Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Writing

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

Breath of God Unseen – revisited

wind-sculpted-drifts-martin-nd-13-jan-2017

I  posted this in January 2017. It’s as true today as was then, especially given world and national events of the past few years. It’s difficult to keep my eyes on what matters most these days, rather than what parades as ‘reality.’ 

Breath of God
Unseen
Artist of my heart
And life
Breathe on me 

The wind is cold
Unyielding
To my vain cries
For mercy
Breathe on me 

Evening shadows
Lengthen
In fading light
Brilliant
and foreboding 

Deep blue sky
Darkens
Trees bend and sway
Breath of God
Breathe on me 

It’s late afternoon. This morning I woke to this photo on my weather page. I thought immediately about my life and the way God’s Spirit has blown through and around it, unseen and unbidden.  

Looking back, I’d say the outcomes today are beyond my wildest dreams. Not that I’m perfect or successful or even ‘special.’ Rather, this is about contentment. 

I’m at peace with myself, though not always with situations in which I find myself.  Or even with my behavior. Nonetheless, things have changed in my spirit over the last several years. 

Today I have compassion for myself as a child, as a young teenager, as a wife, mother and grandmother, and as a retired professional. I rarely struggle with feeling like a fraud, or with harsh self-talk that belittles me or accuses me of being The Problem with Everything. 

I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m saying I’m at rest with who I am and who I am not. Especially from the inside out. The part that really matters. 

I like what I see when I think of myself as a huge pile of snow, sculpted by God’s Spirit through winds of change. I know, things aren’t exactly spectacular in the world right now. It’s just that today I’m at peace with myself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 January 2017, reposted 1 November 2019
Photo taken by Brian Bender at Martin, North Dakota, USA, 13 Jan 2017
Found at Weather Underground App

Dear Friends | Monday morning update

Life as a blogger is pressing on me these days. Not to stop writing, but to make the most of the time I still have.

I can’t begin to describe how much I love this unexpected gift—blogging. Nonetheless, it’s frustrating to experience my energy dwindling a bit with each passing day.

When I got up this morning I saw two comments left last night that got me all teary. Writing is rewarding. It’s also a bit lonely, even though it’s a way of reaching out. I never know how my words will touch people I know well and not so well. I took my tears and the two comments as a sign that I’m not finished yet.

Nonetheless, I have a few challenges coming up. My heart and my kidneys need to have a conversation. This really means I’ll have conversations with my kidney and heart doctors in the next month. And then make some decisions about what I might do next.

In the meantime, I’m living in the one day at a time mode. Yesterday, Mary Oliver’s poem got me through. I’m still learning to live what she describes. That would be how to expect, recognize, welcome and delight in the gift of each created day. Sunny or not.

Thanks for all your visits, and for reading this. Right now I’m off to the kitchen to make another super-healthy smoothie.

Happy Monday to each of you,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 October 2019
Photo of Lakeshore Grasses at Dawn, Canada, found at army.file

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

The Journey | Mary Oliver

Is Mary Oliver talking about herself in this poem? What do you think? My comments follow.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver, reprinted in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 114-15, Published by Beacon Press 1992

The first time I read this poem I was puzzled. Instead of writing directly about herself, Mary seems to be writing to someone else. Or to a past version of herself?

This poem was first published in 1986 in a collection called Dream Work. The current collection includes 18 poems from Dream Work. They focus on Mary Oliver’s personal life. Not a subject she’s particularly thrilled to write about. And yet….

Without her personal story, it’s possible to think Mary Oliver enjoyed a charmed life of wandering in the woods. Visiting ponds and streams. Watching foxes, fish and birds. Lying in fields of Spring flowers. Making notes in her hand-made notepads. Living a magical life in her chosen world that celebrates nature, beauty in the presence of death, and the perfectly sad and glorious ending of each season.

Wrong. Mary Oliver worked hard to ‘save’ her life. She left home. Literally. She walked away from her father’s abusive behavior, and from voices that incessantly cried out for her to mend their lives. Death followed by what? Nothing?

This poem celebrates Mary’s decision to make a clean break. It also celebrates what she found along the way. Something she didn’t even know she had: a life of her own and a voice of her own.

For that alone, I’m grateful. I’m also challenged to keep listening for my own voice in unexpected places.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2019
A Dark and Stormy Night, by Warren Criswell, found at saatchiart.com

A quick update

First, Longwood Gardens photos are in the works. Yesterday D and I played hooky and went to Longwood Gardens. Our way of celebrating the end of a long streak of heat waves, rain and heavy winds. D’s photos are on my computer, and I’m already plotting a photo post. The photo at the top is a little taste!

Second bit of blog-related news. I’ve created a Mary Oliver category. I haven’t discarded or forgotten about Emily Dickinson. I am, however, especially drawn to Mary’s poetry right now, and anticipate more posts about the way they intersect with my life.

Third bit. I’ve just begun going through over 100 posts on Death and Dying. I’ve created the category, and will continue populating it with old and new material. I’m eager to think and write about life with death on the horizon. Not that that’s anything new….

And finally, I’m making peace with myself one day at a time. In general, that means taking things a bit slower than usual, and spending time in the attic each day. It’s a fabulous place to relax, read, write, do nothing at all, or think about the wonderful people who have helped bring me up whether they knew it or not.

