I’ll fly away, Oh Glory, I’ll fly away… or Just Another Black Friday

22 11 2012

How is it possible that it is Thanksgiving? This week – this year… hell, this decade plus in fact, has been what it’s been (past tense for “It is what it is”).

Two Saturdays ago, the Mrs. saw me answer my cellphone then turn to tell her that her younger brother had lost his year-long battle against stomach cancer. Instantly, her shoulders heaved, sobbing like I don’t remember seeing four years ago when Billy took leave of us. It occurred to me that just her reaction to that news could have sent her careening off into Glory and I’d be liable.

Not five minutes later, the front door flew open and in bounced Donny Diva, happy to see his GGma. He brought his younger brother to meet her…their ages spaced just about what the Mrs. and her brother had been. “Littles” was tenderly placed in her trembling arms and through a watery lens, she met her 10th great-grandchild for the first time. After all, this was the intent of the trip north. Little did we know how good it was that she was here with us to get the sad news.

I can’t get over how this works – how we are constantly in this mix of intense pain and joy at once. Held in the tension, we precariously place one foot carefully in front of the other as we make our way forward on that tightrope stretched thin over the Niagara Falls of Life. The last decade and a half for me has been at once exhilarating and exhausting. I feel closer to God and further away than ever (at least in the eyes of others). While it is often a silent, still place, the roar of voices in my head can be deafening. I both love it and am terrified by it – all at once.

My sister-in-law’s birthday was last weekend and as they turned the calendar on a new week, her 91-year-old mother turned suddenly ill and was gone within a matter of hours. Of course the family knew their dear, sweet mother wouldn’t be on this earth forever – and no, they weren’t ready to let her go. In an email she shared,

“Earlier though, something happened. When she was still battling the pain and going in and out of consciousness— her eyes were closed and I was holding her hand and silently praying—- then she turned her head toward me, and opened her eyes —- she looked up not focusing on me, but past me—-and her eyes became wide and blinked in what appeared to be awe or incomprehension –she faintly smiled but then looked almost as if she could cry—all I can think to describe it is that her face had the look of someone seeing a returning loved one whom they had not seen for a long,long time. Almost as quickly as her eyes opened then they closed and from that point on she remained unconscious until she slipped away. K was standing at the foot of the bed and she saw it too and we both felt as if (Mom) had seen past the veil of this earth—-

Exactly a week ago now I drove the Mrs. five hours to the south for the memorial service for her brother. It was a really joyous occasion yet punctuated by many tears. It wrapped up as he had requested. Singing one last favorite bluegrass hymn. I too was able to see past the veil…and it was good.

For that song – stuck in my head now for days – I am grateful.
And you do NOT want to get me started on what I think about Black Friday, or do you?

 

 

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motion blur

18 08 2012

This sums up how I feel about the last four years.  If I do a slow shutter blink,  I’m just not sure what is real.  It’s all a blur.





Resting

15 02 2012

Does our society have watchers – those who sit and wait? Do we know how to sit Shivah when that moment comes?

Do we know how to be still? Be silent?

Not ask questions. Not look at our watches. Not fidget. Not fret.

Why am I wired to sit in these quiet spaces in the waiting room of life? Not the room where feet are held to the ceiling, a wail heralding the start of the race. What is she called – the opposite of a midwife? She who can so easily walk out of a days events to sit and watch the chest slowly rise and fall?

The last foot falls in the hall-not the pitter-patter but the stilted shuffling of feet too tired to leave the ground save that final jump. Life boils down -simmers down-simples down-quiets down. No feet to the ceiling. Just a soul searching for an open window to make its final flight.

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Somethin’ to smile about…

31 10 2011

The house is silent save for the sounds of the dog as she re-positions her weary old bones on her bed.  There is nothing I have to do today – at least until sundown.  A bowl of candy perched by the front door, not as full as it once was, stands ready.  I know what day it is -it’s Halloween.  AKA : my Dad’s birthday and the birthday of a few other friends of mine.

