The Valley of Vision #5: Death

I don’t know if Chuck read all of the entries in The Valley of Vision because he didn’t mark them. But this portion from one entry near the back of the book could have been his prayer.

"Prepare me for death, 
that I may not die after long affliction or suddenly, 
but after short illness, with no confusion or disorder, 
and a quiet discharge in peace, with adieu to brethren. 
Let not my days end like lumber in a house, 
but give me a silent removing from one world to the next."

If this had been his prayer, I think it was answered. His illness was short, but not sudden like a heart attack or accident. He was not confused, except maybe for the final few days. He was able to say his goodbyes, even though I felt he and I didn’t really say ours.

Madeleine L’Engle relayed a story a nurse told her of when she lost her husband. “NO CODE” was written in his chart. The nurse said she fell apart, but that looking back, she wouldn’t have had it any other way. This is what we did. Chuck agreed and we signed the DNR form, but when the time came he begged me to call 911; said he changed his mind. I, too, fell apart inside but did my best to stick to what I knew his wishes were. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Madeleine also told of her thoughts when her own husband was dying. “Does Hugh understand that he is being touched, loved? Is there enough awareness in him for that?” I often wonder what Chuck’s thoughts were in those final hours. Our daughters were there with me and we all ministered to him, did our best to give him all the love we had. He was aware that we were there up until the last moments. I can only hope he knew we wanted him to stay, but had to let him go.

He preached and believed “our times are in His hands”. I believe this, too. It was one year ago today.

“And she said she was grateful for every moment she'd ever had with him and, even if it was all over, she wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world.” - from Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle

Something we cannot see

"And he sits there staring at something we cannot see." - Madeleine L'Engle,Two-Part Invention, speaking of her husband in his last days at home. 

I felt like Chuck did that – stared at something we did not see. Or sat with his eyes closed, just too fatigued to keep them open.

I think of the angel guard around Elisha and like to imagine just such a group around Chuck, giving comfort that we didn’t know about. I imagine him closing his eyes to me, Kat, and Leah and then opening them to a band of angels and Christ, himself. I am still so full of questions about death that I know will not be answered until I myself die.

All I know is this – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” – Hebrews 11:1

A Love That Built Slowly

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“I sit by the bed, hold Hugh’s hand, try to help him eat when meals are brought in. That is all I can do. Try to affirm with quiet love, a love that has built slowly over forty years…The growth of love is not a straight line but a series of hills and valleys.” – Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle

In Chuck’s last weeks we tried so many things to get him to eat. Our dear daughter-in-law, the dietician, gave helpful advice, sent protein powders and foods to try. Our sweet daughters made spreadsheets of all he ate and all the medications, times, temperatures, blood pressure readings, sugar levels. He tried with such perseverance but could hardly get down a few bites at a time.

My love for Chuck grew over forty-one years of marriage. It matured into a quiet love. The hills and valleys of our life together strengthened our love. A love that lives on in me.

Our true home, part two

Our home – Bham – 12/8/17

“Smiling at each other, we realize we have the same song stuck in our head, a new song, neither of us have ever heard before. His humming of it sounds like flowing water. The robins and morning stars are singing the same tune. I feel a pulsing stillness. I don’t even notice that the usual sounds of sirens and cars aren’t there anymore, the static of news, the vibrating of phones, or creepy songs about seducing a santa baby. That all burnt up forever. The old order has passed away. Instead, I hear a pulsing stillness.”  –  by Fr. Jack (Priesthood from the Inside Out blog) in his thoughts about meeting St. Francis in heaven. He continues with thoughts of those he expects to see – “To my left, the kid I picked-on in 5th grade waves at me. I wave back shamelessly. He’s holding the hand of his daughter…I realize I’m holding someone’s hand as well, warm and smooth. It’s the unborn child I buried yesterday. He’s taller than me and has wild flowing hair. I’ve never met him before, but I know him. I know him. He only lived 12 weeks invisible in his mom’s womb, but I’ve known him ‘like a thousand years.’ He laughs.”

