Not Coming Back


My last overnight on call…

I have mentioned a number of times in this blog that during the first half of 2012, I completed a unit of CPE—Clinical Pastoral Education—at our local teaching hospital and trauma center. My experiences in that period of time changed my life in ways that I am still processing more than a decade later. I was an Extern, meaning that I was doing this work while still working my day job, participating in my chorus and chamber chorale, and trying to be a wife and dog mom. Fortunately, both my husband and my dog extended me a lot of grace and extra portions of love as I explored this alien educational landscape.

Part of the Extern experience (like the Residents) included spending overnights as the chaplain on call. These overnight stays exposed me to some of the most eye-opening, adrenaline-surging, sorrow-inducing, empathy-expanding moments of my entire life. I also saw some things that enraged me. I don’t share many details because of confidentiality, but in my notebook I recorded as much detail as I could in the time I had to write things down.

One incident from my last overnight stay haunts me.

I was paged to the room of a patient who had coded (gone into full cardiac arrest). The medical professionals who attend to cases such as this always amazed me. The efforts to resuscitate a patient who has gone into full arrest are extremely physical…chest compressions alone can be exhausting. I had witnessed numerous codes during my unit, and in every case, the patient was “brought back”. Heartbeats and respirations were restored, at least for a time.

Not this patient. He was not coming back. Young, handsome, full of potential…and gone.

The team members who had worked so hard to revive him had to acknowledge that their efforts were unsuccessful, and what should have “worked” just…didn’t. Time of death was called and recorded, which I had not witnessed in previous codes I had attended. It’s a solemn duty, and as the on call chaplain, I first attended to the team, offering what support I could. The next step was contacting family to come to the hospital, but letting the news of the death wait until their arrival.

I sat with the patient while family members were in transit, holding his hand, speaking and singing to him. Just being present. I’ve done this with members of my own family, other hospital patients, and patients at the hospice where I volunteered. I know that Scripture tells us, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord”. But I have never been sure exactly how immediate the change of address is. Perhaps it has been my imagination, but in these moments, I have sensed their floating souls, hovering in the spaces above us, and I’ve been reluctant to leave until I felt a sense of dissipation. Members of my family haven’t understood my need to see the newly departed off in this way. I think some of them have viewed me as a ghoul.

In my final meeting with my supervisor, I related this experience, including my time spent after the patient had died, and my other times sharing spaces with a newly-departed soul. I questioned why I’m like this, because most other people aren’t. Is something wrong with me, am I really a ghoul? He looked at me with a penetrating gaze and a warm smile, and told me that, while it is true that most people are indeed not “like this”, my desire to remain for a bit with a recently departed soul is, in truth, a very pastoral trait, and one that I should embrace. He told me that he was proud of my growth during the unit. That he was proud of ME.

My CPE supervisor is gone now, in Heaven with many others who poured goodness into my life, whether they did so over decades, months, or moments, like this final patient. My hope is that, when I go to be with them, I can find this one who refused to come back. I want to thank him for moments of goodness, the sacred, holy hovering of his soul that I was privileged to share.

This Is Where It All Started


One of my collections…

Once upon a time, there was a woman (Me) who worked in an industry (radio/television) primarily populated by men. After spending years in radio, both on the air and doing production and writing behind the scenes, I made the transition to television, starting in master control. In both radio and TV, more often than not, I was the only female in my department…sometimes in the whole building. I thrived being “the only girl”, because I took my responsibilities seriously and was good at my jobs. Being the lone lady also gave me plentiful opportunities to encourage, nurture, and reinforce my coworkers, especially once I started training the newer hires.

One of the sales reps at my TV station, a sweet-natured guy named Rich, had a particularly fun necktie that caught my attention, and every time he wore it, I complimented his fashion sense. The tie had a red background and whimsical accents like harmonicas and records, coins and horseshoes, and Elvis Presley’s likeness. It was just WAY cool. Finally one day when he wore it, he said something along the lines of, “I know you like this tie, and I’d like for you to have it”. I laughed like a lunatic…until he took it off and started to hand it to me! I said, “Oh no, Rich, that’s really not necessary, what would I do with your tie anyway?” He said, “Well… you could wear it.” He insisted, so I accepted his gift with gratitude, and a little consternation. It wasn’t the shirt off his back, but it WAS the tie off his neck.

