Life Goes On

I wrestled with God all night long after my husband died.  I agonized.  I questioned.  I argued.  I disagreed.  I expressed anger.  I visualized over and over and over the event that led to my husband’s death.  I never slept.  By morning, I was exhausted.

But I had made peace with God’s decision.  I was not happy nor was I still angry.  I understood that God had made the decision.  It was no human error not lack of attention to my husband’s well being.  It was simply that God wanted him back in heaven and he had the power to make His will happen.

So I got out of bed and went downstairs for coffee.  I brewed my cup and walked out on the porch.  As soon as I stepped on the porch, I stopped.  It was a typical summer Carolina morning.  The birds were singing a loud chorus of beautiful songs.  So many pitches, so many differences in calls and volumes.  It sounded tropical.  The sky was the gorgeous bright Carolina Blue.  So vivid it looked like a color off of the artists’ pallet.  The greens of the trees were neon with the different hues of summer growth.  The multitude of squirrels were chasing each other and playing tag.

It was everything that you could hope for on a gorgeous summer morning in South Carolina.  But it was all wrong.  It was suppose to be dark.  It was suppose to be gloomy.  It was suppose to be depressing.  It was suppose to reflect my world as it now exists.  This was terribly wrong.

Life was not happy and vibrant.  Life could not be busy and interesting.  Didn’t the squirrels know that my husband had died?  Didn’t they know my world had fallen apart.  How dare they run and play and look happy.  Didn’t the birds know that they should be silent in respect for the great tragedy that had happen in my life.  What was wrong with them singing out loud with their usual choral symphony.

Where were the clouds and the rain and the ugly part of the world.  How dare the sun to shine and offer beauty to the sky.  How dare the lake to be smooth and calm and blue and inviting.  Did it not realize that just yesterday it had been a party to destroying my life?

I sat down and took a few breaths.  I was ready to yell at God again for throwing such a sight in my face.  After all He had caused it all.  At least He could make nature reflect the hurt in my heart.  It was as if my loss was insignificant and not worthy of reflection in the natural part of the world.

Then God gently said to me.  I know you hurt.  I know you are sad.  I know your world will never be the same.  But I promise to take care of you.  I will never leave you and I will never give you more than you can handle.  You can do this. You can be strong.  Your husband is with me and we both expect you to carry on.

So embrace the beauty of the world.  Love it.  See Me in it.  Because life goes on.

Processing with God

There was not to be any sleep the night of my husband’s death.  Oh, I went to bed.  I did everything I usually do before bed.  I prepared to sleep but sleep never was to be a part of my night.  I had to make my peace with life and death.  I had to process with God.

And process I did.  I thought about the last few minutes before my husband left to walk down to the lake.  Was he in a good mood?  Did he seem sick?  Did he seem confused?  Were there symptoms of illness that I did not pick up on?  Was I in tune with his moods, his needs, his physical and emotional facets?

Yes, he was in a great mood.  We had laughed and joked and our relationship was in a good place.  No, he did not seem to be sick.  There were no symptoms that I could have noticed.  He had been weed eating which he loved to do.  He was going to play in the lake with children and grandchildren which he dearly loved.  Life was good.

So what went wrong?  If he was not sick and not depressed, what went wrong?  He was a good swimmer.  He was in eight feet of water.  What went wrong?

I tried to walk through the scenario all night.  I visually put myself there at the scene.  I, in my mind, was playing with them in the water.  We were splashing and laughing and making a train with rafts and noodles.  We were teasing and joking and having fun, as only family can do.  We were being responsible and caring, but relaxing and staying cool in the heat.  We were enjoying the lake that we love so much.

Then I visualized the final moments before he drown.  I lay on the raft with him.  I watched as he watched the kids and looked at them at play.  How he saw with pride each of them.  How precious they are and how much he loved them.

And then he rolled over and left this physical world.  There was no pain.  There was no discomfort.  There was no panic.  It was a simple movement from this world to the next.  God reached down and quietly lifted him out of his body and took him to the next world.  It was easy, and smooth and a comfortable transition.

Non-believers will say that during the night I justified his death in my own mind.  And non-believers will find their own explanations in all things.  But I know what happened during the night.  I was there.  I had the presence of God with me.  I talked to God as if he were sitting on the side of my bed. And we argued some.  I told him about my shock and my anger.  I asked why I was not allowed to be more prepared.

