Almost a year

it has been many months since I have written. I was finally used to the rhythms of grief and no longer surprised when it periodically grew louder and stronger. About a week before “going home” to Pennsylvania it is harder and the anticipation of going home brings more grief than actually being there.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were poignant times of experiencing again his absence and feeling his loss more acutely. But at Christmas I could also appreciate his joy at celebrating the birth of his Savior with Him in heaven.

And now it is nearly a year since he died. A year. A long time, a short time, it flew, it dragged, a realization that I have grown accustomed to this loss which is in itself a loss and grief.

After Christmas and in to January I realized that  Feb 10 date was approaching and have dreaded it a bit.  However, I was surprised by what has been happening.  I suddenly was experiencing short flashes of memory of the hospital parking lot, the snowy weather, the hospital hallway, his hospital room. These happened at odd quiet moments.  As I considered what was happening I realized I was seeing again what I had experienced a year ago.  He was in the hospital for three weeks in January and we spent much of that time in Pennsylvania.  I was not consciously aware of that anniversary, but my heart and mind were and were reminding me that this too was a major event in my life, the beginning of the end to come.

So, am living those moments. I am not sure why this one year anniversary looms large. It was a day, but the loss has encompassed EVERY day since then. But we humans do acknowledge many yearly anniversaries….holidays, birthdays, marriages and I so guess deaths become part of the list.

Just a few short weeks. I brace myself for the intensity that will come again and will be gracious with myself as I move toward the day just a year ago that changed my life.


In the moment

I am an odd combination of organized and spontaneous, detailed and sloppy, in the moment and a worrier/planner.  Living in a rural area helps to foster both but hopefully I am slowly finding a better balance. When the weeds need to be pulled but it is pouring down rain, fretting does not help, move on to something else. When the swallows have just fledged and look so comical all squished together on the electric wire in the barn cause they are used to being in a nest that’s has grown too small for them, stop and smile. (And when you are getting used to a new situation be gentle with yourself, birds need time to adjust and so do people). Make a plan for the many tasks that need to be done and what truly could be accomplished today and tackle them, and put the rest out of your mind.

I may have figured out why I love sheep so much.  They are a juxtaposition of skittish and calm, stressed by the unknown, unconscious planners as they eat the pasture grass. No clumps of uneaten grass but methodically move up the hill with a clean line delineating the grazed and no the yet eaten pasture. Animals that make poor decisions when faced with something scary — running wildly around without a plan and spending useless energy. Some of those traits sound like me.

I had sheep for years and when the last one died, we acquired two goats to keep the llama company. Herd animals need a herd.  But one day noticed some sheep at on a local farm sanctuary website, about an hour and a half away. We ended up fostering the sheep.  I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I had sheep in the barn again.  I was not sure why. I am a wool spinner and knitter so they are part of that whole process, but when they arrived I had no idea if their wool was worth spinning.  I smiled every time I went out to the barn. Through rain, snow, cold weather, I am still smiling when I go out. Maybe because they remind me of me?

But sheep do something that can be a benefit or a hindrance when I do it. They chew cud.  Sheep are ruminants so they bring up old food and chew it again (sorry to be graphic here). Now, I also sometimes ruminate with thoughts. Things that need to be done, things I regret, things I am  worried about facing, decisions that need to Be made and I want to make the right one. I ruminate on them and it is not helpful.

I need to learn to do what sheep do when they ruminate. I don’t think they are thinking!  They lie comfortably on the ground, or stand still. They gurgle a bit, bring up food, chew, swallow and start the process over. They look happy, content, in the moment.  Eyes half closed, relaxed, they are at peace with the world.  As I stand and watch them I am soothed and can feel myself relax, become more centered, and yes, stand still in the moment. Maybe my soul does recognized a long time ago that they held  a lesson for me. I am happy to have sheep in the barn once again, may I learn their lessons well.

Even When we think we are alone…..

We have been back in OH for three weeks. One night when I couldn’t reach my mom at 10 I knew if I needed to, I could call to ask Dr Bob to check on her. What a gift of peace of mind he has given me with his care for her!

Our church has been looking for a new pastor since ours retired in January. A fill in preacher who became our interim quickly captured our hearts and his family as he opened their hearts to us. His sermons nudged us to a deeper relationship with Christ. We would have gladly hired him, but he was in the national guard and scheduled to be deployed to a dangerous place in July for 7 months.  We bid them farewell. The family had attended a church closer to home before coming to us but all promised to keep in touch.

