CARDS

Have you ever wondered if your card made a difference?  Sometimes we send cards because we care.  Sometimes we send cards because we feel obligated.  Sometimes we send cards so we can let others know we are good people.  You know, sitting around in a group and saying, ” I spent my morning sending get well cards. So many people seem to be sick”.

But what about the receiver?  Does it matter that we send cards.  Honestly, I cannot speak for other people, but I am so thankful that someone remembered me enough to take a card, write a note, address the envelope, stamp it and put it in the mail.  That is a chore. That takes time.  That takes brain power and physical energy.

Yesterday I started putting the cards we received, after my husband died, into plastic sleeves and into notebooks so we can read them over and over.  There are 182 cards.  Big cards, little cards, expensive cards, less expensive cards.  Lots of beautiful cards.  Cards of sunsets, sunrises, flowers, poems, butterflies, beaches, famous paintings, and so many more pretty things.

There were some homemade cards.  Clever and beautiful.  There were cards made by children.  So special.  There were computer generated cards that were personalized with Ray’s name in them.  I was so impressed.

But most impressive are the notes written in the cards by the sender.  There is so much care expressed in these notes.  You can feel the sentiment of the writer and how they are trying hard to show you how much they are hurting for you.  You can feel their agony as they are letting you know that they cannot imagine the shock and horror of this tragedy. They are sincere, honest and open with their feelings.

You can tell they are thinking, “What if this happened to me?  I cannot imagine the pain connected to a sudden death like this”.  On these pretty written pages you feel the raw emotions of your friends, family and acquaintances.  You feel the strong human expressions of love.

Cards can be bought for fifty cents or cards can be bought for several dollars.  If you buy in bulk they can be even less expensive.  Some of the sayings and poems in the cards are right on target to tell the story that you wish to send. As I sit and read the cards over and over, I can just visualize you at the counter picking out the one that says what you want it to say.  Card writers are marvelous with their wit and their understanding and their ability to hit the point.

But it is not the expense of the card nor the beauty of the card.  It is the note that is written by you that causes it to mean so much.  These notes are hard to write.  So many people said, “Words are just not available to let you know how much I hurt for you”.  I get it.  It is very hard to know what to say and how to say it.  But it is enough that you make the effort.

Just write the most honest and sincere thing in your head.  In a few words, open up your heart and let this person feel your joy, your hurt, your concern and your faith.  The receiver knows you are caring about them when you send the card.  Now let them see your feelings for them.  But do more than sign your name, write a few words to let the receiver know how you feel.

It does not matter if you spend 25 cents, 50 cents or four dollars on the card.  It is the written notes inside that mean so much.  I cherish every card that I got.  I read them over and over.  You bring me so much comfort.  I thank you all, my friends, that you spent the time, the energy, the effort to write to me and help me find my peace.

 

 

 

SOME DEEP THOUGHTS

As you might guess, we have discussed a lot of theology since my husband died.  Was this God’s plan?  Do we all have our days numbered?  Are we born with a definite death date and way of dying?

So there has been a lot of thinking ,sharing, discussions and opinions on these topics. There has also been a lot of interesting thoughts thrown out.  I am not sure yet where I stand on any of these.  But I am willing to share what we have discussed.

Theory one is that, when we are born, there is a definite plan that is finite and is to be carried out in spite of what happens in other parts of our lives. This seems to me to be a bit rigid but then I am not the higher power so maybe that is the order of the world.  The Bible does talk about numbered days and the knowledge that God knows even the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10:30 And even the very hairs of you head are all numbered.) So who am I to say that there cannot be a master road map for our lives?

Theory two says that there is a basic master plan but there is also free will.  So there are choices we make and some of those choices will lead to death during our lives. This would include drinking while driving as a negative, as well as poor health choices.  One person suggested to me that we have as many as three or four scenarios when we are born and we basically could choose any one at any point to go back home to heaven.  If you stay through all of the plan, you have to go back on the last exit strategy.

