Tag Archives: grief

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)

 

Promise

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Reminders of the circle of life…

For the first time in several years, we had a bird to build a nest on our front porch.  In the past the nests have actually been in a shrub just in front of the porch.  However this little bird built her nest inside a watering pitcher I had left outside on some shelves next to the front door.  The eggs were beautiful, pale pink with burgundy speckles.  After doing some research online I discovered that they were the eggs of a Carolina Wren.

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Watching this miracle unfold never gets old for me!  I check the nest, making sure it is secure and safe, seeing if Mama Bird is there or has left to find food for herself.  This little Wren has been a great Mama to her eggs, building them a quite impressive nest for a bird so little.  Since I didn’t notice the nest until it was already full of eggs, and promise, I missed the earliest parts of the miracle, but I hoped and prayed I would not miss the last stage.

This time last week, my church family was saying goodbye to our friend Ray, about whom I wrote in my last post.  I was unable to attend his funeral because of scheduling, and usually missing that chance to pay respects and find closure would upset me greatly.  But somehow, this time, I think it was meant to be that I just remember him as he was the way I saw him last, ringing handbells, singing with the choir and reading Scripture, multi-tasking at church in his customary way.

When I arrived home from work, I checked the nest to see if Mama was there and how the eggs were.  The final miracle had begun to happen!

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I missed Ray’s funeral…but God gave me comfort and joy on my porch as the baby birds hatched and their new little lives began.  He reminded me of the promise of new life we have in Christ, the new life Ray was just beginning in Heaven.  He reminded me of the care He has for us, as a bird cares for her eggs, then her hatchlings, providing them with warmth, love and security.  Gracious Lord, help me remember that You always keep Your promises, and that You ALWAYS care.

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A Ray Of Light

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Saying goodbye…

Our church family has suffered a great blow with the death of our beloved friend and brother, Ray.  After a devastating motorcycle crash 4 weeks ago, he finally succumbed to the many injuries he sustained.  The light among us has been dimmed with his passing.

I admit that I didn’t know Ray very well, but I found him to be a big, bright (and sometimes loud!) presence, always multitasking, skidding into church at the last minute.  On any given Sunday he could be found singing in the choir (both services), serving as communion assistant or crucifer, lector or acolyte, or any combination of those tasks.  He also rang in the handbell choir.  His absence has been felt acutely in each of those roles, and filling his shoes will be no easy task.

He was a huge University of Tennessee sports fan, usually wearing UT apparel to church.  The man’s wardrobe was saturated in Vol orange.  He loved river sports and had a group of motorcycle riding friends (who were with him the day he crashed, summoning help immediately for their friend and brother).  He also served with the East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard, having retired from military service.  It seemed to me that everything Ray did, he did wholeheartedly, full-force.  He lived his life out loud, shining a beacon of light into his world.

What I will remember most, I think, is his voice.  He had a booming bass voice, and he LOVED to sing.  Occasionally for the sake of balance, he would be asked to “tone it down a little”.  His whole face lit up when he sang, and that light radiated to everyone around him.  Sometimes he would close his eyes as he sang, communing intimately with God through the music.  I’d love to be able to sing to the Lord with such abandon.  And when he served as lector, his reading of the day’s Bible passage was always authoritative, glowing with expression and inflection.

His last Sunday with us, he sang in the choir and served as lector for both services.  I’m grateful to have that memory of him, using that booming voice of his to proclaim the word of God in song and Scripture.  It will echo in my ears and heart for the rest of my life.  I am also grateful that his struggle is over, even though, for those of us left behind, our path of grief of just beginning.  But it is not a totally dark path, as even his name, Ray, casts light upon it.

Pie Jesu, Domine, dona eis requiem, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Blessed Jesus, Lord God, grant them rest, and light perpetual shine upon them.

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Closing Time

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Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…(and yes, I stole that line from a song)…

There have been too many goodbyes for me in 2015, too many moments when a door I took for granted slammed shut with no warning.  For that reason, I am sort of glad to see the year come to a close, and I pray that 2016 will be, Lord willing and knock wood, a healthy, happy and peaceful year for me and for all the people I love.  I pray for this…but only God knows what’s coming.

With each friend I’ve had to say goodbye to, a relationship has ended on Earth…but a place is being held for me in Heaven as they await my arrival.  I can see myself, once I’ve settled into Heaven for a bit, sitting with my friend Dave on his front porch, talking about our shared friends in the world of radio and television.  He will have birds as pets there too, creatures he loved so much while he was here.  From there I might stroll over to see Bill, and we’ll sit at his piano,singing together once more, his voice strong and clear, his body healthy and whole in a way we can’t begin to imagine down here.  And sweet Ron, who I knew the longest of the three, will  greet me with a big cup of coffee in his hand, open arms and a smile.  He is the Scarecrow to my Dorothy, sharing with me the most years of my journey here before he left to start his journey There.