The next day my work outfit consisted of jeans, an oversized white menswear shirt, vest…and the Elvis tie! When Rich saw me in the hall, he grinned and said that he knew I would give Elvis a good home, and that I wore him well. Rich was a kind soul, a man of deep Christian faith, possessing a goofball sense of humor, and in the context of this story (and probably countless others no one will ever know about) a guileless and generous spirit.

Once I had worn the Elvis tie to work a few times, other fellows started asking me if I collected ties, and I said not on purpose, but if they had neckwear that they did not like or want, I’d be happy to give their sartorial rejects a home. Ties started making their way into my wardrobe…several because a guy’s wife or girlfriend hated them, several because the guys themselves hated them (!), a couple from a friend whose wife had a male friend who was transitioning to female and was no longer wearing male apparel. My friend Mikey friend brought me a necktie with a cartoon of an intoxicated man clinging to a lamppost. He purchased it on his honeymoon! (I have rarely been more honored.). A Secret Santa gift which turned out to be from our news director, a re-gifted gift from my friend Tom, the only human with whom I have shared 3 different workplaces, ties of all colors and motifs made their way to my collection. And I wore them all.

I now own more ties than many men I know. They are loud, colorful, gaudy, objectionable in a couple of cases…the uglier the better! When I had my own office, the necktie collection was displayed as wall art, and if I was in the mood to wear one, I could just grab it and go about my day.

I may share more ties and their stories in future blog posts, but I leave you with this one, The King. Elvis will NOT be leaving my building. Because this is where it all started.



The unofficial uniform of the Southern lady…

Granny had a uniform of sorts. She always wore an apron. ALWAYS. Even when old age and ill health prevented her from cooking or doing other household tasks, her daily uniform consisted of a dress made by Aunt Ruby, stockings rolled to her knees, clunky old-lady shoes, and a bib-style apron. The ones I remember were printed fabrics, and they had pockets. I thought that was the best thing ever. I still do. All garments should have pockets.


The apron has fallen into and out of favor and fashion over the years, for numerous reasons. But its function cannot be disputed. Whether it is a purely utilitarian model or a frilly ruffled number, the apron still serves the purpose of protecting the wearer’s clothing from kitchen and household spills, cleaning solvents, dirt and messes of all kinds, from sticky little-kid handprints to paint spatters when that furniture refinishing project goes a little sideways.

But there’s more. For me, an apron represents comfort. The fabric of Granny’s apron was always well-worn, soft and gentle against my cheek when she used it to wipe away a smudge, or a tear, from my face. And those pockets held all kinds of wonders…tissues, a tiny pencil, random rubber bands or pieces of string, a piece of butterscotch candy.

Decades after Granny had died, when Aunt Martha passed away, we were going through her belongings to decide what should go into the estate sale and what should be distributed among family members. Stowed in a drawer, in their original packaging, were two old-fashioned bib-style aprons, no doubt from Granny’s belongings when she died in 1973. Those treasures found a home with me. I don’t bake or cook as often as I would like, but when I dive into a messy kitchen project, I don The Uniform like Granny did before me. And I use her sifter and rolling pin, tools that passed from her, to Mama, to me. And I give thanks.


Martin’s Menorah


Or the Menorah of Mendel Shmuel…

My friend of the soul and #FirstEverWorkHusband, Martin, was Jewish, but of a variety he said his father described as “unobservant Orthodox”. (He also always told me that he wished he had come up with that description). The first time I asked to see photos of him as a child and a younger man, he only had a few that he could share. He had stored some on his laptop computer some years before, which was a blessing since the actual photographs got left behind in the wake of his split from his second wife. (That’s a long story that still triggers visceral responses in me, and I don’t want to revisit those emotions this close to Christmas.)

I was able to see Martin at his bar mitzvah, complete with tallit and yarmulke. His formal senior portrait from high school was definitely a reflection of the era, complete with enormous bowtie, and equally enormous hair (which HE referred to as a “Jew-fro”. DO NOT hate me, HE was the one who called it that.) There were pictures of him with his siblings, his parents, some cousins. But there were not as many pictures as he would have loved to share, and as I would have loved to see. I am just so grateful for the ones he did preserve, thanks to technology.