So he left on July 11 just a few weeks after the family had adopted a rescue dog. She is delightful. But I got a text last night at 5:30 that the door had not been closed tightly when other kids came to visit and the dog had been gone all day. We volunteered to help. I prayed that God would not allow these two boys to live through another painful goodbye.

The dog had crossed a busy road and was spotted one place or another all day a mile or so from home but always in the same general area. But even when the mom spotted her, she was so scared, she ran off again. We joined the search. We searched until 8:30, knocking on doors showing people her picture. The houses were in wooded areas, LONG driveways, and lots of ground to cover. She was seen in one person’s yard several times so mom camped out there with crate and food and I took her children back home. At 9:30, the dog came close twice but ran off again, was spotted at another dog lover’s house and he tried to coax her to him, to no avail but this was several blocks away (distance wise, no sidewalks here) Now there are people she never met walking around the area with flashlights and the homeowner where she is camped out, whom she never met before,  is sitting with her and we all continue to pray.  No sightings then for an hour. Our worries were that she would get hit trying to cross the main road again, or be hunted down by coyotes. Finally at 1:15a.m she overcame her fear and walked inlaid down when “her mom” walked to her and led her to the crate to eat the nice smelly canned food we had put in there. Lessons learned: kids–must make sure door is always closed. Mom– it is hard to have your husband in a faraway dangerous place, but you are not alone. God is with him and you and if you need something like last night, there were STRANGERs walking around outside at midnight helping you to find a lost dog. God IS good whether or not the dog was found, but oh so grateful that he was merciful to that family and hopefully for the next 6 months this memory will help them not feel quite so alone.

Mixed feelings

My mom and dad made a new friend last summer. A doctor and his wife had moved into their independent living complex.  He had taken care of his wife who had dementia for 8 years before she died within the last year.  He is a very kind, generous, and gracious man. He recognized that my dad could no longer work in his garden as he used to in the  summer of 2016 and had taken on the job. My dad was amazed at his faithfulness and the hard work he put into it and was very grateful. He often talked about Dr. Bob working in his garden when we spoke on the phone.

Then, last August and started a stint of inpatient rehab, at home for a week, back in rehab but eventually it became permanent when his back compression fractures were causing paralysis in his legs.  So, Dr Bob took care of the garden and of both my parents. Visiting my dad, giving medical advice, and becoming a part of their support system.  It was on his insistence that my dad be hospitalized  in January, or he would have died much sooner, and he was with the family when my dad passed away.

He was concerned about my mother and checked in on her frequently. I noticed my mom talking about him more and telling me about the nice things he was doing for her.  She was extravagant with her compliments and often said thing like, ‘Can you believe he did that for me?”  Here’s where the mixed feelings come in. I was grateful for all he was doing for her. But she was never that effusive with my dad. Dr. Bob brought over homemeade granola for her a couple of hours after she mentioned she ate granola in the morning. She was so amazed by his thoughtfulness.  My dad bought a microwave for her the first year they came out to save her time and to help her. She made him take it back cause it was too expensive. She loves salmon, but when he brought home a large slab from Sam’s Club she complained it was too big. I know they truly and deeply loved each other and I knew my mom missed my dad, but their relationship was not always easy (few are) but the effusiveness was a little difficult. I wanted to say, “So he’s better than my father?”  I struggled with my feelings and finally shared just a little bit of it with my mom. She admited she could see why I felt that way.

Sharing my feelings (there’s lesson there, I think) made many of those mixed feelings fall away. And then another conversation sent them away forever. My dad loved animals, of all kinds and I do too. My mother and my sister have no real connection to or need for them. We always brought one or two dogs home with us so he could have some “dog time”.  He had a very lifelike stuffed dog under the coffee table that resided on a bed he specifically asked for Christmas one year. I asked my mom what she was going to do with the dog.  She said, “Oh it needs to stay right there because it was so important to him.” That is what my heart needed to hear.

Dr. Bob is a wonderful man. He is generous to all he meets. He is starting a library at Fellowship community where they both live in memory of his wife. He and my mom do many things together. They are friends and now I can be wholly grateful that she has someone who, like she says, “treats her like a queen.” He sent us home from Pa with a plant that he bought for us, one of my dad’s favorite. I find I less am stressed about her because I know he is checking in on her. When this started she went to the chaplain saying she felt guilty about being happy again some of the time. He shared with her some very wise words: “Joe is in heaven and happier than he has ever been before. He would want you to be happy too. Enjoy the blessings that God sends.” Amen

Still catching up

At home in PA it was my mother who found the process of clearing out more difficult than anticipated.  She wanted it done, or so she thought, but”other things needed to be done.” After a few hours, she finally admitted, “This is harder than I thought it would be, I really don’t want to go to the shed.” I quickly assured her that it did not have to be done today or any other day until she was ready, but facing the dread made it lose it’s power and we headed for the shed.  She did well at first. Most of the things were guy things that you would find in a man’s shed, but the barrel of Easter decorations, including Easter baskets that were made up for us when we were kids made her choke up.  We suggested she just go a little early  to a scheduled luncheon and let us finish and she gladly acquiesced.  We tried to deal with the things without too much thought, dividing the things into a pile for the trash, to give away and one for my sister and one for me. one task completed, hearts intact.

