Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Death and Dying

What we have lost

The Big Girl in me
Got lost somewhere
Hiding in a closet
Ruminating on her
Most recently acquired
Impotence

How do we
Make our mark
On life that wants
To run ahead of us
Eager to get home and
Resume things as though
Nothing happened at all
Or if it did it wasn’t
That bad was it?

A thousand voices
Scramble my weary brain
Already cluttered with
What cannot be known while
What ifs accumulate —
Fake time and fake money
Thrown after dreams
Of what may never be

The clock moves in one direction
Steadily relentlessly counting down
To the last moment of last breath
And the sudden shock of what
We will have lost
All of us

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 January 2020
Image found at rubylane.com
Hand-painted Wood Face of 1810-20 Pennsylvania Grandfather Clock

Survivor guilt and the business at hand

Back row: Mother, Grandpa Gury (her father), Elouise, and Sister #2
Front row: Diane and Sister #4

As of today, three kinds of survivor guilt have invaded my life.

  1. The guilt of living longer than Diane, Sister #3. She died of ALS in 2006.
  2. The guilt of wishing my father had died before my mother. She died in 1999, 78 years old.
  3. The guilt of wishing my father had died instead of Sister #4’s husband. He died in 2008; my father died in 2010.

And then there are nagging realities from my past.

  1. In 1960, I got a job right out of high school. It paid more than my father was making at a weekday job. My mother told me not to talk about the size of my weekly paycheck. Then my father lost his weekday job and I felt awkward talking about what happened at work today.
  2. When I left home for college (1960, age 16), my younger sisters had to face the music at home without me. Sometimes that was for the better. But not always. They became more vulnerable to our father’s oversight and disciplinary methods. This weighed heavily on me, especially with regard to our youngest sister.
  3. My educational and workplace opportunities gave me an advantage when I was looking for a teaching position, right out of university.

I can’t change any of this. Yet each item above has surfaced more than once in light of my youngest sister’s current health crisis. It began on Christmas Eve.

So what’s going on? I know it’s important because I’ve become self-conscious about my current situation. Yes, I have health challenges. Sometimes I don’t manage them well. Still, they aren’t as difficult to navigate as challenges Diane or Sister #4 experienced.

Am I overthinking this? Part of me wants to believe I am, even though that would be nonsense.

Today I want to know how to be present and fully focused on the business on hand. Not on what might have been, or ten reasons I should have had something awful happen to me years ago. As though that might spare any of my sisters or my mother the horror of sudden interventions that leave all of us gasping for air.

Thanks again for listening. As of today, I’m happy to report that Sister #4 is in a rehab facility, beginning a long  journey.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 January 2020
Family Photo taken by JERenich in Savannah, 1959

Tell me tell me | Emily Brontë

Here’s a Monday poem from our other Emily. My comments follow.

Tell me tell me

Tell me tell me smiling child
What the past is like to thee?
An Autumn evening soft and mild
With a wind that sighs mournfully

Tell me what is the present hour?
A green and flowery spray
Where a young bird sits gathering its power
To mount and fly away

And what is the future happy one?
A sea beneath a cloudless sun
A mighty glorious dazzling sea
Stretching into infinity

From selected poems of Emily Brontë, p. 28
Published in Everyman’s Library by Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
© 1996 by David Campbell Publishers Ltd., sixth printing

In this little poem, Emily Brontë asks and answers three questions, each from her childhood point of view. Emily was the 5th of 6 children. She was 3 years old when her mother died of cancer. I don’t know what age she had in mind when she wrote the poem.

The first stanza is about her past. I’m surprised she’s smiling. Yes, the answer points to a lovely ending to a beautiful Autumn day. At the same time, she hears the sound of mourning, already in the air. Winter is coming.

The second stanza is about the present (her childhood present). I’m not sure whether the ‘spray’ is water, or the combined effect of leaves and flowers shooting up from the ground. Perhaps she’s in a meadow or beside the sea (which appears in the final stanza). In either case, a young bird is getting ready to leave the nest and fly away. No hint of mourning in the air.

The third stanza is about the future. By now (in the poem), the child is happy. No hints of mourning, regrets, or the agonies of adult life. And yet this seems the most painful stanza of all despite its happy ending. Perhaps it’s a small window into the hoped-for trajectory of Emily Brontë’s life, and a cautionary note?

