Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE FLIPPER

When I read Agatha Christie's description of Hercule Poirot's terror at going to the dentist I originally thought it was amusing.  Although as a child I usually had cavities that had to be filled, the dentist was just another one of those painful things that I had to experience, along with shots from the doctor, and when I realized that if I relaxed before the shot, it wouldn't hurt that much.  That was a good thing when I had to be tested for allergies, and the tests were endless needles stuck under the skin with every allergen known to man.  My mother was with me and she later asked me if it hadn't hurt.  When I told her that of course it had, she said my face never showed any pain.

In contrast, my husband had developed a fear of needles that was so severe that when we went for our blood test before we were married, he nearly passed out!  He didn't really overcome it until he was diagnosed with cancer and then was having blood tests and I.V.'s regularly.  He also had had a dentist who believed that children who got cavities deserved the punishment they got so he used a slow speed drill to do the fillings.

When I was ten, being a very obnoxious child, I grabbed a pepper shaker and stuck it under the nose of one of my cousins, and he took the salt shaker, intending to do the same thing to me, but instead, he hit my front tooth and chipped it.  Eventually I had to have a root canal, and, again, it was just one of those things that I thought children have to put up with.  When I was an adult, I had to have the root canal redone.  I asked one of the priests I was working for to give me a recommendation, and off I went.
However, this dentist (whose first name was Adolf, ominously) was not a great believer in anesthetic, and I wound up having five shots during the course of the root canal, only when I yelped in pain.  Later I realized that the priest who had recommended this dentist had been tortured by the Chinese so a little pain at the dentist would never have seemed like a big deal!

From that point on, I developed an intense dislike of going to the dentist.  Right before I got married, I had to have the injured tooth pulled and a bridge installed.  Money was very tight, but the image of possibly having the tooth fall out in the middle of the wedding persuaded me that it was well spent. There were many times when I went in for a cleaning and that's all that happened, but there were too many others when I received the news that I needed a root canal or a crown.  I am just thankful that I was born without wisdom teeth and avoided a whole array of problems that way.

A few weeks ago I once again went in for a cleaning and all went well.  It was time for my annual x-rays, and as I was ready to go, I asked the hygienist if everything was fine with them as well.  She took a preliminary look and said, "Oh, yes..." and then she said, "Actually..." and went on to say there was something on one of my lower front teeth.  The dentist looked at the x-ray the next day, and I was called back in.  This time I had more elaborate x-rays and when we met, he said the best outcome he was hoping for was only a root canal.  That should have warned me that there was a much bigger problem.

He thought that it was lingual external (as opposed to internal) root resorption, which is rather like a dental autoimmune disease, but wasn't sure because the x-rays were not extremely definite.  He sent me to an endodontist, who agreed that it was external, which is more serious, and said they could try a root canal and medicate with calcium hydroxide.  Her long term prognosis was not hopeful, and she said it might be better just to extract the tooth and do an implant. Until the actual implant was in, she said they could put in a "flipper," which sounded as if I were going to be outfitted with something more appropriate to dolphins!  But of course if they extract the tooth, then its long term prognosis is terminal right then.

I was telling my French horn teacher how they hadn't seemed particularly concerned about my horn playing even though this tooth is part of my embouchure, and he suggested I see his endodontist since whether he was able to pay her depended upon her doing a good job with his teeth.  I drove half an hour downtown yesterday and saw her and learned that she is actually also a prosthodontist who specializes in full mouth reconstruction, and she said that ultimately the best thing might be to remove all four front teeth and put in a couple of implants and a bridge.  When I mentioned my teacher, she said, yes, but he has much larger teeth.  So I came home and called the first endodontist and said to go ahead and plan for the root canal, but not till after the Christmas concert.  The only good thing about all my dental travails is that the endodontist uses anesthesia where I will not remember the procedure, so perhaps I will not have another episode to add to my dental horror stories.

Monday, December 9, 2013

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

My oldest daughter, Elizabeth, had called me a few days ago after talking with our third daughter, Theresa.  She had mainly called to see how Theresa was doing with her brand new baby, George (quite a surprise after her four girls!), and learned that as Theresa was returning from the airport after dropping off her mother-in-law, her minivan had broken down in Minnesota's delightful 6 degree weather, her two year old had no shoes, and she had to carry both the little one and the baby in the car seat to a fast food place until the tow truck came.  They were hoping that it would be a minor repair, but no--the car needs a new transmission, and it's their only vehicle.  Elizabeth told Theresa she would pray for pennies from heaven (it would need to be quite a few pennies), but after she hung up she wondered where on earth they would come from.

Then she remembered that she had been talking to me about some stock shares that are scheduled to come in from my husband's former employer.  I had no idea that they were coming, and had been talking to Elizabeth about all the faxes and notarized documents involved, and I had just found out about how much it would be.  Elizabeth called me back to tell me what  had happened to Theresa, and she said it struck her that because my husband had arranged this all the year he retired but that now they were heading my way, perhaps I could use them towards the transmission.  When I called Theresa to find out how much it would be, it turned out to be the amount I will be receiving on the shares.  When I told her that I would send her the check for that amount, she burst into tears, and of course I did, too. My dear husband had sent just the right amount of pennies from heaven; he is still watching over us and showering us with his love.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

ETERNAL ROCK

The Lord is an eternal Rock.
                                   --Isaiah 26:4

The readings at Mass this morning focused on God as the eternal Rock, one who cannot be worn away or crushed.  The Gospel was from Matthew, the one chosen for us for our wedding by the dear priest who had taught me so many theology and philosophy classes in college.  

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.  But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock (Matthew 7:24-25).  I can still hear the words of the homily he gave then, in his Hungarian accent, pronouncing that our marriage would be built on the rock of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, a benediction that lasted through all the years of our marriage, and continues in our family today.

It was good to reflect on the solidity of that eternal Rock after a year experiencing the loss of my husband, yet knowing that he continues to be with us in his care and concern over even the littlest things, just as our Heavenly Father is.  When life hurtles past at breakneck speed, knowing that we are standing on Rock helps me to slow down and give thanks for that security.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

LIGHT WITHIN

Feeling light within, I walk.
                                    --Navajo Night Chant

This line, again from Healing after Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman, has stayed with me for a month, like an echo in the back of my mind.  The reconstruction is continuing to be time-consuming, as well as all the preparations for Christmas, the chaos and loveliness of Thanksgiving, dealing with financial issues, and dental ones (but that is for another blog).
Today I see my confessor, and then have my French horn lesson, and after that, Holy Hour.  In between I have several phone calls to make, and the piles are accumulating around my desk in the little study where I am often camped out.  But yesterday, my reconstruction agent and my son (with a little help from me at the very end) got the first part of the floor down in my new office, in the nook under the stairs where the file cabinets will go, and I could begin to see that one day soon I will be able to work in there!

But the light within is not just rejoicing at my ability to have more room to work and get my business going.  It is also the sense that I am alight within, God is walking within me, at times carrying me, and giving me the strength and hope to keep walking forward, knowing my beloved husband is watching over me and praying with me as I listen for the voice of God which is light and love.

Monday, November 25, 2013

CHAPTER TWO

...the astonishing or unfortunate thing is that these deprivations bring us the cure at the same time that they give rise to pain.  Once we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one obstructed a whole corner of the possible, pure now as a sky washed by rain....  Free, we seek anew, enriched by pain.  And the perpetual impulse forward always falls back again to gather new strength.  The fall is brutal, but we set out again.  
                                                                                                                                     --Albert Camus

This is another quote from Martha Whitmore Hickman's Healing after Loss which I have been reading one day at a time since a friend gave it to me at the cemetery where our husbands are buried not far apart.  I was conscious of this truth described by Camus last Lent when friends from our lives in New Jersey drove down from LA where they had been visiting their daughter and took my son and me out to dinner.  The husband had been in law school with my husband, and I believe taught my husband how to study so that he did well, made Law Review, and received a good job offer right out of law school.  Robert, his friend, went on to become a partner in his law firm and had recently retired.  We had a wonderful dinner, both of them included my son in the conversation, and when I got home I realized that if my husband had still been alive, he would have dominated the discussions, they would have most likely centered on politics and law, and I would have been much more on the outside.  I was used to that, and I loved hearing my husband talk and that is one of the things I miss the most with him gone.  But instead, the evening was a reminder of how kind and thoughtful both the husband and wife are and always have been.  I felt as if I had been wrapped up and comforted during the entire evening, and when they left, I knew I had been uplifted by two very special people.

The reflection on Camus' thoughts ends with Hickman saying, "My life is entering a new chapter."  That echoes what my dear husband told me when he said that if he didn't make it, I would have a Chapter Two and that I needed to discern where God is calling me in the next part of my life.  There are many paths that beckon, and I am praying that I follow where God leads.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

21!

I've now celebrated the twenty-first birthday of our youngest.  Our son turned 21 on Tuesday and spent the day enjoying all the free offers he found.  He went to Boomer's and played all the games for free, got a free steak at one of the steak houses in town, and ended up with free ice cream at an ice cream place.  One of his friends who was already twenty-one gave him a six pack of hard lemonade and a bottle of rum with mango liqueur.  When he got home, he had one of the lemonades before he went to bed, since he had to get up early for class the next morning.  

Last night, I took him with two of his friends to Benihana, which was his choice for his birthday dinner. It was quite a production, with flying silverware (but not knives) and food cooked to order in front of us.  Everything was delicious, none of us had anything alcoholic to drink since three of us were driving, and the fourth wasn't old enough, and we all got home safely.  It was a great way to celebrate!

Monday, November 18, 2013

THE LONG SILENCE

It seemed as if wasn't very long ago that I had decided to post every day, or almost every day, and when I finally went to post today, I discovered that it had been nearly a month since my last post.  I don't know that any huge change has happened.  We're still moving forward with reconstruction, although we are in a pause now since my reconstruction agent had surgery last Thursday on her jaw and she has to recover from that before she can bend down and start the flooring.  

Before that, though, she and my son installed two table tops in the grandchildren's' room and there is now room put out many of the Playmobil setups.  One has the elaborate dollhouse and the other is a fantasy of castles.  Each of the four pirate and Viking ships has its own shelf.  And I have been gradually assembling the little people and animals in their own setups--a dream come true at last!  I'm not sure the grandkids will ever get in there!

In addition, all the painting is finished in the areas affected by the flood.  The bedroom is now a beautiful yellow and the bathroom is a light blue,  faux finished with a teal mixed especially by my reconstruction agent (in her capacity as designer).  Both colors bring out the various plants and flowers in the new mural that hangs like a window looking out on the ocean in the vicinity of Laguna Beach.

And in the family room, we now have the amazing mural painted by her husband which used the blue waters of Aguas Azules in Mexico as its launching pad, with various 3D additions.  When the reconstruction is finished, we are planning a grand unveiling of the mural, open house, and the official launch of my greeting card business.  

As part of my preparation, I signed up for the Great Work MBA, the brainchild of Michael Bungay Stanier, which occupied a great deal of last week, with seven talks each day from different speakers who filled my head with so many ideas it's a wonder it hasn't burst!  I am working through all the various innovations I wrote down and this week I am starting to put them into action.  But I already began the first.  Eric Klein suggested connecting something you want to develop into a habit to something you already do every day, like brushing your teeth.  And although I already practice my French horn every day, it is something I usually come to reluctantly though I enjoy it once I am past my first exercises.  So I have decide to launch into my horn exercises as soon as I have made my to-do list first thing in the morning, and that has been very energizing.  And since I have made my list and even written my blog, I will now hop off and begin my practice!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

RENOVATION AND RENEWAL

It seems appropriate that as our reconstruction and renovation is picking up speed and resulting in finished rooms, I am experiencing renewal in our family.  Two daughters are now pregnant (one is due in November, and the other was just given a due date of May 25, which was our wedding anniversary).
I have started practicing my French horn in my new office, which has no curtains or flooring, and as a result the acoustics are extraordinary.  My reconstruction agent likes me to practice where she can hear me, and I love the much richer sound.  It is encouraging to be playing and even my scales and exercises sound fabulous!  

And our son, who began classes at John Paul the Great Catholic University this month, has become more and more enthused and energized as he has taken his first classes, particularly Entrepreneurial Thinking.  His professors are inspiring and all of them are involved in the areas they teach.  Yesterday he went to a meeting about the Do School, which helps the entrepreneurial business students actually build a business, and when he came home he was more excited than I have seen him about anything since his first day of Little League baseball when a smile lit up his face for the entire practice session.  
I remember when we first began working with the President of the University as he described his vision for the school, and my dear husband, a Harvard man, told me he didn't think that college should be a vocational school.  I argued that there were students who wanted this kind of education, and why shouldn't they have a good Catholic college where they could get it.  He ultimately saw the vision that the President had and I am sure that now, from his vantage point in heaven, he is thankful for the hours and the money that he poured into it, so it is there at the time when our son is ready truly to get an education in the way that he can benefit the most.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

GETTING BACK TO (?) NORMAL

Before the second flood, I was determined to post much more frequently, but the pace of life has picked up even more than before.  With my reconstruction agent's powerful fan, we were able to get the newly soaked carpet dried out, once she had cut out the soaked mat underneath.  It was already slated to be replaced as a result of the first flood, so we just rolled it back down, moved the furniture into a pleasing arrangement on top of it, and I was ready to greet my daughter Catherine's godparents who came to visit over the weekend.  They were impressed with the purple walls and new lighting in what will be my office, as well as the closet with its layered shades of lilac and purple and the little stenciled birds, and they approved of the new "Grandkids' Room" (formerly just a storage space without even flooring) which was painted with two shades of "Oops Paint" we got on sale.  What previously had barely enough room to turn around, and was home to boxes and boxes of stuff is now a beautiful bedroom with a comfortable bed, a bookcase with many of the favorite children's books, and it will have an area for the Playmobil castles and another area for the dollhouse so that the older grandkids can play up there without our having to worry that one of the smaller grandkids will come in and tear out pages of books or eat the small Playmobil pieces.  What was even more amazing after the painting was done was that a picture my mother had hung in her kitchen of my beloved bluebonnets in a field in Texas has exactly the shades of blue and pale green that we used in that room, so it will now hang over the bed there.  There is a beautiful wood laminate floor laid over the plywood, and it is astonishing to all of us that the storage space has become a beautiful room with an aura of comforting tranquillity.

Catherine's godparents treated us to dinner at the Indian restaurant my son has been raving about for months, and we discovered that in fact he is will known there.  The owner came out and greeted us and said he was delighted that our son had finally brought other people besides his girlfriend.  It is a beautiful restaurant with delicious food and a lovely atmosphere, and our friends were given a very nice discount as well.  On Sunday morning after Mass, we went to a champagne brunch at another great restaurant, and then came back to the house and visited until they had to leave for the airport.  One of their sons, who was our godson, died of leukemia several years ago, and our journeys through the valley of grief have drawn us even closer because there are so many things we understand in common and don't have to explain.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

AAAAAH! ANOTHER FLOOD!

We've had floods in this house, on average, about every seven years.  But things are changing.  This morning when I came out to the kitchen about 5:30, my son was already up.  He told me that the washer had flooded the laundry room, half bath, and some of the family room carpet and he'd emptied the rag basket out to clean it up.  He had to leave for class, and when our reconstruction agent arrived, she found that in fact there was a lot more water in the carpet in the family room, so we had to pull that up, cut out the soaked carpet mat, and start a fan going.  

I think I'll go read my daughter's blog about the cuteness of her children, and eat a bacon, mushroom, and Swiss cheese sausage.

Monday, September 30, 2013

THE IMPOSSIBLE

Thus says the Lord of hosts:  Even if this should seem impossible in the eyes of the remnant of this people, shall it in those days be impossible in my eyes also, says the Lord of hosts?
                                                                                                            Zechariah 8:6

All that we do
is touched with ocean, yet we remain
on the shore of what we know.
                            Richard Wilbur

The combination of these two thoughts from my morning prayer time (interrupted by a call from the window company saying the new windows are in and will be coming at 8 AM tomorrow, much earlier than I had expected) reinforced the perception, particularly since my husband died, that all of life is shot through with mystery.  We think we know where we are going, but of course we don't.  We think we understand life and can control it, but we can't.  When we lived in New Jersey, I imagined that we would live in that same area all our lives, perhaps move to a larger house, but that after I became a famous poet, the house would be preserved as the place where I lived (well, I was young and foolish then)!

When we made our WorldWide Marriage Encounter Weekend, I had no idea that by bringing a Spirit-filled wind of openness to our marriage, we would move to California with two little girls and a two month old baby seven months later and be off on an adventure that challenged us to change frequently in our marriage, our communication, our perceptions of other people and of the Church, and in what the Lord wanted us to do in our lives.  And after 30 years, when we had come back as a presenting Team for WWME and were committed to living that lifestyle for the rest of our lives, the Lord took my beloved husband to himself and I am once again facing the largest and most daunting change of my life.
As I have told many people who have called me, come to see me, taken me out to breakfast or lunch or dinner, I never expected to be a widow, since I was the one always going to the doctor and my husband enjoyed perfect health until he contracted a virulent cancer that took his life less than 7 months after he was diagnosed.  And yet, I am so aware of the grace that is poured out on me each day, making me a much stronger woman than I have ever been, and more grateful for the life I am given each day, and determined to use it for the Lord's glory, just as my beloved husband did very consciously each day he lived after he was told of his cancer.  So I remain open to the impossible and alert to the ocean running just out of hearing.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

RESOLUTIONS NEED TIME

I've spent the past two days going back and forth to our son's new university as he has gotten registered and we've been oriented.  I have been oriented, too, for although this is our sixth child to start at a new college, with every other college entrance, my husband was at the helm, paying the fees, checking their books and schedule, and making sure they were set.  Now, I am the one in charge, learning (with my oldest daughter's help) how to fill out a FAFSA and navigate the rough waters of financing an education at a private university.  This was not in our budget when my husband became ill, since our son had chosen community college, but now everything is different.

Today, however,  he is finishing up his job, and I have the rest of the day to myself, and I am trying to get things done and get ready for another onslaught of reconstruction tomorrow.  I am going back to David Allen's Getting Things Done to try to reorganize what I can and see how much I can accomplish when left to myself.  I have discovered that it is almost impossible to carry out my organizing resolutions when I am also trying to run the house and oversee the reconstruction.

I came home Friday and discovered that my reconstruction agent and my son had dismantled and emptied out the storage room that had been a collection point for everything left over, as well as Christmas decorations, a vast Playmobil set up, and a bed.  We have the flooring ready to go, and I was convinced to get some paint for the walls since they have become marked and dingy over the 28 years since our addition was built.  I chose a blue named for the Canadian town where we vacationed after our fourth daughter's wedding, and when we begin transforming that room, I will really believe that we are finally moving forward!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

KEEP THE LAMP BURNING

To keep a lamp burning we  have to keep putting oil in it.
                                                      --Mother Teresa

This was the quote for September 27, the 11 month anniversary of my husband's death, in Healing after Loss.  Martha Whitmore Hickman's reflection on this reflects very much my own experience as I approach the one year anniversary next month:  "At first we are almost immobilized.  We do what we have to do and are grateful for the customs and rituals that guide us through those first days."  My beloved husband died at 4:14 PM on Saturday.  From Friday morning until he died, we had friends coming to our back yard to pray and sing as they heard that he was near death.  Many said the Rosary, or prayed in silence.  At one point, I heard a dear friend who is a bass in our choir, sing the Divine Mercy chaplet.  On Friday night, several couples from WorldWide Marriage Encounter came and prayed and left vigil lights on top of the tall tomato trellis in our garden.  My daughter and I went out to blow them out, since it was very warm and windy, and discovered they were lit by batteries.  We left them on all night, since we could see them from our bedroom and if my husband had chanced to be awake enough, he could have seen them from his hospital bed.  I found the sight of them incomparably comforting.  My two oldest daughters took turns reading the Liturgy of the Hours to my husband since he had prayed it for many years, and whenever they reached one of the prayers that was said every day, we could see my husband's lips moving as he prayed with them.  They also took the night shifts so I could catch some sleep, and both of those last two mornings, when I awoke,  I found both their babies asleep next to me.  That was not only comforting but deeply healing and I think of that often as they grow and become more dear to me.  When dear friends arrived to pray just after my husband died, they offered to let them know at the parish, since they were going to the Saturday evening Mass, so we didn't have to make that call.

My daughter asked me if I would rather go to the neighboring parish where not as many people knew me, and I told her I would set my alarm for 5, as I have done almost every Sunday for the last four years since I rejoined the choir, and see how I felt then.  When the alarm went off, I got up and dressed and warmed up on the French horn, and the routine just carried me along.  All of the family who were there came with me and sat filling up an entire pew right next to my spot in front of the choir, our choir director let me choose the Communion hymn we sang, and our pastor in his homily mentioned the faith of our family even in the face of death.  I suppose we were all somewhat numb, and yet I felt a great sense of solidarity with our parish, where we had lived for nearly 30 years, our Marriage Encounter community, and everyone else who reached out to us both during my husband's illness and after his death.

The flood has pushed me forward into Chapter 2 of my life much faster than if I had undertaken it on my own, and on the anniversary of his death yesterday, our son went for orientation at the young Catholic university, where my husband had been one of the five founders.  It has been a long and winding road for our son, from a year at community college to a year at home helping us when my husband was ill to working in the education department at one of the local vacation destinations.  I have had to think about what I should be doing with the time I have been given much more quickly as I am working with my reconstruction agent to design my office and redesign some of the rest of the house, and to redesign my financial plans as our son begins at a private university.  All of this upheaval gives me very little time to sit around and feel sorry for myself; instead, I am constantly being called to keep putting oil in my lamp so it will glow brightly and light the lives of others.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

LITTLE (AND BIG) BUSYNESS

Great peace is found in little busy-ness.        
                                           --Chaucer

When I found this quote (again in Healing after Loss), my first thought was that since I took over the finances and particularly since the flood, I have had no lack of busy-ness.  My reconstruction agent told me that there was a lot to do, and each day I am discovering more of what she meant.  She is very organized, and as I watch the way she works, I have been learning more about becoming organized, even though it will never be part of me the way it is with her.  But as we have worked in the different areas affected by the flood, moved furniture, and decided on paint, tile, and yesterday, some of the laminated lumber, I have watched in admiration as she paints a wall, then goes to work on tile while the paint dries, looks up something we need on the computer while the tile sets,  so that the work is always going forward.  She has been here almost every day, organizing the work and looking forward to what we need to do next, and not only am I enjoying seeing the work proceed, but I have enjoyed getting to know her even better since we have time to talk as well.  She has good advice for the greeting card business I will have in my new office as well as for how to organize the storage room so the grandchildren will have a nice play area.  She told me that when she was four, her father gave her her first saw, and she has been working with tools ever since.

So far, she cut and laid the tile for the laundry room and half bath, installed a mural (which she cut to fit the walls) and painted the ocean up the wall, and is now extending that to the nearby cabinets which were in bad shape.  We found a porthole mirror to replace the old one my parents had put up which was gradually browning out, and re-installed the washer, dryer and toilet, with my son's help.  In what will be my office, the walls are now a light, tranquil lilac, with one large wall a deep purple.  We've ordered new triple glazed windows that will lower our energy bills, and she's installed tile in the entry to the office, which I think she will grout today.  And we've recycled three bins full of old papers, sent batches of old furniture to St. Vincent de Paul (except for two chairs, which they refused, but were picked up by someone after a few days on the sidewalk in front of our house). Yesterday we picked up the laminated lumber for the storage room (which only had a plywood floor) at a great discount, and found the lumber we want for the office, at a price half what we had seen at another store.  And last week, she and my son spent about six hours installing the lighting for the office--a beautiful sixteen foot track that is bent in curves, with halogen lights that swivel in any direction and light up the entire office area.  One of my favorite things that she has done is to give me a supply closet.  Before, it had a file cabinet in it, filled with old files, which we either recycled or gave to the appropriate parties, and now it is painted in varying shades of purple (as she used up the paint on her roller), with white shelves that are almost full of office supplies which I have discovered in various other parts of the house.  She even stenciled little birds flying or sitting on the walls of the closet, and I leave the door of the closet open just to enjoy the view!

And although I am much busier with all of this than I ever expected I would be when I became a widow, it has been very therapeutic most of the time.  While I don't know that I could say that I have "great peace," I have found that small islands of peace emerge from great busy-ness.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

SMALL THINGS

Snail, snail, glister me forward,
Bird, softsigh me home,
Worm, be with me.
This is my hard time.
                     --Theodore Roethke

Another quote from Healing after Loss touched me this morning after my son left to spend the day with friends and then work an overnight camp.  I had gone to the farmers' market for the first time in several weeks, and it was nice to see many of the farmers and vendors who have become my friends in the years I have been going.  I got leeks from the Dutch farmer couple, a lovely mix of mushrooms and wax and green beans from the very first farmer I met who has the most delicious strawberries when they are in season, cheese curds, bird friendly coffee, and sushi grade salmon brought out from a special place in the truck when I asked if they had any.  When I got home, I had a belated small breakfast (since it is a day of fasting and prayer for peace requested by Pope Francis) and heard an occasional note from the beautiful alto Gregorian wind chime given me by a friend in honor of my beloved husband.  She didn't know how much he loved Gregorian chant, but whenever I hear the wind playing in the chimes, I am reminded again of his presence still in my life.

With the insurance company no farther forward in determining what they will pay towards the second batch of wet carpet and wall damage, things are still in somewhat of an uproar after the flood which leaves me in a state of disequilibrium, and I find myself having a hard time settling down to do any of the major projects I think I should, or even getting to my French horn practice earlier in the day than nine o'clock at night.  When I told my reconstruction agent how I felt yesterday, she took me into the area that will be my new office, and I went through an entire box of Marriage Encounter things and sorted them all out, and then we finally moved the big file cabinet out of the closet so she can remove the last of the carpet and get that painted and fixed up with shelves for all my office supplies.  Once I had done all that, I did feel much better.  And, in addition, this week she painted the large wall a deep purple, with glossy white trim, and when I think we haven't really gotten much done, I just look at that beautiful wall and know that we are making progress!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

ROARING IN MY EARS

Yesterday, after looking in vain for an underwater mural for the bathroom under reconstruction (well, we found two we liked, but when we compared them to the things we already have in there, they were too blue), I headed off to the ear doctor to get a tube put in the ear that has been blocked for over 4 months.  I'd had tubes in both ears before, when I was constantly dealing with sinus and ear infections, and this was an alternative to sinus surgery, which would have been more invasive.  Being a natural wimp, and very sensitive to pain, I was nervous about it, but this doctor used a different anesthetic (which didn't require a huge needle) and although it burned, it didn't seem as bad as the last time. However, he did decide to suction out all the fluid in there.  That was a challenge, since his suctioning equipment seemed not to be working, and he and the nurse discussed it at some length, while I lay there wondering if the anesthetic would hold while they fixed the equipment.  Eventually they got it going again, and I was almost sorry they had when they applied it to my ear, and it sounded as if a storm were blowing in there.  When that was mercifully over, it was time for the tube, which also seemed to take a long time with much maneuvering.  At last, that was done, and when I stood up, the doctor said I should notice improved hearing.  I almost asked him to stop shouting, until I realized that my hearing had improved dramatically, and on the way home I kept lowering the air conditioning because it sounded as if a hurricane were driving along with me.  I am gradually becoming accustomed to hearing much more than I had for months, and I am very grateful for my new sensitive hearing, but don't try to sneak up on me--unless the air conditioner is running, and then I won't hear anything else!

Monday, August 26, 2013

THE LIGHT WITHIN

"Feeling light within, I walk."
                                 --Navajo Night Chant

This was another quote I discovered in Martha Whitmore Hickman's helpful book, Healing after Loss. Until very recently, I was conscious of that light within as I moved forward into the next chapter of my life, dealing with things like finances that I had not taken care of since very early in our marriage, and with the flood and its aftermath.  But Saturday night, as I told my oldest daughter who was visiting with her family from LA, I felt as if the light had dwindled to a faint flicker. 

The mess from the flood was still there, although our reconstruction agent and her husband had finished tiling and grouting the laundry room and half bath, so I could see the first glimmer of progress.  But when we moved the desk from the study upstairs, I had just put everything from the desk in boxes, which cluttered up the study, which is a small room, and wherever I looked, there were things to be done.  So my daughter suggested that she help me go through the boxes, decide what to get rid of and move the rest next door to a closet where it could be dealt with later.  I got mostly caught up with my finances, and by the end of the day when they left, and I cleaned up the kitchen and vacuumed the floors, the light was flaming higher, and I knew I could keep walking forward on the path that lies ahead.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

LIVING IN A RUBIK'S CUBE

Life has been such an upheaval that it has been nearly a month since I last posted, much to my dismay.  The flood, which happened June 27, is still a dominant reality in our home.  We waited a long time for the insurance company to indicate how much they would pay for the reconstruction as well as to issue the checks for the asbestos testing and abatement, to argue with the flood drying company about their charges of $11,000, and to finally agree to pay $9,000.  When the check came for the reconstruction costs, I had to mail it to Georgia to the mortgage company to sign it, and then it eventually came back here so I could deposit it and start the work.  My reconstruction agent bought the tile for the laundry room and bathroom and started moving furniture in the main room from what we thought was the dry half to the other half which had been dried only to discover that the carpet mat was wet and moldy under the furniture.  When she removed the baseboard behind the washer and dryer, the wallboard was also wet there.  I put a call into my insurance agent, who told me to call the adjuster.  We left several calls with him at the beginning of the week, but still have not heard back from him.

We took pictures of the additional damage and have saved the moldy carpet (outside) but just decided we needed to move ahead and do something.  We have to move furniture from one room to another, and decided to go ahead and move some other furniture from downstairs upstairs, as well as getting rid of as many pieces as possible (from when my parents were alive and living with us) just to give us room to work.  Yesterday, my husband's old desk (which in its first life had been my mother's makeup and jewelry dresser) was carried out of the small study, up the stairs, and lifted over the balcony railing to take up new life as my sewing cabinet next to the sewing machine, which I had earlier moved out of the storage room to the little nook where I had had a cot, domain of many comfortable naps.  But now that the sewing machine is accessible, I finished all my mending and have it available for scrapbooking and card embellishing as well.

Then a long table and a smaller table were moved from the flooded area into the study where they hold a new rubber tree plant and two small filing holders for bills and correspondence, again where I can see them easily and keep up with them (I hope).  We discovered that we have 7 filing cabinets in our entire house, in different places, and I got rid of one, and plan to keep only two of the four drawer cabinets, and one double two drawer cabinet, which will all be in another little nook under the stairs, in one place in my new office.  The washer and dryer are standing in the room which will be my office, where they have been since the tiling began. It was finished yesterday, and I hope that early next week I will be able to get caught up with all the laundry piling up since they were moved.  But whatever reconstruction work is involved, large pieces of furniture have to be shoved around from one place to another, and fitted in so that the walls can be painted, the flooring laid, baseboards put down, and the furniture reconfigured differently so that what was my parents' living room and kitchen, then my husband's office, can now become my office with supplies for greeting cards as well as all the files for my writing.   I told my reconstruction agent that it's like living in a Rubik's Cube, and after all the furniture hauling she did yesterday, with help from her husband and my son, she agreed with me.  I am just hoping that the final arrangement will be less difficult to figure out!

And, since my life seems as fragmented as the different panels of the Rubik's Cube, I am planning to post much more regularly, right after I have prioritized my plans for the day, so I am hoping the blog posts will be more frequent, and shorter, and I can report on the gradual transformation of the flood damaged space into a comfortable and efficient office.



Sunday, July 28, 2013

IT DOESN'T ALWAYS FEEL LIKE A NEW DAY

God bless to me the new day,
Never vouchsafed to me before,
It is to bless Thine own presence
Thou hast given me this time, O God.
                                      --Celtic Prayer

I read these lines in Healing after Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman several days ago, and at the time they seemed very appropriate.  It was morning, the air was still cool and fresh, and I was eating my breakfast, reading my Scripture for the day, and listening to the fountain playing peaceful music out on the patio.  I felt at peace, grateful for the gift of a another day, for the chance to go to Mass and praise Him for all He has given me, and for the opportunities to accomplish a number of interesting things during the day. Nothing has happened in the house to minimize the mess from the flood as I am still waiting to get the estimate from the insurance agent, but I am able to work in the rest of the house, and I've even been getting my little study more organized so I can work more effectively in there until I have my new office.

It occurred to me that this has been a productive year so far in my writing--I am writing more than ever before, and have had two poems accepted for publication.  My poetry collection is at a publisher, and I decided I needed to send my novel back out, so I found a publisher in England who is starting to publish middle reader novels.  I wrote out a synopsis and emailed it off, and prepared for the usual long wait.  Instead, the next day I heard back from them that I had sent it in Pages rather than Word, so I spent several hours relearning how to put it into Word and sent it back.  Then the publisher said they liked the synopsis and asked me to send my entire manuscript.  This time, I remembered to send it off in Word!  That evening, I was organizing my manuscript papers, and discovered that I had actually sent a somewhat earlier version, so I spent the next day finding the newest version, doing a final edit and check, and sending that back.  They had said they have a long reading list, so I knew they wouldn't be getting to it any time soon.  But this is the first time that I have had someone actually ask to see the manuscript, so I saw this as one more step forward.

Generally, I find myself so busy that I seldom allow myself to slip into feeling sorry for myself.
In addition to all the writing, greeting cards, scrapbooking, and keeping up the house--and I am starting to cook a little more--I have lunches and dinners with friends, visits from my daughters and their families, and telephone calls or Skype with the three daughters who live farther away, so that if someone wants to plan a social activity with me, I usually have to give them a date several weeks away.

But last Thursday evening, I suddenly came down with a fit of depression.  My son had had his wisdom teeth out in the morning.  I had thought I could really be a mother and do things to help him recover, but he had a very easy time of it, and left to pick up his girl friend and brought her back here, and they were busy making smoothies, watching Ratatouille, and I didn't get to do much soothing of his fevered brow. (It wasn't even fevered, actually!)  I suppose I felt a little de trop, and by evening, after a long French horn lesson, I felt rather like a fifth wheel on the carriage of life.  My bed seemed very empty when I tried to go to sleep and I found myself missing even more the ongoing conversations I would have with my husband throughout the day, talking over even the littlest details of our lives. It was a very lonely feeling, but I could also recognize it as part of grief, and necessary to work through.

The next morning, I went to Mass, got several things done quickly, including my horn practice, and was ready when my second daughter and her children arrived, and then my decorator.  I treasure these days when the grandchildren are out of school so I can see all four of them.  My decorator and I talked through several of the things we want to do with the reconstruction and went out to choose mat board for reframing one of my grandfather's paintings.  It was a crazy, off-kilter day, but it restored my sense of connection with those who are dear to me, and reminded me again that God's grace is lifting me up and carrying me through all the waves of grief as they ebb and flow.  Then I was ready, several days later, to take in Dag Hammarskjold's words, also quoted in Healing after Loss:

In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way.  Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses.  The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

When We're Living It, It Is a Mess

When I went to Mass this morning, our associate pastor said he had been watching a program on The Eagles (the music group) last night and in an interview with Joe Walsh, he said that in looking back at their history now, it looks like a well-written novel, but that when they were living it, it was a mess. Our priest applied that to the First Reading, when Joseph's brothers come to get food in Egypt, not realizing that the man who has the power to feed them is actually the brother they sold years before.  To the brothers, it certainly doesn't look like God is in charge of their lives except that they are being punished for selling their brother, and their treks back and forth to and from Egypt must have seemed like a very messy business.

It was a very appropriate homily for me to hear, right now when I am living each day with the mess left by the flood in part of the house, taking pictures of things I want to get rid of so that my daughters can take anything they want, finally getting in touch with the IT manager at my husband's company so that I can return his computer and have them give me any personal information that was on it (knowing my husband, there was very little other than his contacts which I already have), and clearing out some of the 7 file cabinets that are scattered around the house.  But in order to get to one, I have to clear out the bookshelves that are in front of the closet where the cabinet is currently parked, and I'm not quite sure where to put all the books that I haven't donated to the law school library.  It's a little like doing a Rubik's cube, where you can only move a small number of things at a time, then move a few others, and hope you made the right decision.

My washer and dryer are hooked back up, but the washer doesn't have access to hot water, since we haven't replaced the hot water heater because we're still waiting to hear from the insurance company, but at least I can do most of my washing and drying without another trip to the laundromat.  The asbestos has been removed along with the last of the parquet flooring, and I am planning to put in a laminated wood flooring that will be practical, easy to clean, and can stand up to both my home business as well as the pitter patter and thud thud of the grandchildren scampering and roaring across the floor.  My reconstruction agent and decorator is looking for left over tile to put in the laundry room so I won't have to worry about the machines gouging huge holes in that flooring.

I have been re-reading The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (Familiaris Consortio) by Blessed John Paul II, and came upon a sentence that I must have completely missed when I read it the first time:  "Children must grow up with a correct attitude of freedom with regard to material goods, by adopting a simple and austere life style and being fully convinced that 'man is more precious for what he is than for what he has.'"  That word "austere" has been troubling me since I read it, and I even discussed it with my confessor whom I saw this morning.  While we always tried to avoid conspicuous consumption, and I can remember pointing out to one daughter that if I were to work outside the home, we could have many of the things she had been admiring at her friend's house, I don't know that I ever tried to teach them to live austerely, though I was often reading books on how to live more simply.  But perhaps I was only meant to come upon it now, as I am beginning to think through this next reconstruction, so that I can accomplish it simply and perhaps even austerely.  But that word seems a very high hurdle to me.  I found myself wondering what the original word was in Polish and if it had the same somewhat unpleasant ring to it in that language.  But it could also be that this was the first day of my attempt to live without sugar, and that has left me feeling a bit grumpy about many things!

Monday, July 1, 2013

THE WRITING (SORT OF) LIFE

...you felt in your calling that from your hand
the seeded word would overrun these ruins and
sprout with the fecundity of bougainvillea.
                                            --Derek Walcott, The Prodigal

For Derek Walcott, born in St. Lucia, bougainvillea must certainly be prodigal; even for my son-in-law who lived in another part of San Diego, and now in the LA area, bougainvilleas were so fertile and spreading that he seemed to be doing battle with them constantly.  But the ones I have planted have been spindly, reluctant to grow, sparsely flowering and difficult.  I have loved the plants since I first saw them on a trip to Mexico, where they poured over roofs and decorated white stucco walls with brilliant, tropical flowers.  But never in my yard.
I am back from a trip to small Missouri towns and farms visiting all my aunts, my uncle, and many of my 39 first cousins, as well as first cousins once and twice removed.  (I never understood all the removed part until my dear husband explained it all to me, and now it makes perfect sense.)  I loved watching my grandchildren play outside, looking for crawdads in the creek and kittens in the barn, and getting to know one of their third cousins.  She was obviously taken with them, because she told her grandmother (my cousin) that she wanted to come out to California with them when they next come to visit.  After a pause, she asked how long it would take to fly here, and when told it was about 4 hours, she said she'd have to remember to pack a snack!  We had several family reunions, which were all delightful, and my daughter, the children, and I spent the afternoon with my aunt and uncle on the day of their 55th wedding anniversary--and I had been with them on their wedding day. They showed me a picture of the wedding, and there I was, a small girl in a very ridiculous hat!  I really wondered what my mother was thinking of giving me what looked like a handkerchief with two ties sewed on to it.  But it's also quite possible I picked it out for myself, since my taste in clothes was abysmal then.
While I was away, I developed (or perhaps it just got worse) a truly horrid bladder and kidney infection which made the return home (with a two hour delay at the St. Louis airport due to some spectacular downpours and lightning displays) and a two hour delay the next day for the train to take me back to Oceanside (due to no apparent reason other than the fact that it is an American train) somewhat uncomfortable.  But I got to the doctor, and in due course (after 3 days on heavy duty antibiotics), I began to feel slightly human again.  
I went out to the grocery store to buy myself a rotisserie chicken, and while I was looking everywhere for the chicken, I managed to get my grocery shopping done for the first time in years.  (My husband had almost always done it for a long time, then when he got sick, our son and one of our daughters as well as our community of helpers made sure that we always had plenty to eat.)  But when I returned home, I heard a hissing sound in the addition, and went over to discover that the water heater had burst and was pouring out gallons of water all over the floors, soaking walls, and even making it into the entry way of the family room.  I called a plumber, who came out and got the water intake stopped, and gave me the name of a company with large fans that come out and drain out all the water and dry you out with extreme heat, blowing noises that sound as if a helicopter were landing on your roof, tear out your hardwood floors and carpet mats and call the asbestos man to be sure none of that is anywhere to be found.  Fortunately, this is confined mostly to the addition, so I can close the door and turn on the air conditioner on this side.  But over there, it feels like the Sahara.
After all the activity this morning, I decided to work on my writing, sent a belated birthday card to my poetry mentor of nearly 40 years, and made a few revisions in a poem.  Even now, when I have only my son left at home, I can not seem to get major periods of time to really get my teeth into my writing.  Yet I have written one book and put together a collection of poetry of over 100 pages, all around the vast amounts of time I have spent raising six children, working as a World Wide Marriage Encounter Team, running a Southwestern convention, an international convention and a Formation through Relationship seminar on Blessed Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body, in conjunction with my dear husband.  
In fact, the day of the flood was the eight month anniversary of his death, and when I realized it, I was at first incensed that he didn't somehow plead with God to stop it.  But when I reflected on it later, I thought, this is part of Chapter 2.  It's the one part of the house that hasn't ever been redone since my parents died in 1999 and 2000.  It became my husband's office after that, but all he did was to put up some vertical blinds and move his desk in there.  So I am envisioning a much larger area where I can write, look out the window at my garden, get my greeting card business started, get a fresh coat of buttery yellow paint on the walls, a wooden plank floor and room for a lot more of my supplies than I have in the cramped little study where I have worked for nearly 30 years. Will it result in a sudden surge in output?  I don't know, but I am eager to find out!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

SUPPORT SYSTEM

As I said goodbye to my oldest daughter and her family tonight, on their way back home, it occurred to me again that I have been abundantly blessed by an extensive support system of family and friends who have been there for me whenever I have needed them, since long before my husband got sick.  This daughter drove down from LA just for two nights to be able to spend time with me as well as to pick up the much-needed car seat-stroller that I first saw in action when I went to Minnesota with my second daughter and her one year old.  She also made my favorite dinner, Cuban Chicken, for me as well as my son, his girlfriend, and a couple from our days with World Wide Marriage Encounter who were coming over to share with me about our Plan for Growth, where we consider our spirituality, family, and (for them) their couple relationship.  It was an evening full of joy as well as happy memories (and extremely good food)!  How very blessed I have been by an extended family and a circle of friends who have stood by me throughout the last difficult year and have helped me to go on to live out "Chapter Two" of my life.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

THE VISITATION

Almighty ever-living God,
who, while the Blessed Virgin Mary was carrying your Son in her womb,
inspired her to visit Elizabeth,
grant us, we pray,
that, faithful to the promptings of the Spirit,
we may magnify your greatness
with the Virgin Mary at all times.

I remember a bus ride to Ain Karem from wherever in the Holy Land we had been staying (I think it was Jerusalem rather than Nazareth because it wasn't as long as it might have been), and it seemed long to me.  But Mary went on foot I presume, on a much longer journey, probably with a caravan. I can imagine the noise, the dust, and her weariness when she arrived, yet her first words were such ones of praise that they are prayed every day in the Church.  How fitting it was that Elizabeth said to her, "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

And I remember several years earlier, when I was still in college, I think at a daily Mass, and after I received Holy Communion, I suddenly realized that, like Mary, I was carrying the Son of God within me.  Those few moments didn't last long, but when I travel back to my much younger self, I remember the awe of my union with my Lord.

The prayer which is the Collect from the Mass for the Visitation, combined with my memories, have prodded me to realize that I also need to magnify the greatness of the Lord who has lifted me up in unimaginable ways since my beloved husband died--and I believe went on to heavenly greatness--through His grace and the prayers and support of my dear family and friends.  And although it has taken eleven days to get the prayer I wanted to open my next blog entry, I think that I will try to write more often here, since there are so many ways the Lord reveals his greatness to us every day.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

WISDOM

If one trusts her, he will possess her,
   his descendants too will inherit her.
She walks with him as with a stranger,
   and at first she puts him to the test.
Fear and dread she brings upon him
   and tries him with her discipline;
With her precepts she puts him to the proof,
   until his heart is full with her.
Then she comes back to bring him happiness
   and reveal her secrets to him.
                                   Sirach 4:16-18

When I read these lines a few days ago, I thought how well they described my husband's life.  Even when he was young, he seemed to be in search of wisdom.  His vast range of reading eventually led him into the Catholic Church (though I believe that my prayers for his conversion played a part, too).  We were all spoiled by his knowledge of both trivia and larger issues, and seldom went to the dictionary or encyclopedia before we asked him a question we wanted answered.  If he didn't know--or didn't know as much as he would like--he often told us to check our research assistant, Dr. Googol, and then went and looked it up himself.
But it was after he was diagnosed with cancer, that he seemed to pursue Wisdom far more than knowledge, and when friends or work associates came to visit, he always found a way to share something he had discovered in his illness, usually in a lighthearted way, but at times with great seriousness.  He frequently reminded us, "We're all terminal," and I found myself thinking of that today when I went for a doctor's appointment.  It was about a year before his diagnosis, that I had been told that it looked as if there were something on my pancreas, and I faced the possibility that my life might be quite short.  It turned out to be nothing, but I had an anxious eight days waiting for the test results.
I remember that I also felt at peace during most of that time, with the realization that I was in God's hands.
I didn't feel that same peace during the seven months my husband suffered and died from his cancer, but it has often seemed to carry me since he died.  I am conscious that many more people than I know are praying for me, and I sometimes experience the feeling of being lifted up over my grief, as if I were looking down on it from a distance.  This week particularly as I am caught up in the final stages of our bathroom remodel and a much-anticipated visit from our youngest daughter and her baby girl planned to coincide with our second daughter's son's First Communion this Saturday (which also would have been our 39th Wedding Anniversary), I shall be very thankful for all that God continues to bless me with, beginning with the gift of life that still runs freshly through me.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Earthquake

"About midnight. while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose."

This scene is filled with details orchestrated by God.  Paul and Silas were praying and singing after being stripped and beaten with rods.  The other prisoners were listening and did not rush out of the jail even when they were freed.  The jailer, who was on the verge of killing himself when he woke and saw the prison doors wide open, instead bathed their wounds, was baptized with his entire household,
and brought them into his house for a meal where they "rejoiced at having come to faith in God."
When I read all this, I was struck by the many ways God speaks to us, and how often we don't hear, or we hear but don't listen.  I was glad to have this reflection to begin my day, since I had wakened with a migraine and was moving slowly.  Then I discovered Skype wasn't working, so I talked to my daughter on the phone, and left a mess on my desk.  The internet was also down, so I couldn't look at my stocks while I was talking to my portfolio manager, and I wound up with papers all over the study.  My horn teacher came early for the first time ever, and when my lesson was over, I had music all over the living room.  Then I tried making Mother's Day cards for my daughters, and ended up with card stock scattered around the computer.  It wasn't an earthquake, but it looked as if Something Had Happened, and I finally just went and asked my son to come pray with me.  They were simple prayers, but it gave me a chance to catch my breath. I don't know whether I finally did stop and try to listen, but as I reflect back I can see that that is what I should have done.  And now I will do just that.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hope Full

Screen free week is over, and a new week began with a flotilla of butterflies.  The Elizabeth Hospice, who surrounded us with care and love during the last weeks of my husband's life and lifted us up so that we could cherish every moment we had together, had a ceremony honoring those who were seriously ill or who had died and whose lives had been touched beautifully by hospice care.  After a brief program of remarks, poetry, and harp music accompanying the scrolling of the honorees' names,
we went outside where we all received tiny envelopes holding live butterflies.  At the sound of a bell, we all opened our envelopes and encouraged our butterflies to emerge. It was a cool, windy day, and many stayed in the open envelopes slowly fanning their wings like children dipping their toes in cold water.  Three of my grandsons and one little granddaughter (the protagonists of the Tarantula Wasp Expedition) came along with their parents, and the butterflies sat on their hands for a lengthy period of time before they flew away or were delivered to the tender embrace of a nearby flower.  Ignatius, the middle boy, pointed out the tiny balls on the very tip of his butterfly's antennae, and giggled unrestrainedly when the butterfly slowly uncurled his long proboscis and tasted his finger.  Adults as well as children smiled in delight when a butterfly landed on a shirt or skirt or shoe, and everyone helped the slow ones who drifted to the ground to get to a nearby branch or leaf.  It was a lovely metaphor for the way The Elizabeth Hospice helped my husband lift off from this life into the next, and now gives us new wings for the next chapter of our lives.
This transformation of a gray day into a fluttering mosaic of orange, coral, burgundy, and black refreshed my realization of how much I can change my perspective as I learn to live in my new circumstances.  In Healing after Loss, by Martha Whitmore Hickman, she quotes Daphne DuMaurier:
"Look upon each day that comes as a challenge, as a test of courage....the bereaved, the widowed, will find new strength, new courage, new vision, born of the very pain and loneliness which seem, at first, impossible to master."  Hickman's resolve for the day is, "I will walk through the center of my sorrow and I will emerge--proud and strong."  All these things came together when I arrived home, to an empty house, exhausted from another late night, and the rain which had held off for the butterflies, came dripping down.  My first thought was how lonely the house seemed, but then from somewhere perhaps outside of me, the thought floated down, "How peaceful it is!"
I reflected on how we can only find God in the circumstances we are in now, not the ones we would prefer, the focus I had presented to our Christian Community two nights ago--three couples who journeyed with my husband and me for two decades as we worked to live out the Sacrament of Matrimony in the context of our Faith, and I now seek to fill in the outlines of my new vocation as a widow.  I closed with some lines by the poet Christian Wiman, who has faced a serious battle with cancer.  Beginning with

O the screech and heat and hate
we have for each day's commute,

Wiman goes on to imagine a lone commuter at the end of the day

who has lived so hard
he jerks awake

in the graveyard,
where he sees

coming down the aisle
a beam of light

whose end he is,
and what he thinks are chains

becoming keys...

In many of my earlier poems when our children were little and my parents lived with us, I drew images of imprisonment often subconsciously, yet there were keys all around. My favorite is still

Birds paying morning calls
light the blowtorch of sunrise
etch arches 
in these stuccoed walls

I fly free.

The keys were in my apron pocket all along; the butterflies are alight.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Screen Free Week

After successfully launching the blog on the six month anniversary of my husband's death (with help from our oldest daughter and son-in-law--well, he's not the oldest son-in-law but he is married to our oldest daughter, to be perfectly clear), I came upon a notice in our parish bulletin that this is screen free week.  When it was TV-free week, it was a no-brainer for me, since I stopped watching TV when we had only two daughters, but screen free also means no computer, iPad, and maybe iPhone.  And what about the screen door giving me a panorama of a glorious spring day where three little grandsons and one toddling granddaughter were playing ball and swinging on a swingset very much like the one I had as a child, helping to water the penstemons and hydrangea, narrowly missing me with a variety of balls and swings, until the irruption into our midst of a large flying insect with red wings.  My second daughter and I were busy calling to the children to come look at this new bug (I have been inspired by my reading of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, and bought a magnifying glass and pair of tweezers specifically geared toward children's use in the outdoors), when this son-in-law, who is almost always calm and unruffled, suddenly announced in a loudspeaker voice, that we all needed to move indoors because what we were about to inspect was a tarantula wasp (alternately known as a tarantula hawk) because its prey is tarantulas, and it is known to have one of the most painful stings in the world, as well as being one of the ten largest insects in the universe (and here I thought Australia had the lock on those things, or maybe Florida).  And I must confess we used my daughter's notepad with a screen to look up this information.,
 If my husband had been alive, he might have known all this, since he was a veritable walking dictionary and encyclopedia and Catholic Almanac all rolled into one"love note but I have a new and even greater respect for my son-in-law in protecting us from an investigation that might have resulted in excruciatingly painful results.
All this is by way of saying that in order to observe Screen Free Week (and I wonder who decided it?) I will attempt to refrain from posting further on the blog until it is over, since I was intending to  spend the last hour organizing my desk and just putting a quick notice up on the blog lest my readers (who at this point are mostly or exclusively my children) think I have given up one day into my adventure.
The only other foray into Screen World today was in my search for more information on the tarantula wasp when I discovered an email from my fourth daughter sharing her three year old daughter's faith journey since her Papa died.  Their family was in line for Confession, and there was going to be a funeral that evening.  The casket was already there, and little Maria whispered to the lady next to her in line, "My Papa had a funeral, too, but at the end of the world he's going to rise from the dead."  This belief may have prompted her to compose her own song for evening prayers:  "I love you, God, you're such a great guy."
And so He is.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Edith Stein and Women's Professions


For over twenty years, my husband and I spent an hour every Wednesday evening in the Blessed Sacrament chapel in our parish.  When he was diagnosed with cancer, friends began to join us, and since he died, one couple has joined me every week so I won't have to pray alone.  This week, as I read a meditation from Anne Costa's Refresh Me, Lord, I reflected upon the words of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (known in the world as Edith Stein).  They seemed particularly apropos as I pray to find a new path after working with my husband in World Wide Marriage Encounter for over thirty years, and other areas of ministry to marriages and families.  "...feminine nature in its purity can embrace all things, and the image of God's Mother at the wedding of Cana is a perfect example of this: how discreetly she prevents the embarrassment of others; how she discerns where there is a need; how she intervenes without being observed.  Such a woman is pertinent at all times like a good genius."

For some reason, the phrase "the merry widow" kept coming to mind, when I was most grief stricken and despairing after losing my beloved husband, and  I kept assuring God that I was not merry at all and couldn't really imagine every being so again (and "merry" was not really an adjective that most people would use to describe me before I became a widow).  But after I read the words of Edith Stein, and prayed to her for counsel and enlightenment, I realized that I am called to be a "Mary" widow and model myself on her genius, striving to become more discreet, discerning, and helpful without being a managing busybody who dispenses advice without really listening.

And in pondering all these things, I found myself, if not feeling merry, at least with an unbidden smile as I recalled that it is only because I am a Texan that I can hear God's voice in these words that I know as homonyms.  For my husband from the East Coast, "merry," "Mary," and "marry" each had a separate pronunciation.  I suppose that means God not only speaks to us in our own language, but even uses our local accent to get his message across.