Walter, Powerful Warrior

I’ve been going through my dad’s belongings, slowly and tenderly, in the past few months since his death on October 28, 2016. As I find correspondence (he saved everything, including bills as far back as the 1990s), I open each envelope, because I never know what unexpected treasure might be stuffed inside.

I have found pictures of my children in various cute and awkward stages–Julie dressed up in various costumes and clothes, striking a dramatic pose (she’s always had the acting bug), an adolescent Daniel…I found one pic of him smiling as he sported his Mohawk his junior year of high school. I see the sensitive, artistic side of Daniel in most of the pictures. There are pictures of Daniel and Julie playing Yahtzee with my dad at Christmastime.

But then I found one letter written by my grandmother that left me tearful. It brings to mind the lyrics of a song, “Find Us Faithful,” that our choir at Crievewood Baptist Church often sang:

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover
And the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them
To the road we each must find

Words by Jon Mohr. Copyright 1988 Birdwing Music/Jonathan Mark Music (admin. by The Sparrow Corp.). All rights reserved.

My grandmother, who suffered from congestive heart failure, was writing to my aunt (April 15, 1977). A portion of her letter describes my dad so well:

I’ve had so much fluid at times I could not hardly get my breath. Walter came and stayed with me last night. We got up and fixed breakfast and he made his bed and carried in stove wood and pumped a bucketful of water and started home about 6:30. I think he goes to work at 8:00.

Also tucked in this envelope is a small envelope labeled “To Daddy from Anne.” Inside I found a card I’d bought, one of those that explains the meaning of a person’s name. I thought it summarized the kind of person my dad was:

Walter
an Old German name
“Powerful Warrior”

He is quiet and enjoyable; a man who is very secure with himself; always gets involved in things; just to see him is heartening; is a very devoted person; has a captivating personality; he is a man sure of himself; he is proud of the things he does.

Okay, well, some of this describes my dad. “Powerful warrior” may be metaphorical. My dad was a World War II veteran, but he arrived on the battlefronts just after the battle was over, and he was enroute to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped, so thank God he missed that.

“Quiet and enjoyable,” yes. He was one of those people who stays in the background in many situations, happy to let someone else be in the spotlight and willing to do whatever needed to keep things running smoothly.

“A man who is very secure with himself,” maybe.The rest of the description suits him to a T, except “he is proud of the things he does.” I think my dad took pride in his endeavors but he is one of the humblest people I’ve ever known. He certainly modeled for me how to live a quiet and Christlike life.

One of these days when I feel like it, I will return to my blog posts and add some visuals. But right now I just want to reflect on my dad, his strong belief in doing the right thing no matter how tough the situation, and I honor and cherish him in my heart and memories.

I am blessed to have had such a kind man for a father. Even last June when he was failing physically and mentally, he wrote me a sweet note expressing his gratitude for how I cared for him. Always faithful, that Walter. Powerful warrior too. He accepted the challenging situations in his life, faced them bravely, and stayed faithful to the end. I want to be like him.

 

 

 

 

The Journey No One Wants to Take

The Journey No One Wants to Take

Since my dad died in October 2016, I have been reminded that I am on a journey. Grief is a journey that we don’t want to take, but everyone has to embark on it at one time or another, if he or she lives long enough.

Now that my second parent has died, I feel adrift, as if if my moorings have come loose. Sometimes my grief expresses itself in not being able to concentrate. At other times, I feel impatience and rage as I’ve never felt them before. For instance, I have recently gotten really angry at people who do stupid stuff in traffic—like the pedestrian who jaywalks in front of me at dusk and yells at me (to which my response was to roll down my window and yell back, “I couldn’t SEE you!”—also wanting to say, “You moron!). Or the driver who sees a traffic accident that just happened and stops his car in front of me rather than using his turn signal and pulling over to the side of the street (or at least turning on his hazard lights). I got uncharacteristically angry at such an incident earlier this week, and I thought about yelling at the STUPID person who DARED to stop his car without warning … and then I remembered, “Wait, he is wanting to help. But what an IDIOT! How does he expect me to read his mind? Not to mention that it’s dark, and the other two lanes of traffic were already blocked by the accident, and now he’s blocking my way home, and I am driving in my new (to me) car and could have hit him, and all these other cars are slowing down…and…

Something deeper is going on inside. I am raging because I miss my dad. And my mom. And the family we used to be. Sure, my mom died way back in 1991 when I was 32, but the death of my dad has stirred up that old grief that never completely healed.