I identify with this childhood dream. Once I flew the nest, I believed all would be well. Even the ‘small’ bumps in the road would, in the end, seem like nothing. Little did I know….

And yet this poem isn’t morose. It invites me to remember and hold close my childhood dreams. Not all will come true. Yet there’s that “mighty glorious dazzling sea stretching into infinity.” Who knows what yet will be? In life or in death.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2020
Photo found at wickipedia.org

Still ringing in my ears

Still ringing in my ears
The sometimes happy voices
of sisters playing make-believe
Shrieking across the spacious lawn
Beside the river flowing gently
toward a big turn just ahead and
to the right around the corner

Last night I wept for the past
Having lived my life thinking
Somehow we could redeem it
Until we couldn’t not for want
Of trying but for turns in rivers
That ended just around corners
Now hidden from our eyes

The next generation is upon us
Their childhood and teenage voices
Still ringing in our ears
The happy the sad the distressed
The elated and the dreamers
Small pieces of us already interwoven
Riding the current to the next corner

I like intense. Then again, sometimes I’ve had my fill, even though I can’t stop the flowing river. The last several weeks have been intense. Right now I’m focused on taking care of my daily needs, and listening to myself early in the morning. What can I do today to stay in touch with myself and with some of my family members?

My older generation is moving on. How do I support generations coming after me? I’m not looking for great big creative things. I want to practice little things that matter. The kinds of things that helped me when I was still an introverted dreamer. On second thought, I’m still an introverted dreamer! And proud of it.

Thanks to D for this photo, taken in Summer 2010 following the memorial service for my father. This is the front yard bordering the river as it looked in 2010. My family lived here, in a rural community near Savannah, Georgia, in the 1950s.

Thanks for visiting and reading,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser, Summer 2010

What’s happening in my life

Dear Friends,

The last two weeks have been a roller-coaster ride, mostly downhill and out of control. My youngest sister has been and still is in the hospital after a Christmas Eve health emergency. Her future situation is unsettled, and her adult son is looking into multiple scenarios and choices. It all feels topsy-turvy. Like being shaken, not knowing where Sister #4 will land, or how it will change the landscape of our relationships with her.

The photo at the top shows our mother on the left, and the four of us. From left to right: Sister #2, #3 (Diane), #1 (me), and #4, now in the hospital. The photo of the four of us was taken in the late 1990s. This was Diane’s last trip to Savannah before ALS made travel like this impossible. Mom died in 1999, Diane in 2006.

I’m exceedingly grateful today for each of my sisters and for the relationships we developed with each other as adults. I grew up starving for sisterly conversation. Not because I chose starvation, but because it was the only way to survive the strictly enforced Good Girl Rules of our family.

In the midst of all this I received a congratulations message from WordPress. I passed my 6th Year anniversary! When I started out, I was terrified. What would I say and how would I say it? I still ask myself that question almost every day. Yet it doesn’t feel as terrifying as it did back then.

If anyone asked me today what I’ve learned so far as a blogger, it’s this. I’ve learned to trust myself and my readers. Putting pieces of my life out there was, and sometimes still is difficult. Yet I don’t know any other way to keep healing and finding my way from here to there, wherever these places might be.

I’m still getting back to regular posting, and some semblance of resolution about the current family emergency. Thanks for your faithful visits and prayers.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 January 2020
Photo of Sisters taken in Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1990s.

Disorder claims the winning hand

With breathless speed life takes us away
And back again to this grieving space
Where time stands still but not quite
Unfolding our own demise and deaths
One wrenching sorrow after another
Seen through the mirror of our likenesses

I thought being oldest was dangerous
When it came to death and dying
Surely I would go first followed in orderly
Succession of eldest to youngest with
Time to laugh and cry and grieve together
Built into the inevitable equation of aging

Yet disorder claims the winning hand
Changing landscapes forever through death
Or in life made more challenging through
Unforeseen clashing of genes and unexpected
Gifts of generations and the heaviness of being
Afflicted with maladies we never expected to visit

On Christmas Eve my youngest sister had a health emergency that will likely change her life, not for the better. I feel as helpless now as I did when Diane (#3) called in the late 1990s to tell us she had ALS.

As a writer, I’ve asked myself this question over and over: What is mine (and not mine) to write about?

