Firsts

And so begins a series of “firsts” in the grieving process. Today is Ron’s birthday – the first since his death on March 11th (my birthday). I am teary. Not surprising.  At first I was tempted to give in, to begin this day filled with reflection on my loss.

However, Facebook popped up a “year-iago-today picture” for me this morning. The image caught me by surprise, fluttered briefly on my screen, and then disappeared into my news feed before I could decide whether I wanted to repost it. The photo was from Ron’s birthday party at Summertrace rehab center on Sunday, July 13, 2014. We were all wearing mustaches. Ron was trying to play “Drop-the-Ring-on-the-Birthday cake.”

Of course the picture brought tears to my eyes, but it also reminded me of the burden Ron bore every day – his paralysis and pain, his cough (he tried to eat rice pudding Dean made for him, but couldn’t), his tired smile (he wanted to enjoy the children, but needed to go back to his room to rest).  So much weariness and struggle – for both of us. How could I wish him back for another birthday like that?

And so I choose to celebrate his re-birthday today.  I rejoice that he no longer has to compromise with physical life, a dynamic spirit trapped in an uncooperative body.  He did his best.  He stayed as long as he could.  The tears are for me, not for him.  Yet I should not weep.  This is a day for the first celebration of his legacy – to be glad that in this life he did more than exist, he lived by faith, he made a difference, and he loved me.  How fortunate we both were. How fortunate we both still are.

So I will dry my tears today – again and again, if necessary.  I will embrace the day and its gifts  I will remember that the longings I feel are reminders of the eternal nature of love.

The only defense against grief is life.  To live in sorrow is a selfish indulgence of my own needs that helps no one and has no power to transform.  That attitude is the antithesis of Ron’s legacy, a disservice to his memory.  So today remember with me what Ron stood for in his life:  letting the needs of others set our daily agenda, understanding that our gifts are meant to be shared, holding ourselves to a standard of excellence, but knowing God’s grace holds us secure in our striving.

May every “first” celebration remind me of Ron’s approach to living.  This year will give me lots of opportunities to practice.  In fact, this coming July 18th would have been our 34th wedding anniversary.  So now I can just reread this post to regain my focus.  I’m sure I will need to.  The process of grief is not linear, but recursive.  That’s why the “firsts” really never become seconds or thirds.  Time does not dull grief; we must let time change our use of grief.

 

 

 

What are you waiting for?

June 3,, 1966 – almost 50 years since I graduated from high school. Next year I’ll have to decide whether I go to a reunion, assuming someone still living in the area will make the plans for that celebration to occur. But this year I can just wax nostalgic. No pressure. Unlike 50 years ago at the end of my junior year when all I could think about was that now I was a senior, now I only had a year to wait for freedom, emancipation, college, adulthood! Remember that feeling? I don’t think humans ever forget their adolescent, hormone-laden, fevered sense of urgency to grow up.  And “graduation” is the marker.

By now those of us who have achieved a different “senior” status have learned that life is a series of “waitings” interspersed amid searches for something worth waiting for – a life partner, babies, new home, new job, vacation, lab results, chemo’s (or whatever treatment’s) end, and – finally – death. It’s all a waiting game. No new insight there. Yet, like graduation, we only really give our full attention when it’s our turn,  when some gripping marker looms before us and we feel the ancy “are-we-there-yet” vibrations in our core.

As much as we claim to hate waiting, we seem to love anticipation-as-existence. When we are waiting for some desired end, we experience a heightened sense of longing. We fanticize about the coming event sometimes even to the point of anxiety, sleeplessness, or frustration. When life itself doesn’t provide enough stimulation, sometimes we even manufacture our own marker-as-crisis just to make life more interesting. It seems odd to me – lover of tranquility that I am – that I have allowed crazy-maker commitments into my schedule.  Yet I have. Often. And perhaps it is this very love of a waiting-for-something-to-happen fix that hooks me into saying yes, filling up my calendar with events, crowding more into daily life than I can possibly get done.  I have lived by Marilyn Savant’s philosophy of having ten times more to do than is humanly possible so that I get to choose which project I work on. As Marilyn argues, “if I only have to do what is possible to get done, then I am stuck doing that one thing.”

