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.