I am doing strange things.First is the absent-mindedness. I have misplaced several items, such as my prescription sunglasses (which went missing for nearly 2 weeks), my water bottle (I left it in a bathroom at church), and most recently my Starbucks gold card, which unfortunately tI just reloaded this week. It’s maddening to have to retrace my steps and figure out where I might have left something.

I’ve been reading booklets on grief, which I never thought I would do, but they make me feel better because they reassure me I am not going crazy. I haven’t dreamed about my dad since he died. That is different from the way I experienced grief over my mom’s death. I have been having dreams about being left somewhere by someone dear to me. Maybe that’s a sign I feel abandoned.

Sometimes in choir I will sing a line of a hymn or an anthem, and the words get to me. A wave of grief washes over me, and I think I will drown. Tears spring to my eyes.

Not long ago I found the obituary I’d written for my dad, and I rewrote it. Now what good is that going to do, more than 4 months after his death? I was so dissatisfied with the obituary I’d written. It reported just the facts and didn’t give a sense of the kind and loving person my dad was. Here is some information that I left out of the obituary: My dad was an avid gardener. My mother always called him “p-tic” (meaning particular), and he was indeed a stickler for details. He had trouble fixing things, and I think it frustrated him to no end.

He was careful, but  not miserly, with his money. He was generous with his love and attention, and he generously shared his time, talents, and love to help others. Daddy served as volunteer treasurer of the Clinch Valley Baptist Association  for more than 22 years. He was a member of the Canton (NC) Civitan Club and was  their treasurer for a few years after he moved there in 1994 at age 71.

He was a night owl. As a teenager, I loved sitting up with him at night at our kitchen table as I did my homework and he paid bills and balanced his checkbook (to the penny). Whenever I entered a room where he was (at home, at the hospital, or at his assisted living and later nursing home), he lit up and smiled at me as if I had just made his day by my mere presence with him.

A week or two ago, I started sleeping with a teddy bear that belonged to my daughter when she was young. Somehow having this small symbol of love at my back while I sleep helps me feel a little better. On nights that I have trouble sleeping, I just hug that little green bear and think about my dad.

My dad always had my back. Last week I listened to a voicemail he’d left on my phone in June 2016. Daddy had called to see how I was feeling because I’d missed work the day before. That is so characteristic of him.

Today I was reading a meditation on grief titled “Death Never Takes a Holiday.”* One of our Upper Room Books authors, Richard L. Morgan, mailed me the book when he found out about my dad. It’s been sitting on my desk for months, and I finally opened the book. “Grief is awkward and uncomfortable,” I read. Yep. “The word grief means ‘heavy.’ It may well be the heaviest weight a person must bear. Death is the unwelcome intruder that stole your loved one and robbed you of love and joy. Life will never be the same.” Yes, that’s certainly true.

The meditation ends with a prayer: “Lord Jesus, you were acquainted with grief. You wept aloud when your friend Lazarus died. We feel so bereft and alone without our loved one, but you have a part in this sorrow that tears our heart.”

In another booklet titled Experiencing Grief (this one a gift from my church), I found this wisdom: “In a sense, grieving is actually  a show of faith. We are trusting God to hold us in our most vulnerable time, when our feelings are raw, our life is in pieces, and our strength is gone. If that isn’t faith, I’m not sure what is.”**

Whew. It’s okay for me to feel this bereft, even though I know in my heart that my dad is with God. It is comforting to know that Jesus understands how I feel. Jesus knows what it means to feel bereft and alone. I can make it through this journey of grief if I lean on him.

 

*Richard L. Morgan, Meditations for the Grieving, Copyright 2005Wipf & Stock.

