life

Meanie

Read this quick ‘cuz I might chicken out…

It was a scheme, “a manipulation,” as he called it. My mom sent him to the store for a small standing rib roast. Enough to feed four.

Instead he came home with a large four-ribber. ‘Cuz he likes lots of company.

So we received a late Saturday night invitation to come for Sunday dinner. And who are we to turn down a meal? Especially at my mom’s. Especially when it’s prime rib.

My mom says she’s too old to have everyone over for dinner at the same time anymore. She did it at Christmas and it wiped her out. So now she’s inviting one or two of her daughters and their spouses at a time.

It was going to be a nice, quiet, laid-back Sunday dinner and I was looking forward to it.

Mom was in the kitchen busily attending to the roast, au gratin potatoes and brussels sprouts (all delicious) when we arrived. The other sister was already there, glass of wine in hand, snacking on cheese and crackers.

I was just standing around so I offered to make the salad.

The conversation was lighthearted and jovial. In all her bustling around the kitchen, my mom lost track of her wine glass.  She went on a focused mission to find it and joked about needing it. I joked back. Something like, “Yeah ‘cuz you’ve always been such a heavy drinker.”

That’s when meanie sidled up next to me, my cutting board, my dull pairing knife (note to self: buy the woman who has everything but a good knife a good knife) and the tomato I was chopping and said, “There’s something that mom and all the rest of us know that you don’t seem to know and it’s this: There’s always an element of truth in every joking thing that is said.”

There might be an element of truth in every joke, I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it, but there is not an element of truth in every statement that is made in a joking manner.

“I disagree,” I replied. “Because I am 100% certain that I do not think mom is a heavy drinker. Never have. Because she’s not.  Have you ever heard of irony? It’s a device of humor.”

And get away from me and my cutting board.

“Actually,” I went on, “I would never joke about something that I thought was true.” (I might bring it up to the person privately, but I wouldn’t joke about it publicly.) “With me, you need to be more concerned about what I don’t say (the things I only think, like the thing in italics above) than about what I say. I’ve always been that way.”

“Yes,” she purred with a self-satisfied grin, “I’ve suspected and counted on that all these years, with all the mean things you’ve said.”

What? The queen of mean is accusing me?

Why does she always have to slither up and try to spoil the evening? She didn’t/doesn’t ever completely spoil it – she only succeeds in imparting a bit of a rancid aftertaste, but she sure tries.

I suppose things haven’t changed since childhood, when she was bent on having ALL mom’s love.  Six sisters, but she wanted it all.

I used to think, There’s enough to go around. People don’t possess a finite amount of love that runs out.  So chill, there’s enough for all of us.

Why is/was that so impossible for her to understand?

Fortunately, and of course, the same goes for God. A countless multitude of us will be standing victoriously, gratefully, and lovingly at His throne and each one of us is (not will be) loved right back.

I’ll keep praying for little miss meanie and hope I get paired with someone else next time.

(And I’ll hope she never reads my blog. Because this time I didn’t just think it, I wrote it.)

And I’m not joking.

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faith, Jesus, life

Great Expectations

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C called early in the morning on Saturday, August 22.  She asked whether I was planning to visit Laura that day.  I was just getting ready to head over there.  Friday had been a very rough day, Laura had been very angry and C was concerned that Laura was losing her faith.  C had been staying at Laura’s house overnight all week to help care for her.  She was taking the weekend off and she wanted me to talk to Laura.

Laura and C shared spirituality.  Many of their visits over the course of Laura’s illness included discussions of authors who write spiritual things – borrowing concepts and even direct quotes from the Bible, but usually not giving the Bible credit.  When they spoke, they spoke of the universe giving good things.

Laura and I shared faith in God.  When it was just the two of us, we talked about peace, prayer and healing.  We spoke of God giving good things.

When C and I visited together, which was often the case, the conversation was a hybrid of faith specifically in God and general spirituality.  I didn’t split hairs because it is the Holy Spirit’s job to guide each of us into all Truth, not mine.  I just conversed according to what I believe.

When I got to Laura’s that morning, there was no sign of physical, emotional or spiritual distress.    She raised her head slightly, waved at me and smiled when I entered.

Her husband told me that he had read to her the night before from one of Gary Zukav’s books.  He told her she was going to be a spirit guide for others.  Her husband likes American Indian spirituality.  It seemed to have brought her peace.

A little while later I asked her whether she had been talking to God.  She nodded yes.  I asked whether God had been talking to her.  She nodded yes and then whispered, “Somewhat.”

Then she lifted her head, and with more strength to her voice, asked, “Do you know?”

“Do I know what?,” I asked smiling.

She waived her hand as if to say, “Never mind.”

“No, Laura, I want to understand and I am in no hurry, so take your time and tell me.”

“It can wait,” she smiled.

She was weak and she slept a lot that day, but she appeared at peace.

