Saturday, April 22, 2017

#12, April 22, 2015, Lesson from a Dead Cat

This is the next in a series of excerpts from my journal, written during the last year of Dave's life.

A ragged day yesterday.
Woke up at 4AM, and knew the cat was dead. Just knew. Buried him by 6, then got ready for the plumber by 8 to fix the water heater, then had to be off for the dentist by 12:30, with Dave weak and coughing all day. 

Glad he’s talking about getting a walker. He wants to live and I want him to. Silly how sorrow and loss and a dead cat of all things, to which I was only mildly connected, warned me about the depth of loss I would feel if I lost Dave. I see now that it will be awful and any attempted preparation will be useless. The only good use of my imagination now is not to try to get ready for what I think will happen.

I need to just live. Just live and praise God.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

#11, April 20, 2015, What is Lacking

This is the next in the series of excerpts from my journal, written during the last year of  Dave's life.

Our minister wasn’t in church yesterday and in his absence, a young parishioner took the pulpit and preached about the Holy Spirit—His power, His accessibility. He urged us to not only believe, but to actively seek Him, who is our way to supernatural power. Then our ad hoc preacher summoned everyone to pray for Dave, not knowing that the only way to physically heal him is supernatural—that docs have already done everything they can. 

It was then—when he made the call—that I realized my own error. I have not believed in the Spirit’s power. I have not thought to ask for God in this other than to deal gently with Dave's inevitable decline. Even now, I can say the words, but the expectation of healing is not there. Lack of faith? Lack of love? Both, I think. And they make a sham of my physical care of him.

image: Bird's Eye View

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#10 April 18/19, 2015, A Balance

The following is next in a series of excerpts from my journal, written during the last year of Dave's life.
Reading Reynolds Price and wanting to write again. Must strike a balance between living life and writing about it, even in illness. He did it. If I want to, I can, too.

We had a visitor today, someone we rarely see, but who is needier even than we, and on a day Dave felt less than great. The friend intimated that he could tell how hard things are without me saying anything. How bad do I look, anyway? I finished reading A Whole New Life as he was walking up the driveway, thinking I felt pretty good. Don’t get that. And it doesn’t much matter. This is our life and I thank you for it, God.

Dreamed later about being hurt, about having to meet people in public who make me sad and awkward. Everybody asks me about how we’re doing and I’m still trying to figure out how to be honest and decent at the same time. 


Monday, April 17, 2017

#9, April 17, 2015, A World Singing

The following is the next in the series of excerpts from my journal, written during the last year of Dave's life. 

Just to write it makes me happy. Yesterday was sunny and 70 degrees and today will be just like it. Enough breeze to move the chimes to song and loud with birdsong.
I can breathe.

On days like this, I want to live forever—to feel a gentle sun and the breeze on winterweary skin. I forget we are immortal, that even now my body is wearing out, that I will have a new life in time, that a new earth and new heaven wait. But I can’t imagine it now.

And maybe I don’t need to. Not yet. 


Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Personal Easter

A pause in the series of excerpts from my journal. A reflection on what being alone has showed me about Easter.

So I look back now that Lent is over at  failure. No great surprise, since I expended only feeble effort. I did not fulfill the Lenten plans I made, plans formed for my own spiritual benefit as well as promises to pray for others. I was consistent neither in those things I planned to do, nor in those things I promised I would not do. I failed. Every one.

 But God, in His goodness, used even this. In my failure, I began--only began--to see that I can't do these things alone. I can't overcome sin without help from God, the only one who ever defeated it.

My desire and effort, though incomplete, can give me access to His sufficient strength but, like Paul or Peter or anyone else who has lead a godly life, I have to truly want to. That's the part that keeps escaping me. I have to be crucified, too, and it begins with wanting to.

I have to finally, finally give up. I have to admit to my weakness, guilt, and persistent error if I am to ever rise with Christ. 

I was baptized into death. Only Christ can raise me up. I have to yield completely to Him. I cannot raise myself. Ever. But Christ rises and can bring me with Him if I let Him.