My very evangelical, protestant upbringing doesn’t bode well for what I’m feeling today but I’m not about to entertain any kind of discussion about the matter so kindly keep dissenting comments to yourself – thank you very much.  The day in August (3 years ago) that Billy’s soul passed through the roof of that hospice facility doesn’t do much for me.  I have to stop and think about what date that actually happened.  In contrast, on the day he was ushered into the world some 89 years ago today– I am surrounded by his presence.

Maybe since the house is so quiet and I have no one to attend to – nothing pressing to do except clean up a half dozen shows stored on my dvr – maybe that is why I’ve been surprised by tears today.  Then I stood at the kitchen sink rinsing out my coffee cup and looked up, only to be met again by his gaze as it stared back at me via that silly cat.

There was no such thing as “take your daughter to work” back in the 50’s and early ’60s but I know of at least a time or two that I was inside theNipsco building in downtown Gary.  I remember a central staircase that was very ornate that stretched up through the center, floor after floor , like the spine keeping the building erect.  Somewhere on the first floor, toward the back of the building was an open space where it seemed to me that our basement was replicated.  Work benches piled with tools – the space smelling of grease and hot metal.  Over his “bench” was hung this little photo of “Smile! Kitty.”  There was great irony in that since I remember him to be distinctly vocal about his dislike of cats.  Nonetheless, it seemed that his whole life long was driven by that juxtaposition – something he disliked reminding him of something that he should do – and eventually something that would become a hallmark of his life.

Joy.  Laughter.  Joker.  An avid whistler.  Friendly.  Outgoing to strangers.  Generally a very pleasant guy to be around regardless of the circumstances.  Cool under pressure.  Not prone to lose his temper except when watching a Cubs game.

It is fitting that Jack-o-lanterns sport silly grins as he did most of his life.  Happy Birthday, Billy!  We miss you more than words can express but we know what to do to really honor you – we’ll smile instead.

p.s.  Picked the King of Pop to honor our ‘hood.  Here’s to Gary / Westside!!





the browning

22 12 2010

 

 

Things.  Lots and lots of things.  Her things.

Going…going…gone.  Sold to the highest bidder.

Sister Sib’s benevolent Nascar Guy comes from a place much like Butcher Holler where family ties are unbreakable bonds.  So when an elderly aunt was being moved in with her only son who lives in CA to be cared for through yet another round of chemo – Nascar Guy raised his hand.  He’d be the one to sort through her belongings…things she’d collected since forever…things held on to since her husband’s death some 16 years ago… You get the picture.  Two weeks working full-time sorting, tossing, donating – they were finally ready for the auction.  The vultures swooped in – left their dollar droppings and flew away with their prey.  Now the empty nest of a house stands picked clean and ready for it’s next flock to begin padding it with feathers,twigs and mud.

Hearing how someone had to come in and paw through a life-time of possessions, assigning values to each and every thing, got me thinking about the “stuff” of my life.  Until you’ve had to do a job like that, I’m not sure you can appreciate the emotions that bubble up regardless of whether or not the items are yours, a family friend’s or a family member’s.

It seems like things come in and take up residence in our homes alot easier than they go out.  Memories put a patina on things like layered years of fingerprints.  We sentimental types have a hard time sending our souls out the door with no one to voice the journey of how this thing came to be part of our story. Presently, my offspring seem to have very little interest in the stuff that has served as set decoration for our collective lives up until this point.  Frankly, I admire that about both of them.  They hold things loosely.  Maybe it was because in the chaos of our gypsy caravan lifestyle, we knew we HAD certain things – but we’d be hard pressed to know WHERE they were.  They are on their own adventures now, collecting trinkets that speak to their particular journeys.  So I feel like I want to strike while the iron is hot.  I want to send things out of this house like smoke being belched up through the chimney.  There’s plenty of tchotchke to use as kindling.

