Category Archives: In remembrance

Where I’ve been lately

Manassas, first Battle of Bull Run with the 10th Virginians

Manassas, the Battle of Bull Run 

Battle of Bull Run, Manassas

Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Arlington National Cemetery

Carter at Arlington

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

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She’s gone

I got the call at 11:15pm from my brother.
“She’s gone.”
My uncle (Mom’s brother) and my brother were each holding her hand, one on each side of the bed. Her best friend had been in to visit and had just left 5 minutes before.

She was surrounded by loving hands and hearts in her final hour, and for this I am grateful.

Strangely enough, I am also grateful for the gift that cancer gave our family: the chance to say goodbye over time. The grief process began in early January, when Mom was diagnosed with cancer. By mid-March, we knew exactly what type of cancer we were dealing with (stage 4 appendiceal cancer) and we knew the prognosis.  We had 3 months (to the very day!) to prepare for her death, three months in which to say “I love you” and grieve and say goodbye.

So now, I am not numb. I had my tears and I will have them again, but I am feeling strong tonight — strong enough to face the morning with a different kind of farewell. Tomorrow is the last day of school for my younger kids, filled with goodbyes and thank yous.
And I can do this.  I have to do this. EB’s graduation is Saturday morning.

On saying goodbye…

Grief is a difficult and unpredictable beast.

There is no “right way” to grieve, but there is much to learn from the traditions of  others. I think  Christians  have missed out on some wonderful and useful traditions when it comes to dealing with grief. We tend to quickly pull together a funeral or memorial service, but after that? Nothing. Grief is a longer process than just a memorial service or a funeral.

Carmi has written so poignantly about life and death and saying goodbye to his father. He has shared about the Jewish customs after death (e.g., Sitting Shivah, Unveiling).  The more I learn about the Jewish customs that relate to death and the grieving process, the more I wish they were universal, because they provide a form — a frame — a ritual — within which to understand and acknowledge the emotional journey we undergo when a loved one dies.

One of the most moving homilies I’ve ever heard was at my step-father’s memorial service when the minister spoke about how we need to say goodbye. With my step-father, there was no chance to say goodbye in person. He took a sudden turn for the worse and died within hours; I was living far away.  I had to find a different way to say goodbye after his death.

Now, my mother is undergoing a long process of saying goodbye.   She continues to weaken as she loses weight, and she has lost a lot of weight.  There is noticeable difference between her now-fragile frame and her distended abdomen;  there is a growing mass in her abdomen — growing despite chemotherapy — a mass that wasn’t there 2 months ago during surgery. Hospice can’t be that far off (although she does not acknowledge this, I know it to be true). She doesn’t want to talk about “the end” being in her immediate future; she is still trying to believe that this new chemo will stem the tide and hold off the inevitable. I, however, am facing reality. I’m sifting through the layers of my heart, mind, and soul, searching for the things that need to be said and discarding those things that don’t really matter anymore.  It’s a cleansing sort of internal decluttering.

I suppose the ultimate goal is one that Cricket writes about in his moving post The Long Goodbye.  (Thanks to Hilary  for bringing this beauty to my attention as a Post of the Week.) Go ahead and read it.  I’ll still be here when you are done.

A long, drawn-out ending is painful but it does give us multiple opportunities to say goodbye; a sudden and unexpectedly early death can leave us with words unsaid.

These are the things on my mind lately.  Your thoughts?

31

May 18, 1980.  8:32 am in the southwest region of Washington State.

It’s been 31 years since the the old lady blew her top.

Her eruption was a real pain in the ash for those directly affected. You can see more photographs and read a good article from last year here.

Me at Mount St. Helens in 2005

Mothers’ Day

We took the boys out for ice cream on Saturday evening and this sign was in the local ice cream shop.
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I was going to post a picture of my mother and me, taken about 7 years ago at Christmas time… but I can’t find the picture in my computer files or on a CD, and the scrapbooks are already packed so I won’t be able to scan it into the computer.

I didn’t get a new picture taken of the 2 of us when I was there in March.  I didn’t have my camera along and she wasn’t the picture of good health; unfortunately, she’s even less than the picture of good health now.  She continues to lose weight, and I’m sure the cancer continues to spread.  I’m also sure that this was her last Mother’s Day, which made me feel guilty for not being there, or for even enjoying the day with my family.
Despite medication (which she doesn’t like taking), pain continues to be a problem. I’m hoping for some relief for her in the form of certain meds that are legal in her home state.

