Not even death

Two women that I loved died very recently.  One was very old, full of days as the Bible would say.  She was the older sister of my father-in-law, my aunt by marriage.

The other was far too young, and hadn’t even had the chance to enjoy a grandchild.  She was my beautiful friend from what feels like another lifetime now when I lived in another state. 

I’m thinking about these two women, and I’m thinking about death.  The older aunt was my favorite person out of my husband’s entire family.  She was funny, smart, very kind, full of integrity, and really very normal.  By normal, I mean she was quite sane. 

My friend was my age.  J was born in China Town, and I’m not sure she even learned English until she started school.  She was so private that the world didn’t even realize that the inscrutable surface was privacy.  Once J trusted you, it was entirely different, and the colorful fun person unfolded with sparkling colors.  When we were younger mothers, we not only saw each other for park play days and school events, but later we’d call and have a phone chat as our day was winding down.  I remember those calls mostly for how we’d make each other laugh. 

When I had a baby, she’d come get my young kids to give me a break, then bring them home with a cooked meal for our dinner.  When J had to be rushed to the hospital, her equally inscrutable and even more private husband brought their kids to my house (on her instructions, although he seemed nervous to allow it).  We trusted, respected, and enjoyed each other.  After I moved, years passed of not seeing each other, but just a phone call could dissolve time and distance.

I’ve been grieving J for quite some time.  She’d suffered a stroke, and was in the unconscious twilight between life and death for months.  Hearing last night that she had passed hasn’t entirely soaked in yet.  Part of me is still in denial, and waiting for ‘the real call’ to tell me that she made the miraculous recovery.  Yet, my heart knows quite well that she is fully recovered now, just in a place that I can’t see her until I travel there one day.

Death stops everything for the one who dies, but in this world, it can change everything or next to nothing for those who remain.  It all seems to depend on the presence or absence of Love.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” Robert Frost

The older I get, the more truth I see in that quote by Robert Frost.  When I was young, I refused to discuss or even think about one of my parents dying.  I suppose I must have unconsciously wished that by refusing to think about it, or emotionally accept that my mother and father could and would die, I felt that I could somehow stop it, or at the least forestall it.  It was all quite irrational, but what I’m trying to say is that losing one of them was emotionally inconceivable to me at the time.

The days and months and years rolled on, and the day came that I stood by my father and heard him take his last breath.  That powerful moment still comes back in memory, but thankfully not as often anymore.  I wept intensely, and walked under the canopy of stars that night to try to absorb how it was possible that such a larger than life presence was just gone.  Coming back in the house, I saw that one of my sisters was already removing his shoes, his glasses, his jacket, and I wanted to scream at her to just let them be, to stop erasing evidence of him.  But he was still gone, and not one physical material thing in this world, no matter how strong and evocative the memory attached to it, would bring him back. 

Life went on.  It was almost surreal to realize that everyone would continue to bathe, eat, launder, clean, work, and sleep, as though this unthinkable thing hadn’t happened.  One horrible lesson was that being married to a passive aggressive man would make me terribly vulnerable to covert abuse during times of deep grief.

We all thought our father would outlive our mother by years, but it was the opposite.  It was worse to lose my mother, because it was in bits and pieces that she left us over time.  She faded in and out, and each time there was less conscious connection with her.  My mother had dementia.  Dementia isn’t at all a clean grieving.  It’s ragged and sharp with jolting edges that don’t heal, because the person is still with you.  On the other hand, you also have the rare but absolutely priceless windows when even dementia can’t stop someone from coming back to connect with you heart to heart. 

Life and time can seem to pass relentlessly, even when you see Time taking someone away from you.

When both my parents were living, we lived a thousand miles away from them.  I used to try to take trips back to give one of my sisters a break from care giving.  On one of those latter trips, I experienced one of those priceless windows.  My mother’s dementia was advancing, but she was still able to be at home with my father (who was legally blind by then). I’m not sure that she always knew who I was.  One night when I was tucking them both in (and that is a strange full circle to be sure), I came to my mother’s side of the bed to kiss her goodnight.  When I started to stand up, she gently but firmly grasped my arm to hold me there.  She looked at me and said, “PJ, I bet you must look at me and wonder, Where is my mother?  If you look closely, you can still see her.”