**Kenneth C. Haugk, Experiencing Grief, Book 2 in the Journeying Through Grief series. Copyright 2004 by Stephen Ministries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallelujah! I Remembered My Password

Well, now. I know you have wondered, if you have ever read my blog, if my blog just dropped off the face of the earth. The truth is this:

  1. I now consider 2016 the Year of the Blur. My dad died on October 28, and most of the year was consumed with managing his care, along with my “normal” life.
  2. When I was ready to write again, I couldn’t log into WordPress. It had been so long that I had forgotten my password. I tried and tried, and then decided “The hell with this. I’ll try again later.”
  3. I have been doing a lot of mental processing and writing in my journal instead of blogging.
  4. I have decided that I will take my time to grieve the loss of my dad. It was an immense loss to me. I told my husband before Daddy died, “I may not cry too much at the funeral. But rest assured, I will be hurting. I will always remember him. I will always grieve his loss, even if I put on a happy face.

So here we are, in February 2017. Much has happened since the last time I blogged (on my weird autoimmune disorders. See The Queen of Weird Diseases if you want to know more. If you would rather skip over that, I understand. Do what you wanna do.).

As  I write this, I have tears in my eyes just thinking about my dad. It was so obvious that he needed to go. I gave him permission to die; I told him on Tuesday, October 25, “Daddy, it’s okay if you go. I’ll be all right.” That was the last time I saw him conscious. He was in bad shape after a cardiac event on August 18. He spent 5 days in the hospital, and then we moved him to rehab at a nursing home about 2 miles from our house.

When we moved him to rehab, I thought, “This is only temporary. He’ll have physical therapy, and he’ll get better.” Now, I must tell you that I am the eternal optimist. My dad was 93, almost 94 (he would have been 94 on November 29), and his health had been declining for years.

Daddy’s cardiac event (in which he was short of breath; the night nurse at his assisted living called an ambulance and Daddy was taken to the ER) resulted in his being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and COPD. I had seen the latter two diagnoses on some of his medical records, but it seems that no one ever really treated his symptoms. I feel bad now that when he complained that he was having trouble breathing, I minimized his symptoms, thinking he was just anxious. After all, the nurses at his assisted living place had said every time they checked his oxygen levels when he complained of shortness of breath, his numbers were in the 90s, and that was good. But when his numbers dropped to the 80s, the night nurse, Pierre, took Daddy seriously and called the ambulance).

During Daddy’s hospital stay, he was completely out of his mind. Nothing he said made much sense. He asked funny questions, and uncharacteristically, he talked nonstop from the time I got to the hospital the morning of Aug. 19 until about 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, when he finally fell asleep just as the medical staff were wheeling him away for a cardio-something-or-other. It’s all a blur. The social worker who came to Daddy’s room the second day of his hospitalization was someone who used to babysit my children. What a surprise! She was so kind as she pulled a list of possible places for Daddy to go for rehab. Clearly he would not be able to return to Morningside, his assisted living residence.

So there we were at Bethany Health & Rehab. Daddy started physical, occupational, and speech therapy. For a few days he made progress. Then he contracted 3 urinary tract infections in a row (he was catheterized while in the hospital), and things just went downhill from there. In one of the few times I saw him on his feet, assisted by two med techs, he said, “I’m going back to Morningside, and I’m going to start participating in more activities!” I had nagged him when he was at Morningside about getting to know people and the need for him to participate in activities there. He never was much interested in making the effort to get to know people. My dad is pretty shy, and I think he knew he didn’t have long to live when he moved to Morningside in August 2015…although I was unwilling to accept the idea of his death at that point.

I spent most of my visits with Daddy just holding his hand, talking to him about my day, things the kids (my adult children) were doing, the weather, what John was up to as manager of a pool & spa maintenance business. Some days his face would brighten up when I walked into his room. Some days he just lay there, looking at me with a tortured expression, like “How long do I have to endure this?” Many days he was sound asleep by the time I managed to get across town in rush hour traffic, and I hesitated to wake him, because he often was not comfortable while awake.

Toward the end (about the third week of September), the nurse from Bethany called me one day and said, “You know, your dad can’t seem to get a break. He is not making any progress in his therapy, although he tries hard. I think it may be time to focus on palliative care.” Sadly, I agreed. I met with the palliative care nurse one week, and a week later, she told me she thought Daddy was ready for hospice care. Again, I agreed. I felt better about hospice care because I thought Daddy would appreciate the spiritual aspect of it. I never got to talk to the primary chaplain on duty, but one chaplain who visited said his face lit up when she said the name of Jesus. That made me feel better.

