Goodbye Fast Fading Magical Ones

November 18, 2012

I remember them in our kitchen with their beers
Laughing thunderous laughs
With mouths wide open and heads thrown back
Like it was still the nineteen seventies
When my parents and they were young and beautiful
And funny and enamoured with themselves as most
Young beautiful profound people were in the nineteen seventies.

Except now, as they laughed in our kitchen, I was five
And my sister was three
And we were not quite sure what to make of these
Mystical people who would show up
And we would stay up past our bedtime
Listening to their stories
Pondering at their unfamiliar mannerisms
In our yellow kitchen
Too late into the night

He had hundreds of albums
And I can’t remember if I saw him and my father
Playing them on the turn table and drinking beer
With smoke around them
Or if I just pictured it in my mind that way
Because I had heard the small simple
Legends of the camaraderie and joy
Of the time sitting
And listening and talking and drinking
And basking in the wonder of
Friendship that became a synergy
Of magic and a kind of madness

The descent for these dear people
Whom my parents loved
Was so rapid that it is almost
Not possible to think about it
Or make sense of the liver cancer
And brain cancer
And the loss
And illness
It all happened so quickly
Yet in a sort of bizarre painful slow motion

And these mythical people
Faded fast
Like the ghost from 1976
That they seemed to me to be

Like so many beloved and central people in our lives
They were not without great faults
Yet we don’t often love people
Because they are without faults
But because they would die for us
And we would die for them
And we have laughed with them
And cried
And we retell our stories
Like the smoldering ashes of the dawn

And so it goes again
The passing of this time
Like a hammer smashing the finger
And it comes again and again
And you get used to it
Realizing that that pain
Is just part of what it means
To live

And we say goodbye again
To people we love
Who were broken and flawed
And magical and glorious.


Death and Love

September 16, 2012

I am sitting in the parking lot at McDonald’s while my little three year old magical wild child sleeps his rare sleep in the car seat. Our cousin Nancy Jo has died and I am driving to see family. She lived a hard life with too much pain and many ill-fated attempts to numb that pain. She also lived a life of giving – she was a craft master, always dreaming up something thoughtful and sweet to give even second cousins like me. She had three amazing adult children, now left with their own complexities of various sorts not the least of which is the sudden death of their mother.

I am always struck by the swiftness of death and the fine line between the beauty and wonder of this insane world and the pain and horror of it all.

People we know are dying all the time, these days, it seems. Uncle Carl and Uncle Ollie. Nancy Jo and Uncle Bruce’s brother Bill. All those people on the news and in the newspaper. In Libya and Syria and Louisville and down the street and on facebook.

I hate how damn mundane it is. Like, it happens and the world just keeps on going. People still go to McDonalds to get their french fries and I still have more deadlines than I can manage and all the while all these souls are slipping away and lives are upended and we just march on.

It makes me want to cry at the beauty of things like my silver coffee cup sitting next to me and the curve of the steering wheel where I prop my computer, the pure magic of this world that we are thrown into. I want to go to the people streaming in and out of this McDonald’s and stop them and hold their shoulders and look into their eyes and say, “Don’t forget. Don’t forget dear, beautiful person that this is fleeting. Nancy Jo has died and Bill has died and we will not be far behind. Kiss your babies and your dog and your wife and sip your bitter coffee more carefully and lick all that salt off your fingers because this is all we fucking have.”

But I don’t. I sit here smiling at my own cliches, look back in the mirror at my sleeping baby, remind myself how precious this all is and say a little prayer for all of the hurting and loving and dying and living people of our world.


The Power of Those Smudges

February 24, 2012

I’m just going to be upfront and say that on Tuesday, I looked up Ash Wednesday on Wikipedia. There. I said it. I mean, I knew that it was the start of Lent. Which is the time before Easter. But between the Baptist church I attended as a child, and the two very low-church Methodist churches I went to as a teenager and Campus Crusade for Christ in college and then the whole leaving the church and then becoming Unitarian Universalist and then staying that but also sort of reentering Christianity, let’s just say that the liturgical calendar wasn’t really a big part of my church life. (Who need the liturgical calendar when you are being RADICAL for JESUS and have, like, four Bible studies to go to every week!?)

And, as Nick Cave says, I don’t believe in an interventionist God, so I won’t say that God somehow pulled me to Ash Wednesday services (or [back to] to Christianity for that matter) but if I did believe those things, that is what I would have said about the services I went to yesterday.