My heart was in my throat, and I said, “I see you, Mom.  I see you.  I love you.”

“I love you too,” she replied. 

The last window I was able to share was when I saw her the last time before she died.  I’d taken my two youngest girls with me for that visit, and this time my mother was in a nursing home.  She didn’t know who I was at all, but she couldn’t take her eyes off her granddaughters, and kept smiling and nodding at them.  She didn’t speak at all, but it was almost Christmas, and so I sat next to her, stroking her arm or holding her hand, and I started to sing her favorite carol, Silent Night

Silent night, holy night, all is calm... and then I heard her voice, still sweet and like velvet, joining in.  She sang every word of the first and second verse.  I sang another carol, and she kept singing, so we just sang Christmas carols together.  Not even dementia could steal that.

Leaving her to return home was so sad for me.  I fretted when she declined further, and as things often go awry, had to deal with the flu hitting here when I wanted to travel quickly.  I was getting ready to leave for the trip back the very day when I got the phone call that she was gone.  She died alone.  The nurse walked in her room and just found her gone, and called my sisters.  That was the worst part of it for me.  I wanted to be with her, curled up next to her, hugging her and loving her when she left us.  She deserved so much more.  The kindest, most gentle and loving being to ever walk this planet, was worth the most loving and beautiful farewell possible.  Enough time has passed that I think that is exactly what God provided, despite human failure.

After the phone call telling me my mother had died, I was initially calm (numb) when talking to my kids.  We told stories of ‘Gramma’ and each story made us smile and laugh.  For just a fraction of a second, I swore I could hear my mother’s merry soft laugh as well.  Later on that day, I crawled into my bed under the covers, and wept into my pillow so no one could hear me.  I thought of all the painful and horrible things she unfairly endured in this life, and I wept even harder that life had been so cruel to such a bright, gentle soul.  In the midst of my hot, silent tears, I could suddenly and very clearly hear my mother’s voice say, “PJ…you won’t find me there.”

In that moment, I knew that if I wanted to feel close to her, I had to think about sunny days, a steaming cup of tea with a good book, a child’s innocent smile, the sweet sounds of a baby cooing, a cat purring on my lap,  a dog snoring by my feet,  and the fresh scent of bedding that dried in the sun..  I could find her in the cozy satisfaction of washing dishes, folding washcloths, dinner prepared with love and cooking in the oven, helping a stranger, and putting out seed for birds and squirrels.  I needed to look everywhere through the eyes of my spirit with the kindness she lived by, and her joy in what was simple and good. 

Death can stop everything that fades, rusts, tarnishes, and disintegrates, but nothing that really matters.  Not even death can stop that kind of love.

When I miss my friend, I see the mischief in her eyes, and hear her laughter.  I think of J traveling across the world two times to bring home a child to add to her family, because after giving birth to her second daughter, the doctor told her no more pregnancies.  I’ll remember the look in her eyes when she watched her daughter playing the piano during a school event.  How J always encouraged me.  The love in her words when she told me how she met her husband, and how they faithfully waited until they could marry.  More than anything, how each of her kids, adopted or biological, were just her kids.  They amazed her, and brought her greatest joys.  Like my mother, she had the clarity and strength of a servant’s heart. 

Rest in peace from memories of pain; live in joy where you belong, beautiful women of faith.  That great cloud of witnesses grows ever more real and dear.

I Don’t Belong



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When a woman loves too much

Below are excerpts from the book Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood.  What are your thoughts?

“When being in love means being in pain we are loving too much. When most of our conversations with intimate friends are about him, his problems, his thoughts, his feelings — and nearly all our sentences begin with “he….”, we are loving too much.

When we excuse his moodiness, bad temper, indifference, or put-downs as problems due to an unhappy childhood and we try to become his therapist, we are loving too much.

When we read a self-help book and underline all the passages we think would help him, we are loving too much.

