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I thought my dear friend (and pet-sitter of 19 years) had disappeared. I couldn’t reach her by phone. My messages went unanswered. The number I found in the white pages had been disconnected. I was so miserable, I wept.

Turns out it was all a product of a faulty telephone and some bad timing. I am understandably relieved, but in those moments of panic, I realized just how delicate life can be….

The world is a fragile place,
held together by gravity and spit,
like a spider’s web or soap bubble,
ever poised to fly into fragments
at the least puff of wind.
We can build a shell of sorts
by holding hands — prayer will
brace the dam more firmly
than cement. If someone is standing
alone, we must pull them in
like a wandering balloon.
Be gentle with your hands
and with your words:
You never know who
might be crumbling.

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I lost another friend this week. Her name was Banshee, and she earned the name from birth: Her mother was a stray cat we’d taken in, heavily pregnant, and when her kittens were born (Caesarean, on Mother’s Day), one of them yowled loudly into the face of our vet. With that, Banshee announced herself to the world. And she never stopped. She was a princess from the get-go, demanding attention, treats, toys. But she was also my companion. Most cats have their own agendas; Banshee’s agenda was mine. Wherever I was, she was. Whatever I was doing could only be enhanced (in her mind) by her presence.

All of my cats have been companions to one degree or another. Bella and Gwen liked to sit on my lap while I wrote. My gal pal Smudge always felt the need to use her box (located in the bathroom) whenever I needed to use the facilities. Mr. Beaumont would come running whenever I sang, no matter how off-key. Honkee (who we joked was part velociraptor, due to his scimitar-like claws) would have defended me to the death, had the need ever arisen. I miss them all acutely.

What are we to learn from grief? Maybe that life — all life — is worth something and capable of being mourned. Maybe that God reaches out to us constantly, sometimes in unlikely and furry ways. Or maybe it’s a chance to remind us that, even as we long for the world beyond this one, the physicality of our world, the warmth of a purring body, the texture of fur, are things to savor.

As I walk through this very vibrant — and sometimes dark — Lenten season, I am aware of the shadow of death and the stark contrast it provides to life.

Stand in sunlight,
but do not fear the dark.
There are nameless things there, sure,
but also the shades of things corporeal
and loved: a coat on a hook, a shoe,
a book. Nothing turns to dust. It only
transmutes: evaporation, rainfall, cycle
after cycle washing pure the air.
Holes in hearts are not mended.
Rather, the heart remolds itself,
taking in matter from daffodils, perhaps,
or the smell of a wet dog. It ceases beating,
then resumes. There is no death.

(for my mother)

“I hope you never go through this,” she says, but there is no other way.
All roads lead here. All things must pass.
Think of life as a beautiful bird,
watch as time plucks your feathers one by one.

You sail through childhood like a happy ship
until you hear, “Girls can’t do math.”
Or “girls aren’t strong.”
You are young enough to wonder why. Pluck.

You grow into womanhood, revel in newness
like a just-born foal, kicking up its heels.
The world notices in strange new ways.
You learn fear. Pluck.

Then — when did it happen? You’re not so young
and it comes to you at once that your worth,
the price tag of your being, was bound in what you were.
You disappear like vapor. Pluck.

Menopause takes what you’ve finally learned to love,
memory, ripeness, uncanny feminine ability.
You ask yourself, what are you now?
Thinning bones and lost days. Pluck. Pluck.

When does it dawn that you are mostly chicken flesh,
shivering and practically naked?
When do you know that you
no longer know?

Perhaps when the last feather falls you see:
God was there all along, collecting your plumage,
saving it, knitting it into a most fantastic garment.
And when you die, you wear your feathers anew, this time as wings.

And you soar, at last.

More and more often lately, I find that I just don’t want to participate in many of the conversations going on around me.

Sometimes it’s because a group of people just want to gripe.  Yes, your kid lost the race.  Someone will.  And your mad because that particular water feature in the pool wasn’t working correctly.  It probably has something to do with the storm we just had and the repairmen.  Yep, those guys right there.

But more often than not its just because there is nothing I can add.  When someone posts something on Facebook, I’ll click “like” or “frown” but it seem ridiculous to me to be one of 45 people saying “me, too!”