I’m thinking that I’d like to “shop” my own home this year for gift-giving.  Brown is my new favorite Christmas color.  Recycle, reuse, repurpose, re-gift – all wrapped in thick, rough brown Kraft paper.  Maybe I’ll host a Swap Party.   Set things out on the table – invite people in – and let them take what they please but it only goes one way. OUT.

A couple of members of Shop Girl’s backing band recently got married.  Being young hippie types, they mandated that all wedding gifts had to be used and/ or purchased from a resale shop.  I could single-handedly outfit their entire house and mine would NOT look bare at all.  I thought about an old oak table leaning against the chimney down in the basement.  It had grown too small and was replaced by a larger second-hand purchase.  I gladly bequethed it to a new nest where their kids would grow up laughing around meals, spilling milk, fighting over games and doing homework.  That table has no soul but stories?  Yes.

The table can’t tell those stories.  Those memories aren’t erased just because I’m not looking at the table.  I hadn’t actually looked at the table for years and I’d still not forgotten the times we shared around it’s gently rounded edges.  So I’m determining to spend the long days/nights of winter digging through more stuff.  It’s my stuff.  It’s my job.





it ain’t what it used to was…

1 09 2010

A few days ago, late in the afternoon, there was a knock at the front door.  I crawled over the barriers we have erected everywhere to keep Donny Diva corralled to see who it was.  A young guy, 18 or so, Semper Fi t-shirt, buzz cut, ruddy complexion – haltingly started with saying, “I hope you don’t think I’m weird or anything…”  I was expecting to turn down his suggestion that I buy magazine subscriptions from him so he could finance his first year of college but that wasn’t the case.  “I grew up in this house and …”  He lived here until he turned 8 years old and it still lives on in his dreams.  His family has since moved on to two other houses and he’s soon to take up residence at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California hoping to dive head long into the world of “re-con” to live in a tent in some place in the world no mother would want her son to live.  I take that back – she’d want her son to live and not to die.

My brain was scrambling.  I knew what I knew…it was a recipe for disaster but I couldn’t tell him that – he had to learn the lesson the hard way.  We stepped into the entry way and I could immediately see him questioning his impulsive request.  It didn’t look anything like he remembered.  Of course not, I thought.  The first order of business 10 years ago when we moved in was to remove a disaster of a “re-muddling” they’d made of the livingroom / entry hall.  Lucky for us, we found most of the solid oak trim hidden behind the sheet rock they’d put up.  We had gone to great lengths to take it back to the original floor plan.

We moved through the rooms on the first floor then wandered out to the deck.  “I thought this was a lot bigger…”  It usually is in our memory, I explained.  Chatting for a few more minutes till there was really no more point, we moved back to the front porch.  Had his visit been two months ago, he would have at least recognized the color scheme on the outside.  But since we’ve had the trim painted, all the landscaping done, the ugly old pine tree removed from the front yard, etc. even good friends drive by the house – not recognizing the place.  And frankly – I couldn’t be happier.

That’s the thing about change…sometimes it makes us feel sad that things aren’t as they always were.  But for every person that feels sad – there is someone who was longing for their version of a home improvement.  The universe must just get used to living with that tension.

It’s been two years now that Billy has been gone.  I don’t think I’d want to answer the door at the Mrs. place if he stopped by to say he’d like to have a look around since he used to live there.  We just had two massive 40 year old half-dead pine trees  removed from the front yard. He’d be mad that his imagined bird santuary of an overgrown disgusting invasive Honeysuckle bush has been gone those two years…but not the birds.  He’d be complaining long and loud about the color of the TV room that the Mrs. picked out that was graciously painted by Sister Sib and her Nascar Guy.  And don’t get me started on the arguments we would have about the basement clean-out / drain system install / new plumbing / and paint job.

But there it is.  All those changes.  All those things that weren’t worth fighting you over.  Like I heard you say a million times, “It ain’t like it used to was…”  It’s not.  One thing hasn’t changed…we miss you.  The “you” that we remember from lots of years ago when you felt good and whistled all the time.  Truth is – you’re a changed house now too.  I’m sure you like the improvements and would have a hard time explaining all the process you’ve been through.





squinting in a fog

6 08 2010

12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

The Message / Eugene Peterson / 1 Corinthians 13

Squinting in a fog.  I grew up hearing it “peering through a glass, darkly.”

