Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Death and Dying

Please save a seat for me

Please save a seat for me
Out there
Within the Great Beyond
Where water flows
And falls
And drips
Its mist upon my hair
And canopies
Of bamboo leaves
Sway gently to and fro

Simple chairs
Would be enough
No thrones
Or special seats
Just friends and strangers
Gathered there
As part of
Your parade
Within this low-hung vault
Of heavenly earth’s delights

A Carolina wren broke into song just outside my window as I was writing this. So beautiful! My favorite year-round songbird, no matter how cold it gets.

The last couple of months have been full of pseudo-icy weather. Slippery. Unsettled. Not sure how things would turn out. All set in motion by our great waterbed leak at the end of July.

Things are now back together. Sort of. And the clock still ticks down. All day, every day.

I think we’re invited–even urged–to see heaven on this earth. Today! Looking back through our Longwood photos from last week, I had a little reminder that it’s as simple as showing up and paying attention.

Hoping you have a few heavenly moments today!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 October 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 7 October 2019, Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Lost soulmates

Keeping up appearances
Grows costly and unrewarding
Except when you smile
With that boyish grin
The one that caught me
Unawares decades ago
Long before we knew
Anything about loving
Or keeping faith or how
Not to parent our children —
When we lost soulmates still
Needed parenting and loving
From the inside out of our
Lonely tentative hearts

The gardens smell winter coming
Chill air reaches out at night
Draining life-giving juice from
Once lush greens and pinks
And purples and magenta —
Crowding close to each other
They lean in for a farewell look
At us taking the flower walk
Sunrays streaming down in
Breezes and fading memories

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 October 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 7 October 2019 at Longwood Gardens Flower Walk

With thanks to Emily

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Something about aging. I don’t know what it is. I only know what it feels like. A journey into mists, slow and sometimes laborious. Wondering where all that energy went. And how I ever accumulated so many bits and pieces from my past.

Today it’s about clearing the bits and pieces out. Getting to something else, beyond the false fog of my fortressed life.

For decades, I relied on bits and pieces. Every carefully sorted, filed and piled item was a bit of insurance. Proof of my value, resources to be used next term, a hedge against false charges, reminders of why I was here and what I had agreed to do. Plus gems stashed away for later perusal.

Then, in April 2016, I fell and broke my jaw. Life changed. Immediately.

Out of that anguish, I wrote a post that has become one of the top ten posts visited on this site, with 589 views as of today. It’s my commentary on Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, Faith — is the pierless bridge.

I read it several times in the last few weeks of chaos and confusion about many things.

There’s fog and then there’s smog. Fog is good. Smog is rotten–the stuff that hung in the air in the late 1940s when I lived in the Los Angeles area. I don’t mind a bit of fog, though it sometimes puts me on edge. I think of all the accumulated clutter of my life as smog. Things and attitudes about ‘things’ that throw me off balance. That keep me from living and dying to each day.

So here’s the last paragraph of my comments about Emily’s poem, reformatted a bit to catch the heart of the matter for me then, now, and tomorrow. The question is how do I get from here to there? And whose faith really matters?

Before my faith and before my birth
there was something else

The Source of my life greets me
from within the Veil
to which Faith leads

Here waits the One who birthed me
Who boldly and courageously watches for me
from the other side of my human life
spinning out a fragile steel-buttressed thread of Faith—
my Creator’s Faith in me
Faith that leads me home
just as I am and yet will be

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2019
Image found at pinterest.com

A Tribute to Brian

Golden Wattle, Australia’s National Flower

One of my faithful blogging friends has died. Gone on from this world to whatever lies beyond and within. I hope he won’t take offense at what I’m about to say. Then again, if he didn’t, he probably wouldn’t be Brian.

I never met Brian in person. In his younger years he visited the USA and studied our history. Especially military history. He was a proud immigrant (by choice) from England to Australia, always aware he was British, and proud of it.

Brian was about 12 years older than I. He was afflicted with difficult physical challenges, and blessed with a memory for historical detail. As he said about his posts, they were rambles. Rambles through the past of just about any world issue or slice of his personal history you might enjoy hearing about (or not).

As you might have observed in his comments on some of my posts, Brian was a self-proclaimed atheist. However, he enjoyed reminding me that he was raised in the church and sent his children to church schools. Definitely an enlightened atheist. Never afraid to confront me, miss the mark entirely, or listen to my responses. Every now and then he even ended up agreeing with me.

