50 Years

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I woke up this morning to my brother’s Facebook update.

Psalm 62:8 (AV): Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.      My father read this to our family 50 years ago after the totally unexpected death of my mother, Nellie. Perhaps the most important event in our family’s history.
I still miss her.

In January, Dan and I talked about 2018 being the fiftieth year.  FIFTY. years.

Somewhere (WHY didn’t I copy it down?) recently I read about a man in his nineties who still mourned his mother’s death who died when he was a young boy. I spoke aloud, “I get that.”

No one has ever told me “Get over it”  but no doubt some have thought it. Oh, my friends. Bereavement has no expiration date.

Grief is a daily companion. A few calendar days make it acceptable to press the un-mute button, to give voice to the grief.

My friend Curtis said yesterday, “I was raised in the soil of sorrow.”

Some want an easy cure, a quick fix; some hate feeling uncomfortable; witnessing affliction is awkward. So they rush the mourning process and roll their eyes to silence the sobs.  They avoid minor keys. They cover pain with inane words.

It’s a delicate dance.
Acknowledging the lament without permanently lodging in it.
Expressing my hope without repressing my grief.
Growing in gratitude while voicing my groans.

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Ecclesiastes grows more precious (well, more understandable) to me every year.
A season for everything. A time to mourn.
A time to be born, a time to die.

So this is today’s 50th anniversary plan.  I will honor Nellie Harper’s memory by imitating her. I will plant my garden and make a meal to take to some friends who just moved.

I often listen to audio books or podcasts while I do chores. While they enrich me, I can use them as a narcotic. Today I will listen to the neighborhood collared doves, rustling leaves, and barking dogs. I will soak up memories of mom. I will hum her favorite hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, while I push seeds into the ground.

I will have a one-sided conversation with her, describing her ‘grands’ and her ‘greats’. I will say how I finally like coffee after all these years. I will review new and old mercies. I will remember her smile, her chuckle, her sighs. I will wonder if she ever ever guessed how much she impacted her world.

I will pray. I will sing. I will plant. I will weep.

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Extreme Dot to Dot

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I work to cultivate a kid-welcoming home.  As my grandkids get older, it’s not as simple as having a box of blocks and a few dolls. While I was at our fantastic local store, The Hobby Habit, I discovered something I didn’t even know was ‘a thing.’ Extreme Dot to Dot The pages are fun and challenging and time-consuming (<-in a good way).

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I have the Eiffel Tower going for myself. And I’m claiming dibs on Westminster Abbey.
It’s another analog activity that doesn’t require a screen.

And on May 4th this seems appropriate:

There are many fun Extreme Dot to Dot books (aff link) here. What a great activity (in addition to drawing, clay, paint, paper-cutting) kids can do during read-alouds.

 

Barbara Bush’s Funeral

Detailed view of a program during the funeral for former First Lady Barbara Bush at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston

There is nothing so satisfying as a fine funeral.

Being a funeral aficionado may be an odd quirk, but that description is part of my personal brand.

Words, music, texts, tears are all the currency of grief. As a writer I lean forward to hear which nouns and adjectives, which phrases describe the deceased. I look for succinct and economical eulogies. As a lifetime church musician I have a broad exposure to a treasury of hymns and anthems. Which songs have been chosen to commemorate this life, this death? An an incurable reader and a Bible-loving Christian, I am familiar with many classic texts for funerals. I wonder if there is a poem or a paragraph that speaks to this moment. Finally, as a sojourner in this world where pain is a daily companion, I want to be moved; this is the time and season for tears.

Here are my thoughts on Barbara Bush’s funeral. You can watch it on YouTube. The funeral program is here.  I call it the high-church version of Billy Graham’s funeral. His was an outside service under a tent. Hers was in St. Martin’s Episcopal church with stained glass and soaring ceilings. I’m a closet Anglican who loves the liturgy.

Prelude: My Country ‘Tis of Thee  I have never imagined this as a funeral anthem, but as arranged by Mack Wilburg and sung by the cathedral choir and accompanied by a bright brass section, and as a nod to Barbara Bush’s legacy of public service it was amazing.

Family Seating
There are all kinds of body language to read in these situations.
George W. pushing his father in a wheelchair.
When W had been seated, he turned to look at his daughters and winked. It wasn’t a creepy wink, just an acknowledgement.
Doro (Barbara’s daughter) sat next to 41, with her arm affectionately around him.

Entrance: Praise to the Lord
I love this hymn. And it can only be properly sung with an organ. Joachim Neander wrote the words. He was such a beloved poet that a valley was named after him: Neanderthal. (thal = valley in German)

My acute disappointment was in the omission of the fourth verse (in my hymnbook) with these words: How oft in grief, hath he not brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o’ershade thee!

