Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Hollow Words and Words of Healing

Hollow Words

Service and Sacrifice
Words that echoed then, echoing still
Hollow words, haunting us
Hovering over the earth

Memorial Day, 2019, was over. I woke Tuesday morning, crying. I was as brave as Bill had asked of me so many years ago, when he returned to Viet Nam in July of 1972. He wrote to tell me how it helped him leave when I did not cry at the airport. Of course there had been some tears, unbidden, caused by the sound of taps, the laying of a wreath (not once, but three times), Samantha reading his name, and the haunted feeling of walking into the bedroom we had shared in his childhood home on Longview Drive in Springfield Pennsylvania. It was a long day, the end (or was it merely a resting place?) of a long journey.
This long belated remembrance of Captain William G Chandler by the American Legion of Springfield Township, could not have been better planned or more thoughtfully executed. (for the complete narrative of Bill’s life see Having my daughters and grandsons with me was pure gift, and as grateful as I am that they were accompanying me, I am aware that this event was essential for their understanding and healing as well. As well as his four comrades who served with him, and his high school classmates, and his sister who also came. We each carried memories and questions and our sorrow.
This time, dressed in an appropriately modest black sundress, I listened to stories, I asked long unanswered questions, and I allowed the truth to wash over me. On Tuesday I woke, remembering August 25, 1972, the day we traveled to Portland from Spokane. How I was dressed in an open knit mesh, pink and brown short skirt and see through top—an outfit that Bill like seeing me wear. I was, after all, on my way to welcome him home.

Abigail, at three months, still fit in her green plastic baby seat, with the adjustable metal bars to change the angle. Most of the time she was in my arms, her colicky stomach making her squirm and cry. When I held her, I felt our hearts beat together, the pulse of her father’s life continuing in her blood stream.
The day began with an early flight. A full size sedan was needed to transport eight of us to Willamette National Cemetery. My father, missing a day of harvest; my mother; Jayne, my mother-in-law; Holly, my fifteen year old sister-in-law; my sister Susan; I and my daughters, crowded together. We awaited his arrival, not at the airport, but in the office of Willamette National Cemetery. Others arrived. My sister Sandy and 3 week old Diane, four cousins. I have no memory of whether we walked or were driven to his gravesite, but my mind is clear about the shock of seeing his 6’2” frame reduced to a small urn of ashes.
My bravery was on full display, still hiding tears from 3 1/2 year old Samantha because I was not ready to answer her questions, gratefully distracted by the fussing of 3 month old Abigail. I was outside myself, listening to taps, flinching as the gun salute was given, watching as the flag was folded into a triangle with precision. I accepted the flag and the spoken tribute from a “Grateful nation.”
As my hometown community had been caring for us for two weeks, my cousins invited us to spend the rest of the day with them. It was forty miles to Silverton, where we were fed and I sat numbly listening to children laughing, waiting to resume my life, to find a life, to pick up the pieces, to invent a future, to sleep without tears or nightmares. 
We returned to the airport, sending Bill’s mother and sister home to Maine. Before she boarded their plane, Jayne gave me her blessing to find love again, to marry someone else, to find someone to provide for her son’s children, to be happy. I stood, incredulous, still dressed in my provocative outfit, holding Abigail’s baby seat, now filled with a folded flag. I felt eyes upon our sadness, wanting to be seen, to make the world know what it had done to me, to us, to gaze upon a 24 year old widow with fatherless babies.

Words of Healing
Forty seven years have passed. I was touched as words of appreciation were spoken. Yes, it was a great sacrifice, a great loss, but I am not grateful, not a believer in the idea that war, any involvement in death and destruction in another sovereign nation is in the best interests of this nation. 
I woke up at 4 am on May 28th, and began to cry. Emotionally exhausted I worked hard to stop the “if onlies” and to live with “what is.”
 The presence of Bill’s high school classmates, and four members of his advisory team in Vietnam, the American Legion, and his hometown community had given the honor he deserved. Wreath laying, taps playing, marching band behind us, prayers, the incredibly thorough and thoughtful narrative of his life were overwhelming. Two hours for lunch with his comrades, Mike Delaney, Ed Blankenhagen, and John Haseman, who had all been Army captains, serving together on Advisory Team 88 and Brian Valiton, an Engineer Advisor, provided answers to questions I didn’t know I needed to ask.
What I said to the military envoys who came to break my heart on August 13, 1972, —“It wasn’t supposed to happen, he was only an advisor,” — turns out to be true. My question to his compatriots was “how” did it happen. Their response boiled down to “It shouldn’t have.”
Their sorrow, their regret, their memories of Bill match mine. He maintained his integrity, was devoted and protective of me and our children, loved us and wanted to come home to us. He had their support and friendship to the end of his life.

