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Posts Tagged ‘death’

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. (William Arthur Ward)

A friend died. Minutes before I leave for my book signing, his wife asks my husband to be one of the pallbearers. Grief and relief take turns in my heart. This man’s suffering has been unbearable to watch much less endure.

Sun replaces yesterday’s rain. Both belong to nature. Necessary to life’s balance.

My simple camera can’t photograph intense sun. It translates bright rays into the red light that shines through closed eyelids. I recognize my limitations and know I am neither imperfection nor success. There are more roads to explore, continued opportunities to give and forgive, moments to live and celebrate.

Thanksgiving, the official national holiday, appears this week. I pray to be more than pumpkin pie and a stack of dishes in the sink. These memories fade into previous years like dreams lost before waking. As I get older, I notice life sends more intense challenges—with incredible blessings attached. I pray to stay longer with the blessings than the pain.

Peace to all.

 

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The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. (Lily Tomlin)

I perform everyday chores as if they were time tests. As soon as I sweep crumbs, more arrive. My frustration mounts. Time to delve into writing or art appears, and an emergency barges through.

Visits to a nursing home and a funeral change my course, speed, and perspective.

A friend suffers from a disease that stole his mind and body. He was a kind professor who taught English and speech. Now he writhes in torment. I want to help his wife and can only offer my arms and ears. Another friend died after fighting cancer. I hear her voice in my head and don’t want it to fade.

Marie and I sit together at the funeral. We observe both past and present. Long-term friendship with divine influence appears as we share. Now. Then. The confusing interim.

On the way home my phone’s directional app leads us south via a shorter route than the one we took north. We laugh as Marie drives through unfamiliar territory. An adventure based on trust. Eventually we will know where we are.

She knows my strengths and weaknesses. Directions fit into the latter. She smiles and assures me I can go anywhere. I have the tools. Her voice is soft yet reassuring.

Extending boundaries. A non-rat-race possibility. November has passed the center line. Both December and old age appear as expected. I see a reflection in the mirror that doesn’t match the one I recognize in my spirit. The person who dominates my dreams, day or night, doesn’t have an age. Sun fades in and out. Kindness exists in both.

I pray to respond to negative growls with prayer, to misunderstanding with patience. To ignorance with acceptance. As autumn fades into winter, may I find gifts inside chills. May all those who suffer find peace—through as many free-to-be-kind people as possible.

(Illustration is a water color painted at least twenty years ago.)

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No matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it. (Carroll Bryant)

One more dead branch needs to be removed from our blue spruce; I haven’t faced the loss yet. The naked branch stays—with no hope of revival. The cost of maintaining the top branches is no longer worth it. The cost of removing the spruce is both high and final.

The tree was planted for our older son, Gregory, when he was a toddler. He’s in his forties now. He’s an accomplished writer. Greg’s newest book, The Dream Thief, is available for preorder. I have pictures of my son as a toddler as he watered the tree. It, too, was in early development.

The blue spruce once took over our front yard. Now, it has huge gaps between branches, like thought lapses. Warnings. The empty spaces will expand. And win.

Loss is never easy.

When a person dies loss plunges into deeper places. Several days ago, someone we have known for years, died. It feels unreal. I recall this woman on one hot day as she volunteered for kids with Down syndrome. Her face sweaty, her smile unaffected by the heat. Her gifts rooted in the hearts of so many people.

I think about this beautiful woman’s family. Friends. Grandchildren. And ask what happens next?

I consider the tree again, the one planted for my son, when my husband and I were proud of him for recognizing every letter of the alphabet before he was two. Now, his words touch minds and hearts. The tree won’t last much longer. My son and his talents affect many.

The woman who died suddenly, left a beautiful legacy and precious memories. May all who knew her embrace them.

Life is always winging it—with a lot of help.

For now, I celebrate hearing and giving kindness, laughter, the chance to offer an honest compliment. Peace, may it touch all, especially those who mourn.

May the green in today appear brighter, embraceable. For as long as possible.

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From discord, find Harmony. (Albert Einstein)

An Old Man’s Final Wish

Along a back window

at a huge family gathering

at a rented hall

the oldest uncle sat in his wheelchair

with the youngest child curled in his lap.