If you know me on facebook, you will understand why I did not participate in the “post a picture of your mother” event. I simply didn’t have the heart to do it this year.  However, I didn’t have a pity party, nor did I want one.  I spent 20 minutes chatting with a few neighbors in the sunshine; half of us still had mothers to call on the telephone. That puts me in the lucky category.

Please tell me how you celebrated Mothers’ Day.

Water Towers, a childhood memory

I’ve always been fascinated by water towers and reservoirs. To get to my elementary school, I walked up a steep hill, past 2 huge cisterns, then up another hill to walk past the [open to the air but fenced in from us] reservoir. The squat cylindrical tanks looked just like 2 giant metal birthday cakes with pale pink icing, and the reservoir was a giant forbidden swimming pool on a hot day. (No, we never scaled the barbed wire fence to get in, but it sure did look inviting!) The water gushed into the reservoir from a gigantic pipe, so swift and strong that you could almost feel the power. After school as we walked down the hill, we would walk on the broad pink pipes from the grassy bank to the building itself. The metal rivets helped us keep our footing. If you put your ear to the tank, you could hear life inside in the form of swishing water.

screenshot from google maps

My kids have had the experience of walking up the steep hills from my childhood home and seeing the path I took to school as a kid, but sadly we had to forgo the experience of walking on the water pipes. These days,  the tanks are fenced off from young children and those who would inflict vandalism.

More on water towers this week…

Generation “?”

Quilly asked me recently if I knew what a transistor radio was…  LOL, I am very familiar with transistor radios. As a child, I would slip my own little transistor radio under my pillow; after the lights were out, I would lay my ear over the speaker and listen to music until I was sleepy.

My dad bought a really cheap car (Plymouth Horizon Miser) when I was a young teen. The “Miser” edition — and yes, it was really called that! — didn’t come with a radio. Instead, he set a little transistor radio in the passenger seat, which would go flying off onto the floorboard every time he took a sharp corner.

Yes, I am old enough to remember transistor radios. I’m also old enough to have dialed a rotary phone through much of my childhood. In addition, I wore bell-bottoms (granted, they were hand-me-downs and slightly out of fashion) and learned to type on an actual typewriter (with carbon copies and liquid white-out).   If you’ve never had to use carbon copies, you don’t know how good you have it!
I have a somewhat sketchy memory but I do remember watching the first man on the moon — pretty impressive on our black-and-white TV!  My family owned a newer television set in time for Watergate, and I watched Nixon resign in color.
However, I was not yet alive when Kennedy was assassinated. To me, that is the marking of the end of the baby boomer generation. If you do not have that memory, you don’t really fit in with most Baby Boomers.  (Back in the mid-to-late ’80’s, there was an sure-fire way to make a Baby Boomer feel old: go out for drinks,  let them all talk about where they were when Kennedy was shot, and then tell them you weren’t born yet.)

Gen X-ers follow the Baby Boomers, so by definition, I am supposedly part of Generation X. I have read that Generation X ends with the last people to remember the Cold War, the Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the death of Kurt Cobain — and to have those things all mean something personally.

Cold War, check (I no longer think Russia will wipe us out with WWIII).
Challenger, check (I was at college, eating breakfast in front of the big screen TV to watch happy history being made… and then watched in horror).
Berlin Wall, check (you couldn’t pull me away from the TV – I watched the live images with tears streaming down my cheeks).
Kurt Cobain, ….  I didn’t even know the name until all of the publicity surrounding his death. To write this, I had to google him. So I feel a little lost with that last descriptor.  It makes me feel like I don’t really fit in with Generation X any more than I fit in with the Baby Boomers.   I didn’t rage against the machine. Grunge music* came into being after I went to college and was working to support myself. While I did wear flannel shirts in high school, they weren’t popular yet, just comfortable.  I had to buy them in the boys department at non-trendy shops because they weren’t sold everywhere.   It’s true, I wore flannel before it was popular and bell bottoms after they went out of style. I’m perpetually “off” fashion.

I guess that makes me part of a “lost generation” or something like that… those couple of years where we don’t really fit in either generation. There are probably some people born between Gen X and Gen Y that feel the same way.

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*Small claim to fame: I graduated with someone who went on to become a member of Pearl Jam.

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Where do you fit in? Tell me about your generation.

Thank you, Hilary!