After a Friday night wedding the Dr. and I had attended a few weeks ago, I decided to light the candles that reside in the fireplace during the warmer months and just sit quietly for a bit before pretending to sleep.  At the back of the grouping is a mirror and when I grabbed my camera just for fun, I toyed with capturing some reflections in that dark glass.

Those words quoted above are at the end of one of the most used portions of the Bible spoken at wedding ceremonies and this June and July between the Mrs.’ social calendar and ours – I’ve heard it in a couple of different recitations.  We all know those words so well that even the most casual knowledge of the sacred texts would be able to do a fair job quoting it.  The whole, “Love is this, love is that, love isn’t this and love isn’t that…,” is what  everyone knows.  But the words that come a little further down the page have caught my attention.  “We don’t see things clearly yet…”

Seated with the Mrs. at a banquet table last month, I must have explained a half a dozen times that the little fork nestled at the top of the dinner plate would be used for our cake later that evening.  With each time she asked the same question in a little different way, I felt the others around the circle squirming in their seats.  I know there are those who wonder if I am aware of how she seems to be “slipping”.  Oh, I’m aware that you are NOT aware of the following:

The statistics are sobering:

  • More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease today.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 5th leading cause for those 55 and older.
  • One out of every eight people 65 and older has the disease. And for those over the age of 85, this number jumps to almost one out of every two.
  • One fourth of all home care involves care for an Alzheimer’s patient.
  • Those with Alzheimer’s Disease are three times more likely to face hospitalization and eight times more likely to need skilled nursing care.
  • 75% of care is provided by family caregivers.
  • When baby boomers reach 65 in 2011, these numbers will skyrocket and an epidemic will be upon us.

That’s right…seated at our table of 8, the majority of whom were my age, more than one of us will be in the same boat in the blink of an eye.

Squinting in a fog…is she squinting or am I?  I feel like we need to get a bit of a grip on some of the basics so that we can teach our children how we want to be treated.  Many of us in this present boat are just beginning to enjoy the new role of grandparenting.  Seeing the world through new eyes can be so entertaining – so delightful – and so tiring all at once.

I find infinite stores of patience to wrap my hands around Donny Diva’s as he’s learning to stack blocks, or grasp a spoon, but do I sigh too much when I have to bend over to help her tie her shoes or open that pesky little milk carton so she can have her lunch?  He’s not talking yet – but before I turn around twice we’ll be having conversations about any number of things.  People aren’t generally reserved when talking to pre-schoolers and usually just let the conversation flow where it might.  But I see how easily the elderly, especially those who are known to have “issues” with their memories,  get sidelined from social conversations.

Why can’t that same rule apply?  Just go with the flow.  If she wants to talk about the same thing over and over again – she really doesn’t mind because she’s not remembering it.  If time-machine memory takes her back to her own wedding – let her go there.  If she mixes up the names of the father of the groom with the grandfather of the groom with the groom, just patiently retrace the family tree for her.  It’s just conversation people, it’s not brain surgery.

In the end  – we are all squinting in the fog…thinking we have a handle on life, we have it figured out, we have our course laid out before us and we just have to get down to the business of putting our noses to the grind stone.  Reality is – that we are all squinting to see our own reflections in that dark glass.  To God, Alzheimer’s or not, none of us has a clue as to what we’re talking about.  We do not know what our futures hold.  So while I’m here trying to navigate the pea soup (that’s what Billy used to call fog), I’m going to just do what that sacred text suggests:  while I’m waiting for the completeness, I’m going to trust steadily, hope unswervingly and love extravagantly…even if it means going to more weddings.

Oh, and here’s a great article to help with your next social gathering…and you might want to put a copy on your fridge for your kids to see before you forget!