Those were the words that rang true, the stories I needed, the flame of memory that will remain.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Taking Inventory, Revising Memory

104 letters
12 cassette tapes
An envelope filled with snapshots
A collection of slides, a soldier's view of a war torn country, mixed in with pictures of the same soldier, smiling, holding his daughter, introducing her to the world
A box of combat medals, including two purple hearts
Official letters of condolence, including one from Richard Nixon, one from the Secretary of the Army
A flag, once draped over a small box of cremated remains, folded perfectly into a triangle
A telegram that includes the words: "Killed in action on a combat mission when the area received mortar and small arms fire from hostile ground force."
All that is left of a marriage of four years and nine days
Except for the daughters and grandsons, who proudly retain the name Chandler
Except for my life
The legacy of William Gary Chandler, November 18, 1947 - August 11, 1972.

I need to hunt down and borrow a cassette player to listen to his voice. It is deep and calming and speaks of his experiences and his fears, his longing to come home and our plans for the future.
I am startled by what I read, jarred into the memory that my move from Washington to Pennsylvania to live with his mother when he left for Vietnam in December of 1968  was in order for us to save money. We wanted enough money from his combat pay to create a nest egg for our future together, in our own home, with kids and dogs. My unplanned pregnancy, our quickly planned wedding, and my personal shame of the "prude that wouldn't put out" gone "bad" are what I retained. That far away from home, I wouldn't be a visible embarrassment to my parents, to myself.
Reading the first thirty letters, the letters written before his "million dollar wound" which took him out of combat and brought him home in time to welcome our precious red headed baby girl into this world, I revised my memories.
My mother-in-law, mostly because I was twenty, hormones amuck with pregnancy, and homesick, was a challenge to live with. Because she knew her son loved me and I made him happy, she loved me. She accepted me, welcomed me, and celebrated the new life growing within me.
How could I have forgotten the loving letter from my mother, sharing my father's delight that I was a sexual being, like her, and celebrating another grandchild?

The bulk of the letters came during Bill's second tour. The one he volunteered for out of a sense of completing his obligation, doing his duty, and in order to earn a reassignment to Germany. He left the infantry and joined military intelligence, believing he would not be sent into the rice paddies. He prided himself in writing every day that he could, and made tapes on days he couldn't write. He surprised me with phone calls from his monthly trips to Saigon, reminding me that I wrote more letters but he called more often.

On Memorial Day, I will walk in a parade, a small procession really, through the streets of Springfield Township, Pennsylvania, to lay a wreath, in his honor, as a fallen soldier, a son of that place. I will attend a ceremony for Gold Star families. Our daughters and our grandsons, Bill's sister, and a nephew will be there with me. We will recall his service and sacrifice. And we will cry.

We have been clear with the organizers. We are pacifists all. We abhor war and violence and national policies of colonialism and the arrogance of American power and presumed superiority. I have shared this letter, the first that Bill wrote as he left for his first tour of duty:

