Friday, February 22, 2008

Dad's Big Trip

In the midst of all my other disappointments of late, the biggest came today. My dad left on his big road trip, and I wasn’t able to hug him goodbye. I am still sick, and I don’t want to infect him. I am so proud of my dad. He’s 83, and still choosing to live life to the fullest. He’s deciding what he wants to do with his remaining years, and doing it. He’s dreaming dreams and making them come true. Mom never wanted to take a road trip. International travel was more her passion. Dad has a love affair with the automobile. When I was young he would restore classic antique cars and we’d ride in parades. (With costumes!) He loved working on cars, talking about cars, buying cars, and driving cars. We had lots of new cars growing up, from his fire-engine red Karmann Ghia, to his silver Mercedes Benz. Now he’s off to explore all the car museums from here to Indianapolis, and to visit many of his dear friends along the way. He’ll also get to see my niece in Texas. They both seem excited about that. I hope the weather warms up. Dad says he only likes ice when it’s in his gin. He’s been to the mechanic and he bought a new GPS, and he’s off. When you lose someone you love, you hold tighter to the ones you still have, so it's hard to see him go. My dad is someone who really understands me, listens to me, laughs with me, and cries with me. I can be completely myself with him. We have an easy relationship that I just enjoy, and don’t’ have to work hard at. I love him. I hope he has an incredibly wonderful time on the trip. I will really miss him while he’s gone, and I’ll be relieved when he’s finally back safely.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In which I start to sound like Eeyore

A friend called to comfort me in my sickness today. I feel so demoralized and devastated. I was thrashed by life before I got sick, and had no reserves, and now I have the Mother-of-all-Miseries Virus. This friend prayed for me on the phone that my problems would be cleaned, tidied and wrapped up like a package of clothes from a Chinese laundry. Now, I did my laundry by hand in China, but when we were in Thailand I brought in ten kilos of dirty, sweaty, icky clothes, and they came back from the laundry clean, pressed and folded. They looked like works of art. The underwear looked like complicated origami! So the prayer got me thinking. I think God is able to take all my problems--my illness, my broken appliances, my grief over losing my mom and my brother, and all my other concerns—and bring something beautiful out of them. The problem is, I’m in the agitator right now. Or is it that I’m being pressed with a hot iron? Tumbled dry? At least it feels that way. And it’s no fun. I want to get to the part where it’s all wrapped up in a neat package.

Monday, February 18, 2008

When will my misery end?

Jim and I and four good friends were eating lunch around my table, when Jim said “Marsh, you have a rash on your face.” Looking in the mirror, I saw a face covered in zits, against a bright red, blotchy background. I had been feeling really tired since we sat down to the meal, but I thought it was from the morning of making the 2 soups, fruit salad, scones, muffins and dessert. Although I loved the conversation, loved having the house full, and hated to be rude, half an hour later I had to excuse myself from my own table and lay down. I slept, and woke up feeling even worse. I called my dear, sweet friend who is my physician and told him I felt like I had a mixture between Scarlet Fever and Polio. My arms and legs don’t ache, but feel weak and useless. (Naturally I’m thinking I’ll be paralyzed for life). I have a rash, sore throat and am generally feeling horrible. He said “Oh, you have that virus that’s going around. People who have it feel like they’re going to die.” Not polio? A virus? (Bad news. I know there’s nothing to do for a virus, but let it run its course. Sigh). Then he said “Yeah, it’ll get worse for three days and then you’ll develop this nasty, painful cough that will last for weeks.” (Since I have asthma, this was NOT what I wanted to hear.)

So the name Job comes to mind. I just feel horrible emotionally, physically and mentally. But here’s the saving grace. Whereas Job’s friends turned on him at his lowest, I have amazing and wonderful friends. I have a friend who will give me wise medical advice on a Sunday evening without going through the switchboard. ("Well, ma'am, I don't know if Dr. X will think it's actually an emergency, but to me it's a matter of life and death.") My husband brought me tea and breakfast in bed this morning. Some dear friends came for the weekend and, I swear, they went through Gary Chapman’s The Languages of Love book and ministered to me in every language. (They brought a beautiful present full of little presents that showed their great insight into who I am and what I love, they spent time with me, they verbally affirmed me, they gave me hugs (and now probably will come down with the Scarlet Fever/Polio virus), and generally served us. Jim and I called our dear friends in France. We didn’t know, but her brother also died recently. In a foreign country. They are grieving over many other intense difficulties, (including possible job loss, and betrayal by close friends), but the four of us were able to laugh together on the phone in spite of it all. Later, I chatted on Gmail chat with another great friend who is recovering from surgery. She’s been through a lot, too, and she said things that made me smile. Life is like raising children. There are so many terrible moments (arguing over getting dressed, diapers, them saying “You’re mean, Mom”, and just the daily drudgery of it all.) But the precious, golden moments make all the rest worthwhile. I can go through losing my mom, my brother, my dog and my appliances, my computer, and my health, as long as I have the Comforter by my side, and good friends to surround me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How to help a person in crisis

