Goodbye Momma

It’s been one year ago today that momma died.  She was diagnosed with lymphoma almost 20 years ago.  It’s the kind of disease that shows up every two or three years and you have to beat it down to buy some more time.  Over the years the lymphoma had shown up in various places throughout her body.  And each time she would step forward for whatever the prescribed treatment was.  Sometimes it was radiation, sometimes chemotherapy.  Sometimes the chemo would just slow her down, and sometimes it would almost kill her.  She lost her hair a few times and even developed a heart condition as a result of the severity of treating the cancer.

In the fall of 2013 we began to notice that momma would say things that didn’t quite make sense.  She couldn’t find the right words to express herself.  We were visiting one day and it was obvious that this was more than just the trouble we all sometimes have in not finding the right word.  When we left my daughter even commented that she thought something was wrong.  I went back over to momma’s to tell her of my concern with the full intention of taking her into the ER, thinking maybe she was having a stroke.  Of course when I got there she insisted she was alright and proceeded to have a 30 minute conversation without misspeaking once.

But by December we continued to see these symptoms and tests were done.  A brain tumor was discovered in the part of the brain that controls language.  Radiation was the course of treatment and the daily routine started.  We (my siblings and I) would take turns taking mom to her daily appointments and then compare notes as to how we thought she was progressing.  It became evident in just a few weeks that she was not getting better, but we persisted.

It bears mentioning that in all the times that momma underwent treatment for the lymphoma she never once declined any treatment the doctors recommended.  Even though some of the treatments were brutal.  It made you wonder if the treatment wasn’t worse than the disease.  I remember thinking when she would be diagnosed yet again that, as much as I wanted her to get better, how could we ask or expect her to face it all over again.  But she always did.

Looking back, I think there was something different about this time.  You see earlier that fall of 2013, daddy’s lung cancer had reoccurred.  The doctors told him there was nothing else they could do and referred him to hospice care.  And then they discovered that the cancer had metastasized to his brain.  Yes, both of our parents were fighting brain tumors at the same time.  Daddy underwent the radiation treatments and was getting a good result.  But momma knew that the doctors had given him less than a year to live with the lung cancer.  She always said she never wanted to live without daddy.  And so now I look back and wonder if, though she underwent the radiation treatments, she didn’t really desire to live longer if it meant she would live without him.

By the first week of January, momma was declining fast and hospice was called.  She was allowed to be cared for in a hospice house just a block from her home.  It was very homey and the people were very nice.  She was not very aware by now of what was happening around her.  One day I was trying to get mom to eat something, anything.  She always had a sweet tooth so I was trying to coax her with a little ice cream.  She took a few bites very slowly.  Me, the pushy sister, kept on pushing and pushing for her to eat a little more.  “No!” she finally said.  It was the last word she would say to me.

Two days later we knew the time was getting short.  All the siblings were gathered at the hospice house that Saturday.  We all stayed close.  As the evening came we had the Saints football game on in her room and were following along – she liked to keep up with the Saints.  The game ended and the four of us stayed in her room.  We just sat around talking and laughing about what it was like growing up – silly memories and family vacations, who was the “favorite son” and things we thought we got away with as teenagers.  We sang a few of momma’s favorite hymns.  Momma’s breathing was getting labored and she was no longer responding to us.  She would have enjoyed hearing us laugh and retell stories.  Her family was the most important thing in the world to her.

As it got later the nurse came in.  She asked us to step out so she could reposition momma and give her some medicine.  We had stepped down the hall less than a minute and the nurse came to get us.  Momma wasn’t breathing.  Sure enough when we went back in she was perfectly still.  No more labored breathing.  Just quietness. The nurse checked her wrist and said she thought she still had a pulse.  She put my fingers on momma’s wrist and I felt the last few beats of her pulse.

It was just like momma to wait for everybody to leave the room to take her last breath.  She would never have wanted to be any fuss to anybody.  She died like she lived – very quiet, very private.

In that last month with momma, during trips back and forth for treatment and sitting around visiting at her house, she would sometimes get started on these circular conversations where she would say the same things over and over again.  We would listen, always respectfully, as she would retell us her thoughts.  She talked about how she and daddy always wanted to “love the Lord and work for the Lord”.  She said all they ever wanted was for their children “to work for the Lord.”  And as parents all we should want is for our children “to work for the Lord”.  All this said over and over again in her best southern Mississippi drawl.  And while in the days during and after momma’s passing we laughed at her simple way of looking at things, it really did give you a picture of her heart.  I mean, incredibly, when cancer took away her ability to reason and she couldn’t find the words to tell people how to care for her, she still wanted us to know that she loved the Lord and she wanted us to love Him to.

Miss you momma.

HelenWeaver2,Nov13

 

Serious-ly

One of the things I love most about Michael is his sense of humor.  It was both entertaining and infuriating.  You see Michael was the fun one in our marriage and I was the serious one.  I don’t know if all marriages have a fun one and a serious one, but I must say that I look at lots of couples and see a fun one and a serious one.  Now this doesn’t mean that the serious one is never any fun or that the fun one can never be serious.  But, in general, one person is quicker to be fun and spontaneous while the other tends to plan and be responsible (sometimes translated the “wet blanket” or “party poop-er”).  Together we balanced each other well.  He kept us reaching for the moon while I kept our feet on the ground.

