Thursday, June 12, 2014

Au Revoir

Well here it is. It has now been a few days short of a year since that fated night that unexpectedly changed my life forever. Last September, when I came up for air enough to go back to school and function, I made the decision that I did not want to be in this zip code when the anniversary of his death came around. Not having superb powers of concentration yet, I was reading light fiction by Maeve Binchy. Her books are all set in Ireland, and that seemed as good as any place to visit. I called my friend Sally and within a week we had booked a 10 day tour. It seemed light years away then, and yet here it is. We leave this evening for ten days.

I started this blog last year after being told several times what a terrible year it would be. I decided at that time that if that was true, then I really needed to write it down. I began writing it for myself, as a record of thoughts, feelings and changes during the year. I am amazed at the breadth of people it has reached; it is very humbling. And yet, the time has come for this blog to end. Every ending in life, be it death, divorce, job loss or whatever, needs a sense of closure. A place of peace to move forward.

Closure doesn't mean forgetting, or not reflecting on the past ever again. For me it means that I've worked really hard, really hard, this year to figure out where I go from here. Because after June 16, all the " firsts" are done. And he's still gone. And I'm still here. And if I learned anything this year it is that life is fragile and precious.

 I'm not the same person I was last June. Oh I am essentially the same, but when I look at the last year, and all I did to create a new path for myself, I am amazed. There were terrible parts where the waves of grief would literally knock me off my feet. But someone was always there to pick me up and hold me. How do you ever thank people and family enough for that? And then there were the " I Am Woman" moments, where I accomplished something like buying a new car alone, scuba diving, or household maintenance that had never been on my list of responsibility, where I actually stood a little taller. I got a little stronger so that the next wave didn't knock me down quite as hard. I learned this year to be okay by myself and to be good to myself. I created my own living space, and learned how to ask for help when I simply couldn't do something.  And I realized that my friend Sherri was right when she said it wouldn't be terrible, it would just be different. There were terrible parts to be sure, but there were magical parts as well as I forged my new path in this life.

I talked to him recently. It's true , I do that now and then, and I told him that I'm in the beginning of a new relationship that brings me laughter and joy again. I could honestly hear his loud laugh, and the words "Yes. Live." And his big hands gesturing, " Go...go."  with that huge s##t eating grin he had.

And so the year is done. Nothing changes dramatically because the year is over, but for me it marks a new beginning which will probably mean a new blog. This has been a hugely cathartic piece of my healing.

So I say to all of you reading this, and as I've said to Glenn many times in death-

au revoir.

Until we meet again.
On the journey.

Monday, June 2, 2014

June revisited.

And so it is June once again. I turned the calendar this morning and had a flood of emotions and memories.
In some ways it feels like, " Already?" But mostly it amazes and exhausts me to think of the events of  last June.

This week last year Glenn was attending Austin's eighth grade graduation, where the last formal picture I have of him was taken.  It remains one of my favorites.  I was finishing school, ready for summer and pestering him about a summer trip.  The last plan was to drive the Lake Superior trail, although he was only lukewarm on that.  I remember when he returned from that graduation, we called Chris on his birthday and said we would be down to St. Paul soon to celebrate both his and Rianna's birthday. Little did we know that his funeral would take place on Rianna's actual birthday.

Looking back at the calendar last year, this was the month his new assignment of mentoring at Emmanuel in Alexandria was to begin. He was as excited about that as anything I'd seen for a long time. He finally felt the part of spiritual leader in a parish again and he was like a duck in water.
The month before we had decided to stay here in Baxter indefinitely and there was a peace to that decision. It finally felt like home.

My mom was in the nursing home doing rehab on her broken arm. Never for a minute did I think I would visit her two weeks later in the middle of the night to tell her he was gone.

I'd like to say that last June 1st I saw it coming, but I didn't. And I don't think the card he gave me around Mothers Day was a premonition. But I do cherish it and Ariel made it into a wall hanging for me.
       From A.A. Milne-
        " If ever there is a time when we're not together...there is something you must always remember.
        You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Even if
         we're apart....I'll always be with you."

Who knew those words would prove so true last June 1st?

This will be one of my last blog entries. I always intended to keep it for a year so I would have a record. To keep it longer would mean to remain living and reflecting in the past. During this year I've come to really know and believe and accept that he is gone. And I'm still here.  We both believed that life is for the living; to be enjoyed and lived as fully as possible.

And that is my intention.

On the journey.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I have  a plaque in my foyer that belonged to my mother. It says:
DANCE like no one is watching
SING like no one is listening
LOVE like you've never been hurt before.
LIVE like heaven begins tomorrow.

One year ago tonight my daughter Emily married her true soul mate and best friend. Their path was not always easy and they each brought a young son to the new marriage. But, everyone at the wedding knew, and felt, the beauty and joy of this union. Rather than just a couple, a new family was being created.

And it was wonderful. As it turns out it was the last wedding that Glenn would officiate.  It was non traditional, mostly, and he rolled with the punches, as he always did, very well. He understood the power of a new family being joined, as we once did the same. He always loved my two children as his own. As grandparents we were proud and happy and excited about adding a new grandson, Henry, to the mix, since we loved him already.

After the formalities were over, the fun began. And that's what I'm reflecting on this evening. Dancing had become a thing of the past for G because of his many joint replacements and general arthritis. But that night? We danced like no one was watching. Remember Libby Gray Koultourides? We laughed and spun and sang and then did it all over again.  As I remember, he was quite lame for days afterwards, but he expressed no regret, as it was so fun and so joyful.

And, twenty- three days later, with no warning,  he was dead.

So the words of this plaque my mom had, ring so true to me now.
DANCE! SING! LOVE!  It's all waiting for you; don't sit it out.
But the most important line on that plaque?
 Because heaven might REALLY  begin  tomorrow.
Dancing, singing, loving and most of  all living......
On the journey.

Henry and Ryan dancing it up at the wedding.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Lucky Mom

Mothers Day is the traditional holiday in which to honor one's mother. It is a very old holiday and one that G used to call " National Guilt Day."

But today I feel like it's not about me being a mother, but celebrating these wonderful adults I call my children. 

I have been sitting here reflecting on my relationship with them both, this past hard year. I have always been close to my kids, but more in a traditional mother/ child relationship. Always I worried about them, sometimes I drove them crazy, but always I knew they loved me.

The roles reversed a bit in the events of last summer, and they became the protectors and worriers of me. As my brother said, " They really stepped up to the plate." Indeed they did.

In the early months, I spent most weekends hanging out with either one of them. I had a permanently packed bag and a dog crate in my car all the time. I was a weekly fixture at one or the other's home. Thank you Paul and Rianna for welcoming your mother- in- law so warmly.

There is a saying about silver linings. My silver lining is that now, almost a year later, I know my children and their spouses as the adults they have become, and not just as their mom. They are my friends and my family and I am so proud of them. And my how I like them. I can always count on laughing when I am with them. 

And so on this Mother's Day I'm actually honoring my children. Thank you for all you have done for me and for the fabulous and loving people you have become. 

Being part of your lives has been the best gift I've ever received. 

On the journey.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Livin' The Dream

Today was my last day at work for this school year. Friday morning at 7:00 I am having a sacrocolpolplexy(sp?)  a big word for "let's yank it all up and tie it  back together" from childbirth  injuries, endometriosis, a hysterectomy and gravity.  The surgery is being done with a robot assist(!) at a hospital in Minneapolis. Bless my children in advance for their caregiving.

No one I have ever met in my life has aspired from an early age to teach eighth grade. In fact, we joke that other people's reactions are either, " What?? Eighth grade? Is that the only job you could get?" Or, " Oh....eighth I'm sorry."  Which is why, among my colleagues, we often answer each other when greeted with, " Hey!  How are ya?" by replying,
 " Livin' the dream."