Before November 29th I didn’t really know how to comfort someone who had a person close to them die. After going through two deaths back to back, I am, unfortunately, becoming more of an expert on how to help people in crisis. What I know now is that the most comforting actions to me were when people used their unique gifts and talents to help me. Friends who are great cooks made me soup. One friend gave me the soup in a special little fabric bag that she makes. Another friend who bakes pies from scratch made me a cheery pie with real cherries (not pie filling). I received corny poetry and gifts full of puns that made me laugh from a dear coworker. I appreciated so much the friend who made enchiladas for 15 people on the day of my mom’s service. And the friend who offered to go to Costco for me saved my life! Simple actions like the friend who bought the guest book for people to sign, helped tremendously. I was very grateful for the friend who dropped everything and flew down from Oregon to help me. But people don’t have to go to extreme measures like that to comfort someone in crisis. An hour after my mom died I called a friend who has had a lot of people close to him die. He knew just the right words to comfort me. And he prayed for me on the phone. Cards, emails, flowers, prayers and kind words gave me tremendous comfort. I wanted to be able to let people help, but not impose on people. It was easier to let people do things that I knew they enjoyed doing. I hate gardening, and was blessed to tears at the friend who offered to trim my roses for me. This lady likes gardening; otherwise I would have felt guilty accepting her generous offer. My hairdresser met me at her salon in the early morning of my mom’s service to do my hair for free. I enjoyed not having to worry about my hair, and also the chance to talk to a sweet friend at the beginning of a difficult day. I feel loved right now. Sad, but loved. I will not forget the many kindnesses that people have given me.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Red is the New Avocado

I bought new appliances yesterday. As I lamented about the stress of the washer, dryer, dishwasher, toaster oven, and instant hot water being out, a dear friend said "At times like this, (when you experience a life crisis), you need to say to yourself 'It's only money.'" So I took her advice and bought a washer, a dryer and a dishwasher. I wanted the red ones. But other friends told me that red is the new avocado, and will look dated in a few years. So I have the boring white ones. I would have bought a toaster, but we were in San Luis, and driving the Miata, and, trust me, there was not room for even a toaster.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Good Day

I have decided that Jim and I don’t play enough. We used to take romantic trips together to sort of renew our marriage, when the kids were little. Now that they are grown and less demanding, we don’t feel the intense need to get away any more. Jim and I travel a lot still. We went to Thailand in June, and Albania in October, and San Francisco after Christmas. But those trips were not the relaxing, and nourishing holiday that I found in San Luis Obispo this weekend with Jim. We met our dear friends, Rick and Diane here, and had some great play times. We had dinner at Mama’s Meatball with Brenna and Matt. We were pampered in a nice hotel with a fireplace in the room. We had a great breakfast and read the paper leisurely. While Jim, (accompanied by Rick) taught a class in San Luis Obispo for a professional organization, Diane and I poked around the SLO downtown, ate white chocolate chip scones from the House of Bread, shopped and talked. Later, we all had lunch at Big Sky. San Luis holds only happy memories for me, and I was able to escape my grief for awhile. Just the change of scenery was incredibly healing for me. Today was a good day. I need to get away more. I love Jim.

The story of Lazarus

I’ve thought a lot about the story of Lazarus. It’s the one place in the Bible that I know of where Jesus wept. (Did you memorize that verse, too?) He had been told that Lazarus was sick, and because he didn’t come right away Lazarus died. And his sisters were ticked that Jesus had delayed. Jesus knew how all this was going to end. He knew Lazarus was going to rise from the dead and be completely whole. Mary and Martha were going to get their brother back. It would all end happily. But what did he do? He cried. Why did he cry? And why didn’t He come sooner so that Martha and Mary (not to mention Lazarus) wouldn’t have to suffer the pain? He wept because of Mary and Martha’s suffering. When we are anguished, He is, too. He loves us. He doesn’t want us to suffer. But He also doesn’t remove the suffering because of how the pain is forming us to be the people He wants us to be. I’m changed already. I don’t know all the ways I’m changing, but I know I’m softer, wiser, and more compassionate. I am more willing to be the lump of clay molded by the Master’s hand. I’m more about the journey, and less about the destination. Hopefully, I’m a better friend, wife, mother, and daughter. I may be a better teacher, and a better Stephen Minister. I don’t want to go through the grief. But Someone has other ideas. So walk through it I will. Good thing He’ll never leave me or forsake me.

