Tag Archives: grief

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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Cassatt, Norton, Bacon

We’re missing three books.

are you in there?

Must have been lost in the move. Incorrectly packed with garden tools, baby toys, Christmas decorations. Shoved into obscurity in the basement or garage. Jumbled mess of relocation.

The coffee table book we bought in Chicago in 1999 was the one that tipped me off. Oversized tome documenting Mary Cassatt’s work. We’d seen her paintings at The Art Institute’s special exhibit that year.

We carried Cassatt home. Held her on the city bus and the elevator up 35 stories to our apartment of blinding white walls. Lugged her to St. Louis. Cordoned her off from the ordinary books. Separated from the pack. And now she is missing.

I hope Norton is with her. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry is fat and stout. Ten-pound bag of sugar. Required reading for a circle of writers, hopeful and green. Emblazoned with red and orange that year, I can still see it.

Long before I had a dog of my own, Norton tagged along, shadowing me. Begging to be played with and petted and fed. I’d scratch his ears, brush his coat, and watch dreams fall out in the shedding. He slept in a basket beside my bed, cushioned with transient catalogs and nonfiction. I hope Norton’s with Cassatt.

And I hope they’ve found Seduced by Bacon. The youngest of the three, this gift from a business colleague. We displayed Bacon in our kitchen. The kitchen we’d demolished. Filled with rubble, chaos, and 90-year-old dust. Rebuilt with fresh dry wall and slate, marble and ceramic subway tiles, wood and stainless steel, and blue paint named Amelia that wasn’t quite green or gray.

Bacon came to us as we hawked the kitchen and its house. No room for another book on such carefully staged, ready-to-show shelves. So Bacon stayed in the kitchen where it belonged. Guests chuckled at its name. A cookbook attesting the truth. “Seduced by Bacon,” they’d say. “Now that’s my problem.”

These three are lost. My heart sinks and drowns, buoyed by weak hope. They’ll turn up. We’ll find them again. Normalcy will come on a day unexpected. On a Monday or Thursday, a day of no consequence, I’ll open a box labeled dish towels and there they will be. Smiling, recovered, taking full breaths of air. They’ll ask me what happened. Where are we now? What took me so long to find them?

And I will answer I don’t know. Today I don’t know.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Luke 15:4 NIV

Norton found

The Lost Get Found, Britt Nicole.

Epilogue

Between the time of writing and publishing this post, I found The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry in a box in the basement. Norton now resides behind the glass doors of a bookshelf in my office where I can keep an eye on him as I work. Cassatt and Bacon are still missing.

Have you ever lost a beloved book or other item? Did you find it again? What was that like, the losing or the finding?

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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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Unopened

This is a letter my dearest in the world friend gave me the last time I saw her. Four weeks ago, December 18, 2011.

unopened

There it sits. Pristine. Unopened.

I couldn’t open it the last evening we were together with our families in St. Louis because I would cry. We both knew it would be a long time before we’d see each other again. So I saved the letter to open it later.

“We’ve been here almost a month, and you’re handling this move really well,” said my husband last week. “You’re not crying.”

No, I’m adopting the Midwestern attitude. Putting my head down to forge a life on the prairie. Onward and upward. Just. Work. Harder.

If I open that letter, I’ll disintegrate.

I’ll cry big tears when I think of all that’s been lost. At the same time, in front of me stands so much that’s been gained. The gains hold the tears at bay in a bittersweet tension.

Before we moved, parents from our son’s class at school had a going away party for us. My son asked why they were having it.

“Is it a birthday party?” said my seven-year-old.

His friend, whose family was hosting the event, was with us that day. “No,” he said. “It’s a you’re-going-away-forever party.”

Female Orpheus Fountain Figure by Carl Milles as seen at Missouri Botanical Garden

I intervened. “We’re not dying. We’re only moving.”

But moving is a sort of dying. All changes are. A beloved Bible teacher of my past used to say we first experience change as loss.

We held it together, as did most of our friends, through our goodbyes. Then there was that moment the day I rushed to the groomer’s to pick up the dog.

We wanted to have Ella groomed one last time before we moved. As I paid the sweet shop owner, told her goodbye and thank you for all her years of service to us, she began to sob.

“We’re really going to miss you and Ella,” she said.

Fear shot through the muscles in my face. Confusion billowed up in my brain. Not the groomer. She just couldn’t lose it. No, no, no.

