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

 

 

Starts and Ends

Start-Finish-15he2z6.jpg

Tis the season for changes.

On Thursday, Jonathon’s mother died. Just one year ago, we travelled out to Wisconsin to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. In August, a month later, they discovered her 2 inoperable brain tumors. All the pictures are now coming up in my Facebook feed. The picture just before we got on the plane. The mustard museum. And more. This week, Jonathon’s youngest brother kept in close contact via text. She was fading fast, marked unresponsive last Saturday. She was unable to swallow or speak, yet managed an “Love you” to her youngest son. She also said she  had no pain. They increased her morphine as her body shut down and she was able to let go in peace. Barb passed into glory on their 51st anniversary.

Two days day before that, Zac travelled up via shuttle to MEPS in Seattle. MEPS is Military Entrance Processing Station. You stay overnight, in Zac’s case in a hotel room with one other guy. Staff examine you physically, take blood and urine samples, and put you through bizarre fitness tests, like duck walking wearing only underwear. Zac took the ASVAB to enter the Air Force, scoring 97 out of 99. He was sworn in on Wednesday. On Thursday, after he returned home, he was offered a fusion analyst position. It’s a good gig, only open to the top scorers. Zac turned it down. He wants to return to MEPS in order increase his overhead lift from 80 to 100 lbs. and take another technical test to earn his first-choice position. He is psyched and encouraged and ready, practically jumping out of his skin.

It’s been a bittersweet week.

As I put Dakota through her paces this morning, the blush sunrise and setting gibbous moon greeted me. My head swirled with logistics for the trip back to Wisconsin for the funeral, the 3rd in a year. Need to get dress clothes for the kids, as Shelton’s uber casual style won’t cut it. Zac desperately needs a haircut. How will I keep up with classes?

Barb was someone who challenged the word impossible. She took on daunting tasks, creatively solving problems and making the best of the worst. We ate Isham pizza in her honor last night, a recipe she created while living in New York City as George completed graduate school and the two oldest Isham boys were toddlers. She got her B.A. in Fine Arts in her 60s. She pretty much planned our wedding back in 1992. She held out hope for hopeless situations long after many of us. She bought my wedding dress, on sale for a (then) astronomical $200. One of Barb’s fondest wishes was to see Zac graduate from boot camp. Zac’s endless term with braces precluded his entering any military group until very recently. I like to think Jesus whispered of Zac’s acceptance to her before she left us. Somehow, she knew.

I looked up at the towering trees. The air smelled piney fresh. We’ve had days and days of tropical, humid weather. Rain, dark clouds and gloom lasted way into our usual summer. But now, sun.  I thought about road races. Often, the start and finish are at the same place. You make a great loop of sorts and end up right where you began, passing through hills and valleys and sometimes dodging traffic. Everyone runs their race and finishes the best they can. We all came from our Father who created us; to Him we return when our race is run.

See you on the other side, Barb. Enter into His rest. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

When Dreams Attack

I know I haven’t written much lately. I’ve been reintegrating into regular life and applying for jobs and, and, and. But I need to write. It’s a part of me. Every time I try to get away, I find myself missing it. It’s one of the tethers in this world, at least for me.

I found Ruby sitting on a couch in the rotunda the other morning. She was crying.

“What’s wrong, baby girl?” I asked. I sat down next to her and hugged her.

“I dreamt that Chloe died,” she sniffled.

Uh oh.

“Oh, I’m sorry. But she’s fine.”

I pointed out the black Muppet cat, curled at her feet. Ruby nodded.

“I wanted to make a blanket out of her fur.”

Um.

“So I cut off her head.”

Whaa…?

She started sobbing.

“Then I saw her ghost.”

OK. Now what, God? I breathed in and out, holding her. I decided to ignore the ghost comment.

“Ruby, do you really want to make a blanket out of Chloe’s fur?”

I looked down at the long, luxurious fur on the most mellow cat in Christendom. It is very soft and touchable, yet manages to get everywhere. It has always reminded me of

troll doll

But she doesn’t need to know that.

