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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

He Would Be Proud

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The cavernous white interior of St. Therese’s church was glowing in the late afternoon sun. He lay at the feet of Jesus in a humble pecan casket lined in white, dressed simply in a long sleeved shirt and black pants. The rosary beads we found at his bedside were in his hands, the Miraculous Medal and wedding ring he had carefully removed before they brought him to the hospital were back on him where they belonged. He will be buried with all three.

When we first stepped into the church, my breath caught in my throat. The only vivid color in the church was the blood red stripes of the American flag draping his casket. The funeral director had waited for us to arrive before carefully folding it back and opening the lid. That was the only moment today that tears filled my eyes, because I was suddenly so proud of him and so proud to be his daughter.

Dad was an Air Force veteran, serving in post-World War 2 Germany as a radio mechanic. Achieving the rank of Staff Sargeant, he received three medals during the course of his service, although we have been unable to find them. He didn’t talk too much about his military service, preferring to downplay his contribution, but he was a proud and responsible American. He voted in every election and was actively involved in the election process. He raised the flag in front of our house every morning, and lowered it every evening. He taught us how to respect it, fold it, store it, and dispose of it. He took us to Washington DC so we knew the capitol was a real place. We had reproduction copies of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence in our house and he made sure we knew who the Founding Fathers were.

Dad would have been proud to know that, on his final trip to the church he loved so much, he would be lying under the flag of a country he loved so much.

Joy in Pain

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“Well, we all like things to be predictable, don’t we? We expect things to be safe and to keep on happening just the way they always have. We expect the sun to rise in the morning. We expect to get up, survive the day and finish up back in bed at the end of it, ready to start all over again the next day. But maybe that’s just a trick we play on ourselves, our way of making life seem ordinary. Because the truth is, life is so extraordinary that for most of the time we can’t bring ourselves to look at it. It’s too bright and it hurts our eyes. The fact of the matter is that nothing is ever certain. But most people never find that out until the ground suddenly disappears from beneath their feet.”
― Steve Voake, The Dreamwalker’s Child

Sunday night I called my Dad from the road. I had stopped for a break somewhere in Missouri, and just wanted to hear his voice. He sounded good. He was still in the hospital, but was fully hydrated, thanks to an IV line. His speech, which had been horribly slurred and difficult to understand, was clear. You could hear in his voice that he was tickled I was almost there, and would be there the next day. We exchanged “I love you”s and hung up.

I was stoked that he was sounding so good, and started imagining all the things we were going to do – playing cards, maybe making a puzzle, sitting and talking about Life, drinking a sip of port or scotch or beer. A sip is about all he could handle – he hadn’t eaten in over a week due to the tumors pressing on his stomach.

Climbing into my car at 3 am, exhausted after the previous day’s 1000 mile drive, I was determined to make the final push to Albuquerque and get Dad out of the hospital and back into his house. I had to pull over and close my eyes a few hours later, but I kept on going.

Then my sister called.

“Bad news…” uh oh

Dad had died in his sleep peacefully around 8:00 am.

I pulled off the highway – well, that’s sort of wrong. I didn’t gracefully put on my blinker and ease to a stop. I slammed on the brakes and swerved to the shoulder, winding up directly under the Exit 40 sign (Elk City, OK, if you’re curious). I put my head on the steering wheel and sobbed big, heaving sobs. Then I texted the only person I could think of, and he called me back immediately and listened to me blubber. I have no idea what I said…

After we hung up, I pushed back the tears, texted a few friends and family to let them know what was happening, and looked at the road. I took a deep breath, sat up straight, blew my nose and wiped my eyes, and pulled back onto the road. I still had 7 hours to go and, damn it all, I was going to get there.

As I drove, I thought about impermanence. I thought about how none of us really knows from minute to minute what lies ahead, and the only thing we can do is be flexible and roll with life, grabbing it by the horns and living it. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, said,

“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”

As that floated through my head, it occurred to me that my suffering was because of MY expectations about the coming weeks, and MY loss and how it affected MY life. I shifted my perspective to think about what his own death meant to Dad.