Theory three has a larger role of free will.  We are born and we have lots of choices from the beginning and our choices play a large part in how and when we die.  Overriding all of this is the fact that, at any given time, God has the power and can and will call us back to heaven. So, in spite of our choices, our time may be up just because God wants us or needs us back home.

As I stated earlier, I am not sure where I stand on these theories yet.  I certainly believe in free will.  The Bible teaches about choices.  If theory one is a fact, it sure would be nice to know when you are dating to avoid falling in love with someone with a short term plan.  I have become interested in people’s thoughts about the transition from this physical world to the spiritual world.  I am surprised at the amount of books on the subject and the amount of research that is being done in the area.

I guess, there are a few facts that I do know.  (1) Everyone dies.  It is a natural part of life. Do not act surprised about death.  It is inevitable  (2) You are not promised tomorrow.  So be prepared.  Do not leave your house in the morning with assurance that you will return in the evening.  In other words, make your bed so you won’t be embarrassed.  (3) Get your affairs in order.  Your loved ones need not be burdened by your lazy lack of preparation.  Wills, labels on knick knacks, funeral plans and clean garages are to be done. (4) Get right with God.  Since you do not know how and when, you had better be on good terms with the power to be.  I mean intimate, talking every day terms.

The Big Bang might be a good TV show, but when I die, I am putting my stock in my Savior.  He has proven over and over to carry me through this world.  I just don’t think physics, chemistry, sticks and rocks have that same power.  I don’t have the answers about the theories.  But I do have the blessed assurance that God is real.

 

The Squirrel

One a Sunday morning three weeks after my husband died, I was dressed early for church.  I got an extra cup of coffee and went to sit on my favorite porch.  It was another beautiful August morning in Carolina.  The birds were singing and squirrels were playing.  Usually the squirrels play up in the very old, tall and abundant trees.  They are fascinating as they chase each other and jump from one tree to another.

But my eye went to a squirrel on the ground.  It is very unusual to find a squirrel on the ground in our yard. This squirrel was a very light grey.  Most of our squirrels are darker grey and some look almost black.  So I watched this squirrel.  He ran along the ground and jumped up on some lounge chairs in the yard.  He then turned to face me, rose up on his hind legs, threw his front paws in the air and started to shake his booty.  It was hilarious.

I watched with fascination.  I had seen that action before.  My husband had a curvature in his spine at the neck and the build of the squirrel mimicked his body.  It was very interesting.  After several shake, shake, shake, shakes, the squirrel looked up at me and bounded off of the lounge and went on the ground closer to the lake.  He climb up a four by four that use to be a post for a swing.  He stood up on the top of the post, faced me, rose up on his hind legs, threw his front paws in the air and started to shake his booty. Right, left, right, left, right, left.  He was dancing for me.

I got up and went inside to tell my son-in-law that my husband was outside in the body of a squirrel and putting on a show for me.  What a laugh that got out of him.  So I went back outside to see if the squirrel was still there.  When I got outside, the squirrel was coming closer to the house and headed up the hill to where there we some flower pots on the ground and a ladder leaning against the tree.

I said to myself, “if that squirrel climbs that ladder, I will know it is my husband showing out for me.”  I watched in wonderment.  The squirrel nosed around for a few minutes in the pots.  Then he turned toward me and looked.  The next thing I saw was the squirrel climbing to the top of this eight foot ladder, standing on the very top of it.  He faced me, rose up on his hind legs, threw his front paws in the air and started to shake his booty.  It was so funny.  He looked so much like my husband personified as a squirrel.

Sure, I know what you are thinking now.  I have really gone off the deep end.  I have really become so out there that I am seeing things.  But, I know what I saw.  I also know that God has a sense of humor.  I know that God is with me.  I know that God wants me to be close to Him and to His world.  He wants me to remember my husband and the fun moments we had.  He does not want me to be sad.  My husband is in a good place and I need to feel this in a positive light.  So I do believe I saw my husband packaged in that light grey squirrel shaking his booty for me.  And it was a super reminder of the laughs we shared in our 53 years of enjoying life.  God is good.

