Sunday, March 19, 2017

Abide with us

But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. — Luke 24:29 (KJV)

It has been 51 days since my father died. I wrote at the time how I woke my mother up and told her of his death. She came in her wheelchair to the room where he lay, and she saw his body. She came to the viewing of his body at the funeral home, and she was at the graveside service and the memorial service. But she has not really been able to take in the reality of his death. Almost every time I see her, she asks where he is.

This past week, we celebrated her birthday with family and friends. She was in her wheelchair, and for some time I sat next to her to watch over her during the party. I told her who all the guests were, and she asked me, "Where is Lou?" As usual when she asks this question, I said, "Dad passed away, Mom. Do you remember? You were at his memorial service. He's in heaven now." As usual, she accepted this and seemed to remember that it was true once she was reminded.

My sister was here from out of state for the celebration. After her last visit before going home, she came back to my house in tears. When she was leaving, my Mom had asked her, "Where is he?" "Who, Mom?" "Lou."

They were married for 64 years, five months, and eleven days. No wonder she can't comprehend life without him.

When I knew my mom's mom in her old age, she loved the hymn "Abide With Me." If I fiddled around on the piano, I could be sure of a grateful comment if I played that hymn. It is the beautiful prayer of one approaching death. I pray it on my mom's behalf.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.



Words: Henry F. Lyte
Tune: "Eventide," William H. Monk

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Adjustments

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, I gather. For the past number of years, I've watched the Super Bowl with my dad, just to keep him company. I would buy some snacks and beer and we would partake fairly moderately while watching the game and the commercials. I'm not really interested in football for its own sake, and in recent years the commercials have been disappointing, but I usually had fun talking with my dad and posting my thoughts on Facebook.

Today my father has been dead for more than a week, and his funeral was two days ago. I don't think I'll watch the Super Bowl. My brother is staying with me, post-funeral. If he wants to watch the game, he's welcome to put it on and then I might watch it by default. But I have no plans about it. That's my "new normal," as the saying goes. I can no longer think of little things for my dad to enjoy and then do them.

Emily Dickinson expressed it well:

The Bustle in a House 
The Morning after Death 
Is solemnest of industries 
Enacted upon Earth – 

The Sweeping up the Heart 
And putting Love away 
We shall not want to use again 
Until Eternity – 

Friday, January 27, 2017

The longest day

It has been a long day. It started at about 2:30 a.m. I was in my father's room at the skilled nursing facility where he had been under hospice care. I was spending the night to monitor his safety. At some point I was so tired I told him (though I was not sure he heard or understood) that I needed to sleep for a little while, and I did sleep in a chair. I don't know what time that was. At about 2:30 a.m., I woke up and his previously stertorous breathing was silent. He had died while I was asleep.

Now it is about seventeen hours later. I have brought my mother the news of her husband's death, said good-bye to his body, told relatives about his death, drafted an obituary, assisted in sorting some of his papers and information, signed other papers, and been part of a meeting concerning his memorial service.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.

Amen.

He was the best father in the whole world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Not for Christmas

I went to the grocery store on my way home from work today. Christmas songs were shuffling on the sound system, and I was enjoying that, even singing along in secluded areas of dairy products and canned goods. Then a song came into the mix that gave me pause; it was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

I've noticed lately that this song creeps into some Christmas settings. I guess because it contains the word "hallelujah" people think it's a Christmas song. Well, I'm here to say that it's not. It's a beautiful song; it's just not a Christmas song.

Here are just a few of the reasons I hold this opinion:

1. The word "hallelujah" is not an automatic Christmas reference.

The word derives from the Hebrew and basically means "Praise the Lord."

Even the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah—often heard at this time of year—was not written to celebrate Christmas. The oratorio Messiah is an overview of the whole story of Christ. There are sections of it that are about the Nativity, but the Hallelujah chorus is not one of them. The Hallelujah chorus celebrates the post-Resurrection and -Ascension lordship of Christ. The words come from the book of Revelation.

The two biblical narratives about Christ's birth do not contain the word "hallelujah." Look for yourself at Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20.

2. The lyrics of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" have nothing to do with Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Winter morning in my back yard

We had snow last week, and the temperature has stayed so cold that it hasn't melted. This kind of cold weather happens from time to time in the Pacific Northwest—not every year, by any means, but on the average of every few years.

Here's the creek, looking brown against the snow. Some ice has formed around twigs and branches that dangle into the water.



I love how this tree trunk leans out over the creek then grows upward.



And the red-twig dogwood lives up to its name. I boosted the color a bit in this photo, hoping you can see it.



My dad planted this. The landscaping purpose of a red-twig dogwood is to provide some color during the winter. During the summer, it's covered with leaves, which is fine, too. It gets some tiny blooms and berries.

Here are a holly and some ivy growing up in the shelter of a rosa grotendorst (Dutch for "great thirst"). Whenever I pay attention to this clump of plants, I start singing "The Holly and the Ivy" in my head.