But sometimes it's really true for me. As others, I thought my career in education would land me in an elementary classroom, and I did teach sixth grade for a time, after a brief sojourn in eighth grade. Every grade level has it's positive sides, but when I returned to eighth grade seven years ago, I knew it was where I belonged.  At Forestview Middle School, there is a strong camaraderie among the staff in eighth grade, and truly, many of them have become my surrogate family, especially this last year. At lunch last week, Misty blurted out, " You people make it too hard to look for another job somewhere." You do too MJ. Which is why I cried like a baby saying goodbye while hugging my teammate Shane, who is leaving Team 8C next year for a  new career path. He brightened up my every day. Plus he always shared his gum and his Strib with me. :) And Lisa? We couldn't even go there as you were leaving, today, could we? Tearing up, just thinking about it. And Todd S....your final act of friendship was letting me "steal" your cookie one more time at lunch.
Godspeed you three. You will be missed by me.

So today was bittersweet. My summer break begins early, but so did the goodbyes.

It's no surprise to you if you know me, that what I love about eighth grade is that at that age, it's all about the relationship. Yes, I love teaching the literature, and the history behind it and all the other pieces of eighth grade English. And yes, I hate that my job is turning into one big mandated testing curriculum.  But for me it's about the kids. And knowing them, and being teacher/mentor/parent at times/but mostly, a trusted adult that they can turn to when needed. Some years the connections aren't so strong. Some kids at this age are just pukes, as we say. And it seems to be a group mentality for the most part. This year  however, our kids are wonderful. And there were some strong connections made. And some of them grew up so much and I am so proud of who they are becoming. One boy, the kid who drives you nuts, but you also love? He suggested that I just Skype from home during 3rd hour so that I could still be the teacher. A few notes shyly taped to my desk while I was out saying,
" When I'm at school you're like my mom....I don't want you to leave." Another one said, " I wouldn't have survived eighth grade without you. You were always there for me when I was down."

And so, I move on, some of my dear friends and colleagues move on, and certainly our 8C kids move on.  Robert Frost said it well when he said, " I can sum up life in three words. It goes on."

Livin' the dream.

On the journey.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Being an Easter Person

Ever since napalm was suddenly dropped on my very orderly and contented life last June 16, I'd known this holiday was coming.
Easter. It was " our" holiday. The one we really celebrated with joy and presents and the realization that Easter is what it's all about; what WE were all about. We were Easter people; aware of God's grace in this life, and the promise of the resurrection in the next. Because of Glenn's calling and my upbringing,  I've always done the whole Lenten, Good Friday watch and that would make Easter morning all the more special. As many Christians proclaim on Easter morning, "He is Risen...The Lord is risen indeed", so did we start the day every year with that proclamation as we awoke.

I didn't do the journey this year. I just didn't have it in me. But, I knew I would be in an Episcopal church this morning, with renewed knowledge of what it means to be an Easter person. And the one I attended this year has special meaning to me. You see, my son Chris was always the church kid in our family; proud of Glenn's vocation and active in many diocesan youth programs. When he went to college, he majored in history and religion, and essentially scholarized himself out of a belief system. When Glenn died, he told me that he realized that that part of his life, which had once been so important to him, was missing. He intended to find an Episcopal church, where he could be comfortable. He made sure I knew he had no plans to go every Sunday or join the Vestry and that he still isn't "touchy-feely about it." At the time, I chuckled, thinking it was a reaction to his grief. But, he did it. He did his research and found a beautiful church home where the clergy are young and of his ultra-liberal  ethos, and where he and Rianna are both comfortable and are now members. So, although my sojourn as clergy spouse is done, I do have a wonderful place to worship with my family on occasion. Grace and promise. Being an Easter person.

The Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson ( you know he's young ...his name is Jered...and he hyphenates his wife's name and his:)) preached about being "Easter people in a Good Friday world."  Wow. That so spoke to me. I've had a Good Friday YEAR.

There was a wonderful article in a recent issue of The New York Times by David Brooks. He reflected on suffering, and the article was quoted in the sermon today as well. He says in it that often when people emerge  from suffering, they are not healed completely; they are just different.

There is truth in that. I am not the same person I was ten months ago. Glenn's sudden traumatic death, and my mother's recent death were defining moments of grief and sadness in my life. They left scars.

But he went on to say in his sermon, that although the wounds may still be visible, they do not have to define us; that by the knowledge that there is grace in this life and the next, through the risen Christ, we can have hope.

My wounds are still there. Visible in my tears sometimes.  But, being an Easter person , I know that I am also stronger, more aware, more grateful for the people in my life who I love, and full of promise and hope for the future. And assured of the next one.

Remaining an Easter person.
On the journey.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Different Journey

This has been a journey within my journey.
My mother fell critically ill while I was on vacation in Mexico in March. The day after I returned, she was returned to her assisted living facility under the care of hospice. She knew, and we knew that it was the end.  I made the conscious decision to stay with her for her final journey, and I did , with help from my brother and friends. At the very end, at 1:53 a.m on March 24, she gave " the whisper of death" as I sang every hymn she loved,, and prayed every prayer I could find, and held her hand. And  although it was not a surprise, it still was. I went home numbly.  It was such a different experience than Glenn's death that I wasn't sure how to respond or how to feel.  I spent many hours reliving his death and loss again mixed with pure grief for my mom. It was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began.
We decided for many reasons to wait almost three weeks for her funeral and burial in Milwaukee.
During those weeks, it was incredibly hard to carry on in life and work as if everything was normal. Apparently my brother had the same experience. He would awaken in the night and hear the Louis Armstrong songs we played for her in his head, over and over.
She had left such explicit directions of what she wanted, and what hymns were to be sung  and where she wanted the service, and what was to be done with her cremains,  that it became part of the journey to make sure it all happened as she wished. I was committed to honoring her final wishes.
And so, on Thursday afternoon I stopped by the funeral home and picked up her cremains, lovingly put them in my carry on (yes I checked with the airline) and began the journey that I considered to be taking her physical self home to rest in eternity with my dad. I believe her spiritual self is already there, of course. On Friday morning my brother wanted a turn carrying the box too as went to deliver them to be comingled with my dad. He felt the same sense of a journey I think.
But, if there  is such a thing as a joyous, or "fun" funeral, this was it. It was a service of celebration and remembering,and the time leading up to it, and afterwards were times of laughter, and remembering and quality time spent with lifetime friends and family. Ryan and Henry were on " hug alert" in case Grammy got sad and needed one.  I'm humbled by the effort that my friends the Boos' and Erica and her mom made by driving from Brainerd, and by my oldest and dearest friend Sue Moynahan by flying in from California.
I expected it to be difficult because it was held in the church Glenn and I married in, the church where he did hundreds of services, and I did choke up a bit. His absence was felt when I walked in.  But so was his presence. And hers. They were both there.
And when I look at the pictures I took,  everyone is happy and smiling and celebrating her life.
Which is exactly, exactly what she would have loved. Every now and then I kept expecting to turn to her and say, " Isn't this great?" And when I got home, I wanted to call her and tell her what a wonderful weekend we had for her. Those will be my new normals to adjust to.
My mom sincerely believed that she had been blessed above all and that she had had a perfect life. That's why she told me not to grieve for her. That's not possible, but the whole weekend reminded me of her favorite saying. She had a big sticker on her mirror in the apartment where she lived before assisted living.
It said, " LIFE IS GOOD."
Yes it is. It is indeed. You taught us what that meant.
RIP Mom.
On the journey.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Safe Spot.

I've been diving three times. This does not make me an expert at any level. But, I do know that there is a spot before emerging and breathing independently, where a diver must pause for a bit in order to release the nitrogen build up. I believe it is called the "safe spot."

I am in that spot right now. My mother has been dead for more than a week. And yet, her funeral is still nine days away. Last Friday night my children and I hosted a reception in her honor for her local friends. She would have loved it, but it wasn't the finale. 

And so I have been back at work, because truly, what else is there to do? My friends helped me put the rest of her things  in storage tonight, so there is no need to revisit that anymore. But, although I am physically at work,  I am mentally absent. It is not a good feeling. Especially as I prepare for state testing next week. 

I'm not very connected to life right now.
I'm not sure where I am, but I haven't emerged to the surface yet. I am still underwater. 

I've had recurrences of the physical ailments I encountered from stress last summer; rashes, stomach pain, anorexia etc. Everything feels so raw.