The Beginning
I love prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. “Nourish them with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness.”

Job’s words are the BEST:
I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.

Not a Fan
In the Garden – but this is the song BPB’s generation loved
The Holy City – just not my favorite, but well sung

Yes, Yes, Yes
Barbara Bush’s granddaughters reading Proverbs 31
Three eulogies: an author, a friend, a son. All well done.
The homily and prayers.

Would That Every Christian Funeral Included
The Apostle’s Creed
The Lord’s Prayer

Shakespeare
Her daughter read five lines from Romeo & Juliet

Joyful Funeral?
The processional was Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy.
“Giver of immortal gladness fill us with the light of day.”

I learned more about Barbara Bush from her choices for her service than I had previously known. Everything was in proportion. There was grief, but it was shot through with hope and peace.

 

Blogs I’ve written about other funerals

 

 

Take Me Down

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My grandson, reading a Harry Potter book, came across this: “A shout rent the still air.”

Me: Do you know what rent means?

Him: Like rent a house?

Me: That’s one definition. But that’s not what this ‘rent’ means. Oh, hey, I have a story for you.

He’s an accommodating kid. I like him a lot. This is my story.

In my family, when I was growing up, we read a chapter of the Bible every night right after dinner. We each read two verses aloud until we finished the chapter. We read about people in extreme grief ripping their clothes and putting ashes on their head. The word our translation used was ‘rent’.  

In second grade, we were spelling ‘rent’. My teacher started to say that there was another meaning. My hand shot up and waved. I didn’t need to wave it, because no one else’s hand was up. “To rip or tear,” I cheerfully informed the class. “Very good, Carol!” the teacher said. 

The memory still makes me glow inside. And smile.

There was a small silence.

He glances at me, a smile starting to form on his mouth.

You were in second grade?

I nodded.

Wow, Nana, you’ve been holding on to this a long time.

I get a glimpse of what this is looking like.

Yeah, well, that’s kind of pathetic, eh? I loved knowing the right answer, I guess.

The smile has taken up residence in his eyes. He shakes his head.

No, Nana. You loved being the only one who knew the answer.

Boom! Busted! Sliced and diced!

 

On Being Ridiculous

 

In sniffing around for a binder, I dis-covered this gem on my bookshelf. Hmmm. ONLINE FINDS.

I opened it up and gave way to guffaws.  Seriously, Carol?

Evidently, twelve years ago, I believed I could organize the universe (well, my universe, at least) by printing everything I thought was important, labeling the pages with a general category at the top, slipping them into page protectors and gathering them into a binder.

(under her breath) (…and leaving the binder on the bookshelf a dozen years…)

We didn’t know back then, did we, the transitory nature of the interwebs?

Or, perhaps I didn’t understand search engines?

And, since I’m in the posture of confession, I might as well tell you.  I do not have the capability within me to pitch the whole thing. No. I need to know what was important to me twelve years back. I’m going to set a timer. And be prepared to giggle.

Yikes.

 

 

Reading Evening

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It was a weekend of colossal snowflakes. Twirling, swirling, pirouetting, waving-to-the-audience snowflakes. So cute, you can’t stop staring snowflakes. Snow that puts the world on mute. Snow that drapes over every horizontal surface and beautifies barbed wire. Snow that provokes stillness. We stoked the fire and settled into a reading evening.

We submerged into our book(s) and sat in companionable silence. We forgot all screens and beeps malfunctioning computers. After an hour of pure silence, I put on a CD (remember those?). This set of four CDs has been one of the soundtracks of my life for the last twenty years. (A great score!)

Furiously reading Martin Gilbert’s Churchill, A Life, trying to finish the 1K book before the inter-library loan ends (this is how I do marathons), the mounting crisis of Hitler’s threatened evasion of Czechoslovakia was creating inner tension.

Slowly I became aware that the music playing was such a befitting accompaniment to the words I was reading. Minor key, evocative, simply sad music. Naturally, it was Chopin. Recorded by the Slovak National Orchestra.

 

To Serve Music

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Q. What is it that drives you at this point?

A. The experience of making music — really, the joy of making music is what I was put here for, I believe.

And I kind of knew — I knew right away once I’d started to kind of get it right, in my teens — once I’d started to experience the joy of getting a result from practice — that this was my destiny, I suppose.

And I always thank God [I] intuitively knew that music was the most important part of it. It wasn’t what I could get from music, it was what I could give to it.

When you asked me the question ‘What is it like?’ — well, I wish people could experience what it’s like to be really focused on doing something musical and have it work and be in tune and harmony.  And that can only come, I believe, if I am serving music, rather than trying to manipulate it to my ends, you know.

Eric Clapton
August 14, 2004
Transcribed from the DVD “Sessions for Robert J”