I asked him if he had managed to grab his menorah when Wife Number Two decided she no longer wished to be married to him. He was unable to find and pack it before he was forced from his home. So I decided that I would send him one for Hanukkah that year. Amazon and I were able to get the gift to him just in time for the first night’s candle to be lit.

He sent me the above photo as soon as he had opened the box and before he lit the candles. For an “unobservant Orthodox”, he seemed to remember the ritual of Hanukkah pretty well, he said. Much like the religious traditions of my own youth, such as the Apostles’ Creed, the memories forged in our childhoods seem to stay with us the longest.

Sadly, the menorah I gave him also appears to have gotten left behind in a move. At the end of 2019, Martin’s health had deteriorated to the point that he had to go into a nursing facility. This relocation occurred almost immediately after my last time to see him in person, when we went to Fort Walton to be present for his mother’s memorial service. I never imagined that I’d never see him in the same room again, but his decline from that point was fast and steep. He was only 54 years old. The nursing home provided the residents with holiday decorations based on their religious preferences, so Martin received another menorah.

Again, he sent me a menorah photo, with a different set of emotions attached. He told me that he felt like a shell of a man, that he had lost everything…his independence, his dog, Boris, what was left of his health. Both of our hearts broke in a new place. But I was grateful that he at least could look at the little blue lights and recall his heritage. And since he had explained to me the difference between a 7-lamp and a 9-lamp menorah, I was grateful that the nursing home provided him with the “right” one.

As I write this, it is December 21, 2022, and tonight is the fourth night of Hanukkah. I now manage the smallest branch of my county’s public library system, and we decorate for the holidays. Thanksgiving was simple, because it is not religion-specific. For the December holidays, I knew that I wanted to represent Advent/Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, because we all want to see our cultural and religious traditions honored. So I purchased another menorah for the library. I don’t know if it resembles Martin’s original one. I’ll never know, unless one of his siblings happens to have a photo and happens to share that photo with me. I would like to think that he would be happy with the way we’re displaying it. (Per my friend Lucas’s suggestion, we removed the candles and are placing them night by night, even though we cannot light them in our public space.)

Martin loved candles, as do I. Their glow, warmth, and scent all provide such simple comfort. On one of my few cherished visits to his place in Orlando, I missed Hanukkah by several days, so we decided that we would make latkes on New Year’s Eve. We ate them with applesauce, because neither of us liked sour cream. Then we lit candles, talked, snacked on leftover latkes, and wished each other a Happy New Year. It was such a simple, warm time of friendship and gratitude. So even though we missed celebrating Hanukkah together, it was still a Festival of Lights.

Today I Choose


Because I can…


Today I choose gratitude,

because no matter how tough life is, there is always a reason to give thanks.

Today I choose grace, for myself and for others,

because God has shown grace to me.

Today I choose authenticity,

because all I can be is myself, and for those who love and appreciate me, that will be enough.

Today I choose reconciliation,

because in reconciling myself—to others, to my circumstances, to my own conscience—I will find restoration.

Today I choose peace,

because the world outside is filled with conflict.

Because I CAN





From The Twelfth Floor


Reading between the blinds…

It has been a week of turmoil for our family, and of mixed emotions for me. Even as something wonderful happens, there is a crisis which more than counterbalances the happiness I feel. But as the old saying goes, when it rains, it pours.

I write this from room 1217 in our local teaching hospital, looking at a grey, drizzly and cool almost-autumn Saturday. My Bonus Mom was admitted a week ago tomorrow after an impacted wisdom tooth below the gums became abscessed, resulting in excruciating pain and a raging infection. (She’s had dentures for decades; who even knew there were unremoved teeth in there?!).

