Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Death and Dying

Searching for what we’ve lost

Sit with it
Let it sink in
Recall the day and hour
The occasion

Sounds and faces
Sunday meeting clothes
Dressed up but not too much
For his memorial service

It’s already late in the day
Hungry for time
We linger with each other
Searching for what we’ve lost

Are we ready for this
What will we do now
His passing long anticipated
Sinks with the setting sun

How are you
I’m so glad you came today
I thought this nightmare
Would never end

Written after I looked at family pictures from my father’s memorial service. I wanted to distract myself and stop the tears that welled up. Instead, I decided to write it out.

My father’s dying was long and tormented. Chiefly due to his stubborn insistence on doing things his way, even though his body wouldn’t go there anymore. I often wished he had gone first, before my mother. But that didn’t happen. He was 96 years old. I was 66. The year was 2010.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2018 

ready for harvest


Ripe and ready for harvest
The meadow lies before me
Still standing yet stripped
Of all but essentials

The sum of my present life
Waits for release into new life
Seeds dropped here and there
With no guarantees

There is no cure for death
The goal toward which
Every heartbeat has driven me
The home for which I long

I feel only loneliness and sorrow
At leaving behind loved ones
And this beautiful threatened world

D took this photo on our last visit to Longwood Gardens. No more stunning meadow flowers, and not so many joyous birds and butterflies. Instead, it’s full of late term life, ready to give its well-aged beauty to anyone willing to spend time looking and listening.

It isn’t as perky as it was just a month ago. Still, it isn’t ugly, or a sign that all is lost. Rather, it’s a sign that life is brief and fragile, and that it’s important to love it while we have it. One way or another, death comes to each of us sooner or later. With or without time for last goodbyes or heartfelt conversations.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 November 2017
Photo taken by DAFraser, 28 October 2017
Daily Prompt: Panacea

The patient

The patient lies dying
Body wasting
Skin pale and taut
lethargic eyes stare
from hollowed out sockets
Faded remnants of life born in hope
disappear in deep shadows

A priest garbed in vestments
stands before a makeshift altar
Demeanor and voice concentrated
on the proper order of things
His hands grasp the sacrament of life
hanging heavy in this cramped space

A young altar boy looks on
Head and eyes slightly averted
Hands clasped close to his chest
Sad eyes try not to stare

Filtered through a small window
dying light descends into the room
touching the patient’s Madonna-like robe
with a gleaming halo of grace
This is somebody’s beloved child
Fragile and sick unto death
Beyond hope of survival
Now the center of attention
Seated in a chair of royal honor

Tender looks and hand of a caregiver
Rest lightly on the young child
A man sits in shadows
Body bent in despair
Head slumping on his hand
A small dog sits on his lap
Looking on with downcast eyes
The priest’s voice continues

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 August 2017
Painting found at Wickipedia
1888 Painting by Venezuelan artist, Cristóbal Rojas (1857-1890)
Rojas died of tuberculosis about 5 weeks before his 33rd birthday. 

Letting go my desire for survival

I’m missing the routines
that keep me steady
and grounded.

Living moment to moment—
So happy to be with her again,
my daughter.

A little off-balance in my daily life—
Grateful for a quiet mid-day
so I can write, eat, be with myself and rest.

The rain has stopped and the sky is brighter.
Still feeling the edge of cold damp air
on my hands, legs and torso—
Wore my wool undershirt today
and flannel-lined jeans.

I want to mother her—
The thought of end-of-life stuff
gives extra meaning and urgency to our visits.

Have I been faithful to her?
Always such a distance to travel
for such a small bit of time.

Is it time to practice letting go—for good?
Whatever that means—
I’m not sure.

I’ve never done this before.
Neither has she—
So many unknowns.

It’s hard to see through tears.

Just being alone for a few hours in this house
feels sad—too empty,
too quiet.

What will it be when she isn’t here—
Or when I’m not here?….

***

I wrote this journal entry during a recent week-long visit with our daughter and her husband. Our first visit with them since I learned I have Chronic Kidney Disease. Surprisingly, the words sing to me–sweetly and sadly. No rushed or distressed cadence. Just the leading edge of a reality unknown to me as a mother.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 May 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Survive

Don’t lose heart!

Renewal: urban renewal, spiritual renewal, book renewals (from the library), renewed vision, renewed strength, and renewed energy.

