IT IS JUST ME

It is amazing.  I grew up knowing I should be married. I fell in love with a wonderful man. I shared a life with him. Fifty-four years we were together.

As God said, “We became one”. Then one day he left. He joined God. But he left me behind.

It is just me.

I feel so alone at times. I am sad that he is gone.  It is as if I have lost my being. I have lost my understanding of life. I don’t know what is expected of me. What is my goal for the rest of my life. I don’t know what God wants me to accomplish. What is my purpose?

I carry on each day.  I try to work on the dreams that we built together. I work hard to stay busy and to finish projects that were important to the two of us. But I wonder, does it really matter? Were we living out a dream of things that were important to us but not important to God? Should I just give it all up and stop trying to complete our dreams?

I sometimes feel so alone. I have a very loving family. They are so good to me. They care, they are concerned and they try to be sure to care for me. I have friends that love me, communicate with me and want the best for me.

However, I find that I am alone.

It is just me.  

In the midst of all the love of my  family and my friends, I am still alone. The eighth month was very hard. I am feeling my alone-ness more than ever before. I miss my best friend. It is as if part of my body was amputated that day in July. Whether it was my limbs or my spirit, it has disappeared. I feel so alone.

When I am with others, I laugh and joke as part of a social group, but I am still alone. I know when I am interacting that I am playing a charade because I feel that part of me is no longer there. I act as though I am still all together but I am really alone.

God promised that He would care for me. I know that promise to be true. He has cared for me. I am making it financially. I am existing in the world. His presence is with me as I go through each day. I cannot say that God has forsaken me. He has kept His promise and has cared for me. But I sometimes feel so sad and alone.

Maybe I am selfish. Maybe I feel that I need more than is due me. I don’t know. I just know that there is a void. There is a deep hole. There is a part of me that hurts so hard it takes my breathe away.

I was not prepared to deal with the depth of this hurt.

I pray hard for forgiveness of my selfish spirit that I should expect happiness. I pray that God will understand the bottomless pit of my hurt. I pray that He knows the agony of my loneliness. That He will not hold it against me. I trust Him. I love Him. I know that He has a plan and that I am in His hands. Also, I know somehow that this deep hurt that I feel has a meaning and will be used to His greater good.

I know that from the moment we met, my husband and I were meant for each other and we were God’s children. We loved Him, served Him and lived for Him. Therefore, I know that in the overall plan of God for our lives, my husband was called home and I was left to be here for Him. It is just really hard. I hope I am doing it the way my God would want me to live.

Even if that means that I feel so alone.

Deuteronomy 31:8 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.

Gifts

One morning recently while at the beach house, I noticed while I was dressing, there was a female cardinal sitting on the post of the porch and looking in the window.  I am sure it did not see me but I watch it as I dressed.  It was fascinating.

Later while eating my breakfast I once again noticed the cardinal. I watched once again at the beauty of God’s creation.  But also because it was so unusual.

At the beach we see seagulls, pelicans, sandpipers, and grackles (a member of the raven family).  We do not see song birds and the pretty colorful birds of the woodlands.  So it was unusual, shocking really, to see this beautiful cardinal sharing its life with me.

Recently I was given a book by a very dear friend of mine.  It is written by Ann Voskamp and the title is One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  Ann Voskamp is the wife of a pig farmer that lives in southwest Ontario, Canada.  She and her husband have six children.  She lives a busy life although may not as exciting as some.  I have been to that area of the world.  It is not for me.  But her book is about a dare, given to her by a friend, to live fully right where you are.

one thousand giftsThis dare is to list one thousand gifts each year.  Amazing the gifts she finds.  The rainbow that you see in the bubbles of the soap suds while doing dishes.  The way your child’s hair curls to one side. Laughter. Wind coming in the window as you drive and so many more.  It is the same gentle gifts that God gives us each day.

The point is not just to make the list, but rather to make the list, say the gift out loud and give thanks for the gift.  The point is to become one with God by recognizing and acknowledging the smallest of gifts that we are given.  The point is to be in communion with God as we carry Him in our thoughts each moment of each day.  Living our lives to the fullest because we see him in all the wonder of His world.