 

 

The Club

Right after my husband died a good friend of my daughter came to visit me.  She had lost her husband a year earlier.  As we were talking about the sudden life we found ourselves in after the loss of a husband, we both mentioned the word WIDOW.  I told her I found the word itself a horrible string of letters.  It had no positive attributes.  There was nothing pleasant about the title.

I have been used to respectable and loved titles.  Words such as MOTHER, WIFE, BRIDE, GRANDMOTHER, GREAT GRANDMOTHER, TEACHER, DOCTOR, FRIEND, NEIGHBOR, SISTER, SISTER-IN-LAW, DEACON, LEADER, GRADUATE.  All of my titles have had a pleasant meaning.  They have all meant that I had either accomplished something or had persons that loved and thought well of me.

Now, when I fill out forms I have to check a box called WIDOW.  It is as if I was now a strange person.  What would happen if I did not check it?  What if I were to just say I was single?  Would I lose points of some kind? Would I not win some prize?  It is like when you go to buy an airline ticket.  They want to know how many seniors are traveling.  You don’t get a reduced price because you are old.  Do they just want to know how many they may have to help lift their carry-ons into the bin?

One of my very best friends said,” Welcome to the Club of Widows”.  It is the only group you will join by no choice.  It is the only group of which you will hate to be a member.  It is the only group where you wish you had never become a member. This membership means that you are lonesome and feel lost.  It means you have moments when you just want to hide. It means that some days you would prefer to stay in bed and let the world move on without you.  It means that when you are in a social group, you smile but you are not happy inside.  It means that you have to be careful or you will choose to be a hermit.

I have been told that your social group will change.  You will not be invited to the couples club any longer.  You are the fifth wheel.  I am so afraid of that. My husband was such a part of me that all of my friends were his friends also.  I don’t want to lose my good couple friends.  I don’t want to be treated differently.  I want to be included just as I was when he was alive.

I know the moment he died my life changed.  I now “sleep single in a double bed”.  I now have to carry out the garbage, pump the gas, keep up the cars, and do so many things that I counted on him to do.  I now go through the day and night and talk to myself because he is not here.

My life is already so different.  So I am rebelling.  Enough is enough.  I just don’t want to be a card carrying member of the WIDOW’s CLUB.  Thank you very much.

The Children’s Memorial

When my husband died he was playing in the lake with children, grandchildren and neighbors.  Playing with him was a thirteen and seventeen year old granddaughters.  It was sudden.  It was a shock.  One moment they were playing and the next they turned around and he was not there.

Poppy was greatly loved by his grandchildren.  He knew how to play with them.  He had great wisdom he shared with them and on their level.  He never got angry with them.  He was always there for them.  He was a great granddad.

So we were concerned about our thirteen grandchildren.  Especially the ones that were still at home and involved so much with him.  We were given the gift of using a Victims Advocate to come and talk with all of the grandchildren.  She did it in small groups.  One of the suggestions that she made to them was to have their own memorial service.

The adults were planning a memorial service but it was geared more for adults.  So we set about doing a informal memorial service geared for the children.  It was held on Saturday evening the day before the adult service.  We gathered at the lake edge with lawn chairs.  There were lots of our friends that had traveled from long distances and neighbors who had walked down from their houses.  It was a large crowd and we had a period of being social and enjoying each others company.  There were lots of children and it was a time for them to run and tease and have fun.  It was not solemn nor sad.

When everyone was comfortable, I welcomed them.  It was for the kids so I did not talk much except to say this was their celebration of Poppy’s life.  Then each girl, grandchildren and any other girl that knew Poppy was given a long stem rose.  They took turns telling about Poppy.  Stories and fun things that they remembered.  One sweet, sweet child said, ” I did not know his name.  I just always called him my BFF”.   At the end of the stories all of the girls went to the edge of the lake and threw their roses into the lake.

