Tag Archives: death

Reader’s Choice ’12: Leah

Roy Knapp was in my husband’s high school class.

Roy Knapp

Roy Knapp

I didn’t know him until this year when he began reading everyday epistle. Roy is no ordinary reader. He doesn’t merely observe; he fearlessly comments here and on Finding (Un)Common Ground.

Thank you, Roy, and all the readers who dialogue with me on the blog and privately.

Together we commemorate a woman who would have turned 75 years old today. Her husband was the subject of a post that was selected in last year’s Reader’s Choice.

This year, I wrote about her. Roy’s Reader’s Choice is:

Leah

Leah

click to read Leah

Reader's Choice

 

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Pumpkin Patch Peril

Last week my son had a day off school, so we trekked 25 miles to meet some of his school mates at Walter’s Pumpkin Patch.

pumpkin arrangement

pumpkin arrangement

This is the first fall in my son’s life we won’t be pumpkin and apple picking at America’s largest, family-owned, pick-your-own orchard, Eckert’s in Belleville, Illinois. We’re mourning the loss of Pumpkin Jamboree weekends and phenomenal fried chicken. But this year Eckert’s is 458.78 miles away.

Yes, I MapQuested it.

corn maze exit

maze exit

Walter’s isn’t the same as Eckert’s, but it’s still a blast. We were there on a weekday, so we had the place to ourselves including paddle boats, underground slides, an in-ground trampoline, corn maze, people-sized hamster wheel, giant seesaw, tree houses, and of course pumpkin picking.

Now my son has never struggled with separation anxiety. From the moment I dropped him off at nursery school, he’s not been one to look back. There are places to go, things to do, people to see. Mom? Mom who?

Walter’s was no different. He jumped head first into the activities, oblivious to my whereabouts. After lunch, he took off with his friends on their next adventure, leaving me in the dust.

I walked over to the country store to to chat up the owner. Turns out she knows the Eckert’s people. We discussed the finer points of Walter’s transformation into a destination farm.

As I strolled out of the store, I saw a small, lonely figure standing a block away from me on the driveway. Was that my child? Was he crying?

“What’s the matter?” I said as I got to him and held him. “Are you okay?”

“I couldn’t find you,” he said. “I thought you left me at the pumpkin patch!”

“Oh, no,” I said, “Mommy will never leave you.”

It was a promise I couldn’t keep, and I knew it the second the words came out.

“Mommy will never leave you at the pumpkin patch,” I said as if that clarification somehow helped.

Life is full of changes and loss. There will come a day when I will leave him—not by choice, never by choice. Death comes at the most inconvenient times.

Or he may leave me first. I pray not by death, but by growing up. His father and I are raising him with the goal that one day he’ll be independent of us. However, I can’t promise I won’t follow him if he moves away. Don’t you want me to be your daughter’s mother-in-law now?

We dried the tears and talked about how we both needed to tell each other where we were going to be, especially in strange, new places.

The school counselor’s words often haunt me, sloshing big buckets of guilt: “Moving is one of the top five most traumatic experiences for a child.”

Oh, Lord, what have we done.

“I miss Eckert’s,” said my son. So do I, baby. So do I.

pumpkin arrangement

pumpkins on porch

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

Brand new from an album due to release in January 2013, please listen to Need You Now by Plumb.

How do you deal with loss? How do you help your children deal with it?

 

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Leah


garden statue of a girl

My Aunt Leah was rarely sick and always bounced back. Fell and broke her hip this past Christmas. Returned to work by February. And she was 74 years old.

Quiet, gentle, dignified, but tough as nails when it came to perseverance. Leah was steady. Without pause, always there, sure and steady.

A nurse by profession, she once took in my mother and I when we needed a place to go. Years later, when my mom was dying, Leah came to be with her youngest sibling for a week. She stood in my mom’s kitchen stirring soup made of carrots and celery she’d diced into tiny cubes.

Leah was the first person to French braid my hair. I’d come to visit that summer. I may have been 10, perhaps younger, so I don’t remember sitting still as she weaved the plaits tightly, an exercise she missed with her three sons. A picture remains to bear witness to those perfect braids.

Most of her life she lived in an old house with a rambling yard and a vegetable garden so big that I never did walk to the end of it. Her youngest son and I traversed that garden one evening as children. We navigated between squash and cucumbers and bushes of beans.

We climbed to the top of the compost pile. Then he said, “Snake!”

I never saw it. I bolted out of the garden all the way back to the house. Aunt Leah yelled from the yard for me to stop that ridiculous screaming.

