Tag Archives: grief

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.

Farther Along

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We’ll understand it all by and by…

This past Sunday, July 26, was the first anniversary of my friend Lola’s death.  I have written about her several times here in Patchwork And Potpourri, sharing bits of my grief journey as I have tried to process her passing and make some sense of it.  While I have not been able to accomplish the sense-making part, I have found amazing pieces of comfort and blessing along the way.

Some months back, my church music director, Joan, planned an old-fashioned gospel singing (or as we in the South sometimes say, a “SANGIN'”!) for this date.  I cut my teeth on many kinds of music, but old-timey hymns and gospel songs are like mother’s milk to me, so I naturally jumped on the bandwagon…and then I realized what day it was, becoming uncertain and unsettled as to whether I’d be up for this gathering on such a poignant anniversary.  Oh, me of little faith!

At this point I need to back up and recall last year.  Lola had died on a Saturday, and I had committed some weeks before to sing a duet with my friend Marc the next day at our friend Greg’s church.  Part of me feared a complete breakdown in the middle of the song…but my inner musician kicked in and soldiered on.  Moments like these are when God works in ways that are beyond understanding, providing His strength in my weakness.  We sang, our voices blending in that unique way that Marc and I always seem to achieve, God singing through us to speak to those gathered there, and ministering to my soul in the midst of such overwhelming sadness.  Afterward we sat together behind the piano, and I began to cry silent, uncontrollable tears.  Marc reached for my hand and mouthed, “What…?” and I mouthed back, “Lola died yesterday.”  He had known all about her illness, prayed for her along with others I had asked to pray, and when I shared that she had died, he just held my hand and petted my arm.  No more words were needed.

The whole rest of last summer, God added feathers to my growing collection, signs of His eye upon the sparrow.  I had started collecting them years before, but in the wake of Lola’s death, I started finding them eveywhere!  Tons of feathers, showing up to remind me that she and my many loved ones in Heaven are all OK…and that I eventually would be OK, too.

This past Sunday, on Lola’s anniversary, once more I sang and made harmony with my longtime friend Marc, recalling last year’s moments of comfort in sadness, strength in weakness, music in tears.  We hugged and talked and laughed…and sang, the old gospel songs about Heaven and hope.  And as Marc and I left the church together, I found another feather, my first one in months.  “Feather!” I exclaimed as I  reached down to pick it up.  Marc said, “Oh yeah…”  I said it must be a Happy-First-Anniversary-In-Heaven-for-Lola feather, and he agreed.

A favorite old song of mine is “Farther Along”.  Granny used to sing it and Mama taught it to me.  It has been recorded by artists ranging from Southern Gospel quartets to The Byrds, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  The chorus states:

“Farther along we’ll know all about it,

Farther along we’ll understand why.

Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine.

We’ll understand it all by and by.”

As I sang it this past Sunday I thought of Lola, her death and her life, and how much I still don’t understand why she had to leave us so soon.  I thought about Joan and the lovely blue hydrangeas from her garden that she had brought in to decorate the tables, reminding me of the ones from Mom Cutshaw’s backyard.  I thought of the almost mystical harmony that happens whenever Marc and I sing together.  I thanked God for these gifts and mysteries.

And once more I looked forward to that day when things I wonder about now will somehow make sense…farther along, by and by.

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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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Carried

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Words, burdens and letting go…

For nearly 20 years, I have carried a small book around with me.  It’s gone pretty much everywhere I’ve gone.  Inside its front cover I wrote down when and where I bought it.

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I have always loved blank books and journals, their potential for creativity and a place for me to vent my thoughts.  This particular one drew me in for 2 reasons.  First, I loved its cover art depicting the sun, moon and stars against a swirly blue background.  I think it’s permissible to judge a book by its cover when the inside is blank!

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Secondly,  I especially loved that its pages were unlined.  I have enough restriction in my life.  The pristine whiteness of its pages gave me freedom to write whatever I wanted, in whatever way I wanted…upside down, in a circle, diagonally or just crooked.