And I've realized that loss is cumulative.  Her death compounds Glenn's death which compounds every other hurt and loss I've had. It is hard to separate them, one from another. 

And so I wait in this "safe spot". And I hope that as we complete and celebrate her life on this earth with family and friends coming from near and afar next weekend, I will emerge and take that one life affirming gasp of real air, such as happens when emerging from the deep.

On the journey.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sad Eyes

Bad day. Actually a rock bottom day. Today I was at the bottom of that abyss I swam over in Mexico, but this time I was without air. It caused me to stay in the fetal position most of the day.

Too much loss and betrayal in 9 months. I screamed, " Uncle!" "Life!You win!"

Watching Glenn die so violently and so unexpectedly last June was such a trauma. The last time I saw him at the ER, no one even bothered to take the trachea tube out of his mouth or clean the cut on his lip. I held his body which was packed in ice. There was little dignity offered to him in death.
I replayed that today over and again. He deserved so much more. 

Watching my mother die last week,was not so surprising, but traumatic nevertheless. Five days, nearly round the clock, and I couldn't help but notice that, when she died, just how ugly death is. It is not pretty.
It is lonely and traumatic, even when peaceful. 

But unlike Glenn, she received every dignity.  She was cleaned, changed and positioned to honor her self as a human. She would have liked that.. 

Early this afternoon in a casual text exchange with Sandy, I mentioned that I was rolled  in a ball, just hoping to die. Her response? , " Nope. Not gonna happen with my new dive buddy." Be over soon." 
And there she was. And I unrolled a bit. She left, I remained in the curl, but a little hopelessness left me.
Chris and her wife Karole instructed me to " come over  in PJ's and with Boo" I did. Surrounded by love and empowerment.
My friendships are biblical. 
My son Chris called my friend Chris this evening,  concerned over my well being, knowing I was with them.
I think she said that I wasokay, but that I had sad eyes.
I do. 
Sad eyes.
On the journey.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

There will be peace

What a difference a day makes.

Last night I wrote about anger and frustration that my mother was losing dignity on her journey out of this world. It was writing born of grief, exhaustion and ultimately, love for my mom. I concentrate on being authentic in all parts of my life, but especially here, a written record of this magical year.
My friend pointed out that we get so caught up in watching the clock, instead of relaxing and realizing that the forces of nature will  prevail when the time is right. She will cross over when it is meant to be over.  "Enough is a feast", in the words of the late  Rev. Deb Celley.
My sense of spirituality does not believe that we are puppets on God's strings. God  will welcome us with wide open arms when we cross over, but until then, our imperfect bodies will determine when and how. It is part of my belief in the ultimate gift of free will.
And so today was a blessed day. Blessed. Peace filled.I will never forget my brother suggesting that we hold her and pray the Lords Prayer. We aren't that kind of family. We have private faith traditions. It was so powerful. And how he waited until the absolute last minute to go before he had to say his final goodbye to our mom. It was crushingly tender to witness. The three days that we spent together were a precious time , where we were just those two kids eating Butterfinger candy bars again, and laughing at ridiculous things. It was sacred time that will never be repeated. 
Tonight I came home at a reasonable hour. Before I left I sang my mom out the door if she chooses to go while I'm away. Being a church organist's daughter I know all her old time favorites I grew up hearing. I truly believe she heard me. I do. It was sacred.
So, tonight, rather than feeling angry about my mom's struggle, I am treasuring it. I've had lots of time to work through her loss while she lies unresponsive. Hers will be a beautiful death, if there is such a thing.
Some of her last words to me were that I shouldn't grieve for her; I said "As if". Hah! But I understand what she means. Her death will be correct and in order and grace filled.
On the journey.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Snake Belly Night

The other night I wrote about my mother leaving this life graciously. She was headed that way. She was ready. The stages were coming in order. I honored her after she became non verbal by making sure she had every comfort that I could provide. She even smelled like her for Pete's sake.. You see,every day at 4:30 my mother would completely change her clothes, reapply fresh make up and spray on Shalimar in preparation for my dad's arrival home from work. It was a different era. But that is what she always smelled like, and it is comforting to us all.

I said everything I needed to say. My daughter rushed up to say one more goodbye and support me on Wednesday.  I told my brother on Thursday as he traveled that he probably wasn't going to make it in time, but he did. We settled in in tears and with the desire to make our precious mother's passing the way she lived in life.

We played her music. We gave her permission. We thanked her. We reminded her of funny childhood stories. We assured her of our belief in life eternal and that all her trials would be over. We told her to look for our father, and Glenn and her parents and especially Jesus. We celebrated that she lived for 3 weeks shy of 90! What a great, productive life she had. Over and again. Last night we even treated ourselves to a drink of Kentucky bourbon in her honor (her birth place) in her presence, and brought up memories of her precious parents. We reminded her she would soon join them.

But tonight, as Glenn used to say, "I'm lower than a snake's belly."( He had a cache of sayings like that.) And my brother Chris, my childhood pal and protector, is suffering too. He has to leave tomorrow at 4:00 . It feels incomplete for him, and he feels badly leaving me here to work through the final moments and events alone.

Part of my sadness is that I'm worn down. I can't tell if my tears are from exhaustion, pity or grief. And yet, I believe strongly that a loved one's going out should be everything the living can practically provide,  to make it as intimate as it is to be born into this world. And part of that is going out surrounded in love.

I'm home tonight because we have reached the point that we believe she is gone somewhere already. Her essence is missing. And it hurts to watch that more than it will when her body is completely gone I think. I will go back if they call tonight and certainly I will return in the early morning.

 But right  now, my proud  beautiful mother looks  like a marionette doll that is waiting for the puppeteer to bring life back to her.
 Her face is lifeless and limp, but her body continues to breathe. It is completely breaking my heart to see her like this.

Tonight I feel raw and slightly angry at the process. At this moment, even though it is as sacred  a time as it can be, imminent death that drags on and on or unexpected death pisses me off in its seemingly careless abandon.
Irrationally I know, it feels that one should get to direct one's own damn death when the time is at hand. Like we've earned a shot at how we go out.

Yep. Snake belly night.
On the journey.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Graciously going out

My mother is dying.

I'm working valiantly on accepting the invitation to stay in the moment with her. These are, after all, the last moments I will share with her forever. And for real this time. I realized that writing would help me in that pursuit, since it is ultimately how I process my life and my thoughts most effectively.
The act of dying is such a mystery to me. Some  of us, like Glenn, complain of nausea and just die without warning, within an hour.  Others, like Momo come up to the precipice so often, and despite numerous health issues, step away from the ledge and continue on with life. That is, until this time. This time she will step over and ascend to a place of glory. It is no longer if, but when. Even she wants to know when.  When? She asks me with her eyes, or occasionally in a whisper. And when is the hardest question. My daughter Emily, used the analogy of watching a pot of water boil. You want those bubbles to appear, but when they do, the shock will still be palpable. Emily wisely told me to try to enjoy the water while waiting. Stay in the moment.

I think however, that my mother is fortunate to be going out more slowly, hard as it is. Hers has been a life well- lived , and an orderly death, of almost 90 years. The tears that have been shed from near and afar are witness to that. There is simply nothing left to say but goodbye.
 And thank you.

The hospice company left a little booklet, with helpful hints I guess, about the end. One thing that it said was to talk about what you will miss most about your loved one. I realized and told her, that I would miss having someone love me so unconditionally. Recently she always greeted me with, " I'm so glad you're here. I just like to look at you." Thank you for loving me so completely Mom, through all the journeys of my life so far. And some of mine haven't always been easy for you, I know.

My mom is one of the most gracious women I've ever known. She has spent her life inviting people into her life, and then treating them with warmth and love. She is going out in the same way she lived her life; graciously. Yesterday, while still verbal, she asked me if I didn't want a glass of wine. I declined for many reasons, not the least of which was that it was 11:00 in the morning. (Snarky friends decline your jokes:))But that is Momo. How can I serve YOU?

My friend Sally just called; of all my Brainerd friends, she knows my mother the best. She said
"Your mother is a grand lady."
Indeed she is. She is very grand.
In the moment. On the journey.