It meant that he went to see Mom on her birthday (yes, he died on my mom’s birthday).
It meant that she most likely greeted him with huge platters of homemade food and exotic cheeses and fruit and fresh, crusty loaves of bread – a feast to celebrate his arrival. I bet she even made a cheesecake.
It meant that he got to hold my sister Maureen in his arms again for the first time in 40 years. I can only imagine the emotion in that hug.
It meant that he could breathe freely and laugh again.
It meant that he could have a tall, cold German beer.
It meant that he could sit and talk with his mother and father. He never really knew his father, who died when he was only three.
It meant that his pain was gone.

When I started thinking about his death from that perspective, taking myself out of the equation, I became joyful. I cried again, but they were happy tears over the fabulous day he must be having. There were so many good things happening all at once for a man who sacrificed so much of himself here for so many people. How could I be sad?

So, despite my loss, I choose to rejoice over the fact that I had this lion of a man in my life for 51 years. I rejoice that he was my father, and taught me through his actions about honesty, integrity, morality, compassion, and love. I rejoice that I was privileged enough to witness his passionate focus, his sacrifices for his family, his determination, and his ability to overcome heartbreak. I rejoice to know he is walking somewhere, fingers intertwined with my mother’s, whistling as he goes.

Sleep well, Dad. See you in about 40 years…

Divine support

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.” – Paul Coehlo

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When I made the decision to spend time with Dad as he transitions from this life to the next, I was not prepared for the speed at which his illness would progress. News of his diagnosis came this past Tuesday, and I felt that getting there on April 13th would be soon enough. That gave me time to put my belongings in storage and get to Albuquerque. After talking to his parish priest on Thursday, who told me how weak Dad was, I moved up my departure to Sunday (Easter). This morning I got a text from the deacon who checks on him every day. Yesterday he was hospitalized because he was unable to get out of bed. Depending on who you talk to, he was either unconscious or sleeping when the deacon arrived. So he was brought to hospital next door where he refused medication of any kind.

Stubborn Irishman…

He is on IV fluids, and will not be released until Hospice care has been arranged and there is someone in the house with him all the time. He is frustrated that he is not home, and I am frustrated that I am not there yet.

This morning I went to the bank to let them know that I was relocating temporarily to New Mexico until Dad’s illness had concluded. Silly me forgot that one of the assistant managers is a former student and Facebook friend of mine. She came out and said everything would be taken care of and I just had to let her know when I got back. Then she hugged me and told me to take care. It was all I could do not to burst into tears right there in the bank. I choked out, “It’ll be alright, right?” and she responded quietly, “Yes.”

There has been such an outpouring of support for my sister and I over the past week. My heart is full of the love and compassion that have been directed toward us. I know that, as difficult as the coming weeks may be, I am not alone; there are hundreds of hands holding me up when I feel like falling. It is in those moments, when I am at my most raw and unprotected, I know that I am catching a rare glimpse of the divine in my friends and family. Each smile, each kind word, each hug, and each look of concern are windows to the Sacred and give me untold courage and strength.

Thank you. Just thank you.

Love

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“As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.” ― Pablo Neruda

I love you. Three small words that are misunderstood and misused. I say them frequently to friends and family, but I know they are received through a filter, so I wanted to clarify what those three words mean to me.

  • I love you means I accept you for the person you are, as you are, where you are. I expect nothing from you except authenticity.
  • I love you means that I respect your hopes, dreams, and ambition, and will help you achieve what you want to achieve.
  • I love you means that, while I may disagree with your political or religious views, I will go to the mat for your right to hold and express them.
  • I love you means your secrets are safe with me. All of them.
  • I love you means I hope you know I will always be a safe place to land.
  • I love you means I will stop what I am doing to listen to you, because this may be the last opportunity I have to do so.
  • I love you means when you ache, I ache. When you weep, I weep. When you laugh, I laugh.
  • I love you means I embrace your flawed soul and am humbled to witness your goodness, as it inspires me to be better.
  • I love you means I will be your strength when you are weak, your sight when you are blind, and your voice when yours has fled.
  • I love you means that I honor you for bringing joy to my life, for opening my eyes to Life’s mysteries, for showing me how to be fully alive.
  • I love… You!