Dearest Kitten

It is 19 Dec 1968 and the time in Calif. is 2130.
I pray that our first child is a girl. I don’t think I could stand to see my son go off to war; not a war like this.
I spent about five hours at Travis Air Force Base sitting, thinking, and drinking coffee. For me it wasn’t too bad, but I pity the soul who would start off on such a venture without knowing anyone or having a good friend to talk to. Not just anyone but someone you can talk to and know that he understands.
We’re on the plane now, a Boeing 707. One hundred sixty three strong. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force. Not a unit here, just individuals, all with doubts fears and memories of what they left.
163 people going to a place to fight in a so called war.
 A war with no end in sight and no gain intended.
163 boys, the cream of the crop and the sons of parents who love them. 
As I look around there can be seen the entire group with their mixed emotions.
Those that are loud and raucous for one of two reasons. They don’t know what they’re going to, or they’re so scared that silence would shatter their facade. 
The quiet who talk of what they’ve heard about Viet Nam, about their wives, families, their past. And there are the silent who are scared for they know what lies ahead, and talking, to these people only frightens them more. I haven’t classified myself yet.
163 leaving for Viet Nam for a one year tour. 
Those that are silent and quiet and loud know that after one year no one could assemble those 163 for a return flight. 
They instead wonder, how many killed, how many wounded, how many maimed, how many hurt so bad that they’ll be vegetables the rest of their lives, and how many will live one more year.
I predict nothing but wonder much. 
There are only three classes, those that make it, those that don’t, those that make it back but not all in one piece. Apathy is a scarce commodity right now. They all ask, which class will I be in?
We have all of them here. Privates, NCO’s and officers. 
I wonder how the private feels. He probably wonders what he’ll be doing and where  and will his leader be competent. 
The NCO’s, I imagine, wonder the same thing, but with more responsibility added in.
The officers, I know how they feel. Some wonder about themselves, do they know what to do? They’ll be given men over there, will they finish with all that they started out with? When everyone looks to him for the answer, the decision, the plan, will he have the right one, the one that will kill the fewest? So young, so new, so much in charge.
Now is the time for serious self-evaluation for many.
It’s 2200 hrs now. I rest, and think and wonder, about them, about the upcoming year and about me.

Love, Bill

War ended his life
War changed mine
War has affected his children
We are his legacy
We are survivors

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Turning again to life

It took me a couple of seconds to figure out the message. I opened an email that gave the contact information from someone in Springfield, Pennsylvania, who wanted to talk to me about honoring my “late husband” on Memorial Day. Larry, raised in Missouri, had no connection to Pennsylvania, so of course, they meant my first late husband. 
When I called the young member of the American Legion (the age of Samantha and a veteran of the Iraq War), we had a pleasant conversation about an event held every Memorial Day, in Springfield Township of Delaware County, a suburb 10 miles west of Philadelphia, to honor residents who had been Killed in Action while in military service. They focus on one veteran each year, and he told me Bill was the last on their list. They had been trying to locate us for a number of years. The internet has an amazing amount of personal information, and it was through my connection with Olympia First UMC and Samantha’s connection with the Olympia Family Theatre that they tracked us down to ask our permission and invite us to attend.
More than twenty years ago another surprising contact came when a young woman in a history class in a neighboring high school was assigned Capt. William G. Chandler as a research assignment. Her teacher, also a veteran of the Viet Nam conflict, wanted his students to learn about those who had served in that war. In answering her questions, I wanted to be sure she understood that war has a high cost, and is not a glamorous adventure. I shared some of Bill’s writing, expressing his doubts about returning to combat in the summer of 1972. My caller this week had seen what I has sent before, and wasn’t sure we would be willing to participate. 
To honor Bill’s life has been something I have always tried to do—by loving, nurturing, providing for and protecting his daughters—by offering unconditional love and acceptance to  his grandsons, helping them grow into honorable, peace-loving men — by being fierce and courageous as needed —by standing up for justice. I will be going to Springfield in May, as I believe at least one of his daughters, his grandsons, and his sister will be too. How little those who sacrificed so much have been remembered over these last fifty years. How good, and hard, it will be to see him honored.
Looking through the few mementos I have from our four years of marriage, gazing at the pictures in his High School yearbook, wondering how his life would have played out, what we would be like after 50 years of marriage, there is so much missing, and the grief is still there for what I lost, what might have been. Yet the same things have always  sustained me. I was loved. His children were cherished. We laughed. We dreamed. We were so young.
In John Pavlovitz’s writing about his grief over his father’s death, applying what he has learned over four years, he gives me this:
 “Death has interrupted your plans, severed your relationships, and rewritten the script for you. This is the cost of sharing your life with someone worth missing.” 

And yet—
Always in sight, I have kept a framed print with words of Thomas Gray, that I connect with my life after loss, my commitment connected to Bill’s brave and noble sacrifice, as if he were speaking to me from across the chasm of death

If I should die and leave you here alone,
be not like others sore undone, 
who keep long vigils by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake, turn again to life and smile
nerving thy heart and trembling hand 
to do something to comfort weaker hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine 
and I, perchance, may therein comfort you.

