No More Tears

camellia wiki

Mom’s memorial was yesterday. My brother did a great job planning it, with the church doing most of the leg work. It was a lovely service held at the Episcopal church in Shelton, with a smattering of Navy elements. Flag folding: is there anything more nerve-wracking? Like folding a fitted sheet with an audience. The service itself contained all the great, faith-building scriptures:

But as for me, I know that my redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth…Job 19:25

There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:2-4

…”He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 21:4

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:1-6

Not to mention The Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, which rarely come up in my faith expression. We sang the old hymns and prayed the scripted prayers. We took communion at the rail, with real wine and leaven-free wafers. I felt connected to the God I knew in childhood, the start of my seeking journey. Mom’s faithful church attendance launched that.

Yesterday, I was doing fine. Surrounded by family and friends and some near-strangers, the whole experience of ‘Mom is dead’ didn’t seem surreal. Later, sharing  Dr. J’s quiche, fruit salad and the mouth-watering Momeye coffeecake that goes back at least one more generation seemed celebratory. Fun, even, with all the Chestons and Stanleys in the house, as well as Mom’s closest friends. I felt blessed and grateful. Many thanks to all who came!

But today feels different. It started raining. In fact, it’s doing the Shelton “raining with a purpose” thing now. Rain striking the skylight scared Dakota. She had to come find me for comforting pats and murmured soothing.

If I slow down, though, the grief catches me. If I do slow down, I’m not cleaning/reading/researching/writing/administratively interacting or anything else that distracts me from the fact that Mom is gone. While I appreciate the enormous distraction that taking classes affords me, the grief still knocks me down.

We invited Father Joe, now-retired minister of St. David’s Episcopal Church, to officiate at Mom’s memorial. Mom loved him. Due to prior commitments, he was unable to do it. He called and left me the most amazing voicemail. He mentioned lots of fun and laughter with my mom and expressed his condolences.

“I wanted to celebrate with you Joan’s birth into eternal life.”

I barely kept it together when he said that. Yes! It took the focus off my grief and onto the One who makes all things new. I blinked back tears as I went back into an all-day training.

A lush camellia bush grows in front of the Episcopal church. Yesterday, I noticed it was in full bloom. In fact, the hot pink blossoms had faded and some had turned brown. Best guess, it started blooming some time in mid-January, right around when Mom passed. It reminded me that this life, though enormously beautiful, is temporary, and soon we will be born into eternal life. Thanks be to God.

 

Send the Jury Out

jury duty

I  haven’t written in awhile. Hopefully, this will explain why.

It all started out innocently enough with a jury summons. “Please call in to the Mason County jury line from February 3-February 14.” Simple enough.

Monday was uneventful, but Tuesday I had to go in. The Superior Court case involved crimes against children. My stomach churned as they read the seven counts. No way did I want any part of this case. But then I thought, if decent people won’t be a part of a jury, who will? I steeled myself for all the questioning. We had a 2-hour voir dire to ferret out any bias.

“Is there anyone here with strong religious beliefs?” I cringed inwardly at the terminology, couched in such a negative framework, but raised my card with #27 on it anyway.

“Would you be able to judge fairly if witchcraft was involved?”

Um. I want out. What the what??

I was 2 people away from making that jury. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I returned to work after 2.5 days of vetting, from 90 jurors down to 13.

Then I called in Friday. “These groups must report for jury duty on Monday, February 10: Group 502, Group 503….” Yep. I was back for District Court this time. I could not believe it. I’ve been summoned for jury duty nearly every year since we moved to Shelton, and almost got on a jury once. This was the most active the legal scene had been for me.

I showed up at 8:40 Monday morning and was handed a number: 1. Great. I knew, barring some extenuating circumstances, I’d be on this jury.

Thirty of us crammed into the smaller district courtroom. The defense counsel sat right in front of us and the prosecutor, with a state trooper, to our right. The case? A DUI. I had always considered a DUI and DWI as the same, but they’re not. A DUI means driving under the influence…of something. A DWI is driving while intoxicated. This was a drug charge.

