“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.
A year ago today is when we got our first indication that our world was about to change. I won’t go into all the details, but when I realized Chuck was yellow, jaundiced, I knew I had to get him to the ER. I drove him to the Medical West ER in Hoover but had to drop him off because the Covid restrictions were already in place.
We were under contract on our house already. I went home to take care of marking our electrical box per the inspection, via a wonderful young man who walked me through it by phone and would not let me pay him.
Within an hour Chuck called. They had done a scan and found a mass on his pancreas. When I went to pick him up he was standing outside on the curb, looking so lost.
That day was the only time I remember him really crying. This gentle giant of a man curled up in our big brown chair in the living room and said, “I wonder who will be my pallbearers?”
Then he began his brief fight against the monster that raged within him. Pancreatic cancer. Our journey brought our children back together and then took us to Jacksonville where Chuck died two months after we first heard the words “mass on the pancreas”.
He had no pallbearers, but he is buried in a beautiful cemetery, along with his great-nephew, Wyatt. I can’t say life has gone on without him because he is a part of everyday for me. I see him in the kindness of his daughters and the laughter of his sons. I watched my grandson Everett play chess last Saturday with one of my son’s friends and I thought of how Chuck played chess with him even when he was ill. I’m grateful Everett will have those happy memories of Grandpa.
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal – Love leaves a memory none can steal.”– from a headstone in Ireland
If I didn’t have photos, I’d still have memories, but I am so thankful for all the pictures I have to look back on and smile, even though sometimes the smile is between tears sliding down my cheeks. I may have too many photos, but that’s in large part because I am the keeper of the bulk of the pictures that were left behind by Mom and my mother-in-law.
Now in the digital age nearly everyone takes multiple photos on a daily basis. Back as a young teen when I first had a camera, I never knew until I got my developed film just what images I had captured. It was always a thrill to drive up to the Photo Bug to pick up my envelope of photographs.
I look forward to making more memories, taking more pictures, and one day passing them on for others to treasure.
“But when we are grieving, it is our personal stories… that become so important. If we tell the story of our loved one’s death twice a day, three times a day, or more, and we still have the urge to tell it, then that is what we must do. The stories of our love, our life, and our loved one’s life are the most important pieces of information we have. We need to indulge ourselves, to hear the telling, to listen to our own words, to say the same thing again and again and again until we don’t need to say it anymore.” – fromA Time to Grieve by Carol Staudacher
I’ve thought lately that maybe I’m writing too much about loss, too much about Chuck. But, then today I read this and I think I’m on the right track. Writing is my way of grieving and healing. And though I only have a handful of faithful readers, maybe somehow, somewhere, my words will touch someone that needs to hear them.
“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
“…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
“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.
“Let that true religion still support you. What it has done—it can still do. It has proved to you its reality and its power—still trust it as the anchor of your soul, sure and steadfast. If it prevented you from sinking, when the shock came first upon you, it can do the same through every future stage of your solitary journeying, and every future scene of your now unshared sorrow.” – The Widow Directed to the Widow’s God by John Angell James, 1841
Such good advice, and like much advice, not always easy to follow. In the weeks after Chuck’s death I was so busy with paperwork and decisions that I just kept going full steam. I had to. Now, as things have settled down, finances have worked out, decisions have been made, the day to day living comes at me begging to be heard. What now? How do I live out this life I have now?
I think God has laid a burden at my feet for other widows. I desire to take this empathy I now have, one I never asked for but am grateful to have, and share it with others. I am seeing such a great need for ministry to widows that is being sorely neglected in so many of our churches. But, how many others are being neglected? What about the elderly cooped up with no one to visit them? The young mother struggling to make ends meet? Do I have empathy for all these? No, but sympathy, certainly. So I have to go with what I know, with what I’ve been given. To take that “cup of cold water” in Jesus’ name.
I had a conversation today with an old neighbor friend. We lived next door to each other for nine years, but I think I talked to her more today than I did those nine years combined. God has been so gracious to me to bring people back into my life to be an encouragement. Talking to her helped me to see that perhaps I AM on the right track as far as plans for the immediate future. I feel God leading me to be a help to my family. To be there, nearby, to be a help in their time of need and in mine. That looks like moving and it looks like traveling.
October 17, 2011 · Hi Angie, hope I’m doing this right. I just wanted you to know that I am thinking about you and hope you have a good class this year! I have been very busy going to Drs. and dentists and seeing my family. However, I hope we can get together before our birthdays and then just maybe Robin Ann will go out with us to celebrate our birthdays! Love , Donna
I recently came across this message on Facebook from an old friend. My college roommate, going back to 1976. We didn’t really become friends until our senior year of high school. We found out we were going to go off to the same school – Georgia Southern College (that was before football – they are now a university). This brought the bright, giggling spirit of Donna into my life. Our birthdays were just a day apart.
Things weren’t always perfect; we sometimes got on each other’s nerves in our tiny dorm room. I had to learn to share space – I never had a sister. But we learned, we adapted, we were there for each other. Donna played the guitar and sang. She put my poems to music when I was missing my high school boyfriend. That didn’t last too long. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.
She returned to Jacksonville to finish out her education at UNF and went on to be a teacher and a guidance counselor. She was a perfect fit for both of those positions. We kept in touch, but then a year or so went by and I hadn’t heard from her. This was in 2005 when we moved back to Jacksonville. I found out that she’d fallen, broken an arm, and something went wrong during the surgery. I think it was too much anesthesia. She was in a coma for four months and had to relearn everything. She made a remarkable comeback, but could not go back to work. And even though she won a lawsuit against the hospital, she would have rather been back at work, loving on her students.
The last time I saw her I took her to get her hair done and to lunch. She still had that high-pitched, sing-song voice that just made me smile. She died in January, 2013.
So many deaths and it never gets easier.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
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.
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