Last summer, I returned with my husband and son to visit my Aunt Leah and Uncle Abe in their newer house. Their big garden was left behind, but the table was forever full. Salads and sauces and pasta to eat in the late afternoon.

She was the eldest of six children. The mother of three. Grandmother of six. Faithful wife of Abe for 53 years. She was unwavering in prayer for our family. The pages of her Bible were falling out from use.

It happened this spring, a cascade drawn out over weeks that started slowly and picked up speed as days rolled along. Leah had trouble breathing. Leah went to the emergency room. Leah developed pneumonia.

Leah was hospitalized. Leah was given oxygen. Leah was in critical care. Leah’s lungs sustained damage. Leah was on life support.

Then this past Tuesday, at 2:34 p.m., my Aunt Leah died. Surrounded by family here on earth, she was ushered into the arms of family there.

another view

It’s been almost 16 years since my mother died. Sixteen years since my family last experienced death. Years filled with so many challenges, but such a long stretch without funerals.

I wonder what they’re talking about now. Has Leah told my mom she saw me last summer? That I have a son with hazel eyes? Are they sitting with my Grandma and Grandpa V?

Are they sipping cups of tea while Grandma has coffee? Is Grandpa wearing his fur coat? Are they gushing and waiting with ease for the rest of us to meet them at the table? For dinner to begin in the late afternoon?

Over the next few days, I’ll be off the grid. Look for me in real life as I travel alone to gather with the family that’s left. To pay tribute and grieve our loss of Leah, steady and true.

We’ll miss you, Aunt Leah. Wait for us there. Unwavering, wait for us.

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful servants. Psalm 116:15 NIV

This past Monday, we celebrated National Poetry Month here on the blog. The response to Poetry Slam Party has been intelligent, thoughtful, and moving. Ariel Price graced us with poem by John Donne in the comments. Seems fitting to end this week with another of Donne’s most excellent works.

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Who is waiting for you in heaven? How do you grieve here on earth?

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Mortality Math and Neon Numbers

2011

“Your mom lived a long time,” said my six-year-old over Cheerios at breakfast, “and then she died.”

“Yes, she lived a long time and then she died,” I said. “She lived until she was…”

Uh, oh. I didn’t want to go there. “Until she was old,” I said.

“How old was she?” he said.

Little kids are so smart. I was caught and had to answer him.

“She died when she was 45.”

“She was young when she died,” he said. Smart, and can do the math.

“Yes,” I said. “She was young. But your great-grandmother lived to be 83.”

This launched a series of fish stories, my husband and I recounting all our relatives who died in their 80s, 90s, virtually any age older than 45.

My son knows I’m 40. He announced it to anyone who would listen the night of my birthday at The Cheesecake Factory. And he knows 40 is only five less than 45. Like I said he can do the math.

I can do the math too. Given those numbers, I have less than five years to go.

My math is more advanced than my son’s. What he doesn’t know is my maternal grandfather died at 50. Looking at this pattern of 50 then 45, what comes next?

2006

I used to figure 40, but so far I’m still alive. My new guess is 42 1/2. Time is running out.

My husband thinks I’m mad when I start this. He was there when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, when she died 10 months later, when we buried her. He gets my grief. The death wish however throws him for a loop.

“I do not want to die in Missouri,” I said upon returning from spring break. Missouri is pronounced misery when I’m particularly homesick.

“I want to die in North Carolina. We can stay here for now, but as soon as I am diagnosed with a terminal illness, I am moving with or without you.”

Or how about this one? “If something were to happen to me, I want you to print out my blog posts and save them for when our son is older.”

My husband stares at me perplexed, troubled, gently shaking his head. We’ve been down this road before.

“You’re not your mother,” he says. “You’re not going to die when you’re 45.”

“How do you  know?” I might be 42 1/2. “You don’t understand.”

Hope Edelman understands. She was only 17 when her mom died.

In her book “Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss,” Edelman calls it Mortality Math 101. It’s the calculation “in which a mother’s age at death is a fixed value, and the only distance worth measuring is the one between here and there (1994, p. 222).”

I don’t want to die at 45 or anytime between now and then or for many years after. But I don’t know. None of us do.

1991

My mom’s death strips me of the illusion that it can’t happen. Leaves me exposed as I slowly inch toward the “neon number,” a phrase from Edelman’s 2007 book “Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become.”

45-45-45. It blinks and stutters, glaring up ahead in the dark.

I can ignore it. Pretend I don’t see it. Lie and tell my son 45 is really quite old.

Or I can set my face like flint toward it, look it in the eye, and pray to live.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NIV

Diamond Rio, One More Day.

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