When we don’t like many of his basic characteristics, values, and behaviors, but we put up with them thinking that if we are only attractive and loving enough he’ll want to change for us, we are loving too much.

When our relationship jeopardizes our emotional well-being and perhaps even our physical health and safety, we are definitely loving too much.”

“If you have ever found yourself obsessed with a man, you may have suspected that the root of that obsession was not love but fear. We who love obsessively are full of fear — fear of being alone, fear of being unloveable and unworthy, fear of being ignored or abandoned or destroyed. We give our love in the desperate hope that the man with whom we’re obsessed will take care of our fears. Instead, the fears — and our obsessions — deepened until giving love in order to get it back becomes a driving force in our lives. And because our strategy doesn’t work we try, we love even harder. We love too much.”

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Finding Ourselves


This is a wonderful article from a new blogger that I just discovered. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

Originally posted on Out of the Mire:

I recently spoke with a beloved friend experiencing emotional pain due to a family interaction.  Her sentiments were familiar.  This interaction was similar to an older one, and it brought forth latent feelings of ontological insignificance.

“I don’t matter.”

Isn’t this something we can all understand? People treat us badly.  They brush us aside.  They lash out, ignore us, make us the problem, blame us, gaslight us, talk about us behind our backs, and the like, and we get hurt.  Sometimes profoundly.  And, we’re left wondering why.  Don’t they know that we matter, too? Don’t we? We matter, right? Right? Right…?

I thought about it.  Is it possible to explain that we are indeed significant and valuable even in the context of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse? What might drive that point home?

This might…

"Sunset at Montmajour" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

“Sunset at Montmajour” by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

This painting sat in a Norwegian industrialist’s…

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Rocky Road

Happy Birthday!    

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Last night I said no

Last night was not a stellar night for our relationship.  Brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed, my husband suddenly wanted to be intimate, and I flatly expressed zero interest.  In all these years, his expressing a desire to make love was what I longed for.  To be wanted.  Not to mention that I was always a sensual person, and so there are literally years of my life when I’d be so physically frustrated, unable to sleep, holding back tears and wondering why and how I was living in such a lonely, painful marriage.

I probably had at least a normal, if not above average, libido.  When we were young, and after a typical many weeks of no intimacy, I was arguing with him about why we didn’t have sex, and practically begging him to figure it out so we could, and he accused me of being a nymphomaniac.  It almost makes me laugh now.  Almost.  He could have been one of the most sexually satisfied men on the planet for all those years.  I was that wife, the one who would have catered to him.

About a week ago, we did have sex.  We were going to bed and he was being sweet, expressing that he wanted it, and I’d had that extra glass of wine, and it happened.  As it can be with him when he’s in the right mood, it was great, but I realized the next morning that for me it had been just sex.  Really good, but not making love.

Wow. What I would have given for all those years to have just great sex with him.  Or just sex.  But it was years  that were always weeks and months of him withholding sex and affection. 

Last night, there was no extra glass of wine.  I was tired and relaxed, and wanted to sleep.  We’d just watched a movie with our daughters.  There was no special touching my arm or neck or sweetness of affection during the movie, or during the day for that matter.  Just our normal getting along roommate kind of selves.  Now suddenly sex?

I don’t think so.  I didn’t last night either, and bluntly said so.  Only I said more.  I told him that all those years when I’d be wracked with a tortured kind of wondering if he was off taking care of his sexual need (because that meant not even a shred of possibility of my physical longing being satisfied) were over and gone, that I didn’t care anymore.  I just didn’t care.  I told him that I wasn’t  that woman anymore, wasn’t the woman who was interested and longing and available like I was for all those YEARS.  Because my physical needs are not as intense or ever present as those years.  I told him I was glad that getting older meant I was feeling less physical need.  Over three decades of available and affectionate.  Now?  I told him that he better not get upset about it, since for all those YEARS it worked out for him to withhold sex from me and take care of his own needs when I was practically begging for intimacy.  Just carry on.  Do whatever you’ve been doing, because I’m not interested. 