Even in our children you can see it – of the three of them, two tend to be more serious like me, while one is definitely the fun soul like Michael.  (I won’t name names, but if you know them you know exactly who’s who.)  Even a friend recently commented to one of my kids, “Yeah, you’re pretty serious.”  Interesting that others see it as well.  Interesting because you relate to people differently when you’re the serious one or the fun one.

Sometimes it’s easier to relate to the serious one because they’re more like you are.  You’re easily on the same page about so many things.  But the fun one brings so much adventure to life, which challenges me to get out of my comfort zone and do things that I’ve dreamed of but am not sure I’ll ever really go for.  But the fun one can also really make you crazy because they’re always pushing you to do things and dream big, when what you really want is to be safe in your own little personally-created world.

I miss the fun one.  I miss the spontaneity that drove me crazy and the adventures that gave me a nervousness in my stomach.  It makes me want to be more spontaneous to try to recapture some of that fun.  It makes me want to take more chances (though the serious one inside me keeps saying “What if you fail? What if someone sees you make a fool of yourself?”)  It makes me want to try new things outside of my comfort zone (though my stomach is nervous just thinking about it).

So as I say good-bye to 2014 (which I am both wanting to do and hating at the same time) I want to be more of a fun soul.  I can’t really quit being the serious one because that’s who I am, and this world needs some serious folks to be sure that bills get paid and people show up on time to places they need to be.  But I hope to take a little of Michael’s fun-ness with me and let it more freely lead me through whatever 2015 has in store.  And as I look at what is already on my calendar for 2015, there are lots of adventures ahead – some of which I am comfortable with and some, not so much.

Stay tuned for where I go from here in 2015.  It may raise a few eyebrows.  Thanks for reading along.

The Gift-Giver

How many times have I heard or said “it’s better to give than to receive” or “it’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts”.  During this season of giving gifts these things have been so fiercely on my mind.

Michael was a great gift-giver.  He gave great gifts.  Over the years he gave me jewelry, furs, cars, jewelry, vacations, homes, jewelry and a jewelry box (which he said he spent the rest of his life trying to fill). Did I mention jewelry? (A few days ago while watching some old home movies of Christmas 20 years ago, the kids saw Michael get up and get a box from under the Christmas tree and hand it to me.  They all immediately knew from just the paper and the bow that it was the signature wrapping of one of our local jewelers.)

His gifts were always far more elaborate than I expected or would have bought for myself.  One year we talked about getting a little car to leave at the beach house for when we were down there.  I was thinking a little VW bug to ride along the beach highway.  Michael took me to the Jaguar dealership.

His gifts were thoughtful.  Like the Christmas I needed a new coat. And he bought me one.  No, actually he bought me four.  Four fur coats that year.

His gifts were often unexpected.  Like the Christmas he told me I would be taking Christy to London and Paris the following summer.

This year there were no packages under the tree from Michael.  But it wasn’t the gifts wrapped in paper and bows that were the best or most unforgettable gifts he gave me.  The best gifts he gave were given daily – the things that change you over time and help you to grow into someone better than who you started out to be.

He gave me the gift of time, almost 40 years of spending time with me, listening to me and making me a priority in his life.

He gave me the gift of permission – permission to be me, without fear of losing him.

He gave me the gift of confidence by believing in me more than I believed in myself and telling me I could do things that I didn’t believe (and am still not sure) that I could do.

He gave me the gift of forgiveness when I was wrong, when I didn’t support him as much as I should or when I fell short of what could have been.

He gave me the gift of romance by making me feel loved and desired.

He gave me the gift of children – three of the most wonderful children who, in spite of our failings and shortcomings, have become three of the most awesome adults I know.

He gave me the gift of generosity by never giving just enough but always exceeding what would be expected or assumed.

He gave me the gift of laughter, which stills returns when I remember all his shenanigans and goofiness.

It’s incredible to look back at all he gave me. But I believe you cannot give what you don’t have. The reason he was able to give all these things was because he himself received these things – from his mom and dad as they raised him, but also from God who so freely gives to us out of His abundance and His love. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father. (James 1:17)

So, this Christmas there were no gifts in wrapping paper from Michael.  But I didn’t miss the gifts.  I missed the gift-giver.

Longing

I’ve read about and been told about the five stages of grief.  Apparently these stages are universal and experienced by people from all walks of life.  They are usually listed as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. My own experience tells me that I move back and forth through these stages, in not necessarily the above order and for various and indeterminate periods of time.

But there’s another stage that no one seems to mention.  For me it is the stage of longing.  You can read lots of books and articles on the other stages, but nobody tells you about the longing.   Right now I’m stuck, rooted in a stage of longing.  I’m longing for all those things that I had when I was his wife.  And it’s more than just a wish.  It’s a physical ache.  I long to feel his arms around me.  And I long for the sweet kisses and tender words that married couples share.  (Geez, I’m beginning to sound like a country song.)