Early this week I was thinking about standing outside of divinity school a few years ago, having missed Ash Wednesday services around campus and seeing everyone with the ashes smudged on their heads and asking my friend Nicole what exactly it was all about and sort of musing that I somehow liked it. And dear Nicole reached up on her head and took some of the ashes from her forehead and put a small faint cross on my head with her ashes, telling me that the priest [she is Catholic] says, “From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.” We talked some about the time before death and resurrection and praying in the desert and burning leaves from Palm Sunday. But what I remember is this power and this feeling and almost like a little collapse inside of me when she gave me some of her ashes. Like, right there, she could perform something sacramental, and I could be a part of things, and a part of this long history of people smudging and praying and confessing and hoping and it didn’t have to be earth shattering or The Great Return to Christianity or The Great Confession of Sin. It was just me and my friend Nicole who is an amazing minister and this moment or more like a washing over me of this circle of life and death and hope and return and leaving and all of it. It was both a big deal and not a big deal.

So at the last minute yesterday I called the local Disciples Church (our Unitarian Universalist church here does not have Ash Wednesday services) to see when their services were. And amid my sweet little son gobbling on his cookie and trying to read me Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?, I was awash again in this flood. I am not sure what it is a flood of, exactly. Of this idea that we are finite, that there always remains hope, that we can begin again, that we are all hurting, that we are invited into a time of reflection and doing things differently, and that this can shape us, and that God is always present. I love our Unitarian Universalist Church here in our new town, but I miss God. For me, I find God in ashes and bread and wine somehow in a unique way that I sort of feel like I need. Who knows why.

What I like somehow is that there are not Answers to be given on Ash Wednesday. At least not how I have experienced it. We are together. We anticipate the crucifixion. We acknowledge our brokenness. We sit together and confess. We sing. We listen. We leave, marked, together, that we are part of the Church. And, in a day, that fades and we are back to our unmarked selves, trying to love, trying to pray, trying not to eat chocolate or whatever other big but really absolutely small thing we’ve decided to do for Lent and we are just praying and waiting and preparing both for something terrible and tragic, yet knowing that only through that can there be new life. For whatever reason, that makes a lot of sense to me right now.


dear lovely man on the motorcycle

August 31, 2011

i heard the crash and turned to see you land. i ran out of my car as fast as i could and got to you within seconds, already on the phone to 911. i told you first thing that i was with you and that you would be okay and that we would take care of you. i did not want you to hurt alone or to be scared. i prayed and prayed silently, just with my heart, as it all swirled around – the cpr and the blood and your precious pulse stopping and starting, your tan skin there, under my skin as we tried to care for you. i prayed with my gut and with all that i had that it would be an okay that meant your life would continue and that this would be the worst pain you were ever in and it would only get better and you would never again be so wounded.

i just walked past that place where i prayed with you and over you and held your hand and touched your chest just four short days ago. it was the flower that announced what happened after you rolled away in the ambulance with the sirens and the prayers and the tubes. a little sign on a flower – rest in peace. i told you that you would be okay, and although i know it does not seem like it to the people who loved you, it is a different okay because i know you are somewhere where there is no blood and there is no pain and there are no damn motorcycles or accidents or wounds. it is not the okay that i wished for you, but what is, is. this world is so damn unfair and unjust. i sit here crying over you – over your hurt, over the fact that we could not save you as we gathered around your delicate and precious self laying there. crying is so inadequate, i know. what else is there to do?

please know that being there with you was a great privilege. to see your precious life, and to hold your hand, and touch your skin. in such moments we are all so vulnerable. i want you to know, and i hope there is a way for your family and loved ones to know that it was only five seconds after your accident that you were alone. i got to your side and immediately reassured you, comforted you, prayed for you. shortly others joined who were equally as gentle and kind and helpful. you were surrounded by love. i believe that it is the case, wherever you are now, that you continue to be surrounded by love.

i did not pray in words the day that i was there with you. but here is my prayer now. i hope it finds its way to you somehow.