During this time, when I normally would have sung hymns to Daddy, I had a bad cold that I couldn’t seem to shake. It affected my voice, and there were a couple of days I had laryngitis. So when music would have been a comfort to both me and Daddy, I was voiceless. Therefore, all I could do was sit beside his bed, hold his hand, rub his shoulder, and occasionally talk. Most of the time I was just quiet. He slept a lot. I played Words with Friends and chatted with everyone who came into Daddy’s room. Got to know some of the med techs and nurses quite well. One sweet med tech discovered after talking to me that Daddy didn’t normally have a mustache. She had shaved him and left a mustache, and I just thought it looked so funny on him. Almost Hitler-esque but it curved down around the corners of his mouth. After I told her that he didn’t usually have a mustache, she always shaved his face completely.

So then we came to the week that he died. I was there the night before he died. He was coughing and it was like waves every time he coughed…no productive cough. I was afraid he was going to choke. The nurse kept running into his room and giving him atropine drops to try to dry up some of his congestion. He was already dry from being on oxygen. The nurse had met me that night and told me Daddy’s baseline had changed drastically that day. He asked if there was anyone I needed to contact who might want to see him. He and I both knew that Daddy wouldn’t last much longer. After I was there for about an hour and a half, I decided to go home and try to rest a bit. I managed to sleep that night, and I went to work the next day. I got the phone call from the nursing home at 10:30 telling me that Daddy had just died.

It was the saddest day of my life. Even sadder than when my mom died on February 10, 1991 and I wasn’t there with her.

I am at peace with my dad’s death. He is no longer suffering. But oh, how I miss him. The other day I pulled out his billfold and looked at his driver’s license, renewed when he was 92, just before he came to Nashville to live with us for 13 months while undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I saw his picture and I cried. I find notes that he wrote (when he could write), and I cry. I refuse to get rid of some of his clothes, because I just want to wear them and remember Daddy. I know he is with Jesus. That thought consoles me. But oh, how my heart grieves.

Time will lessen my pain. I will get through this. But right now all I want to do is grieve, and I will let myself do that.

You Were Gone Too Soon

Today is Mother’s Day.
I remember how you used to wear a red rose
every year on Mother’s Day to indicate
that your mom was still living …
then a white rose after she died at age 96.
We had rose bushes out in our side yard,
on a little bank next to my aunt Reb’s garage,
so it wasn’t much trouble to find a red rose.
After Mamaw died in 1983, I don’t remember
whether the white rose you wore came from our yard
or if Daddy bought you a corsage at the grocery store.
I was in my 20s, in my early married years, living in Nashville,
generally oblivious of what went on in my parents’ lives.

I would have paid more attention
if I had known you wouldn’t be with us for many more years.
In the summer of 1984, you kept a persistent low-grade fever
and things generally weren’t well with you.
Daddy would tell me over the phone what was going on,
and I felt helpless to respond.
Oh Mom, I wish I’d been a little more in tune
and had encouraged Daddy more to relentlessly explore
what was going on with you.
We didn’t have the Internet then to look up symptoms
and fret over all the awful things that might be wrong with us.
Maybe it was just as well.

In 1985 you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease …
and you began your slow decline into tremors, forgetfulness, dementia,
all part of the cruel progress of your disease.
Too bad Michael J. Fox hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Parkinson’s;
when celebrities get ill, people seem to suddenly take notice
and often donate money to foundations that fund research.
Too bad they didn’t have the medical advances, research, and surgeries
that are available today.

I remember our last visit with you before Daniel was born.
It was Christmas 1986.
I cried and cried when John and I left Kingsport that year,
knowing somehow that I had to enter
this journey of motherhood largely on my own,
without your guidance, reassurance, advice, and cheering me on.

When Daniel was born, I wanted you, Mom.
You weren’t able to leave familiar surroundings by that point.
I got the postpartum “blues” in a bad way.
I cried and cried, overwhelmed by the thought
that I was responsible for this sweet, dependent baby …
and I had no idea how to be a mom.
I didn’t know then that one doesn’t suddenly learn how to mother.
It happens gradually, with experience and the support of friends and family, and often through trial and error.