I don’t know if the longing started in my heart first and then spread to my thoughts.  Or did it start in my mind and overflow to my heart?  I just know that my recent days have been preoccupied with this longing.  I don’t know if others that have lost their spouse feel this way too.  (Or perhaps even those who have separated or divorced.)  I only know what I’m going through.

I know God promises to provide all I need.  And I know I’ve trusted Him for safety and finances and my kids and my eternity. So I suppose I’ll trust Him with this too.  But this feels like a really big one to trust Him with.   I keep praying, asking Him to take it away from my mind and my obsessive thoughts.  I don’t know if this is another stage to move through, or if this is what my life will now look like.  I can’t imagine feeling like this always, but I can’t imagine anything ever making this longing go away.

PS – By now I’m sure my kids (and probably a few friends) are quite embarrassed by this post.  Sorry guys, this is who your mother is.

Do You Hear Me Now?

Before Michael passed away I think I just assumed that people in heaven probably didn’t really keep up with what was happening on earth.  I think mostly I hadn’t given it too much thought.  I mean, after all, there would be no more mourning or sadness, so they must just be in some sort of divinely ignorant state of not knowing what we were doing, right?

But in the last months, the kids and I have had several discussions wondering about this and I’ve done some reading to try to understand what the truth on this subject is.  And I think I’ve changed my mind.

There are of course many references to heaven in the bible (though, by count, I think there are more references to hell).  As I set out to read through some of the passages I discovered several things.  First, all those references I remember about there being no more tears or pain or crying refer to the “new” heaven — the eternal heaven that will come one day when Jesus returns again and takes His place of rule on earth.  But that heaven isn’t here yet, and that heaven isn’t where Michael is right now.

The present heaven is where Michael is right now and there are actually fewer details about that heaven in the Bible.  But I think I have been able to understand a few things.  First, the present heaven is a real place.  When God gave directions in the Old Testament for the tabernacle to be built, He said it was to be a copy of the real tabernacle which is in heaven.  So heaven is a real physical place with real physical things there.

The other things I’ve learned about the present heaven come mainly from two passages – the parable Jesus tells about Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 and the account of the martyrs in Revelation 6.  In both of these passages, we see people in heaven that are conscious of their surroundings.  They are in communication with God and each other and they are aware of things happening on earth.  The martyrs can see that their deaths have not yet been avenged.  And they are even crying out because of it, an indication that they are aware of the state of things on earth.

This has made me change my thinking about what Michael, and others in heaven, are aware of.  I now feel more confident that they are aware of what’s happening in our lives here.  Which means that when Andrew preaches, I believe Michael is watching and listening and very proud.  And when Emily graduates next week I believe he’ll be grinning from ear to ear and cheering from the best seat in the house.  Does this mean that he sees and knows everything all the time?  Probably not, and I’m not sure how all that works out.  After all, he’s in the presence of God so I think that gives him a better understanding of things, but that doesn’t make him God.

It gives me comfort to know he’s watching.  I want him to see how wonderful the kids are.  I want him to hear us laughing at the memories we have of him and our family times together.  I want him to see one day when we have grandkids.

I also do think that those in heaven probably have a fuller understanding of some things than we do here on earth.  This is especially healing for me. You see, when my dad died last May, he died angry with me.  He was very upset with some decisions I made regarding his care and thought that I was trying to hurt him and take advantage of him.  I am hopeful that now, whether by fuller revelation or by being able to ask God in person, he understands that there was no attempt to hurt him or steal from him, but only to protect and help him.  And with that new understanding I’m sure that there are no longer any hard feelings between us.

One last thing, while I do feel confident that believers in heaven are aware of what’s happening here, there’s no indication in these passages that they are able to communicate with us.  In fact, the rich man who goes to hell in Luke 16 is told specifically that his family still alive on earth cannot be warned of his end by someone from the dead.  Just a thought for Teresa Caputo, John Edward and others who make such claims.  I’d love to know what you think …

P.S. I highly recommend the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn. It does a great job looking at both the present heaven and the eternal heaven to come.

Michael Is No Angel

Several weeks ago I wrote about the many things that people have said to me since Michael’s death.   There was one thing I didn’t mention because I felt like it deserved a discussion all its own.

Numerous people in recent months have told me and my kids that Michael is now an angel in heaven, watching over us, our guardian angel, etc.   I know all these comments were said out of compassion and a desire to provide us with comfort.  But let’s be clear.   MICHAEL IS NO ANGEL!

Michael was a man.  He still is a man, though he now resides in heaven rather than here with me.  Just because he is no longer alive on earth doesn’t mean he’s somehow become an angel.  And I’m so thankful!  Let me explain …

God created angels.  He created them before he created Adam and Eve, before original sin, the Flood and the nation of Israel.  There’s lots to be learned in Scripture about angels, but for time’s sake I’ll just mention a few things about angels.  They are almost always mentioned as males.  They do not die.  They are spirit beings and have great power.  And they do not have the power to reproduce.