dear god, who is the god of love and peace, i do no not understand how this sort of pain happens. there are no good reasons for this. yet i know this happens. the world happens and pain happens and loss and hurt and unfairness and we are stuck here right in the middle of it, just trying to do something, trying to make our way. i am left only to breathe and pray and love and hope. to hope that there is a way to make sense of it, to hope that we can make less pain like this, to hope that the family of this man who laid there with me finds a way to make sense of this and live with this loss. it is all so fast. it is all so precious. in one second we are on our motorcycle, fast with the wind against us, and in the next we are laying there, everything changed. everything fleeting. in one second we are sitting in our car and in the next we are holding the hand of a stranger who is saying goodbye to this world. god, be with his family. be with those who loved him. be with him as he sits or floats or lingers in heaven, wherever that is or whatever that is, and looks down on the life that he had in all its beauty and brokenness. give us all the strength to be with each other as we hurt – as we long for those who we have lost, or as we lay in the ground one friday afternoon. give us the strength to love more, to remember well, to be at peace with the madness that is this world where things do not make sense and are not fair. may we keep loving. hard. may we keep praying. hard. praying with our hands and our feet and our hearts as we try to lessen the brokenness. in our own lives. and in others’ lives.

i’m so sorry, precious beautiful man on the motorcycle. may god have you in god’s embrace.

amen amen amen.


How to Remember

October 19, 2010

A few weeks ago someone I once loved very much killed himself. He was a complex, beautiful, maddening, difficult person. We had mostly lost touch over the years, short of a little facebook contact, but I was still deeply sad about his life and death.

I struggled with what to do. Write a letter to his family telling them how much he meant to me? Probably not welcomed by the wife from the ex-girlfriend. As if anything I could say could possibly touch the chaos and confusion in the wake of such a death.

It is, in the end, so much about us – me – in the face of someone else’s loss, right? Like what does it matter to him or his hurting family how much I loved him? How much I understood of him, if, indeed, I did understand anything of him? In a way, wanting to do something at all is about me. How to live with the loss which feels intense. When I love, I don’t do it lightly. Perhaps a little less gravity in my love would be a good thing both for me and for those whom I love.

I thought of writing something thoughtful and profound on the memories part of the funeral website. I hoped to somehow capture how important he was too me and how amazing I thought he was in his own strange way. In a little gesture, to honor my memory of him. But I couldn’t bring myself to put it out there mostly because all of the other notes were empty and like syrupy bad Hallmark cards that said nothing about who he was and my post would have been weird and out of place if not just a little creepy.

I wasn’t able to go home to Ohio for the funeral because I was in the midst of my doctoral exams. But perhaps it was better because I know the funeral would have been eerily silent about the fact that he took his own life, alone in his barn, on a Sunday afternoon.

It would have been silent about his broken body.

It would have been silent about the hurt he caused those whom he loved and who loved him. He was a pretty selfish guy, to be honest. But charming and beautiful and funny and addictive. You can’t really say that at a funeral.

It would have been silent about his mystery and his brilliance and his hurt that was with him when I knew him quite some years ago and, apparently, remained in one form or another.

There would have been no way to remember his magic in this world along with and inextricable from his madness.

It makes me all itchy inside to think about the platitudes and careless use of religiosity that often, I suppose, feels like the only recourse at a difficult funeral where we are not to speak ill of the dead and in the process fail to remember them in all their humanity and fullness.

And so it goes.

This is my small way of remembering him.

I loved you so much, dear Levi and pray with all that I am that you find, in death – in absence – what you did not find in your short life.


The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.

September 1, 2008

And such is the case with the passing of our Murray. He still breathes shallowly, his little eyes opening just a slit every once in a while. But his time is here. I have written about him several times on here. He has been sick on and off for many months. We thought he might be better. But on Thursday he got much worse, very fast. Our vet tried some alternative treatments. But they merely perked him up for a few hours, until he descended back into that space between this world and the next. We hope he will pass gently on his own, comfortable in his little fuzzy bed, tucked in his favorite closet where he is happiest. But if he hangs on until tomorrow, we will gently take him to the vet and give him the help he needs to let go. I thought that I would be okay with it – sad, but not too sad, knowing that he has always been a bit weak and sickly, and that he would be far more comfortable in some world beyond this one. But instead I am just overwhelmed with sadness and wishing he could be better and it, well, it just hurts. Logic about how this is best for him and was partially expected doesn’t make it much better that my kitty is dying, and he is uncomfortable and, as a mostly feral cat, even less consolable than a regular sick cat.

My partner, Mr. Philospher, told me so ministerially and lovingly that the heart has reasons which reason does not know. It is so true. Our hearts so often just do their own thing, no matter what we tell them.

Such is this life of suffering and joy and struggle and hope.

May your passing be smooth and comfortable, sweet Murray. We love you.

.