I came up with several beginning ideas, including the theme of the poem above. That is, how strange it is to be the oldest, watching any of my younger sisters going through life-threatening health crises. In this case, Diane, who died of ALS in 2006, and now Sister #4 facing unexpected health challenges.

Thanks for visiting today. I’m slowly getting back to blogging regularly. Blessings to each of you and your families with whatever you’re facing today. Especially if it’s something about which you can do nothing but be present, supportive, and aware of what’s going on inside you.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 January 2020
Family photo taken in 1961, Savannah, Georgia

When all is said and done

When all is said and done
The remainder reaches
Into infinity with salutary
Airs of expectation
Soon to be proven false
Or true if that’s the way
You see it from your side

Yesterday I labored
Stretching time and cutting
Corners that wouldn’t
Matter in the end not really
No matter how exhausted
Or exuberant I was about
All I’d accomplished for now

Eager to welcome me home
The queen and king arrive
At my front door in the middle
Of the night to my consternation
They want to take me home
Despite my hard work left lying
In the dust heap of my efforts

When St. Thomas said all he
Ever wrote seemed like ashes
I thought he was out of his mind
Either that or he was finally
At peace with himself minus
All the ornamental pages
Hanging in his closet out of date
And out of time

The best things we’ve done in this life are often those we don’t remember. Being at peace with ourselves and those we love is, however, one of the best things we can do for ourselves in this life.

I pray this season of the year will find you at peace with yourself and with those you most love. No matter how much or how little you believe you’ve accomplished.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 December 2019
Book jacket photo found at amazon.com

Near the end it gets easier

–this letting go of goods
No longer useful
Or likely to help anyone

Signs of plans and promises
To oneself and others
Do I really need these things?

Is it possible to start over?
A thousand questions linger
And if only I had known

What I now know seems
A thimble full of hot air
Not nearly enough to last

When will we get there?
I thought this would be easier
My dear I really don’t know

Saying goodbye to a few things
Each day helps ease the load
Of dying now and then

Momentary heart pain of
The good kind mingles with
Whatever was I thinking of?

Life on the fast track
Moves slowly toward the end
Rushing to greet me with open arms

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 Dec 2019
Artwork found at fabianperez.blog.cz

Our current discontent

This morning I woke up wondering how we’ll survive as a nation, no matter who wins the next presidential election. It’s Advent. However, my mind went back to Lent, and a March 2017 post about what I was giving up for Lent.

As I see it, our nation is being tested yet again. We’ve been tested many times. It seems that whatever happened or didn’t happen back then, despite our best intentions, contributes now to our growing state of dis-union.

So how will we survive not just the next election, but the year leading up to it? Political strategies and post-election plans are important. Still, they aren’t magic wands that can solve our national problems.

The most important things are what we carry in our hearts, and what we have chosen to give up.

So I’m drawn back to what I gave up for Lent. The challenge isn’t any easier now than it was then. I’m to give up desires that have haunted me all my life. Not because this will solve personal or national problems, but because this frees me to behave differently this time around. Even though I’m terrified about the consequences.

So here they are, in the form of a prayer litany. Still staring me in the face daily. How willing am I to bring these strange gifts and lay them down before a newborn baby? Not just once, but as many times as necessary.

I let go my desire for security and survival.
I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go my desire for power and control.
I let go my desire to change the situation.

Quoted by Cynthia Bourgeault in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p. 147 (Cowley Publications 2004)

Do I like doing this? No. It does, however, make space for me to take risks. The kind that make my heart pound because I’m not in control of what happens next.

With hope, and thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 December 2019
Sunrise at Acadia National Park, Maine, USA; found at pinterest.com

The last day of November 2019

The last day of November 2019
Greets morning
With peach-colored clouds
Virtually bare deciduous trees
Stalwart conifers flexing their muscles
Almost freezing temperatures
And the weary sigh of voters
Treated nonstop to the latest scoop
Or not depending on their tastes

A waking thought jolts me
Back to this present moment
Ruled by a heart once broken
Now tenderly stitched together
A stunning patchwork of colors
Plus moody longings and
Memory-driven reveries that
Nourish my soul bringing honor
To a heart long overlooked
Now my valiant heroine who
Made it through undeclared wars
And interminable neglects
To say nothing of despisements
Not of my own making

December beckons with promise
Of peace on earth and good will toward all

I want to believe.
Do you?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 November 2019
Artwork by Tarryl Gabel found at artworkarchive.com

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