Missing the ones who are gone

It’s been 8 1/2 months since my dad died, and I’m walking this weird road of grief, more nuanced and shaded and blatant than I had ever expected.  Yesterday in church we were singing the closing hymn, and as I started to sing the first line of the last verse, my throat closed up and my eyes started to water and I was done: “That, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light, may we behold You as You are, with full and endless sight.”

One of the blessings of having had this three month sabbatical is the spaciousness of time which has allowed me room for grief that I had not realized I needed.  If anything, I miss my dad more now than I did at first.  My first birthday without him was like a sword in my heart; my parents’ anniversary popped up in my digital calendar and I was shocked at the affront I felt that he wasn’t here to celebrate with Mom.

It helps so much that others grieve, though I do not wish grief on anyone.  Grief finds us all, I suppose; it’s the price of loving.  Today as I write, I think about my dear friend from college whose father died within days of my dad’s death.  I think about beloved church members whose names we will recite this year on All Saints Day and how awful that will be.  I think about my neighbor and his family living the last year with the diagnosis of a stage 4 glioblastoma.  John McCain’s death, and all that surrounded that, gave me such empathy for his family in their grief. I think about the family of Botham Jean, the man shot and killed in his own apartment by a police officer who thought he was in her own apartment, and their grief that is compounded by – well, everything.

My father’s death was not tragic nor was it the stuff of nightly news.  For that I am immensely grateful. But I miss him so much.  I miss skirting around politics and playing cribbage and losing to him at dominos.  I miss our inside joke about watching the cottonwood trees shimmer in the breeze.  I miss his common sense, and his unending curiosity about things.  I miss having a dad around, right there at the other end of the phone line.

Halloween decor is flooding the market place now, the next big holiday to sate our consumerist hungers.  I don’t much care for Halloween – I don’t like to be scared, and there’s a lot of free-floating sugar going around.  I’ve started wondering if on Halloween, on All Hallows Eve, my dad will come visit in some way.  Weird thinking, I know, but grief can do strange things to one’s belief system.

I hope he doesn’t come visit, because it is my deep hope that he is resting in peace, whatever that means.  It is my deep hope that all he needed to accomplish was done by the time he took his last breath, so that there is no reason for him to come back.  Maybe in the end, all of us whom he loved knew that he loved us: the great accomplishment, and maybe the only truly necessary one.

Saints, not ghosts.one-bird-flying-in-empty-sky-nature-background-with-wildlife_r09fknvge_thumbnail-full01

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Thanks, Mom, with love

I have always appreciated Mom – at least the way I remember it!  I’m sure there were a few adolescent years when the appreciation lay buried deep, but that same appreciation blossomed fully when I became a mother myself.  That’s when I realized that I grew up in a house with a superhero.

In the past few months, my appreciation and love for my mom has changed.  It’s as though it has been burnished by grief and devotion, with a rich patina that can come only from experiencing together sorrow and loss and a recognition of love.

At first Mom was surprised when we all came after we heard that Dad was dying.  We weren’t surprised to do that at all – that’s how we had been raised by the two of them.  You show up.  You wait for each other.  You leave pretense at the  door.

So we were all there, gathered at his bedside.  We four kids would go to our own rooms for the night, but Mom slept in Dad’s room, on the most uncomfortable cot in the world.  She didn’t complain.  She wanted to be there with him and for him, as she had been for 58 years.

And then – I can hardly write this – she stood with us as each of us had to say goodbye to Dad.  Three of us left before he died. I know how I felt when I left his room for the last time; leaving him was the hardest thing I have ever done.

But Mom was there for me, and for my brothers, as we each said goodbye and then cried and cried.  In her grief, in her exhaustion, she was still Mom.  She was still there for us, holding us, comforting us, being present with us in the rawness of grief.

So this year especially, I am grateful for my mother.  I am grateful for her humor and her wackiness, for her generosity and wisdom, and especially grateful for her devotion to Dad through it all, and for her presence with us in those bewildering days in December.

“Thank you” seems such an inadequate thing to say, and “I love you” does too.  The words are paltry, but all that is behind them is not.

Thank you, Mom.  I love you.

