago. I’d never held a drum let alone play one, and I was unsure of myself until I played it for the first time. It felt as if the energy from the drums went into my body, it felt like a purr from a cat and I was hooked! The drum centers me and reminds me, our hearts beat as one, as does the drum.”

Lora and Sam: “Drumming is a powerful communication with each other and with the Universe. It binds us together in spirit more powerful than individual prayers. It may be the hope of the world right now.”

Dusty Krause, age 70: “Drumming brings me awareness; it reminds me to practice patience; it encourages me to live my truth and it brings me to a primal, healing place.”

Josie Cimbura, age 73, Wapheton, ND: “I had been interested in drumming for years, but never imagined I would find a drumming group. One of the most difficult things about retirement for me was the loss of contact with many people. Another difficult thing was being in rural America and not knowing like-minded people. Being a part of a drumming group changed that, because I found with the other drummers we had so much more in common than just loving drumming. For me, the drumming circle itself brings the greatest joy, and Doris leads the circle. I believe the act of drumming, and the synchronicity of the act of drumming, along with the opening ceremony Doris performs, opens each one of us up to our truest selves and allows us a safe place to be open to sharing things going on with us at that time. It also allows me to become aware of new ways of thinking about myself and my relationship with everything around me. The magic is being in the present moment.”

Different types of drums. Photo by Deb Trygstad

Sue Duncan, Henning: “As well as being a neighbor, Doris has become a good friend. She invited me to drumming, and I really enjoy it. It has given me a new appreciation for the earth and everything that lives on it. I learn something every time I go, not only from Doris, but from the other drummers also. It has helped me to be able to do the meditation which was not something previously accomplished. The drummers who come together are all great people and so caring about each other and others in everyone’s lives. I always go away from drumming with a warm fuzzy feeling. I am very grateful to Doris for inviting me. It is a very rewarding experience that carries forward into all of our lives.

Doris is retired now but continues to bring people joy through her drums and drumming circle.

“I can’t believe where it has gone. It amazes me the benefit the drums and the drumming can bring to people.” Someone once told her that perhaps Izzy’s illness and death was a necessary part of her journey that led her to the drum and ultimately finding her purpose in life.

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