JS Bach, my mom and me.

My mom was a church organist for almost 30 years at our large Episcopal church in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  She took lessons from a prominent classical organist and worked harder at her avocation than most anyone I have ever known. She loved routine and a schedule, and her routine as I grew up, and even after I became a young adult, was to spend the morning at the church practicing for Sunday, or for a major holiday.
It must have been fate that I ended up married to a  person of the clergy, because I grew up with the weekend ending on Saturday night after dinner. My mom would carefully iron her cotta ( the white vestment musicians in classical settings wear over another vestment) and then carefully  lay out all the music for the next day. It had already been recorded on a piece of what was called then, "shirt cardboard" because it was the size of shirts that had been sent out to be laundered. At the top of each page, she wrote "Sol Deo Gloria" which is Latin for, "To the glory of God" It was her gift of herself every week.
Every Christmas Eve, our church had an extremely Anglican service at 11 pm. But the service, complete with every brass instrument and incense and choir available, was preceded by my mother's organ concert.
Being my mother, she would work tirelessly on this concert the entire year, picking out music usually as soon as the current holiday season was over. But always, there was one constant. She always ended it by performing JS Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. It is the" ski-jump"  piece of an organist's career; the music being filled with many challenging passages where one's feet and hands are all performing in alternate directions.
As a child growing up, I usually just wanted to get the whole church thing done so we could get the party started...presents you know. Here is another poignant she left for church at 8:00 or so, to get in the organ zone,  my father and I would traditionally roast chestnuts in our huge fireplace. I think that must have been after my siblings were grown, because it was strictly my dad and me, which  was a rare thing .
My job in this concert, was to be the page turner. If you grew up with me, you are smiling right now. Yep that was me up there. I learned to read music at an early age, and apparently I was the person who wouldn't make my mom nervous as her appendages were flying in different directions. It took concentration of following usually one line, so that I  would know just when to turn the 11x14 pages of the music. Usually, she gave me a signal as well, such as "ok" or "now". After a few years, her fingers knew the music so well, she could anticipate what was coming before the page was turned.
I wish I had known then what I know now. What a privilege that was.
So tonight, as I continue to keep the vigil, I played it for her. Not at the volume I wished, others live there too, but when I got it my car tonight to come home for a bit, I blasted it.
Full on. I can't believe how well I still know the music. I could conduct it and know exactly what run or musical pattern was coming next.
Memories of music.
On the journey.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rolling in the deep

     Last Thursday morning, while still in Cozumel, after an hour long boat ride out to a spot in the Carribean, I strapped two oxygen tanks containing 3000 pounds of air to a vest on my back, adjusted my mask and  fins and put a breathing regulator in my mouth. I hoisted myself up on the gunnel of the boat, and on the count of three, threw myself backward into the deep water.
      I wasn't completely unprepared, having taken a class two days before which taught  me techniques, safety basics and how to communicate in the deep. That day we did a " beach dive" going down about 25 feet.  
     Then came Thursday. The day of the reef dives. The day we would descend to about 40-50 feet underwater. Because I am not a certified diver, I was accompanied by a dive instructor the entire time. I knew I was safe. There was a moment, however, as I was purposefully letting the air out of my vest so that I would sink, that I wondered , just what in the hell me, a 57 year old mother and grandmother and usually sane woman, was doing. But I really did know the answer to the question. 
You see, from the time I was about 12, I have had a recurring dream that I am swimming in deep, deep rolling water. The fish are bright and iridescent and the coral beautiful.. 
    The feeling and essence of the dream though, is one of complete and utter freedom. I am always saddened to awaken from it. 
      And so, after years of hearing my friend Sandy talk about her diving experiences, and being invited and encouraged to participate, I knew my dream could become a reality. 
    And it did. It was as if I was living that dream, which in itself was overwhelming.  I think the power of what I experienced mainly,  was the melding of my conscious and subconscious minds. Contemplating THAT truly blew me away.
     My dive instructor Roberta and I had decided before going down, that the sign language expression for "beautiful" would be what I would use to express myself, since thumbs up means " I need to go up".  If you can shout in sign language, I did. Over and again. The beauty caused me to forget I was breathing underwater. 
      I can't even begin to think I could do it justice by trying to paint a word picture of what I saw. It is truly like traveling to another dimension. A life- sized aquarium. And we need to protect this earth of ours. I am a woman of faith, with my own definitions, and what I saw? Oh yes. Yes indeed. Not humanly created.
     I've been told I'm good at this and that in my life, but apparently I'm really good at, (as they say in the diving world), "air." Who knew? Because I didn't use my air too quickly, I could stay down longer.    Which is why I was able to swim as far as "the wall". It  is a reef wall(I think?) where, on the other side, there is ahuge cave, that drops down 100 plus feet. Experienced  divers  who reach the bottom, often tattoo the name of it on their body. I briefly swam above it, looking down, and it was amazing. It was, as I imagine, like being in space. It is an intense blue  and it feels as if you are gazing into the abyss.

Endless. Amazing. Glory filled.

The dive started out as the fulfillment of an unconscious dream. It became so much more. 

It became a realization of who I have become. Strong, and able to breathe when breathing is anything but natural. I choked up on thanking Roberta, who has thousands of dives under her belt. I told her that for me it was so  much more than the scenery. It was about practicing trust- I'm not very good at trusting-and I  had to trust her with my life. It became about strength- mental and physical. And it was about believing that for those two hours, I could do anything. Anything. And that as in my dream, I was completely and utterly free.

An unbelievable experience.
On the journey. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mexico, reflected

As I sit waiting to board my airplane, a day early due to my mother's worsening health, I have a chance to reflect on Mexico. I know as soon as I hit Minnesota soil, I will lose some of it, so I'm writing fast and furiously.
The real Mexico sucks you in if you are willing, open and accepting, and it will make you one of its own almost immediately. If you are perceived as a " gringo" you don't stand a chance. You will still enjoy Mexico but you will never KNOW  it.
Mexico and I were as new lovers often are. There is not enough time, smells, words, or energy to satiate. Always I looked, looked and I saw. I saw an island that is alive, 24/7. I drank in the beauty of the Caribbean with it's pristine water. I bounced in it's swells, swallowing it while waiting for the dive boat to pick us up. I tasted it.
I listened. Mexico is noisy, because being alive can be noisy at times. The cars, the taxis, the mopeds, the people speaking their beautiful language. I soaked in the sounds, as they are not the sounds I hear in my world. Street music, impromptu parades by children, music always music somewhere...these are all the sounds of Mexico. 
Mexico smells. Yes it does. It is a delicious, earthy, human  smell. At times I smelled urine as we strolled or stopped at a local outside eatery. In America I would gag...but the rest of the world smells at times. So do we , but we cover it up. It also smells of saltwater, fried food, cigarette smoke, and at times a whiff of ganja. It smells like the stuff of life. Animals are everywhere; some have owners, some belong to the street. 
Mexican people humble me.  I tried to fit into their world, their language, in my infantile ability. But I learned so much. Mexicans are not lazy. That is completely offensive to me now. There is no OSHA here, there are no pay scales, or laws on labor, or at least not the kind we employ.  Mexicans may work slowly as part of their culture in the heat, but they work all the time. All the time. I spent the week watching a young man repaint the sign for the hotel. He was on a tall ladder held together by ropes. He worked when I had breakfast and he was working in the evening. I doubt he was 18. Restaurants stay open until people stop coming. And then they start again. One place we ate could only stay open for as long as it was light out, as they operated with no power. Food was kept fresh in coolers and cooked on a stove run on a generator.
Corn tostadas , refried beans even for breakfast, fajitas, tacos and and things I couldn't pronounce were part of my diet everyday. A giant pork leg cooking over a flame would provide meat for my tacos while I watched. Fresh seafood of all kinds and chicken, lots of chicken. Why? Because it's cheap and chickens are easy to raise. Last night at what would be my last meal there, we ate at an open air stand where no one spoke English. Across the street there was a chicken, in the house. It's fate is sealed.
And I watched. I watched with no judgement, but purely with open eyes. I watched the children, passing the time while their parents worked in the shops and around the town. I watched the workers in the hotel, on the dive boat, in the street, at the animal shelter, everywhere.  And I think I saw them this week, as I am more apt to do these days. And they are amazing. 
Clean water is an issue in Mexico and the world. Most American women would cringe at the fact that around the island, you are not allowed to flush your toilet paper. Their sewage systems just can't handle the bulk  But they are trying. This morning there was a parade of school children marching in support of "Clean water for  the family".
 But there is still so far to go. Generations of people used to disposing of their biodegradable trash outside, are now met with the "new" plastics that will outlive our planet. It opened my eyes widely. There is trash everywhere. You can pick up bags full, and more will reappear the next day.
And now I am on Sun Country Airline  flying back to my world. Even after five days, it felt strange not to say "Hola" or "Buenos Dias" as I boarded the aircraft. And Cozumel? Yes I've been saying it wrong all these years. It is Coe-za- mel....not Cah-zu-mel. Always there is something to learn in this life
And so, Adios Mexico. 
My life is infinitely richer and fuller than it was a week ago
On the journey.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cozumel, again.