But, for the last year and a half, I did only one thing.  I took care of my husband.  All of my waiting game was focused on Ron’s needs, his schedule, his pain.  When we both recognized that the time had come for him to depart, that was an ultimate graduation to anticipate.  The only way to have peace was not to anticipate, but to live in the moment, aware, unblinking, grateful.  Now he has accomplished that goal — two months ago already  —  I am still figuring out how to get back to my own worth-waiting-for pattern of life.

Being so absorbed for so long on end-of-life matters makes you rethink what really is worth waiting for, what markers are important enough to gobble up the finite amount of time that remains for you.  I know what happens if I don’t think this through.  The many opportunities for “doing good” will fill up my calendar by default and I will find myself focused on whatever event comes next, willy nilly.  I will go back to letting life happen to me – with the illusion that there are endless days to fill with busy-ness.  On the other hand, if I  constantly focus on the temporal nature of existence, I am in danger of being turned inward, of feeling niggardly about my days.

How do I reinvest myself in the joy of anticipating planned events, goals, commitments, yet remember the hard-won wisdom of treasuring the moment?  How do rejoin the human (rat?) race without becoming so future-focused I don’t live in the present? Because it is inevitable.  We humans negotiate an already-not-yet existence.  We exist trapped between the past and the future with only occasional glimpses of the Now.

I’ve lived the last year and a half with more glimpses of the Now than ever before in my life.  While I’m not grateful for the suffering and loss, I am grateful for the by-product.  I want to keep that live-in-the-moment choice of focus going forward.

My high school senior grandson, recently discussing his upcoming graduation, said, “Grandma, I can’t believe I graduate in two weeks!  I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for this moment!”

And isn’t that a great feeling? Don’t we envy that exuberance just a bit?  And yet. . . .  if he sees life through the lens of the-next-big-thing-to wait-for, we can tell him that he’ll spend his life in a waiting room and be disappointed by the result much of the time.  So maybe the message for all graduates is, “Enjoy this moment.  Feel it. Learn to treasure a moment like this.  And then learn that life is about making moments.  Lots of them.  And savoring them.  Even the little ones. Especially the little ones!”

Isn’t that the message for all of us.? Whatever we do, do it with all our heart.  What are we waiting for?  The time is Now.

 

 

Holy Saturday

Everything is made more meaningful in this world by pause. Think of it. Mark Twain wrote a whole essay about the importance of the pause in story telling. And then he practiced it in his writing. We use the phrase “great comic timing” to praise a comedian who puts in an effective pause at just the right moment. “Joy to the World” is just the notes down the scale without the holds and pauses. Pausing makes whatever we have to wait for seem more important. Of course we also chirp platitudes like “S/he who hesitates is lost” as well. Sometimes life demands immediacy. Split seconds determine medals. A pause to reflect is not in an Olympian’s training schedule. And, for the most part, we resist pausing in our daily lives, too. It seems to me that pausing is more the stuff of artists – poets, musicians, writers, and the like. Photographers have to be quick, but they are trying to capture just the right pause.

I wonder are there pauses in the universe? Do the orbits of the planets have built in pauses? Or do they rumble inexorably on? I wish I had been more interested in learning physics than I was fearful of taking a hard class in which I might get a bad grade. But I was too young to be wise. Of course, the scriptural view of the stars and planets is that pausing is perfectly possible. The sun is stopped in her course. Even God rested (or created the pause) on thje seventh day.

Maybe one of the important lessons to learn this side of eternity (the pauseless existence?) is how and when to pause, to get our holy timing right, to learn how to create meaningful pause.

Those are my thoughts this Holy Saturday morning. The day we remember Jesus didn’t just leap up – like from a magic trick – and shout “Ta da!” There was a respectful pause after death, a time in an unneeded tomb, a moment in which the Universe herself seemed to say, “Wait for it, wait for it!”

And maybe that’s the purpose of this inner hold of grief on my heart. The energy of life is heightened by the hiatus. Like the bulbs that rest and wait. Like the quiet of Holy Saturday before the celebration of new life rushes in on Easter morning. Too soon and we’d take life for granted. Too late and we would give up the wait.

Jesus, did you really know how it was going to go? Or, like me, did you have to hold on to faith in the darkness? I like to think you had to wait. Just like us. So that you know the tension that pause creates — the “already, but not yet” existence of human beings. We wait with you. Ready to be flung into joy. Help us hold the pause just long enough to make your joke work for the crowd. Amen.