 

In the center

long tables covered with

gold, red, or blue

painted signs demanded isolation.

They claimed truth, whole

perfect, beyond criticism.

 

The families divided the space

into zones, while ugly words

stung the air—

How can you say that?

I can’t forgive you . . .

You are a fool.

 

While the family members argued,

the elderly gentleman and the tiny girl

met with approving eyes,

a twining of fingers, a gesture, a smile.

 

He celebrated the exquisite fit of

her name to her personality,

despite the hardened hearts

that fed her and his inabilities

to respond beyond a crooked grin

and speech delayed by multiple strokes

and advanced age.

 

She giggled, tugging gently

at the sagging folds in his face.

Then, as the toddler grew tired

and slept in his arms,

the man’s wife, gone twenty years,

appeared, clothed in soft light.

 

She called to him.

 

Before he allowed his spirit

to separate from his body,

he whispered his final wish

into the girl’s small ear.

 

The buffet opened as

the child’s mother noticed

her waking in the lap

of the dead man.

 

Unwilling to touch cold flesh,

several family members

abandoned their divisions,

at least for that moment,

and called to the girl,

 

Please, Hope, come to us.

 

They didn’t know they were

echoing the gentle man’s

deepest desire for his family.

 

poem previously published in For a Better World and in Piker Press

 

 

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rose in frameAppreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. (Voltaire)

I’m struck by two profoundly different moments. The first, an original drawing received on a Christmas card, two months late. The artist died fifteen days before the holiday. The second, a red fabric rose given by my friend Cathy as a Valentine. She told me it was a thank-you for my ready smile.

Cathy’s welcoming approach to everyone results in a sunshine response. However, I’ll accept her gift and hug. Who started our friendship? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Living that friendship does matter.

The Christmas card has found a quiet display in the bedroom. The artist’s picture with his birth and death date appear on the back. I hear his voice in my memory. See you later. A wave and laugh. Not enough time for one more thank you, acknowledgement of his gifts for humor, art, affability.

I talk to him in the silence of my thoughts. About the nuances of art that appear simple, yet come with quick, aptly applied brush strokes. Then, I switch to travel stories and ask what it was like to ride a camel. No response from the other side; I would believe my mind had cracked if I caught his voice in the lamp or mirror.

Then, I realize the gifts of this day bring enough gratitude. One rose, Cathy. Three granddaughters. One almost-grandson and a simple wedding between his mom and my son is in the future. A tiny affair with a big impact—at least in my family’s life.

What is excellent in others belongs to us as well. May that excellence continue to grow because of the next step I take. May we meet in that space…

 

 

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Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. (A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh)

Rebe leads our play—sometimes with linear logic, sometimes not. In a child’s imagination, anything can happen. I ask questions only when I don’t understand the current scene: Is it day or night? Is the couch a make-believe car or taxi?

Usually I laugh at my granddaughter’s off-the-wall scenarios. Her sense of humor has developed far beyond the understanding of a nine-year-old child.

Today she dives into the serious. I don’t offer more than attention. Her doll, Ava, wears a layer of dirt from being dragged everywhere, but since her midsection is cloth, a full bath is not possible. In Rebe’s scene, her child has a fictitious illness, grow disease—her version of failure to thrive taken to the ultimate.

On a culturally learned keep-everything-nice level, I want to lead her to a gentler setting, but I let her continue, and listen. Perhaps she practices for real-life grief, in her own controlled setting, close to Grandma on this tangible, ordinary Wednesday. I don’t know. She is game initiator.

I play the role of surviving daughter. My baby-doll sister doesn’t make it through surgery. However, the next thirty-second-later day, Rebe lets me know something bizarre and unexplained happens. Both of us die and go to heaven. We have a party and then continue a regular routine. From the other side of the clouds.

“Let’s bake something,” she suggests.

“In heaven?” I ask.

Apparently, that scenario has ended. She wants to know if I have ever tasted flour.

“Yes. Probably when I was your age. It doesn’t taste like anything. Go ahead. Try it. It’s an organic brand.”

She lifts one flour-covered finger to her lips and agrees.