Because she suffers from Lewy Body dementia, sometimes she can’t quite articulate exactly what she wants to in the way she wants to. And because her and my father’s general practice doctor is WAY more general than practiced (another story for another blog), her initial complaint of jaw pain was diagnosed as a sinus infection weeks ago. A round of antibiotics seemed to help, but when that course was completed, the infection came back with a vengeance. So an issue that could have been addressed earlier with a little detective work and a scan of her head turned into this debacle of torment for her and my dad, a day in the emergency department/late night hospital admission and emergency oral surgery in the wee hours of Labor Day, a serious decline in her overall condition, and now, the prospect of placement in a 24/7 skilled nursing facility, at least for the the time being.

Yes, I am angry. And frustrated. And very sad. Infections like this can wreak havoc in dementia patients, and she has been no exception. Her personality and perception became so altered that for days she was in restraints, both for her protection and that of hospital staff. She was hostile, using language she never would utter in her right mind. While her personality and demeanor are much more “like her” now that her infection is clearing and the pain has been addressed, her mobility and spatial perception are markedly impaired. Some of that may never recover, and we are having to come to terms with some pretty heavy possible scenarios regarding her care and well being.

All of this comes just as I received a promotion at work, and the increased responsibilities that come with it. I will have time to be happy about it later. Right now there are more important things to attend to, like family issues and the actual responsibilities of both family and workplace.

Most of what is going on around me isn’t ABOUT me. But these circumstances do provide a chance for some perspective, serving as a lesson in humility. We are also living a cautionary tale on many fronts, hoping to take lessons from the choices made by our elders. In putting off making a decision, we are actually MAKING a decision. My father turned 85 this week with his second wife in the hospital and them looking at the need for possible very long long-term care for her. He has always been the one who preached to everyone else the importance of having finances and legal matters in order, even as he has neglected some of the most important of those items for him and my Bonus Mom. Forms were acquired and started, but not completed. That complicates matters.

I need to get my own affairs in order. My living will is done and my wishes are known to anyone and everyone who might need to know them. I have life insurance that is unconnected to a job so that, in the event that I predecease my husband, he will be protected financially, at least for a while. I need to finish my “dead will” also.

Forewarned is forearmed. Knowledge is power. Sooner is better than later. As I read between the blinds in this hospital room, I am making a list of all the loose ends I need to tie up so that my husband is not the one left dangling if something catastrophic happens to me, knock wood and Lord willing.

Where Do I Begin?


It’s been a long time…

I have not written a post in what feels like forever, and many changes have taken place in my life over the past several months. The primary change has involved my work in the Knox County Public Library system. In March 2022, I moved to a different branch which has involved expanded duties and more hours than I was working before. My branch manager, Heather, has been a joy to know and share the work with, and the schedule at the branch will allow me to return to singing with the Knoxville Choral Society soon. I am reading more books than I have read in years, especially fiction, and I am rediscovering the pure joy of immersing myself in stories, universes built by gifted creative minds so different from my own.

I have returned to singing and serving in a church choir as well, which has contributed more to my vocal, spiritual, and even physical recovery from long-haul COVID than I ever hoped for. I have some lingering issues with my body and brain that I did not deal with prior to my illness, but I can also see measurable improvements from a year ago. So I am both grateful and optimistic, nurturing a hope that for a long time did not exist.

This week drained me more than I would have liked, and my energy is pretty much gone. But when I look at the week and where my energy went, it was worth spending all day today on the couch trying to recover.

The choir at church gathered again for Wednesday practice after taking off during July. There were hugs, smiles, laughs…and there was music, lifting spirits and voices to Heaven.

At the library, we continue to assist people who are in genuine need. Jesus said that if we even give one of His little ones just a cup of cold water in His name, we will certainly not lose our reward. (Matthew 10:42). I think that same idea must apply when we offer tissues to a crying widow or single mom as we help fill out assistance requests. As my manager said, we are truly helping “the least of these”.

We had the fun of a lunch delivery this week when two former library ladies came to visit, celebrating one of their birthdays and catching up on each of our lives. We shared triumphs and challenges, and I made a new friend. Our special “Friend of the Library” brought us flowers and candy recently. A butterfly landed in my path as I offered prayers for a friend’s job interview (she got the job!). Little things can lift our spirits so greatly, whether we receive or give them.