I stayed home Sunday.  I knew she would have a lot of visitors.  Too many visitors, I guess, and a lot of back and hip pain.

Monday she slept all day.

Tuesday my mom and I rubbed her legs.  I whispered good-bye at the end of the day, whispered, “I love you so much, you are so wonderful.”  She whispered, “I love you, too.”

Those were her last words to me.

Wednesday morning I received a text from C.  She asked me not to come for awhile because the hospice nurse was coming at 11 to put in a port for a morphine drip.  Laura was in distress. Her husband had gotten little sleep.  He had been administering pain meds every four hours.  Hospice came at 3 am to help.

C woke up at 6 that morning to the sound of moaning and tearless crying – a very disturbing sound.  The hospice nurse returned and said she didn’t think Laura was in pain, since the increased morphine didn’t seem to be making a difference.  She gave her Ativan, which calmed her down.

She was unresponsive when I arrived just after noon.  She died just after 2:30.

I thanked the hospice nurse as we both walked to our cars.  She said Laura was a real fighter.

The hub had to leave the visitation early to feed the friends so C gave my daughter and me a ride home.  It was our first chance to really talk since Laura’s passing. I asked her about Wednesday morning.  I shared that sometimes a side effect of morphine is nightmares.  Did she think Laura was having a nightmare?

“No, she just seemed pissed.”

C went on to say that she had been having a hard time with it.  She expected Laura to go peacefully but perhaps her expectations were faulty and that what transpired was just life.

I said I expected her to go peacefully, too.

And as we drove along I silently thought about those expectations.  I thought about the stories I heard over the years from friends as they sat with dying parents.  Stories of hymn singing and final moments of suddenly brightened faces and words of greetings to loved ones who had gone before.

And that’s what I imagined.  I imagined Laura’s face suddenly lighting up and her mouth uttering a joyful, “Hi dad!”

But there were no words.  Only a silent, sleeping face, labored breathing and then no breathing at all.

I sat in the passenger seat wondering whether Laura’s hybrid faith had been enough.  There was plenty of evidence that it was – all the conversations we had had, her firm assurance that she was going to heaven, that everything was going to be okay.  She said she had accepted it, that she was ready.

So why was she so angry on the morning of her death?  C thought it was because she wasn’t really ready when it came right down to it.  I thought maybe she was angry that her very well-meaning husband was giving her pain meds every four hours that she didn’t want, didn’t need.  That would be so Laura.

The obituary said she died peacefully, surrounded by her family.  Is it really dying peacefully if it is a drug-induced peace?  I thought about all the times I’ve read those words in the obituaries of others.  Were they all lying?

But I didn’t say anything.  I just wondered whether a completely peaceful passing is only had by those who are surrounded by hymn singing.  Spirituality doesn’t seem to get the job done.

In those last days I had suggested putting on some soft music.  Laura’s husband gave me a stack of her favorite CDs, none of which contained spiritual songs.  I wish I had been bold enough to bring over some of mine, bold enough to risk offending everyone but her.  In one of our last conversations Laura asked me about my church and she said she missed the singing.  She had a beautiful voice.  Looking back now, I wish I had taken that statement as a request, but I didn’t make a connection.  Now I’m regretting my cluelessness.  If I weren’t so vocally challenged, I would have certainly sung her some hymns.

When Laura was still alive, I felt her.  I felt her spirit when I was sitting with her in her living room and I felt her spirit when I was at home.  I carried her with me every minute.

But after she died it seemed her spirit had been obliterated.

I didn’t feel her at the visitation.

I didn’t feel her at the funeral or at the luncheon at her house after the funeral.

And I wondered whether a hybrid of faith and spirituality is enough.

Her daughter asked if any of us Aunties would be willing to read at the funeral. I said I would.  I assumed she would have me read a portion of Scripture.  But when I was handed my script at visitation, I saw that I was to commend her spirit to the “Spirit of Life”, while having the attendees repeat some meaningless words.  I couldn’t do it so I bowed out.

His name is Jesus.

I don’t know the Spirit of Life to which the script was referring, I only know Jesus.  There is no other Name by which we are saved.

So I left the funeral kinda’ mad at my family.  Mad that Laura’s funeral was performed entirely by people who don’t know God.  Mad that the only mention of Him at all was in the showing of Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill’s video performance of  “How Great Thou Art” – shown only by Laura’s request.  Mad that the eulogy included no mention of her faith.  I felt like her faith had been ripped from her; like she had been ripped off.  And I was mad that she was nowhere to be found.

It wasn’t an ordinary, on-the-surface mad, it was an unusual, vague, deep-within-my-spirit kind of mad.

During my conversations with Laura, I rested in the thought that faith + anything else is still faith.  Driving home from the funeral I wondered if that was a faulty equation.

Disturbed and disheartened I wrote His Name is Jesus and then I asked God to tell me something, show me something about Laura.

