Let there be Light

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Our son brought up our pre-lit Christmas tree last week, before he picked us up at the airport. He thought I might want to decorate it for our family Thanksgiving at our house. I think this child in his late 40’s still gets excited about Christmas because he already had a gift wrapped and under the tree. I thanked him but wasn’t ready to decorate.

I had been frustrated with how the materialism of Christmas was sneaking up to overtake Thanksgiving. I wanted to keep Thanksgiving for thanks giving. And then my sister died three days before Thanksgiving. Last week my mind was able to do the gymnastics of tumbling between a happy holiday feast with most of our family and the grief of my/our loss. But that is so tiring – being in the two realities of joy and pain.

I’ve turned on the tree lights most days. I’m enjoying the symbolism of this light in my livingroom. For those of us who have chosen to believe that Jesus came to earth as an infant in order to fulfill the Jewish prophesy of a savior, these lights symbolize the coming of our Light in the darkness of the world. These lights remind me of the purpose of Advent – to anticipate the coming of true joy. It is a time of preparation, as I prepare my heart and decorate my home for His coming.

I’m not feeling the excitement quite yet – instead I’m experiencing a very quiet, gentle transition. The ache in my heart longs for and is experiencing the comfort I receive from my faith. But the pain is still there because that is a part of loving and losing. I look forward to our Christmas celebration and I’m preparing with the purchasing of gifts and making of plans with family members. As I make that death walk once again, my heart is also reaching for the joy of living. Living in both worlds means that I’m not overcome with grief nor able to fully engage in the excitement. That is okay for now, because that is where I am.

The lights on my Christmas tree are keeping me centered. They are reminding me that although a part of my life has died, there is a new day with renewed life for me right now. And when I am ready I will be able to celebrate Christmas totally without disrespect for the lost life within my sister.

This post found it’s inspiration in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Let there be Light. To see more interpretations, click on this link:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/photo-challenge-lights/.

Sister Hole

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My sister died yesterday of a brain aneurysm. My editing of the photo from my last post is crude but death isn’t pretty and leaves us survivors feeling a bit beat up. There is a gaping hole filled only with jumbled memories of a lifetime. I like closure but the hours and days after a death leave me adrift. I’m exhausted but feel a need to do something.

Have you experienced the subtle changes that take place in families with each death. We three sisters lost our father, but mom was there to keep everyone up to date on family happenings. When she died I felt that burden shift to my shoulders – holding the family together. I didn’t do a very good job because – well, staying connected is hard work, we don’t live in the same town, and I hate making phone calls. They didn’t call me either. When I did connect with each of them our first laughter was always about how much we hate talking on the phone and then we talk for a couple of hours. There is a lot of catching up to do when we haven’t connected for a year or two.

We loved each other, gone sister and me. We knew we were there for each other even though some people would say we weren’t very close. But those people are basing their conclusion on external demonstrations of love. We didn’t have to share our every problem to know that the other cared. We just do and we know that we do. That’s enough.

I finally found and connected with sister three to tell her. She had been in South Dakota and was driving across Minnesota. They are figuring how to make it to the memorial. We saw them on our drive home from out west but I really need to see her and hug her now. I remember my Grandma saying to me, after a death of someone important to her, that everyone was gone. I wanted to say, “But you have me.” Now I am understanding that lonely feeling – sister three and I are the only ones left of our childhood family.

It is the same with all the cousins. I’ve contacted most of them and made sure they contacted some others. I don’t see them often but look forward to seeing them at the memorial. Another indication that life changes – we used to see each other at graduations and weddings but now it is deaths. All the aunts and uncles have died so we are the older generation. I remember great aunts and uncles and how old they were as they sat together at family celebrations. Funny, but the cousins I look forward to sitting with aren’t nearly as old but we are the next generation to die. Sister is cousin number two. We will talk about how that shakes us up. And we will be glad we are together.

Sisters

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Just a part of the hardscape in the Asian Garden at the Naples Botanical Gardens – no information given. But we know the artisan who carved it had an image in his brain, of his world, his experiences. Isn’t that what art is about, making an image that resonates with the observer, an image that we can see ourselves and our world in.

Today my world is crumbling a little. Middle of the night phone call from my nieces to say that my sister, the middle one in the image above, had a very serious heart attack and the doctors don’t hold much hope. I haven’t heard anything today and I suspect she is on life support and the family is getting some much needed rest.

How will my life change when the person in the middle is no longer there? It will change, because every death and every birth changes our world. I will have to live into the answer.

Strange Conversations

I was just reading Megan Sayer’s post where she talks about all the great things that are happening in her life – and she misses her dad. He died recently and she talks about what to do with his ashes. This reminded me of the interesting conversation hubby and I had the other day.