Here’s the thing: Some days are just hard. People are struggling everywhere. We struggle with our own troubles, frustrations, pain of all sorts. But each day also holds the potential for such great joy. So as I type this from the relative comfort of the couch that has cradled my exhausted body all day, I give thanks. I give thanks for the body that carries me through my life, even when it hurts. I give thanks for the gifts of music and literature that nourish not only me but the entire world we all inhabit. And I give thanks for the people…the ones I know and love, and the ones who pass through my days with their tears, providing me an opportunity to slow my frenzied process down just enough to offer a Kleenex, a gentle tone of voice, and a silent prayer for their circumstances.



When the paint comes off…

I’ve enjoyed playing with makeup and skin care since I was a teenager. Experimenting with formulas, blending colors, learning how to shade and highlight…all fun techniques which allow me to pretend that I am an artist, and my face is the canvas I alter and, I hope, improve.

God gave me my face and features through my gene pool, and I can look at the pieces of myself and see my forbears in the mirror. There’s the chin that came from my Mamaw Massengill through her family, the Dunns. My dark hair and deep hazel eyes resemble Dad’s coloring. My body type, short, with ample hips and breasts and a tendency to be WAY too large, comes from Granny Williams and her people, the McGills. My pale skin tone is a bit of a mystery, though. I have always been the lightest-complected person in the family, on either side, and in family photos I sometimes appear to glow in the dark!

As a young teen I battled with acne for a time, but with good skin care (and obsessive habits!) the pimple problems never became as serious as Dad’s had been at that age. I guess the Lord figured with the boobs and the bulges to deal with, I didn’t need blemishes for a trifecta! Even now, at age 57, I still get the occasional Humility Pimple. You know the one. It shows up exactly when I need to look good for an occasion, concert, interview, you name it. Cosmetic intervention has saved many photographs over the decades! I’ve written about The Humility Pimple on my weight-loss blog:

But when the paint comes off, it’s still my face that I have to face in the mirror…naked, exposed, and bare. Sometimes that face looks at me, my choices, my relationships, and seems to say, ”You are more blessed than you have any right to be”, or, ”What on Earth possessed you to make such a stupid mistake? YOU KNOW BETTER!”

Sometimes I can barely stand my own reflection. Turning away from the mirror doesn’t change anything; it merely gives me a break from having to face my face. All I can do is strip off the paint, come clean, and try again tomorrow to…put my best face forward. (You knew I had to write that.)

My True Colors


Work and play…

I’ve always envied people who can draw, paint, and sketch.   Those aren’t areas of talent or giftedness for me.  And we always seem to wish for that which we don’t possess.  It’s human nature.

But I don’t let it keep me from enjoying the process of playing with colors.  Right now I am coloring in part to regain some fine motor skills that my COVID process has affected. So it’s both occupational therapy/work, and fun/play. 

A while back I bought an inexpensive but fairly comprehensive set of colored pencils to play with.  I also found a similarly inexpensive sharpener, with a USB cable!  Modern and high-tech for such a simple hobby.  Sharpening my pencils this week when I needed to proved a bit zen like, a meditative, almost hypnotic task, watching the shavings accumulate in the container.  Even the shavings resulted in a beautiful image.

Blending colors sparks my imagination and frees my mind to wander to other areas of my life, sometimes helping me to unravel the tangles of my day to day concerns.  I can settle into my couch, busy my hands, and end up with some surprising color combinations I wouldn’t typically put together, and perhaps come up with an unexpected solution to a life issue in the process.  No rules.  It’s liberating.

There has been a lot of time recently for me to think about my life, and how I want to live it moving forward.  Proper priorities, balance, authenticity, and simplicity are the things I want to embody from now on.  It is a tall order. 

Lord, help my true colors to shine forth, glowing with a vibrant reflection of Your plan for my life and how I can serve the people You place along my path.  Amen.

The Broken Year


Chaos in progress…

It feels like forever since I wrote a blog post.  I didn’t consciously intend to give it up; there was just no energy to write and not much positive for me to express, for many months.  I thought that 2019 had been a difficult year, with losing my longtime job and embarking upon the adventures of temporary employment.  So much upheaval and stress, uncertainty and anxiety.

I actually looked forward to 2020 for a fresh start, even writing about My 2020 Vision.