I've been here before. Cozumel that is. I've not mentioned it, as that Cozumel and the one I'm experiencing are very different. This one requires a Hep A shot and an Rx for an antibiotic, just in case. It is the destination, not just a " If it is Tuesday it must be Mexico."
But I did realize today that there is some kind of circle being completed in my life.

The last time I was here was June of 1996, and I was on my honeymoon. I had just married Glenn Derby on the 26th. We took the train"The City of New Orleans" from Chicago to New Orleans and boarded a cruise ship where we explored different ports of call for a week. It was a great experience, but my children were young and I'd never been away from them for that period of time, so there was anxiety as well.

Cozumel was a one day stop. I remember it vividly for several reasons. The first was that as we were disembarking, we both heard a man whisper to his wife, "Look at that poor girl. (meaning  me). She's going to be such a young widow." I was 39 and G was 52, and had yet to suffer all the ravages of football, ranching, and being a giant sized human being that followed him to the grave. I was insulted and hurt. Glenn's response was, "He's right you know. " I blew it off, but we still  used to mention it over the years.

It was prophetic. He did die and leave me while I still have years of the journey left, hopefully.

The other reason I remember that day is that we spent the afternoon escaping the heat at Ernesto's Fajita Factory, drinking WAY too many Dos Equis under a covered thatch type of building. That establishment got ruined in a hurricane, but has been rebuilt across the street, closer to the lucrative cruise ship port. At that time there were many, many hawkers on the street too. They are gone, probably chased away by the politics of the big money to be made by cruise tourists. They are still here, the impoverished I mean. I barely had to go off the beaten track to discover them yesterday.

The dive shop, where  I am taking lessons, is built on top of the old Ernesto's; that makes me smile. Glenn was always my biggest cheerleader when I wanted to try new things. "Live like you mean it."

That man on the ship was correct as it turns out. But there was no need for him to pity me.

Full circle.
On the journey.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wile E. Coyote

There was a cartoon while I was growing up called "The Roadrunner." He was this speedy little bird of a creature who was always outsmarting the coyote who was trying to eat him. Most often, he would set it up so that something, often a train, would flatten Wile E. Coyote into a pancake. But because it was a cartoon, the coyote could peel himself off the pavement and regenerate.
I was that coyote today, peeling myself off the pavement.

It actually began earlier in the week, when I realized that last year at this time, we were getting ready to leave for what would end up being our last vacation together. We rented a house in Florida for more than a week. I'd like to say that it was the perfect last vacation, but we both came home saying that we wouldn't choose that option again, for many reasons. One always thinks there will be a next time.

A few weeks ago, Atticus decided that my jewelry box didn't deserve to live. Jewelry box makes me laugh....I have no real jewels, but it did create a huge entanglement of necklaces etc. to sort through. So last night I sat at the kitchen counter to sort through it all. I came across a set of prayer beads that were the very first thing G ever gave me. He spent the month before his ordination thirty years ago in Pecos, New Mexico, learning the ways of the early desert fathers, and acquired these beads. He taught me how to say a mantra-like prayer with them, that has served me well over the years. The cross on the beads has a worn spot where his big thumb had worn down the wood in the years before he gave them to me. I clutched these beads during his funeral, but I hadn't  seen them since.
Boom. Roadrunner. Peel myself from the pavement.

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian tradition. All my life I have heard these words on this day:
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Those words kicked the shit out of me this year. Like Wile,  I didn't see it coming. The time between dust and returning to dust is often too damn short. Words became truth.
There is a beautiful, sealed handcrafted box in a special place in my home with that "dust" awaiting a permanent resting place, probably this summer.

My job is all about the kids. It isn't about me or my life. But for the first time ever,  they intersected a bit. I was having a tough time first thing this morning. And they were wonderful.
Big breaths and a hefty dose of professionalism got me through. I came up off the pavement and ended up having a really good day.

Nice try Roadrunner.
You can't flatten me on this journey. I'm looking forward with anticipation.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

See...really see.

I have found that life changes in an instant, and then it is never the same again. And afterwards, life is measured by that event.  For instance, when I try to recollect a date, I often hold it up against a memory of whether my dad was still living. We all measure our lives that way.

My house is situated on a lot that is slightly more than an acre, on part of a road  that has yet to be paved.  Before the leaves get too full, I have a view of Red Sand Lake across the street, and if  this brutal winter ever ends, the loons will be heard  communicating with their soulful calls, both from Red Sand on one side, and Whipple  Lake on the other. It is a very peaceful abode that offers much refuge from the pace of this life.

Last night, just as I was about to surrender to sleep, I heard a strange noise. In my sleepiness, I thought Atticus was scratching something. When I sat up to examine the source of the noise, my attention was directed to the window, where I could see a horrific fire taking place in my back yard.  I flew out of bed to look out the patio doors in my family room. 
Yes. It was true. Flames higher than I could see. Remembering consciously the challenges I had last June when calling 911 from my cell phone , I grabbed the land line and dialed. I told the Dispatcher that my neighbors house was on fire. 
The first time in this particular experience that  I got called up short was when she said, "What is the address?" I had no clue.
 But here's mine, and our woods abut each other. Just come please.

"We'll send somebody" she said.  And they did, but it took at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile all I could do was stand at that patio door,  crying and praying. Thanks to Jim and Sally Boos for phone therapy.

And while I was watching,after  being advised to " be aware" because of the possibility that the wind could spread the fire; it hit me, I didn't even know their names. 

I flipping didn't even know their names

I'm ashamed of that. 

I know these things about them- I remembered that the husband's name is Ron, and that he worked for Lindy (a pro fishing business)  for awhile. And that his wife did something with a retirement organization. 
And I only knew this because Glenn Derby usually took a lifetime to arrive home , as he needed to pull over and chat with everybody who  was getting their mail, working in their yard or walking the dog. I took the info second hand; I didn't need to know; give me the Cliff Notes version.

 From watching them,  I know that he has a cool boat, and that his wife must not let him smoke in the house,and that he puts up elaborate Christmas decorations for his children and grandchildren. And sorry Dude, but you have a really LOUD voice when I'm trying to read on my patio. But if I knew you, it  would probably be okay.
I know they have grown kids and grandchildren that play in their circular drive, and that last summer I was jealous of that..I wanted the sounds of life around me too. I've watched them and heard them while in my own yard. In fact I've heard whole conversations.

But I didn't even know their names to pray for them, while their lives were being totally ripped apart.

I've lived here almost five years. I saw them, usually daily in my comings and goings. 
But I didn't see them. For whatever reason, I didn't need to SEE them enough to know their names.
I know their names now. And I will reach out to them in their loss. Such a loss.
 A humbling lesson in the difference between seeing and being seen, on the journey.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

World Peace

Yesterday I spent what  could have been an agonizing afternoon of travel delays, made worse by fatigue. Instead, it became a rather magical time. And this is why I believe there is hope for our world. If we will only listen to each other.