Now Ann Voskamp writes deep.  It is not a book for a surface reader.  But the message is so profound.  Seeing God in our simplest pleasures.  Opening up our eyes to see the beauty all around us.  Like standing in awe last night at the big tall trees that were swaying heavily in the wind and yet able to stay rooted to the ground.

I am convinced that I never saw the world the same way before my husband died.  And I do not want others to go through the trauma to get to see what I see now.  But I wish for all persons to have this special walk with God.  It is different.  It is direct closeness.  It is intimate.  It is marvelous.  I feel chosen.  I feel special.  I feel humble.  I am reverent.

I dare all who reads this.  Go with me on this journey.  Get a pad, a pencil and start writing down all of your gifts.  Seek out the small pleasures.  The way the sunbeam hits your windows.  The fact that you made three green lights in a row.  The way the clerk at the store smiles at you. The pleasure you feel as you give your basket to the next shopper at Aldi’s without taking their quarter.  The song of the birds as they chatter in the yard.

Give thanks for these small gifts.  Eucharist is the word for thanksgiving. According to Alexander Schmemann Eucharist is the state of the perfect man.  Eucharist is the life of paradise.  Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption, and gift of heaven.

Thank you God for the beautiful cardinal that you sent to visit me and let me be aware of your presence in my life.  I am so thankful for how you care for me.

My Passenger

I recently had the privilege to serve on an Ordination Council for a lovely young lady in our church.  But on the same day as one of the meetings some of my dear friends were scheduled to come to the beach house.  We made plans that I would go to my meeting and as soon as I was released I would make the three hour drive to the beach house.

The meeting ran into the late afternoon, but I left as soon as I could. As it got dark, I was motoring along, listening to and singing to the upcoming Easter Cantata on a CD so I could know my part. I was really looking forward to getting to the beach and seeing my friends.

About 30 minutes into this trip I hit horrible wind.  At first I thought I had a tire problem because I was having trouble keeping my car on the road.  Then I realized that my car gave me messages if I had a tire problem so it must be something else.  I soon realized, I had hit a bad storm. The rain came down in sheets and I was holding on for dear life to keep the car on the road.

I reduced my speed.  That did not make me happy since I was determined to hurry to the beach to begin my visit with friends.  I knew I had to be safe.  So I became alert, held on for dear life and kept going.

All of a sudden I smelled the most wonderful sweet smell in the car.  It was a strong odor. It was not to be missed.  I sniffed and sniffed and tried to figure out what it was.

I did not have any deserts in the car.  I did not have any perfume in the car.

What was this marvelous smell?  It took my mind off of the danger on the road and I focused on the delightful smell.  Then it hit me.  The smell was a strong version of my dead husband’s cologne.  He did not wear it everyday.  It was “Cool Water” for our special occasions.  It was that intoxicating smell of love, romance and caring.

My car was still being buffeted by the wind but I was now somehow comforted and less anxious. I knew that I was going to be fine.  I felt that I could see better in the dark through the rain and I took my car back up to a reasonable speed and went on as if it was a clear Sunday afternoon adventure.

About forty five minutes later the weather cleared and I noticed the smell had gone away.  Later, after I got through Florence and was on some very dark and lonely country roads the weather came back.  I had hit another pocket of this weather system.  The high winds returned along with the pelting rain.  Once again, I reduced my speed and started white knuckling the steering wheel.

Yes. You know what happened.
The strong smell came back.

It was overpowering and so enticing.  The car seemed to be driving itself.  I relaxed, felt so calm and knew that I was going to be fine.

OK, once again, you know I am just a little left of center.  As you go through this journey with me, you have found that I talk to birds, I see my husband in squirrels and now I am telling you that I had a mysterious passenger helping to drive my car.

I do not know if this was my husband, a guardian angel or the Holy Spirit.  But someone let His presence be known by the sweet smell and the calming spirit.

I truly believe God was letting me know once again that his promise the night that my husband died was being carried out.  He told me that night that He would care for me.  I would never have thought that He meant He would help me drive through a storm.

God is Good.  God is ever present.  Praise always to my God.