I thought, this should be pretty straightforward. A huge man with the #2 sat next to me. He wore black overalls, a flannel shirt and no recent shower. I leaned away a little so I could breathe. Voir dire consisted of finding out if anyone had DUIs or DWIs. Lots of in-depth questioning there. Did anyone have close friends or relatives in law enforcement? Heck, anyone in law enforcement?

With district court, the judge takes into consideration the objections from both the state and the defense and assigns jurors. Judge S. called out 7 of us, yours truly included, to sit in the jury box. Number 2 made it as well. We sat down and then the judge gave us instructions.

“Huh?” The older gentlemen, juror 7, could not hear.

“Sir, can you hear me?”

Nope. Seven was given a listening device. It was hit and miss. Seven swapped it out for another one. Worked slightly better.

The judge went on. Have to follow the law, not your own bias, defendant is innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Huh?”

We all filed into the jury room, a small locked room with an attached bathroom, both adjacent to the courtroom. The bailiff handed us notebooks to take notes. I gulped. Could I write legibly enough to use it later?

Juror 7 was taken out again. His hearing aids interfered with the listening device. The judge and attorneys asked him all the questions again as we cooled our heels in the small room. We exchanged names: W., the mountain man and #2, C., an amazing mother and fellow church member with friendship from Oregon days, R., an attractive woman in her 50s who works for the Belfair School District, O., a 50-something Mexican man who drives a forklift for Sierra Pacific, and H., a slender 20-something  female veterinary student and transplant from North Carolina who works as a vet tech in Olympia. Little did we know how much time we’d be together.

W. liked to talk. A lot. By this time, it was 2:30ish. Juror 7 got excused since he could hear nothing and would be unable to serve on the case. And then there were six. The bailiff told us none of us could get sick.  Since a DUI is a criminal case, we must reach a consensus. Gulp again.

We filed back into the courtroom at 3:00 p.m. Both sides made their opening arguments. From what I could glean, the prosecution’s case was all about meth, methadone and morphine in the blood sample from a Darryl Watters, pulled over on June 1, 2018 at around 11:00 p.m., originally for a broken taillight. He was also weaving within his lane. The defense’s argument rested on the time between the sample’s origin and the date it reached toxicology 20 days later, as well as the testing methods used by the state trooper and the toxicology lab. The blood sample sat around for months in the lab fridge, waiting to be tested. Hmm. Didn’t seem like much to go on, though I tried to keep an open mind.

The prosecuting attorney, Mr. W., was very young. He followed the procedure to the letter, asking permission to approach the bench and the witness before moving. The defense attorney, an older man named Mr. L., wore a pale gray suit. The hem of his cuffed pants frowned over the back of his tasseled loafers. He often spoke over the witnesses and objections.

“Counsel, let the witness answer.” “Counsel, let me rule on the objection.” The judge’s withering looks said it all.

It was rough. Over the next 4 days, we were in and out of the courtroom multiple times. The defense objected to the trooper’s testimony.

“Send the jury out,” the judge would intone. Over and over.

It got to be a joke among us jurors. I started to log our entering and exit times, just for fun. We considered placing bets.

Entered and seated at 1:39 p.m. Sent out at 1:42 p.m. Time elapsed: 3 minutes.

“Send the jury out.”

Entered and seated at 2:11 p.m. Sent out at 2:31 p.m. Time elapsed: 20 minutes.

“Send the jury out.”

Entered and seated at 2:57 p.m. Sent out at 3:05 p.m. Time elapsed: 8 minutes.

“Send the jury out.”

And on and on. Each objection had to be fully discussed with us out of earshot. It was nothing like TV cases. Reaching a half hour of questioning before the defense objected to either the witness’s conclusions, testing methods of the state trooper or the toxicology lab, or the state’s questioning proved a huge coup. It dawned on us that the original estimation of finishing by Thursday might be optimistic.