I spent the afternoon with my former sister-in- law and now someone  who I would venture to call a dear friend. And this is our story.

I met Cari Ristock, now Matter, when she was 15 years old. I was 20.  She was dating my fiancĂ© s younger brother, and had just stepped on a bee. Cari was, and is, very expressive. The Matter family were and are, stoic Germans. And so when she was crying and screaming in agony, I immediately felt a kinship. Because I wasn't all about sucking it up either.

Cari eventually married my former husband's brother and they created a wonderful life for themselves. They had set backs, of course, but they raised two of the most wonderful young women, which is what I know they take the most pride in, despite also having extremely successful business careers.

I divorced her husband's brother,but Cari never gave up on my children, even when their dad and I were not operating very well as co-parents. I always knew that Aunt Cari had their backs.

But she had her loyalties to her husband's  family, as she should. And so we lost contact.

Last year however, we had a series of emails, that although painful, caused her to hear me, and perhaps find forgiveness for me, as to why I needed to leave our common family all those years ago.
But that didn't take away our biggest difference. Politics. Cari is as staunchly conservative Republican as I am liberal Democrat. Goodness how we have assaulted each other on Facebook these last few years.

Until last year, at Chris and Rianna's wedding, when I decided that it was just enough. She is as entitled to her opinions as I am. I took a deep breath , approached her, and told her that I thought that we were missing a prime opportunity to make a fortune. I told her that with our fabulous personalities  and obvious good looks, we could take our show on the road. She could be making the gun sign, and I would be making the peace sign. We would call it point/counterpoint. We ended the night in laughter, love and acceptance. A turning point.

So much so, that yesterday she showed me a picture of daughter Ashley, winning a shooting contest in high school where she won a gun. Sorry Cari...I think it was more than that, but my ears kinda closed at "won a gun."

And why was she on the plane? To meet her daughter Abby, who is probably attending Luther Seminary next year in some capacity. visit my children. That was humbling for me. Thank you.
And because ....Aunt Cari has always had their backs.
Wow....I'm just loving  some people...on this journey.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Six years

My dad died six years ago today. He was fairly ravaged from what was believed to be Parkinson's disease. He fell on a Monday and died the following Sunday. As they left to take him by ambulance to a larger center in Minneapolis, he looked at me and said, " Don't forget you'll always be my baby." Those were the last words he spoke to me. I'm glad I have that. He became unconscious in the ambulance and despite surgery to dispel the pressure in his brain, he died 6 days later, peacefully. He and I have found peace with each other posthumously. It needs no other words.
In keeping with this blog recording some of the magical thinking that is taking place this year, thinking of him caused me to reflect on my mother and her journey these last six years. My parents had a great marriage according to them. 63 years of joy that I believe was authentic. Everybody knew their  roles and that was more than okay. My mom has often told me that she was the last of the "lucky" generation who got to stay home with their kids. It worked.
 My mother has had a wonderful time the last six years. Has she grieved? Absolutely. Especially at the birth of Ryan; knowing it was the first big family deal without him. But until last year when her health and mobility caused her to move where she is living now, she lived it up. And even tonight she told me just how lucky she is. That is my mother.
It is hard. It is hard watching someone you love melt away. But her spirit is relentless. And sometimes I leave her and I am very sad, but mostly I smile and shake my head at her will to live.
Here are some recent Momo-isms. She is really such a gift to so many people.
My Mom loved to get dressed up and go out to dinner in downtown Milwaukee with my father every Friday night. I have been a mystery to her when I express how usually the last thing I want to do on Friday night is go out. She so wants to live vicariously through me. Sorry Mom.
This conversation happened on Saturday:
M- How was your party?
Me- Great...lotta fun and laughs.
M- what plates did you use?
Me- paper.
M-Oh. Well did you have enough silverware?
Me: Plastic
M- well. I guess it must have been easy to clean up then.  The shock was palpable.
Me: oh good I love Monday night because it's garbage night. In fact my three favorite things are garbage night, the day Colt cleans my house and the day I get my roots dyed.
My mom: Oh honey. I think you need to get out more. I laughed loudly and agreed.
Her short term memory slips a bit now and then and when she goes through the litany of asking about everybody I know, she often can't grab the name. My friend Misty is now "that little genius from Bemidj."
Is it hard? Yes. Sad? Some days. But would I trade some of these conversations? Never.
Precious time on the journey.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Heart Day reflections.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. It was  one of the holidays that Glenn Derby titled, "National Guilt Day" , along with Mother's Day. He resented prescribed days of affection.

My memories of Valentines Day are few. As a child my parents always put a heart shaped box of candy hearts made by Brach's under my pillow. And my most prevalent memory was of the years I got favorite " troll dolls"  at my breakfast spot. 

I'm sure there were various high school affectations, but none stand out. I do remember at St Olaf  knowing that none of the many amassed bouquets in the lobby of the women's  dorm I lived in were for me. It seems I always dated men who didn't believe in over- priced bouquets of  flowers. 

As a parent of young children, it meant frantically making my children write out valentines for every kid in the class, and sometimes creating a cute receptacle. I do remember a truly darling dress I sewed for Emily's  2nd  grade party. And yes, they always got candy hearts and a present at the breakfast table.  I'm glad I did that.

And Grammy is a total loser, because she totally dropped the ball this year. Oops.

There are two memories here though. One was of the year during my sojourn to Bemidji State, where I was working on realizing my dream of obtaining a teaching degree.  This was complicated by the fact that Chris was an 8 th grader, and I refused to spend a night away from home. I had a semester where I needed to leave our home at 5:00 am, and not return until the night class I needed ended at 8:30, so I usually got home about 10 pm. 

That Valentine's  Day I received a beautiful watch when I awoke at 4 am, with a note that said,

"Because it really is your TIME to shine.So proud."

I still cherish the note and the watch.
Before and after that it was a nada holiday. Last year I awoke to find a simple message on our chalkboard. It simply was a heart with Cupid's arrow connecting A and G. I thought it was so sweet I never erased it.

I still smile,when I see it on the journey.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Last summer I received the gift of a book by Joan Didion called, A Year of Magical Thinking, from a close friend. I have referenced it often in these writings. The author's husband died from almost identical circumstances to Glenn, except that her husband's last words were a comment about his 20 year old scotch; whereas Glenn's were something along the lines of , " Yeah you're probably right -it was the meat." Yeah...the meat. Right.

I finally believe I couldn't have saved him. Finally.

When I got that book, I couldn't understand the there could be anything, even remotely magical about what I was going through, I couldn't grasp.

Almost immediately however , I started viewing everything in my life from a heightened awareness. Relationships were more precious, breathing became something I had to relearn, and when I did, I felt life flow through my blood again.  

I started exploring higher realms of spirituality that are less than conventional; and being open to it all as part of the big mystery.  Magical. 

I know that Glenn has visited me often. My proof is not something I want to put out there, because it is MY truth and that's enough. I don't wish to have logic applied to it.  And I know as I heal, he visits me less and less often. As it should be. We each have a  new journey. Magical.

It is through this magical thinking , that I would like to offer a collective apology,  as it were, to all the people in grocery stores, shopping alone that I have looked at and through all these years. In my heightened awareness  today I reflected  on how going shopping for food is one of the loneliest experiences I have in my life now. All around me are families with children, or couples, asking "Honey? Do we need eggs?" Nobody but me knows that answer in my home anymore. I buy one sweet potato, the smallest container of cream for my coffee, even though I still have some, and a deli- chicken, because cooking just isn't in me tonight.  I hate it. And yet, I must eat.

Now before all of you blessed people who love me send me emails wondering if I'm okay, please know that I am fine. More than fine. There is a flip side to "one". For the first time-ever- I am responsible only for myself. I do what I want, with whom I want, when I want. I can finally say, guilt-free, that  I am truly my own woman and I know that Glenn wouldn't have wanted any less for me, since he truly helped me,finally, love myself.