We see how that turned out.  

The year 2020 had begun with promise.  I completed a temporary part-time work assignment with The Oak Ridge Public Library, an enriching, fun position that lasted far longer than its original duration was to be.  #TempLife was going OK. I was thankful for the opportunity to work there and surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  The next week, I began a different, full-time assignment with a local non-profit whose mission and work I strongly believe in, and it turned out to be a good fit for me in many respects.  I was learning new skills in an office environment, a setting where I did not have much experience.  Gradually my supervisor gave me more tasks to try, and my job became a more rounded kind of experience, with enough variety to be interesting, and enough routine to be fairly comfortable.  I was fortunate also to be able to work actually in the office, preserving some semblance of normalcy as the coronavirus pandemic raged everywhere else, forcing untold numbers into the “work from home” workforce.  Until the middle of December, when the pandemic invaded my household, and my body.  That’s another story.

Aside from the pandemic…

The remainder of 2020 was riddled with the deaths of 6 people in my various circles.  My feisty, precious Aunt Helen, a Guardian Angel who was throughout my life a fun, inspiring, positive woman, and someone who was ALWAYS in my corner, no matter what, died on March 4, 2020.  On April 27, two valued and insightful connections from my unit of CPE died.  These two men encouraged me to continue to determine  and develop my prophetic and pastoral gifts, believing that I had them in the first place.  My #FirstEverWorkHusband Martin died the next week on May 4, 2020.  I am still processing that death and how it came about.  Next, after a 2-month break in the deaths, my college voice professor, Dr. Thomas Swann Teague, passed away.  Another person in this circle of people who believed in me in a unique way, his legacy of training in all things both vocal and human continues to this day.  I have long stated that every time I open my mouth to sing, I owe him a debt of gratitude.  Finally, on November 11, Veterans Day, our friend and my husband’s coworker, Billy Kidd, area radio icon and institution, died unexpectedly and suddenly at age 62.  His death on Veterans Day seems fitting, as he loved and respected our vets greatly and did many benefit events over the years for them.  Our whole community was shaken by his passing.

A family member was diagnosed with cancer.  Another’s battles with dementia came out in drips, drops, and then a flood.  Anxiety attacks began to happen in still another family member.  It became relentless.

Due to the pandemic, performances of music shut down.  Singing became unsafe, as did gathering in groups to practice or perform.  Changes in how we all were conducting worship services altered and damaged how I was using—and not using—my own voice.  I began to suffer the effects of neglect and improper/lack of use.  I could have, and should have, been practicing diligently at home.  That is my own responsibility, and I will own the role I played in my decline.  

There was just no energy to do it.  Depression and anxiety drain a person’s resources under normal circumstances, and the #Damndemic multiplied those issues exponentially.  This is not an excuse for my lack of will to practice, merely an explanation.

Any one of these sets of conditions would have been enough to drive me into a severe depressive state on its own; the totality of them all converging in the same year just…broke me.  BROKE me.  

Mid-December brought sickness to the house, and we had a COVID Christmas.  My husband started with sinus-infection symptoms, and my own followed in a day or two.  He received a drive-through COVID test never believing he had the virus.  I received my test the day he received his confirmation call for coronavirus, and I received my confirmation call the next day.  I bowed out of Christmas music at church at the literal last minute because of my own illness and their safety.  (I learned later that the soprano they replaced me with was WAITING FOR COVID TEST RESULTS!!! She was positive but apparently is all right now). Work bosses and contacts were informed in a flurry of messages and emails.  

My husband’s case was quick and fairly mild, and he made a remarkable recovery.  Thanks be to God!  I have become a “long haul” COVID patient, unfortunately.  The good news is that I am improving daily, and hope to be released from restriction soon by Dr. Awesome, who has kept me out of the hospital.  I have chosen to share parts of my COVID process in my social media, in hopes of helping someone else who might experience some of the things I have, as well as to gain insight from those who contracted #ThisDamnableVirus before I did. The COVID process may get its own post later on.

For now, I begin to write again, nearly a month into 2021. More uncertainty stares down the barrel as we move forward. But despite the chaos, the forward motion must progress.