A-ha! Renewed energy! I long for it, yet experience it these days in tantalizing bits that often dissipate overnight.

From the day I was born in 1943, I began dying. Stranger still, everyone around me thought I was just revving up. Maturing. Developing. Becoming a mature, responsible adult woman.

Which means on my way to death. Right?

No one lasts on this earth forever. How dismal can it get? I’m not a pessimist, but I’m also not a gung-ho optimist, so finding my balance from day to day is dicey.

My tock is ticking down. Relentlessly.

Yet I feel more myself than ever before. More at peace with who I am, if not at peace with everything that happens to me. And yes, I want to be renewed. Who doesn’t?

Renewal hurts. Something has to go. Or be altered. Even then, renewal isn’t guaranteed. Especially if I think I’ll get back what I just lost. So that my life can go on ‘as usual.’

Things falling apart is usual. Making do is usual. Total restoration of all bits and pieces of me is neither usual nor guaranteed in this life.

This past year, things fell apart. Unexpected visitors (heart problems, broken jaw, Lucy pacemaker) moved in to stay. When I’m willing to stop, accept, and listen to them, they free my spirit and my writing voice in ways I don’t understand.

So I haven’t lost heart, and I pray you haven’t either. For me, renewal is happening alongside things falling apart internally and externally. Especially renewal of my inner-woman voice that leaps out of my fingers when I sit down at my computer.

Thanks for reading and listening!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 December 2016
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Renewal

our inmost garments

God welcoming a prodigal
MacDonald has death on his mind. Not death as a process, but death as the proper goal of life. His images are positive, though the realities he names aren’t usually welcome. My comments follow. Read the rest of this entry »

Revisiting Sabbath Sloth

P1110687

Today I couldn’t help noticing that three people viewed my June 2015 post on Sabbath Sloth. That made me happy! So I checked it out, admired the sinfully relaxed sloth, and was struck by several things. Read the rest of this entry »

unread mysteries all of us

unread mysteries all of us,
tantalizing and elusive

Several days ago I read a beautiful, evocative poem Read the rest of this entry »

Saying Goodbye to Mom | Memories

1996, Diane on bench, Montgomery house

Diane at our old house on the river, 1996

Regrets. This one grabbed my attention after I’d written my piece about Mom and Arnica Ointment. It all began in 1998 with a telephone call to let me know Mom had just had a stroke. The news immediately set off a firestorm of self-recrimination in me. Here’s why.

In late 1998, two months before Mom’s stroke, she and Dad flew to Houston to visit Diane and her family. I’d flown to Houston two days earlier–the first time I’d visited Diane since she had gone on a ventilator.

Even though I’d been there before, I wasn’t ready for the sound of this monster machine pumping, wheezing and making noise night and day. Add to that the agony of never hearing Diane’s voice again.

Two days later I drove to the airport to pick up our parents. Mom was in a wheelchair. She was wearing a new, unobtrusive microphone that picked up and projected her weak voice. Suitcases were piled high on a cart. Some filled with equipment to ease Mom’s increasing difficulties with post-polio syndrome.

Mom and Dad’s visit with Diane was painfully difficult. They didn’t seem to know how to relate to her, given dramatic changes in Diane’s ability to communicate.

Two years earlier in March 1996, Diane, her husband and daughter drove to Savannah for a small family reunion. We all knew Diane had ALS, and that this was her last trip to Savannah.

There were awkward moments, especially when Mom choked more than once while trying to swallow food. We all knew Mom wasn’t well. Nonetheless, the visit was happy, a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.

We drove downtown to see the old grade school we sisters attended, and where Mom taught kindergarten. We also drove out to our old house on the river, seen in the photo above, sandbar peeking through at low tide.

Diane’s body already showed limitations from ALS. Yet they were nothing compared to what she now lived with, just over two years later.

Here are a few excerpts from my Houston journal that describe what I observed in my parents in late 1998.

Silence and sadness and inability to speak. . . .Very uncomfortable to watch. . . .Neither of them [my parents] knowing what to say or how to act. Awkward.

The air was heavy with longing and with stunned silence. Not knowing what to do or how to relate. Sometimes projecting onto Diane thoughts and feelings that seemed to keep them from admitting their own sense of grief and helplessness.

I tried to help bridge the gap, but it didn’t work. I felt stuck. Unable to move things forward. Nothing about this visit felt normal—even though we were all dealing with the new normal.

My parents were there for five days. On the sixth day, Diane’s daughter and I drove them to the airport. I wasn’t sure how I would tell them goodbye. A lot of old buttons got pushed in me during this visit, and I was relieved that they were returning home.

Still, the thought of my parents negotiating the airport alone weighed heavily on my mind. I was about to suggest we park and go in with them when Mom spoke up. She said she didn’t want us to go in with them because she didn’t like goodbyes.

So we dropped them off at the curbside check-in and left them there. Two very frail human beings. As we drove away I had second thoughts.

Two months later I got the call about Mom’s stroke. I’d talked on the phone with her once since the Houston trip. It was my last verbal conversation with Mom.

For years I blamed myself for not parking and going into the terminal. Strangely, it seems Mom’s stroke and my arnica ointment helped ease the way for both of us–even though it was late.

Perhaps that’s how I discovered what I wanted to say to her, and how. Still, I prefer earlier goodbyes. And fewer regrets.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, March 1996

Reality check | Dear Diane

In this piece, Diane shares two moments of truth about her life with ALS. I add a moment I remember in my response to her.

Reality check

Two experiences reside permanently in my mind, moments when the reality of what was happening to my body came crashing in and seemed suffocating. They were both points of dramatic transition in the disease process.

I remember literally walking away from the job I loved on a Friday afternoon. I was grateful all the men with whom I worked happened to be out of the office. I didn’t think they would know how to respond to the situation and I didn’t want to deal with awkwardness. It was difficult enough to walk away from the women in the office.

Clay was with me and my second son just happened to return with others from a church activity as we walked out the door. I wanted to hide, especially from my son. Instead he became a source of comfort as we walked silently to the car. He understood. He shared my loss.

Another moment of truth came three years later as I was wheeled toward the operating room for a tracheostomy. I’ve never felt anxiety over surgery, just a desire to get on with it. I felt the same about this procedure but my unexpected tears wouldn’t stop. I was grateful they hadn’t started until I was out of sight of my kids. They might have misunderstood. They had enough of their own emotions to process. I feared Clay would misunderstand as he walked with me through the endless corridors. I shouldn’t have worried.

When the medical personnel with me tried to calm my apparent fear, Clay became my voice explaining my tears. I wasn’t fearful or anxious. I had no second thoughts about my choice to extend my life with a ventilator. I was grieving yet another major transition, another loss. I was recognizing the cumulative enormity of our losses and wondering where it would all end. Somehow Clay understood. Perhaps he had the same thoughts.

June 2000

Dear Diane,
“The enormity of your losses,” yours and Clay’s together, hits me in the gut. It’s a place I know nothing about. There’s you. There’s Clay. And then there’s whatever that magic reality is that’s called Diane and Clay. Together. Husband and wife, parents of three beautiful children. All of you living with ALS.

I can’t forget the day they brought in your single hospital bed. The delivery and setup men were all business-like as they invaded your bedroom. You wept as you watched them dismantle the bed you and Clay had occupied for decades. You said it was like watching them take your marriage apart.

Nor have I forgotten what happened to your bed—yours and Clay’s. It got set up in the guest room. Now it was mine to sleep in. That first night it seemed I was betraying you by sleeping in it. Somehow I was desecrating it. Becoming one of ‘them.’ Those people and machines who were relentlessly invading your life and pushing you and Clay farther and farther apart in your bodies if not in your spirits.

There’s something about ALS that’s different from other diseases. It brings sudden death over and over and over again. Without warning. Here today, gone tomorrow. Little things. Big things. Including the death of hope that ALS will stop its relentless invasions.

I also witnessed moments when Clay and your children ‘got it.’  Each in his or her way. The ever-growing collection of Beanie Babies from one of your sons, the quiet coming-alongside of your other son, and the faithful sunny presence of your daughter as she became a young woman and mother.

And then there was Clay. Quietly attending to yard work, shrubs, flowers and bird feeders for your enjoyment. Working away on your computer or some other machine to make sure it did what it was supposed to do. Looking into your eyes, touching you.

If this seems a sad letter, it is. I loved accompanying you on your journey. I didn’t love what ALS meant for you and your family.

Love and hugs,
Elouise

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