Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Death and Dying

Getting on with life

Though I haven’t fallen down the stairs, or tripped on my own feet, I haven’t figured out how to get up again and proceed with life.

Mary Oliver has a short poem in A Thousand Mornings (2012, p. 9) that says it all.

After I Fall Down the Stairs
At the Golden Temple

For a while I could not remember some word
I was in need of,
and I was bereaved and said: where are you,
beloved friend?

My biggest fear right now is that I’ll fall down: Where are you, beloved feet?

It’s official: I have peripheral neuropathy. It’s in early stages, though given the fire and pain in my feet and legs, you could fool me. My doctor has ordered an MRI scan. I’ve never had one. I don’t want one now. And yes, I’ll have it.

Last Friday I had two diagnostic tests in the office. Together, they took about an hour. The first (scroll down in this link) (NCS) was supposed to be the easiest. Electrodes on my feet and legs were prompted to shock me. Sometimes my responses were minimal—or even nothing at all. However, most of the time (a good thing) the shocks were just that. Horrific. I thought they would never end.

So…moving on to the second test (EMG). It was supposed to be the most difficult. The doctor inserted thin needles into my legs and feet, prompting me to use or flex various muscles while he listened for noise. Then he did one more poke in my lower spine. The needle pokes weren’t fun, but they were nothing compared to the shock tests. In the end these results were also mixed. Another sign that this disease is in early stages.

I was surprised that my problem most likely began in my lower spine, not in my feet or legs. The MRI will help clarify what’s going on.

In the meantime, my feet are a mixed blessing. I’m grateful to be sleeping well most of the time. The best exercise these days is a walk outside with D or riding my indoor bike. My feet smile and even tear up a bit when I’m playing the piano or working at my computer. Yet when I’m working in the kitchen or around the house, they scream at me for mercy. Especially in the afternoon and evening.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this disease that shows up in various forms, I’ve found these two books helpful:

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes! The photo at the top is one of my Longwood Garden favorites–posted today just because.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 Oct 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in October 2019 at Longwood Gardens

Whatever lies ahead

Walking toward me this morning,
the fortyish adult woman seemed
unhappy and despondent,
clutching her light jacket
and looking away

Just across the street,
grade school children shouted
in frenzies of laughter, competition
and the need to be seen and heard

How does it happen so quickly —
This fierce need to be part of the gang?

And how is it that some of us
were held back by heavy rules
and unnumbered regulations?

I’ve rarely felt so lost as I do today
during this unruly period between
diagnosis and unpleasant tests
coming toward me down a road
I never thought I would travel

Yes, I have health issues on my mind. I’m also thinking about my writing. The physical impact on my body is taking a toll. I’ll be relieved when the next set of tests has been completed.

For years, I’ve had a storyline in my head: Eldest daughter of a strict pastor/father gets married and finally has a life of her own. Rules for Good Girls go out the window. Free at last, she flies away and finds out she is a real human being.

I wish. It’s wonderful to celebrate the moment I spoke truth to my father. It was the eve of my 50th birthday. I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced. What was taken from me in my childhood and youth is gone forever.

Until now, I’ve hesitated to write about what it was like to study, teach, and serve as dean in academic and seminary settings. Nor have I written much about my life as a member of Christian churches.

Something tells me this is an opportunity to be welcomed. Right now I’m not so sure. Yet I know it’s time.

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021 in the Longwood Meadow Garden

A lament for 9/11/2001 and today

I wrote the lament below for an open seminary forum held one month after the 9/11/2001 attack. Today, 20 years later, the lament rings painfully true.

We haven’t had more unexpected attacks on skyscrapers or the Pentagon. Instead, we’ve had a home-grown physical attack on Congress; home-grown political attacks masquerading as MAGA; routine home-grown attacks on people of color, immigrants, and women; unprecedented fires, floods, drought and tornadoes; and daily fallout from protracted global warfare and upheaval.

Back to 2001. I was one of several faculty members asked to open the forum. I’m speaking in our seminary chapel. A large wooden crucifix is on the wall behind me. Hence my reference below to Christ’s death being in the room.

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I’m not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

“What is your only comfort in life and death?

“My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

Praying for ways to maintain lifegiving connections with those we love and those we too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 September 2021
Quote from the Heidelberg Catechism found at etsy.com

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was born on 10 September 1935 and died on 17 January 2019. Though today’s world isn’t the world she knew, I hear this poem speaking truth about today’s realities. My comments follow.