“Well, I want to keep her around. I don’t want her to die.”

Folks, I believe this is how taxidermy on household pets got started.

“Chloe won’t live forever. And I’m sure you’d never cut off her head. Let’s enjoy her while we have her. God gave you the sweetest cat. There will never be another Chloe.”

Isn’t that what we all need to be doing, appreciating where we are, when we are, and who we’re with? Tomorrow is not promised.

Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  – Psalm 103:15

I hugged Ruby a little closer and smiled at Chloe. I swear Chloe smiled back.

Ruby & Chloe

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Tiny Things

Photo by wikipedia.com

Photo by wikipedia.com

I don’t know what to say today.

I stepped out into the cool, pink-tinged morning.  I inhaled the still air, scented with honeysuckle and petunias.  The sun lingered on the horizon –

Wait.  I have to help Ruby get frozen bread into the toaster.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  The sun lingered on the horizon, backlighting the sky.  I started walking.  During my injured calf state, I discovered how much warming up counts towards getting a good run in.  Like stretching, warming up has never been on my radar.  Until I got hurt.

“Mom, can today be pajama day?” Not today, Ruby.

So. Back to this morning. I headed east then turned up the hill…

“Mom, look at this!  Rex caught a squirrel!”

I followed Ruby and looked out the back door.  Rex, mouth full of chipmunk, stalked around the carport and vicinity.  His face held a mixture of pride and confusion.  Where can I put this down? his darting eyes seemed to say.

I watched the drama for a little while.  Chloe hovered over the fresh kill.  She leaned over and sniffed it.  Rex reached out a paw and batted the dead carcass.  Then he picked it up in his teeth, tossing it in the air.  Flying chipmunks are not as rare as you’d think in these parts. Rex carried his prize to the side yard and laid down beside it, content and spent.

Okay…where was I?

Zac appeared before me.  “How are you today?” I asked.  He grabbed a pen and a napkin. Uh oh.

“You have a sore throat?” He nodded. “How bad is the pain?”  He wrote 6/10.  Poor thing.

I walked up the hill.  Weeds and horsetail grew by the curb.

“I wonder what it’s like being dead,” Ruby mused around a bite of toast.

Sigh. Never mind.

Living in the Dash

grave marker

Last night after dinner, Ruby, Jonathon and I went to the park.  I’ve mentioned this park before. It’s got a red swing and a baseball diamond, some paved paths, a covered picnic area and a small basketball court.

It’s also right next to the cemetery. Quiet neighborhood, that.

Ruby lifted herself high on the swing, her feet outstretched.  Jonathon and I talked.  The sun had lowered itself enough that we sat in the shade. Tired of the swing, Ruby jumped off. We all meandered down a wooded path. It ended in a stagnant pool of water, surrounded by mud and mosquitoes. We didn’t stay long.

“Hey, why don’t we visit the graveyard,” I suggested after we followed another path to nowhere.

The other two agreed.

Now, I’m not a morbid soul.  But I read a book awhile back and I realized we don’t think about death very much, if at all.  We need to.

The cemetery’s gate stood open. We walked into the gates, the sun shining down on everything. No breeze stirred the air. We wandered among the headstones.  Willeys.  McCraes. Fredsons. Then…Baby Hammond. Arnold, who lived 10 days. Ella, who lived four years.

We talked about what it meant to have “Beloved” on your tombstone. How had that person lived?  We found husbands and wives, buried together.  “Married 1938”, entwined with roses and doves, greeted us.

But sometimes, the headstones had things like “Mary Smith 1930-1996” and “Clyde Smith 1930 –  “.  Clyde, apparently, still lived on somewhere.  How was he?  How did he feel, with the other half of his one-flesh gone?  How did these parents, living decades longer than their children, make it through that hell?

Some stones didn’t stick up above the ground at all.  They stuck fast in the dirt, etched with “Charles Martin 1888-1957”.  No room for any sort of epitaph, only the particulars of that person’s timeline. Shelton’s pioneer days must have been rough.

“Mom,” Ruby called. We walked over to where she stood.

The body below the grass was only 13 years old.  He had collected bouquets, a crystal guardian angel hovering from a pole, and several small spotlights. He died only a few months ago.  My eyes filled with tears.  I recognized the name of a local young man who died under mysterious circumstances.

We lost our taste for trying to unravel histories then. We admired a few more markers and then turned for home. The sun dipped low on the horizon. We drove home through the gathering dusk. I remembered my mother-in-law telling us her family used to picnic at the family plot.  It seemed rather a dark place for a meal, to me.  I think I’m starting to get it now.  It’s a way to celebrate the lives of those we’ve lost.

We never know when our time here on earth will end.  How are we living in the dash ( – ) between birth and death? Yes, this life feels like a dash sometimes, but that’s not what I mean. Because when it’s all said and done, and we stand before God, we will have to account for our stewardship of the relationships in our lives – husbands, wives, children, friends, coworkers. God has always been in the “people first” business.  Are we?

Overcomer

A young woman who attended our church died this past Sunday in a car accident.  It was a head-on collision as the other driver, also a young woman, crossed the double yellow line to pass the 3 slow poke cars in front of her.

The gal had just turned 20.  She had recommitted her life to Christ and walked away from some bad choices in order to start over. She had a new joy inside.

Our church held a sort of impromptu memorial for her last night in lieu of regular Wednesday night service.  Through a series of reschedules due to illness, I was part of the worship team.   Members of the deceased’s family, who found a wonderful new church home years ago, started filing into the sanctuary.  We kept on rehearsing. I thought, Oh, we’re one of the few churches who have a midweek service.  Guess they needed to connect with God. Great to see them again and hug their necks.

No.

Those of us onstage shuffled, filled with nerves.  When your kid/sister/niece/granddaughter dies unexpectedly, emotions roil.  We didn’t know that to expect; how could we serve?  Could we offer any kind of comfort? And anyway, where *was* God? How could he allow this to happen? My little girl is gone! She’ll never get married or have kids of her own.  The great defeatist, Despair, lingered in the room. I could almost see his enormous maw of pain, open and fangs bared, ready to swallow the grieving visitors.

I quickly scanned the song lyrics in my head.  Uh…yeah. The love of God.  His comfort. Wanting more of His love and passion for others.  His goodness.  Holding on to God’s word. Good, good. And oh, “death has lost its sting.”

Gulp.

I didn’t want to offend them.  Death, especially of someone so young, isn’t something to be taken lightly. I haven’t lost anyone very close to me – yet. I realize death waits for me on the horizon, hovering like a dark cloud.  I can’t avoid it.  I can’t dodge it.  We will all die, unless Jesus returns first.  Period.

We sing a lot of songs about death, frankly.  Most of our worship songs are peppered with references to Jesus’ death on the cross, the resurrection, overcoming death, etc.  Honestly, I reckon we sing them without thinking an awful lot about them. The words, that is.  Yes, Jesus died and rose again.  Yes, the last enemy of creation – humans in particular – is death.  We’ve all mentally assented to the idea of death as the last frontier in this life.  Did we actually *believe* it, that when this life ends, we’ll enter a glorious heaven and receive Jesus’ embrace on the other side?  When it came time for application, could my faith stand the test? I didn’t know. I don’t know.  I only hoped we could latch onto God’s truth and soothe the hurt of those marvelous people. We could usher in a place of peace and understanding of our eventual victory. We could, for a short time, close the gaping mouth of grief and place our broken hearts into God’s hands for mending.

The service turned out to be a great time to talk about the reality of death and how to handle it.  I pray the families received comfort and a sense of God’s presence, despite the painful circumstances. I know I did. We will see our friend again, in the sweet by and by.

This girl’s death woke me up.  I don’t want to waste any more time.  I will give Zac all the hugs and noogies I can.  He’s gotta know I love him.  I will tickle Ruby until she comes close to peeing her pants. I will love and honor Jonathon all the days of my life, preferring him above all others. I will listen more closely to the quiet, small voice that guides me into caring for others while I still can.

 

O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – I Corinthians 15:55-57