Tag Archives: death

Muses

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What inspires us…

My friend David shared an insight with me years ago that I have never forgotten.  He said that all creative/artistic types have more than one outlet for expression.  That one bit of wisdom has held true for me, even before he said the words to me and, in fact, since long before I ever met him.

I read somewhere that famed fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy cited Audrey Hepburn as being the inspiration for much of his design work…she was his muse.  Over the years I have found my own inspiration in many places, things and people.  A conversation with a valued friend can spark an idea for a blog post, or for a different way to interpret a phrase in a song I am working on; seasonal change and the beauty of nature often urge me to snap photographs, capturing a moment of color, texture, light and shadow; a sound, scent or memory can prompt me to write a poem, haiku or brief passage which might eventually find its way into a larger work.

Inspiration does not always come from things that are traditionally considered beautiful.  Sometimes an inspiring image is one depicting pain, brokenness, sickness or even death.  For me, if a thing evokes a strong emotion, it can serve as a muse.  I want to explore it further, document how it makes me feel…to wonder about, or create, its story.

In future posts, I hope to write more about my various muses, their stories, the reasons I find them so meaningful and inspiring.  You may find yourself mentioned here, or pictured here.  You may see a photo that evokes an emotional response.  I hope you do!

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Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Holding Space

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Learning by doing…

Recently while reading I came across a phrase and a concept that instantly struck a chord inside me:  holding space.  Specifically, holding space in my heart for others as they walk their path in life, especially when that path is a difficult, painful one.  It is actually something I have been learning to do my entire life.

Sometimes I’ve described this concept with the following phrases:

“You are in my prayers.”

“I’ll be remembering you.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“My heart is with you.”

During my work in CPE, I learned that the work of the chaplain is mostly about meeting and caring for people where they are, walking alongside them in their pain, providing compassionate presence, sometimes without words.  It is often uncomfortable simply to “be” with another person, without trying to fix what they are enduring.  We want to fill the silence with words, or noise, or activity.  Often what is needed is for us just to sit with someone, quietly.  These are ways we hold space for a person in need, or in pain.

I remember the morning a few years ago when my friend’s father was actively dying and ultimately passed away, when my friend and I sent Facebook messages to one another as she kept vigil at his bedside.  Just four months ago, another friend and I exchanged messages and a photo as he lay with his beloved dog while she died.  Even though I was unable to be present with these friends in a physical way, I was able to love and care for them…holding space.

The truth is, I’ve been learning how to hold space all my life…I just didn’t know it was called “holding space”.  And that phrase may be one that comes and goes away, replaced by another “concept-of-the-moment”.  I do like the idea, though, especially when someone is of a different faith tradition from mine, or from no faith tradition at all.  Sometimes telling someone that I am “praying” for them might hold negative associations, if the church has hurt them (which happens so much more often than we want to acknowledge).  Sometimes my own spiritual life is not such that I can truly pray…but I can always hold space.  God hears what I can’t say, and the person I am caring for knows they are being remembered with compassion and tenderness.  I’m holding several people even as I write this, people dear to me who are enduring pain that I cannot begin to imagine.  I communicate as best I can with them, and when we are not talking or writing, my heart is with them…holding space.

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Take Me There

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Radio days…

This time of year always brings with it a tsunami-sized wave of nostalgia, memories of holiday seasons past and the people who fill those memories.  Sights, smells, flavors and especially sounds, fill my head and heart with both laughter and longing as I recall the many hours I spent “on the board” working in radio stations playing Christmas songs in the solitude of a tiny studio, music unheard at any other time of year except in my memories.

Working on the air was, for me, a chance to touch people without ever seeing them.  Different from live performance in that I spoke to an audience I couldn’t see, radio also allowed my listeners to imagine what I might be like without ever laying eyes on me.  I had regular callers at every station I worked for who, for the most part, were friendly, polite and respectful…even those who flirted and asked me out, sight unseen!  There were also occasional callers who made me feel uncomfortable, even threatened.  Anyone who has ever been on the air has experienced such things, especially my fellow “lady jocks”.  We all have stories to tell!