Even when I choke up at the grocery's magical thinking.
On the journey.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Music of my Soul

As most of you know, in Minnesota,this has been a winter. A WINTER. Not a winter where you can enjoy building a bonfire outside, snowshoeing ,cross country skiing or even sitting in a hot tub. Not even a winter where true Minnesotans say, " I love winter!" And certainly not for quasi- converts like me who have found that the previous activities make it slightly more bearable as we wait for spring and warm weather.

But in the days of isolation and the arctic temperatures that closed schools recently, I found a gift. Online music at my fingertips. My life had been silent for a long time. I don't know why, but I turned the music off about a year before Glenn's death. He commented on it, missing my exuberance as songs of my past played on speakers through Pandora. He used to point at my forehead and ask me if that's where I stored all the words.  I had no answer. I just needed quiet. I still have no reason for it.

In the months following Glenn's death, I spent a great deal of time with my children and their spouses. Music is very much a part of their waking hours ( unless grandsons need a dose of Ninja Turtles) and it started to feel good again. I started to listen. And I remember looking at the screen on Chris's computer wondering if he had bought all of those songs. No, he explained to me something called Spotify.  (Feel free to roll your eyes at my total ignorance at this point.) Chris and I spent many hours at night this summer and fall going through his playlists, drinking wine, talking about life  and dreams while listening. It was part of my healing and I loved it.

And so, recently I started playing music in the car again. I used to be an Olympian butt- dancer while driving. I might be doing that again. Maybe. :) I was reminded the other day as I was singing along how my kids would say when they were young, " I like this song Mom- who sings it?" When I'd answer they would reply, " Good...let's keep,it that way!" Memories. Smiles.

Which brings me to my reflection. For $4 a month, I can travel back in time. I can revel in the songs that defined my high school and college years, to music that sustained me during dark periods when I couldn't see the answer, to the music that defined my love and marriage to Glenn, such as " Because You Loved Me" which I insisted had to be played at his very somber and traditional funeral; to songs that will forever remind me of these days of "magical thinking",to quote Joan Didion, such as Goo-Goo Dolls, Adele, Train, Avincii and others. I can  play "Coldplay's " The Scientist" and be right back in the car driving Chris to high school, or Indigo Girls " Closer To Fine" and be back in Brookfield with Emily in junior high. Pop country stars Tim McGraw et al remind  me of driving back and forth almost everyday to Bemidji  in 2000-2002 to earn my education degree.  Louis Armstrong reminds me of my mother blasting his music on the stereo while she went about her work while I was growing up. Hmmmm....maybe there is a genetic thing here.

Tonight Tim  McGraw told me in his song tonight that I should "Live Like I Was Dying."

It's  what I'm doing Dude.

Hope he doesn't mind if I sing along , on the journey.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Here I Am Lord

Thirty years ago this Sunday, February 2nd, Glenn Evans Derby was ordained a priest in God's church.
Glenn was a child of prep schools, a leader in his toney Episcopal church in Pittsburgh, and  had won a scholarship in football to Duke University.  Between a serious knee injury, being away from his controlling mother, and the presence of  beautiful southern girls, he kind of forgot to come back from spring break one year. Oops.
Sparing the details, he was a dad at 20 and had three children by age 25. He worked hard and played hard.  By his own account, he never went to church except for his children's baptisms. Glenn and his first wife Ellen lived a rather vagabond life, traveling through Texas and  Wyoming , working as ranch hands where there was work, and finally settling in Montana. Glenn went back to college, earned a degree in vocational agriculture and landed a sweet teaching job in Red Lodge, Montana, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, where he also coached football. They lived on beautiful acreage and had horses, dogs, cats, and the kids got out at noon every Friday to ski. He went back to the small local church and as was his nature, became a leader. Life was good. Really good.
And then he got the call.

You know, THE call.

The one you question whether to answer. The one from God, and fellow believers who believe you should be set apart for ordination. He answered the call, and in 1980, he arrived at Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary, outside of Milwaukee, with a multitude of dogs, a wife, two teenagers and a 5th grader, none of whom were excited to be there.  Glenn described to me the nightmare of walking into his first class with others who had already earned PhD's and other higher degrees. He was an ag teacher from Montana.
Three years later  he graduated with an M.Div. (Masters of Divinity), and 6 months later was priested at Zion Church in Oconomowoc, Wi. And so his journey in parish ministry began.

I used to tell him that his ordination was proof of God's excellent sense of humor. Glenn Derby was just what you saw. He so wanted to be the intellectual muse of a scholar, but never could pass it off. He was the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Glenn loved his calling. Loved it. He took to heart his vows,  that through the laying on of hands, his vocation became who he was, not what he did. He wasn't a " Father knows best" kind of priest. He rarely wore a collar, unless deemed necessary. He never announced his vocation unless asked. His gift to evangelism was the people whose lives were broken like his- divorced, perhaps estranged from family members, hurting. He offered them them safety, dignity and hope through our faith. He welcomed back the disenfranchised. One of his favorite quotes was, " The trouble with following Jesus is that He brings his friends along, and they don't always look like us." He loved those people that stopped by his office for money or food vouchers.

As often happens, his strength was his weakness. He didn't know how to play the game. A woman who was a priest in Milwaukee told him in front of me, " are either the stupidest person or the most trusting person I've ever met. I'll go with the second." He didn't know that people didn't always mean what they say, even in the church. He trusted people to a fault. He thought when we arrived here in conservative Brainerd, that he could stand in favor  of gay ordination and people would love him anyway. And he got hurt. Wounded. Devastated. Eventually thrown out. Our life got turned upside down financially and otherwise.

There were more than  three years where we never darkened the door of a church. The depth of the hurt was that hard. Oh, we joined our UCC friends now and then, having found kindred spirits, but our traditions were so different.
It was Glenn's time to be in the desert of his soul.

During that time, we found many friends, mostly through my job. Eventually through therapy and time, he was able to embrace his retirement and look for new ways to serve. Although not church related, he loved being the resident " man - nanny" for our friends with school aged kids.
And then three plus years ago, he got a call to do a Sunday supply in Alexandria. And it became a living version of the story of the prodigal son. He was gone....they welcomed him back with open hearts, minds and love. They gave him the best of them. And in turn, I saw him reemerge and give the best of himself. He celebrated with them on the day of his death. As fitting, and almost eerie , his sermon was about finding the Christ in each other.
Happy anniversary dear were indeed, truly called.
It was an honor to walk the path with you..
Rest in peace. I'll continue the journey.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A perfect life

In many novels, the author arranges the book so there is some kind of closure,; and then with often a page left blank, begins Part Two. The new section assumes the reader has made their way through the first section and will understand prior references.

I am starting Part Two of this blog. I couldn't figure out how to change the title, but I have a special techie friend, CK, who will help me soon.
Please understand that I am not DONE with grief.  That's a good thing!  When one has loved fully, it marks one's life forever. But, rather than a loss, I see it now as a blessing. In fact I hope I never lose the astuteness of my emotions and my relationships that grief has caused me to cherish. Because of my grief, I look at life, and especially my relationships so much differently.  I cherish those close to me, with a new awareness and appreciation.
Yesterday, Glenn's former secretary, who has become a truly precious family friend, was visiting with my mother when I arrived to see her after school. She told me of a funny story about Glenn while  they were working together. Apparently, Glenn, a rather macho acting man, was not so fond of the bats that frequented our old church, and relied on Denise to kill them while he hid out in his office. The story goes that he would whip the  tennis racket out the door of his office for her to whap them with , and then slam the door quickly. I had never heard this story,  but laughed heartily at the image, knowing it to be true, and then  we went on with our conversation.
When she left, and my mother and I were chatting,she got rather teary eyed and said, " Oh I so wanted you to have a perfect life."
A PERFECT life. She believes she's had one, and God bless her for that belief. In many ways she has.
I imagine she sees me, her devoted youngest child, having survived a divorce, single parenthood, remarriage to someone with unexpected health issues, and now widowhood ,as having had less than a perfect life. Probably true, if you just look at the facts.
But I tried to tell her that my life HAS been perfect, damn perfect. Even in grief. And that it has nothing to do with life, death or money.  Because of the way my life has played out, I have been touched and continue to be touched by some very special people and relationships from my professional life, from our church life in Alexandria, and from other relationships near and far, past and present. That is GRACE in action. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Hence my new picture.
A perfect life.
No, not perfect, just blessed
Living part two, on the journey.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pomp and Circumstance