So, I have to walk with Him into death--a death of everything I thought I wanted, a death of all my plans, a death of my own self-protection. I have to walk with Him into His plans, and a life with Him that He promises will be more than I could ever have dreamed.

Every time I step away from Him, even glance or have a momentary fleeting thought, I sin. I can't help it. This happens because I was made by Him to live with Him. If Easter means anything personal, if the struggles and confusion of this last year, the first of my widowhood, have done any good work, they serve to show me my weakness. They show me that I can't do anything eternal alone.

I have to leave behind all the pride and strength I've spent a lifetime building up. I have to leave it all and cry out for God's help because what I can do alone is of little consequence. I can make decisions. I can do work. I can organize, and gather, and build. But I can't settle my soul. I can't keep safe. I can't avoid sin. I need help, God's help, for these and like so many of us, I don't want to ask for it.

That is my crucifixion. To admit I need help and learn to ask for it.

Christ walked out of tomb on that dark night before the Easter dawn triumphant, and it's a fine thing to witness. But this year, that's not enough. I've been watching too long. This year, I want Him to take me with Him.

For your Maker is your husband; the Lord Almighty is His Name.--Isaiah 54:5


Saturday, April 15, 2017

#8, April 16, 2015, Sore Delight

The following is the next in the series of excerpts from my journal, written during the last year of Dave's life.
Something is loosening its grip a bit. I can’t write yet, but I can think about it a little. I don’t think anymore that Dave is going to die. At least not anytime soon, although he still seems afraid of trying to sleep in bed. He’s been developing bed sores from spending so much of his life in a chair, but he still doesn’t want to change that. It’s like he can’t see that it prevents him from doing any of the traveling he says he wants to do.

As for me, I’m getting used to this, and am content that I’m living the life given me. There are still quick, fresh mornings like this that let me breathe, and days that allow pleasant hours. Asking more than that is more than too much, but true delight still sometimes comes.


Friday, April 14, 2017

#7, April 15, 2015, The Fragile Peace

The following is the next in a series of excerpts from my journal, written during the last year of Dave's life:

These are the mornings I wait all year for--when I can open the window and hear the owls call just before sunrise, then transition to the twittering of morning birds. Mild, bright, and gentle at the same time. Clean. New.

These are not like some days that have slid mildly by in larger seasons. Needs press--some to do with normal activity--washing and cleaning--some to do with Dave's illness--making breakfast for him and his friend because he can't go out and taking him to physical therapy--and some extra ones of my own making--painting, assembling furniture, or working on the details of the kitchen design.

But right at this moment, I hear the birds and feel the cool promise of a gentle day.

One of my oldest friends called last night. Amid their life of going here and there in their new Corvette and of cruises and trips, she wants us to come down to see them. She asks every time, even after seeing Dave's weakness in December. When I say he improves a little, she doesn't know the low weakness he improves from and I don't dare tell her. I want to spare her worry--and to spare me the pain of her reaction, her unintended sympathy for a grim reality not yet known.

If I could only slide through this day with the grateful calm of these moments. But Dave will wake, and people will come. They will obscure the fragile early morning peace, and I will live another day. Oh, God, thank you for the beauty.


Monday, April 10, 2017

#6, April 10, 2015, Two Things

This is the next excerpt from my journal, written during the last year of Dave's life:

Two things today.

The first is the marvel of how I can discover my own good fortune through the actions of other people. Dave has a friend whose prostate cancer might have moved to his bones. That makes it very dangerous and what eventually kills almost everyone it inflicts. He had his bone scan 2 days ago, but he and his wife aren't making any plans for what they will do if it comes back positive. They are acting like everything will be  fine, but all the time worrying and not talking about it. I'm so glad that Dave faces difficulties head on and helps me to do the same. I don't have to live their lives, and am so glad for this part of ours. Of course, lately I've taken it too far, but I can fix some of that.