I’ve been out of the business for a long time now, but listening to the radio this time of year always takes me back to specific times and places.  I can’t hear Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” without being transported to the top of Sharps Ridge, remembering the view from the studio window…often with my friend Ron visiting after finishing his own air shift at another radio station across town, drinking coffee and smiling at me from across the console.  This is the same Ron with whom I shared my shortest radio gig and built one of my longest friendships, until he passed away last year. That relationship is not over…it’s just changed until we’re in the same place again.

A simple song can take me there.

The synth intro to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” immediately returns me to my first radio gig in a tiny building in the Florida panhandle.  I worked in the AM studio where I played Southern Gospel music and preaching/teaching programs, while next door the FM station aired “Light Rock & A Little Country”, hence the Paul McCartney holiday offering.  I cut my radio teeth there, learning how to do everything the old-school way because of the antiquated equipment I worked with.  My real-life husband and my first ever “work husband” worked on the FM side, with the work husband and me sharing a shift time and often standing in each others’ studio doors talking and laughing between songs on automation.

A simple song can take me there.

Music is such an evocative force in my life, whether I am singing it or listening to it.  The music I played during my radio days is especially poignant.  Those sounds bring to mind both the places and the people with whom I shared them.

A simple song can always take me there.

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(At my first radio gig, Circe 1989)

 

Present Tense

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Do it.  Do it NOW…

I hate to be late. HATE it!  So, I always wear a watch.  Sometimes I wear more than one watch at a time, as both a fashion statement and a reminder to be where I need to be, when I need to be there.

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If there is one lesson God keeps trying to teach me, it is that time is precious.  Life can change in an instant. Opportunities are presented—or lost—in the blink of an eye.

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Throughout my life as well as in recent months, my world has been altered by deaths of people I love.  Not “loved”.  LOVE.  Present tense.  I cannot bring myself to say that I “lovED” a person who is no longer living.  Just because someone died doesn’t mean that the love stops.  I don’t even believe that the relationship between us stops; it changes by necessity, but I don’t believe that it ends.

It’s as though the person I love has changed addresses, relocating to a place where I am temporarily unable to see or touch him or her.  I have, however, been known to speak to my departed loved ones (not in a way that will result in my being hauled off to the asylum!) and they often visit me in dreams.  The relationships and the love go on.  We are just temporarily separated.

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Still, I tend to take my relationships for granted.  I think most people do…until we get a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever.  For example, several years ago a friend and co-worker was killed in a wreck.  Gone in a split second.  Suicide, both attempted and and completed, has touched my life, more than once.  Fast passings from aggressive cancer, slow goodbyes from Alzheimer’s disease and COPD, sudden massive strokes and heart attacks have all taken loved ones from me and my family.

It doesn’t matter whether a person leads a charmed life of wealth and success, or a humble existence of  living paycheck-to-paycheck.  It is immaterial whether one is educated or not, privileged or not, a have-or-have-not.  Suffering and death are the greatest equalizers, and if we live long enough, we’re all going to get some of both.

Whatever needs doing in my life, I need to do it.  Do it now.  Speak the truth.  Write the letter.  Make the phone call or send the e-mail.  I need to hug and kiss, laugh and cry, and go about the living of my big, loud, messy life.

Do it.  Do it NOW.

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Tears Of A Clown

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When a helper needs help…

A couple of months ago, I found a little dead bird outside one of the large plate glass windows at work.  The windows are slightly mirrored on the outside, and birds fly into them from time to time, breaking their little necks.  This bird was exquisite and tiny, with greenish-yellow feathers on his back and wings, and a whitish breast.

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Outside he was intact, with no visible injuries.  So beautiful and small. But inside, he was broken.

I’ve been feeling like that lately.  Today was the 17th anniversary of Mama’s death, and the days of the week this year are the same as the year she died.  I remember things like this.  Plus, two days ago was a full moon, which in my experience brings on more vivid dreams.  Mama’s anniversary and the moon waxing toward full have brought on a lot of dead people dreams.  I’ve had dreams of Mama, Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha and Lola clustered very close together in the last couple of weeks.  Even Ernie The Wonder Beagle showed up in a dream.

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The people I am closest to know that I have a sensitive side; they’ve been subjected to it throughout our lives.  But, while I consider myself to be pretty transparent most of the time, I don’t expose my tender places a lot.  I’m a good listener (so I’ve been told, anyway) and more often than not, I am the person who offers the shoulder to cry on.  Even my Enneagram research bears this out.  I am an Ennea-type 2—The Helper.