Now. Again. I am learning to turn to life. I am learning to smile.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

What love looks like

At dinner last Friday night, my young friend Rebeca asked the question “Do you make New Year resolutions?” 
My answer was, “No”
 No, I don’t write out a list of changed behaviors or desires for doing better at all the everyday things I resolve to attend to, whenever I make an assessment of my level of satisfaction, which I do quite often. Yes, I tell myself I can always eat more consciously (to lose weight), go to bed earlier (to be more rested and have energy to accomplish more), spend time writing every day (to keep inspiration and ideas flowing), organize and sort and prepare my living space for whatever comes next. But really, what I have resolved to do is to love enough to love myself — to love myself enough to make right choices. 
“Why do you ask? Do you?” I asked her.
“No, but I try to focus on a word for the year. I just haven’t picked one yet for 2019,” she said.

It was the sermon seed I needed. I now had the concluding question for Epiphany Sunday, January 6. The small community I serve is in the midst of collective discernment over what comes next for them. We had time later that day for looking realistically at strengths, skills, and resources to see them beyond June, when I will step back out of ministry. Since each week includes dialogue and discussion, it was easy to incorporate the question: “What is your guiding star? What ideal or value leads you where you want to be going?” I shared the riding inspiration on the ornament hanging above my desk: “Give me a heart of compassion.”

And yet, the question lingered—would it help to have a word to focus on this year? 
Like all seeds, this one sat fallow for a few days while picked up the practice of daily morning reflection time (not on a list of resolutions anywhere, but a practice that had been helpful last year, and, well, why not start again. It just happens to be in January.)
This is where I began reading, faith “is less a noun, a thing we either have or don’t have, than an action, a way of being. It’s fundamental energy pulses throughout human life and provides us with confidence to move forward, no matter what we might be feeling.”
I have been moving forward, as if there were any other choice. I have come closer to  accepting  sadness and loss as essential realities in everyone’s lives. I have the desire to remove the shadow of resentment that my life is harder than anyone else (of course I know it’s not), and accept the mantle of strength that has come from somewhere outside of my broken heart (or because of it.)
David Whyte, northwest poet with the imprint of rain and changeable skies from his earlier homes in Yorkshire, Wales, and Ireland, often speaks to my soul. In his book Consolations, I found my word. 
He introduces the word with its linguistic origins, the old Norman French, Coeur,  or heart.

“Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future. To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences. To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. To be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made. … Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.”

These last five years have been filled with love, tested by the necessities of being alive. Yes,  I have learned what I really care about. I live with courage. It is mine.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Letting go of 2018

I had stopped for groceries for the first time in two weeks, after recognizing the inside of my refrigerator looked eerily like the inside of a friend's refrigerator, who is also widowed, who from time to time neglects self-care, or cares little about what or whether she eats. Leaving Safeway, the clerk asked me if I had plans for the rest of the day. I shrugged my reply.
I had an answer to a question he did not ask, which would be to say, at least I have not broken any resolutions for the New Year yet, simply because I haven't made any.  I began to think what I would resolve to do or resolve to refrain from doing in 2019. 
The process began subconsciously early this morning, journaling about the way I celebrated New Years' Eve; welcoming this year with a concert at St. James Cathedral, hearing the bells toll midnight,  singing Auld Lang Sine accompanied by a bagpiper, and wishing Happy New Year to four dear women colleague/friends. The words of Mary’s Magnificat (in Latin) ringing in my ears:
“The almighty casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly — fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.”
Praying, may it be so.
May there be peace and justice in this world, in my soul.
May I love enough to love myself.
May I claim and value the gifts I have been given.

As usual, I had a brief conversation with my cat as I came through the door.
“Is anyone else here?”
“Looks like we are alone again.”
“Guess it will always be this way.”
“It’s okay to be alone.”
There may be a few epithets in the cat’s silence between those statements, though she often answers me with plaintive meows.
I have this dialogue to convince myself, to gain the courage I need to make it through. The pleasant hours I was in the congenial presence of friends had reminded me of my desire for community, to be seen and heard. Thus, I write. I post pictures of the best of my adventures on social media. I want to be known, to be seen.

Through my writing, shared in different venues, I have accepted  affirmative and appreciative comments. I recognize that I have connected to others’ experiences of loss and grief. I hear that I have inspired or given comfort. I have been told over and over that I am “strong.” 
It doesn’t feel that way. Or at least, it doesn’t ring true to me on those days I am cursing my cat for being the only one home. Or, when I drive away from a friend’s house with tears coursing down my cheeks. Or, when I anesthetize myself with endless computer games. Or, when I recognize I have sleep walked through an entire day or week. 
I speak my truth, sometimes with a rosy tint, to convince my audience how all right I am, how brave I am, how strong. I am writing to convince myself.