This little book became my constant companion, a safe place for me to write down the feelings I could not express any other way.  Looking at those words now brings back memories of the extremes in my life at the time…mostly extreme pain and sadness.  It contains the overflow of my broken heart and spirit during the last year of Mama’s life on Earth, a period when I was afraid and lonely, not thinking clearly and not making good choices.

I’m not proud of a lot of what I did during this chapter of my life.  My spiritual life and relationship with God were at an all-time low.  I couldn’t pray, really; all I could do was hurt, and sometimes, feel angry.  I realize now that God heard every anguished scream of my heart, even though I was not talking to Him.  He was still listening.

Even as wretched as I was, as horribly as I was acting and as distant as God seemed to be, I know now that He was right beside me all along, carrying me when I could not walk through life on my own.  And not just carrying me, but sending blessings, glimpses of hope that I could survive this valley.  His grace eventually brought me out the other side, altered for sure, but profoundly grateful.

I don’t think I need to keep my little book any longer, or at least, not the words it contains.  I think I can finally let that part of my life go.  Those pages need to be burned up in the bonfire of forgetting, of cleansing, never again a burden to be Carried.

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Good News

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My 90 Day Bible Boot Camp

In 2010, my college roomie, Janet, joined a group on social media started by a woman at her church who was doing a 90 day summer Bible reading challenge.  I had never read the whole Bible straight through before, thinking that was much too grown-up an endeavor for me to try!  But when Janet committed to it, I decided to attempt it as well, enjoying the idea of sharing the experience with her as much as the prospect of accomplishing such a goal.  Little did I know the impact this experience would have on my life.

Every year since then I have done a 90 day “Bible boot camp”, using a different translation each time.  The first year I used the New International Version, reading through my little pink Bible that Mom and Pop Cutshaw had given me for Christmas years ago.  Since then I have read through the New King James version (the Bible my choirmates in college voted for me to receive my senior year; it will have its own blog post in the future, I’m sure);  the Holman Christian Standard version in 2012, when I was recovering from weight loss surgery; in 2013, it was the Revised Standard version Bible that my childhood church gave me when I was a rising third grader, the summer Aunt Ruby died; and last year I revisted The Way verison of The Living Bible from my youth group days, completing it while grieving my friend Lola’s death in late July.

A disclaimer is needed here.  Reading the Bible has not magically transformed me into a good person.  I struggle, and I fail in my walk of faith all the time.  What God HAS done in my life through this process has been gradual; over time, He has given me peace in places that used to be filled with turmoil.  I pray that He will continue to work in those dark places of mine, bringing light, love and forgiveness.

I can trace my history in many ways through what Bible I was reading when certain events happened, and I have begun writing those details down inside my Bibles so that someday, whoever inherits them will know what happened when, and where God provided comfort, inspiration and strength for my journey.

This year, I chose to read through the Good News Bible, another nod to my past and my childhood church.

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When I was a kid, one of our pastors introduced us to Good News for Modern Man, The New Testament in Today’s English Version, a paperback volume with a cover designed to look like newsprint.  Uncle John Flanigan gave a copy to Mama and inscribed it to her.  It’s a memento I cherish.  Eventually the Old Testament was translated into Today’s English Version as well, and renamed The Good News Bible.  Among other features it contains beautiful line drawings of many of the scenes, a modern twist on the older Bibles that used to have prints of classical religious paintings inside their gold-leafed or red-edged pages.

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The past 3 summers as I have recovered from major surgery and experienced deaths of people I love, I have sometimes wondered if I’d complete my 90 day odyssey through the Bible.  Sometimes reading was the last thing I felt like doing.  Sometimes physical pain overwhelmed me; other times it was emotional anguish that threatened my progress.

But here’s the thing.  God provided comfort for my pain, strength for my path and balm for my soul, all throughout my boot camp and beyond.  He continues to do so, day after day, through seasons of grief and joy, spiritual peaks and valleys, rocky places and still waters.  He speaks through His creation, through my friends and family…and through His word in scripture.  The Bible’s story of God’s love, Jesus’s life and death and redemption…it is MY story.  How blessed and fortunate I am to live in a place where I can have access to His word, and where I am free to read and learn from it when-and-wherever I choose.  Millions of people throughout our world are not as fortunate.  I pray never to take this gift, this Good News, for granted.

