Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Death and Dying

Lost in a maze of hallways

This poem, written in August 2015, was prompted by a dream. Today it captures my sense of disorientation as a citizen of this world that seems caught in nightmares. Not just those provoked by wars or the ravages of climate change, but by such ‘normal’ events as daily deaths, daily murders, and the horrors of extended wars.

This week, the death of Queen Elizabeth raised questions about the future. It also took from the world a ruler loved by many, though parts of the British Empire would prefer to be independent.

Today, as a citizen of the USA and of this world, I’m in another maze of hallways. I’m disoriented. Wondering where the exit might be. Not just for me, but for each of us. Our nation is in turmoil. Denial won’t work. Neither will false hopes, or lies about yesterday or tomorrow.

I’m wide awake lost in a maze of hallways
filled with small shops and out-of-sight
merchandise if only I will give up my
determination to find the exit and go home.

The young man with me seems happy to
be there smiling at me while dragging
his feet and holding me back with his
nonchalant air of everything’s fine just fine.

It is not fine. I know it. I feel it. I keep
looking around searching for the way out
I know this mall. I’ve been here before.
What happened to all the old landmarks?

Doors are locked. Other doors open onto
new hallways filled with glittering shops
and female shopkeepers smiling and asking
for my attention and presence. Won’t I stay?

I seek help from a woman standing in the
doorway of a small shop. She assures me
I’m not lost and will find the exit if I keep going
Her words soothe but fail to help me.

I wake up troubled, not anxious, yet
eager to know the meaning of this
frustratingly endless dream lost
in a maze of diversions going nowhere

So what about today’s real world? Where are we headed? Or, more important, how much of this make-believe maze of diversions are we going to tolerate?

Thanks, as always, for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 August 2015; reposted on 15 July 2020; revised and reposted on 19 September 2022
Image found at pinterest.com

Letting Go

How hard can it get? Pieces of my life surround me day and night. Always reminding me of something I don’t want to forget, or release just yet.

Tons. That’s how much it seems I’ve already let go—books, do-dads, clothes, cards and letters, kitchen utensils, Tupperware, cookbooks, dishes, and plates. Plus files and records from years of teaching and being a dean, boxes of still usable toys for children, and pictures that decorated the walls of our six homes from the East to the West Coast. Still, some days it seems I haven’t even scratched the surface.

In addition, I’m having to bid farewell to pieces of me. I never dreamed I would be so housebound as I am now. Yes, I get out to walk several times a week (when the weather cooperates). However, I don’t leave the house now without my very nice cane, and the added burden of having to step carefully. No more running up or climbing steep hills. No more wandering through the meadow at Longwood Gardens.

Then there are daily choices I didn’t anticipate. Instead of having a plan for each day, I do what I can and leave the rest. Sometimes it’s a relief; other times it feels like I’m losing part of myself in ways I never anticipated. Especially when I want to read or write or visit my blogging friends.

Letting go. I’ve almost always known that each day is about both life and death. Yet until now, I’ve thought of life as the major component of each day. Now, however, there isn’t a day that passes without reminders that death could come at any moment. Mine, or David’s.

For the last several months, I’ve been uncertain what to write about. Perhaps I was avoiding the obvious? Maybe. Still, I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I do, however, know that the community I’ve discovered on WordPress has given me great joy, a little grief, tons of affirmation, and a place to be myself.

Thank you for being there. I don’t know how things will work out, but I do know that I need to be writing about life as I experience it now. Not because it’s so great, but because it’s unspeakably precious.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 September 2022
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, September 2021

In Pobiddy, Georgia | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem describes an encounter she and her friend have with three women in a churchyard. It’s thought-provoking and challenging. Especially for Labor Day. Please note that I hear this poem as a comment on black lives and deaths, though Mary never identifies this as a black cemetery. My comments follow.

In Pobiddy, Georgia

Three women
climb from the car
in which they have driven slowly
into the churchyard.
They come toward us, to see
what we are doing.
What we are doing
is reading the strange,
wonderful names
of the dead.
One of the women
speaks to us—
after we speak to her.
She walks with us and shows us,
with a downward-thrust finger,
which of the dead
were her people.
She tells us
about two brothers, and an argument,
and a gun—she points
to one of the slabs
on which there is a name,
some scripture, a handful of red
plastic flowers. We ask her
about the other brother.
“Chain gang,” she says,
as you or I might say
“Des Moines,” or “New Haven.” And then,
“Look around all you want.”
The younger woman stands back, in the stiff weeds,
like a banked fire.
The third one—
the oldest human being we have ever seen in our lives—
suddenly drops to the dirt
and begins to cry. Clearly
she is blind, and clearly
she can’t rise, but they lift her, like a child,
and lead her away, across the graves, as though,
as old as anything could ever be, she was, finally,
perfectly finished, perfectly heartbroken, perfectly wild.

Published in 2017 by Penguin Books as Devotions, The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (pp., 265-66)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Poem selected from White Pine (published 1994)

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day, despite harsh realities of forced servitude in what we so proudly call the “United” States of America.

How much sorrow is hidden, planted, and left to die beneath the ground? And what catches our attention when we walk through a churchyard, reading “the strange, wonderful names of the dead?”

The last scene in this short story tells more truth than I’ve found in books written for white consumption. At the same time, I’m caught by the way Mary Oliver never dresses any of this up in fancy clothes. Especially at the end.

In the 1950s, when I was growing up in the Deep South, I passed many small graveyards populated with old, tired, sometimes broken-down grave markers and weeds. I can’t remember any of my school lessons describing or investigating the horrible reality of slavery in the USA. Yet it was in plain sight every day.

So here we are today, still at war with the fruit of our racist history, still struggling to own fully the sad reality that this still shapes each of us regardless of our color or history.

Thanks for your visit. I pray we’ll one day wake up to the often sad, human truth about our country.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2022
Photo found at http://www.newyorker.com

I like a look of Agony | Emily Dickinson

Here’s a poem from Emily Dickinson that speaks to our current national and international rhetoric. My comments follow, in free-verse form. I first posted this in May 2018, in response to our escalating hunger for exaggeration rather than truth.

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true –
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe –

The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death –
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

c. 1861

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily doesn’t like false feelings or pretense. In this poem she sees in Death an example of true feelings. Not expressed in words, but literally, on the forehead of a dying person. No one can possibly play make-believe when it comes time to die. Convulsions and the intense agonies of death, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, can’t be faked.

Nor can those telltale ‘Beads upon the Forehead’ of the dying person. Even silent Anguish cries out with tears that leak through the skin. Beads of Anguish are strung upon the Brow. Thus, Death gives strange birth to The Truth of Agony and Anguish.

Below is my free-verse response to Emily’s poem. It seems ‘fake’ emotions parade before our eyes and ears each day. We live in an age that celebrates Faux or at least Exaggerated Feelings. Perhaps to such an extent that we no longer discern what is Manufactured from what is Real.

With apologies to Emily:

We live in an age of Faux Feelings
Or at least an age that rewards them
Not with congratulations, but with Attention
and Faux Gasps of Horror or Delight

Perhaps we’ve forgotten or never knew
How to have, much less allow airtime
For True Feelings not ratcheted up
To the nth degree — especially True Agony

The kind not found by looking in a mirror
Trying to get just the right look that will
land just the right response be it Attention,
Applause, Laughter or the Disgust of the Moment

Unsocial Commandments hamstring us
Pulling chains that avert our eyes instead of
Encouraging us toward each other in life and
In death as family and next of kin, not strangers

Life and Death itself seem to propel us toward
Ever-greater depths of make-believe and denial –
Hiding behind masks that mimic or minimize feelings
We most fear to acknowledge, sit with or name

Perhaps our Deaths are the only unscripted
Roles we play with unfiltered, uncosmeticized
Feelings of True Agony, Grief, Pain and Love,
Finally crossing all sides of divides that bind us

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2018, lightly edited and reposted 30 August 2022
Photo found at blog.xuite.net

The Morning Paper | Mary Oliver

Here’s another timely challenge from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Mary Oliver, in A Thousand Mornings, p. 63
 2012 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books

Dear Mary,
Your simple, straightforward words capture the horror and shame of life in these ‘enlightened’ times. If I could find a way of picturing this madness, I would.