My Christmas letter (yes, a tradition I continue, though no longer bragging about amazing children and perfect grandchildren, or painting pretty pictures of the challenges of ministry) reviewed 2018 in a breathless way. I kept busy, though sleepwalking. I accepted the invitation to part time ministry to help me wake up, to reclaim and explore what I left, (and shook the dust from my feet)  in January of 2015. 

My second resolution for the new year is to take my writing as seriously as I take the responsibility of sermon preparation. To have something to say and say it well. To give it value. Yes, to accept grace, enough to love myself.


(For those not on my Christmas card list —)

2018 comes to a close. Where have I been? What have I been doing? 
  • Walking around Capitol Lake
  • Working out with a personal trainer
  • Going to Movies and attending the Theatre
(I would see Hamilton and Come From Away again and again if I could) 
  • Retreating to Ocean Shores alone on Valentines Day
  • Helping with Merry’s Girl Scout Troop
  • Sitting in the Dentist’s chair for two crowns plus a new bridge
  • Writing my blog (
  • Quilting
  • Learning to throw pots
  • Spending time in Spokane and Dayton, WA with best friends
  • Sharing grief with colleagues and their loved ones, acknowledging lives ended too soon
  • TIp-toeing through muddy tulip fields in Skagit County
  • Cruising to Canada with “sister” Flora and the Renton UMC contingency
  • Hanging out with Tristan, my chauffeur to the airport, meal companion, card playing 19 year-old grandson
  • Attending North Texas Annual Conference and sponsoring my niece, the Rev. Erin Sloan Jackson, ordained Deacon in the United Methodist Church (including a five day visit with Sister Sue.)
  • Attending PNW Annual Conference Memorial Service with Larry’s name being read
  • Demonstrating in protest with “March for our Lives” and again for the reunification of families seeking safety and asylum 
  • Holding a Garage Sale
  • Visiting Jeff and Mary Ann in Pasadena; taking a trip to Balboa Island, Newport Beach; attending Hollywood UMC
  • Welcoming daughter-in-law Lenissa and grandson William in canoe on the Paddle to Puyallup
  • Celebrating my 70th Birthday (with Samantha, Abigail, and Meredith in matching dresses, as when they were young)
  • Returning to Bead Lake with my sister in August, including Art on the Green in Couer d’Alene and Sandpoint Arts Fair (my favorites)
  • Catching up on 52 years over brunch in Spokane with High School classmates
  • Receiving hand therapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Quilting, eating, talking, and walking on retreat in Pomeroy with “sister” Linda
  • Harvesting lavender from my front garden, lettuce, spinach, beans, peas, and basil from the back
  • Looking at houses for sale on the North East side of Olympia
  • Cruising to the Greek Isles and sightseeing in Italy for two weeks with Sister Sue
  • Playing Bridge and winning at Bingo and taking writing classes at the Senior Center
  • Sharing monthly dinners with family. It’s always somebody’s birthday when there are fifteen of us.

And, if that is not enough, I have returned to pastoral ministry on a part-time interim basis (until June, 2019), accompanying a small faith community of 35 folk while they determine the viability of their continued existence. I consider it “remedial” for me, as I recover some sense of who I was, who I am now, and who I might be in the years ahead. 

Let there be no mistake, it was a good, hard, healing, busy, satisfying year, surrounded and supported by loved ones, finding my way through hard memories to create new ones. 

“To live in this world 
 you must be able 
to do three things: 
 Love what is mortal; 
to hold it 
against your bones knowing 
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

from “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Distracted Living

It is always a matter of perspective.

Within the first month after Larry died, my dearest childhood friend sent a kind, sensitive and wise letter about our shared experiences of widowhood. Her husband had died six months earlier. She simply offered her own reality, suggesting I, too, was having competing feelings. She named them this way:

confusion, relief, guilt for feeling relief, emptiness, questions about “what next?”, “where do I fit?”, “what do I want to do with my remaining years?”, uncertainty about how to wisely handle the huge number of estate decisions and legal requirements and the hope that you did all possible to facilitate a “good death” and to leave your life partner with certainty of your unwavering love.

