It has been three and a half years since my mother passed away.
A few weeks ago my father wanted to visit my mother’s grave. In the first year after she passed, I had tried several times to get him to go.
His way of dealing with grief was avoidance.
I would ask him if he wanted to bring flowers to her grave. He wouldn’t hear me.
I would ask again. He would change the subject.
I would ask again. No response.
On the first anniversary of her death, I bought a small pot of pansies and asked Bud to drop my father and I at the cemetery before church. Slowly we started down the path, but when it came time to turn towards the Columbarium, my father picked up his pace and headed straight for the church.
Alone I set the flowers I had bought for her at the base of the Columbarium,
Blessed are those who grieve.
Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
The difference between grieving and mourning is this: grief is private, but mourning is the outward expression of grief that allows a person to move forward.
Grief is the emotional reaction to a loss, while mourning is learning to live again.
Grief muddles the mind, but mourning begins to put things back in place.
Grief is the raw emotions that say things will never be right again.
Mourning reflects on what was and what will never be again, and then works to deal with that void.
About a month ago, my father asked to bring flowers to my mother’s grave.
“Can I see where she’s buried?” he asked.
He didn’t remember ever going there before, so I showed him pictures from her interment.
The avoidance had finally passed. He was ready.
I purchased a bouquet and tied an orange ribbon on it. My mother always liked orange.
We drove to town and I parked as close as I could to the Columbarium. He picked his way along the dirt and gravel path that led there, struggling with his walker, while I struggled to hold the bouquet and keep my arm supporting him.
Silently we stood before the gray granite corner of the Columbarium.
“Is this it?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, and showed him my mother’s name carved in the granite.
“Can you take a picture of it?”
Blessed are those who grieve, for they have loved deeply.
And blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who forgive
who seventy times seven turn their cheek
Blessed are those who hold no records of wrongs done to them
who run the tally sheets through the shredder
and then burn them
just to be sure they are gone
Blessed are those who let go of anger
and frustration with others
who hold people with open hands
like the fragile beings that we are
For they shall see God
in the faces of those
they have forgiven.
Blessed are the devoted,
the ones who, driven by love,
have the daily dogged determination to show up.
The seeds sown and tended by their actions
will bear much fruit.
My father was a model of devotion.
Twice a day, every day, he visited my mother when she was in the nursing home.
On sunny days, he pushed her in her wheelchair into the courtyard where they sat, often in silence, because my mother had lost the ability to converse.
Some days, he pushed her in her wheelchair through the halls to the planned activities — the concerts, the sing-alongs, balloon baseball, or bowling.
Every day, he sat with her for her meals, making sure she ate.
When his driving became such that people spoke to me about it, I drove him there. Or my brother drove him. But he always went.
His example that made a deep impression on me.
Blessed are the devoted.
Blessed also are the witnesses to such devotion.
Blessed are the Calm
the ones who keep their head
and assess the situation,
for they will be able to make a plan
where chaos reigns.
As the smell of baking bread
permeates the house,
so the aura of a calm person
can soothe those around them
in times of turmoil.
Recently my brother-in-law had an unfortunate interaction with a chainsaw. He was cutting wood a short distance from his house when the chainsaw hit a knot and kicked back into his face.
Dazed, he walked back to the house. My sister-in-law looked out the window and saw him coming, his face buried in the crook of his arm. She saw the blood on his shirt and thought, “Oh dear, he has a bloody nose.”
Their daughter was outside. She looked at her father and immediately called, “Mom! Come quick!”
My sister-in-law is a nurse and used to work in a NICU. She hurried down and asked her husband to take his hand away from his face so she could see what had happened. He did.
“Okay,” she said, and smiled sweetly. “Put your arm back up there,” she told him.
As she told the story to me, she added, “I knew it was important that I stay calm and upbeat. I didn’t let him know how terrible it looked.”
They called 9-1-1.
“Wouldn’t it have been faster for you to just drive him to the hospital?” I asked.
“I was worried he would go into shock,” she replied.