Because, as I’ve stated before, just because someone dies, doesn’t mean the love stops, or the relationship ends.  It changes by necessity, but it’s not over.  The ones I have loved are just in a place where I can’t see them right now.

So I bid farewell to 2015, grateful that it is Closing Time. A new year, a few frontier, begins, swinging open a portal of fresh starts. Gracious God, grant peace, good health and happiness to everyone I love.  Draw us closer to each other and closer to You. Amen.

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Eulogy

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Radio, roses, rat-tails and River Phoenix…

The year was 1993 and I had taken a short-term job at an AM/FM in Morristown, TN, about an hour up the road from where I live in Knoxville.  I did a live mid-day shift on the country AM, and then production and voice-tracks for the night shift on the FM.  The job lasted 3 months.  The friendship with Ron that began there lasted 22 years.

When I met Ron he had a rat-tail, which, for those unfamiliar with 90’s hair trends, was a long, thin strand of hair hanging down the neckline of an otherwise short haircut.  It could be considered a cousin of the mullet, I suppose.  I’d never had a friend with a rat-tail before, but Ron didn’t hold that against me.  In fact, he never held anything against me, ever.  Oh, he’d call me on the carpet if I wasn’t being honest with myself, but he never made me feel judged.  He was one of my “easy” people…easy to like, easy to talk to, easy to be with.

It was just about this time in 1993 that the young actor River Phoenix died outside a nightclub from a drug overdose.  When I returned to work the following Monday, as Ron and I were talking about the story we looked at each other and, at the same time, said, “Poor dumb b@$&@%d!”   I think this might have been the moment when I realized that, yes, we are going to be friends.

My last day of work at the station, he sent me 3 red roses, one for each month I had worked there.  I still have them, dried, in a wreath with other flowers from years gone by.  We promised to keep in touch.  And we did.  And in those days, keeping in touch meant actually writing letters, since there was no e-mail yet, (certainly no Facebook!) and phone calls between us were long-distance.  For years after I left the station he continued to call me by my middle name, Diane, which I had used on the air, even addressing letters to Diane.

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Later on, when he was working Friday overnights at the big Knoxville country station and I was working early Saturday mornings on the big adult contemporary station across town, he would visit me in my studio before heading home.  He knew the layout of our building about as well as I did, especially the location of the coffee pot and the men’s room.  And I visited him at his place several times on nights when I was free.  All this was before security cameras were everyplace and “unauthorized visitors” were so strictly forbidden.

He gave me so many gifts.  When something was disagreeable, he would often say, “This sucks pondwater!”  This expression comes from me often to this day.  And his favorite line was, “Lord help us on the broadcast!”  For me, “the broadcast” has become a metaphor for my life, and anytime I am facing some important event, good or bad, I catch myself whispering, “Lord help us on the broadcast.”  When I went into the funeral home the night we received friends when Mama died…the day I stepped onstage to sing with my chorus at Carnegie Hall…when I’ve interviewed for jobs or auditioned for solos…”Lord help us on the broadcast.”

I had the chance to visit with Ron in the hospital the night before he died.  He was in a lot of pain, but we still had a good visit together, talking about my husband and dog, and his children and both our workplaces, as well as the old days we shared in radio when we first got acquainted.  He was flat on his back and unable to move, so when his supper arrived, I said, “If you feel like you’d like to try to eat, I’m happy to help you with your supper so you don’t have to hurt yourself moving around.”  He said that would be good and I joked, “It ain’t nothing for me to cut up a man’s meat for him.  I won’t tell anybody, but you can tell people this cute brunette with big hair and big boobs hand-fed you your supper!”  And we laughed.  He ate decently considering the pain he was experiencing, and after he ate I asked, “Now that your belly has something in it, do you think you could sleep if I went on home?”  He said yes, so I got ready to leave.  But not before we had the chance to exchange “I-love-you’s”.  At that point there was no indication that less than 24 hours later he would be gone.

Now as I face the grief process for yet another treasured friend who died too soon, I feel many emotions.  I am sad, of course.  But I’m also grateful, for more than 2 decades of friendship and memories, for the clock he sent me as a housewarming present with a note saying he’d try to get by the studio that weekend for a visit, for the t-shirt from his station that he gave me and that I treasure (and can now fit into).  And I am especially grateful for our last “supper date” when I was able to offer him some nourishment for both his body and, I hope, his heart.

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And once again I find myself walking into a daunting place, whispering, shouting, praying…

Lord help us on the broadcast.