I was defensive, certain I felt no guilt, no doubts about having done everything I could and expressing in every way possible my love for Larry. Until the end, he would ask me every day, “Have I told you today how much I love you?” Often, with a lump in my throat and through my tears I would respond, “I know. I love you too.” Until the last five days, those last hours.
My friend offered her heart and her support. For that I am grateful. Because we live across the country from one another, and haven’t the opportunity to sit face to face with a glass of wine, or a cup of tea, to cry and laugh together, to tell our tales of loss, I turned to writing this blog, and working through my process of grief and growth, healing and being loved back into life.
Recently I was also held in love by my sister, who, over the years has tangibly expressed her love and support by her presence—coming from as far away as Turkey, when Bill died in 1976, and again after Larry’s death. She came to celebrate my birthday last summer, and, though a self-declared extreme introvert, proclaimed to the gathering of family and friends, that she had loved me my whole life, from the day I was born. She has also become a traveling partner, joining me on trips I would not take on my own. We recently spent sixteen days in Italy and Greece. An adventure by plane and cruise ship and bus and train and on foot (some days marked by 15,000+ steps).

I remarked on our trip how different it was, not having Larry planning and making arrangements for the trip. I relied on AAA. When we were sightseeing and shopping, I could admire beautiful things, and think how Larry would have offered to buy them for me, and then often purchase what he  wanted me to have when I turned to something else. I bought very little.  The historical knowledge the guides shared reminded me how much history Larry knew, but I could not check with him if something was actually true, or if it was something he already knew. He was with me in spirit, but it was easier not worrying about his ability to walk or stay hydrated or have energy to participate.
In the days following my return home, my recovery from jet lag included moments of nodding off, sometimes startled while driving that I was actually behind the wheel.  News coverage of the hefty fines imposed for distracted driving coincidentally caught my attention. I heard it in a new way even though I have sometimes been irresponsible in sending a text or watching GPS maps instead of simply following the voice commands. I was feeling in the moment the challenge of accomplishing one task while my mind was somewhere else, mostly drifting off to sleep.
In this last week, with the news of the death of a younger colleague in ministry, who leaves a widow and three adult children; with the news that my only, older brother has had a stroke, is suffering from aphasia and frustration, and there are spots on his lungs; with my return to part-time, interim ministry which occupies my mind even on days I am “not working”, I realize that “distracted living” is as reckless as distracted driving. 
There is no more time to let Jon Short know my appreciation for his faithful service to the church with constant good humor and terrible puns. I am uncertain that I will have opportunity to let my brother know in ways he can receive and understand that he has my admiration for sustaining a marriage far longer than any of his sisters, that his pithy, sometimes corny wisdom was a touchstone for me. And, I do indeed have regrets that my intense focus on dedicated ministry to the church, my perfectionist work ethic, my need for support, my critical nature, and my fears distracted me from time to time from being as kind and loving and considerate as the one who gave me more than thirty four years of unconditional love and respect.
Though the penalty imposed for distracted driving is monetary, the cost of distracted living is much greater, a debt that cannot be repaid. Pay attention to those you love, and those who love you. Stay in the moment, it is all we have.

Monday, September 24, 2018


I may be one of the few people disappointed when their week of jury duty is cancelled. I was informed that since there were no trials scheduled for District Court, my obligation was complete. I was looking forward to a week when I could spend my evenings with family in Puyallup, saving the time of driving from Olympia to Tacoma. Now, I suddenly have an open calendar, and had to create a different list of the things to do, take care of some delayed phone calls, reschedule some appointments, fill my time. If I was being graded on my life skills, I imagine being described as “surprisingly slow to adjust to unexpected changes.”
Whether or not John Lennon originated it or only repeated common wisdom, it is still true: “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Trying to plan my days is a way to regain control over what felt beyond my power for so long. The days of Larry’s illness required careful planning and specific routines. There were limited choices, little spontaneity, restricted freedoms, constant vigilance, and stress. It was my consuming reality. Evidently I am still working through the reality that I am dependent on myself alone, to take action, to meet my needs, to discover and create community. Obviously some days are better and easier.
Over the last year I have been diligent about making plans. Aware of the triggers of holidays and birthdays, events and places that would be filled with sweet but sometimes hard memories, I have prided myself in finding new experiences, doing common things in new ways, creating new memories, banishing the lingering shadows and sadness. Jury duty would have been one of those new, independent things. Those who keep track of my life on Facebook remark what a great time I am having. Of course. What else would I want people to see?
Last week I drove over Snoqualmie Pass, enjoying the reds and yellows and oranges of leaves against the evergreens. I spent three days at Lazy F camp with other retirees. I was determined to make the hike to the cross at the top of the hill. It had been more than twelve years. I tell myself I was halfway up when it felt like work, and the trip down would have been rushed, and just as hard on my arthritic knees. I told my companions to go on without me. Instead, I turned and leisurely strolled down the trail and onto the camp grounds, following a creek and finding the labyrinth, giving myself time for the solace of nature.
 As always, a hymn crept into my consciousness and accompanied me on my course.  It was planted in my heart the night before as we worshiped. Our singing, and the location, reminded of the abiding faith of a friend I had visited daily (12 years ago) while he was hospitalized for three weeks. Each time I left, he and his family, keeping vigil, sang together “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, In the Lord I will rejoice! Look to God, do not be afraid. Lift up your voices, the Lord is near, Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”