But when morning came,  I knew that God had been with me all night.  He had tolerated my anger.  He had carried me through the scenario many times.  He allowed me to question and he had provided me with the strength to get through the night.  But most of all, God provided me with his peace.  He let me know that He was with me and life was going to be OK.  My husband was fine and I would be also.  What a great God I have that would allow me this night of processing and would take me into His heart and grant me grace and peace to live through death and life.

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.

Bureaucracy

Have you ever dealt with a system that totally frustrated you because the logic got lost?  Have you ever done business with a group that just did not get it or could not be reasonable?  Well it happens.  The purpose of having a policy is to provide guidelines for persons in a system to make decisions.  Policies should make a value statement about an issue and provide a procedure to make the value statement come true.  However, due to many issues, policies become rigid, inflexible rules that do more harm than good.  Hence, the frustration with “systems”.

My husband and I decided fifteen years ago to donate our bodies to the University of South Carolina Med School.  Good decision.  But when he drown, it turned out not to be good.  There is a law that says a drowning victim must have an autopsy.  I am sure the intent of the law  (the value statement) is to determine if the drowning was accidental or otherwise.  So the law would, for this purpose, be a policy statement.  We need to be sure there was no foul play.  This is good.

But, The USC Med school will not take a body that has been autopsyed. This is not good.  For me to carry out my husband’s wishes, I needed to have the cause of death determined without an autopsy.  In my limited knowledge base, I felt a syringe to draw out lake water from the lungs and a check of body fluids to rule out toxins should do the job. Simple logic. But the law says it must be an autopsy.

Now here is where the frustration begins.  At what point do we expect educated, knowledgeable persons to be able to make judgements instead of check boxes.  I guess we have moved into a world that judgements are too complicated and no one wants to have to defend their judgement.  Not good.

I spent two days going around with systems to finally have to decide against my husbands wishes.  I finally heard an official say, “Accidental death insurance policies will not pay if an autopsy has not been done”.  Wouldn’t it have been simple to ask if there were any accidental insurance policies?  If this was the issue, it could have been solved by asking a simple question.  There was not an accidental death policy.

There are two points to be made from this experience.  First, it is important to make you arrangements now.  Don’t put them off.  Put your donation in writing.  Put your cremation in writing.  Put your funeral wishes in writing.  Get on a payment plan.  You don’t die cheaply. And you will die. Make your plans, put them in writing and let them be known.

This is good.

Secondly, understand that what you plan may not happen.  There may be some bureaucrat out there that will refuse to ask the right questions, or make the correct judgements.  There may be someone that is inflexible or uncaring or just in a hurry to get the boxes checked. Bureaucracy at its best.

This is not good.

 

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.

Where it began…or ended…

July 22, 2017.  I woke up to a beautiful Carolina day.  The sun was shining.  It was hot; famously hot as we say in South Carolina.  The lake in front of the house was as blue as the Carolina sky and was quiet and inviting.  I could not look forward to swimming this day since I had had a hip replaced just three weeks ago.  But the day started like all great Saturdays with chocolate chip pancakes and bacon with a side egg.  My husband of 52 years made sure I had all that I needed to start the day with a smile.  He was that way.  Always caring that everyone was given what they needed.

After breakfast I went back upstairs to my bedroom to rest.  Ray, my husband, went outside to do some weed-eating.  This was one of the chores that he enjoyed most.  I guess he just got lost in the mindless cutting and it was soothing for him.  I watched him from my bedroom windows.

After several hours of outside chores, Ray came inside to put on his bathing suit.  The heat was demanding that he take a swim in the lake.  He teased me about going to see the ladies in the bikinis on the lake.  Of course, the ladies were all of his grown daughters and granddaughters.  I told him to give me the binoculars so I could watch as they played in the water.  I said he should behave because I would be watching.

And watch I did.  Between reading a book and resting I would spy on the group of ten out in the water.  They had paddle boards, noodles and rafts and they would hook together and make a train or they would drift off in pairs to play.  It was obvious that they were having a great time.  I felt a little left out because I could not join them.  But it was fun watching.  Poppy was relaxing and playing.

About 2pm I noticed that most everyone had left their toys and were diving over next to one of our docks.  I assumed that someone had dropped a phone or keys in the lake and they were all diving for the lost item.  Then I saw my youngest daughter running to our other dock and jump in the ski boat and hustle over to where everyone was diving.  Something told me something was wrong.

I called her on her phone and she did not answer.  Just a few minutes later my phone rang.  It was my daughter calling me.  I answered and she said, “Mom, pray.  Pray hard.  I think we have lost Poppy”.