Then it was the boy’s turn.  My adult sons had gone to the fireworks store and bought beautiful fireworks.  We all sat there as the sun was setting on this lovely lake that had been a party to my husband’s death and watched as the boy’s of all ages set off bright colored fireworks over the lake.

As we sat there and watched, it was like being in a cathedral.  The beauty of the lake, the glorious sunset, the colors of the fireworks and the gathering of family and friends.  It was as lovely a tribute to Poppy as could ever been imagined.  It was the start of the healing.  It gave us a point to move from the shock to the love of remembering.  It was designed to be the children’s memorial but it was as meaningful as the adult memorial the next day.  A tribute to the man we all loved and respected.  We called him “Poppy”.

Food, Eat, Food, Eat

My family is a food conscious family.  That means that we are very conscious of what we eat, when we eat, where we eat, how we eat and what food does to our bodies.  We eat what is called Ketogenics.  And we do not play around with eating.  We are serious about this human activity.  My daughter actually blogs about our daily food.  She makes up recipes and puts them on line.  Her blog is Pink Daisies, which I highly recommend.

When a tragedy happens, we, as a people, show our love and concern by bringing food to the persons involved.  And this food, by definition, is comfort food.  Now comfort food means carbs and sugars all in the form of pastas, deserts, casseroles, and breads.  Yum and yum and YUM.

So when my husband died, food appeared by the truckload. It was wonderful food.  When you bring food to a tragedy, you bring your best recipe.  This is your pride and joy and you know it is good.  So we had the best of the best loaded into our house.  And it is common knowledge that when the best of the best of food is in your house you are required to eat it.  There is the rule that you must eat and eat and eat. Yum, Yum and YUM!

So I followed the rule.  And it made me so happy.  My children would hand me a plate of food during the “smothering mothering” period and I ate.  I never missed a meal.  The food called my name.  It soothed my spirit. Since I was not sleeping much I would get up during the night and roam the house.  At three  O’ clock in the morning I would be roaming around and think, “There is a lemon pound cake in the kitchen.  Yum”.  And then I suddenly would have a piece of cake in my hand and I was eating.  I just don’t understand how that happened but I was so happy.

And, of course, growing up in the home of parents of the depression, you do not waste anything.  So all of the food had to be eaten.  Now this was not a chore.  The food was delicious.  It was the best of the best of some great cooks.  So it was a pleasure to eat it.  And it was the rule.  You had to eat it.  And you could not waste any of it, so you were required to eat it.  Yum.

I am not sure how this happened but I am now fifteen pounds heavier than when my husband died.  And all of the food has disapearred. So now I am faced with the reality that although I did a wonderful thing and enjoyed every mouth full of the delicious food and it made me very happy, I have to make amends.  Just like all of the other areas of my life where I am having to transition, I am going to have to get back to the “healthy” way of eating.  It was a great trip and I was so appreciative of all of the people that brought their food.  My family did not have to worry about how we were going to eat during the tragedy, but it is now time to move on.

So my promise to myself is to go back to healthy and have good memories of the great food and fabulous memories of the people that brought their best of best recipes which I did wonderful justice to by eating every bite.  Yum.

 

Connecting with People

The days following the death of my husband was like a major reunion.  There was a constant flow of people in my home.  Some of these people I had not seen for many years.  Others I had just seen the day before.  But they came and they came and they came.  Sometimes one group would overlap with another.

It was so wonderful.  The visits did so much for me.  First and foremost, I was so pleased that people respected my husband enough to get in a car and drive to my house and spend time with me, honoring my husband.  It takes energy to visit someone.  You have to carve out time in a busy schedule.  You have to drive to our house which is not on the beaten path to anywhere.  Then you have to go into an unknown environment.  Will this be a group of crying people or will you feel uncomfortable?  It is not easy to be a visitor.