And second--1Corinthians.  The Bible often drops its fruit in minutiae, but sometimes it does it in big pieces. 1Corinthians 10 and 11 are about the body of Christ and the reception of gifts. 1Corinthians 12 is about spiritual gifts. Together they are a recitation of what to do toward God and each other, how we relate and what to value in these relationships. But then, at the end, Paul says, "But let me show you a more excellent way."  More excellent than communion. More excellent than teaching or preaching or serving each other. More excellent. Loving. Just loving. So, if I can love, and love as well as I am loved by God, the rest will come, but even if it doesn't, I will have the most excellent way. Oh, God, help me to love.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

#5, April 9, 2015, Good Morning

The following is the next excerpt from my journal written during the last year of Dave's life:

Today, finally, I feel some refreshment, some calm. I've been looking at my whole life through the lens of Dave's illness--all activities, all schedules, all projects, all philosophies, and it tears me down. It hurts us both.

There is still much good in what remains.

Dave had a good rehab yesterday and was encouraged by it. I woke today faced only by the familiar--a few small chores, a rug to design, a dessert to plan.

Life has felt so ragged, but God has all the loose ends of it in His than that--He has already designed and completed it for good. These days, though full of uncertainty sometimes, can be good. There is nothing here we can't handle with God's help and we can love Him and one another through them all.

I'm so grateful for a new morning washed clean and regenerating everything around me, and a fresh perspective. Thinking today what my sweet friend Vera used to say--"God and I can do it". And even more than that--we can be happy in the midst of it--not for the sake of circumstance, but simply for the joy of life and for knowing He lives.

Image: 123greetings

Friday, April 7, 2017

#4, April 7, 2015: Ashes

The following is the next excerpt from my journal, written during the last year of Dave's life:

Something about the kitchen remodel has been bothering me and I think I know what it is. Dave said something yesterday again about me being able to do anything I want after he is dead. He is enthusiastic about it and I couldn't understand why, but maybe he's thinking of this work we're doing on the house as a legacy--something he can give me now that will last after he dies.

The thought makes me sick to my stomach.
 How can I do this? How can I ever enjoy any of it?

And then I think of all the times I've wanted to be alone.

I've thought it, even said it so many times, and now the words turn to ashes in my mouth. I will never be able to separate the new kitchen from what Dave has unwittingly echoed from the back of my own mind.

The kitchen will always be part of his death. And I have done this, not him. I have wished, if not directly for his death, then for the one single thing that could at this point allow my solitude. I have not made it happen by wishing, but I have altered the reality of these days with the knowledge of it. I have changed the aspect of what is happening here every day by what I have wished over and over.

But, if that's true, I can change it back again. It's not too late.

So, from now on, it's not "when he dies" but "while he lives." This, I can do.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

She Walks These Hills--Interlude: April 1, 1978

The next excerpt from my journal doesn't surface until April 7th. In the meantime, there is today:

Memory Lane. For a full-time widow, this is not a place one strolls. We move into that address, carry in our furniture and hang our clothes in its closet. It's not a stop, but an interactive experience, one in which we open our imagination rather like we do when we go to a movie. The memory plays itself back and we respond as though it were happening all over again, fully knowing the pleasure or pain of that time right now. Living it with both old eyes and new. Sometimes, it has to do with a circumstance or a person, someone or something that brings with it an experience we shared with our beloved. Sometimes, it's simply a date. Like today.

April 1. April Fools' Day. I've never quite gotten over shaking my head at the irony. What were we thinking? April 1 was the day I moved in with Dave.

Yes, I moved in with Dave before we were married, and it was not our most stellar moment. Even now, I find it hard to understand. Who were we then anyway? Saying we were in love doesn't quite cover it. We were, of course, but we were also out of control, at least I was. Borne along on what felt like some kind of tidal wave, compelled by a desire to escape and the promise of adventure. Knowing it broke every rule of God and man, but also that it opened a whole new horizon of possibility. Eve probably said the same thing. Certainly, God didn't mean this apple, this tree...

But He did, of course.