Another Sunrise

A few days ago my wonderful granddaughter reminded me of our time together right after my husband died.  She began to sleep with me.  It was very comforting for her and for me.  We would spend a few moments before sleeping talking about Poppy and how great he was.  We would share a few memories and things we were thinking about.

Each morning, as she reminded me, we woke up to a gorgeous sunrise.  My bed faces six large windows looking over the lake.  The summer sunrises on that lake is a sight to behold.  The glory as it beams into your eyes and into your heart is just marvelous. Summertime on the lake is great and summertime sunrises are glorious.

Each morning we would hug each other and pray our morning prayer.  We would thank God for sending us such a strong message that He was there for us. We thanked Him for the sunrise.  We told Him that we knew it was a new opportunity to be a servant for Him. We praised Him for creating this beautiful world and allowing us to share it.

That was a special time for the two of us.  It helped us as we both had to deal with losing our wonderful Poppy.  It helped to be able to snuggle close and hold each other.  It was comforting to talk about how much we were going to miss him.  We soon stopped sleeping together.  She needed to get back to her room and get prepared for the school year.  I needed to move on and learn to sleep without a sweet person next to me.

Even after returning to “real life”, we still had our sunrises.  We were still able to see God’s handiwork as soon as we opened our eyes. The sunrise is God’s way of telling us that he has given us a gift.  It is the gift of another day on earth. Another day to be vertical and breathing.  Another day for us to take to the task of living and helping others.

Another opportunity to serve Him.

Whether it is a sun filled day or a rainy day, it is a gift.  As the sudden loss of my life partner taught me, we are not promised another day.  It is a gift to wake up and be alive.

Each day we need to take that gift and do something with it.
It is not given frivolously.
It has meaning.
It has purpose.
It needs to be used.
We need to accomplish something.

After my morning thanks to God for the gift (my mother said to send a thank you note for the gift), I get busy with thinking about my to do list.  I always list more than I can accomplish and I always list things in detail.  The longer the list and more detailed, the more things I get to cross off.  The more things I get to cross off, the better I feel about all that I have accomplished.

Getting up in the morning with a purpose is important.  It gives you energy and a reason to tackle life’s issues.  I always feel good at night when I can say to God, “Thank you for my gift.  I tried hard to use it well”.

One day at a time.  Be thankful for the gift of another sunrise.  Use the gift wisely.  Know you may not get another one.  Rejoice with God for the opportunity to live for Him.

The Good Wolf

I have a mountain house that is in the boonies and the electricity is furnished by a Co-op. I get their magazine called the Tennessee Magazine.  There was an article in this last one written by Debra Gibson Issacs that said a lot about what I see in life.

She told of an old Cherokee story of the wolves.  It goes like this. “A grandfather was teaching his grandson about life.  A fight is going on inside of me, he told the boy.  It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.  One is evil-he is anger, envy, sorry, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.  The other is good- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.  The grandson thought for a minute.  He looked up at his grandfather and asked, who will win?  The grandfather replied, the one I feed.

When my husband died nine months ago I had a night with God.  I was up all night. God and I had a real session.  I was angry, upset, bewildered and emotional.

I questioned God and His motives.
I questioned God and His love for me.
I questioned all of the days that I had been so devoted to Him.

I knew the reality of death.  No one is alive after being in the water for three hours.  So I knew it was a done deal.  But I was mightily upset.  I had been a good person, a true Christian, a devoted wife, a loving mother and a hard working professional.  I was a follower of the rules; a product of the fifties.

As I have written before, the morning came and there was clear cut information from God.  It was not your choice, it was mine.  I am more powerful than you.  I know you are hurting and in pain.  But I will always carry you and care for you and be with you.

So God gave me a choice.  Deal with it, continue my love for Him, enjoy the memories and have an intimate relationship with Him so that he could help me through everything.  Or I could be angry, sad, in denial, feel guilt, have regret and turn against Him and all other people as I refused to accept it and move on.

Many, many people look at me and feel that I am in extreme denial.  They are watching for they know I will fall apart soon.  They are bold enough to say that this is going to happen, but that when it does they will be there for me.  These are my friends.  I can only imagine what others are saying that are not as close to me.

I believe the story of the wolves.  We do have choices in our lives.  I believe that I could feed the evil wolf.  No one would blame me.  It was a traumatic event.  It was life changing.  I meet many people that choose to feed the evil wolf.  I think Satan rejoices when he leads people in that direction and they choose to embrace the evil wolf.

I choose to feed the good wolf.  I intend to praise God for each sunrise and ask what I can do to serve Him on that day.  I work hard at peace, love, serenity, benevolence, kindness, compassion and faith.  I put effort into feeding the good wolf.

I am rewarded each day.  God walks with me, helps me, guides me and allows me to have peace and joy.  Everyone of us has the same choice.

Wake up with gladness in your heart and feed the good wolf that is inside of you.

 

Trust Your Instruments

The other day I drove past the Ocean Isle Beach airport.  It is an airport for small, mostly single engine, planes.  As I drove past I started thinking about the times that my husband and I would spend time flying in small planes.  Ray had a private pilots license and we were members of a flying club so that we could use planes they owned.

When we would go on flights and approach mountains there would be an optical illusion of being too low to clear the mountain.  As I was looking out and we were approaching, I would get tense because it looked like we were going to go into the side of the mountain.

My sweet husband would say, “Trust your instruments”.

He would tell me how high the mountain was and he would have me check the altimeter only to see that we were hundreds of feet above the mountain.

No worry; trust your instruments.

As I continued this thought I realized that as a Christian, I also had to trust my instruments.  God has given us aids to keep our faith at an intense level.  These instruments are to be used to keep us intimate with Him.  If we use our instruments, we will be in His presence.

The first instrument is the Bible.  Reading it daily and using the words to fortify us each day is very important.  It is not a book to sit on the shelf or just carry to church. Sometimes it can be hard to understand.  Although parts of it reads like a novel, some is more difficult.  A good study Bible can give us clues to the meaning of passages and help us. We must use it as an instrument to guide us.

The second is our prayer life.  I am not very formal with my prayers. I tend to talk to God all during the day as I would a good friend.  I thank Him when I am late for an appointment and I make all of the stoplights.  I see a pretty bush and I thank Him for our beautiful world.  I pray for my sick friends as I am driving the car.  Prayer is a wonderful instrument that allows me to communicate with God.

A third instrument is the involvement at church.  People say, “I don’t have to go to church.  I can worship God while fishing on the lake”.  Of course you can.  I don’t disagree with that.  But my granddaughters favorite Bible verse gives me a clue about this instrument.  Proverbs 27:17. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  The relationship of Christian to Christian calls us to grow and be sharper with our God.

One word on Sunday can challenge my thinking about my life.  One thought from another person can make me consider things in a different  way.  The support I get from my fellow Christians cannot be gotten from a solitude activity.

God took my husband away but He gives me daily assurance as I reflect on the life I had with my husband.  He sends me messages that reminds me of great memories and links me to His love.

Just like the altimeter in the small airplane, I must use the tools that God has given me to keep my focus and be sure that I am safe in His arms.  I must use the tools to feel His presence and know that I am close to Him each day.

I must TRUST MY INSTRUMENTS.

STRESSED PEOPLE

The first time I went into public by myself after the death of my husband was to run a few errands.  I went to a shopping center to pick up a few things.

I don’t know why I noticed people more than usual.  Maybe it was because I was just more sensitive than before.  Maybe my perception of life had changed.

That day, I saw some very stressed, unhappy and harried folks.  It was still early in the day when you would think life would be easy going. This was after coffee, the kids are in school and you can get on to your time of day.

I saw people standing in the line to get checked out of the stores that were impatient. Looking at their watches.  Not impatient with the check out person, just worried about time and pressures of their “to do lists”.  I saw toddlers being dragged around stores that were certainly not happy about their situations.

Store after store, I observed these unhappy people.  Seemingly upset over mundane lists and life-centered problems.  They seemed to be preoccupied with daily errands and were stressed about chores so early in the morning.

I finally could take it no more.  In between stops, I parked and had a good cry. I wanted to turn to these people and shout, “STOP, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IS IMPORTANT!”  Did they realize that those lists and those errands would be of no importance in a blink of an eye if they lost a loved one?