Musical Monday: Holding on to The Dream

When my kids were young, they assured me that they weren’t white. They pointed out that they were “beige” and some of their friends had “light brown” or “dark brown” skin.
We are all Colored People.

I love this video — both the music and images.  (Unfortunately, you’ll have to click through. EMI and Vevo make things a bit difficult.)

 

Colored People

Pardon me, your epidermis is showing
I couldn't help but note your shade of melanin
I tip my hat to the colorful arrangement
Cause I see (the) beauty in the tones of our skin
We gotta come together, and thank the maker of us all

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

A piece of canvas is only the beginning
It takes on character with every loving stroke
This thing of beauty is the passion of an artist's heart
By God's design, we are a skin kaleidoscope
We gotta come together, aren't we all human after all?

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
'Cause we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

Ignorance has wronged some races
And vengeance is the Lord's
If we aspire to share this space
Repentance is the cure
Repentance is the cure

Well, just a day in the shoes of a color blind man
Should make it easy for you to see
That these diverse tones do more than cover our bones
As a part of our anatomy

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
'Cause we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

We're colored people and they call us the human race
We're colored people and we've all got to share this space
We're colored people and we live in a tainted world
(red, yellow, black, and white)
We're colored people, every man, woman, boy, and girl

Shed a Little Light

The group I sing with on Sundays has been practicing this song for a few months. We sang our version this morning, just one week and one day shy of the day we –as a nation– set aside time to remember and honor the contributions of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The song actually ends at the 4-minute mark; after that, JT takes time to introduce his band.  I wish I had a video of our group singing, but I don’t.
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What we didn’t know when we picked this song was what was going to happen in Arizona yesterday. We didn’t know that our pastor was going to preach about,  didn’t expect to hear a message specifically about a faith-based perspective on how to make sense of such a horrific tragedy. Being one week prior to Martin Luther King Day, I didn’t even expect to hear his name mentioned.  But much like Diana Butler Bass wrote in her blog post yesterday, these things were all addressed from the pulpit (in fact, the pastor quoted some of what DBB wrote). And then we sang this song that we had been practicing and planning on singing for the past several months:

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Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

Shed a little light, oh Lord
So that we can see
Just a little light, oh Lord
Wanna stand it on up
Stand it on up, oh Lord
Wanna walk it on down
Shed a little light, oh Lord

Can’t get no light from the dollar bill
Don’t give me no light from a TV screen
When I open my eyes
I wanna drink my fill
From the well on the hill
(Do you know what I mean?)

Shed a little light, oh Lord
So that we can see
Just a little light, oh Lord
Wanna stand it on up
Stand it on up, oh Lord
Wanna walk it on down
Shed a little light, oh Lord
Shed a little light

There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest

Oh, Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood

45

“We’ve got nothing to fear but fear itself”
Not pain? Not failure? Not fatal tragedy?
Not the faulty units in this mad machinery–
Not the broken contacts in emotional chemistry–
~Neil Peart

Fear. It strikes at inopportune times. Worry is the shadow that steals its way into my brain. It is late at night and I’m trying to sleep and wondering, is that a pain in my shoulder?

My paternal grandmother had a heart attack at the age of 45. I’ve been told that she was lucky to live through it. Today is my 45th birthday.

Fear has my head in a vice grip as I consider what the beginnings of a stroke might feel like… is that a headache or just my imagination?  After more minutes of worry, I get up and take an aspirin — just in case.

Fortified with reassurance that my lifeblood is now going to be flowing more easily, the shadow of worry slips away, defeated. I look out the window at the stars and realize that sleep will have to wait. I have to write.

I didn’t know my paternal grandmother very well. She lived on the complete opposite end of the country from me when I was growing up. In fact, I only remember one visit when I was about the age of ten. She was full of love and laughter and stories of the cousins I didn’t know, and more importantly, stories of my father’s childhood.  I didn’t know her very well at all, but I loved her.

I have precious few photographs of my grandmother; I also have a packet of her writings. She wrote prose and poetry. If she were 45 years old today, I suspect she would be blogging.

And now this stream of consciousness brings me to a place of peace, for I have moved from fear (quite reasonable fear, as we share more than a love of writing — we share genes and body type) to warm memories. I hear the ticking of the clock, but it no longer sounds like the ticking of a time bomb.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
~Psalm 23:4

My husband is retiring this summer. He is going to become my personal chef and trainer, and together we are going to accomplish what I have been unable to accomplish on my own: successful weight loss, increased health and fitness. He might even blog it.