Other times its just because things are too overwhelming.  A friend just lost her husband and son.  In one weekend they went from being a family of four to a family of two.  I’m all the way across the country so it isn’t like I can take her food.  Besides, the fridge is full and so is the freezer.  And someone is with her pretty much constantly.  I’m very grateful for those friends who are near at hand.

Yet, I’ve signed up to be one of the herd of friends afar who make sure that she always has a positive message to greet her online.  This is going to be tough because really there is no upside to what happened.  And fool that I am, I volunteered for tomorrow.  I’m not good at idle chatter.  That should be pretty obvious.  After all, I call it idle chatter.

Fortunately, there is a message that I can send her.  God is there for you.  So are we, your friends.  Even when we don’t have something amazing to say.  We are here.  You are not alone.

–SueBE

 

It’s been a tough Lent: full of loss and anguish. Today, I lost the uncle I adored; later, I had to put my sweet cat Smudge to sleep. I am aware that I am walking the way of the cross. Every loss I feel, every sadness each of us experiences, is a mere drop in the pond compared to the sacrifice of our savior. Jesus walks before us, always, and carries the brunt of the load. Here’s a poem to help us remember.

INRI

At first, it is a relief;
you are off your feet.
The first nail is bloodless,
threaded between the bones
of your hand and the blue veins.
Painful, yes. A shock.
The second should be easier,
a known hurt.
It is not.
The pain bangs in your ears
so that you hardly notice the feet.

It is worse when they stand you up.
The flesh tears, the bones snap
like twigs, like a bush ablaze,
crackling, roaring,
the blood now throbbing I AM, I AM.
You shift your feet, standing as best you can
on a nub of wood. Otherwise, your hands
would tear like tissue.
Body exposed, arms spread — how you long
to pull them in, to cover yourself.
Below, they see only a parody of welcome, an invitation
to poke and prod you, like devils
in this burning place of judgment.

They roll dice for your clothes,
made by your mother probably,
the thread spun from wool lovingly,
the last things you own.

She is there, too, her round face
flushed with heat. She wants to wail,
to rend the skies with her wailing.
Your eyes warn her: She is of no consequence
to them now, a woman, a beast,
but if she disturbs their games
they will beat her.
They long to beat her.
It is tiresome to wait for you to die.

In the end, they must break your legs.
In the end, they must pierce you with a lance,
offer your parched lips vinegar,
one last practical joke.
You cry for what seems furthest,
most distant,
and then you die.

They will be startled
by the sudden darkness.
They will be afraid of the answering call
from the sky. But they will not understand.
No. Not yet.

Last week may have been Thanksgiving but as this verse ran through my head, I was anything but Thankful.  Why should I be?  A friend died on Friday.  We were burying her on Tuesday.  And I had been asked to work the funeral luncheon.  Quite frankly, I didn’t want to do it.  As an introvert, this was just a bit much.  Thankful?  I don’t think so.

Funerals are never easy but there were things about this one that made it especially difficult. Darlene reminded me an awful lot of my mom. Ninety percent of the time, that’s a good thing, but they both died of lung cancer and pneumonia.  Nope.  Not feeling grateful.

At the funeral, I ran into another friend.  It was nice to have someone to walk in with and we cheered each other on. Together, we’d be okay.  Then we ran into another friend neither of us had seen in over a year.  Strong arms, plentiful hugs and friendship.  I managed to muster some thanks for these things.

But I still didn’t want to work the luncheon.

At church, I put vases on tables, slipped casseroles into the oven and reached pitchers none of the other ladies could reach.  We had three hours between the funeral service and the luncheon, but the time didn’t drag as I thought it would.  Together, we talked about Darlene and her husband, Roy.  We compared memories, swapped stories and talked about other family and friends.

We laughed at the playful debate about how to arrange sliced tomatoes on a platter (lines or rounds) and how best to lay out the flat wear.  That said, the humorous highlight of the day may have been when they asked me to cover platters with plastic wrap. Yes, I have seen it before, but it generally wins the battle.

I may not have wanted to work, but I needed to work and fortunately that’s where I ended up even if I was too befuddled to hear that still small voice.  I found myself just where I needed to be — among friends, sharing hugs and tears and laughter.

I’m still not thankful for my loss.  I tear up every time I see her empty chair in choir.  But I can’t help but smile when I look around at the friends we shared.  I can give thanks for that and there will be more to come.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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