Reading the above I felt comforted. I like to think that Chuck is rejoicing with Mom and Dad and holding little Wyatt in his arms. That he was there to greet Tim and Ed when they joined him. I don’t know, I can only wonder.


Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. – Psalm 23:6

Our true home

View from our front door – Bham – 12/8/17

“…Help us to avoid getting too immersed in the things of this world, for we know that we are just passing through on our way to our true home with You.” – Pocket Prayers for Women – Simple Prayers of Hope

As I continue the fun/not fun task of house hunting, I have to remind myself that though I hope this will be my last earthly house/home, it is not my final home. I’m looking for a front porch, a walk-in shower, a nice kitchen and a decent backyard. This all pales in contrast to the heavenly home that awaits.

Which leads me to thinking about death and that transition from earthly life to heavenly life. Believe me, I’ve thought a lot about it the past six months. All the platitudes about Chuck being in a “better place” don’t help when I am not in a better place. Yet, I know these people saying it mean well and they really are telling the truth. I just can’t wrap my head around the whole process. I’ve talked to a pastor and former pastor about these things. They have both been helpful and patient with my questions. I know much, but have so much to learn. But I do know that “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” Deuteronomy 29:29.

I’m not the only one who ponders these things. One of my favorite writers, Sean Dietrich, had similar thoughts a few days ago. From his blog:

But, like I said, what if I have death all backwards? What if this earthly life is only a glorified batting practice? What if the real ballgame awaits?

And how about the concept of time? What if within the next realm, time ceases to exist? And if there is no time, this means no future or past, either. Which means that calendar years won’t matter, now will they?

… I’m praying that when we pass from this life into the next, our left-behind loved ones understand that we are not leaving this universe, but we are unfolding two bright, colorful wings, soaring upward into the undiluted sunlight of Joy.”

For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. II Corinthians 5:7-8

“…

You continue on…

“It started to make sense to her now, how people that undergo terrible loss or tragedy manage to keep living. She never really understood it before, but the thing was the body will shock you, so that maybe you don’t believe it all at once. And then, if you keep moving, a day goes by, and another. And since the worst thing you ever imagined actually came true, that becomes your reality, something else takes the place in your mind, and you continue on.” – from The Smart One by Jenifer Close

I don’t know if it’s exactly that you don’t believe it all at once. It’s more like you can’t take in the finality of it all at once. It takes a while for death to become a day-to-day reality. Sometimes it will just hit you: this is how it is going to be from now on. And you go on, living that new reality as best you can.

I think about that phrase, “the worst thing you ever imagined actually came true”. I think sometimes it makes me a little reckless – as if, what have I got to lose? I have to be careful to remember I still have children and grandchildren who need me.

And Repeat

1 Corinthians 13:13
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love

I found the following poem on an old post. I wrote it in 2017. I’m not sure what I was thinking then, but it has new meaning to me now. The clock hands seem to slow down and speed up randomly these days. The dark and quiet follow me each night. “Till death do us part” has a whole new meaning on the other side. But my love was not blind. It was aware and alive. It still is.

And Repeat
 
clocks hands so slowly move
on across the minutes
twenty-four and repeat
 
quiet dawn to soft dusk 
and moments in between
at last the lovers meet
 
that raven evermore
returns time and again
dark and quiet to mind
 
until death do us part
in faded lace and white
oft times love is so blind
 
5-9-17

Kindreds Spirits in this new life

Red Mountain

I am slowly reading a book called A Widow’s Journey by Gayle Roper. It is like picking up someone’s journal and almost mistaking it for my own. Her husband’s name was also Chuck and the things she relates hit so close to home it’s weird. But in a helpful way.

