Category Archives: grief

Throwback Thursday {birthdays}

She was the middle child of 11: 6 boys, 5 girls. Born to a poor family in a Oklahoma town so small she often told others she was from another small town. She told few stories about those times. Just that her mama always cooked enough to feed others and a woman they called Aunt John who helped with the kids.

She married at 16. I expect she was swept off her feet by a charming flirt, handsome in his Salvation Army uniform, himself just 20 and fresh out of seminary.

She’s turning 76 today but in her mind she is ageless. The cards she’ll get mean nothing to her but we’ll send them because she means something to us.

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Juanita Jim Bill Pauline (mama) 1942

Mama's high school photo

Mama’s high school photo

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DEBBY MC-009

I suspect mama and daddy celebrated their birthdays when we were growing up though I never remember one. Not for them. She saw to it that my brother and I had birthday parties. My 13th was at the skating rink.

By my 14th they were divorced but she saw to it I had a party.

my 10th birthday

my 10th birthday

my little brother's 3rd

my little brother’s 3rd

I’m surprised I even knew my parents birthday with their celebrations being absent. Maybe that’s how it was for their generation and how I carried it on in our home, mostly. The kids got the parties.

Her mama celebrating her 75th with a motorcycle ride.

Her mama celebrating her 75th with a motorcycle ride.

A rare visit over mama's birthday in 1976

A rare visit over mama’s birthday in 1976

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Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th

Her youngest grandchild bringing a smile on her 75th

I was with mama on her birthday a few years ago. I think it was her 72nd. The dementia was apparent. We had pretty gift bags with colorful tissue. The bags were set in front of her but nothing. I picked one up and handed it to her and she held it and looked at me with a cocked head as if to say, what do you want me to do?

“It’s for you mama.” A smile.

I opened the bag, reached in and took out the nightgown to show her. Another smile, a curious one. She had no idea what was going on. That this was for her. This day was about her.

It’s worse now and I haven’t been out there in 2 years. Lisa sends pictures. They had a big celebration last year on her 75th. She liked the grandkids visit and smiled at the cake and colors not knowing they came to celebrate her.

This year, she’s sleeping a lot more. Content but tired and it’s okay because we’ll always celebrate mama. Celebrate her life, her faith, her example.

We’ll celebrate when we volunteer or listen to a stranger.

She’ll be celebrated when we drop our change in the red kettle at Christmas or when we send thank-you cards and remember our manners.

We celebrate her everyday because she lives in how we laugh loud and love quiet. She lives in our service, our worship, in our differences and our coming together.

Dementia may steal memories but it doesn’t have to steal our joy or the legacy she leaves.

Happy birthday, mama. Thank you for always pointing to the One greater than you because He is the One whose grace allows us to rejoice in the midst of your loss. He is our Hallelujah song.


Surrounded

It’s a celebration. Ten years of marriage. Our son-in-law has it planned, directions and instructions provided. This is what he does. The family planner of excursions, holidays, hikes and road trips. All designed to build those moments into family life that can be lost to the everyday business of life.

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Heather Tim

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I do again

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We celebrate with them as they renew their vows in a small ceremony on a croquet lawn of an Inn in Highlands, NC. Their six-year old daughter is excited to wear her dress with a bit of sparkle as she will be their flower girl. Our son, 34, told his niece he was the ring bearer.

It will be small, just the immediate family and I’m beside myself with this loving display that was absent from my parents. Lost and found at the same time.

This week could be called sensory overload for me and I know it’s my whole being on high alert for all that’s going on around us.

We are surrounded by work (perceived expectations) and family (self-expectations). Surrounded by happy celebrations of love, new life in Christ and renewed commitments.

with camera

lake house

birdhouse on the lake

Mamas hands black and white

Surrounded by news of cancer in a young father, the third in our extended community this year. The third person in their 30’s and 40’s faced with a “Stage 4” diagnosis. From a back ache, a feeling of unrelenting exhaustion, a pain that wasn’t going away; from those everyday malady’s of life they’ve received what sounds like a life sentence.

 

Surrounded with thoughts of a mother’s continuing decline in Alzheimer’s and a granddaughter entering first grade.

In all of the dire prognosis we look for hope. As people of faith we must proclaim the “better life” that is ahead. We must because we believe it and because we need to tell this to ourselves in those moments of utter grief.

Ron was speaking on Psalm 137, a joy-less Psalm; a couple of verses a prayer to God to destroy others. These are words of despair and grief. He talked about going to a “Celebration of Life” service because the living feel so much better calling it that than “funeral”. Like I feel better being called MayMay than Granny. We do that today. We don’t like the word, the phrase, we change it to what makes us feel happier, younger, better. The facts don’t change: someone died, I’m old enough to be a grandparent.

