Posted tagged ‘grieving’

In Honor of Marie

October 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 20, 2019

                                     

I first met Marie Lyons…kinda’…at a funeral home in Mason, Michigan, the Ball-Dunn Chapel. I was there for the visitation of Harold Bickert. Harold and his wife, Mildred, were elderly members of Lansing First Baptist Church, but years before they had lived in Mason and attended Mason First Baptist Church. 

I visited with Mildred and talked to her about the funeral service for Harold that would happen the next day. In an adjoining viewing room laid the body of Robert Lyons, Marie’s brother. Mildred knew I had been talking to the pastoral search committee of the Mason church, Marie’s church. She had me go into the viewing room and sign the guest book. The visitation had already concluded and no one was still present. I felt a little awkward, signing the guest book of a departed man I had never met, but Mildred was insistent. She WANTED me to be the next pastor of her former church, and Marie Lyons was on the search committee.

About two months later I became Marie’s pastor for the next fifteen years. She was a source of strength, gentle determination, wise counsel, a listener, and a respecter of everyone’s opinions no matter how opposite they might be from what she believed. She was African-American, in a town that was almost completely Caucasian. She never married, but took on  the responsibility of being the caregiver for her brother, Buddy, who had mental limitations and was also mute. She was a school teacher, loving her elementary students as they learned. 

Marie passed away this week at the age of 86. It is one of those deaths that causes you to weep and rejoice at the same time. A faithful follower of Christ, she looked forward to her march into glory. She did not fear death, but rather saw it as the transitional step into the presence and peace of the Lord. And yet, for her friends near and far, there is a rumbling cry in our spirits. She was so valued, and valued others so, that it hurts to know she has moved on to the place she looked forward to. Quite frankly, there just aren’t that many people around these days who have such strong character and are firmly anchored to the Rock that is Christ.

The last time I saw Marie was in 2015. I had traveled back to Mason to meet with my friend and financial advisor, David Leonard. While in Mason I met with our friend, Janet Smith, and Marie at an ice cream shop in Mason and we talked for about an hour. That was four years ago almost to the day. She was getting thinner as she was traveling through her early 80’s, but she still had that same kind voice that made you feel you were important.

  There are people who you’re around for a long time and they impact your life; and then there are those folk who you’re privileged to know for a season of life that leave their handprint upon you. Marie’s handprint has stayed with me for these past 20 years since we moved from Mason.

As the Mason community remembers and celebrated her life this coming week, I shed a sweetened tear. A saint has joined up with the saints. Like a Fodor’s travel guide, the words of scripture that Marie had memorized about what Glory is and how it looks are now being seen firsthand by this just-arrived friend of Jesus. 

The Pain in Laughter

August 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 10, 2019

                                      

Last week I wrote about the tragic loss of a father of five (“Answering the Why”, August 4; WordsfromWW.com) in a road accident. The family was in the midst of a move from our city to another community. It was a new beginning, new challenges and opportunities, new friends to make and schools to attend…and then in a few seconds everything changed. My blog post focused on the “why” questions of life that we strive to answer and yet we can find no answer.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father. During the course of the service there was pain and there was laughter…and there was laughter, acting like a blanket, bringing some warmth to cover the chill of the deep, deep pain.

The laughter was healing. It drew the gathering into the story, the person. It swung like a grapevine from the heartache of loss to the loss of opportunities to the emptiness of Dad’s chair at the table.

Every chuckle about a past encounter or a humorous saying was tempered with the realization that it would never occur again. And yet the laughter was ointment for the aches of the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about this tragedy in the past week. In the midst of the accident details there’s a sense of injustice and a rising amount of anger. The laughter helps simmer the unrest that has been planted in people’s souls.

My mom’s last few years were filled with the afflictions that Parkinson’s Disease can bring. The loss of mobility and the devastating effect on her ability to speak. My sister and I recently retold “Mom stories”. It’s been five years since she passed and, although we remember the pain, we shared the stories of who she was, experiences we shared and conversations we had…and we laughed. The humor brought her back to us. We could see her sitting in her chair, watching “Dancing With The Stars” and working her crossword puzzle. We remembered how she would use her “Baptist Mom Guilt” on us to make us do things we didn’t want to. 

We could envision the times when she would grab on to Dad and say her classic line of romance to him: “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” We would pretend we were grossed out by the dining room affection, but it really caused us to chuckle…and still does.

There is pain in life and laughter in the pain. It is not an escape from the grief, but rather footwear for the journey. The steps begin with the uncertainty of a tightrope and gradually gain a steadiness as we balance our mourning with the memories.

Our souls cry out. Our laughter helps us to keep going.

Friend Listening

May 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  May 19, 2019

                              

Carol and I are returning from a European river cruise that was awesome and memorable. Being in the youngest 20% on the boat made us feel like 65 year old teenagers! Suddenly, as we travel home, we’re feeling a bit weathered!