Sometimes Brian’s comments annoyed me just a bit. More than once I had to wait a day before responding. A few times I considered trashing a particularly off the wall comment. However, sleep and my better angels out there somewhere helped me listen and respond. It’s fair to say his challenges went way beyond the ‘normal’ challenges I got when teaching in seminary. For that, I owe him many thanks.

Brian was also a self-proclaimed curmudgeon. From my perspective, he pulled it off gloriously. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to discover that behind his curmudgeonly atheist persona lay a tender, sometimes lonely heart. Which may be what drew me to him.

The world is less interesting with Brian gone. I’m blessed to have met him here in Bloggy Land where anything and everything can happen. I’m also grateful for the experience of walking with him just a bit of the way. All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if our paths crossed again…somewhere and sometime beyond our knowing.

If you’d like to learn more about Brian, here’s a link to his blog.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 October 2019
Photo found at pinterest.com

An Emptiness

Hollowed out by loneliness
Overflowing with farm animal stories told and retold
Filled with edgy impatience when you were not holding forth
An aching emptiness devoid of compassion or empathy
For yourself or others who pleased you not
Constantly dreaming of unachievable plans and goals
A my way or the highway kind of man
Stalking happiness but rarely finding it in my presence
Convinced the world of regular people was as hollow
As your own unfulfilled plans and dreams
An empty cup unable to overflow
With blessings of praise or the joy
Of looking into your four daughters’ eyes
Without seeing the son you never had
Fighting to the bitter end to have things your way
Surrounded by people who cared for you
Even when you cared not for them
An off-tune cymbal full of noisy clanging
Signifying the agony of your debilitating shame and loneliness

How sad to love a father who never learned to love himself.
How horrifying to hear the bleakness of his life growing up.
How painful to know things might have been different.

I love my father.
I have forgiven him to the extent I’m able.
I am not the Judge of all the earth.
I pray for his soul and his redemption,
and that he is learning in death to love himself
as he has been loved.

This poem is my attempt to describe what I now see in my father. It’s based on my relationship with him from 1943 (the year I was born) until his death in 2010. He was 96 years old, months from turning 97. I was 66, months from turning 67.

Many thanks to Mary Oliver for her poem, A Bitterness. It got me wondering what I might write about my father from my perspective today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2019
Image found at vocal.media

A Bitterness | Mary Oliver

This poem by Mary Oliver hooked me a few months ago. I think it’s about her father. In Upstream: Selected Essays, Mary describes what she did in order to have a life of her own. This included taking a different route in life than her father took. In this poem, she describes his life as she understands it after his death.

A Bitterness

I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery.
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none the wiser and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of the hillsides.

© by Mary Oliver in 1992; published by Beacon Press in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, winner of The National Book Award; poem found on p. 43

I wonder what Mary Oliver’s father would say about this description. It strikes me as a perceptive and honest lament. This is the father she left in order to save her own one precious life. It’s also the bitter man who never found the comfort he craved.

In the last lines, Mary Oliver points to the strange disconnect between his ‘cold and dreamless’ world (in life and in death), and the beautifully wild yet peaceful flowers now covering the ground above his coffin. The contrast couldn’t be more painful.

As a young girl, Mary Oliver endured brutal mistreatment from her father. Her poem entitled “Rape” leaves no doubt. Nonetheless, Mary Oliver’s relationship with her father didn’t disappear. She comes back to it in several poems in this collection.

In this poem, she points to a sad irony about her father. Here he rests, “cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of the hillsides.” Clueless about what he missed in life and, even more painful, what he missed in his daughter’s life. All because of his undying bitterness.

The poem reminds me of my father, and the circumstances that shaped his outlook on life and on me. What poem might I write about my father? What might be his identifying characteristic? If not ‘bitterness,’ then what? And how does that affect me today?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 September 2019
Photo found at fineartamerica.com

What’s the hurry?

Why the rush?
Why so many accidents?
Why the impatience
To get somewhere —
Anywhere but here

On any day of the week
Another set of lives
Is lost to this world
Thanks to our addiction
To what? Waiting until
The last minute? Rushing
To make it through
The intersection before
What?

And then there’s that
Annoyingly impatient
Horn honking from behind
As if that would force me to
Collude with the driver’s
Deep need to hurry to
What? At what cost?

I look in the mirror
And see myself
Not in the driver’s seat
But in mundane events
Of my mundane life
Racing in spirit if not
In body to the next thing
Waiting in the shadows
Of my deep need for
What?

I’m just back from a lovely walk around my neighborhood. Right now the weather is perfect for morning and afternoon walks. What more could I want?