In Ron’s message, he gave us permission to mourn. Something we seem to want to avoid. As if mourning is empty faith. Than somehow showing our sorrow at our earthly loss isn’t trusting in God.

I don’t like showing those emotions in public, or at all. I don’t want you to see my ugly, crying face, the one that looks weak and needy and sad and lonely. I don’t want you to hear the squeaky voice that trembles with words that are incoherent. But I need to mourn as much as I need the happier celebrations. The ones that speak of abiding love and a little girl holding flowers for her mama.

There’s an old song titled “Ache beautiful” and I realize there is beauty to be found in sorrow, in grief. It is in the midst of this loss where I feel the tender touch of Jesus most. When I am ready to accept his loving care, when I’m ready to admit my need.
We are surrounded by life. The richness of loving and knowing and losing, all making our faith deeper and more complete. All making our life beautiful.

Linking up with SheLoves Magazine on their monthly topic: beautiful.


I bought this apple {for mama}

I bought a green apple dish. I’m not fond of green, nor do I collect apples but mama did. Mostly red ones. So I bought it. Because of her, no other reason. I bought it for a mama who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. I’m not sure of the difference or if it matters.

green apple dish 2

Updates from my sister take us further into this dark place and I can only imagine how much darker it is for mama. Though now, with her memory so gone, maybe things are brighter for her. She isn’t struggling as much to remember what she once knew she’d forgotten. Life is easier for her in that way. I want to believe that.

She has fallen three times in less than two weeks with no particular reason as to why. It meant a trip for blood work and there the struggle became most difficult for my sister. Mama doesn’t remember how to get in and out of a car and screamed when the blood was drawn. I’ll spare you some of the other events of what was once a simple trip. It was less than three years ago when I took her for medical tests and my biggest concern was her getting away from me when my back was turned answering questions.

The latest news of her losing weight signals the disease entering another stage, one taking her further away from this life. Mama struggled with her weight most of her adult years. But this isn’t good news. Not now.

I think of the family we’ve lost in the past six years. Both of Henry’s parents, my uncle who was such a part of our lives, all of them in better shape than mama. Their bodies gave out and hers, well, it’s hard to understand. In fact, I don’t understand it. Not at all.

green apple dish

I bought this apple. This green that looked much darker than I remembered it looking on the website. This dish that seems to be a bit awkward amongst the pottery pieces on my shelf. A new piece that has nothing to do with the collection of apples she had in her house. Yet, I look at it and think of her. Another thing I don’t understand.

Paul of the bible writes of some kind of handicap or disability or limitation. Something that caused him aggravation at the least. Enough that he asked God to take this away. Three times Paul begged God would take this away. Three times God said no. Bigger than God’s “No” is his grace.

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”2 Corinthian 12:7, the Message

Grace is only given when we need it. I believe it often looks like tears or smiles. It can be hidden in the faded photos crammed into boxes. This grace that is enough. For me.

 

 


For a friend

We have never met but her pain has touched my heart.

She reached out to me in an email, “can you help me tell my story? Maybe in that blog thing like you did for Laura? It just hurts so much.”

around the lake  flowers

I think of the pain of losing a spouse and I can’t touch it. I’ve had loss but not that. Not the one who fills the space next to you each night. The one you reach out to find warmth but find emptiness and the emptiness inside is bigger than place he filled in bed.

It is her pain and it is crushing. A life too young, taken too quick. It was just some back pain, probably a pulled muscle. The diagnosis: stage 4 cancer. A year later his place next to her in their bed is empty.

around the lake

around the lake  on Lake Junaluska

There are no words to offer that can fill that hole or soothe that soul. We know time is the healer but we don’t know how we’ll get through the time.

Three months he’s gone. Before, family came from out-of-state to be close, be together and it held her pieces from scattering in the winds. Now they are gone, back to their lives and it’s a cold urn she clings to in the night when she needs to feel something that is him.

I don’t know this broken woman. I think Glennon’s word ‘brutiful’ fits here: a broken and brutal beauty. That is what this aching woman is. She is screaming inside and wants to scream out loud: IT HURTS SO BAD. I HURT SO BAD.

around the lake  around the lake

We hear your hear, dear one. We hear your soul cries and we hold your words dear and tender. We don’t need to know you face to face to know your anger and pain. Your grief is real and crushing. You are caught in the rip current of grief and the only way to escape a rip current is to swim with it. If you try to swim to the shore, against the current, it will pull you down. Swim with it my friend. Relax your body so the water can carry you. Know the water is the love of Jesus not abandoning you but allowing you to float to safety. He is carrying you through the rolling tide.