True, the taste of the flour is the-definition-of-bland. We discuss how different it is when the rest of the cookie recipe ingredients are added and baked.

Her eyes shine and smile broadens with the notion of how things change when they are mixed together.

People change, too. Sure, I enjoy my silent hours alone when I can create without needing to wash the floors later. Hours to play with words, mix them, add and subtract them. Give them power. However, I would have nothing with heart to create if all I had were continuous quiet.

Yes, Piglet, your heart is small, but size doesn’t have much to do with gratitude or love. Love and gratitude don’t take up space; they embrace people. And change them.

Thanks for a great day, Rebe. I love you.

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We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are. (Anais Nin)

I am at the funeral of a man whose name I have heard for more years than I can count. Yet, I have never met G. He could have had brown, blue, or green eyes, been tall or short, had red hair or none.

Sure, I have created a picture of him in my mind. However, I have met people after hearing only their voices and my predictions have had a zero percent accuracy rate. Chances are, the image I’ve summoned keeps my prediction skills in the same nonexistent category.

I have come to support friends who knew G.

He had a mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia. Yet, he was not his diagnosis. When the people at his church came to know him, they recognized his unique sense of humor. The church members accepted G—as he was. He liked coming to services and being part of something important.

Smoking comforted his symptoms until that comfort turned on him and destroyed his body. One incredible day, with the prayer support of his friends, he gave up a three-packs-a-day habit within twenty-four hours. Too late, but nevertheless a miraculous change had occurred. He knew he had done something for himself.

As buoyed as I am by the beauty of the funeral service, I realize I missed something. I missed knowing G. The casket is closed. If I speak to the man inside, only his spirit may hear. I will not get a response, except in my thoughts and imagination.

I think about the anonymity of the casket. Those who mourn see inside with their memories. I need to listen even closer, and catch opportunities to recognize truth beyond the obvious, the judgments people make without even realizing they are making them.

Sure, a talkative lady with a quick smile is easy to approach. A child next to her who appears to have multiple disabilities may seem to disappear in the crowd—even though the child’s presence is like the ignored elephant-in-the-room. He is not his disabilities.

Sometimes I have no problem saying hello to people with obvious difficulties. Then, at other times I have felt every intelligent thought I have ever had drop away. Opportunities to make connections evaporate, especially when I feel anger in the air.

All of us are of infinite value. I pray to recognize that worth—even in the wrinkled face I see in the mirror. I can be hardest on me.

you are of infinite worth

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We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. (Thornton Wilder)

Jay and I are in a checkout line at a store on Black Friday. The store is far less crowded than we expected. We see a woman we both know.

“How was your Thanksgiving?” Jay asks.

I don’t hear her at first, but soon discover why she looks sad. Her husband died two days before Thanksgiving.

We offer condolences. She is buying supplies for a party—to celebrate his life.

I nod, then follow an impulse. One quick hug. No words. She accepts the gesture. I let go before any public display of tears.

She lets us know she is not withdrawing. I nod again. Words can’t touch the reality. The stages of grief can’t be bypassed.

I think about the few leaves left on the sweet gum tree in our back yard.

I don’t live in a part of the world with perennial warmth. In the Midwest, the leaves have held on tighter than they have in past years. Bright reds and oranges contrast against dark bark. Moderate temperatures have lingered. Until now

Winter steals a huge chunk of the calendar year. I want to remain inside summer fun, celebrate days without pain, icy streets, conflict, or injustice. Although I know war, injustice, the us-versus-them notion, has been around since the tale of Cain and Abel. Dissonance has nothing to do with seasons.

The current state of the U.S. has heightened injustice. Yet, many people scarcely notice. And I mourn the loss of sensitivity: to the notion that women are equal as human beings; people with disabilities need to be treated as people, not as disabilities; clean water is more important than any industry…

Branches demand the leaves let go. New buds will take over. Eventually. In the human realm, new buds of change don’t have a specific season.

Despite loss, this woman my husband and I know, is celebrating life. Hers and the husband she loved. I don’t know the future. True, I see a lot of dark clouds.  I also know people who treasure both truth and justice.

I am alive when I am conscious of my treasures. As Jay and I come home from the store, Jay reaches for the heaviest items to carry into the house, exactly what I would have predicted he would do. He and I have been married for forty-five years.