Namaste. Happy New Year 2015.

 

Labeling America

As is well known around the world, America is waist deep in the election year carnival. The issues are out there, lines have been drawn and philosophical battles are being fought. The rhetoric is particularly nasty this time around. Our sitting president is a terrorist-sympathizing Muslim Communist who wants to throw this country into civil war. His presumptive challenger is a tax-dodging, flip-flopping racist whose bat-shit crazy ideas will take us back to the Stone Age. No lie, those are real insults that I’ve read (and double checked for this blog).

I’m a Democrat. I make no secret of that. I wholeheartedly support strict separation of church and state, the right of ALL Americans to marry the people they love. I think our country needs social programs that help the unfortunate and the elderly, and I am willing to help pay for that. I also support a woman’s right to choose if, and when, she has offspring; I think in this day and age of global economic instability it is incredibly irresponsible to pop out children like Pez candies. I think we should NOT be the world’s police force, and think war is evil, but I wholeheartedly support the men and women who wear the uniforms of the United States Armed Forces. I just don’t support Presidents who make up reasons to go to war.

So that’s me. There are, obviously, many more issues than the ones above, but those are the hot button topics most people are discussing this year.

In response to my attempts at civilized debate, I have been disparagingly called a Liberal, stupid, ignorant, an asshole, uninformed, a fool, a Marxist (my favorite), and a Communist. Heck, even my own husband spoke disparagingly of me the other day. Even though, in retrospect, it is amusing, it highlights the seemingly growing trend of Americans to hurl labels at each other without knowing anything about each other. That’s dangerous. That’s divisive. It creates an atmosphere of hate and intolerance for anyone who is different, which brings us right back to the 1950s, when people thought nothing of calling each other by pejoratives related to race and color. Legally sanctioned cyberbullying at the national level cloaked in the guise of free speech. Whatever happened to civility?

There’s also an increasing mob mentality in this country, where people band together and are PROUD of their labels, PROUD of their ignorance, PROUD of their bigotry, PROUD to be on the “other side”. (Consider the recent Chick Fil-A circus.) This strikes me as incredibly dangerous. How are we going to move forward as a society if we revel in our compartmentalization, revel in our stupidity?

 

I think there needs to be a moratorium on labeling. We need to stop being an angry, bigoted society. There is room in this country for immigrants and gays and atheists and people who don’t speak English. Heck, our families were all immigrants at some point, we all have gays in our family trees, we all know people with religious beliefs that are different, and – shock of all shocks – English was not the native language here when the Europeans arrived. We are all human and deserving of respect and honor. It’s far past time that we remembered that.

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Hobbies

The past few weeks have been ones of ambivalence. Excitement about the future combined with sadness over that which is ending. Many activities that have been the mainstays of my daily life have come to an end, or are coming to an end soon. My weekend job as church organist ended a few weeks ago (my decision). My years as a Girl Scout leader – finished Monday night. My years encouraging and helping my daughter with her school work – finished last Saturday with her graduation as valedictorian from high school. The months spent writing letters, sending EMail and making phone calls to New York politicians – ended last week with the signing into law of New York’s marriage equality law. I am looking at the future and it looks sort of – empty.

I had a tarot reading last week. Never one to discount the wisdom of other faiths, I was curious what the reading would show about my daughter, my mother and I. I actually laughed out loud when Akasha’s Heart flipped over the Death Card as the issue that “crosses” me. That is to say, the issue that is my challenge. Now, it is vital that you all know that the Death card doesn’t mean physical death (that’s reserved for the 10 of Swords), but rather new beginnings. Since so much change is going on around me, how I handle that change is my biggest challenge right now. Dang if she wasn’t right on the money!

How SHOULD I handle all the newness around me? What should I do now that my active participation is no longer required with either my daughter or my other girls, my scouts? How do I begin to relate to my husband now that Louise will be moving to college in less than two months? How should I restructure my life now that I have all this free time? Should I volunteer somewhere? Should I go back to school? Should I start a business? Should I get a hobby? Should I get a second job again? Should I move?

