Category Archives: Death
An opulence of travel visions:
Paris, London, Lisbon, Prague,
beauty rampant with history and art.
Yet etched forever in my mind
the beaches and cross-crowned cliffs
above the shores of Normandy.
A cliff face sheering from the ocean,
Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers
climbed point blank into German guns.
Now, just empty bunkers on pitted earth
and beaches, wave washed innocent
below silent sentinels left behind.
Row on row of small white crosses
guarding fields of blood-rich ground,
Old Glory whipping, snapping in the wind.
Wow. Sometimes I feel like one of those plastic blow up clowns with sand in the bottom….you can knock it down over and over, but it comes back up for more.
A year ago, shortly after I had a reverse shoulder replacement when I fell and broke my shoulder in three places, my husband was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. The idiopathic means they don’t know what causes it, so they don’t know how to cure it. It is progressive and the longest survival is usually five years from onset. We were pretty sure he had it for several years before diagnosis. Well, last year when he was hospitalized fighting to breathe for two weeks and growing extremely weak quickly, they sent him home worse than when he went in. He could hardly stand, couldn’t get out of a chair by himself and couldn’t walk any distance at all. All the muscle tone was gone from his legs. They were skeletal and weak. He started physical therapy and continues still. He can walk reasonable distances , stand, bend, and do the bicycle in therapy now. After his diagnosis last Spring, in the Fall he had another bout of a combination of allergies, sinus, asthma, with terrible coughing, but fast and aggressive treatment with antibiotics and steroids got him back on his feet and breathing in a few days. He works on a computer from home as an architect, often working six or even seven days a week. Our work comes in bunches, then stalls, but often deadlines come close together for a one man office. Now a year after our disastrous Spring, I had to have spinal lumbar fusion surgery. I am still recovering from it. About three weeks ago, my husband once again started coughing and wheezing and fighting for breath, but the quick medical treatment again got him almost completely over it in a little over two weeks. Through all of these challenges, we have been supported in prayer by people of many faiths. The morning before he came down with the respiratory problems, he had his yearly lung check up with CT Scans and breathing tests. The doctor came back with miraculous good news: the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis has not progressed any, since this time last year. But, then came the bad news: a spot on his lungs that was biopsied two years ago and declared benign has grown. So, he had another lung biopsy last Friday and it showed a tumor with some cancer cells. He gets PET Scans this week, hoping they will not show any cancer having spread, so they can just remove the tumor without radiation therapy.
I am convinced that gathering prayer from many praying people of diverse spiritualities has made a difference in the progress of the fibrosis. I don’t understand prayer, but I have witnessed miracles, and do believe that in some way we are partners with the power that created everything. My husband has become much more spiritual as he has gotten older and more aware of his own limits, and he has become much more involved in helping those in need.
Of course selfishly, I want him to live longer and have a good quality of life, but I also really believe that God isn’t finished helping him become the person he created him to be and is still wanting to use him for the good of others.
I also believe we are all connected….somehow we are one. So, whatever we do for or against anyone has an effect on all. And when we join together in faith and caring, miracles can happen.
So, internet friends, if you are a person of prayer, please pray for my husband to become the person he was created to be and to be able to help others as he truly longs to do. And for me to be able to be a support for him in this.
And for all of us to realize that however small our faith is, when we join it together in caring for others, miracles can happen.
Thank you. Eileen
I was born in 1937 and married in 1958. I was a born idealist, living mostly in the imagined beauty of future possibilities. I grew up Catholic, but with only one sibling who was ten years younger than I am. I envied my Catholic school mates with lots of sisters and brothers as built-in playmates. My religion sent me a lot of mixed messages about my worth as a woman, but motherhood was definitely held up as the ultimate purpose for a woman.
Although I went to college on a full scholarship at Rice University, which was a predominately male, technical school, I simply didn’t feel attracted to a career. I was a history major that didn’t want to teach. I wanted to get married and dreamer that I was, I thought I’d enjoy having a lot of children as playmates. In fact, when I married, we spent time picking out names for thirteen children of both genders. (Thirteen was my lucky number. I passed Calculus on the thirteenth of one month and was chosen as a Yearbook Beauty on another thirteenth. At the time, I didn’t realize that neither of these was going to be particularly helpful in bringing up children.)
My father wanted me to be a scientist. So he discouraged me from taking Home Economics at my girls’ only high school and my mother gave up after one disastrous attempt to teach me how to cook.
She had decided to start me off as simply as possible with a cornbread mix. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl, add water, some vegetable oil, stir and put it all in a greased pan. She put everything out, pointed out the instructions on the box and left me to it. I was doing fine, really. But she came in right before I was going to put it in the pan. She said, “OK. Now, wash your hands and put it into the baking pan.” And she left again. I was confused. My mind tends to connect ideas and discover new possibilities. This is often a gift, except when I connect the wrong things. I wondered why I needed to wash my hands? I did remember reading somewhere that bread baking involved using your hands for some reason. So, I began to scoop out the mix with my hand and shake-fling it into the pan– and around it. Between what missed the pan and what was stuck to my hands, there wasn’t much left to cook. As I was standing there puzzled, mom returned, took one look, and yelled, “What in the world are you doing? What a mess!” I started crying and backed away from the mess. Unfortunately, I backed into the stove where there was a small pot of melted butter for the fresh artichokes mom was cooking. The butter went everywhere, down into the burner, down the front of the stove, down my back, onto the floor. As Mother stood open mouthed in horror, I fled sobbing to my room and threw myself, butter and all, onto my bed.
Mother was also a perfectionist housekeeper. Since my mind was usually occupied with ideas and impossible dreams, my attention to physical details was pretty much non-existent. So Mom didn’t delegate many housekeeping tasks either. And since she herself didn’t iron, I never acquired that skill either. Are you beginning to feel sorry for my husband, who fell in love with me at first sight in Calculus class?
Coming back from our honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, we visited my in-laws in Nashville. Then as now, fifty-eight years later, my husband wore white button down dress shirts. I decided to wash and iron them, more in an attempt to impress my in-laws, than out of love. It never occurred to me that this was an acquired skill, not a natural talent for all women. I remember hearing my father-in-law come into the house asking in a loud voice, “What’s burning?” and my mother-in-law hushing him with, “It’s Eileen ironing.”
The next part of this series will deal with both some of the humorous challenges of having four children in five years and the Religious crisis of my doctor telling me that having another cesarean section in the next few years would most likely kill me and my Catholic Pastor’s response that, “Lots of children end up with very good step-mothers.”
Bare boned skeletons
no extras, not a bit of fluff
nothing hidden, just the basics
the black and white of it
simplified and stark
light and dark
beauty in contrast
truth in paradox
no more pretend
. Christians are in a challenging, but potentially grace filled time, no matter how we voted. Let’s look at Jesus , so that we, like the apostles, can respond as whole heartedly to his call to let go of everything and “Come, follow me.” Jesus grew up and did most of his ministry in the Region of Galilee, a crossroads area which Isaiah called the Region of the Nations and Matthew called the region of the Gentiles. In spite of this mixed culture where he grew up, Jesus was a cradle, synagogue going Jew. He totally believed his call was only to God’s chosen, the Jews, whose leadership had become more legalistic and proud, than loving. Yet, from almost the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus heals not only people of foreign religions, but the hated Roman oppressors. Why? It seems to have been just because he is kind. 1st question: ARE WE JESUS KIND? the kind that includes having mercy on those different from us in religion, race, or even, God forbid, politics? Eventually, Jesus, with tears of heartbreak and perhaps feelings of failure, realizes that his own people, the chosen, can not open their hearts and minds to a Messiah whose salvation was not about earthly power, because they do not believe in life after death. 2nd question: DO WE BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER DEATH? Enough to respond differently to suffering than those that don’t? Any time a group of us older gals have been swapping horror stories about knees, hips, eyes, ears and bladders gone bad, someone always says, “Well, it’s better than the alternative.” REALLY? It better not be. I’ve put all my chips on Jesus! 3rd question: WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF US? Micah tells us “to do JUSTICE, to love MERCY, and to walk HUMBLY with your God. JUSTICE, MERCY, HUMILITY… that’s not an easy or common combination. Some of us are stronger on fighting for justice for any group of the powerless, while others of us are merciful one on one to everyone. Often we have trouble relating, because we all lack the third requirement, humility. Humility comes from picking up our own personal cross. That is the cross where we die to our self-righteousness: I am right or I am kind/ our false sense of superiority: I am smarter than those I disagree with or I am kinder than those I disagree with/and our delusion of infallibility: what I believe is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But these mind sets are what turn believing we are the people of God into the blinding sin of pride. The power of our cross is that it frees us from these blind spots of pride so we can become peacemakers. 4th question: SO, HOW CAN WE DO ALL THAT THE LORD REQUIRES OF US? How can we sacrifice ourselves fighting for justice for the poor or the persecuted without leaving a trail of wounded people we consider obtuse in our wake? Or How can we be kind and open to others, when we are being ridiculed? First, We all admit that we cannot do it on our own. Let yourself feel the frustration of that. We Americans are “just do it” people. But to become peacemakers, we need grace. And grace comes from walking hand in hand with God humbly accepting our dependence. Do you remember walking holding your parent’s hand when you were tiny, of holding your own young child or grandchild’s hand, of walking hand in hand with your boy or girl friend? Do you remember the sheer sweetness of that, the comfort, the safety, the bond, the closeness you felt, and how you could hear them when they leaned over to whisper, “I love you.” That is what it’s like to become close enough to God to have that same safety from losing our way by walking hand in hand. To walk closely to God takes using every means that will help us live in awareness of God’s loving presence, so we can hear God’s voice over our own.
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.
Our human nature resists the whole concept of suffering. If there is a God worth calling God, why would the innocent and good have to suffer?
If this life is all there is, then there really doesn’t appear to be any reasonable answer to that.
And in my own experience, the more people I let myself care about, never-the-less love, the more I open myself to suffering. How much more would I suffer if I truly loved, or even just cared moderately about all humanity, all animals, perhaps even all creation?
Part of the mystery of suffering is that it seems to be part and parcel of loving. Loving involves being willing to suffer for another and others. Most of us have trouble loving even one person that we choose for a lifetime and sure don’t want to even consider loving people that look or think very differently than we do.
The Jews longed for a Messiah, a Savior, for literally thousands of years. Have you ever wondered why a close friend, a follower who witnessed the miracles, the power, and the kindness of Jesus would betray him to the point of giving him over to suffer and die. What brought Judas to that kind of hatred?
The shattered expectation that the Messiah would save the Jews, God’s chosen people, from suffering. Judas witnessed the reality of the power Jesus had, but more and more he saw Jesus using it to save the enemy. And unlike optimistic Peter, he heard what Jesus was beginning to say about his own coming suffering, even dying, instead of freeing them from the tyranny of Rome , the impoverishment of Roman taxes, the constant threat of their children becoming random victims of a ruler’s whim. Judas wanted a triumphant King, not a suffering servant. Disillusionment turned hope into bitterness and hate.
What kind of love was choosing to die rather than to save God’s chosen people?
We still struggle with that question.
Without the resurrection, surely we would all endorse the survival of the fittest at the expense of the vulnerable. If we believed this life is all there is, would we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We saw where that led Jesus. It led him through the acceptance of the refining of suffering, the acceptance of humbling helplessness and the crushing feeling of abandonment, even finally through the gate of death itself and only then to resurrection.
The reality is that life is made up of cycles of struggling with suffering until we can accept the deaths of our idols and illusions, the things we cling to out of fear, and only then can we be reborn freer to love each time. Only then do we grow better at loving other imperfect people up close and personal and to care about even the lepers, the hostile, the foreign, the frightening, and the lost.
Life’s natural process includes loss, helplessness, letting go, experiencing the peace of acceptance, then the rebirth of gratitude and humility that leads to love, joy and fruitfulness.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one process word.
to get it right now that I am old.
to give love and joy, never heartbreak.
to hold all lightly, free to let go.
to seek God’s hand when I suffer.
to forgive others and be forgiven.
to have faith there is some great purpose,
an after- life better than this one.
to while still in dark, believe in light.
and to go with hope into the night.
And then comes the morning, yesterday’s sorrows behind? Maybe, maybe not.
I thought my faith would grow stronger and it would be easier in old age with less needs, children grown, more wisdom. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. Many days it’s a struggle to just stay physically functional. Wisdom seems to have only come about seeing how I screwed up in the past. Too soon old, too late smart sums it up. Grown children have troubles I can’t fix and that I worry that I caused somehow. I have more dead friends than alive ones and the ones I still have are also struggling. I find myself facing the probability of living alone for the first time in my seventy-nine years of life. I love my grandchildren more than life itself, but have no say about what happens to them. And physically can’t do things for and with them like I used to enjoy so much. And people, that I have grown to love, leave and don’t look back. And while I know these are necessary losses and part of my journey with God, on the days when I can’t see His footprints, it’s a struggle to stay emotionally functional. I quit crying some seventeen or eighteen years ago, when dealing with heartbreak over grandchildren born facing incredibly hard problems, because I thought if I ever let myself cry, I’d never stop. I was right. I’ve cried so much lately, I should be dehydrated.
I never was very good at persevering through things. I usually was good at finding a way around or out of them. About thirty years ago, I felt that God was challenging me by giving me a new name, “Perseverance.” I did realize even then, that this wasn’t necessarily good news about my future years. But, I have learned with grace, to persevere. I have even learned to laugh while gritting my teeth. (Not easy on any level 🙂 ) But sometimes, I just don’t want to. Today is one of those times
But, I will. I will grit my teeth, hang on with my fingernails, and be thankful for all the beauty, love, and joy God has given me in my life. And with Her grace, I will dig for that damn pony in all this manure. 🙂
Addendum added four hours later:
OKay, in an attempt to look on the brighter side of things today: Getting into pain from vacuuming means I can only manage one room’s floor before sitting down a while to get out of pain. This is good not only because a rest does get me out of pain, it also gives me a time out to go on-line.
And in my time spent today preparing for my women’s scripture class tomorrow, I read the funny little story about Jesus needing two tries to heal the blind man, because after Jesus tried once by putting saliva on his eyes, the man still couldn’t see other people as being like himself. It helps to know that people who don’t have natural empathy for others, may eventually be healed and acquire it. But, I haven’t figured out the significance of using saliva yet! Unless it means that spitting in someone’s eye doesn’t do much good. 🙂
So, this Monday has had goodies to balance the baddies. Thanks be to God!!!