Also I can tell you that God obviously created angels with the same freedom of choice that He blessed man with.  I know that because the Bible records the fall of angels, led by one in particular, Lucifer.  Lucifer and his followers apparently decided they would usurp God’s place and elevate themselves above Him – the sin of pride.  As a result God banished them from heaven.  Interestingly, God did not provide for their salvation.  In fact Scripture tells us the fallen angels will spend eternity in the lake of fire (hell).

Then along comes man – Adam and Eve actually.  God creates them with the freedom to choose also.  And what do they do?  They decide they know better than God – the sin of pride.  Sound familiar?  Yet God, in His infinite love and mercy, immediately has a plan for their redemption.  He decides to send Jesus (who is in fact Himself, God) as a sacrifice so that our relationship with Him can be restored.  Rather than banish us, God moves in love for us to provide a remedy for our rebellion.

So, back to Michael.  Michael is no angel.  God created him a man. And dying on earth doesn’t change him to an angel.  Praise God Michael is a man!  Because he’s a man he fell short of God’s plan and sinned.  Because he’s a man he made the decision to accept this act of God’s love to cover his sins so he could have a restored relationship with God.  Because he’s a man he continues to live – now he just lives in the continual presence of God rather than here on earth.

Thank You!  Thank You God!  Thank You for making Michael a man!

Michael is a man.  He’s MY man.  He is no angel.  But he is a saint!

Black Friday

For much of the nation the term “Black Friday” brings up visions of waiting in long lines at ungodly hours of the morning to take advantage of super savings on whatever the must-have gift is for this Christmas.  Well, I’ve actually never done Black Friday shopping personally.  And the term Black Friday has developed a completely different meaning for our family in recent years – usually involving a trip to the farm, a calamity, blood, x-rays, stitches and often a trip to the hospital emergency room.  Let me explain.

In late 2009, Michael and I bought the farm.  Literally.  A beautiful stretch of 250 acres near McComb, MS.  And with that purchase we began taking a trip up there every year on the day after Thanksgiving.

In 2010, the girls wanted to go horse-back riding.  So Michael arranged for one of the local men to bring three horses for Christy, Emily and I to ride. Now these turned out to be not your average trail horses, but specially trained cut-horses (which we soon discovered react to very small movements of your body or their reigns).  It didn’t take long for Christy’s horse to take off running.  When she pulled the slightest bit on his reigns, he made a quick left turn that sent her sailing like a Frisbee off into the back pasture.  While Emily and I are trying to control our horses and gather her runaway horse, I am also calling Michael on my cell phone to get help, as Christy is still laying on the ground and unable to get up.  This is when I discover that Michael has taken my parents on a ride in his Hummer through the woods and the Hummer will now only go in reverse.  So he is having to drive backwards out of the woods to try to find us.  To make a long story short, my brother and I had to transport Christy back to NOLA in his truck for ER and x-rays while Michael waited on a tow truck to find his Hummer in the woods and tow it back to NOLA.

In 2011, the kids decided they wanted to go fishing in the ponds on the property.  By now we had a tiny cottage with the minimum needed to survive.  Naturally we went up to the farm that day only to discover it was 30 degrees with a stiff wind.  But the kids braved it and actually caught a few, though we were frozen to the bones.

In 2012, we began building our farmhouse.  So once again on the day after Thanksgiving we rode up to the farm.  This year was for some shooting and riding the Kubota four-wheelers.  Things were going well, until Michael fell near the home site and his knee hit the concrete brick ledge.  By the time I got to him there was blood everywhere!  One of the workers took his shirt off and made a tourniquet around his leg to try to stop the blood flow.  Andrew raced us over to the local hospital ER while I held Michael’s leg up and tried to keep pressure on it.  He left a trail of blood from the entrance all through the waiting room.  Eventually they got the bleeding stopped but didn’t know how to deal with such a large wound.  So we loaded Michael up on pain killers, packed him in the car and drove back to NOLA where they were at least able to close a portion of it with 24 stitches.  It took 2 full months to heal.

Last year, we decided we would celebrate Thanksgiving at the farm.  It was a wonderful day.  All the family was willing to come from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.  We figured at the time that it would be my dad’s last Thanksgiving, but we didn’t know it would be mom’s last Thanksgiving too.  And no one would have guessed it was Michael’s last Thanksgiving.  It was a sweet time together.  Only to be followed a week later by diagnoses of cancer for both mom and Michael on the same December day.

This year the kids wanted to go back to the farm on Black Friday again.  We drove up the night before and the day was beautiful – brisk and clear.  We built a fire in the fireplace and in the fire pit outside too.  We grilled burgers and steaks.  And the kids had a great time skeet shooting.  No blood this year.  No stitches or trips to the ER.  We nearly escaped calamity entirely except when Emily decided that one of the Kubota’s should double as a swamp buggy and got it stuck in the mud.  And she did a real good job too because she had to call for help which I know she hated.  I’m fortunate to have one son-in-law who is an Eagle Scout and one son-in-law who is in the Coast Guard.  But she managed to do such a good job that she had to call on her SuperHero Keith to pull her out!  Well at least there were no lasting scars.  And by now everybody’s arrived back home safe and sound.