Yet in the half hour before I left the house this morning I thought of at least three things I needed to get done right now. Even though I didn’t. Three excuses for putting the walk off until later in the day. Or tomorrow.

Thankfully, my inability to decide what to do next forced the issue. I went for a walk. It was lovely!

When I returned, D was talking with our painter about a horrible automobile accident in which several lives were lost, including one of his friends. All because of one driver who was in a hurry and couldn’t or wouldn’t slow down to stop for a red light.

I wonder what I’m avoiding when I begin honking the horn at myself. And at what cost?

Here’s to a Wednesday devoid of horn-honking. Especially at ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2019
Photo found at medium.com

Unexpected Gifts

I’m just back from a long morning walk. Gorgeous sky, just-right breeze, birds singing, at least 5 nannies or moms out with tots in open-air limousines (strollers), and a far-off sighting of Rita walking her dog. And that was just the beginning.

Most wondrous was a sudden realization. For years I’ve been fearful about turning 78, even though I still have just over two years to go before that happens.

My Mom died in February 1999. She was 78 years old. She had a stroke (brain bleed) that she couldn’t overcome because of her already compromised body. Three months after the stroke, she died peacefully in a wonderful hospice facility.

That same year, my fear of turning 78 was born. Magnified by fear that I might not even make it to 78 years. Never mind that my father was nearly 97 when he died. My problem would be getting to 78 and beyond without dying.

This morning, for the first time, I realized I no longer fear turning 78 or not living long enough to celebrate 78 years. Why not? I’m not sure.

A second unexpected event was seeing one of my neighbors when I was almost home. She had just finished a novel she thought I would love. She was right! I carried it home and will begin reading it today. It’s a murder mystery set in the marshlands of the North Carolina coast. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.

And finally, a third exciting reality: Our painter is beginning work on our bedroom! After which the carpet will be replaced, and we’ll start putting it all back together again.

More than enough to fill my happiness cup for today, with some left over for tomorrow.

Happy Monday to you!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2019
Photo of North Carolina Marsh found at ncwetlands.com

I Worried | Mary Oliver

Here’s a prose poem from Mary Oliver, written in her later years. My brief comments follow.

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And I gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

© 2010 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Ironically, I found this poem in the front pages of Katy Butler’s book, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life. It seemed a strange way to begin a book that helps navigate end of life decisions. Are you tired of working on this or that document, or making choices about things that may or may not happen? Just go out into the morning, and sing whether you think you can sing or not!

Which is exactly what I’m learning to do. No, it doesn’t come naturally. Worry comes naturally, sometimes dressed up as Work I must accomplish today. Not for a paycheck, but perhaps to ensure my peace of mind?

Yet even all the completed medical and other documents duly signed and filed in their appropriate places can never ensure full peace of mind. Sometimes I need to get outside my list-driven environment, enjoy the day and sing.

A calm mind. Most appropriate in a distressed world over which we have limited control.

Happy Monday to each of you, with a prayer for those living in distress this day and night, and calm courage to reach out as we’re able.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

Trying to keep up?

Worn out
From trying to keep up?
Face it
This is an addiction
As fierce
As trying to run away
From voices
Calling in the night

Fix it or get over it!
Now!

Or did you lose it
Somewhere back there
Years before you
Took that first fall
Into icy water
And never
Stopped running?

What are you, and what am I? The broken model, or the sought-after model? Does it really matter?

My mother’s plunge into icy water was polio. She was 28; I was 6. She lived most of her life believing she had to demonstrate she was ‘normal.’ Whatever that meant.

Since when did it become The Rule that we must hide our broken bits? Or at least pretend they don’t matter when they do.

I broke my jaw over three years ago. Ironically, it was a gift. A dead stop I couldn’t ignore. Forced changes rescued me from a diet and lifestyle that was undermining my heart and kidney health.

But the gift sometimes feels like poison. Not poison to my body, but to my spirit and my social life. Especially when I come up against limitations.

This morning I heard a John Rutter song on public radio — “Look to the Day.” Rutter wrote the words and music at the invitation of Cancer Research UK for their Service of Thanksgiving in Ely Cathedral, 23rd September 2007. A simple song of hope and reorientation.

Somehow it got through to me. There’s more to life than continuing with things as usual. Especially when they aren’t usual, and life is short.

I found this rendition on You Tube. It’s sung from the heart by women and men who don’t speak English as their first language. I want to learn to sing like this from my heart, especially when I find myself in new or scary territory.

Praying you have a hope-filled Sabbath rest.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 August 2019
Image found at my.vanderbilt.edu

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