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Published 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (p. 49)
Copyright 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
First published in A Thousand Mornings, 2012

I can’t read this poem without thinking about today’s world. We aren’t simply on the cusp of late fall and winter weather. We’re witnessing with our eyes and hearts the end of an era. The title of the poem is heavy with innuendo.

Mary looks at the changing of seasons and points to the goodness of what doesn’t always seem good enough or lovable enough. Who loves to see flowers wilting, or dry old leaves falling to the ground? Or the warm light of day giving way to the icy darkness of each night?

Instead of mourning the passing of warm weather and beautiful fall days, Mary points to what it means to love this world. All of it. No matter what we think about changing seasons, or about the lovability of family, friends, strangers, or even ourselves.

What’s true of nature reminds me of human relationships. Like flower petals falling to the ground, we, too, move from one season, to the next. No one said this would be easy. Nor do we have any idea what beautiful surprises may be waiting just around the corner. Especially in the midst of unfathomable loss and anguish.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2021
Photo by Sven Brogren found at fineartamerica.com

The Funeral

Sitting near the back row
Like a spectator at a show
I didn’t want to see just now
I look on wondering
How soon my short time
On this weary earth be over

The atmosphere is charged
With memories and the beauty
Of one man’s life well lived
As the world slowly fell apart
At its seams spilling the life
We’re called to nurture

I wonder what today’s generation
Feels as stalwart towers of
Strength and kindness crumble
Under the indignities of old age
And aching desires for more than
This world can possibly offer

What we have done we may never
Know with this exception that
Life as we thought it would be
has often become a race for fame
and glory if even for one minute
on an electronic device or poster

The distance from this life to the next
Is less than a heartbeat or breath away
With or without fanfare or our
Determined attempts to impact
This world saturated with lonely
Children and teens and aging adults

The most telling marks are made
By everyday giants who know how to
Listen and love and wait patiently
For vines to ripen and grapes to fall
Into the hands and hearts of lonely
Human beings looking for a friend

Thoughts after attending today’s funeral service for one of our church friends. Born in 1934, Harold knew how to listen, wait, and keep showing up to do whatever needed to be done. Always without fanfare.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 August 2021
Photo of table grapes found at growingproduce.com

On being this old woman

When all is said and done
Who are we
really?

Today I struggled with
my humanity and
my pride

Being this old woman is
A fulltime job
These days

Not what I would wish
on my best friends
or worst enemies

Aching feet and heart
arrhythmias remind
me daily of my age

Yesterday I was a tired
fed-up old lady intent on
getting through

Today I’m still a tired
old lady whose external
glories are fading

And yet the beauty of a
sunset and the song of a
resident wren

To say nothing of that
spectacular rainbow
hugging the earth

make me feel young and
beautiful if only for
a dying moment

Rollercoaster days. Up one day, down the next—with a slowly growing predominance of down days.

This morning I had a check-up for my heart’s irregular rhythms. A young woman with way more expertise than I downloaded and analyzed data stored in Lucy Pacemaker for the last two (Covid) years. Bottom line: my heart is now beating irregularly almost 50% of each day and night. Not good.

This, plus other nagging realities, makes me eager to do what I can while I can. Though life is incredibly complex and unpredictable, it’s also beautiful. If only for a few passing minutes.

I pray you’re finding your way each day, making the most of small opportunities to affirm and support others like and unlike you. Always with one eye and ear alert for unexpected rainbows or the song of a Carolina wren.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 August 2021
Photo found at dewbow.co.uk

an extravagence

an extravagance
of beauty bursts into view
and passes away

Every day and every night beauty comes out of hiding whether I see it or not.

Quixotic, ephemeral, unexpected and gasp-worthy.

I want to hang onto this overflow of grace. Capture it. Tame it. Count on it forever.

Yet like a tantalizing tale, it refuses my misappropriations, and evades capture or any hint that I own it.