He said that made him sad.  He said he didn’t want to give up.  He said he still believed things could be different for us.That’s when I felt angry.  Did he say that?  Too freaking bad.  I don’t feel sad or bad if he actually feels sad.   I heard myself saying those words to him last night, and although I was too tired to know that I was angry, I’m pretty sure that there was a dormant volcano of anger there.  It surprises me that it surprised me.

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t even think about the conversation from bedtime until I sat down to blog.  Even then, I was still only thinking that I should blog about the alarm clock, because it’s a good example of one of those strange little things that passive aggressive men can do to control, sabotage, and frustrate.  I was part way into that post before I even remembered the rest.

Okay.  I guess I do feel sad.  I don’t hate him, and usually do feel like I love him.  If God is working a miracle in his heart, then I don’t want to be blind or bitter.  I want peace in my heart and life.  I’m going to call out for God’s mercy to guide and protect me.

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The alarm clock

Bittersweet is the tale of the alarm clock.  I don’t think I’ve written about the time several years ago that we were by default separated.  In true Dicken’s fashion, it really was a time of contrasts for best and worst, learning and stumbling.  By the way, when I do stumble, it makes onlookers hold their breath for the sheer infamous magnificence of its level of catastrophic stupidity, not unlike watching an accident in slow motion.

When I was living away, I was working twelve hour shifts selling cars for a major corporation.  Can you believe this?  (I barely can now)  Throw in a commute that had me pulling over to micro sleep on my way home after work, and it meant that when in bed, I lived by a working alarm clock, and when awake, by the watch on my wrist.  I’m not a person with innate awareness of time.  At any point in my life, without a clock or watch, if you ask me what time it is, I’ll typically have no idea.  I also don’t have a very good grasp on how much time has passed.  Was I thinking for five minutes or fifteen minutes?  Lost in thought is a real thing for me.

When I came back after living away, the alarm clock came with me, but since my husband (without asking me at all) had put the older kids in public school, one of my sons soon asked me if he could have it.  It was just a basic, plug in little clock.  Sure.  Inwardly I shrugged, and was glad to actually have some small thing to offer my son. 

Aha… can you guess what problems giving away the alarm clock created for me since I was married to a passive aggressive man?  He still had his alarm clock on his side of the bed. 

The funny thing about his alarm clock was that it seemed to malfunction whenever I needed it to work.  This was actually very rarely.  I tend to function on a routine body clock, and that works fine for waking up before getting kids off to school.  I value my quiet time, so my body seems to usually just wake me up.  It’s trickier if for some reason, if I’m abnormally tired, or need to get up at an unusual time that’s not routine.

This is where you say, “Buy another clock!”  My girlfriend did say that.  Actually she said, “Buy a damn clock!”  A few years ago, I’d missed a flight that was gifted to me from her, and almost missed a trip.  The whole trip was a gift, and I just needed to show up (and still had clothes that fit).   I was so angry that his clock ‘malfunctioned’ that time that he paid the fees for me to take the next flight, and it was like having to buy another ticket for that leg of the flight.  Me, who agonizes about money, didn’t care in that moment where that money would be taken from, because three friends were waiting in a city somewhere for me to arrive, and it was a worse nightmare to not go than to bear the fear of spending money we didn’t have to fix that.

Buy a clock.  Once upon a time, I would have thought it the simplest thing, but that was before I lived through the PTSD levels of feast and famine with a passive aggressive husband who was self-employed, and didn’t want me to work outside the home.  Every single month worrying about utilities, food, and gas.  Cringing painfully and trying to act normal when your kid needs money for some normal school thing like pictures, or yearbook, or a field trip.  This meant there were times of my literally calculating the cost of each kid having an apple for their lunches, where meal planning meant high anxiety, and well, forget money for anything extra.  Anything.

It’s a very humiliating existence.  You’re so busy trying to keep it all together and keep it as normal as you can for kids, that your personal needs just get buried somewhere.  Your bucket is bone dry empty, and it’s not getting filled.  It’s like running out of gas, and when someone wonders why you’re running late, it’s because you’ve been traveling by trying to push the car from behind.  Holidays?  You dread trying to pull those off.  Birthdays?  Pit of the stomach sadness and depression, because whatever little thing you manage seems so less than it should be.  There were birthdays where you weren’t even sure you could buy the ingredients to bake a cake.  Gifts for kids are often I.O.U. a birthday gift.  You bake a cake and sing and feel like a failure.  It feels that way.  You pray that the car doesn’t break down because there is no Plan B for that.  Dentist?  Why not fly to the moon?