Family pix 001

Sunrise at the columbarium, with coffee

Two days after my father’s memorial service, my mother and sister and I had coffee at dawn at the columbarium where his ashes had been laid. It was a cool, dry morning, and while we did not see the sun, we did see the color of the sky change. We talked quietly, looked at the names next to the place where his name plate would eventually go, and sipped our coffee and blew our noses

This week as I think about Easter, I keep going back to that scene: three woman at the grave at dawn. Certainly we were still so very sad, and the worst of the grief had not yet set in. We were still together but later that day, after the sun had fully risen, I would make my way back to Oregon and my sister would go back to North Carolina. Our brothers would return home too, and Mom would return to her new life, life without Dad.

We left the columbarium so we could pack and head to the airport. Each goodbye weighed heavier than the last, though they were lightened by promises to see each other soon, to stay in touch, and we have, but still – there is nothing like being together in the flesh.

The Easter story tells of three women, or two disciples, or one woman and a gardener, all at the tomb. I know their grief, and I want to know their hope and surprise. This Holy Week in the thick of things, I do not know them. Not yet.

Sunday morning I will stand in the pulpit and read that magnificent story and I will bi-locate, and part of me will be at the columbarium with my mom and my sister, waiting for the sun to rise. One never really knows what will happen while preaching, if the Spirit will rush through me and I’ll know – know – that I’ll see Dad again; or if I’ll be totally disconnected from my words and putting on a good show; or if I’ll look out at the beloved congregation, so many of whom have walked through death and grief and hope, and who still show up in on Easter morning because there’s nothing like being together in the flesh, whether the news be bad or Good.

It wasn’t a wedding but maybe it was

All the family was there, and we all looked nice. Lifetime friends from all over the country came, and those who couldn’t sent wonderful cards. The church hosted a reception afterwards, and we schmoozed and hugged and told stories. When it was over, we were glad to get off our feet.

But instead of gifts from a registry, people sent flowers, and instead of a wedding, we had a memorial service.

It reminded me of our family’s weddings, and the camaraderie and deep emotion that flowed these past few days were reminiscent of other, happier gatherings.

I really wish someone had been getting married. I really wish Dad were still here, and I have moments of shock when I realize – in my gut and not my head – that he is gone.

Rumi once wrote, “Our death is our wedding with eternity.” Maybe that’s why things felt familiar. Maybe Dad isn’t gone, but has simply gone on. I like to think so.

In the days to come there will be notes to write, and things to put back in order, and grief that morphs into different grief. But I’m holding on to the the wedding image, too. I imagine Dad raising a glass to our successes. I imagine him finding Benny Goodman’s band and kicking up his heels. I imagine him waiting for my mom to make her entrance, and I hope that doesn’t happen for a good long while, at least in the way we count time.

Maybe life’s great events – birth, marriage, death – are really just variations on a theme: the theme of an unknowable adventure that lies ahead, an adventure that will be the best kind of adventure as long as love is present.

See you soon, Dad – but not just yet.

Egg Rolls at the spa

santa hatThis morning I indulged in a little self care (it’s been a rough week) and had a pedicure from my favorite, Tina.  She was dressed in festive red with a Santa hat, and as I got settled, she gave me a box of chocolates.  I gave her a Starbucks gift card, as Starbucks is next door and I often run into her there.

It was early, so the place wasn’t full yet.  Vee and Ken own the place, and Vee was there, and Ken rolled in about 9:45 with their darling daughter.  She was carrying a tinfoil tray and I said, “Oh! Did you bring cookies?”

Not cookies, but egg rolls.  Egg rolls! Ken and his daughter began handing them out.  Why not have an egg roll with my latte and pedicure?  And it occurred to me what a thoughtful thing that was to do, to bring the food of their culture to celebrate the holidays on Christmas Eve eve.  I’ve never had an egg roll at 9:45 in the morning, but it was delicious and I would do it again.

I’m hyper-aware of people’s thoughtfulness right now.  My dad died three days ago, and img_3003normal life gets absolutely pierced with grief at random moments and usually when someone says something really kind, like ‘what can I do for you’ or ‘I’m praying you and your family’ or ‘I remember at your wedding your dad told me Americans don’t drink enough champagne, so I’m working on that’.