I have so many questions that I have no answers for yet. As the answers become apparent, I’ll move forward. In the mean time, I’m pondering the hobby question. What can I fill my extra time with right now that doesn’t involve eating, drinking, or a combination of the two?

A friend of mine makes kitchen scrubbies out of net bags – the kind you buy onions in. She cuts the bags into strips and crochets them into little kitchen and bath cleaning pads. Maybe I could do that with plastic grocery bags – I have a huge collection of grocery bags that I’ve been saving in the event of nuclear war. Maybe I could crochet something out of them – how about a scale model of the White House?

I know how to sew and I have a lot of fabric down in the sewing area of the basement. Maybe I should make a patchwork quilt. Given the amount of fabric I have, I could make a REALLY big one – big enough to cover Central Park – or I could make smaller ones. I can probably squeeze 437 quilts out of what I have – maybe 438. 438 might be a stretch, though.

Beads! I have beads! Lots and lots of beads. I bought beads. Louise bought me beads. My mother gave me beads. My husband gave me beads. Maybe I should make a beaded dress for my sister’s wedding. It might be a wee bit too heavy, though. I have enough beads to make a dress the size and weight of a Volkswagen Beetle. Hmmm. Maybe not such a good idea.

What about… reading! Now there’s a good idea. We have a library in our house. There are so many books that I had to put the non-fiction in Dewey Decimal order so I could find what I was looking for. No lie! What if I start at one end and read all the books I haven’t read before (and the ones I have and want to reread)? If I started today, I might get through them all by the time Louise becomes a great grandmother… Hmmm… I’d have to take bathroom breaks, so I might not get through it all. Next idea…

Maybe … cleaning?? NAH!!! Now there’s a waste of time. Although my husband did buy me a Donna Reed-style strand of pearls last Christmas. Think he was trying to tell me something?

Well, until I figure something out, I’ll continue along cooking for friends and family, doing household chores, pondering the meaning of life and enjoying my summer with family. Maybe I don’t need a hobby after all. After all, couldn’t reading the latest and greatest novel in the hammock be considered a hobby?

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Ain’t He Sweet?

How many of the readers of this blog have ever heard of Walter Breuning? He was a dapper resident of Great Falls, MT until last Thursday, when he passed over at the ripe old age of 114. He was born in the 19th century and had strong memories of his grandfather telling him about killing Southern men during the Civil War, a distasteful memory for him. He bought his first car when he was 23 – a second-hand Ford – for $150.00. He worked for the railroad for over 50 years, from age 16 to age 67. He said that “one of the worst things a person can do is retire young.” After retiring from the railroad, he became manager and secretary of the local Shriners chapter, a job he kept until he was 99. He was married for 35 years, but his wife died in 1957. He thought about remarrying, but didn’t, and he had no children. He owned property in Montana once – he and his wife bought it for $15 right before the Depression. They never built on it and sold it during the Depression for $25, making a nice profit.

Walter was flexible, embracing new technology like radios, cars and computers. He was born in a house with no running water or electricity. He flew only once, preferring to remain a railroad man for all long trips.

Walter was a simple man and had a simple philosophy of life – one that we would do well to follow.

He said:

  • Embrace change, even when the change slaps you in the face. (“Every change is good.”)
  • Eat two meals a day (“That’s all you need.”)
  • Work as long as you can (“That money’s going to come in handy.”)
  • Help others (“The more you do for others, the better shape you’re in.”)
  • Accept death. (“We’re going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you’re born to die.”)

I like Walter. I wish I had met him when I was younger. I would like to have sat with him and heard his stories about coming through the early years of the 20th Century. I would love to have talked politics with him. A lifelong Republican, he said every president he recalled did something good, except G.W. Bush, who got us into a war we can’t get out of. The first president he experienced was McKinley, and he lived through 20 different presidencies. That’s quite remarkable, especially when you consider that he experienced the work of almost HALF of the presidents this country has ever had!

After 114 years, he said in one of his final interviews that he doesn’t regret anything about his life. Nothing. That’s remarkable.

I want to live life looking ahead, with no fear and no regrets when all is said and done. I want to be like Walter. Someone, please remind me of that next time I start moaning and groaning.

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