I simply called Dave that morning and asked. "Will you come and get me?" I was married to someone else, you see. Married, and a mother besides, and in one moment, threw it all in. Even now, I can't separate the profound regret from the exhilaration.

It was glorious in some ways. Oh my, it was. Dave said he wanted to protect me, but instead threw me headlong into intensity. We lived. Oh, we lived.

But there was a price to pay for all of that, and for letting, on that April 1, our hearts rule our heads and our consciences. It took years for the sin of it to unmask itself and to completely raise its horrible head. It nearly destroyed our lives together in the process. What began so hot nearly burned us to a crisp.

But God was faithful even when we were not. And He mercifully dismantled the house we'd built on sin, salvaged what was good in it, then built us a new one built on Him. Often, it wasn't easy or fun, but for all the regrets I still harbor for decisions I've made, I bear no regrets for the decision to follow Him no matter where He led.

In 1978, on that April 1, I ran away from God by running to Dave. Eventually, step by difficult step, Dave and God stood side by side, and I could draw near to them both together. If anyone saw anything good in us, it was based on that journey, one we made together.

Were we fools on that April 1 so long ago?
But because of what God did for us in the interim, Memory Lane today is a sweet place. I live here gratefully and in awe, smiling all the while, even, sometimes, through a tear.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#3, March 28, 2015, There Has to be a Way

These are excerpts from my journals, written during the last year of Dave's life.

The thing I remember most about what I believe was God's vision of heaven, given to me all those years ago in a dream, is that it was the only time I have ever felt complete love and utter freedom from critical judgement. How different it was from this life. Dave tells me all the time how much he loves me and truly does as much as he is able, then will, without warning or intent, cut to the core, leaving me speechless, or nearly so. Like today when he said that I could do anything I wanted to do after he was dead.

The contradiction of it stunned me. I can hardly think of anything I'm doing in my life right now that I truly want to do, at least entirely. The only reason I put one foot in front of the other is that I trust God. There is little happiness or contentment or satisfaction in this life because there is little reward. Death--Dave's death--is the only probable end to all this work and heartache.

And yet, I have to trust God in this. There isn't anything else.

[I'm not at all like Maggie--my sweet stepmother who cared for Dad in his last illness, every bit as disturbing as Dave's and more because of Dad's dementia--who, when I asked her how she was doing it all, told me that she didn't want to be anywhere else. She didn't want to be anywhere else. I have no idea what that would be like. I so often want to be anywhere but where I am. Her love and devotion shine like an unattainable beacon. I will never be able to say that.]

Yesterday, Dave said that maybe we would still be able to go to Panama and that, statistically, he was still beating the odds, but I can't help but feel that Dave is a house of cards and when one card falls, the whole entire structure, the man, will collapse.

Until then, though, there's nothing to do but love one another as much as we can. As for me, I have to seek God to discover what love demands of me. That is my lesson. I will not always like what I have to do, but I do so want to love God in doing it. I'm not sure how, but there has to be a way.


Monday, March 27, 2017

#2, March 27, 2015, The Task Appointed

Excerpts from my Journal During the Last Year of Dave's Life

Palliative Care: specialized medical care for people with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

From my journal:
Yesterday Dave's doctor recommended Palliative Care for him for the first time saying that, no, he will not get better, but will surely get worse and unto death, probably within two years. And this in the face of improving test results. But this time, the doctor did what I've been doing--he looked at him. Dave's test results hold but the man--the man fails.

This was my first warning. I thought I was prepared--had indeed been thinking the same thing myself--frustrated by docs who had to see it but wouldn't say it, and now one honest doc finally did say it and I couldn't breathe. A huge, screaming NO caught in my throat, like in a dream, where arms and legs flail, but we can't run.

Dave was fine, of course, smiling and nodding as if to say "What's wrong? This is next and I want it. Of course. Of course."

Today, though, I see the mercy of God in this. Only one step, one little step further down the road. The thought, not the fact. Something I can, like Mary, hold in my heart.