Meanwhile, hot topics in the jury room consisted of free speech, the right to own guns, and W.’s history. It was all O.’s fault.

“You’re a good storyteller. Give us more,” he said.

So W. did. W. had a high school education, but a voracious curiosity about things. He grew up on the streets of Tacoma and in the woods, shunted between an absentee mom and his Native American grandmother. At one point, he ran away from home and joined the carnival, where he became a student of human nature. Once safely ensconced with his grandmother and back in school, he learned all kinds of art, including jewelry making. In fact, he made his own dentures. He only wore them the first day, he said, because he broke off a tooth eating some of Safeway’s fried chicken. He pioneered some early computer programs and taught himself how to code. He trapped and fished on his property in Tahuya, property he purchased some 30 years ago. He told us nowadays he had to trap using scent and not bait due to new laws.

We heard about him picking brush on his property, stacking it into 2 piles. He felt something furry at his feet and thought it was a little dog. He shooed it home. It came back. Without really paying attention, he reached down to pet it and realized it was a little bear. Another time he was eating a not-so-tasty energy bar and a deer walked into his yard. He offered the remainder of the bar to the deer who took it right out of his hand.

Other stories weren’t so benign. He talked of his addiction to drugs and alcohol, even smoking. He kicked them all over time. His son was not so lucky and overdosed several years ago. He showed us his picture, a tall, dark-haired fellow, gone by age 31. W.’s pain showed in his eyes. Parents should not outlive their children.

But wait! There’s more.

“When I bought the property, it was isolated. Nobody around for miles. So I took advantage of the free Vitamin D. I went commando.”

Um. O. and I exchanged side glances.

“But then I started to get neighbors. I had to move my traps in closer and closer to the house. I realized when I sat outside, I needed to be on a blanket in order to cover up. Not for me, but for them. They would be embarrassed.”

Okay. C. and I shared a look across the table.

“You know, we all have the same parts. Two arms, two legs. I’ve always heard that we’re unique and special, but I don’t really believe that.”

I started laughing here and could not stop. What in the world? I laughed so hard I cried. I put my head down on the table. I did not snort, but I was close. The other jurors joined in.

“That’s good, that’s good, ” W. said. “Laughter is good medicine, even if it’s laughing at me.” His eyes betrayed his concern for my sanity. Well, at this point in our journey, it seemed appropriate.

All told, we probably spent 4 hours in the courtroom listening to testimony and questioning. Late Friday morning, we were encouraged to pick out a lunch choice from Domino’s, with deliberations over lunch. We nominated H. as the presiding juror, with her great understanding of test tubes and blood draw protocols, as well as methodical notes. We all gave our input. I explained how Washington state interoffice mail worked. W. kept pulling us off track with personal stories about his experiences.

“W.”, R. said not unkindly, “why don’t we let others talk?”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. From then on, he raised his hand before he spoke.

O. asked a couple of questions. We talked about how the combination of meth, morphine and methadone probably impaired his driving, and no legal limits exist for any of those. We wrapped it up just before 1:00 p.m. with a unanimous guilty verdict. Drugs do not spontaneously appear in someone’s blood, after all. We were back in the courtroom by 1:10 and all finished by 1:20. The judge thanked us for our “above and beyond” service and encouraged us to wait around, as the attorneys sought feedback on how to improve. I said goodbye to everyone and gave W. a side hug. He had cleaned himself up a bit over the week’s duration. He shared a lot of himself with us; sometimes that makes you feel vulnerable. I jetted out, glad to be free. After all, it was Valentine’s Day.

I considered all the forced time spent together. Despite the tedium, though, I enjoyed being with people whom I now consider friends, an unforeseen bonus. Sharing yourselves with others will do that, even when you are very different.