Words I need every day. Reminders. Gifts of faith. I will not be afraid. I am finding solid ground.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Knot of Grief

Grief can be like a toothache, tender, sensitive, always in the background, waiting for something cold or hot, or the pressure of an abscess to wake it up and make it rage. The complications of doing nothing about it until absolutely necessary only make the pain worsen; the cost of ignoring it can be debilitating. 
Sunday was a day I felt my grief in tangible ways. Once again, sitting in church, I could not stop the tears. It wasn’t just the hymns of my childhood, reminding me of a simpler, safer time. It wasn’t only the morning message about home-coming, reminding me of the significance of the church as my home for my entire life, and the feeling of being displaced from that home, or the memories that surfaced about the rootlessness that comes with itinerant ministry and leaving communities of faithful people seven times in our thirty four year marriage. 
The flood gates truly opened as we began “I Was There to Hear your Borning Cry,”  even though it’s message is the promise of God’s presence in all of life. I anticipated the  familiar, cherished words “If you find someone to share your time and you join your lives as one, I’ll be there to make your verses rhyme from dusk till rising sun.” I grieved having no one to share my life with anymore, to write new verses.
The grief had already resurfaced the day before while I was visiting good friends, married for over 50 years, discussing the trials and inevitable losses of aging; holding the concern I feel for another dear friend facing heart surgery; my prepare-for-the-worst-so-the-good-news-comes-as-a-surprise mindset does not always serve me well. Yet, after nursing Larry for four years, worrying about his health for our entire marriage, I understand there is no way to shield oneself, to avoid the ache of loss.
I recently saw a description of grief as a tangled web of pain at the center of ones being. Instead of the web growing smaller and disintegrating, the premise offered that we feel it less as our lives expand and the pain takes up less relative space. As I have worked to clear the spaces in my home, and as I have run away from time to time for respite in changed scenery or to replace hard memories with new ones, I have not really expanded my life experiences. Even though others observe my full and busy my life through my FaceBook posts, no one ever reveals the full story there. The comments of my children assure me that "I am better than I was six months ago." And I am. Yet, I let the knot of grief fester, sometimes filling the center of my being, waiting to rage.

I cannot extract my grief like an abscessed tooth. I cannot wait for it to go away. 
Instead, I purchased a lovely cherry wood Secretary, creating a new space dedicated for disciplined writing. I am ready to give myself grace and space, being willing to love and enjoy my family, without hovering or interfering, to receive and offer forgiveness. I am eager to find new ways to engage my community and the world, to rely on others for support when needed, admitting my needs and uncertainties and loneliness. Most of all, I offer myself permission to dream,
 to create beauty, 
to engage, 
to love living enough to take care of myself, 
to thrive whether alone or in the company of others, 
to embrace and embody and fully accept my gift of compassion,
 to love and be loved, just as I am.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Where all are one

This buddhist teaching appealed to me when I heard it ten years ago. I am still intrigued by it:
In the realm of the god Indra is a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions. In each "eye" of the net is a single brilliant, perfect jewel. Each jewel also reflects every other jewel, infinite in number, and each of the reflected images of the jewels bears the image of all the other jewels — infinity to infinity. Whatever affects one jewel effects them all.The moral of Indra's net is that the compassionate and the constructive interventions a person makes or does can produce a ripple effect of beneficial action that will reverberate throughout the universe or until it plays out. By the same token you cannot damage one strand of the web without damaging the others or setting off a cascade effect of destruction.