A calm head. A calm assessment. A calm plan.
A few days after the accident, they sent out an “after” picture — meaning after the reconstruction and the gazillion stitches. We passed the phone around the dinner table and looked at the photo, everyone having the same reaction — a nod, and a it’s-not-that-bad.
Bud asked to see the “before” picture, and his brother sent it to him.
When Bud got it, he asked me, “Do you want to see it?”
“Uh — no,” I told him. “You can’t unsee things.”
He looked at the photo.
“Good choice,” he said to me.
My sister-in-law stayed calm after seeing the “before.” It helped everyone, from her husband and daughter, to the volunteer ambulance crew.
Blessed indeed are the calm.
Blessed are those who work behind the scenes —
the line cooks,
and the sous chefs,
the delivery truck drivers,
and the shelf-stockers,
the shut-ins who pray,
but say, “I wish I could do more,”
the gardener who weeds
making the garden beautiful
by removing the unsightly,
knowing most people will only notice
where he fails to do his job.
Blessed are the set-changers
and the prop placers,
the page-turner for the pianist,
the trash emptiers,
and the little man with the push broom
who sweeps the last of the refuse in the dust pan
before shutting off the light
and closing the door.
Each small act
by the One who sees all.
All work can be an act of worship.
Blessed are the advocates
and the whistle-blowers
for their shaky-kneed courage.
They shall hear the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
A week or two ago, a friend posted an urgent prayer request. She had reported an abusive situation and was summoned to a meeting with the higher-ups of the organization.
She had posted her prayer request the previous night but I didn’t see it until early in the morning. I had just finished my prayer and reading time so the Beatitudes were fresh in my mind.
I prayed for my friend, and for the abused and the abuser, for the meeting. I felt overwhelmed with emotion for what she had ahead of her that day.
In a comment to her post letting her know that I was praying, I wrote the beatitude above. I knew that if I was in that situation I would need to be reminded why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s so much easier not to stick your neck out.
But God calls us to care for the least of these and to advocate for the person who can’t advocate for themself.
I’m sure He will someday say to her, “Well done.”
Over eight years ago, I started writing in this little corner of the internet with nothing more than a silly name and a struggle to understand my mother’s dementia.
I wrote nearly every day. It was as if some unseen floodgate opened. A tidal wave of stored-up words poured out.
Three years later, at Laity Lodge, I shyly told a then-new-now-old friend about my blog.
“How often do you write?” she asked.
“Every day,” I replied.
“Every day?!” she repeated.
I realized then that blogging every day isn’t normal. Or expected. I started giving myself more permission to skip days.
Over the years, though, I wrote about my mother’s decline, my father’s health struggles, my brother’s death, my mother’s death, my children, my grandchildren, my husband. I wrote about writing. I wrote about spiritual things. I wrote when I was angry, sad, confused, grieving, joyful, content, challenged.
It’s rare when I write these days. I have 255 drafts in my draft folder today.
I start. I stop. I think it’s all stupid. A few days pass, and I repeat the process. 255 times.
The exception to my lack of posting has been April’s A-to-Z Challenge. Give me a task and a schedule, and I’m much more likely to get something done.
Lately, in the mornings, I’ve been thinking on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5 — the Blessed-are-the’s). I’ve also been doing some local research.
I don’t know what a V.P. in deportment is and I don’t think the punctuality prize is awarded anymore. But the Ruggles Essay contest — where every student in the Junior class writes an essay on the topic of their choice and the top essays are read to the entire student body who votes on the winner — is still going on today. (The earliest account of the Ruggles’ Essay contest that I could find was 1896, but it could precede that date.)
My favorite of Emily’s Beatitudes was #6 — “Blessed are they who knowing nothing do not give you wordy evidence of the fact” — probably because it’s one of my biggest fears as a writer.
All this is to say that for June, I’ll be sharing an A-to-Z of beatitudes.
Or at least I’ll be trying.
Either my draft folder will expand to 281 or I’ll give you wordy evidence of the nothing I know.
