Monday, September 27, 2010

The Circle of Life

She was born into this world in 1916. She came with only a body and a soul. She was born into a family who had very little, so her possessions as a child were few. But over time, the possessions began to amass:
  • A home filled with furniture
  • Buildings, farm machinery, cars and trucks
  • Trinkets, nice gifts, worthless gifts
  • Pots and pans, utensils, dishes
  • Quilts and blankets, towels, tablecloths
  • Washers, lawn mowers, refrigerators
  • Many more things than any of us would ever be able to recall

A lot is accumulated in over 90 years of living. But eventually, the accumulation of things begins to go backwards. Each stage of life was a down-sizing - from a 400-acre farm, to a house in town, to an apartment, to assisted living, to a nursing home. The process of getting rid of goes much faster than the process of gaining:

  • Sell
  • Throw away
  • Give away
  • Leave behind

Early the morning after mom passed away, I went to her room at the nursing home, sat in her chair, and marveled at how little she had and how little she needed to meet her needs. I fired up my laptop and, along with brother Jim (who also arrived early), listed her final possessions. Here is what she had the last weeks of her life:

  • Furniture - chair, love seat, dresser, TV stand, side tables, doily
  • For snacking - packets of crackers and peanut butter, salt and pepper, packets of sugar, Altoids, coffee cup and candy
  • For self care - hearing aid with extra batteries, chap stick, clear fingernail polish, eye drops, emery board and nail file, mineral ice, neosporin, baby powder, 2 tweezers, a few bandaids, mirror, combs, handkerchiefs, magnifying glass, clothes
  • For entertainment - TV with remote, word search puzzle book, emails received, Yahtzee, Cribbage board, deck of cards, radio, an altoid box with quarters (for bingo)
  • For reflection - Bible, devotional book, Estate Planning Guide, Guidepost magazine, Nicole's essay, the birthday calendar, funeral folders (Zola, Nolan, Charles Hanson, Eva), miscellaneous family pictures, one doll, one stuffed animal, cross stitched wall hanging, picture drawn by Makenna (great granddaughter), award to dad from the Farm Bureau in 1975
  • For getting along - scotch tape, spool of white thread, paper clip, 2 ziplock bags, screwdriver for glasses, knife, John Deere letter opener, scissors, 7 pens, flashlight, address book

Mom managed the process of her possessions. She kept control of what to do with nearly every item until she was left with the list above. It took only an hour or two to distribute the last of her things. She went out of this world like she came in, with only a body and a soul. Twelve hours after she died, the ridding of the remaining possessions was all over. The circle of life was complete.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If She Had Died in Her 80's - Chapter 1

Sitting beside my best friend, Kay, on the piano bench, I marveled at the beautiful music she was able to make. They were simple little songs, some familiar tunes, some new ones, and some really fun ones. "I want to take piano lessons," I told her, "but mom and dad won't drive me. They say it is too far." Lying on the couch after a long day teaching school, Kay's mom heard the conversation; heard the longing in my voice. "Tell your mom and dad that you can stay with Kay on her lesson nights and we'll see if her teacher can take you right after Kay," she said. My face lit up and hope rose within me. Suddenly, it seemed like a possibility.

From a very young age I was fascinated with the piano. Vaguely, I remember one of my older sisters waking me up in the morning with piano music. Every Saturday when I dusted the furniture, I lingered over the keys, wishing I knew how to make beautiful sounds. I imagined myself playing lovely music and my parents being so proud of me.

Now - maybe it would happen! The next day I bounded off the school bus, ran to the house, and told my mother that I could take lessons, and they wouldn't have to drive me at all! "No," she said. You are not taking piano lessons. We're not going to have all that noise in the house again." It felt like I hit a brick wall. But, being a pre-teen, I thought it would only take a matter of time to wear her down. After all, this was something I really, really wanted to do.

A few days later, as we were all sitting around the supper table, I heard dad tell mom, "they're going to be here about 7:00 to get the piano." What?!?! With a broken heart I ran to my room, locked my door and flung myself across the bed. Awhile later I looked out my window to watch some strangers load my precious piano into their pick-up truck and drive away. That night I cried myself to sleep. That night my dream died.

If she had died in her 80's, there is a lesson I would never have learned. I'm glad she didn't die in her 80's.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Hi, Mom. Happy birthday. 94 years ago today Frank and Sophia welcomed their first daughter into their family. I bet you are really glad you are able to celebrate this birthday in heaven. Are you with Dad, LeRoy and David today? Maybe, though, birthdays aren't important anymore. Maybe they are only important to those of us left behind - a time for us to remember and rejoice.

And I do remember. September 13 will always bring my thoughts back to you. After you died - after everything was over and I was back home - I felt drained and, yes, relieved. Relieved that your struggle was over. Relieved that (dare I say it??) I no longer had to worry about you. But today, on your birthday, I find myself missing you. Over the past couple weeks I've been reading books that you gave me. They are books full of humor: "Cream and Bread", "Holy Hilarity", "More Holy Hilarity", and the one I just finished, "Stories I Couldn't Tell When I Was a Pastor". It seems like a dichotomy; I so seldom saw you smile or heard you laugh, yet you had a collection of humorous books, readings and poems. And at unexpected times you would throw out a statement that had everyone laughing.

Today, on your birthday, I hope you are liberated from any earthly restraint or piety and are reveling in joy and laughter and freedom of spirit. I miss you, but I'm so glad you are where you are. Happy birthday, Mom!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chapter 5 - Fear Conquered

It was cold in the Red River Valley of North Dakota that winter. And windy. It was so cold and windy that it hurt to breath. It was a good week to stay indoors. After a few days, however, I was getting restless and agreed to make a hospital visit to a nearby town with my preacher husband. Leaving the car to go through the parking lot, I pulled my heavy coat close around me, put my mittens on, and ran for the hospital front doors. Just that short trip chilled me to the bones; it felt like I would never be warm again.

Making our way to the room of one of our parishioners, I finally started to thaw out. We entered her room and the unfamiliarity of it all assaulted my senses. There were strange smells, there were tubes and lines everywhere, there were beeping and whooshing sounds. And my friend looked so fragile. As Rod began to speak with her, I began to feel surreal. The sights and sounds were swirling around me; I began to feel hot. Knowing I was in trouble, I quickly unzipped my coat and started to pull it off. The last thing I remember was grabbing Rod's arm.

I was in a different place. Where I was, I do not know. I saw no one, I saw no light. But my soul was instantly whole. There is no way to describe the completeness I felt. I've tried for 30 years to describe it; but words fail. I only know that it was perfect and completely satisfying.

I'm sure it was only a moment or two. I found myself coming back to awareness with the words, "Jesus, Jesus" on my lips and feeling the cool floor beneath my supine body. A nurse was hovering over me, loosening my clothes, putting a cold cloth on my forehead. "She's coming around," I heard her say.

Just a little fainting spell, but, oh, so profound. From that day on I never felt a shred of fear over my own death. From that day on I have had complete confidence that the next life is so wonderful that there is no need for concern about entering it. It took me 30 years to be brave enough to share this very personal story. And for 30 years I've thanked God for that special gift in a moment's time. My fear of death was finally conquered, never to return again.