My dad and I always have called the big plant a "groote dorster," but when I searched the name online I couldn't find it; I did find a reference to the rosa grotendorst, so I guess that's the correct name. Whatever its name, or the level of its thirst, it is the prickliest plant in my domain. When I'm driving my lawnmower in the summer, I don't like to get too close because it reaches out and grabs and stabs me. That's why a holly and an ivy are growing under it—because I'm afraid to confront it.

At the southwest corner of the yard, you've got to love this mossy old tree. It's a weeping willow.



Willows have notoriously water-seeking roots. They're good to plant by a water way, but dangerous near your water supply or sewer pipes. This willow is nicely secluded.

And here's an icicle hanging from the rain gutter.



Again, having weather cold enough to create an icicle is newsworthy where I live.

In my opinion—which is so rarely solicited on questions of importance—we've had sufficient ice and snow for this winter, but I see the forecast is for snow on Sunday. However, after that, temperature is supposed to rise well above freezing and rain should fall. Sometimes when we have substantial snow followed by rain, the creek overflows its banks. My back yard is a floodplain. So far the water has never reached my house. The snow on the ground right now is persistent but not deep. I don't think it's enough to flood the creek, but with more snow added in on Sunday that may change. Interesting times.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Serenity now

Today I went to two meetings with hospice nurses, one for each of my parents. My mom is now on hospice; the meeting about my dad was in preparation for when he needs to go on hospice. Starting hospice does not mean death is imminent. It means that death may be expected within six months, and also that the care will focus on comfort, not on prolonging life. But it's a significant step.

Last night and this morning were particularly cold here in Lynden, and the northeast wind—the coldest we know in this region—blew. I woke up and began sneezing uncontrollably. I told my sister-in-law later that it's as though cold has a smell, and that smell makes me sneeze—I smelled it and I could feel the reaction in one particular spot inside my sinuses.† (Later in the day I did discover that a window in the room where I slept was not closed properly, so I had had a stream of freezing outdoor air coming in to my environment all night.)

Once started, the sneezing—as is the wont of my allergies—would not stop. I sneezed and blew my nose through the two hospice meetings. By the time I was headed home, my nose, on the side where I could feel the reaction in my sinuses, was dripping. I had to hold a tissue (napkin, paper towel, whatever) up to my nose to catch it.

I know from bitter experience that when my allergies are out of control the only thing that will stop them is for me to fall asleep. Only then does my system relax enough to stop the madness. Fortunately, I was feeling tired out by the day's experience, so when I got home I found the cracked window and shut it, took some diphenhydramine, covered myself with a quilt, and took a nap, probably for about two hours.

Allergies are aggravated by stress, and I think that mine were extra bad today because I had these two hospice meetings. Those meetings were signposts for a difficult part of the journey. I think my poor, confused body realized something was wrong and sprang to the defense by pushing my immune system into overdrive. There, there, poor body. I know you mean well, but that really didn't help. What you need to do is calm down.

Francis of Assisi called his body "Brother Ass." I guess I could call mine "Sister Stupid." Just now I looked that up in the Catholic Encyclopedia, and it said that, after he wore out his body with mortification, Saint Francis asked pardon of Brother Ass for treating him so harshly. So I also ask pardon of Sister Stupid for my inattentiveness to her needs and again ask that she remain calm.

This is the kind of explanation of my system that gains me laughing disbelief, strange looks, or shakes of the head.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Waiting for the sun

I woke up this morning before 7:00 and it was dark out. By 8:00 it was still dark. Now, at 8:30 it's starting to get light.

Part of the darkness is the heavy cloud cover. I have not looked outside at the sky yet, but I've been hearing the dripping from the eaves that means a consistent, substantial rainfall.

The other part of the darkness is the season. There are three months between fall equinox and winter solstice, and we're about halfway through that period. We're getting to the dark time of the year.

A third factor in the darkness is the clock. Tonight will finally, finally, finally end Daylight Saving Time. We will "fall back" an hour, which means that today's 7:00 a.m. will be tomorrow's 6:00 a.m. When my windows lighten up with tomorrow's morning sun, it will be 7:30 instead of 8:30.

I know I've said before how much I dislike Daylight Saving Time. I hate to "spring ahead" and have to get up and pretend it's 7:00 a.m. when it's really 6:00 a.m. Daylight Saving Time is a fake time. In some ways, time is one of those imaginary things that we all pretend is real, like money. It's a useful tool. But there is a certain physical reality to it in that "noon" is when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. But Daylight Saving Time calls it "noon" one hour before the sun is at its highest point. By what right does our government mandate a change of "noon"? And they really can't. They can call it "noon" an hour before "the sun transits the celestial meridian" (got that from Wikipedia), but they can't make the sun reach its zenith an hour earlier. Under Daylight Saving Time, we all say "noon," and then an hour later noon occurs. Frankly, this is government overreach. Indeed it is Orwellian.