Hugs to those who need them, and smiles to everyone whether you want them or not!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 July 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 24 July 2019, Longwood Gardens’ Waterlilies

Four Sisters in Waiting

This is one of my favorite old photos. There aren’t many that have the four of us looking so spiffy! I think we were at a summer conference in North Carolina. If so, this was 1954. I was 11 1/2; Sister #2 was 9; Sister #3 (Diane) was 5; and Sister #4 was 1 1/2 years old.

Judging by our outfits, this was probably taken on a Sunday morning. White socks, shiny shoes, clean dresses, and curled hair. Obediently looking into the camera whether we wanted to or not. We were the daughters of a preacher. Surely life was a piece of cake. Not.

Even so, I love this photo, and am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to spend time with my sisters. Especially since the late 1990s. They’ve been mirrors for me–telling me more about myself and about themselves and our parents than I remembered.

As some already know, Diane died of ALS in 2006. So now we’re down to three. Even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I find great solace in connecting with them, mostly via the phone.

Back to the photo. If I’m correct, this was the year I played afternoon babysitter to Sister #4. Each day, immediately after lunch in the large conference dining hall, Mom (known as Mother back then) took a much-needed nap and left Sister #4 in my care.

To my great chagrin, more than one conference attendee assumed I was my sister’s mother. I don’t think Sister #4 was keen on the optics, either. I was distressed. How was I going to meet good-looking young men if I had to play momma to my sister?!

One other memory. Sister #4 loved nothing better than lively music to which she could dance. Informally, of course, since dancing itself was a Huge No-No in our family and church.

At this conference, all guests stood at their assigned tables for a hymn or two and a prayer before sitting down to eat. Sister #4 was in a high chair, and broke out into a little sitting jig every time we sang a hymn! I’ll never forget a grumpy old man telling my father he’d better keep his eye on this little girl because she was going to be big trouble!

Little did he know that this docile, obedient Sister #1 was going to be big trouble, too. It takes guts to become a Disobedient Daughter of Eve. A lesson I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Which is why I began this blog in the first place, and why I keep writing. Not to sort things out, but to document what my big trouble looked like, and what it took to break decades of destructive Good Girl habits and beliefs.

Thanks for the visit!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Summer 1954

Still searching for myself

I’m most alive when I write –
If only for myself.
I don’t understand this deep urge
To put myself on paper,
To make visible things
I’ve held closely guarded –
As though I could keep my life
Safely contained
Within the walls of my mind
Secret, lonely, fearful.

Was or am I a big mistake
Parading as reality?
Worse yet, a fraud trying to be
What she was never meant to be?

I wonder –
Is this related to being white in the USA?
Or better – being white and female in the USA?

My mind has been on race and skin color for the last several days, triggered by one of the books I’m reading. It’s titled White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Dr. Carol Anderson, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. The book was published in 2016 by Bloomsbury Press.

Chapter titles:
1. Reconstructing Reconstruction
2. Derailing the Great Migration
3. Burning Brown to the Ground
4. Rolling Back Civil Rights
5. How to Unelect a Black President

I don’t understand the depth of our racial divide here in the USA, or of today’s white rage that seems to be spilling over at every turn. I do, however, understand that white rage is deeply embedded in this nation’s history. It’s part of our nation’s history from the beginning. Our old, old story. The one it seems we’d rather bury underground than face head on.

I don’t have answers, so I’m going to keep reading Dr. Carol Anderson’s well-researched, well-written book, and see what happens. Not out there, but in me.

Comments are welcome, whether you’ve read this book or not.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2019
Bookcover image found at amazon.com

The way from here

 

The way from here
Grows narrow
A finely chiseled path
From this life
To a world as unknown
As life beyond
The womb

When did birthing begin
And when will it end?

Wondering out loud
I search for midwives
To encourage me now
As in the past
How many and for how long
I cannot say
As I set out on another adventure
Another letting go
Another arrival
Somewhere
Into the waiting hands
And hearts of those
Who love me in life
And in death

How do we learn to die? How do we learn to give birth? How do we learn to say enough is enough? Or no, thank you, I’m not going to opt into our reigning medical model of trying whatever can be tried in order to live a bit longer. Comfort care is one thing; unrealistic hope for healing is something else.

My waking dream this morning led to the poem above. The dream suggested I need help, a midwife or two, to get through the last pieces of my journey on this earth. I might even need to become a midwife to myself. Not just by reading books, but by seeking out professionals to help me navigate what lies ahead.

I anticipate writing and talking about how this works out for me, and commenting on books I’ve been reading. My major guide will be a palliative care doctor I spoke with today. She won’t replace my other wonderful doctors. Instead, she’ll help me work with medical personnel, family members and others. I’m not willing to stay alive at all costs. So how will I get from here to there?

Today has been an up and down day. Lots of emotion about making the telephone call, and huge relief when the doctor said she would take me on. I know this isn’t a very popular topic. So I’m especially grateful if you’ve read to this point.

With hope, gratitude and a teeny tiny sense of adventure for what lies ahead,

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2019
Photo found at bastyr.edu

%d bloggers like this: