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Sixty Years

 

Julian (Tuffy) and Eileen

Tuffy
Young, tender, vulnerable.
Funny and fun loving.
A crooked boyish smile.
Blue eyes with a Christmas morning sparkle.
Slow dancing, holding me gently, like I was fragile and precious.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Love poems before we ever even kissed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Dozens of roses and one time a black orchid.
Cutting in at dances when I went with someone else.
Dancing, I only come up to his chin.
I often ask: “Are you still up there?”
And every time he answers: “Always.”
And he meant it.

Through Memories
I look at you through memories
of running in the rain,
of funny children’s stories
and haunted Halloweens.
Of how you learned to hold me
and simply let me cry,
listening to my fears
to heal me of my fright.

 

 

 

 

 

Of you overcoming phobias,
so I wouldn’t be alone
while camping in the woods
or giving talks on Type.
Of nightmare trips in broken cars
and cabins full of scouts,
houses filled with strangers
and jeep rides in the night.
Letters shared in parking lots
and rooms full of  golden flowers,
the kaleidoscope of memories
that fill my heart with love.

 

 

 

Psalm of Fifty-eight Years

All these years of tenderness and love,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            of fears and frustration and laughter
there has been you.
Your love has always been my strength                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            because I knew you would be with me,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            any where I went.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Now, in this new heartbreaking time                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of fearing the ocean of loneliness that lies ahead.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I struggle to let go, to set you free,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                to not make it harder to accept whatever comes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Grace comes at night when I turn to God ,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        who has been with us always in both the pain and joy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Then I know we’ll be together once more                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        with tenderness, and laughter, and love                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            at home with God.

 

 

I Miss You
In the silent nighttime loneliness,
even in the sunshine’s warmth
and cheerful chatter of the birds,
there’s still an emptiness.
I miss you.
I even miss your morning frown
from reading that day’s news,
when I would try to get a smile
by showing you the comic strips.
I miss your laugh.
In the busyness of daily chores
I often turn toward your door
to ask you someone’s number,
then catch myself, suddenly in tears
from missing you.
You always were so softly quiet,
I’d wonder if you’d gone out.
Yet silence now is so profound,
it has the very solemn sound
of sorrow.
On Fridays, our party night,
I fix our usual picnic supper
and find my favorite TV show,
but you’re not here to snuggle.
I miss your snore.
Even church is not the same.
I keep waiting for you to come
and fill the empty spot beside me.
Then my tears begin to blind me,
because I miss you.
I remember that I complained
about how little we just talked.
Now, it would seem enough
If I could just hold your hand.
I miss you so.
I ‘m truly happy you now have joy.
I trust there’s a reason I’m still here
and that grace will get me through
until we’re together once more.
But I still miss you.

 

 

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The Variety of Grief

I once heard a very kind priest friend say of a well-known priest author, “That man has never had a thought he didn’t feel he had to express.” I was a momentarily taken aback, because my friend was a very kind man who never said anything negative about anyone. I realized then that he was expressing the same mystification most introverts must feel about extroverts. Of course, extroverts frequently misinterpret introverts’ silence and need for privacy as dislike or disinterest or even distrust.
After years of studying and working with the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, I have admitted that I don’t really know what I think about something until I manage to express it in words. And verbal dialogue is also intrinsic to my sense of relationship. I’ve learned that this is not only problematic for introverts that live or work with me, but often downright irritating.
Luckily, I have lived long enough to experience the wonderful outlet of the internet. I can express and hear myself in print at any hour of the day or night. And no one has to listen unless they want to and only when it’s convenient for them and only as long as they wish. And the introverts don ‘t have to say anything unless they feel like it and even then, all they have to do is hit one key to make a response.
Recently, I’ve been experiencing life changing challenges and I really do need to explore my feelings and insights by expressing them. Also, I think it’s possible that my describing what I’m feeling and learning may be some help to someone else out there. And happily, if not, they don’t need to waste their time reading what I write.
One of the challenges I am still facing is that we really do differ in our ways of dealing with grief. No matter how many stages are described as general, we don’t experience or work through them all the same. Partly because of differences in personality, but also because of many different factors about the way a loved one died, the timing for them and us, and past experiences with our own grief and others’ ways of grieving.
My husband was like a cat with nine lives. When I read back over his medical history, he came through so many close calls with death, I lose count. And in the last few years he fought valiantly with cardiac issues with stents and a pacemaker, AFIB, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, successful surgery for a malignant tumor in his lung, a return of lung cancer that was inoperable and that spread beyond the lungs as stage 4 cancer, stage 3 Kidney disease…..all of which weakened him too much to risk chemo therapy. He was in and out of ER’s, hospitalizations of various lengths up to two weeks several times, and finally five months in a nursing home, first attempting through therapy to get strong enough for chemo, then failing that, for nursing care and hospice.
We have five grown children who have been simply awesome in their active care giving and support through all of this. And each of them is grieving in their own way now. And I have realized that not all of them are finding my way easy to understand.
To begin with, I generally live in the future of possibilities, both negative and positive ones. In other words, I worry way ahead of things, but I also like to explore new ways of being happy or productive or creative or loving.
When my husband was diagnosed with IPF over two years ago and I learned it was incurable, fatal, and a horrible way to die, I began to worry and pray that he would be spared that death. Of course, heart failure seemed a much better way to die, but with a pacemaker, less likely. My husband’s strongest trait was perseverance. When he grew weaker and no longer able to work effectively at what he loved, he became stressed and began to have some memory issues.
Finally he had to admit that he could no longer continue working. Now he was suffering anxiety attacks, frequent pneumonia and bronchial infections, then surgery to remove a tumor in his right lung, and then cellulitis contracted during a hospitalization, and finally kidney issues and depression. The physical and emotional stress affected him in many ways and by the time he entered the nursing home with stage 4 cancer, he simply wasn’t the strong silent gentle man that I had lived with for almost sixty years.
I did not love him less. I loved him more. And I gladly learned how to take care of many of his medical needs. But long before he could accept that he was dying, I began to work through my fears, experience loneliness, take over unfamiliar tasks, and try in many ways to prepare for having to survive on my own.
The wonderful physical, financial, and emotional support our five children gave us helped me to do this. And my faith and the amazing love and faith of caregivers at the nursing home lifted me out of my darkest moments. And the nurses and support staff of Hospice were able to help me anticipate and understand the rapid changes that were happening toward the end. The dying need very different things than those who are able to try to get well.
Some of the influences on my way of dealing with the loss of my husband were my tendency to anticipate and plan ahead, my deepest fear of his having to suffer terribly fighting to breathe, my having seen my very strong mother simply close down when my father died totally unexpectedly at fifty-two, watching her die by inches with Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, but particularly my many experiences of grace and glimpses of meaning in my own and sometimes others’ suffering over my eighty-one years.
I have usually dealt with short crises fairly well. It’s been the long haul attrition kind of things that could defeat me. So, over the two and a half years of constant crises, I have learned to watch for beauty, kindness, love, tiny joys like sunshine and flowers and birds and small kindnesses and laughter. I see these as grace, as the gentle touches of God. They are all around us every day if we watch for them. They seem small in the face of death of one we love, but they are myriad.
I am a weak person, easily overwhelmed by too many practical details and emotionally vulnerable to the unexpected blow. Having a large caring family help me deal with details has been an incredible blessing. Having time and medical personnel who have been down this road before me to help me understand each phase softened each blow. The blessing of the final gentle pain free death from his heart stopping before his having to fight to breathe has kept me from despair.
At times the reality that he will never be with me again in this life feels heart breaking and overwhelms me. But so far, at least, it has not robbed me of gratitude for my caring family, of healing laughter, hope for creativity in my life, the energy to try to keep reasonably functional, or my many memories of the love and joy my husband gave me.

The Last Season

The last season of life
is not meant for pleasure
but for letting go of everything
of getting freed for joy
letting go of delusions
of importance
of great success
even perfect love
letting go of illusions
about life’s purpose
and rewards
letting go of dreams
of angels close at hand
of reaching
the promised land
until all that’s left
is the present moment
and no matter how hard
it may seem
to forget self                                                                                                                                                          and focus on others
not as an achievement
just a choice
accepting that love
is full of pain
no happy endings
promised
no jeweled crowns
or streets of gold
long awaited as
just rewards
for persevering
through suffering
all this lost for the bliss
of  finally seeing
The Glory of God.

Heartbreak and Joy

Heartbreak and joy are the two sides of loving.
I woke up this morning heartbroken over my husband’s suffering. The last week has been much worse for him physically and emotionally. There is some hope that a procedure he has scheduled will give him a respite from the worst of his physical symptoms right now. But his symptoms may indicate that the end is nearer than we had hoped.
Intellectual denial and emotional denial are two separate stages of grieving. In the first you cling to the belief that medical treatment will relieve the worst of a condition. In the second you recognize intellectually that suffering and loss are inevitable, but do not let that knowledge set off an emotional response. Once you respond emotionally, there are times of deep sorrow and heartbreak. But also recognizing that while God may not take away this suffering, God is in it with you. And in the midst of heart break there are moments of joy.
I have several small daily devotional books I read most mornings. But with the stress now, my memory is getting even worse and I find I can’t keep the helpful thoughts in mind. So, this morning I decided to just randomly chose one book and repeat that teaching over and over to keep it in my heart and mind all day. This morning I chose “The Upper Room.”
Today’s writing was by a woman from Nigeria about her husband dying though she had prayed to God to save him. At the end she takes comfort from 2 Cor. 12:9:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I don’t believe my choice of what to read today was a coincidence. God is with us in this.
This weekend I drove an hour away to pick up a grandchild that we have not been able to spend much time with since the first of the year. She gets carsick and was pretty miserable during the trip. She had also been exploring the woods all day and it had set her allergies off. I was afraid that I had chosen a bad time to bring her to visit.                                                                                                                                                   Her parents are divorcing and she has become a very solemn and quiet child. My husband has been heartbroken that she never smiles anymore and I have missed the long conversations we used to have. She and I were sharing a bed and for the first time in a long time, she was very talkative. It was a lovely blessing and a sign that she is recovering from her world being shaken. But after sleeping a couple of hours her allergies became so severe, she was having trouble breathing. She hadn’t brought her medicines, but fortunately I found some Benadryl for children and it gave her relief and allowed her to sleep. The next day she and my husband renewed their long competition at cards. And after trouncing him thoroughly, she rewarded him with one of her brilliant smiles. His smile matched hers.
When you love deeply, you are vulnerable to heart break, but that love also brings great joy in seemingly small events. And when you have reached the end of your strength there is God.

I Miss the Possibility of Her

My friend of over forty years, Norma Parham, died last week. She was a very interesting, talented and paradoxical woman. I miss having her to call and laugh with about aging. For the last year she had been a resident in a nursing home in rural Hickman County, where she played the piano for the residents and had just bought a ukelele to learn to play. She was the only Republican I ever knew that subscribed to Communist magazines in the 1970’s. They were delivered in brown paper wrappers. She grew up Church of Christ and converted to Catholicism. Though getting a Masters in Religious Ed made her a skeptic about taking scripture literally, she loved the psalms. Her mind was analytical, but at heart she was a mystic. She wrote poetry, painted, sang, and could tear up a piano playing everything from Boogie Woogie to Beethoven. She loved shooting my Pollyanna ideas down. She taught for 36 years. When I started teaching, she advised me to not smile for the first six weeks. When asked what it was like in her first years of teaching with several grades in one classroom, she said it was like herding cats. She spent summers either traveling or studying abroad on her own. She grew up in Hickman County in the country without indoor plumbing and with heat from a wood burning stove. After teaching about thirty years, she had a rather cynical opinion on the direction education was headed. So, when the new principal, a hardly dry behind the ears coach, called a meeting for all the teachers, she sat in the back row reading a newspaper. After a while the young new principal suggested that she might learn something if she stopped reading and listened. She carefully folded the paper and took out a pencil and pad and took notes for the rest of his talk. When it was over, she gave him her “notes,” suggesting that he might find them informative. The paper was completely filled with his grammar mistakes and her corrections. She was one of a kind. I miss the possibility of her.