The visits were a great distraction for me.  I could focus on the people coming through my door.  I was meeting new people. I was reconnecting people of my past. Friends of my children, colleagues of my children, friends of my childhood, persons that we worship with at our church, neighbors, friends that we partied with as my husband and I were a young couple, friends that I went to school with and people that we had known forever.

Having people to focus on allowed me to move off of the sadness and the sense of loss.  We told “remember when” stories.  We updated information about jobs, children, homes, hobbies, retirement and activities.  We laughed, joked and had a good time. The visits were a great time to breathe, and act as if nothing had happen.

The visits were also a glimpse of my new world.  I was entertaining guests without my husband.  Something that I had not done for almost 53 years.  My new social group was myself and my adult children.  I was reconnecting with people that would properly play a role in my new life.  I did not grasp that at the time but it was a gentle introduction to my future.

The visits also let the time move by rapidly.  I cannot imagine sitting alone after a tragedy and counting the hours until a memorial service.  At a time like this everything stops.  Your regular routine does not exist anymore.  Appointments are cancelled, and daily activities are not conducted.  Time hangs in the air.  Visits keep you occupied and moves you through the days.

I am so thankful to people for the decision to visit me and my family.  I was very surprised at the number of people that came.  But I was so happy when they came.  I was reconnected to people of the past, and I was connected to new people.  I know how much energy and effort it took to visit and I want people to know how important it is to visit.  It is therapeutic for both parties.

God made us to be social.  We know that babies will not develop if they are held in isolation.  And especially when our world is threatened or destroyed, we have a need to be social.  Reaching out and connecting pulls us through the worst of events.

 

How to Rate a Neighbor

I had never thought about whether I was a good or bad neighbor.  I have always been friendly, tried to mind my own business, spoken to everyone, waved and smiled and when asked, I would try to accommodate requests.  Was I a good neighbor?  I don’t know.  For most of my adult life, I lived on acreage and did not have neighbors that were 20 feet away.  But was that just an excuse?

I have been exposed to neighbors that are unbelievable.  When my husband died they all appeared.  They did not stop at the door and ask to come in.  They opened the door, came in and took over.  They never came to me to ask advice about what they should do.  They took over.  They never asked me where I kept silverware or glassware or tupperware.  They took over.

I have never been cared for so well and and with so much love by those outside the family.  They were the host and hostesses for my house.  I was left to deal with my loss and the necessary decisions of my loss.  I was free to go to my room and lay down if I needed to.  I was free to go to the funeral home and to visit with the constant numbers of people that came to the house.  They took over.

They bought food and water. They organized food.  They greeted people.  They cleaned areas of the house. They held hands with us. They cried with us.  They planned with us. They processed with us.  They took over.

My husband died on Saturday.  They were there on Saturday.  They were there on Sunday.  They were there on Monday.  They were there on Tuesday.  They took turns and seemed to organize their schedule.  By Wednesday, they let us know that they were dropping by less because we needed less.  We now had lots of relatives to be there.  By Thursday they would check in but not stay long.

It was like a choreographed dance.  They could sense what we needed and when we needed it.  The never pushed into my business but they gave off a sense of being available.  They worked in the shadows but let their presence known when there was a need.  I am a very independent and private person but I did not feel they interfered with my privacy.

I often have wondered if they took a course on “How to be a Good Neighbor” because they were experts in the field.  I am not sure that I could ever do a neighbor job as good as these folks did.  I just hope that I have learned some things that I can use when it is my turn to be the good neighbor.  Right now I can just say, “thank you, thank you, thank you”.  You were so wonderful because you took over.

Invasion

My house was full of neighbors and the porches were full of neighbors.  I knew all of these people and I knew that they were sitting in my space because they cared for me.  But then, I became engulfed with uniforms.  These were not neighbors.  These were not people that I knew.  These were deputies from the sheriff’s department,  firemen and persons from the Department of Natural Resources.  They were strangers and yet they came as if they should be welcomed.