But there is no picture to be had, apart from news items that focus on gasp-worthy news, too often distorted or misleading. Plus there’s the ongoing horror of death-by-murder rising. Not “over there” in some far-off country or galaxy, but right under our noses. Not just today or yesterday, but the grand total ever since we began waging war against each other and this planet we call home.

How can we live with integrity without putting our heads in the sand? Or without pretending this will all disappear, or that we will figure out how to save this planet from self-destruction. In the meantime, today’s struggles seem more than enough to keep us preoccupied with our own small worlds.

Your closing lines are a painful challenge.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Perhaps beginning at home would be a start. One person at a time. No heads in the sand, but with eyes and ears wide open, and hearts ready for changes that touch and support real life in real time.

With admiration and gratitude,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 August 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

The Long and Short of it

A ping pong in my mind
Spins from one reality to another

Grounded
I know I’m not lost
But the feelings in my bones
And in my feet keep
Bouncing back and forth

Stricken
By the deaths of colleagues
And friends I feel lost in the
Immensity and beauty of life
Wondering how long this will last

Drunk
By the glory of nature
Around but not in me
My eyes and ears turn into gluttons
For the beauty this earth

The photo at the top was my best effort at finding a photo remotely like an old postcard I received from my seminary theology professor, Dr. Paul King Jewett. It’s dated 1 July 1977. It showed up in a drawer of personal items I’ve saved over the years.

This past week two of my seminary colleagues died: Dr. J. Deotis Roberts, and Dr. Ron Sider. In addition, one of my seminary students from the mid-1990s died. Then just yesterday, I attended (via You Tube) a memorial service for a prominent member of our church.

All of this pushes me to stay focused on the glorious and inglorious parts of my life. Especially peripheral neuropathy in my feet. I now have a spiffy cane that accompanies me on my walks around the neighborhood. I don’t always need it. Nonetheless, it gives me confidence. Especially when I walk across a field or stroll past unruly dogs!

Within the last week I’ve begun using a series of online exercises. They’re offered by an Australian physiotherapist at MoreLifeHealth.com. No drugs. Just simple, daily exercises to strengthen and relax my feet and legs. Free. He also offers help for patients with peripheral neuropathy in their hands. Here’s a link to all his videos for various health issues.

Hoping your week is both challenging and uplifting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 July 2022
Painting by Albert Bierstadt, circa 1876; Found at Wikimedia Commons

Terror, Faith, 9/11/2001 and Today

It’s no accident, this constant ringing in my head each time another unplanned attack takes place on home turf.

We have a long-practiced habit here in the USA. Instead of focusing on our personal problems, we focus intently on those of others. That includes leaders and residents of the USA as well as those of other countries.

Whether we like it or not, our bluff is being called every day and night. Instead of learning to live together as human beings, we’ve majored on becoming a country divided against itself. Worse, we don’t seem ready to examine ourselves as part of the problem.

Back in 2001, I spoke at a seminary-wide gathering to consider the still-fresh bombing of the twin towers in NYC. The only thing I could do with honesty was speak about myself, acknowledging my own lack of readiness to die in an instant.

Here’s what I said then and am saying again today in light of home-grown terror that’s tearing us apart.

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 am 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….”

These days I’m praying for small ways to make lifegiving connections with those I love and those I too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2022
News photo found at http://www.nbcnews.com

Love Sorrow | Mary Oliver

Facing old age and death is no picnic. However, the post below still helps me re-imagine my relationship to my own sorrow. She’s a small version of me and needs to be loved day and night. Thank you once again, Mary Oliver.  

This poem from Mary Oliver struck a chord in me. Partly due to the current pandemic, with its waves of sorrow. But also because of my personal history. My comments follow.