And that’s great.  Most of the time.  But it is a mixed blessing.

Most of the time I am a jokester, a clown.  I laugh easily and usually I try to bring others along for a ride on The Goofball Express.  That is the side of myself I am most comfortable with other people seeing, and I think it’s the side they are most used to.

It’s hard for a clown like me to even NEED help, much less to ADMIT that I need it.  It feels naked, exposed.  It feels vulnerable.  I tend to be much more comfortable with the vulnerability of other people than with my own.

But clowns like me cry sometimes.  Our tender places need to be soothed and comforted.  I have struggled the past couple of days with grief and sad memories, feeling weepy and lonesome.  I told Sweet Pea a little while ago that sometimes I just get so tired of missing people.  He listened to me with loving concern and compassion, telling me there was no need to apologize (which I always do when I cry.  Old habits die hard, I guess.  My tears were generally not accepted very well as I was growing up, except by Aunt Ruby.).  He has dealt with many tears of mine over the years, and while it hurts him to see me hurting, he listens without judging.  It’s a priceless gift.

My bouncy, clownish self will return soon enough.  There are gag Christmas presents to give and ugly sweaters to wear.  There is music (and cake) to be made.   But this day…this day has witnessed the tears of a clown.

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Arms

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Memories of embraces past…

Tuesday, October 28, 1997 was one of the worst days of my life.  It was the day Mama went into the hospital.  It was the beginning of the end, of Mama’s life and of an era in our family.

At this time, on that night, I was at the hospital to spend the night with her.  It was a bad night for us both, for numerous reasons.  She was nervous and agitated, and the medicine given to calm her down only upset her stomach.

There are lots of things about her last month and a half of life that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.  I was still trying to work during most of that time while staying as many nights as possible at the hospital.  Sleep-deprived and stressed out, I know there are lots if things I don’t remember now.  But I remember some moments with vivid clarity.

I remember people’s arms around me.  I remember the night Mama’s condition was so bad that they had to bring  a portable ultrasound up to her room because they needed to do tests and didn’t want to wait for transport to come and take her down because she was so unstable.  Jeff had come to visit both with her and with me, and her condition upset him.  That was his meltdown moment during the last of her illness.  He cried like his best friend was dying and I couldn’t offer him much comfort.  We just held each other.

Dad had spent Mama’a last full night with her at the hospital, and I came the next day to relieve him.  He left and I settled in to spend what turned out to be her last day at the hospital with her.  She was unresponsive, and not too long after I got there her breathing changed.  I know now that she was actively dying.  A nurse came in and asked how long her breathing had been like that, and I said about a half hour.  The nurse then told me that I could talk to Mama, hold her hand and pet her if I wanted to. She said she didn’t think Mama was in any pain and that she didn’t think anything was going to bother or disturb her now.  She told me she would check on us during the day and if I needed anything at all to just call.  She put her arm around my shoulder and just stood with me for a few minutes, saying nothing more.

Countless times during her hospital stay, people hugged me, squeezed me tight and infused me with strength for the battle.  Guardian angels from my own family held me close as we all cried with sadness over what Mama was enduring, and what we all knew was to come.  I never take a hug for granted anymore.  I know the difference it can make.

After Mama died, at the graveside after the service was over, people were starting to disperse and leave.  I sat by her casket for what seemed like the longest time, by myself.  I knew the cemetery people would make me leave soon, but I wanted to spend those last few minutes with her.  My cousin Van, a favorite person in my life who I don’t see nearly often enough, came over and sat down beside me.  He didn’t say a word.  He just put his arm around my shoulder and sat with me.  I never felt more loved, more understood, than I did at that moment.

Many times I have leaned on the arms of other people for strength and comfort.  I hope that my arms have provided strength and comfort for the people in my life as well.  I believe one of the most powerful ways God loves us is through the love of other people. As I have leaned into the arms of other human beings, I have felt the everlasting arms of God spoken of in the old hymn from my childhood.

 

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Lord of love, thank You for holding me with the arms of the people You have sent me when I needed them most.  Use my arms and hands to comfort, strengthen and encourage the people in my life who need to feel You in theirs.