Nahla had grown up in another culture, one that didn’t have access to swimming pools and swimming lessons. She wasn’t the person who started me thinking about immigration, but it has been weighing on my mind. I’m too much of a news junky not to think about it, but I’m always frustrated with the one-sided telling of the story.
“What do you think of immigration?” I asked a wise friend a few days later.
Jonathan paused before he answered me. “That’s a big question,” he said.
I had made a quick trip to Washington, DC, and gotten together with some people I know from Hutchmoot. I knew that I would get a thoughtful answer.
My own experience is limited. It is, perhaps, a downfall of living in a small, rural community. A few weeks of international travel opened my eyes, but certainly has not made me an expert on much of anything.
Doug, the other person at the mini-moot in Washington, joined in by telling a story about something that had happened when he was working with refugees. Then he told a story about his father, followed by a story from Sweden. He strung the stories together with the common thread of immigration. Some revealed one side of the issue; others revealed the other.
Never once did he tell me what I should think. Nor did tell me exactly what he thought.
His and Jonathan’s stories made the topic of immigration multi-dimensional. I could walk around the issue while I thought about it — kicking the tires, tooting the horn, taking it for a test drive.
On the other hand, memes — and I feel like I’ve been inundated with memes lately — take a complex issue and flatten it into a pithy saying. Sometimes the pith is crumpled, fed into a cannon, and fired at those with opposing views. Those who agree laugh and A-men. The targets become offended and angry.
Memes are not conversation, nor are they conducive to conversation.
Last week, a picture showed up in my Instagram feed that showed a young woman holding a sign that said, “Behind millions of successful women is a an abortion they don’t regret.” Frankly, I found it offensive.
I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who do have regrets about their abortion.
I thought, I’d love to introduce you to some women who didn’t choose to have the abortion, and yet are still successful.”
And how do you measure success anyway?
Then I thought about the fact that the woman holding the poster has a story, too. I need to hear her story — with open ears and an open mind. She probably won’t change mine, and I won’t change hers, but we’ll be one step closer to understanding each other.
I thought about the pro-lifers who wave posters showing gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses. I’ve wanted to tell them about my friend who 30-some years ago had a late-term abortion because complications with the pregnancy were causing her kidneys to shut down. She and her husband had to make a Sophie’s choice. They don’t need their noses rubbed in it.
Oh, how we need to hear each other’s stories!
So I stand in the teaching pool, gently supporting Nahla’s back, encouraging her that it’s okay because I’m right there in the water with her.
A thousand thoughts run through my head — thoughts on immigration and fear and courage and the struggles women have and how grateful I am for this moment.
Mostly, that’s it — I’m grateful.
This morning I received a notification — “You have a new memory.” I laugh at those notifications. They seem so silly.
New memories — pshaw. Memories are, by their very nature, sort of oldish.
This morning, though, I paused to look at my “new” memory.
Two years ago today, I first heard the story of British gliders landing in Normandy to take the Pegasus Bridge — gliders whose pilots used stopwatches and compasses to navigate, some landing a mere 47 yards from their objective. I’m still amazed at that feat.
Two years ago today, I stood in the Canadian cemetery in Normandy, France, and grieved for those young men whose names were carved in the stones there. So brave. So young. But such a beautiful place.
Five years ago today, I was watching Karl play tennis. He and his partner, Michael, were killing it.
I didn’t need a photo app on my phone or Facebook to remind me of that memory. I woke up thinking of him. (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HENRY!!)
On the other hand, my father needed the memory prompts.
“Remember our trip to Normandy,” I asked him.
“When was that?” he replied.
“Two years ago today we went on our first tour.”
I handed him the photo book and memorabilia I had put together from that trip.
His eyes grew misty as he leafed through it all. He carefully unfolded the maps of the cemeteries and of Paris, studied them, and then folded and placed them back in the pocket of the book. I couldn’t tell if he remembered or not.
“That was a good trip,” he said.
It was a good trip.
As we travel down this other road of forgetting who, what, and how, I often think, We’ll always have Normandy (and Paris, I suppose).