She talks about how much of her schedule revolved around her husband’s schedule. “I sometimes thought how much I’d love to do what I wanted when I wanted. Now there’s no one to build my life around. I set my own schedule, and it’s scary to have the freedom I thought I wanted.” Wow – so honest. And so me.

She ponders which is better, a prolonged decline to the end of life or a quick death. She tells of the difference between herself and her friend who are both widows, yet with different experiences.

“We both lie alone at night. We both cook for one. We both lug our garbage to the curb each week…but our ache is the same.”

I found such a friend yesterday. She became a widow about a month and a half after me, but she had essentially lost her husband long before to dementia. Finding these kindred spirits has been a blessing from God, my Father who is watching over me.

I cry aloud to the LORD;

I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out before Him my complaint;
before Him I tell my trouble. 
Psalm 142:1-2

Grace to Carry On

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I wrote the post titled “Life and Death” on June 15, 2018. I never dreamed, could never have imagined that two years later I would lose yet another person I love so dearly.

https://angie5804.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/4326/

This quote from that post is so true –

“We fear it (death), yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.” – from A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Chuck didn’t fear death. He knew where his hope was. I knew that, too. I know that. But, the sadness is still here. Sadness that his face will no longer light up when his children or grandchildren enter the room. Sadness that we talked, dreamed, and finally planned for his retirement and our return home to Jacksonville.  That return was overlaid with sorrow. For him, that return lasted one month. Now he is truly home, and I’m left here to carry on.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

We never know

eastside

eastside.polk-fl.net

 

We often never know what difference we’ve made in someone’s life. We, as teachers, may never see a student after they leave our classroom at the end of the school year. I don’t remember all the students, but some do stick in my mind and my heart.

My first three years of teaching in the public school system were at a school in Haines City, Florida. I taught fourth grade in this school  that was more than 50% Hispanic. I worked with a group of teachers that became my friends. We poured our time, energy, and hearts into the young lives we had from 8am-3:30pm each day.

By my second year I was more comfortable in the classroom. I’d taken some ESL classes, I had a  little experience under my belt and my teacher-friends and I worked especially hard that year in writing instruction. We were test driven, not by choice,  but we tried to make it fun. That year some of our students got their letters to Al E. Gator published in the Lakeland Ledger. I still have a photocopy of the paper where five of my kids had their letters printed. I can still remember their faces. Their was towheaded Jeremy, funny Jah, outgoing Aida. And then there was Zenaida and Hector. Both were shy and still struggling with English. The letters were simple : telling Al E. Gator about their Thanksgiving plans.  Zenaida’s letter ended with, “All my family is going to go to my house and I am going to be very happy about that.” Hector talked about the previous year’s Thanksgiving, “My grandpa, my sister, my dad, my mom, my big brother and my dad’s friends were there. I played with my friends. We played hide and go seek. I felt happy.”

Simple childhood joys. This was in November, 1997. I don’t know the details of their lives, but I know Zenaida and Hector grew up and fell in love. They had a baby.

Fast forward to February, 2005. Hector’s sister was home for the weekend from the School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Florida, along  with her boyfriend who also went to the school. She was deaf and mute and he also had hearing loss. For some reason, Hector’s sister checked him out of school early and, along with Zenaida and baby Jasmine, they were all headed somewhere in the car that the boyfriend was driving. He ran a stop sign, hit another car.  Hector, his sister, Zenaida, and baby Jasmine were all killed. About a month later the boyfriend also passed away.

Hector, just 17, was on track to take his GED test. He wanted to be a mechanic and take care of his parents. He, Zeniada, 18, and the baby all lived with his parents.  It’s been nearly 15 years since the accident, about 23 years since I last saw them, but I can still see their sweet 4th-grade faces in my memory.

I cannot even begin to imagine the grief of his parents. To lose two children, a granddaughter, and a girl who was soon to be their daughter in law, all in one fell swoop.  Loss is part of life, but some losses grip us harder and stay longer. We don’t any of us know our days or times, which makes that time even more precious.

Say love.