This is what it’s like to live near the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid.  I read about a young couple once that wanted to experience  real poverty in the first person.  They moved to some extremely poor village overseas, and decided to see how they could manage any differently (with whatever advantages they had in education and upbringing) than the poor natives.  It was a shocker for them.  One huge crisis they had to navigate was spilling what they’d managed to create for soap.  Basic hygiene and the ability to wash their clothes suddenly became out of reach, and it almost paralyzed them.  In true poverty, there was no quick or easy remedy for that basic need.  I’m trying to say that sometimes you don’t know what you haven’t experienced.  Imagining is just not the same.

This is not explained for pity.  We live in a beautiful area in a decent house.  We eat very healthy, and have much to be thankful for.

I have no way to explain (unless you actually know) how buying a simple alarm clock was added to the pile of numbness.  Eventually, I got one from the thrift store.  Well… another son’s clock broke, and he asked if he could please have it.  Then I got one for two dollars later at a moving sale.  My youngest daughter begged to have that, because it was frustrating to share one with her sister.  I gave that to her. 

An alarm clock for my life right now is easily also one of those out of sight, out of mind things.  Until something like last night pops up.  One of our sons is performing in a play about an hour from here.  He’s been staying up there, but was able to come home later last evening to spend the night.  He needed to leave early this morning to perform in a group that plays bagpipes and clogs for a parade. 

And the alarm clock?  When I’d asked him to set the alarm so we could give our son a blender breakfast, quick goodbye and hug in the morning, there was a pause so subtle that only years of living with a passive aggressive man would detect it. 

Here is the sweet.  I prayed instead, and asked to wake up in time.  I did wake up one minute before the alarm ‘would’ have gone off.   Woke up, made my son breakfast, got to get a hug from him.

Except, of course, his alarm clock must have ‘malfunctioned’ and never went off.  You know how understandable that is, all those tricky things to set when you’re tired. 

Uh huh.  Whatever.


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He knows what’s going on inside of me

My passive aggressive husband has an uncanny ability to read my very thoughts at times.  He always seems to know what’s really going on inside of me.  He has an awareness that’s beyond normal.

One day recently driving to the beach to swim, I wasn’t looking particularly at any certain thing, not inasmuch as you could see me physically focused as looking at any certain thing. As my eyes glanced at the buildings, people, and general surroundings we passed in the car,  I took subtle notice of the hanging baskets of flowers on the city street, and was casually inwardly thinking of trying to replicate it next year. I actually looked at the flowers for mere seconds, and not any longer than I looked at anything else.  Within seconds of my thoughts, he asked me, “Do you happen to know what kind of flowers those are in those hanging baskets?”

Part of me kind of jumped within, but I didn’t show it.  I answered in a nonchalant and absentminded way, “What did you say?”

He said, “I was wondering if you knew what kind of flowers were in the hanging baskets, and if they’re some kind of annuals.”

I answered, “Oh, no, I don’t know, sorry.”

That kind of incident is not really that unusual.  I’ve had so many inexplicable experiences like this with him over the years.  I used to think it was love.  I used to think it was empathy.  Now I accept it as some strange ability to read me. 

It has pros and cons.  On the bad side, if I say I can’t take this, he can read some imperceptible measure of my yet to be saturated ability to take a little bit more.  On the bad side, I can know that he knows I’m hurting, and just doesn’t seem to care to show compassion. 

On the good side, if I say I won’t take this, he can sense that I’ll walk away if he even puts a toe over the line I drew in the sand.  I don’t even have to get mad.  On the good side, since I know he knows I’m hurting and doesn’t seem to care to show compassion, I can now more easily take my energy and redirect it to caring for myself. 

Meanwhile, maybe I should make some kind of tinfoil hat.

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