Two years. He is surely wrong about that, I think. Dave's hold on life is stronger than anyone, including me, can know. He has done better than anyone imagined until now and he will keep hold. He likes his life. Disease will not take it from him. God will have to be done with him.

I'm wondering whether this whole process is why I'm not content with reading the Bible these days. The Bible is about life and I live every day in the presence of impending death. The gospels, even the Old Testament, tell us how to live. I've picked up the Upanishads instead, and they help me to see the unbroken stream that connects life and what is beyond it. 

It's not only Dave making this trip. I do, too. And I want to make it well. I think of Galadriel saying to Frodo, "This task was appointed to you and if you cannot find a way, no one will..." 

There are times to laugh and times to mourn--and sometimes to do both simultaneously.

Image: Pinterest

Sunday, March 26, 2017

She Walks These Hills #1, Fitted for Widow's Weeds

My husband Dave died one year ago, after seven years of on-again, off-again illnesses, on March 17, 2016. During the last years of his life, and during the year that has followed, I kept a journal. Two weeks ago, I read it. All of it. And, as I did, I took the journey again, but this time with perspective, and I saw the winding path of those days, and where they led--where they had to lead--and the gentle hand that guided me through them.

I've often said that the sorrow of my loss is always mixed with gratitude for the many years Dave and I shared--full of constant love and lush laughter--but it's taken time to understand what was so gradually accomplished in those days, both in him and in me.  And that is the best part of the story, the part that renders less important our physical ends--after all, Dave did die and I did not--but it gives an opportunity to see what God did for us during these days, how He listened, how He answered each prayer as we put one foot in front of another into a place we did not want to go, and how He welcomed us there with grace beyond our imagining.

This post is the prelude to what will eventually be a year of posts, published chronologically just as they happened, almost all taken directly from my journals. I give them as a gift, both for those who have walked this path before me, for those whose daily walk is still healthy and whole, and also those for whom mortal illness holds a vibrant terror. God is with us all in each of our places. This was my walk through the valley.

#1:Fitted for Widow's Weeds

I don't know why I didn't record this in my journal, because I remember it vividly--the day I bought my widow's weeds.

That's what they used to call them back in Victorian days, the clothes a widow wore for a year following her husband's death.
Long, heavy, impenetrable, they included a weeping veil whose purpose, I'm assuming, was to hide her puffy face and red eyes. We don't wear these anymore, of course, but we do need a black dress for our husband's funeral. We do need that. And, more than a year before he died, more than a year before anyone knew he would die, I found one.

I was in Goodwill of all places, browsing for something to wear to a wedding, I think, and there it was. Crepe, mid-calf, with little pintucks down the front and a belt in the back. Just the style that looked best on me and a bargain besides. Obviously, however, there's a problem with this. One does not buy a dress to anticipate one's husband's death. It's not done.And for good reason.

How could I even consider it? I knew he was sick, very sick, and had been so for a long time. My common sense told me that, eventually, he would die. But not soon enough to necessitate buying a dress. Not even close. I didn't try it on. I hung it back up like I'd been stung instead, and walked out.

But I kept thinking about it, trying to imagine what would happen if--when, if I was being honest--Dave did die. Would I want to go shopping then? After all, I almost never wore black. I didn't have one thing in which to wrap grief that big.

And I kept remembering the little, almost microscopic, ways that God drops favor into my unexpecting lap, and I kept thinking of the dress.  Would it not be better to get it now rather than have to get one later, when I would rather be doing absolutely anything else? I knew it would. OK, I thought, I'd put it to the test. I'd wait a couple of days and if it was still there when I went back, well, I'd get it.

It was and I did, but guiltily, without telling anyone, and I shoved into a corner of my closet. I didn't want to look at it. And it hung there for 13 months, after which I took it off the hangar, wore it exactly twice, for both of Dave's funerals, and got rid of it, casting it out as though someone had coated it with acid.

My widow's weeds, for which, by God's grace I did not have to shop while broken and weeping, had served their purpose and I never wanted to look at them again.

Images: Shutterstock, Amberrose Hammond