Dear Me

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Advice to my younger self…

Dear Me,

You are about to turn 51 years old, which used to sound ancient but now seems merely middle-aged.  And over the decades you have managed to learn a few things that would have been really helpful had you known them earlier.  So here is a list of Do’s and Don’t’s from Present-Day Me to Younger Me.

Do take the nap.  Anytime the grown-ups encourage (i.e. try to force!) you to do so, TAKE THE NAP!  Someday you’ll be exhausted and wishing for the chance to nap and you won’t have the time to do it.

Do ask for piano lessons, as early as possible.  You will choose to study music in college and having some piano training will help you more than you can possibly imagine.  And keep asking until your parents let you do it.  Don’t take no for an answer.

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Do kiss that boy at the party.  He really likes you.  A lot.

The other boy at the other party…don’t kiss him.  And don’t give either of them your phone number!

When you find those perfect black pumps, the comfortable ones that make your legs look great and take you through countless performances, all four choir tours and both your recitals in college—do buy a second pair.  It’ll be more than worth the money and you’ll be glad to have a backup pair when the originals eventually wear out.  (I still miss those shoes.)

The same goes for any other “perfect thing” you find and love—your favorite pantyhose (especially in the most flattering shades of black and nude), good tweezers, the slumber mask that fits just right and provides comfort when you have a headache.  Do buy extras.

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Do get your bras custom fitted.  It’s not about vanity, it’s about your health.  Your neck, back and shoulders will thank you.  And follow the Lingerie Lady’s advice: always have at least 3 properly-fitting bras, 1 to wash, 1 to wear and 1 to spare.

Don’t wear a white slip under a black dress.  The last thing you want is for your underwear to glow in the dark.  And don’t skip the slip.  Mama was right about the need for one.

Do take care of your skin, remembering that your face extends down to your chest.  Your neck is especially vulnerable, and so are your hands.  Learn to be satisfied with the pale complexion God gave you.  Trying to get a tan is pointless for you, and you will regret it later when sun damage starts to show up.  Pray that spots and wrinkles are all you have to worry about!

People you love are going to get sick and die.  Your Dad, in his misplaced desire to protect you and keep things “normal” for you as long as possible, is going to tell you things that go against what your gut is tellling you.  Don’t listen to him.  He is WRONG.  (You will learn that he has been wrong about a lot of stuff.)  Follow your intuition.  Go and see Uncle J.B. in Texas while you can, even though your leg is in a cast.  Take time off from work sooner and spend more time with Mama before she goes back into the hospital.  And when she is gone, spend more time dealing with your own grief and less time worrying about Dad’s.  He will be just fine.

After Mama dies, you won’t feel like singing for a while.  That’s OK.  But don’t let it go for too long.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your dreams are foolish.  You can decide later on which ones are worth following and which ones are not.  But it’s your decision to make, not theirs.

Do have a plan…but be open to surprise.

Do start reading the Bible daily.  God will use this discipline to change your life.  It will become as vital as food, water and oxygen…and just as nourishing.

Always remember that God loves you.  There is nothing, NOTHING, He can’t forgive.  No tragedy, no crisis, no failure, is beyond redemption.

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Dear Lola

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Just In The Neighborhood…

I drove by your house the other day

I was just in the neighborhood

Had some time between errands

and thought about you

My car seemed to know the way

by itself

having gone to check the place

so often after you died

I was curious to see if

the new owners were changing things

A car sat in the driveway

and a wreath of yellow daisies

hung on the front door

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Not your style at all

but still

signs of new life

in your old house

and I thought

This is good

Someone is making

a fresh start here

Meanwhile

I snuggle under your blanket on my couch

I see my candle glowing inside

one of your wine glasses

and your drums and basket

nestle on my bookcase

And I too

try to

make a fresh start

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