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Next

flowers

Jonathon and I spent some time today going through Mom’s things. We didn’t have much. We’d sorted it from the pre-sorted move to Shelton. I have several of her things, like jewelry and scarves. For the first 2 weeks after she died, I reached for earrings that belonged to her or ones she gave me. Every day. It helped me feel closer to her and allowed me to sit with the pain instead of drowning it somehow.

We found Mom’s old Navy photos. We found photos of her conducting the Navy WAVES chorus. We found photo albums of generations past and present. A white photo album contained newspaper clippings of Mom’s “betrothal” announcement and wedding pictures. The “Baltimore society” section tracked the wedding’s progress. This was pre-paparazzi, obviously.

Letters I wrote from college were in my baby book.

“Dear Mom…my roommate is a vocal major…I’m still trying to work out a walking schedule…”

Then, I found several Mother’s Day cards I’d sent. She kept them in a plastic bag. Mother’s Day cards were sometimes heartfelt, sometimes goofy. Some had pictures of toddler Zac in them. Good news, though: my handwriting *was* legible then.

I found a picture of her wearing Zac’s helmet from when he was a knight, I think back in first grade.  Many, many pictures of cats past, and a few of boyfriends past. Priorities. 

Our relationship wasn’t always great. We had differences of opinions. She railed at me for choosing to attend a Bible college. I didn’t agree with her choice of male companions.

“You have such good grades; you could go anywhere. You’re throwing your life away!” she said angrily.

But I knew it was God’s thing for me. And I met Jonathon, as well as some of my very best friends. She came around. Eventually.

One of Dad’s sisters sent a condolence card.

“Losing your mother feels like a hole in the heart,” she wrote.  My eyes swam.

Yes. Like that.

Meanwhile, I continue to do schoolwork and put my whole heart into it. In fact, I probably over-analyze every assignment. It helps to concentrate on something, anything, right now. I’m safe inside the bubble of academia and its regimented rubrics. I know what’s required of me and when it’s due. Yet as soon as I submit something, I second-guess myself.

“Oh, I forgot to include X. Wait, did I discuss the history of the rise of that public policy enough? Did I have enough sources?” On and on. I have to take myself by the scruff of the neck and say, “Stop it! You did your best. Now let it go.”

I’ve spent a lot of time playing ball with Dakota today. The rain stopped, though the wind still blows. It’s still cold, still winter. But pussy willows have appeared. The camellia bush has small, hard buds that will be lovely hot-pink flowers in a month. I must remember that spring follows the winter, always. I don’t have to force it. It will come.

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven… – Ecclesiastes 3:1

 

 

 

Pooh Pocket

Pooh bag

Friday, we drove to Port Orchard and unloaded Mom’s room. One of the few good things out of this entire saga is that she progressively downsized over the years. While still living in Portland, Mom downsized to a two-bedroom condo. When she moved to Shelton, she downsized yet further to a two-bedroom duplex. When she moved to the VA home in October, she downsized to one room, allowed only a wing chair, an ottoman, a few pictures, some jewelry, knickknacks and clothes. Visitors provided a few plants. Clearing out her room took less than an hour, a piece of mercy in all of the sadness.

My brother and I reminisced about the different men she got dated but never married. Some we liked, specifically Rick. He was the funniest man I’d ever met. I think I was 9 at the time. He knew Gary Larson personally. He brought us cookies and made us all laugh. We urged Mom to marry him. But he had no plans to be tied down.

curiosity

. There were other prospective spouses along the way but nobody stuck.

Thak

It’s funny how you remember yourself in the context of time. But not just time, in the context of others and seasons. Looking back, I can see that just as God’s hand helped keep us afloat, He also kept us out of bad situations. While ‘no’ at the time felt hard, it was for our good. Rick went on to have 6 heart attacks when he finally did marry. Not surprisingly, he lost his sense of humor along the way.

Another good thing out of Mom’s death is the tribe of women who have surfaced to guide me through the grief. These women have all lost their mothers, too, and know firsthand how hard it can be. I did not ask for help; they have come all on their own, and I am grateful. Alongside them are family and old friends who have listened and been there. Thank you, thank you. I have not walked this way before and it’s been a struggle. Grief washes over me like a sneaker wave as I walk the beach of loss. Your support has made all the difference.

Years ago, Aunt Susan made me a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh. I took that bear to college with me, much to the hilarity of subsequent fellow dorm dwellers. I still have it.

Aunt Susan gave me the pouch pictured above when she came to see Mom. Inside the pouch were 2 embroidered hankies and assorted chocolate.

“You don’t have to share it with anyone”, she told me.

All of these people who have shown up and been there have put me a metaphorical ‘pocket’ for safekeeping, something you do for cherished items – and people. I know hard days lie ahead, but I feel surrounded by love and sympathy and am focusing on the sweet memories.

 

 

 

 

Homecoming

Last night, I wanted to call Mom. I wanted to talk to her about the new school quarter and work and other sundry things. She used to show up announced when I worked at the City, bearing gifts. Sometimes it was a blouse she picked up at Goodwill for me. Sometimes it was a funny mug. It was a little embarrassing. I won’t lie.

See the source image

As she hugged me, I would breathe in her scent. Peace would wash over me.

The last time we visited Mom, before she entered the hospital, I thanked her for giving me music. I wouldn’t be a musician or have pursued a degree in flute if not for her exposure from concerts, recordings, and active encouragement. I thanked her for giving me literature. She read books to me all of my childhood. I love books because of her. We had our own very small book club over the years, swapping books we enjoyed back and forth and discussing them. I thanked her for giving me comedy. My brother and I both have her sense of humor. She took us to see Wayne Brady at the Schnitz when he came to Portland. We love to laugh and often find humor in the worst situations. It’s a survival technique, I reckon.

Mom thanked me, looking me in the eye. She heard me. We connected that Saturday. Turns out that was the very last time we’d have a good connection.

But I couldn’t call her. She died the night before: Sunday, January 12.

On Sunday, she moved back to the VA home. She didn’t transfer well. Her breathing sped up. She couldn’t get enough to drink. Fortunately, some of her siblings made it into town and got to visit with her. We took turns speaking to her in the darkened room, Mom’s oxygen machine bubbling in the background.

When it was my turn, I held her birdlike hands with the long fingers. Her eyes fluttered open. I asked if I could sing to her. She loved to sing and grew up the daughter of an Episcopal minister. I started singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”. I managed the first verse and part of the third then forgot the rest of the words. No matter, I was crying anyway. The membrane between earth and heaven was so thin. She didn’t have long. Mom committed her life to Christ several decades ago at an Easter Service at our church in Coos Bay. I prayed He would take her because there was nothing any of us could do for her now but wait.

One of the Stanley clan read her the 23rd Psalm. This person felt like maybe they’d overstepped. Folks, that was her favorite psalm. Then they prayed an Episcopal benediction prayer over her. God whispers to our heart all the time, if we only listen. I thanked this person for doing what I couldn’t. They blessed Mom when she needed it most.

We went out to dinner and got caught up on each others’ lives. Though we hated the circumstances of why we gathered, the time together was sweet.

Stanleys 2

That night (Sunday) at around 8:45 p.m., the VA home called. During the routine bed-check, they discovered Mom was gone. She held on as long as she could. I want to thank everyone who wrote or called to support me. I haven’t been super responsive, but appreciate each and every one of you. Your prayers and kindness have held me up.

However, life goes on. A gibbous moon shone down on Dakota and I in the early morning, complete with its own halo. It snowed last night. A thin frosty white coat covers everything. Yet birds continue to call to each other. They gather food and nesting materials. Mom is in a better place, safe with her holy Shepherd, singing her favorite songs, reunited with family and friends. I am glad.

psalm 23

 

 

Death Watch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not this.