I called my Aunt Reb from the hospital.
My obstetrician, a wise man, could tell I was
in bad shape emotionally, and, kindly, he approved
a longer hospital stay for me. (Those were the days when
insurance didn’t kick you out the door the day after your
baby was born.)
I begged Reb to come to Nashville and help out.
I knew that John would help,
but I needed a mother figure.
John’s mom was 80 years old. I felt close to her, but not enough
to depend on her for the emotional support I so badly needed.

Reb came to Nashville a couple of days
after we brought Daniel home.
Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul drove her to our house,
and Aunt Myrt helped with Daniel’s first bath.
I was scared to death that I would drop Daniel and injure him for life!

Reb stayed for a week, and gradually my frayed nerves
began to heal, and my hormones calmed down.
When Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul left with her a week later,
I watched out the window, holding Daniel, as their car rolled
down the street.
“It’s just you and me, baby,” I whispered to him. I may have
shed another few tears, but I figured I would be all right.
I was never alone — I had John and friends at church and work
and my mother-in-law to help encourage me
and teach me how to be a mom.

By the time Julie arrived, 3 years and 8 months later,
I felt much different about this experience called motherhood.
I welcomed Julie joyfully,
barely taking time to recover from her birth.
When she was 4 days old, my dad and I took Daniel to the park,
leaving Julie behind in her daddy’s care.
There was no time to stop and think
about all the changes in our lives.
And it was okay.
With a few years of experience under my belt,
I was comfortable with the thought of
being a mom,
no longer overwhelmed.

Mom, you held Julie for the first and last time
when she was 6 weeks old.
By then you could no longer talk much,
but you took pleasure in holding your granddaughter.
I captured the moment with our camera.

And when Julie was only 6 months old (and Daniel was 4),
you left this world.
I cried once again, the first of many times,
for I knew my children wouldn’t remember you
except vicariously through the stories I told them about you.

So it is in life:
we experience love and loss,
joy and sadness,
and somehow we manage to get through
with the help of faith, family, and friends.

I was fortunate to have you as my
mother and mentor
for 32 1/2 years.
You remain in my memories.
I will never forget you and your
positive, kind, funny, hardworking, dedicated, faithful example.

You live on, Mom, inside me
and in the lives of your grandchildren
through the many lessons you taught me.
I am grateful.

Though you were gone too soon,
You made a difference in our lives.

I might have worn a red rose a few times
while you were living (mostly during my childhood and adolescence).
Today I will wear a white rose to honor you
in my imagination.
We don’t have any rosebushes,
and I forgot the rose tradition when I went to the grocery store yesterday.

Yet, I will remember
and I will see your smile,
hear your voice,
and I will always love you
with all my heart.

Two Storms That Shook My Faith

Two Storms That Shook My Faith

This morning as I was reading Openings: A Daybook of Saints, Psalms, and Prayer by Larry James Peacock, I decided to follow the suggestion “write about some storm you have experienced.” It could be an actual storm or an inner storm that shook my faith, a time of doubt or despair, a time I needed the power and strength of God. Here’s what I wrote:

O God, probably the biggest storm that shook my faith
was when my mom became ill with Parkinson’s disease and developed dementia (among other unpleasant symptoms)
My dad was her caregiver,
and I lived 300 miles away.
I felt so guilty not being there,
yet how could I be in two places at once?

At the beginning of the storm, it was 1986 when my mom was diagnosed. I was 26 years old.
Then as the storm raged and she grew worse, I was 27 and pregnant with my first child.
Our son, Daniel, was born, and John and I faithfully traveled to Kingsport
every six weeks or so to see my parents,
who could not travel by that time due to my mom’s condition.
Those years are a blur in my memory.