Our friends, Dave and Robyn Hughes, joined us on the cruise. They now live in Bradenton, Florida, but a long, long…very long time ago Dave and I went to high school together, he performed the function of being my Best Man, and I performed his wedding ceremony.

It was good! It was needed! It was heart aching!

You see, Dave and Robyn’s oldest son, Brad, passed away two years ago this month. His death was the result of an unfortunate accident. Brad was in his mid-thirties at the time of his passing. When I received word of his death I called Dave and we talked for a few minutes, but being together on the cruise was a chance for us to talk face-to-face, laugh and cry, journey through the dark lonely walk, and renew our deep friendship.

He talked, I listened, asking a few clarifying questions as he retold the story, but mostly just listened. A friend is someone you can laugh with, but, more importantly, a friend is someone who stays on the path with you. The path is adorned with bright flowers at certain times, but also potholes of misery at other times. 

Dave needed to talk. Grief causes some people to clench their jaw muscles tight in firm anger and anguish, while other people need to talk through it. It is the honesty of grief that  reveals the loss, deep loss, and its effects on different people in different ways. Americans still live in the land of denial when a significant loss occurs. We so often are in fear of looking weak, but grief is not about who is strong and who is weak. Grief is about healing the wounds of loss.

All of us have, or soon will, experience loss in some way. For Carol and I, all of our parents are now deceased. It’s a tug on our hearts at any moment. A conversation from long ago breaks to the surface and Mom or Dad seems to be right there…but they aren’t. 

So Dave and I talked, and sometimes rested in the silence of our conversation. We told each other old stories that we’ve shared umpteen times already and pondered the questions that have no answers. 

Friendship is about listening. It’s about taking the hand of the other and leading him into the unrest, and it’s about helping him look ahead in the looming shadow of the past. It’s allowing the other to ask the questions of spiritual doubt and confusion without rushing to the shallowness of snappy conclusions. 

I miss my old friend! I’ll miss the opportunity to stand on the deck of the boat and listen to his sadness, and to retell the stories of the pranks we pulled on each other and others. We long for our next gathering, wherever that might be…God willing!

Dad…Two Months Gone

April 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 15, 2018

                               

Two months ago today Dad, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, passed away after a well-lived life of almost ninety years. He really wanted to break the finish-line tape of the ninety mark, but didn’t quite make it. And that was okay!

There are very few people who come to the end of their lives and are able to say “It was good! It was very good!” Dad was one of those! What made it good was the value he placed on things that are irreplaceable. He treasured his friends. When his friend Bill Ball passed away last summer it pained his soul. Bill was the last of Dad’s long-time friends, had passed the ninety mark a few years earlier, and the two of them conversed every week. Each had lost his wife around the same time and each had been married in excess of sixty years.

When Bill passed I think it hurt Dad, but it also eased the way for him. Seeing your friends, who are irreplaceable, travel on to Glory is like being afraid of entering an unfamiliar place, but then you see your friends go there and it makes it okay.

Dad had strong beliefs and convictions that he didn’t compromise. When the days remaining are few, I think that also brings a person to be able to say life was good. Remaining true to your promises and your commitments are signs of a life that is deeply-rooted, not tossed this way and that by what sounds good at the time. Steadfast and persevering, that’s how I would describe him! Gentle and fair would also be listed in the description of who he was and is.

A person never really gets used to the absence of the one who has always been there. The impact has been too deep and significant. I’m blessed in that the impact my dad left on me causes me to smile and feel blessed, as opposed to feeling oppressed and wounded.

And now two months since that Thursday afternoon when he breathed his last I still am able to experience his breath upon my life.

And it is good!

The Box

March 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 8, 2018

                                              

It arrived yesterday, filled with familiar scents and memory items that no one else would see with any value.

It’s been three weeks since my dad passed away. My sister and brother-in-law have been sorting through his belongings after moving everything out of his apartment. It was a major task just to get it moved, but, for starters, she simply was moving it from one place to another…her house. The last week for her has been a time of sorting through the items that are reminiscent of our father.

In sending me “The Box” she was bringing part of Dad to our house. The box did not contain items that I necessarily need, but it contained some of who my dad was- kind of like a small museum!

I was looking at some of the contents this morning and pondering Pops.

I now have four University of Kentucky ball caps. One of them- a blue cap with a large letter “K” on the front- was worn by Dad, a UK grad, to the UK basketball game back in December of 2016 against Valparaiso. My sister took a picture of him in the lobby at Rupp Arena that night alongside former UK coach, Joe. B. Hall. Each of them had their “hurry-canes” by their side as the camera snapped the photo.

In the box are my mom’s Bible and one of Dad’s old Bibles. Each have their names scripted into the lower right corner leather.