We found out Tuesday that Mom had vomited a bit of blood. Then Wednesday, even more. The VA home dithered about whether to send her to the hospital, who wondered whether admit her or not. When the emergency room CT scan showed a digestive tract laced with tumors and an anemic blood count, they succumbed. Mom is in a very nice hospital in Gig Harbor.

This was the view from the end of the hallway as the snow fell.hospital snow

After waiting around for a few hours, the doctor arrived. He showed us the scan. The image looked down through her esophagus. Tumors, with millimeter dimensions, appeared. Some were 23 millimeters. Some were 15. One was 73 millimeters. Some were on her adrenals and some on her liver. This explains why she wouldn’t eat and lost more than 20 lbs in 2 months. But the fact that she felt no pain means nobody knew the real problem until the blood appeared.

As we viewed the scan, the doctor said the blood transfusion she received Wednesday night stopped the internal bleeding and brought her numbers up.

“However, I give her a few days to a month lifespan. Have you considered comfort care?”

Mom has a DNR and specific instructions for her medical care to take “no extreme measures” to sustain her life. She transfers back to the VA home Sunday and into hospice care there. Friends and family visit as her life ebbs away. I am off work for now as the DPOA, coordinating communication, visits and checking on her care. Mom is pain-free and her stomach bleed has stopped. She drinks water and sleeps as needed.

I ran this morning. It was the first time this week and the only dry day. The wind blows outside. A near-full moon set among the trees today, lighting up the sky. I watched the trees dance and am grateful for One who made us all and holds us in His hands.

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and he will stand upon the earth at last.
 And after my body has decayed,
    yet in my body I will see God!
 I will see him for myself.
    Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.
    I am overwhelmed at the thought! – Job 19:25-17

 

In the Fire

Birds tweeted again this morning, chattering from tree to tree. I looked up in the darkness, trying to see them by the streetlight’s glow. They stopped. It’s supposed to reach 50 degrees today. Early spring? I don’t want to hope.

Optimistic, I thought I’d check on the next courses coming up. I logged into Capella’s website. I looked at the 3 courses that start January 13. Now the instructors are listed under the course descriptions. Two of the three were familiar to me. I have Dr. Kathy again for one. She sometimes changes assignment templates/parameters in the middle of a course, which caused me an extra 10+ hours of work on one assignment last quarter. Her teaching the class is no surprise, though the classes from last quarter were electives in the project management realm. This one is project budgeting, procurement and quality.

Then…the second class is Public Sector Policy Analysis with…wait for it…the infamous Dr. P. He’s the one who accused me of plagiarism 2 quarters ago. He’s the one that took a month to get back to me on how to handle the paper falsely flagged as plagiarized when the university’s software malfunctioned. He’s also an APA Nazi. When I read his name, my heart sank. I don’t want another class with him. Not ever. I’ve forgiven him but still. No, thanks, I’ll pass. Got anyone else?

This is my 5th quarter at Capella. I mean, should there even BE a fifth quarter? A quarter is, by definition, a fourth of something. Basketball only has 4 quarters. Dollars are only 4 quarters. Maybe it should be called something else. A fifther? That makes me think of hard liquor. Sigh. Winter quarter was already stacked with three classes instead of the regular, full-time two, in order to complete the degree by summer. And now this? Come on, God! You must think I’m superhuman. I’m not even going to misquote the Bible verse that supposedly says “God never gives you more than you can handle”. It doesn’t exist. Because guess what? God often does just that, on the regular. Don’t worry; your turn is coming.

I find myself in the unenviable position of pounding squeezing lemons into lemonade. I know God can bring good out of all of this. These courses present valuable, (sometimes) interesting, applicable material for me to learn. It’s an opportunity, albeit a challenging one, to sit under these instructors again. I don’t have to be afraid because I won’t be alone. There’s another in the fire with me, always. He will guide me through the flames and out the other side.