Yet there it is, unexpectedly showing up just around the corner, out of reach and in full sight,

Which is to say–life right now is full of extravagant beauty even as it passes away. I want to attend to every second, let go of keeping up appearances, and relinquish what is not mine to keep.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2021
Photo found at forbes.com

Facing an end-of-life avalanche

For friends and strangers
Or any human being
Facing an end-of-life avalanche –
One step at a time
Seems far too small and
Way too late

The uneven beauty of years
Rises from ashes to haunt
And perplex mind and soul
Searching for nothing more
Than rest from this accumulation
Of daily toil interrupted by
Reminders of the past
With its strange stew
Of brilliance and horror

Sorting through outdated files
I follow my cautious steps
Through mine fields and
Unexpected mountain tops
That fail to convey the full
Truth of any moment
Heavy with the perplexities
Of life and friendship as well as
Camouflaged frenemies
Waiting in the wings for
My demise or my glory

How mixed up we all are
On this planet of painful turmoil
And disappointments stirred
Into a pot of sometimes rancid
Stew or on that rare occasion
A table set with the finest
Wine known to human beings
Huddled in our offices hoping
For a visit from glory without
Death and without regret

For friends and strangers
Or any human being
Facing an end-of-life avalanche –
One step at a time
Seems far too small and
Way too late

A few weeks ago D and I began tackling the most difficult sorting-out project of our lives. It’s one thing to move into a house and get things in order.

Now, however, we’re immersed in divesting ourselves of collections of various kinds. We’ve stored them away fairly neatly for nearly 40 years. Think of academic files, picture files, books, CDs, and items from parents and other family members no longer with us. What I don’t understand is why, though we’ve already given away thousands of books, it feels as though we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Then there are academic files going back to college, seminary, university, teaching and administration years. I’m getting better at letting things go. Still, I can’t help feeling sad, especially when I come across notes from friends with whom I once studied or worked.

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2021
Image found at journeytowardsimple.com

Birdsong and Neighbors

Troubled in spirit
Torn between past joys
And today’s necessities
I set out on a walk
Alone and anxious
About many things

Unhinged and disconnected
From realities beyond my control
I wonder what will become
Of us in this world of sorrow
Quickly descending into
A mammoth muddle

The sound of my feet hitting
The pavement reminds me
To take one step at a time
Not tomorrow but today
While I’m alive and reasonably sane
Before this life comes to an end

I hear her voice before I see her
My neighbor a few doors down
Followed by a honk and a wave
From my next-door neighbor
Just getting home after night shift
At a city hospital filled with pain

The birds are singing out their
Morning chorus wake-up calls
From tops of trees and thick
Shrubs lining the road home
Past the church cemetery and
The weeping beech hanging low

How are you feeling today? I’m feeling swamped and somewhat trapped by files, piles, books, letters and cards I conveniently tucked away for later.

Problem #1: Later is Now.

Problem #2: Even though I’ve divested myself of more files and piles than I can remember, they now seem to have had babies while I wasn’t looking. I am not prepared for this.

Problem #3: How will I maintain my sanity and good nature in the middle of all this muddle?

No, I’m not in despair. I do, however, sometimes fancy an early morning walk, along with time to play the piano when my heart says “Play!” The alternative is not an option.

Praying for courage to do what I can each day, and let the rest go. Life is short.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2021
Photo found at treehugger.com

Summer 2021 Update for My Friends

Dear Friends,

I’m taking several days off from regular posting. Weariness has caught up with me, and I’m grateful to be seeing my integrative doctor tomorrow. Nothing horrible, though the nagging reality of diminishing energy is no fun. Especially in this Summer’s heat.

Yesterday D and I spent time visiting with a neighbor and one of his friends. We sat outside on the patio next to his lovely garden and had a lively conversation. It made me realize once again how fragile life is, and how much each connection and communication matters.

As for the work I need to do, it’s almost all in my office, crying out for attention. I’ve already gone through quite a bit, sometimes tearing up as I read old notes from family members, students, colleagues and friends. A few days ago I uncovered yet another neatly organized box of letters and photos. I’m astonished at how much I’ve kept and almost forgotten.

So now it’s down to what I’ll keep, what I’ll get rid of, and what our children and grandchildren might want to see or have.

From another perspective, it’s down to how many times I’m going to pause to rejoice, lament, or read. Though I don’t tend to cling to the past, it seems I’ve let it cling to me. Perhaps because I knew I wouldn’t adequately appreciate it until now.

On a lighter note, we’re watching a brave patch of sunflowers growing in our back yard. Remnants left behind from the large bird feeder we put out this past winter. Yesterday I saw the first bits of yellow petals beginning to unfold. It looks like we might have 7 flowers in all, thanks to the kindness of winter birds dropping sunflower seeds (among other things) in the snow! According to the chart above and their current height, I think they’re Giant Singles (about 5 feet high).

Cheers and prayers for all of us as we make our way through this rapidly changing world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2021
Photo found at thegardeningcook.com

Chart found at pinterest.com

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