Next on the list was his clothing. He same thing happened as we folded shirts packed them in to bags. Again we said that we didn’t have to do it today. She wanted it done so we sent her off to, another part of the condo and finished that job. But we were careful to put her clothing into the empty closet. Empty closets are painful reminders.

I have some shirts to make in to pillows and I will wear, tho huge on me, his sweatshirt with trout on it. He loved to fish. I realized that’s there were few things to keep to remember him by, not like my mom’s decor pieces which would always remind me of her. I was sorely tempted to keep a fishing pole, but I have no intention of fishing and we have two unused fishing poles at home. The nephews love to fish and they will enjoy the poles. So I have some shirts, a sweatshirt, an old oar to stand in a corner of the house (the other one was broken) and lots of memories. A hummingbird will always remind me of my dad. It’s ok that I don’t have “things.”

So the job of clearing out is done and we are not bereft.



Three parts water to one part sugar.

I thot this was posted but found it in drafts so am posting today.

My dad loved hummingbirds.  When he came to visit he sat and watched them fly to our feeders and never grew tired of watching them.  I will share my part of his eulogy some day. In it I mention that he called frequently, often weekly, to ask the proportion of sugar and water for the hummingbird feeder.  I was at Home Depot today and noticed their huge display of hummingbird feeders and once again was reminded of his absence,  but, simply said, under my breath, three parts water to one part sugar.

My great aunt’s husband (well she’s not really my great aunt but  i never figured out that ‘cousin once removed’ so have always called her “aunt”) has dementia which is getting worse. Sometimes he does not recognize her and objects to her getting in to bed. But the rest of the time he is agitated if she is not in the same room with him.  She has difficulty getting daily chores done.  He falls nearly weekly and has been hospitalized each time he falls.  He is tall enough and agile enough in spite of his dementia that he can climb over bed rails.  They need to have someone with him most the time because he wants to do what he wants to do and she needs help to keep him safe.  I can hear in her voice and in their daughter in laws voice how difficult things are.  At least some of us are praying that the end comes quickly.  All wonder how long they can continue and yet they will continue. As I laid in bed last night, awake and praying, I was praying that God be merciful.  The stress is being trapped in an almost unbearable place.  And yet, I know that the end will bring a different kind of pain and I wept for their impending loss and for my recent loss.  It’s hard knowing someone else will be experiencing this.  If you asked me what is worse, tho, in my instance, a father almost 90, a life well lived for him, I think the time approaching death was painful in a whole different and overwhelming way that is somehow worse than the goodbye upon death.  This I am sure is not the case for everyone, but for me the pain of watching a loved one decline and suffer and the frustration of not being able to fix it is more stressful than the pain of loss. The loss is deep and all encompassing, but I can let go of the need to do something, to fix it, to find the solution. But what I pray for is that God be merciful.  His loving kindness changes the circumstances or carries us through.

Time Marches On

It has been longer than I realize don’t since I have written.  A lot has happened and been experienced  Life was busier than usual, vacations meant I worked full time instead of part time and then we got ready to go ‘home’ to PA, where I grew up and my mom and sister still live. My mother asked us to help her clean out my dad’s shed and the rest of his clothing etc while we were home and I had no problem with that. Did not even dread that job. But as we approached the departure day I found that I was feeling anxious and then surprised to notice that I really didn’t want to go ‘home.’ I mentioned it to Roy and was surprised to hear he was feeling the same.

It was not due to the jobs that lie ahead, but I think it was because it would be another confirmation THAT HE WASN’t THERE ANYMORE.  I am always surprised by the thot that pops into my head confirming he is gone, like “I really won’t get to hug him again.” What?? I have known that for months. Is it the distance, so I am  not confronted with his absence daily or weekly? Or is that the normal course of how are minds and hearts slowly deal with a really hard, mind and life changing truth? I don’t know.

But, once I recognized the feelings, took extra care to get enough sleep, and did a better job of pacing myself, the dread dissipated and I was once again, looking forward to seeing my family. So off we went.