“There’s something about those terriers,” she said and boohooed some more.

“We’ll miss you too,” I said helplessly. “I don’t know how we’ll ever replace you.”

And we won’t. We’ll find another groomer. We’ll find another salon, dry cleaner, church, and circle of friends.

moving truck

Another, but not a replacement.

That’s what I tell myself to keep from opening that letter. At least for now.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
He rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18 NLT

Me, I’m a part of your Circle of friends. By Edie Brickell.

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The Angry American

June 22, 2011

This past June, we took our son on his first trip to Washington, D.C.

Showed him the city in grand style. The museums, the monuments, the zoo. Even the U.S. Capitol thanks to my husband’s college friend Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

Previously I’d spent a good deal of time in D.C. I knew the ropes. But this trip would be my first visit to the Pentagon. Don’t know why I hadn’t gone before.

My husband had work commitments that day, so my little boy and I were on our own. We rode the yellow line out to the Pentagon stop. Emerged from the Metro tunnel into hot, blinding sunlight. Passed through security. Beheld the military headquarters of the free world.

The Pentagon is massive.

the Pentagon Memorial

We walked two long sides girded by concrete barriers. Crossed paths with dozens of strong men and women. Upright, built, neat as pins in their uniforms, marching to their cars or the train. It was late afternoon. Time for some to go home.

Then we came to the place we’d come to see.

It was seamless and silent. Completely ordered. Respectful. Logical. Such a stark contrast to what must have been the moment the plane torpedoed the southwest side of the building.

bench, pool, pebbles

And it was beautiful. The pools of water. The trees and pebbles. The paths and benches.

The benches stood in trajectories arched toward the building for the 59 passengers on the plane who died and arched away for the 125 people in the Pentagon who died. Engravings held the victims’ names.

Another mother walked among the benches and the names with her son.

“How do I explain this to him?” she said to me.

I shrugged. Nodded. Tried to connect with her eyes, “I know. I know.”

a family

My son and I walked on through the memorial. The strange peacefulness that sometimes inhabits a graveyard hung in the air. I wondered if he felt it too.

I let it be. Didn’t try to explain it.

There is no explaining it.

If there is pain, fear, sadness, anger—that’s part of grief. Part of a process that can’t be circumvented, reasoned or negotiated.

"How do I explain this to him?"

The only way through it is through it.

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
You consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to You;
You are the helper of the fatherless. Psalm 10:14 NIV

Courtesy of The Red , White and Blue (The Angry American)  by Toby Keith expresses the anger and resolve many Americans felt in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

This is the second of three posts commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9.11.2001. The first post Somewhere in Pennsylvania was published on August 24, 2011. The final post If You See Something was published on September 10, 2011.

We will never forget.

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An Unexpected Post

single pink peony

Today’s post was supposed to be funny. It’s all finished and ready to go. You’ll see it next week, I promise. But something’s happened that takes precedence now.

Late Wednesday afternoon, I got word that the mother of one of my son’s schoolmates died Tuesday evening.

She was the picture of health, yet her body failed her. Unexpectedly. Tragically. And less than three weeks before her only child graduates from our little pre-kindergarten through sixth grade school.

Her son was the reason we considered the school in the first place. I’m not sure she knew that. When my son was two, we saw her son and his friends at a neighborhood playground.

My son was and still is fearless, climbing and running underfoot of the big kids. Before I could get to him to protect him that day, this woman’s son shielded him. He was only in second grade himself.

While other children ran wild and oblivious, he and his friends gently steered my precocious cub out of harm’s way. My heart melted as I heard him tenderly speak to my baby, “Be careful, little guy.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Where do you go to school?”

I tucked his answer away. That’s what I want for my son, I thought. That’s what I want him to be.

School may have a lot to do with it. Family has more. His family is noble, kind, gentle, handsome, generous. You could see it in this woman and her husband. You can see it in their son.

two pink peonies

Now is a time for stillness. A time to hold my own husband and son.

Now is a time to be shaken. To be reminded we were not made for death.

It’s a time to watch clouds and notice peonies. See a friend. Eat dessert. Walk the dog. Go to church. Open the Bible. Wrestle with God and be held by Him.

A time to pray for courage for this family, for this husband and son. Courage for them to carry on, and then for the rest of us as well.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4 NIV

God is not silent, apathetic or cruel, but in situations like this it can seem so. Face the feeling that God Says Nothing Back and bring it to Him.

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