This has been our first “big” holiday without Michael.  We’ve tried our best to maintain the family traditions.  But everywhere we look there’s an emptiness.  I am thankful.  I am nostalgic.  And I miss Michael.

 

Emily stuck

The Twenty-First

Michael died on July 21st.  As the days and then weeks passed, there it was looming ahead – August 21st.  I guess it was the first evidence that time was passing without him.  On August 21st, one month after he died, it was hard to breathe.  The kids and I all knew it was a difficult day.  Friends marked it as well.  Many called to check on us.  There was still unbelief that this was our life.  I gave platelets in the blood bank that day.  And as much as I thought I would be able to be strong, the irony of it made me cry through the procedure.

On September 21st, Michael had been gone two months.  It was Sunday and quiet.  The night before, the kids and I went to Emeril’s for dinner, a place filled with lots of memories of special occasions and “no occasions” spent there.  The day after, I gave platelets in the blood bank, complete with tears, though fewer than the month before.

On October 21st, Michael had been gone three months.  It was a Tuesday with business to take care of and lots of things to do.  I was scheduled to serve dinner at a ministry of our church that night.   But out of nowhere that afternoon the emotions came.  Try as I might I just couldn’t get it under control and had to cancel.

This last week I knew would mark another 21st, four months since Michael’s death.  Throughout the week I knew it was coming on Friday.  Always on the horizon.  Getting closer each day.

On Saturday morning as I put my shoes on I realized that Friday had come and gone.  The day had gone by without a breakdown of emotion.  Without weeping and depression.  In fact the kids were here with me that day and several times we laughed until we cried about silly things.  But I never once thought – “It’s been four months!”

What’s wrong with me?  It’s not like I don’t think about Michael 187 times a day.  It’s not like I don’t miss him with every breath I take.  But how could I get through the day and not once realize it had been exactly four months?  It somehow feels like a betrayal to not have stopped for that moment of recognition.  How could I possibly have gotten through the day without realizing it?  It’s not like I didn’t miss him 372 times that day.  But that day I missed it.

I’m not sure what it means.  I’m not sure why I feel guilty about it or why it makes me sad.  Is this how it happens?  How you go on?  Does the twenty-first of each month pass and soon you don’t even notice it?  I don’t want it to be that way.  I don’t want the twenty-first to come and go without me marking it in some way.  I miss him 731 times a day, every day.  Why is it different on the twenty-first?  And what will the 21st of December be like?  And January?  And February?

From Wife to Widow

As a wife I was a partner. I was part of the discussion. I was listened to and could listen for his ideas. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I was part of a couple. I was part of “we”. I had someone I could call mine and I knew I was his. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had a travelling partner. Someone to fly with, ride with, cruise with, take a picture with, sit with, check-in with, share a memory with. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone to talk to. First thing in the morning. Throughout the day. And most of all at the end of the day. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone in my bed. Someone to keep me warm. Someone to feel safe with. Someone to hold hands with. Someone to fill up the empty places. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone who loved me, who knew me, who grew up with me. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I sometimes looked forward to having a day by myself. Some time alone. Now that’s all I have. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone to plan with. For trips and projects and finances and the future. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone to share my triumphs. A few pounds lost. A milestone with the kids. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone to share my failures. An embarrassing mistake. A hurt. A struggle. The death of someone close. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had a dinner companion.   Table for 2 or 4 or 6. Never worried about being the odd man out. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone to look out for me. Always checking in to be sure I was OK. Taking care of me. Being sure I had everything I needed. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone to care for. Someone to dote on, to take pleasure in taking care of. Someone I could please by making him comfortable. I don’t want to be a widow.

As a wife I had someone to call me dear. To smile lovingly at me. To be comfortable with just by being in the same room. I don’t want to be a widow.

I wrote these words a few months ago.  They are still true.  I don’t want to be a widow.  But I am.

I still miss all those things, though most of the time the pain is a dull ache rather than sharp and piercing.  I still have unanswered questions, but I don’t ask them as often as I once did.  I still cry, but sometimes it doesn’t show up in tears on my face.  The world goes on with seasons and milestones.  Births and deaths, celebrations and sadness, good health and bad.

I’m learning that society has certain expectations of widows, much like there are expectations of wives.  Expectations of how I should behave, where I should go and when, even what I should wear and look like.  Some expectations don’t really bother me and others seems to bump up against me pretty hard.

I know it’s cliché, but I wish for those around me, couples in particular, to love each other fully each day.  I thought that every married couple had what Michael and I had.  That “I wouldn’t rather be with anybody else” kind of love.  But I’ve learned that isn’t the case.  Figure out what it takes to make that person the major moving force in your life together and hang on to that.  Don’t let it slip away lest you don’t have the chance to get it back.