Another storm occurred when I was 30:
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder,
though at the time I was told it was liver disease.
Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of my own mortality.
I was so afraid. John was afraid.
Our pastor came to see me at the hospital
and told me that this was one of the speed bumps on the road of life.
Somehow that remark calmed me and gave me a little perspective.
John and I desperately wanted another child,
and we asked the doctor about my life expectancy
and the advisability of having more children.
After all, I wanted to be around to help raise them.
My doctor consulted with experts in my disease (primary biliary cirrhosis)
and was told this condition usually occurs in middle-aged to older women.
Still, the experts thought that I would have a normal life span
and so we could proceed with our plans to have another child.
In 1990, when Daniel was 3 years, 8 months, our daughter,
Julie, was born. What a blessing! What a bundle of joy! How tired Mom was,
but oh, so joyful.

Back to storm #1. In 1991, Daniel was 4 and Julie was 6 months old.
I received a phone call on February 10 from my dad,
informing me that my mom had just died.
We had been expecting this news for a couple of months,
as my mother was hospitalized since December
and had spiked many high fevers,
and I had said good-bye to her when we left Kingsport after Christmas.
I knew. I knew I would never see my mother again this side
of heaven. It was hard. Oh, so hard.
She could barely speak (and then only incoherent thoughts),
but we held hands and I told her I loved her
and I knew that we would be together again someday with Jesus.

God, I was so afraid. Yet you were there with me then, Lord.
You kindly listened to all my frustrated ramblings, anxious thoughts,
depressed feelings,
And you were there when the worst thing imaginable for me finally happened:
my mother died.

Those days after her death were a blur: so many decisions to be made.
I remember my cousin Sue’s kindness:
She washed a couple of blouses and hung up two suits on the door
of my mother’s closet,
narrowing the choices for me as I decided what my mom — my cheerleader and encourager and beginning-to-be best friend —
would be buried in.

I recall shopping for caskets in the big, hidden room at the funeral home —
it struck me as a strange and ludicrous task —
and I was trying to be mindful of my dad’s budget (not knowing exactly what it was)
and the expectations of my family.
I finally selected a silvery rose-colored casket with roses sculpted on the corner.
My mom loved flowers, and I figured those would please her.

I remember the flood of people who came to the funeral home visitation
and the minister who said, “It was God’s will,” meaning that my mom’s time had come.
Something inside me raged, “No! It was NOT God’s will.” I wanted to shout at him, “No! It was not God’s will that my mother,
a kind, dedicated, loving, Christian woman
should be struck down in what was supposed to be the chapter of life where she slowed down a bit, relaxed, and enjoyed traveling with my dad — something my parents had always planned to do during retirement
but never had a chance, thanks to that old Parkinson’s disease.
My mom was supposed to enjoy her grandchildren
and be there to guide me as I learned how to be a mother myself.
No, it was not God’s will that she have this awful disease
that robbed her mind as it ravaged her body, making it rigid and trembling
and causing her face to freeze in an expressionless stare.”

God, somehow I knew, I knew
that you wanted the best for my mom,
my dad, my family,
and me.
And so with your help I got through those painful days.
You sent friends just when I needed them
and just in the way I needed them to minister to me.
One work friend called on the day of Mommy’s funeral
Just to check in and offer support and listen to me
and remind me that I had people in Nashville who loved me
and would be ready to receive me with love and wrap their arms around
me when we returned home.

The flowers we got at the funeral home comforted me,
reminding me of how much my mother loved flowers
and visible tokens of how much she and my dad and I were loved.
In my opinion, it’s not a waste to send flowers to a family (even if they specify “in lieu of flowers,” which we did in the obituary).
You need a few cheerful, bright, hopeful things
to focus on amid the shadows, gloom, and darkness of sorrow and grief.

My college friends who came to the visitation —
oh, how sweet were their faces
and how welcome among the many faces I didn’t know,
all the distant cousins my dad kept introducing me to
who came out of the hollows and, seemingly, the woodwork.

Yes, you were there, dear Lord and sweet brother, Jesus,
You held my hand and had my back.
You listened to me cry and fumble for words when there were no words.
Thank you, Lord, thank you.
And you are still with me to this day.

All my heart can say is,”I love you, Lord
and I lift my voice to worship you,
O my soul, rejoice…”

Dear God, loving Lord, and comforting Holy Spirit,
thank you for seeing me through those dark days
and for your promise that you will never leave me alone.
My heart and soul are blessed.

Blessed be the name of the Lord,
in whom I hope and trust.