I wanted to shake them and say, “GO HOME AND HUG YOUR HUSBAND.  CARESS THAT TIRED TODDLER.  LISTEN TO THE TALES OF YOUR SIX YEAR OLD”.  We take for granted that they will be there tomorrow and we will have more time.

In reality, we all get caught up in the necessities of living.  We all have obligations to fulfill.  Some we care about and some we do not.  But there has to be a balance.

You have to put the love of God, the love of your special partner and the love of family at the top of the list.  All of the rest is filler.  Also, it cannot take more of the time and energy than you are willing to give.

Balance.

Knowing how to balance so that we aren’t stressed and that we can face each day relaxed and at peace.  I will guarantee that a morning prayer asking God to give us the grace to live an unstressed day and a day that focuses on the right things will be the answer.

Start by thanking Him that you have awakened to see another sunrise and that you will welcome Him by your side in all of your chores.  Ask Him to guide you in a balanced, loving day.

You will be amazed at how life takes on a different meaning.

Distractions

Busy, busy, busy.

That is my new motto.
Stay busy.
Keep moving.
Keep doing.

Wake up with a things to do list and don’t stop until it is finished.  There is lots to do and I need to get it all done.

I believe that distractions are the key to keeping sadness at bay.  If you don’t have time to think about the loss in your life you will not have time to focus on the sadness.

My children have been great to help me with this plan. In less than four months, I have traveled to Boston for a week, Seattle for a week, Phoenix for a week, the beach three times, the mountains one time, Ohio one time and (at the time of writing this) am in Healy, Alaska.  I have cleaned, organized, learned new things, visited the sick, written lots of letters, worked puzzles, painted walls and generally stayed busy.

I have found that when my “things to do list” gets done too fast, I have time to think. Having time to think is my enemy.  When I am not busy I begin to travel back in time and remember when my husband was alive and when we were having fun and doing things together.  I miss him greatly and that leads me directly into sadness.

They say that time is on your side.  As time goes forward you will heal.  You need time to move so you are further from the loss.  I am not sure what the words “closure” and “healing” really mean.  But when I am not busy, time stands still.  When I am not busy, time drags and the days are long.

I believe that your mind controls your thoughts and your thoughts control your moods and your emotions.  So if your mind is focused on your “things to do list”, you do not have time to let your thoughts go to the things that will make your mood get sullen and your emotions become sad.

Others say that you need to process for “closure” and “healing” to take place.  But when I think about processing it takes me back to thinking about my loss and thinking about my loss takes me into sadness.

Maybe I am all wrong.  Maybe someday I will wake up and find that I have just put it all off.  I may see that I have locked everything away in a trunk for another day. I may find that I totally fall apart.  Maybe I will someday become a basket case.

But I don’t think so.  I have made my peace with God.  I have processed the death.  I have reviewed my personal thinking about life and death.  I have come to terms with my new life.  I can talk about my sweet husband without being sad.  I can remember our fun life and reflect on the past sometimes without being emotional.

I really believe I am doing OK.  But I know that I am better on the days that I am busy, busy, busy.  When I was doing grief seminars (yeah, imagine that) I taught all the theoretical concepts of the grieving process.  I studied the experts and I, as Dr. Priestino, presented the information as if it were the tried and true.

But if I were to do that today, after I have lived the experience, I would have a different story to tell.  I believe you need to process, think, review and then stay very busy to get through it.  Yes there is shock, denial, etc. but essentially it is acceptance and stay busy, busy, busy.  Thank you God for giving me caring children and good friends that will keep me distracted.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Ray

My dear sweet husband was a New Year’s Baby.  I have a small ceramic shoe that he was given when he was the first child born in 1941 in Santa Monica, California.

On New Year’s eve each year, the family would watch the ball drop in Times Square, toast with champagne or similar liquid, sign Auld Lang Syne, kiss each other and then turn to Ray and sing Happy Birthday.

Many weeks ago we began to get concerned about how to celebrate New Years without “Poppy”.  I knew it was going to be tough getting through the holidays.  But we felt like New Year’s would be even harder than Christmas.

As a family, we committed to keep things positive.  We would talk about Poppy,  but we were not going to let it get to us.  We would think of something funny and bring the conversations to a upbeat level.  But what to do with his birthday?