Thanks for following along.

 

Theatre

When I turned 18, Michael and I had only been dating about 3 weeks. (I already knew I would be spending the rest of my life with him by then, but that’s another post.) He took me to the Beverly Dinner Playhouse, a very hot ticket at the time in New Orleans. It was the first theatre I saw other than a school play – and I immediately loved theatre.

Think of me
Think of me fondly, when we’ve said goodbye
Remember me Once in a while, please
Promise me you’ll try

We never said Our love was evergreen
Or as unchanging as the sea…
But if you can still remember,
Stop and think of me

Think of all the things We’ve shared and seen,
Don’t think about the things Which might have been

Think of me
Think of me waking, silent And resigned…
Imagine me, trying too hard to Put you from my mind…

Recall those days, Look back on all those times,
Think of the things We’ll never do…
There will never be a day when I won’t think of you

Nine years later Michael and I went to New York City for the first time. In true Michael fashion, he had the concierge at our hotel arrange for tickets to my first Broadway play – Phantom of the Opera. But of course not just any tickets. We were seated on the second row. Straight over my head was this huge chandelier. Little did I know at the time that at a crucial moment in the storyline the chandelier comes crashing down. At that precise moment the huge prop (which I thought was part of the theatre) fell from the ceiling and just in time was swept onto the center stage. I was in awe. Amazed.

So I guess it’s no wonder that theatre, and Phantom in particular, brings back so many memories and even a few tears for me. Why is it that words set to music can have such an affect on me? When the orchestra plays and the melody swells it makes my heart so full my eyes overflow. It’s not just the story being played out on stage, but the memories that come back of that first time and the special person that shared the story with me.

Say you love me every waking moment,
Turn my head with talk of summertime.
Say you need me with you now and always;
Promise me that all you say is true,
That’s all I ask of you.

Then say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime;
Let me lead you from your solitude.
Say you need me with you, here beside you,
Anywhere you go, let me go too,
that’s all I ask of you

Say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime;
Say the word and I will follow you.
Together
Share each day with me,
Each night, each morning.

Love me, that’s all I ask of you

Healing

In the last 18 months of Michael’s life he suffered three different accidents which led to injuries to his legs. Incredibly two of these incidents occurred on the exact same day, 1 year apart. This reminds me that he actually spent his last three birthdays in the hospital.

With each injury it seems like we went through many of the same stages. Initially there was lots of blood and panic. We rushed to the emergency room, sometimes by ambulance, and were met with all the medical personnel. There’s was lots of paperwork to be done on my part. Michael was in severe pain each time as the doctors rushed around trying to determine how best to treat him considering all his other medical issues. But the first issue was always how to stop the bleeding and manage the pain.

Once the emergency was under control, there was the course of treatment so his leg could heal. Surgeons were often called in to consult. Antibiotics were always started, along with pain meds. And the routine of bandaging and dressing the injury was determined. Sometimes he required stitches. Often there was not enough tissue to stitch back together, so we’d embark on a long road of waiting for new skin to grow.

I remember so well how painful these events were for Michael. He seemed to have a high tolerance for pain and was certainly very strong, but the first time he would have to return to an everyday activity was especially hard. The first time he would get up and walk he would grit his teeth and groan. The first time he would get in the shower I can remember he would cry out from the pain of the water running over the raw tissue. And the daily bandage changes would be especially painful in the beginning.

Eventually – gradually – he would be able to do the things without so much pain. He never looked forward to some parts, like bandages and debridement, but he got through them and went on to what he needed to do that day. And slowly the skin would grow back and cover the injury. But even after the skin had completely grown back, he always had a scar there. For the rest of his life he had a scar. And the funny thing about that scar tissue — there were some places on that scar that continued to be incredibly sensitive to any little thing that touched it. And there were some places on that scar that never regained their feeling at all.

As I remember all that Michael went through with these injuries, I’m beginning to feel like I’m following the same path to healing. When he first died it was an emergency. There were medical personnel and lots of paperwork for me to do. There was a sense of panic sometimes as to how I would face tomorrow. And there was lots of pain and crying out. Especially the first time I’d try to do those everyday things. Things like going to the farm or the beach. Like opening a closet door or driving his Hummer. Like going back to the church service we always used to go to. Gradually I’m able to face these things without the pain being quite so severe, and then go on to do what needs to be done.  I continue the course of treatment.  My antibiotics are prayer to keep me from being infected with bitterness and anger.  And my bandages are the many people around me that protect me and soften the bumps in life.

But I think that even when the pain gets to be manageable, I’m going to have a scar. For the rest of my life I’m going to have a scar. And I think there will be some places on that scar that will always be particularly sensitive to anything that bumps into it. Sensitive enough to bring tears and feelings of longing. And I think there may be places on that scar that I will never be able to feel again. Because even though the skin grows back and the scar is evidence that you can heal, it never looks the same.