Written with permission and input from Melissa Hale. Please pray for this dear sister as she continues finding God’s grace and peace in her storm of loss. 


He was a drunkard. He was my friend.

We were living in Memphis when mama came to visit.  She’d left a busy summer schedule to come for our daughters wedding. My sister was keeping her up on things at home but one phone call left mama suddenly quiet and dabbing at her eyes. I paused, waiting for her explanation when she said, “Burt* died. He was a drunkard. He was my friend.”

Ten years later and the news is shared via Facebook. On our group page for our Adult Rehabilitation Center, a place for graduates and residents to be encouraged and share successes, a graduate posted, “S died over the weekend of organ failure.”

And mama’s words came flooding back to me as I thought of this man, a drunkard, my friend.

HOPE CHANGE logo

Our days are often lived on the edge of sobriety and relapse. An employee calls out sick with “the flu” and the rumors of suspected relapse echo in our minds. Another no-call, no-show and we hesitate saying the words we are thinking: relapse. Someone is late from an appointment and we say, ‘I hope every thing is alright’, meaning we hope he didn’t run in to an old friend at Central Bus Terminal.

Night Log sheets are placed in my box everyday and I scan the lines to see if anyone didn’t return, or worse, was asked to leave, most often for failing the breathalyzer or drug test.

Sobriety isn’t just one day at a time for the person in recovery but it’s one day at a time for us: their employer, their pastor, their co-workers, their friends. There was a time I thought 3 years clean was a magic number but quickly learned it was only a number. Not magical at all. Addiction knows no number it can’t conquer.

Relapse is heartbreaking. Death is a mixture of painfully sad and relief their struggle is over. At least our struggle is over. The selfish side of not wondering where they are, of wondering if they’re alive or dead or in jail. (And we’d all choose jail over most options of relapse.)

pain hope

Drunkard is a word from mama’s generation. It’s more polite than the name drunk as in, “he’s a drunk”. That’s harsh, cruel, true.

No matter the label or the name he was my friend. Our friend, a valued employee, a good-natured person suffering with chronic pain and finding his relief in the drink that was one too many but never enough. It breaks my heart. Every time.

He knows he was loved, by his sister, his daughter, his friends. He knows he was loved by God. He believed in the amazing grace that saves a wretch like me. I hope he accepted that grace. I hope that is the grace that holds him now.


Laughing again

“There are two of me
And two of you”

So starts the song by Jackson Browne that describes so many relationships in life. Two of me, the daughter-child and the adult-child and two of him, the father who was only still when laying on the living room floor, pillow under his chest, watching television at night. Daddy to me no matter what age but when his age caught up he was the second him, the one who couldn’t conquer his health problems and went from joy to lament.

DadAlexandriaLA

4 of us in Tulsa

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I have to count backwards to remember how many years he’s been gone. I only know because he passed the April before our daughter graduated high school. I guess it’s terrible not to remember the exact day and year your daddy died. I do. Sort of. I remember it was during spring break and we were doing a day camp with the kids from church who needed something to do. I remember getting the call from a friend who thought I knew. I remember his voice when it became clear to him that his condolences were actually my first hearing of daddy’s passing. I remember that exactly. How I was at my desk in that pitiful old building we called a church. I was facing the window and I remember his voice. I don’t remember what I said. Just Ron saying, “I’m so sorry.” And the kids. A dozen or so of these precious kids that Henry kept in the other room while I called mama to tell her. They’d been divorced years but she cried.

I remember the day went on and I went to where the children were and each one hugged and kissed me and maybe I didn’t show them how to grieve when we continued on with our outing for the day. But grief doesn’t come then. Grief is a sneaky bastard. Sometimes cruel in his attacks.

3ofUsWithPawpawMc96

BillyJoe1952HSgrad

So yeah, it’s been a long time and I guess I can blame reading about others loss and today, April 2nd, being the day the second of him left this world that’s brought this on.

And the song goes on….

“There were two of me
And two of you
Searching for a passageway
Hidden from our view
And together we went crashing through
Every bond and vow and faith we knew”

There was always something hidden, or at least not clear to me. The fiercely protective daddy of his little girl and the sad, confessing dad to his grown daughter. Things I’m not sure a parent should tell their child no matter how old but I think I already knew.

In his absence I’ve lingered on the bitter taste of loss a bit too much. Loss and how hard his life was the last few years. Three days a week on dialysis, position taken from him through retirement and a realization he wasn’t in control. The passageway he went crashing through was frustration and sadness and it broke my heart. Bonds and vows had been broken. Faith? I think we kept that.