Here is Murray just last week cuddling his favorite foster kitten, Juliet.


On Dying Well

July 22, 2007

We have been in Germany, where my partner is originally from, for two weeks. The closest friend of their family is 87 and in the last days or weeks of his life. It was very frustrating on several levels, not the least of which is my inability to understand or speak German to him. So I just had to sit there and smile and say hello and good bye and see if I could figure out what was being said by picking up a few words. Before I started ministerial training and went through the death of an aunt and two grandparents, I had what I think could reasonably be described as a death phobia. It started when I was in elementary school and went on for a very long time, really up until the past few years. I was very overly preoccupied with people I love dying, very nervous when they left to go to the store or on a trip, or really anywhere that something would happen to them. I thought about death a lot – my own or my loved ones – and generally couldn’t talk about it or think much about it without getting quite distraught. This was not a normal “gosh I don’t want my loved ones to die.” It was really a huge problem.

Taking a classes at divinity school and being a student intern minister, as well as needing to be strong through the deaths of my family members, helped me get over this. It just sort of faded away. Thank goodness.

All of this is to reflect on the challenges of dying well, both in the U.S. and in Germany. Something I could not have even began to think about until recently. My family members all had hospice care, which somehow I imagined to be widespread in Germany which it is not. My grandma died with friends and family around her, people coming and going either to simply be present to her, or to bring food, or to share memories – to laugh, eat, and cry. This is how people should die. In their homes, with their loved ones, with skilled nurses and hospice workers asking the right questions, preparing people for what is to come, reassuring, and listening.

Frederic is dying in Germany alone in a room in a home for old people or people with disabilities. No one has spoken to the family, nor to my mother-in-law (who is his best friend) about what to expect, how to best be with him, nor have they spoken to him in a respectful or loving way. He is a patient. He said they are rough with him when they bathe him. We were there to say goodbye before our flight, and although he is confused and can’t talk much, he said, (in German), “Gipsy, I want out.” Gipsy is my mother-in-law. He wants out.

He is an old person that they are waiting to die, washing only because it is their job, not cleaning him up in his bed soon enough so that when we came in he was laying there half naked in his own waste, distraught and confused. And alone. Dying alone is horrible.

It was interesting to see my minister-mode turn on so quickly and so naturally, and it was reassuring to me about my calling. What were his wishes? Perhaps he wanted to talk about his life? Did he have a living will? Perhaps you should offer to put the bed up a little more? I left when I saw him half-naked, knowing of course that he might prefer privacy from a visitor. Perhaps we should only enter the room one at a time – three of us seem to overwhelm him… all these little things I did and thought that seem so basic, but seemed also desperately needed in a situation where everyone was sad and upset and confused.

It was painfully frustrating to not be able to do more. To know that he lay alone in his room because it was simply not the thing to do to be there. His family was not there even every day. He was in the care of underpaid staff.

This is not to criticize anyone involved really, because it seems like this is just how it is done, but to wish for a different system. And to look forward to being able to contribute more through my ministry to the idea of dying well. Both through example, but perhaps eventually, through training others.

As my partner and I think about the possibility of a baby in the coming years, and what it takes to make a good birth and bring a life into the world with minimal medical intervention and trusting the wisdom of the body and our love for ourselves and the new life, and it seems equally important for us to remember what a good death means. How we can slip from this world to the next with as little pain as possible, and as much love and comfort as possible. Because we do not like to talk about death, and because we don’t like to think of it, it seems that it can too often be put in a small room in a big institution, and we try to leave it either to staff who can change adult diapers, or to doctors and machines who try to “save us” from what we cannot be saved from – old age and the slowing down of bodies that just happens.

We are in the process of getting life insurance, and our finances more in order, along with arranging our own wills and living wills. It seems important for us all to do this to save our families from the challenges that Frederic’s family has faced in deciding how to proceed and what to do as he faced his last moments on this earth. Let us all do this to save our families the anguish it can sometimes present and help making answering hard questions easier at the end of life, as well as to think about what a good death would mean to us.

I have also faced the challenge of comforting my partner through all of this. I am a firm believer in some sort of world/life after this on here on earth, and he is not. Wow, does that make it hard to comfort someone facing death. Often “They have had a good life” can be a good approach if that is in fact the case – however, when the dying person has not had a good life – and there is nothing more to look forward to, that appears to be even more of a bind. But perhaps that is for another post.

In peace and prayers for Frederic as he leaves this earth,

Elizabeth