Tag Archives: death

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.image

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.

What 50 Looks Like

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And why it does and doesn’t matter…

Feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem once responded to a reporter who kindly remarked that she did not look 40, “This is what 40 looks like.”  Now, whatever your thoughts and opinions about Ms. Steinem may be, her response to that reporter has always resonated with me. As a woman who has always felt judged by my appearance (not by age as much as by shape and size) I love it when appearance-based stereotypes get shattered.  But this post isn’t really about physical appearances as much as what my life looks like today, as I turn The Big 5-0.

In the spirit of full disclosure I will admit to being a little freaked-out by the prospect of turning 50.  It’s a milestone different from any other birthday that happens to have a zero at the end of it.  A woman turning 50 often finds herself subject to the slings and arrows of menopause and all the changes associated with the end of the childbearing years.  And I am so there.  I am relieved that my new GYN actually listened to my concerns during our initial visit and started me on treatment that I hope will help me feel better soon.

I went today and renewed my drivers’ license, and I was pleasantly surprised by how similar my photo today looked when compared to the one from my last license 10 years ago.  Aside from a marked decrease in weight, I don’t look too different, or too much older.  That was a big relief!

The biggest surprise about this birthday is how much more content and comfortable I am in my life and in my own skin than I’ve probably ever been before.  I remember other birthdays with zeroes on them, and the various kinds of angst I was experiencing with each of them.  My life is in a better place now.  God has blessed me with a husband who still loves me after all these years, makes me laugh, warms my heart, has been a wonderful dog dad, and makes me feel safe.Image

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I have several longtime friendships like that as well. Those relationships are priceless.  My friend Mary K. and I spent the weekend between our birthdays together.  Her birthday is May 15 and was also a milestone.  We first met at a Methodist youth assembly when we were 13 or 14 years old.  Living in different states, we were pen-pals for decades but didn’t actually see each other again until 2009 when, after about a decade of being out of touch, we reconnected via Facebook.

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Over the years we have shared everything from braces and boyfriend stories to college, marriage, the births of her children to the deaths of our parents.  This friendship and a few other cherished ones like it sustain me, nourish my soul and, again, make me feel safe.  Above is the picture from our initial reunion in 2009, and below is from our most recent get-together this past weekend.  It just dawned on me that she is wearing the same top in both pictures, and I am wearing yellow in both.  (My sweater from 2009 would swallow me now since weight loss surgery!)

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The losses of so many loved ones have all affected me in different ways, but that old adage, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” is one I believe in.  Yes, the deaths hurt terribly…but I am so incredibly grateful that I have known and loved these precious family members and friends.  My life without them would be unimaginable.  And they’re not gone forever.  They’re just in a place where I can’t see them right now, except when they visit in dreams.  The relationships with living family members are all works in progress, just as they’ve always been.  I’m grateful for the ones still here who make me feel safe, valued and loved.

So I guess my life turning 50 is looking pretty good after all.  God has been so faithful and brought me through more sadness, disasters and changes than I ever could have imagined experiencing by the time I turned 50.  He has also brought me more wonderful surprises, happiness and joy than I could ever hope to deserve.  So, what does 50 look like?  

Sometimes it looks hazy and crazy.

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Sometimes it looks goofy and spoofy.Image

 

 Mostly, though,  it just looks…Blessed.

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Reclining Chairs And White Flowers

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Pop Cutshaw’s birthday and my memories…

My father-in-law, Floyd Houston Cutshaw, was born on March 20, 1923.  He’d be turning 91.  That seems unfathomable to me.

I have to say that the Pop Cutshaw I knew was probably a very different person than the father his kids grew up knowing.

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By the time I came onto the scene he was about to retire, and I think that growing a little older and developing some health problems had mellowed him some.  To me, he was always easy to be around, with a dry sense of humor and a favorite chair.

Jeff’s growing-up memories include Pop making old-school, stove-top popcorn in a pan that was, in Jeff’s recollection, beat-up and black from all the stuff that got cooked and/or burned in it, and no longer flat on the bottom but “bowed up in the middle”.  Pop Cutshaw brought home a swirly brown ball from someplace and drilled holes in it to make Jeff’s first little bowling ball, a treasure we have to this day.  Jeff spent countless hours propping up a pillow in their kitchen or den behind his set of little plastic bowling pins as he practiced big boy bowling.

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My history with Pop was a lot shorter because I came into the family as the last child-in-law.  I always liked him and I felt that he liked me too.  A routine developed over the years when we would go over to their house for dinner or whatever reason for a visit.  We always went in the sliding glass doors into the den, and Pop was generally sitting in his recliner in the corner watching sports on TV.  Mom Cutshaw might be in her chair as well, opposite his, or she might be in the kitchen.  I always leaned down to kiss Pop on the corner of his forehead (usually leaving a lipstick smear behind) and he always said “Thank you!” when I did it.

I mentioned that he developed health issues as he got older. One of those was prostate cancer.  It scared all of us to death, because he already had a heart condition, and there was concern that side effects from treatment could make his existing problems worse.  Fortunately, no surgery was needed, just radiation (which was still no walk in the park).  When he began treatment, I sent him an arrangement of white roses, the flowers I always choose to express respect.  Our phone rang that night and it was Mom Cutshaw saying, “Your father-in-law has something he’d like to tell you,”.  He told me he’d never gotten flowers from a woman before and he was touched by the gesture, and he thanked me.  He did very well during radiation, especially for his age and considering his heart problem.

He endured bladder cancer prior to the prostate cancer, a heart attack, several angioplasties, double hernia surgery and an enormous aortic aneurysm that he didn’t want to get fixed until he finished building the carport for the motor home!  That was just how he was.  In his younger days, he could build or fix just about anything thrown his way.  He and Mom Cutshaw eloped to Ringgold, Georgia after he came back from The War, a period of his life that he never talked about much.  The war, not the marriage.

How strange and sad that after surviving so much, in the end it was Alzheimer’s Disease that took him from us.  How ironic that, after years of lipstick-smeared forehead kisses, I should be wearing the original Kissy Shirt the night he died and I kissed him for the last time.  And how poignant was the conversation we had in a dream following his death.

I dreamed that, like every other time we had gone to their house, Pop was there in his recliner, stretched out with his feet up.  The whole family was there for dinner and everyone else was in the kitchen.  I leaned down and kissed him on the forehead just like always, leaving my mark behind. And he thanked me.  I sat down in Mom C’s chair. He and I were by ourselves in the den, and I knew that he was dead, but he had been allowed to return for a visit with me.  He thanked me once again for the white roses I’d sent him years before, and said he would like me to plant a garden of white flowers for him, whatever kind I wanted, but all white.

And then he was gone, I was awake, and tears of joy and gratitude were flowing before my eyes even opened.  Dreams like this are so vivid, real and beautiful when they come, and I would endure every bad dream gladly for the chance to experience these occasional visits from my departed loved ones.  I miss them all so much, but now and then I am granted the gift of a visit like this one with Pop.  I have never gotten around to planting that white garden.  Maybe this year that will happen.  But every time I see white flowers of any kind, I remember Pop and that precious moment we shared in my dream.

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Happy birthday in Heaven, Pop.  I’m sending you a big forehead smooch.  ❤