In which I wallow in my self-pity

A student’s mom wrote me a sympathy card containing some Bible verses she thought would be comforting. It was very sweet, and I appreciate the card very much. The card led to a new understanding about my sadness. The verses were all about the afterlife. How Jesus will take away the pain of death, and how He is preparing us a place in Heaven. I realized I already knew all this. I believe it firmly. I have no doubts that Mom is in Heaven, where there is no more sickness, or injustice, or poverty, or evil. I know she’s in a better place. That is not what I’m sad about. What I’m sad about is that for ME, right now, she is gone. I’m self-centered, and full of self-pity. She’s happy, but I’m not. My life is like a puzzle that has been dumped out. I’ve lost much of my family of origin, and I don’t know what life will be like in the future. I’m trying to put the pieces back together, but I don’t have a picture of what the completed puzzle is supposed to look like! I don’t know if the pieces are all there to put it back together. I don’t have the energy to work it out. And I feel like a two year old who can’t have what she wants. And so I cry. Not for Mom. For myself.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Part of a letter I sent to dear friends and family

I'm barely functioning...Quite sad most of the time. I'm reading "A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis, and he describes so much of what I'm feeling. It's reassuring that it's "normal", and yet, somehow unnerving that I can't just by knowing this information instantly feel better. "Oh, it's normal. That's comforting." He says how he never realized how much deep grief was like being "drunk or concussed". Yes, concussed. A new word for how I feel. He also said that the bereaved should be put in camps like lepers so they don't spill their grief all over everyone else. Relationships suffer at a time when you need the relationships the most. I completely lost it the other night over, get this, having to get two pastors' recommendations for my IMPACT application. I sobbed for two hours because I had to have them in within 48 hours and how would I get them to Mark, and/or Marsha, and /or Paul, and they were so busy, and how could I impose on them AGAIN, and why did I wait until the last minute to do my application? My heart was touched today when Randa emailed me that both Mark and Marsha's recommendation letters had arrived in the IMPACT office right on time. God is good, and why can't I trust Him?

And speaking of trusting Him. I believe that there are so many good things about Mom's death. She WANTED to die in her sleep. She didn't want to be sick. She would have hated being a burden on us or being in a "home". Her greatest fear was that she would run out of money. (Or was it that she would run out of shoes? Because she sure prepared for that eventuality). I didn't think she would live forever. I knew she would have to die sometime, and often told the girls "Grandmas don't keep." So, what I don't understand is why I am so incredibly sad? Scott and I weren't particularly close, I thought, and, yet having him gone is leaving a big hole. There's something about losing someone whom I've known my whole life. He was living with me during the formative years of my life, and I am as I am today partly because of him. We share a lot of history together. I told Jim that I've lost 2/5 of my nuclear family. And he said "You've lost half of your family apart from yourself." That's true. But Mom's in a better place. God has sent so many people to comfort me. I know He's watching over me, and is by my side. I know that He's working His good in this. So why am I so sad?

I'm wondering if the double-grief is sort of an efficient way to deal with it. Instead of having incredible grief this year AND next, I'm grieving only once. Feels very painful, though, and is not something I'd recommend.

I worry about losing one of the girls, or Jim, or my dad. I really worry about losing my dad. You may as well lock me away for a few months if he dies, b/c I will be completely incapable of functioning. I love him so much. More as we go through each crisis together. He's just the absolute best dad. He's so wise, and makes great decisions. He always agrees with me, not b/c he gives in, but b/c he's sort of a kindred spirit and thinks so much like me. He's loving and kind and good. And when I tell him how sad I am he laughs and says "me, too."

I make it through each day at school, and come home and nap, and make it through the evening. I'm in a fog. The dishwasher, the washer, the dryer the toaster oven and the instant hot water are all broken. The vacuum was broken, too, but now it's fixed. Broken things frustrate me. And I don't have the energy to research new ones, and I don't want to "settle" for an appliance that I know I will have for years and years. I want to make a wise decision.

There are good things during the day. Cards are still coming. The house is full of flowers. People have baked for me, run errands for me, made me soup, given me books, laid hands on me and prayed for me, called me, and been generally kind to me. Today Kris told me she wants to come trim my roses for me. She loves to garden. I hate it. And I'm touched that she would think of how to offer her talents to bring me joy. Many people want to take me to lunch or dinner. A past student left a card on my desk today that said "You were so good to me when I was sad. Now, I'm trying to do the same for you." I'm wondering how the whole town knows. One former student's mom said "Oh, I heard it from so and so when we were talking on the Avenue." I don't know "so and so" and I didn't know anyone on the Avenue knew me except Randa. Weird. Someone told Trudy (my superintendent) that my mom had died, but she just thought they were wrong. "No, it was her BROTHER."

Anyway, these are my rambling thoughts. I am deeply indebted to you, whom I have "spilled my grief all over."