I graduated tonight.
Those of you who know me well, know I've done that before with a BA, a BS and an MA. I confess that my first degree at 21 was earned by a lick and a prayer, as I was far more interested in the people around me than the course work.  It wasn't until my 40's that I discovered that being an eternal student would appeal to me, if I had  enough resources so as not to have to work. Since that is not possible, I spend my days playing multiple roles with adolescents. It's a privilege.
When I finally matured enough to appreciate learning I did well, graduating with honors. In my Masters program, I would have had a perfect score, except that one semester I talked the prof into giving me an A- instead of an A, by trying to be truthful in a self- assessment. Misty Jobe did the program with me,  and still cracks up at that. Hey I was just being honest!
Why am I reliving my hard work and success with you tonight? Because nothing, NOTHING has ever been more challenging than the work I did in grief counseling since last summer. I was referred to the most wonderful woman who had experienced the loss I did at one time in her life. I came in "all about it", convinced I was doing pretty damn well considering. She broke through the bullshit. I was playing learned tapes of pretending to be " fine" . I don't need this. I am woman, hear me roar! Remember! No car salesman is gonna mess with me!
Except I wasn't. I carried a massive weight of guilt around over not saving his life that night. This is not news to any of you who have followed my blog.
I discovered there was no freaking way around it, but to just go through it.  Right down the dark center.
And that's what I've done, as you have been witness to.  And guess what...I came out the other side. I didn't wake up miraculously one day and realize I was there.  My therapist helped me see that change is going from one status to another- e.g. married to widow. Transition is embracing  that change and creating a new path while you are still alive. I am embracing my new life right now. There is peace.
Does this mean I don't cry or feel sad or miss him? Of course not. Yesterday I deleted his gmail account after making sure I waited long enough in case there were auto payments or old friends of his who wanted to make contact. It was time. When "account deleted" popped up, I choked up. I needed a hug from my friend Chris. But that's ok! My tears of desperation and raw grief have changed. Now they are tears of gratitude and love for the journey we had together. What a gift to my life Glenn Evans Derby was.
But he is gone from this world. Forever.  I finally believe it and I'm really okay with it, because he is safe, happy and loved. This I know. I've learned so much since June 16th. I now live life on a higher, gentler plane. I find myself being able to sort through what are the "earthly" problems that aren't worth so much angst, and the things that really matter on this journey; peace,  kindness and love for those who are walking with us. And gratitude. Such gratitude.
And so, at 6:00 tonight, she asked me what I wanted to do. I said I would call her if I needed her. She expressed joy at having been present for this part of the journey. As I left her, I gave her a hug and wished her many blessings.
Then I flipped the tassel on my mortarboard and walked out, on the journey.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Live Like You Mean It

Elton John had a song back in the day about Saturday night. The refrain was something like, "Saturday, Saturday, Saturday night's all right with me." I disagree. My night is Friday. Every Friday night seems like a mini-holiday to me. But not for the reasons of my younger years, when it meant much wilder things than it does now. Now I treasure it as a time of rest and reflection on the past week . A needed respite from spending my days with adolescent energy.
Today marked seven months since Glenn's death that night. In the part of my mind that is the little bit concrete- sequential enough  required to be a teacher, I pondered with Misty today whether I should mark the date as the 16th, since that is the true night he died, or the 17th, which is on the death certificate. She pointed out that it really doesn't matter. Oh yeah., it really doesn't. Thank goodness for truths spoken outside the bathroom door between classes.
When I pass these milestones, I take the opportunity to check in with myself and see how far I've traveled on the journey. I have always believed I would keep this blog for a year, and that is still my intention.  Not because there is anything magical about one year, but because  there needs to be a jumping off point, where life isn't always reflected by the memories of the past, but by experiences yet to be had. I'm honoring Glenn by living my life.
Glenn Derby taught me many things on the journey we shared; he taught me things like how to fish, how to camp, how a cow is inseminated(don't was a long road trip through North Dakota) , he showed me mountains and taught me how to dance. We saw the Twin Towers a month befor 9/11 and ate lobster on Long Island. But mostly he taught me how to live with intention. To laugh and cry from the same deep place in my gut.
My dear friend Leslie sent me a great article from The New Yorker magazine, called "Nobody's Son." It is written by a man who had recently lost his last parent, and his mix of emotions, but it really applies to anyone who has lost a loved one. This line, supposedly spoken by his father after death resonated with me, and indeed, started me down a path of joy and healing, rather than sorrow.

"Don’t be stupid, he says. You don’t love me less by living more. Live! Live like you mean it."

When I read this, I realized that this was Glenn's final lesson for me.
                          Live like you mean it.

Being intentional, on the journey.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Moving through the darkness.

I'm reminded of a very old song "California Dreamin'" from eons ago in my youth by the Mama's and the Papa's. You know, Cass Elliot? Mama Cass? Died of a drug overdose and probably obesity? If you are too young to know, here's a link.The Mamas & The Papas-California dreamin - Video Dailymotion

The song laments the drudgery and the very bleakness  of winter while dreaming of light, warmth and sunshine.

For those working through the grief journey such as myself, this has a metaphorical message. Walking through the darkness, dreaming of the light and wishing it back through the "if only's" and the "when we's"; and feeling as if the future light is very far away.

There is something about this season of darkness that makes life seem more trying; almost like slugging through thick mud.

For the last two weeks, I've noticed that I'm a bit more fragile, even than I was six weeks ago. I can go from having a really fine day while looking forward, rebuilding myself and my home, to the next moment feeling really lonely and weepy. Prior to this I wasn't having such swings. I was beginning to wonder about my sanity, until my friend Maureen mentioned at yoga last night that she was feeling very "Januareee" I love made-up words:)

I realized  again today that our environment can greatly affect our moods and our outlook and that maybe I'm not really going crazy, I'm just feeling "Januaree" as well. And that's okay. So now if I tear up unexpectedly, or feel a bit hopeless, I can tell myself that I'm not moving backwards on this path, I'm just reacting to my environment in a very natural manner. And that there will be light again; both in my life and in my world. And that Glenn will always be present in that light in my world, even when it is dark all around me.

Holding on, in the darkness, on the journey.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Lord of the Dance

And so another year begins. Today I took down the calendar and noted how last January, Glenn recorded all the birthdays, anniversaries and death anniversaries for our family, not knowing that I would record his death this year. I will save this calendar, because it's been quite a year,and because I treasure seeing his handwriting. I thought I would feel much more of a sense of new beginnings, and although I get glimpses of that, a picture, a song or a memory can bring the tears.

Today I was reflecting on what a good dancer Glenn was. He was naturally athletic, and so amazingly light on his feet. He was raised in the era and social ethos of dancing lessons and cotillions, so he really knew how to dance, unlike me, who came of age in the '70's where we clung to each other while spinning around in a circle until the song ended. He taught me to dance and I loved it. On our wedding night, he arranged for the song "Unforgettable" sung by Natalie Cole to be playing when we came in, and we danced around the hotel room together.  God, how I miss him.

One time, while on a trip out west, we went miles out of our way to return to the Cowboy Bar in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We had been there before but couldn't go in because the kids were underage. He wanted me to sit in a saddle at the bar and dance with him to the sounds of Alabama etc. And we did.

I hope I can insert my favorite picture, given to me after his death, of the two of us at the YMCA ball a few years ago. He looked so handsome in his tux. His orthopedic surgeon was there that night, and commented on how well he was dancing, considering all his knee and hip surgeries! He had this wonderful habit of trying to sing the words in my ear while we danced, but he only knew a few of them, so it came out like this" doo doo doo dee doo..always love you..doo dee doo..."
The last dance, as it was, was at Emily and Paul's wedding. Oh what fun it was! He was a little lame the next day, but I treasure the memories of laughing and loving and having fun with our family and friends.

Missing my dance partner tonight, on this journey. Glennee ...I hope you're dancing with the angels.