The Lion’s Roar or When Our Hearts Are Ready for Anything

A quote by Tara Brach from the blog: Make Believe Boutique

You might ask yourself: “Can I imagine what it would be like, in this moment, to have a heart that is ready for anything?”
If our hearts are ready for anything, we can open to our inevitable losses and to the depths of our sorrow. We can grieve our lost loves, our lost youth, our lost health, our lost capacities. This is part of our humanness, part of the expression of our love for life. As we bring a courageous presence to the truth of loss, we stay available to the immeasurable ways that love springs forth in our life.
If our hearts are ready for anything, we will spontaneously reach out when others are hurting. Living in an ethical way can attune us to the pain and needs of others, but when our hearts are open and awake, we care instinctively. This caring is unconditional—it extends outward and inward wherever there is fear and suffering.
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There’s room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There’s room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, and for creativity and productivity. There’s room for spirit and for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as “the lion’s roar.”
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are touched by the beauty and poetry and mystery that fill our world.
With an undefended heart, we can fall in love with life over and over every day. We can become children of wonder, grateful to be walking on earth, grateful to belong with each other and to all of creation. We can find our true refuge in every moment, in every breath.    Tara Brach

A Buddhist Christmas

I found this quote on the blog, Make Believe Boutique. It’s Buddhist, but the only difference I can see between this and Christianity is our recognizing that we personally fall short of the glory of God and need the saving grace of Jesus. Otherwise it beautifully describes our human experience, hopes and spirituality.
From Waylon Lewis:
I love Christmas: I love simple, personal presents. I love coziness, and world-quieting white snow, which slows us all down and makes even bustling cities feel like they were Norman Rockwell 1940s landscapes. I love fires, and dinners, and parties with old and new friends and children and elders, people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk with much. I don’t see my family, these days, they’re all spread about the US, and money is tight, and that always tinges this time with emptiness. But I love sadness, as my mom’s Buddhist teacher said it’s the most genuine of human emotions though we’re not to covet it. I love, at this darkest time of the year, remembering that life is short, and it progresses quickly, and memory fades and all that really matters is being a good person, and making the better of two iffy choices every step along the way. It’s a wonderful life, after all. So let’s put the ‘holy‘ back in the Holidays. Let’s buy gifts that better the world, and support good people doing good things. Let’s put away our phones and laptops and TVs—if only briefly—and make some eye contact, and say the obvious: ‘I love you, and this is why.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry things have been funny between us. Let’s be genuine, and have a good talk.’ Because, before you know it, one third of your friends will have divorced moved away lost their hair become old people or even died of accidents or dis-ease or, you know, life. I’m still only 35, but I lose a friend a year, whether in China to an avalanche or right here at home, just a month ago, an only-recently-perfectly lovely healthy powerful friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage IV. In Buddhism we say: this precious human birth is fragile. Make good use of it. Think about others as much as you do yourself and you yourself will find that elusive happiness. Meditate a few minutes, at least, each morning, before the ephemeral to-do lists that seem so important, the lusts and the anxieties, clutter up your snowy peaceful dozy mind. Don’t chase after the fast food of life: sex, bad food, money, big houses, cool cars. They don’t make you happy, the only thing that makes you happy is you sorting yourself out…