He has been gone three days now, which in some strains of Jewish thought is the amount of time it takes for the soul to leave the body.  If that is the case, then he is really gone now and he will start hearing me talk to him, which I have been doing.  Mostly it’s to thank him, and tell him I miss him already, and to ask him please to give Mom a sign that everything will be okay.  And then, because I’m being rather theologically decadent, I tell myself that he is so busy being awestruck and greeting his parents and his sister and his in-laws and best friend that he hasn’t turned his attention back to us.

My dad had a pedicure at the spa once.  He and my mom were visiting, and their feet needed work.  He was charming the ladies and joking with them while Mom rolled her eyes.  He was delighted to get his toenails trimmed, and his callouses scrubbed.  What incarnate things we are; how little it takes to make us happy.

Had they been serving egg rolls on that day when he got a pedicure, I imagine he would have had one with his latte.  He was that kind of guy, generous and grateful for the generosity of others, whatever form that generosity took.

I will miss him more than I know, three days into this new reality.  His absence will not be filled, but it will be soothed by kindness, by thoughtfulness, and lattes, and champagne, and egg rolls.

Requiem in pacem.

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Advent Vigil

232_Barrick_Advent_Purple_72_dpiFor Jack, Annie, Tom, and Grace

This is not the Advent I anticipated,
The one with three purple candles and one pink
The one with meditating on the birth of the Christ child
and pondering the meaning of the Incarnation
It isn’t that Advent

It is an Advent
with picturing my mother holding Baby Jesus
the way she holds any baby she can
And delighting in Him
And having a moment of joy

It is an Advent with a flurry of bushtits landing in the small tree in the courtyard
Angels in disguise
Chirping some song I assume to be good news though I cannot understand it
But they seem to happy in their trilling, and good news is in short supply
They’re gone when the hummingbird finds the Mexican Sage,
the one thing around here observing the purple of the season

It is an Advent with stars leading the way to places unknown
To people who have Gone On
With wondering if he’ll join the meteor shower and fly through the night sky
Or catch the tail of the too-close comet
And leave us

It is a season of waiting
For a death and not a birth –
But not an Eliot death.*
No one is clutching the old dispensation here
No one is really clutching anything

We are, rather, letting go of someone we have loved
Of someone who has loved us in return

It is a holy season
But not the one I expected

mexican sage

* T. S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi, excerpted:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down

This:
Were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Eager for joy

Today I had lunch with a friend I had not seen since we graduated from seminary almost twenty-five years ago.  It was a lovely time and it did my heart good to reconnect and fill in two and a half blank decades.

She arrived at our house after I learned of the suicide of someone I knew (not well), worked with from time to time, and enjoyed.  My friend has been a chaplain to children in hospice, so she knows her way around grief and shock.  Over lunch I said to her something along the lines that sometimes the sadness is too much.  She looked at me with empathy and knowing and agreed, yes.  Sometimes the sadness is too much.

But I have decided I will not let sadness win, or at least I will not let sadness be the only player in the game.  I will not pretend that things aren’t awful, like cancer or suicide or addiction or the threat of nuclear war, but I won’t let those things have the only word.

I’m looking for joy everywhere go, and now and then I see it.  It’s usually pretty small, almost undetectable, so I have to look hard.

Right now I’m finding joy in this playlist I made to provide music for Thanksgiving cooking.  It includes some big ol’ hymns sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with full orchestra, because I am a hymn nerd.  It also includes anthems our church choir sang for All Saints Day (No Time, Unclouded Day), songs sung at a recent wedding, a blessing in Maori, and bad pop music because if there’s something I love, it’s a one-hit wonder.  (Thanks, Donna Lewis and Walk the Moon!)

I find joy in my daughter and husband and our terrier mix.  I find joy in making art.  I find joy in seeing the huge amount of food donations brought to church, and joy in all those advocating for the poor, for things like living wages and health care for all and truly affordable housing.

It’s like there is a glass, and it has water in it, and some day it may be that all the water will be gone.  But it may be that some day someone will refill the glass. But for now, there is water to drink.

For now, joy is still competing with sadness and almost winning.

 

glas of water