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.