Posted tagged ‘grieving’

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!

The Illusion of Facebook Friends

June 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            June 25, 2017

                                    

I’ve crawled up close to a thousand Facebook Friends now. I’m almost impressed with myself! I am easily fooled into thinking that they know me…or, even so, read my Words from WW blog that gets posted on my Facebook page. ..like this one!

But let’s be honest! Very few of our Facebook friends are actually friends. They are more like acquaintances, people that we know and are interested in to some degree. I graduated with about 210 classmates from Ironton High School Class of 1972. There are 76 of us on Facebook. About 50 of those are my Facebook Friends, and about 5 of the 50 are my real life friends. That isn’t to say that I don’t care about the others, it’s just to say that friendship means more than giving someone a “Like” sign, or sharing your latest vacation pictures with them.

There has been some neat reconnections for me with people on Facebook. Kids I led in youth groups over the years, former basketball players that I coached, college teammates, cousins, and young adults whose weddings I performed. Those are awesome connections that I treasure.

An old friend of mine named Harold Anderson once said that “He had a number of acquaintances, but very few friends.” A couple of months ago Carol and I met up with the Anderson’s as they traveled through Colorado. We hadn’t seen each other in about twelve years,  but it was like we hadn’t missed a day. Our conversation was constant and meaningful for a solid three hours. Harold is in that growing list of friends that I was categorize as “non-resident friends”, people that I don’t get to see on a daily…or even yearly basis, but still hold a special place in my heart.

Friends value each other. We value what each of us brings to the life of the other. We value meaningful information about life events. We value the humor and the heart cries. Friends can sit down on the deck and have long conversations, or also feel comfortable just sitting there in silence. Friends can call each other up at a moments notice to check on how the other is doing. Friends use Facebook as only one source of connecting with the other.

Friends respect each other. Differing opinions do not necessarily divide them. Facebook has become the dumping ground of how people feel about issues, and the reaction ground of others who disagree with them. There are not clear boundaries on what is acceptable communication and what is venomous rhetoric. It’s like a verbal mixed martial arts slugfest! And here’s the thing! People say things on Facebook that they would never say face-to-face, or say to their parents…or perhaps now, let their kids hear them say. Friends are respectful of the other. To use a term of one of my old seminary professors, they see each other “with equal regard.” Friends can agree to disagree.

Friends check in on one another. One of those high school classmates, a guy who was my best man and I, in turn, performed his wedding ceremony, lost his 34 year old son less than a month ago. I dialed his number and let him grief on my shoulder for a few minutes from 2000 miles away. Two weeks later I called again and we talked for a long time. In another week or so I’ll check in with him again.

One of my best friends in ministry lives in North Carolina now. We check in on one another by phone. He reads my blog, and will probably send me a reply. When I was having a rough stretch of ministry he’d call me to see how I was doing. When he was having a similar stretch I’d call him. That’s what friends do! I don’t really care about what he ate for breakfast, but I do care about how his rotator cuff is healing from the surgery he had, and how the expected arrival of his second grandchild is looking.

I’ve got another friend in San Antonio who I need to call back today. He left me a voicemail to see how my dad is doing from the surgery he had this week. I’ve got to carve out about an hour of time when I do call him, because that’s how long we’ll talk about life, family, and friendship.

If I use those criteria for friendship my Facebook page would probably be 90% acquaintances and 10% friends…and that might be high! Either way I’m thankful for all the 976 who “friended” me. There’s a lot of blessings in those faces!

Remembering Ashes

May 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 28, 2017

                               

Yesterday the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered from the top of a hill and wind-blown down into the valley of his grandfather’s land…a place that he loved to be in his growing up years and even when he decided he was finally an adult. His wife posted pictures from the family gathering on Facebook and my eyes watered from their effect.

It was appropriate that the family has chosen Memorial Day weekend, a time of remembering and cherishing, mourning and blessing. I’m sure that as they stood on the top of the ridge they shared stories  and Greg’s brothers recalled brother exploits of the past that have taken their places as family legends.

My soul rumbled with quivering peace to know that they had paused to remember their son, husband, dad, and brother. Remembering is underrated these days! Speeding into the unconquered future and new experiences is the lane of life most traveled.

Where we’re going, however, can not clearly be understood without a grip on the past. One school day this past year when I was teaching seventh grade social studies at the same school that Greg taught for fifteen years, I wore a pink shirt that our area basketball officials were wearing before basketball games to emphasize, and remember, that the fight against cancer is ongoing. Greg had dealt with a cancerous brain tumor for six years before his death last October. On that school day I retold his story to each class. I brought them with me on his journey that was punctuated by devastating medical reports and MRI’s of good news. We remembered together even though most of them had never known him.

Remembering is a gift. It has meaning and substance. Greg’s nine year old daughter will remember yesterday’s gathering on a ridge for the rest of her life…the scene, the smells, the words of her grandparents, uncles, and mom…and there will be a sweet humming in her soul. Losing your dad at such a young age is something that many kids never recover from. The road of healing is always shaded by the stories of remembrance.

The Hope In Suffering

October 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 24, 2016

                                     

    People say that I’m more of an optimist! I can see the silver lining in just about any situation. If a flight I’m on gets delayed I think about the fact that the flight attendants will probably give us an extra mini-bag of pretzels during the flight. When my 7th Grade football team got beat 42-2 in a game this year I replayed in my mind several times the play where we scored the two point safety.

So it fits that I’m able to still stay the optimistic course when it comes to suffering. A week ago my friend, Greg Davis, passed away. I led his funeral service on Saturday. During the course of the week I had some heart-wrenching conversations with his family. It had been a six year journey with cancer. Even in the midst of the grief Greg’s wife was able to say that they had come to experience the hope of God.

During the service I read Romans 15:13, a verse that Greg had underlined in is Bible. It reads, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In the journey with the uninvited passenger of cancer the Davis family discovered that God is hope. Granted that discovery was paved with a multitude of tears, countless moments of confusion, and a list of questions all beginning with why, but they slowly arrived at the village of Hope.

Greg’s journey paved the way for other conversations I had last week with other people about being a follower of Jesus and the uncomfortableness of suffering. Some tainted theology emerged from people’s minds. Simply put it said what is the use of following Christ if he doesn’t protect you from things like cancer. If Jesus isn’t a lucky charm warding off evil, accidents, and illnesses why follow him? Great revealing questions that evolve out of a person’s real motives, that being “What will Jesus do for me?” People are always more comfortable with Jesus as a savior, but Jesus as Lord is not nearly as agreeable.

What Greg and his wife Jordan discovered is that God walks closely beside us. Following Jesus is not like having a rabbit’s foot in my pocket, but rather knowing that he is with me in the valleys, not waiting for me on the far side of the valley. It’s knowing in the depths of my soul the truth of that verse in Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

     Times of suffering are a part of life as much as times of delight. The hope comes in knowing that the love of God is constant and pure, a mighty shoulder to cry on and a hand to lead me on. The only person who enjoys pain and suffering is a masochist, but when the agony of life makes a stop on the front steps of where I live it gives me a peaceful assurance knowing that the Good Shepherd is standing beside me as I open that door. And that isn’t optimism, but rather heart-felt belief!