Some days I miss daddy. I miss telling him the funny stories because laughing with him was the best. But I don’t miss his sadness and his grieving over a life of activity lost. I don’t miss hearing his strained voice when he called after dialysis. I don’t miss his complaining about what he couldn’t do and couldn’t eat and couldn’t be because I couldn’t help him. God intervened and took him home where, I’m sure, he’s laughing once again.

 

 

 


Coming and Going

“MeMe, I have a grown up tooth coming in and a wiggly one in front.” Our daughter is prompting KK to call us to share bits of her daily life. I heard her excitement and it’s the best news I’ve heard all day. It woke me up to how quickly the time is passing and the focus on life, coming and going life, was clearer.

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1st day of kindergarden outfit

1st day of kindergarten outfit

* You will die sooner than you think. You will be forgotten.

Those words from Reggie Joiner, spoken yesterday at the conference I was attending, just hours before the word was shared my mother in law would not last the weekend. We expected her to pass in June yet this was sooner than we thought. Sooner than we could ever prepare for because you can’t prepare for the physical absence of someone you love.

The granddaughter has her first grown up tooth coming. She is in kindergarten and went to her first sleepover. Her life is full of firsts and while she is coming her great-grandmothers are going. Her grandmothers in that in between place where we see a full life but mostly while looking back. We are burying our mothers and welcoming another generation. Trying not to forget one while raising up the other.

*You will only be remembered by the people who know your name. – Reggie Joiner on Legacies. 

Granny would call out several names before she got to the right one and she always laughed first. So many names from her 5 children and over a dozen grands. My own mother doesn’t know my name or my brother’s or her grands. We know her name. We remember for her these days.

Granny long gone, mama, mind going more everyday but soul very much here and perhaps while the mind goes her soul is coming, coming for more grace.

I’ve uttered the words I’ve heard both generations before me say, “I don’t know if I’m coming or going” and it’s surely felt like that today. The words about Legacy from Reggie echoing in my mind as my mother in law gave up her earthly struggle and the granddaughter reminding me of her tender new life coming with full energy for more.

in her costumes

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Coming or going? Coming AND going is how life is. There is never time for death but always time for birth but really, isn’t this earthly death birth? Birth to what Paul tells the Corinthians is the day we will see clearly. The Voice says,

     For now, we can only see a dim and blurry picture of things, as when we stare into polished metal.I realize that everything I know is only part of the big picture. But one day, when Jesus arrives, we will see clearly, face-to-face. 1 Corinthians 13:12

One moment the soft smiles are forming remembering my mother in law and the next, they are giving way to tears of sadness knowing I’ll not hear words from her lips again. I’ll not hear her call me Beki instead of Debby and pretend she got it right. I’ll not hear her laugh at one of her sons just because they’re her sons and bring her such joy. Coming and going, smiles, laughter, tears and sorrow. They mingle together and when we gather we won’t know if we’re coming or going and we’ll be doing both just like she is now. Gone from this world but only her body. Her legacy is in her children, and, I pray, the generations to follow.

 


Tired

I want to retreat. To hide out from people, people I know, and just pretend I have this normal life where I’m a housewife (I was good at that role) and I can tidy up things that are a bit in need and cook a healthy dinner for us and maybe pay attention to the art class I’ve had to ignore due to schedule or do something else creative, but solitary.

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I’d rather do that than prepare for this conference (that I love you know) and spend 2 1/2 days of go-see-do-sleep repeat. I’d rather ponder quiet thoughts and put fingers to the keys than wait for Ruth to die not knowing when, again, we’ll pack a bag and take a journey that feels so unnecessary and too much.

I am feeling selfish and needy and I just want to take a nap. And I don’t nap! Yeah, that’s where I am.

It will pass. It always does. Some caffeine and a game day face and I’ll benefit from the need to carry on.

But….this feels more. A little. This time. I think it’s death. I think it’s the waiting and the life that won’t wait. I plan. I need plans. But life, and death, have plans of their own leaving me to choose my response.

The game day face hasn’t worked too well today and I’m afraid people have seen more of the real me than they ever should. I could feel it in my walk, fast paced with purpose. My words clipped and the anxiety crawling across my shoulders.

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We are using the chapel this Sunday. Period. There are chairs in it and the piano was put in today and will be tuned by the end of the week. We will be in there Sunday because I need to be there where we all sit together and I am not apart from them. Dorothy needs a piano to play and not the junk she’s be struggling with to get a melody played.

We don’t know how to use the new audio/visual system and the installers have made no attempts to train us. A call today informed us the techs are installing a system for someone – IN THE BAHAMAS! No matter. We can go low-tech. We have chairs, we have a piano and we have the Word.