Things People Say – The Sequel

You know, the things I mentioned in the last blog were just a few of the many comments that I’ve heard in recent months.  And I know absolutely that none of these things have been said with any malice at all.  In fact, I’ve said all these things hundreds of times myself in similar circumstances and have been genuinely concerned when I spoke these words.  But the interesting thing is, I don’t think we know what to say when someone dies.

We know what to say for a birthday or an anniversary. We know what to say when a baby is born or someone graduates. But why don’t we know what to say when someone dies?

I think the reason is because dying isn’t natural.  (Of course this is contrary to another statement that someone told me, “Dying is a natural part of living.”)  I think dying is unnatural for us.  When God made man (back in Genesis 1 and 2) He made him in God’s image. Scripture says He breathed into man the breath of life and man became a living being.  God Himself is eternal and when He breathed his spirit into us I believe He created us as eternal beings.  I believe He has always intended for us to live eternally.  Remember, the only reason we die is because mankind chose to sin (Romans 6:23 – the wages of sin is death.)  Death was not a part of God’s plan for us, but the consequences of our fall.  And as such, it doesn’t feel natural or come easily to us.

Suddenly we’re separated from those we love.  It feels like they’re gone.  Yet deep inside our God-breathed spirit, we know that we are eternal creatures.  So how can we reconcile these two things?  I don’t think we reconcile them by one comment or even one conversation. I think we gradually learn to bring our memories of what was together with what we know by faith will be.  It doesn’t happen immediately.  I think it’s a process.  And I’m processing.

So, what should you say?  It’s OK to say “I’m sorry for your loss” and “I’m praying for you” (but only if you really are).   And please be patient with me when I sometimes receive things differently from the way you intended.  My “receivers” are very sensitive.

What would I like you to say?  It’s easy really.  I want to know that you love me and that you’re glad to see me.  I want to know that you still want me around, even though I’m now “flying solo” (thanks Connie!).   I want to know that you miss him too and I want to know the things you remember about him.  I think a lot of people don’t really know what to do with me now.  They don’t want to mention Michael because it will make me cry.  Please understand that I’d rather cry because you still mention him than to cry because I think you’ve forgotten him.  (And it doesn’t really matter what you say, I’m probably going to cry either way.)

PS — When I wrote the last blog entry I didn’t know what response to expect from people.  It’s been wonderfully flattering to know so many people have read that post and I’ve loved all the responses (well, to be honest, I’ve loved almost all the responses).  Some of my friends (you know who you are) are now afraid what they say to me will be the subject of the next blog.  HAHAHA !!   Oh, the power of the pen (or the keyboard, in this case). Thanks for reading along!

 

Things People Say

Where do I begin to talk about all the things people have said in the last few months?  Maybe under other circumstances words wouldn’t be so impressive, or maybe I wouldn’t be so sensitive to the things people say.  But so many things that are otherwise said in innocence elicit an internal reaction for me.

So here goes:

“At least he’s not suffering anymore.” — True.  I know it’s true that Michael is no longer in physical pain and I am so thankful for this. But I do want to scream that those of us that are still here without him are suffering plenty.

“He’s in a better place.” — True.  I have complete confidence in God that Michael is now in heaven.  But he’s left a huge whole here.  And most nights I cannot imagine a place I’d rather him be than on the other side of the bed from me.

“You wouldn’t want him to come back.” — (This is often the second line to He’s in a better place.) — Wanna bet?  Some days I do want him to come back.  Not that I have a choice.  But I’m selfish that way.   I want to hear his voice again and hold his hand again and I want him to help me with the projects and decisions that have to be made.

“God takes the good ones/young ones/etc. so soon.” —  This doesn’t make sense to me.  If he was so young and so good it seems like God would need him to be here on earth more than in heaven.

“You’ll see him again one day.” – I believe with all my heart that this is true.  But it doesn’t bring much comfort now to think I have to wait 20 or 30 years to see him again.

“How are you?” — (This is not really a bad thing because, you know, how else do you start a conversation?)  This is usually accompanied by a look of pity, the head tilted to one side, and the shoulders slumped.  There’s no real answer to this question.  (Most of the time people don’t really want to know because if you told them the truth you’d send them running.)  Sometimes you just say “Fine” or “OK” even though things are far from fine.  Sometimes you say “Some days good and some days bad” which at least honestly acknowledges that things aren’t fine but doesn’t begin to express how empty and lonely life can still be.  But usually I can still manage this response without the lump in my throat taking over.

“You’re so strong.” – Well, I’m not strong.  It may look like I’m strong, but from this side things look pretty weak.  I think the only good take-away is that if I look strong to people on the outside maybe it’s Jesus they’re seeing instead of me.  Because I feel weak. I feel helpless.  I feel pathetic.  I feel a hundred different things, but strong is not on the list.

“You’ll get through this.” – This makes it sound like it’s a 10K and you get to the finish line, walk across and then you can go home, put your feet up and it will all be over.  You don’t just get through this.  I think this is now a part of you for the rest of your life.  I can’t imagine a day when I’ll look back and say “I got through that.”