There’s his personal calculator from about thirty years ago. He had not transitioned to using the calculator on a smart phone, because he didn’t have a smart phone. He had one of those flip phones that resembled the walkie talkie’s on Star Trek.

There’s a tube of Brylcreem! (“A little dab will do ya!”) That takes me back! Most of my uncles, plus my dad and grandfather, used the hair cream. That was the thing back in Eastern Kentucky. Dad didn’t need to worry about his hair blowing all over the place. The cream kept it firmly matted in place. When he started having some skin cancers on his scalp, ears, and nose he had to ease up on the Brylcreem. I’m not sure if Brylcreem has an expiration date!

There’s a trophy recognizing his achievement of finishing last in a euchre tournament back in 1975. Mom and Dad went to Florida with three other couples from our church, enjoyed the sun during the day and played euchre each evening. The trophy features a gold horse’s rump! I remember Dad telling me about it in detail. It always elicited a chuckle, remembering the razzing but mostly remembering his friends.

There’s a shoe horn still in mint unbent position. Putting his shoes on properly was an indication of my father’s emphasis on doing things correctly and not in a hurry.

There’s the photo album with the title on the cover “Our Son’s Wedding.” Yes, it’s our wedding from almost 39 years ago. As I look at our youthfulness, and who my parents were back in 1979 all I can say is “Wow!”

There are a few of my mom’s Longaberger baskets. She collected them like baseball cards!

And a stapler! And replacements blades for his electric shaver! And a cookbook put together by people from his church!

And handkerchiefs folded neatly, like they were a part of a J.C. Penney’s catalog display.

I’ve experienced families that descend like vultures on the possessions of the deceased. It’s an occasion where the lust for someone’s valuables devalues the life of the one who has passed on. My dad’s valuables are on the other end of the spectrum. I am like Don Quixote as I look at them, seeing rich memories in a shoe horn and value in a tube of Brylcreem.

I stare at the collection that brings stories and moments back to my mind. Saying goodbye to someone is never painless, but recalling the shared times and conversations…that’s priceless!

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018

                                             

It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

The Grief of Living Long

August 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 5, 2017

                              

Long life seems to be congratulated, celebrated, and strived for. It is tacked up on the bulletin board as a goal, a destination.

The dark side of long life is when everyone has dropped out of the race of life and you become the last one still running. That is, when your spouse for the life journey, all of your friends, and anyone else who used to come to your high school class reunion has passed on. All of those people you’d pick up the phone on a Sunday night to call, or would call you, and check on are now checked off. It is the harsh truth of the long-living.

I didn’t quite understand it in all of my years of pastoring the flocks of different congregations. I can remember the words of a number of elderly folk whose spouses had passed on. There was a longing for God to move them on as well. They were ready for this journey to be over and the next eternal journey to begin. I misunderstood that to be a longing to be in heaven where there is no more pain and suffering, but that longing was disguising the pain that comes with the loss of a special relationship.

My dad’s best friend, Bill Ball, passed away this week at the age of 92. The loss wasn’t unexpected, and yet sometimes we procrastinate coming to terms with its arrival. My dad is 89 and wherever he goes he is now usually befriended by either a cane, a walker, or motorized scooter. Having Bill Ball pass on was a wound to his spirit. About three years or so ago there was Dad, Bill Ball, and Ralph Carrico. Ralph passed away, a victim of cancer, and I saw how that grieved my father, but he had Bill Ball to grieve with alongside him. They supported one another through the loss of their friend. This time around he’s having to struggle through the journey by himself. Yes, his family is comforting him in the midst of the sorrow, but the reality of the situation is that the “long-living” experience a profound form of grief that grows out of the longevity.

My sister and I took Dad to the “viewing” of his friend on Wednesday night. There is something necessary for the living to view the deceased, and something painfully revealing. As my dad stood there beside the casket staring down at his old friend he wept. His body trembled as the tears found their way down his face. He knows that he is in the winter of his own life, but outliving your friends is a weight that he must drag with him for the rest of his days.

And there’s really nothing that his family…his three kids, seven grandkids, and eleven great-grandkids can do for him to make it okay.

I remember a song by Charlie Peacock from twenty-five years ago. It was entitled “Now Is the Time for Tears”, and it begins with the words “Now is the time for tears. Don’t speak! Say no words! There is nothing you could say to take this pain away!” Dad’s grief is not to be fixed, but simply to be present with.

We often talk about life as being a journey. The other part of that, however, is that life is to be journeyed with others. I can see the loss etched into Dad’s wounded face. He just finished another round of radiation treatments this week for another skin cancer episode on his nose. His nose and ears have been cut on and radiated so many times that his face has often looked like a battlefield, but this pain that I can see is not connected to any cancerous growth, or demanding treatment plan. It’s simply the look of loss, the mask of long-lived sorrow!