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird, a collection of poems
“Love Sorrow” is on p. 64

Dear Mary,

Your poem about loving sorrow brought back memories of my childhood and adult life. Especially things taken or withheld from me before I understood they were mine. Plus bits and pieces I lost or gave away throughout my life.

Sorrow, especially if it showed, was an indulgence I needed to give up. Or get over. What’s done is done. It won’t do to make my friends uneasy, or get into trouble with adults who wanted me to be someone else. I learned early to swallow or deny sorrow. Especially in public.

I think you would be horrified though not surprised at the world as it is today. We’re drowning in sorrow and anger, trying to figure out how this tsunami pandemic caught us so unprepared for death and dying, as well as living mindfully.

I don’t want to drown. I want to live and grow, especially now as time is running out.

Thank you for showing me how to befriend my sorrow. How to welcome her into my life, and learn to live with her as the child she is. And how to watch her begin to relax and grow into a strangely wonderful companion.

With gratitude and admiration,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 May 2020, reposted on 20 June 2022
Image found at 123rf.com

Thou answerest the lamb | George MacDonald

Most mornings I read one of George MacDonald’s sonnets while I’m eating breakfast. I’ve read through them more than once in the last three decades.

However, life has changed since then. I’m approaching death (as I always have but didn’t feel so keenly). In addition, churches and religious leaders, state and national leaders, and educational institutions (to name a few) are often addicted to choosing politically ‘correct’ sides. It’s costly to acknowledge our failures and blindness in order to listen to the least protected and vulnerable among us, and act accordingly.

Violence and tragedies are in the news these days. My first response is often outrage. This sonnet strikes a chord in me. It helps me get focused yet again on who and what I am and am not.

My prayers, my God, flow from what I am not;
I think thy answers make me what I am.
Like weary waves thought follows upon thought,
But the still depth beneath is all thine own,
And there thou mov’st in paths to us unknown.
Out of strange strife thy peace is strangely wrought;
If the lion in us pray–thou answerest the lamb.

From George MacDonald’s The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul, 1880
Sonnet for May 26
The text is in the Public Domain.

I’m not suggesting all I have to do is remember I’m a lamb. Instead, though I’m not a lion, prayers that flow from my distress and anger won’t be discarded. Instead, answer to our prayers will come from One who understands today’s “strange strife” better than we understand any of it.

This sonnet isn’t about being disciplined by our Creator. It’s an invitation to be a lamb, letting my prayers be what they are and knowing our Creator works behind the scenes, moving “in paths to us unknown.” It isn’t magic; it’s a partnership.

Thanks for stopping by, especially today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 May 2022
Photo found at edgarsmission.org

Falling in love with today

How soft and easy
the pillow of yesterday
when heart, mind and body
were young and strong
filled with adventure

When did the lie creep in?
The lie that weak isn’t strong
or even beautiful in its
softening and yearning for
more time on this precious earth

Peering into the rear-view mirror
of life as I’ve known it has become
a daily gift to myself and to those
I loved and let go along the way
while holding them in my heart

I’m painfully aware that my energy for blogging has plummeted in the past several months. Not because I don’t want to show up, but because I’m still coming to terms with the ups and downs of nondiabetic peripheral neuropathy.

At the top of my daily list have been painful feet plus awkwardness when walking. A close second has been keeping pots of soup or stew ready to eat, along with cut-up veggies ready to eat raw or steamed. In addition, the weather is warming up nicely, the birds fight daily at our two birdfeeders, Smudge loves my lap, and I’m learning to walk outside with my handy-dandy hiking pole.

Bottom line: I’m learning to treat my feet as part of me—not as my enemies. They aren’t going away, and even if I live to be 100 years old, I can’t thank them enough for taking me places I never dreamed I would go. So yes, we’re on the same side now. No more glowering looks or worse. Instead, I’m learning to listen to them, thank them for letting me know enough is enough, and give them and myself the break we deserve.

I pray your day includes giving yourself the breaks you need and deserve.
Cheers from Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 May 2022
Photo from eventbrite.jpg

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