“How’s Michael doing?” – This is when you run into people that don’t know that Michael has died.  Now you get to tell them.  Plus you get to watch first the shock on their face and then their embarrassment at not knowing.  His obituary was in two different newspapers, it was plastered all over Facebook and 800 people came to his funeral service.  I have a box of hundreds of cards and I’ve received thousands of emails, texts and messages from all over the world.  And, son of a gun, if I don’t run into somebody who doesn’t know.  This is probably the worst.

So what would I like people to say?  I’m glad you asked.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Surprise!

According to the dictionary a surprise is an unexpected or astonishing event, fact or thing.  Life is full of surprises.
Like when your daughters come home for a special day with you and you spend the time having pedicures and lunch, with a little wedding planning squeezed in between.
Like when you find a special treat left on your front porch by Precious L.  And no, it wasn’t a puppy.  (Thank goodness!)
Like receiving over 120 birthday wishes on Facebook which makes your cell phone chime all day long as they come in.
Like friends indulging you so you can spend the whole week celebrating your birthday instead of just the one day.

Birthday 2014
And one last one.  Several years ago a sweet friend gave me a beautiful (and large) pad of paper as a hostess gift.  It’s been on my desk all that time and I have used it for all manner of things.  The pages are perforated so you just tear each page off as you need it.  But apparently quite some time ago someone tore off a page, wrote me a message and then slipped the page back into the bottom of the pad.  And this was a wonderful surprise to find.  Just a reminder.  Just a token.  Just a sweet message.

Surprise picture
May all your surprises be good ones.  Love you all and thank you for making today special.

Back to the Beach

It’s been almost a year since Michael and I last came to the beach house. Returning is filled with uncertainties. I always looked forward to coming here. Especially this time of the year – when most of the vacationers have gone home and we have our little beach town back. The days are cooler and it’s like music to hear the breeze rustle through the palm trees.

I remember in 2001 when we decided it was time to buy our own place here. We’d come here every summer for ten years, renting big houses with other families and creating wonderful memories for all our children. That particular trip we decided to spend some time looking at houses for sale in different neighborhoods and spent a long day with friends getting in and out of the car at every open house sign we saw. As we came through this area, only recently developed, we stopped at a particular house for sale. Michael was tired and didn’t even get out the car. When I walked in the house I remember the openness of it but was immediately struck by the view of the little lake in the back. I immediately told Michael he had to come see it.

We tried to negotiate the purchase and couldn’t come to terms with the owner. So in the next few months we decided on a lot around the corner. Michael was sure he could take what we saw in that house and make it better. And he certainly did – 5000 feet of beach house, enough to sleep 22, pool, decks and balconies, wide open den and kitchen with lots of room for laughter and conversation.

From the time we broke ground we loved all that was involved in making this our family place. Friends would drive down here with us every few weeks to meet with the contractor and see the progress. They lovingly nicknamed it the BABH (the Big Ass Beach House – haha) and helped us to think through and plan on colors and furnishings. And then they made the trip with us to move in and assemble all the furniture and accessories.

From the first week we moved in, the house was filled with voices and laughter, kids running in and out and large meals prepared in the kitchen. Nineteen of us were here that first week. And in the years since, I couldn’t count how many people have come through these doors. There have been vacations, spring breaks, bridal and baby showers, bachelorette parties, golf cart parades, honeymoons, family reunions and New Year’s Eve celebrations. During Katrina we moved here for a month, complete with friends and family from both sides, enrolled the kids in school here and saw our family members get jobs here. We set up our office in our master bedroom and I still remember falling asleep at night to the glow of the computer screen as my little sister would be typing in payroll and accounts payable.

Now I return to the house without Michael, and yet he is here in everything I see. There are not as many family pictures here as at home, but so many memories. The giant blue marlin on the wall that he caught off the coast of Puerto Rico and the bill from the marlin he caught in Hawaii. (The tacky blue marlin pillows on the sofa that he bought and I always wanted to get rid of.) The copper fish that line the walls we found at a road side artist shack on a trip to the Keys. The glass sailboat and rainbow fish, both special treasures brought back from trips to Murano glass factories.

And so many other little things. Several of his shirts hang in the closet. His swimsuit lays on the shelf. His shoes are on the floor and his golf clubs stand in the corner. He would have loved the colors of the water today and the wonderful breeze on the beach road. And the lunch at one of our favorite beach restaurants would have been his first stop. The golf cart is there ready for him to check out the neighborhood and shuttle people to the beach.

And already there are changes since we were here about a year ago. A few businesses have closed. A few new ones are opening. A new house is being built around the corner and he would love to go check it out. His prized blueprint of the Titanic is framed and hanging on the wall just where he wanted it, though he never got to see it there.

I’m so thankful for friends who walk beside me in these days to revisit this place with both laughter and tears. While it’s hard to return, I cannot imagine not coming back. This place is such a part of our family and our memories. And every time we came here we talked about how thankful we were that God had provided this place for us. The years to come will not be the same. But I pray that God will continue to make this a place of rest and refreshment for our family and our extended family. As Michael always said, “My dear looooooves her beach house!”