Late that night, just after I had gotten into bed, I felt her beside me.  Suddenly, there was a slight shimmer in the room and I could feel her spirit; my heart could see her broad, beautiful smile.  Her smile filled the room.  And I knew without a doubt that she is okay.  I can feel her again.

Jesus died on a Friday and no one saw any sign of Him until Sunday.  Laura died on a Wednesday and I didn’t see any sign of her until Saturday night.  Maybe we’re really busy for a few days when we arrive in heaven.

Perhaps we have to sign our golf card before we can celebrate.

Laura was in my dream the other night.  It was so good to see her.  In the dream, she was looking through a book – perhaps a photo album.  She looked up at me, smiling, and said, “I really like that woman.”   And all was well with the world.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No Cliffhangers.”

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life

Memories for a Eulogy, For Now…

It was right there, at the entrance to the garage, that she first distinguished herself from the pack.  Up until then she just blended into the unit; one of seven.

But that day I got my first glimpse of her distinct personality.  She was doing something out there in the backyard, just inside the open door of the detached garage.  It seemed odd for her to be out there in the dusk and the cold.

So I left my vantage point at the kitchen window and tiptoed outside to see what she was up to.  She shooed me away at first, but I was insistent.

“What are you doing?”

She finally shifted her body to reveal a stray cat.  She was out there feeding it, she had been secretly sneaking it food and giving it shelter.

I found out that day that she had a heart for animals.  For strays.  And I loved her.  My love and my high regard for her were forever cemented in that moment. Even through the teen years when I was terrified to go into her bedroom in the morning to retrieve my sweater – which she had worn without asking – for fear of waking her up and enduring her wrath.

Her wrath didn’t matter.  It was scary, but it didn’t matter, because underneath it was the kindhearted soul who snuck food to a stray.

A big bully was chasing me across the playground one recess when I was in the fourth grade.  Laura – who was in sixth grade – saw what was happening and grabbed him.  In one awesome move she picked him up by his collar and pressed him against the brick school wall.  Told him to leave me alone or else.

Whoa!  Was she strong!  And she had my back.  No one had ever had my back before.  It felt good to feel protected.  I’ll never forget it.

Nor will I forget that time in high school.  Laura was already graduated and working in a doctor’s office.  I had had a severe sore throat for days – couldn’t even swallow my saliva because it was too painful.  My mom wouldn’t take me to the doctor so Laura drove me over to the office where she worked and got me a strep test and a prescription for an antibiotic.  I remember laying down in the backyard when we got home – to feel the warmth of the sun on my face – fell asleep and got a nasty sunburn.

Laura’s heart was big and protective and nurturing.

She and her husband bought some land in Harbor Springs.  They were going to retire there.  The hub and I talked about moving up there, too.  Laura and I dreamed of rescuing dogs and building greenhouses and sharing crops.

But now Laura is dying, and her daughter, M, is writing her eulogy.  M has plenty to say about her mom being a great mom, but Laura wasn’t just a mom.  So M asked the aunts to share some memories.  And that’s what I sat down to do this morning.

I spent most of the day yesterday going through old albums – scanning, cropping and enhancing photos.  The youngest of us sisters is putting together a slide show for the funeral.  We are all busy, in various ways, putting it together now, while Laura is busy dying.  It seems strange and awful, in a way, to plan her funeral while she is still alive, but it is good to be busy and we want her funeral to be awesome.  We want it to do her justice – if that were possible.

Sisters and cousins

Sisters and cousins

As I was scanning and cropping, I noticed that I wasn’t smiling in any of the photos taken when we were children – except in two.  One in which Laura had her arms around my neck, and this one – with her hands on my shoulders.  I must have felt protected.

I looked up to her and loved her so much.  The pretty, popular, brave, kindhearted, sometimes scary cheerleader.

Number 3 of 7.

I hate cancer.

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life

Bless All Your Hearts

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I read a blogger’s beautifully written ballad last night. As I read it, my heart swelled and ached with both melancholy and hope, all mingled together in a warm, tender glad-sad kind of way.

The tender love repeated in the refrain:

Wherever you are, wherever you go, you’ll always be loved. People love you, you know.

Against the loss summed up in one line:

They’d all gone before they saw her beauty unfurl.

The refrain drifted through my mind as I did my morning chores and it occurred to me:

Life mingles all kinds of lonely with all kinds of love.

My sister is coming over soon.  We are going to a farm to pick up some grass raised and finished beef.  The tagline on the farm’s sign is:  “You are what your meat eats.”  The farmer is a cordial young man who, along with his wife, is rearing two healthy, robust children.  It does my hope good to witness that kind of wholesomeness in this day and age.

Anyway, the farm is an hour and a half away by expressway, but I’m going to take the kinder, gentler back roads, which will make it an all day trip if we stop for lunch.  Plenty of time for my sister to share her lonely heart.

I pray God will fill my mouth with His blessed words.  He has already filled my heart.  And know it or not, He loves her so.

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