“You know what I liked about today?” I tell him. “Spending it with you.”

Leaves cover the yard, front and back. More will join them. Of course, no one ever promised fully-alive would be easy.

last-of-the-november-leaves-2016

 

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Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. (William Wordsworth)

A few dishes washed… laundry piled in the hall… dusting barely begun… I stand in our tiny hall and survey what else needs to be done. My guitar case is partially unzipped. I don’t bother to either open or close it. I haven’t played in weeks. No energy remains in this short body. I miss music. I miss classes at the Y, as well as the times with friends I needed to cancel.

Am I getting sick or has the adrenaline rush of the past few weeks ended and left me drained? Twenty minutes, that’s all. I’ll give myself a one-third-of-an-hour power nap. Jay can take short walks—by himself now. I should be able to take mini siestas. The nap extends. I’m even further behind.

All the while I want to call my friend, Henrietta. Her husband has been in hospice. The last time I talked to her he wasn’t doing well. I see my friend’s face in my imagination and I suspect the thought of her unconsciously has buoyed me through.

When I wake up the grogginess lingers. I prepare lunch on auto-pilot, but I can’t get Henrietta’s picture out of my mind, and I don’t want to. She has been caring for a husband who will never get better. I have been helping a spouse who has been looking forward to my homemade soups, digging into chicken with baked stuffing, and thanking me for being there. No comparison.

Finally, I’m tackling laundry when Jay says he is going for a walk around the block. Now, the time is now: I call Henrietta.

“I don’t know why I have been thinking about you a lot,” I begin. “I just had to get through to you. Don’t want to interrupt if you are busy…”

“I know why you needed to call,” Henrietta answers in her usual soft voice. She tells me her husband died yesterday. She believes an angel has been speaking to me.

What force, intuitive or divine, led my spirit? That answer is not mine to know, only to follow. Henrietta asks me to write my experience. Share it. Fill my paper, or this blog, with the breathings of my heart.

The fatigue settles. I begin to look forward to the next day with my grandchildren, a family birthday party, baking a pie for a friend, time to write.

The sun shines and a light breeze passes through. I grab both as if they could be stored and saved; I settle for savoring. The pain in my back eases. I realize I’m not as good at relaxation as I’d like to be. The ugliness of national news disturbs me. I can’t understand how respect is so difficult to comprehend and accept, in word, in deed. Respect is basic and has nothing to do with political agendas.

I breathe in and out—slowly. One heart that beats in steady rhythm allows life to exist; two hearts that beat with empathy can empower many. Life is precious, but it isn’t permanent.

At least not in this realm. I celebrate one day at a time. No more, no less. One precious day that can never be retrieved.

look-at-the-sky

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There are no easy answers, there’s only living through the questions. (Elizabeth George)

Sun streams through the window and I try to hold onto the brightness, as if blue sky carried answers to questions that don’t fit into logical formulas. Life. Death. Illness. The healed and unhealed. The why.

The husband of a friend died yesterday. Several other people have cancer. A friend of my husband was just diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. Magic wands remain in fiction. Moreover, I look at the political scene and my stomach twists. How can so many people choose hate and see nothing wrong with it? I know a child who could have post-traumatic stress syndrome. I talk to a friend from the Y. “Will you pray for my husband?” Too many folk seem to be suffering right now.

A double rainbow appears on the wall behind my laptop, yet I can’t capture it with a photo. I don’t have adequate equipment. The picture appears dark and the rainbows show pale.  I erase the photo; the rainbows fade. I don’t have the ability to save the world by myself. Nor do I dare to reply to grief with platitudes.

Instead I offer an ear, arms, perhaps some of my time. And perspective appears. What matters? What doesn’t? If I give up my serenity over something small, a traffic delay, spilled juice, a photo that doesn’t work, changed plans that don’t fit my agenda, how much energy will I have when I really need it? Perhaps this is one small part of living through the questions.

Right now I’m aware of what I have and how fragile life can be. However, my attitude can change after a few ordinary, nothing-special days. I pray for awareness, to learn from unanswered questions.

love tainted world Optimism Revolution

 

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