I have always lived a very calm life.  I am the opposite of a drama queen.  I have never been involved with emergencies.  I have never been a party to a burglary or an automobile accident or an assault or anything else that would cause me to be associated with uniformed persons.  My naive picture of the uniform is that of the kindergartener when the policeman is my friend.  I did not associate this invasion of the uniforms as dangerous, intimidating or bearing bad news.

One of the uniforms was assigned to me.  It turns out that his son had played at my house years back. He was good friends with my daughter’s good friend.  In my state of mind, I did not remember him.  It turned out he was kind, caring and had my best interest in mind.  In the beginning, however, I did not have a warm fuzzy feeling about the uniforms in my house.  The most uncomfortable moment came when one of the uniforms told me he had to look through my house. He had to do this to make sure my husband had not gotten out of the lake and was in the house somewhere.  I got up to escort him for a tour of the house.  However, he told me I had to remain in the presence of another uniform while he searched my house.  I suddenly felt like I was a suspect.  It was like I was being accused of hiding my husband in the house as I reported his drowning.

As I sat and wondered, reality filtered into my brain.  No one remains living when they have been underwater this long.  My brain started to let me know that there was no longer a hope of recovering my husband to come home and be with me.  It was now finding him so we could confirm what was already evident.  I remember saying to my uniform “keeper” that I understood that it was over, but I needed confirmation.  I could not call my other four children without confirmation.  I was calm; very calm.  I was rational.  I was reasonable.

As my neighbors sat vigil on the porch, they watched the boats of the uniforms searching the bottom with sonar.  They would say, “I think they know where he is”.  They would question, “Why don’t they send in divers?”.  And we sat.  Calmly sat. Our neighbors kept us in cool water as we sat and sat on this famously hot day.  Until three hours later a young uniform came and knelt by my chair.  He looked up at me and I knew.  After introducing himself, (the uniforms all have such good manners), he said he needed to talk to me.  I looked at him and said, “you have found him”.  “Yes”, he said, ” I have him on the boat.”  The invasion of the uniforms had confirmed my new reality.

Panic

I immediately hung up and tried to call 911.  It took me three tries. I kept hitting the wrong keys on my phone.  When the lady answered I explained that I was calling about a possible drowning in Lake Murray.  She sounded disinterested and said she had already had many calls.  I said, “It is my husband”.  She perked up.  She wanted to know his name and his age and what he was wearing.  I gave her the information and she said to hang up, the rescuers were on the way.

Having my hip replaced only three weeks prior, I could not bend over to put on shoes so I grabbed a red canvas pair of slip ons.  I remember thinking, “Ray would be so embarrassed to see me.”  I had on aqua clam diggers, white pressure hose and these red canvas shoes that were half on.  As I hurried down stairs to direct the rescue truck I was screaming at God. “No God, No.  Please no.  Don’t let this be true.  I really need him.  Please God, don’t let this be happening”.  I got to the door as the rescuers were passing the house.  I got out to the driveway as they passed in the other direction.  Even though I waved at them they went on down the road.  But my neighbor was coming home and she asked me what had happened.  I told her that I thought Ray had drown.  That was the beginning.

Before I could turn around my house was full of people.  All, and I mean all, of my neighbors came to my house.  They were in the living room, the kitchen and the porches.  They were the most caring people I have ever known. I am a very independent and controlling person and these people were taking over my house.  They were serving water and waiting on everyone.  I kept feeling like I needed to take care of them.  They were guests in my house.  It was very strange, but comforting. I can never express enough gratitude to these wonderful people who were so supportive in those moments.

Next came the children and grandchildren.  The rescuers had dismissed them from the lake and sent them all to the house.  I will never forget my grandchildren shaking with sobs as they slowly walked up the hill from the lake. Too young to be a part of this horrible tragedy.  Our beautiful day had suddenly turned to be an unreal and unthinkable event.  It was happening too fast.  I could not breathe.  I could not find anything that I could do. My chest was tight. I could not think.  I was in a panic.