The following was our plan and it worked well.  At 10 minutes after midnight, when we had watched the ball drop and we had hugged and toasted the new year, we had a birthday party.  We sang “Happy Birthday” to Poppy.  We had ice cream and cake.  Then we had a birthday gift exchange.

Instead of re-gifting or using a “white elephant gift” we each brought a gift that “Poppy” would have enjoyed.  Whenever Ray received a gift, he always said, “Oh, this is just what I always wanted”.  So saying that when we received a gift was a funny and respectful way to remember him.

When we sat down to have the gift exchange, we drew numbers and Cheri, the daughter in charge would call out a number and we would either choose a gift from the stack or “steal” one from another person.  We were all amazed at how clever people were in their gifts.

It seems that each year, “Poppy” got socks or underwear for his birthday and this was no exception.  Athletic socks were there as a gift.  He loved, loved, loved to play cards and so it was no surprise that two gifts included playing cards.

Although he became a teetotaler and hadn’t had a drink since the 90s, the kids remember how he loved his bourbon and coke.  So there was a salute to his drinking days in two of the gifts.  Because we traveled so much and had long, long drives, Ray would mix cans of trail mix to nibble on as he drove.  So, of course, trail mix was one of the gifts.  There was an Ocean Isle Beach hat, which is the island he loved so much.  There was even a fidget spinner.

The gift that brought us the most joy was a hammer.  Engraved in the side of the hammer was the statement, “I love building memories with you”.  We all knew Poppy well.

We have decided that this is a fun way to respectfully remember Ray on his birthday.  We look forward to continuing this tradition.

My hat is off to all of my children for helping us keep the spirits high and remember Ray.  It was good memories.  Happy Birthday, Ray.

Gonna Miss You

On the Wednesday morning after my husband had died on Saturday, I woke up at 6 am. It was a very quiet morning and the lake was as smooth as glass.  For a skiing family, this is a call to get out on the lake.  I looked at the dock and as I expected the ski boat was gone.  They were out there taking advantage of the beautiful day.

So I went downstairs, brewed a cup of coffee and stepped out on the porch.  In three steps I realized that something was wrong.  It was deathly quiet.  The usual sound of this porch is a constant chatter of song birds, the whirling of the humming birds up to the feeders as they fight each other for territory and the movement and chirps of the squirrels as they play tag with each other in the trees as children would on a playground. On this morning, none of these sounds were there.

It is always a symphony of blended voices of nature, harmonizing and producing a cacophony of interesting music. They chirp and call out and respond in the many pitches of the loud, soft, high and low sounds of the natural beings in the yard.  This day, none of them were singing.  None of them were playing.  None of them were scurrying or flying or fussing or discussing as they usually do.  It was quiet.

Suddenly, I heard a single loud mouth bird.  It was so loud and clear.  It was right there in the tree in front of me.  It said, “I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you.”  I was astounded.  What did the bird say?  It flew from one tree to another, closer to me as I walked to the railing of the porch.

Once again it said, “I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you, I’m gonna miss you, gonna miss you”.  I looked up to see where it was coming from.  I could not see the bird.  I looked up again and I said, “I’m gonna miss you too.”  I knew without a doubt that God had set this scene up for me.  The sounds of nature had all been silenced so there was no chance that I would miss the message.  The chosen bird had a very loud mouth and I don’t know what it was but the rhythm and the volume has made me decide it was a cardinal.  It was the exact message that I needed to hear.  My husband was well, happy, content and letting me know that he would miss me.

A good friend gave me the book, Gift of the Red Bird by Paula D’Arcy sometime after this experience.  In essence it tells of a divine encounter while she is on a quest to find peace. I enjoyed the book but I already had my divine encounter. I knew that God was letting me know that He had messages for me as I grew closer to Him through this tragic part of my life.

I think that it takes a life stopping event to halt us long enough to see the absolute blending of the physical and spiritual world. It is amazing how God has woven all of it together to let us feel and know His presence, His power and His love.  Although I grieve the loss of my greatest love, I thank God for the ability to draw closer to Him and experience the many encounters of his winks.