Henry and I were trying to see what we could figure out on our own and as he was trying to get audio I was crouched on the small platform, bowed over when I knew I had to stop. Stop fussing, stop rushing and release, again, it to God’s control. To His purpose. Again. And in those few moments I knew it will be okay. If I step out of God’s way, if calm down and let Him be, He will.

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He will care for my mother-in-law in her dying moments as He’s cared for her all these years.

He will care for our family as we sort out the details and make room in our lives for another loss that will mean eternal joy.

He will tend to audio and air conditioning and time limits.

He will be thanked for his graciousness toward me when I don’t deserve it.

He will surprise me with his truth in a new way and I will praise His name.

He will get me through today and that’s all I have.


It’s messy up in here

We were laughing as we often do. Eric telling John about something I’d written and John cringed and said, “that’s messy”. I stood defiant as I replied, “I’m messy.”

There was one thing mama didn’t tolerate and that was a mess. My hair was cut in the short pixie until mid way through grade school because mama wanted it neat. I was allowed to let it grow only with the understanding it would be kept from hanging in my face. (You can’t imagine the compulsive ways that manifest itself).

Neat, uncluttered, organized, these are the things that help me breathe comfortably and feel accomplished. I’ve conquered our stuff!

But life is messy because fear and pride can’t be hidden away for long. Selfishness and self-pity, arrogance and defiance cannot be dusted and tucked inside a basket on the shelf.

At five, our granddaughter lines up her toys. They are in a neat row and we smile and wonder if these are tendencies being revealed. DNA from great-grammy?

There are no neat rows for addiction and relapse and turning away from the Beauty and Love that chases us all. There is no way to clean up Alzheimer’s and the guilt and long grief it brings to families. All we can do is muddle through the mess trying to clear a space for love.

There is no way to avoid living a messy life when you believe the One who turns life upside down when he uses addicts to teach this church girl and expose the mess I thought was so well ordered. When he takes my words, rehearsed and regurgitated from years of listening but seldom learning, and like a boomerang they come back  at me, this time filtered through the lens of grace and I know I am the mess.

I’m finding the best way is to live through our mess together.  I’m finding the mess has always been me. Hair brushed back out of my face, books all neat on the shelf and bed made first thing each morning makes me neat. Compulsive a bit or maybe I can say I’m just honoring mama. Neat but choosing to walk in the mess of service just like she did. Choosing to love others right in their mess because He still loves me in mine.

 


If it’s her party, why am I crying?

The notification stares at me as though the letters are glowing bold. They are burning through my heart and I have given way to guilt.

“Mom is turning 75 years old…..let’s shower her with cards”

It doesn’t matter I didn’t realize this was her 75th. (I always have to do the math to figure out how old she is.) Or that by the time my sister posted this on Facebook a plane ticket would have been very costly or that these trips are typically planned months in advance. (I have to prepare for this in so many ways).

None of that matters as I sit here, the day before, with the reality of it hitting me hard and knowing her firstborn will not be there. It doesn’t matter mama doesn’t know me anymore. I know her. I know she is the woman I have admired most and can never give what she has given to serve others.

It’s not practical for me to go. The several hundred dollars a plane ticket would cost to stand in front of her with other family and friends and wish her a happy birthday. And then what?

Today, practical doesn’t matter. Today I feel like I’m letting her down, letting myself down. Denying myself of the pleasure of standing in her presence, whether she knows me or not. A few more moments with her when she can still laugh and nod her head when the scripture is read to her. Another chance to finger through photographs of the faces no longer known and see if I can prompt that one moment in time with her.

And then there’s the wondering what the family out there will think. They are gracious, they always have been. They are the practical sort too. I didn’t get this way on my own!

There is no answer for a heart feeling broken or a daughter feeling she is letting down her mama. Or maybe herself. Henry will put his arm around me and let me cry into his heart. He will remind me of love, of his and mama’s and, somehow, he’ll say something to soothe this bare heart.

He said, “you’re a good daughter.” How does he know the perfect things to say.

It has been a tough day. This day before her birthday. On the day friends and family, now strangers to mama, will gather to celebrate her day. They’ll share some cake and maybe sing to her. Someone will take pictures and I’ll see them on Facebook and I’ll be thinking about her, about them, from 3000 miles away.

I will be grateful for a sister so brave to have this party for mom. I will be thankful for those who’ve sent cards and covered our family in prayer.

I will be thankful for a life lived in faith, of not knowing and still believing. Believing it’s okay to be here, in my corner of the country. Here thanking God for His unfailing love.

 


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