We have been making end-of-life plans. When I developed symptoms of FM, he was pretty sure I was going to die and I feared losing my work and identity and ability to live life fully. That is when we first realized that life can change really fast – and since that time we have lost many family members and friends. We realize how precarious our life is, as we know it, and (gulp) we realize that we could lose each other. We don’t like thinking about that because we have been best friends for well over 50 years. But we also know it will happen whether we think about it or not so we might as well think about it – and talk about it.

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What we decided is that we will die in our sleep, at the same time, holding hands. Plan made, now we don’t have to think about it any more. Our one daughter said she hopes we die in a plane wreck on our way home from a fabulous vacation in some exoctic and romantic place. She doesn’t want us to die, of course, but she knows us and she is right – that would be a good option. I always like to have plan A and plan B and plan C if possible.

Last December hubby insisted we get our will rewritten so I humored him and now I’m glad we did. Our family configuration has changed so we needed to be more specific about what we want done with any money that may be left after we live the rest of our life with wild abandon. The last will was focused on how our children would be provided for while still minors; they are all pushing 50 now. In December we did some other legal things and still have a couple to do but that isn’t the focus of this post.

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Last week we accomplished a different type of goal – we filled out advanced directives for health care. We talked about and agreed on what medical treatment we want at our current age. That was pretty easy because it can be changed as we age. Then I was ready to check the box that would give the directive to use my body for medical research. I am supportive of higher education and I know there is a shortage of cadavers. (Sorry of this makes you squeamish but I am trained as a social worker and am not afraid to talk about the non-pretty side of life – or death in this case.)

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I got this look from hubby – you know the one. The “are you really sure you want to do that” look. Then I realized that behind the look was a need to have my body or my ashes to bury. Going to the cemetery to take care of his parents’ graves is very important to him. We had already talked about being cremated and having our ashes buried in the same plot, together, close to each other. And I knew if I donated my body to science he wouldn’t get anything back. Isn’t it strange how we can sometimes decide on two outcomes that are incompatible?

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We talked about it. I told him I recognized how important it would be for him to have my ashes and to bury them in his family plot. Of course I will do the same with his ashes because I know it is what he wants. Having a grave to go to in order to grieve isn’t important to me. He doesn’t feel there would be anything left, I would be totally gone, if he couldn’t bury me. I keep memories and photos and things that remind me of the people I have lost. We think differently and our needs are different.

Forget-me-nots

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We came to an agreement – a part of it was that I made him promise not to make me promise to take wreaths and flowers to his grave. He looked a bit stunned, maybe wounded, but I’m holding firm on that one.

Maybe I’ll take them for the first year so I won’t feel guilty.

Magnolias for Isobel

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Isobel, who lives in London and writes her blog Isobelandcat, just experienced the death of her mother. It is so hard losing a mother – even when she has lived a very long and full life or when it is a blessing because of disease.

My mother died about 5 years ago after a long, slow, painful bout of pancreatic cancer. Over months I watched her waste away. She lived in Florida and I lived in Michigan so I couldn’t see her often. I went a few times during the summer when I didn’t have to teach. But with my fibromyalgia I couldn’t go often enough or stay long enough – the travel and the stress took its toll on my body. When I would leave their house for the airport, when I was alone in the car, I would sob.

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She died in March when I had a teaching load. I wanted to be with her, I wanted to stroke her face, hold her hand, whisper loving things in her ear. I was so thankful her husband loved her and was lovingly caring for her with the help of Hospice but I also resented him. He was doing what I wanted to do.

I wanted to be with her but no one could predict when she would die. I couldn’t take a lot of time off because someone else would have had to cover my classes. They said it could be a few day and it could be longer – and then the funeral. Her husband and his family said it was better that I wasn’t there at the end – but my mother and I knew each other from before I was born. I had a right to be there. I should have been there. I still miss her, but I haven’t been able to get over the deep regret that I wasn’t able to nurture her as she left this life. I think she would have liked me to be there.

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Isobel wrote about her experience as she watched her mother slip away over months, weeks, days, hours. She shared her journey with a style of writing that is elegant, honest, and graceful. I understood her journey because I had very similar feelings, very similar needs. She was able to love her mother out of this life and into what her mother’s faith assured her would be a better eternity.

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Emotionally I walked with Isobel. I think reading about her experience, how she was doing what I had wanted to do for my mother, helped me to vicariously nurture my mother in her time of dying. I am feeling some peace – and I know what I need to do to heal this wound. I do that kind of healing when I am alone.

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Thank you, Isobel, for being honest and for sharing your journey so beautifully. You are one classy lady and I am very glad I have had the pleasure of your company as we have gotten to know each other through our blogging. These flowers are for you in your time of grief and to honor your mother’s life.

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If you would like to read about Isobel’s journey, you can click here. I’m feeling a little uneasy posting this link but blogs are, of course, public. Even so, my urge is to ask you to please be respectful – isn’t blogging a strange experience.