Growing up in eastern Washington, the daughter of a dry-land farmer who loved to fish, I  can’t remember a summer when we didn’t spend some time at “the lake.” Not always the same lake, seldom for more than a weekend. A jumble of memories of Silver Lake,   taking the Gifford Ferry across the smallest span of Lake Roosevelt, arriving at Twin Lakes, west of Inchelium, learning to Water Ski on Lake Curlew, being at Uncle Victor and Aunt Ellen’s cabin on Priest Lake for the Fourth of July. My sister burning the palm of her hand with sparklers facing the wrong way.  Sitting quietly interminable hours in the fishing boat. Major sunburns. Diving underwater. Swimming like a fish. Three years of weeklong true vacations on “the coast,” Long Beach, WA with the men catching the limit of salmon every day, the moms and kids building sand castles, hunting driftwood, horseback riding, visiting lighthouses, eating salt water taffy, playing in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean.
I continue, every summer, to seek solace from the water, from one sacred space, in the month of August. When I leave for the lake now, it is this place, Bead Lake, nine miles north of Newport, Washington, above the Pend Orielle River. A small, pristine, three fingered mountain lake, nestled in the Chinook National Forest, with only a quarter of the shoreline privately owned and developed. From the deck I watch Osprey, Merganser and Red Neck Grebe, Hummingbird, Tanager and Goldfinch, Stellar Jay, Kingfisher, and Wild Turkey, Deer, Chipmunk, Rabbit, Squirrel, and Bat. 

This year, the week after my 70th birthday, I made pilgrimage again, realizing this is the one place that remains, where all my stories merge into one. We celebrated with family and friends on Sunday. My daughters dressed in matching outfits, recalling the days I dressed them alike for Christmas and Easter. It was a day to celebrate survival; to say thank you to those who have walked through many years and shared a lifetime of experiences with me; to embrace life as it is for me, not as I might wish it to be; to know that I am glad to be alive, and to remember that I am not really alone on this journey. The “timeline” display of the decades of my life, had above it the picture my first husband took on Labor Day, 1968, on the top stair of the deck, after diving into the lake and swimming during a rain storm. My youngest daughter describes me as “shining.” I was newly married. I was happy.
It has been fifty years since that memory was created. Three husbands, each spending time here. Another jumble of memories, these more linear. Bringing Bill to meet Aunt Lois and Uncle Lawerence, who were the builders and original owners. Being here that Labor Day, coming again with our new baby on the Fourth of July, 1972, the final time we were together before he returned to Viet Nam to die on August 11. The pictures he took, framed and left on the cabin walls. Purchasing the cabin with Dave, my second husband, in partnership with my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. The crowds of cousins and grandparents, with laughter and squeals coming from the water. The summer of our separation, being here with my daughters, sorting out my future. The night Dave arrived, arm in a sling, contusions on his face, after the boating accident on Lake Couer d’Alene, where he had gone to drink and share his sorrows with a friend. Two summers more, here with the girls, and their friends, still considering paths my life might take. Bringing Larry, John and Anne, returning the summer after our move across the state, surrounded by the horde of cousins and step-cousins, unable to sleep with teenage and young adults up all night. Twenty-six people in a cabin that sleeps 15. The hardest of memories, with an errant sky rocket burning a hole in the sail of my boat, tempers flaring and harsh words spoken.
And then, more than thirty years of spending two weeks, often only Larry and me, with time to read, to watch the night sky, to kayak and swim, to entertain friends, to sew together quilt tops, to attend concerts at the Sandpoint Festival. The harder memories of three years on dialysis, trips to Spokane for treatments or supplies, restless nights, Larry being perpetually cold. 
Coming alone last year and this year, having time with my sister from Texas, my oldest and youngest daughters and grandchildren, and time with myself, to understand how my loneliness can be transformed with solitude.
Yet, August is the cruelest month (with a nod to T.S. Eliot). Every trip to the lake ends with a visit to the cemetery.  One gravesite with markers for my father, my mother, my sister, and a niece. Three funerals held in August, one in December. Their missing voices echo in this place, all part of the jumbled memories of time together. I like to think that Larry let go of this earthly coil in June to spare me one more loss in August. He always honored my wounded past, always knew that I needed lake time, to reconnect, reimagine, reengage those lives so dear to me.

Indeed, this place, this time in August, is necessary and sacred. I breath the past, I listen to my heart, I make resolutions and promises to myself and to this cloud of witnesses, to keep on living and loving. The great net of life holds us together. In this one place, in all places. What affects one, affects us all.