Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Vulnerability

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

The Ponds

Here’s a thought-provoking poem from Mary Oliver, followed by my comments.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them—

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away—
and that one is a lumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

©Mary Oliver, in New and Selected Poems, Vol. One., pp. 92-93
Beacon Press, Boston, 1992

Of course imperfections aren’t necessarily nothing. Sometimes they’re distress calls. Or signs of neglect.

Still, like Mary Oliver, I also want and need to see big picture beauty in a water lily pond, garden or meadow. Because, as she puts it, “I want to believe [And I do!] I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery.”

The mystery, it seems to me, isn’t simply about water lilies. It’s also about us. Especially now. Not simply because each of us is beautiful, but because taken together, we reflect the light of a mystery beyond ourselves. Something beyond our beauty, our flaws, and our “unstoppable decay.” To say nothing of the muskrats (whose days are also numbered) looking to take us down one by one.

Especially now.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

Death and The Kookaburras

First, a poem from me, a few comments, and a poem from Mary Oliver.

One loss at a time
The challenge is laid down
So transparently
The message cannot
Be mistaken

It’s time to let go
To hold each day lightly
To give up great expectations
And the hope of getting
To the top of Mt. Everest
Or even within its foothills

Yet my body and soul
Cry out for more –
More time
More energy
More beauty
More music
As greed sets in
Along with hunger
For what I think
I’ve lost
Or never had

I’ve been unusually restless this past week. It was wonderful to connect with my new palliative care doctor on the phone. Now I’m waiting for my first face-to-face conversation, and find I’m uneasy.

Is this really what my life has come to? Something in me wants to hang on just a bit more, even though I know it’s time to begin letting go and shifting my attention and energy to what’s yet possible. On the other hand, who knows what Mt. Everest I’ll yet climb or even fly above in ways I never dreamed of.

Mary Oliver’s poem “The Kookaburras” has haunted me for the past week.

In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, kingfishers, pressed against the edge of
their cage, they asked me to open the door.
Years later I wake in the night and remember how I said to them,
no, and walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn’t want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.

©Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, p. 87
Published by Beacon Press , Boston, 1992

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? The struggle between hanging on and letting go of what we were never meant to imprison. Not ourselves, not other people, and not kookaburras who just want to fly home to their river.

I want to let my spirit, my soul fly home. I also recognize the coward and procrastinator in me, wanting to say no, and walking away without unlatching the cage.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2019
Photo found at australianmuseum.net.au

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

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring
Aunt Margie’s wooden jewelry box with drawers
Mother’s dainty embroidered handkerchiefs
Faded photos from years long gone
Fragile connections to my past and present
Links to times and people I knew
Reminders that I’m not alone

And what will remain of me –
What left-behind bits and pieces carry
Hints of the woman I was and now am
Woven into lives of family, friends and strangers
Lives that touched mine giving and taking
Hints of pasts we scarcely remember
Reminders that we are not alone

With gratitude for all who have left marks on my life. Memories, greeting cards, notes, photos, comments on academic papers and blog postings, my piano teacher’s pencil notes in my piano books, a small Celtic cross from a friend when a family member died, and on and on. Each a gem and reminder that we’re not alone.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2019
Image of old Valentines found at etsy.com

Staring at a blank page

Staring at a blank page
Wondering what lies within
This relentless transition
From life on earth to whatever
Comes next

This morning’s air is heavy
With unanswered questions
More waiting in the wings
And the invisible fog of
Not knowing

I hear the clock chiming out
The hour of the day and wonder
What day and hour it is in the
Brief picture of my life
On this earth

Surely this isn’t what You meant
By numbering my days
Though I do sometimes long
To return to the womb and
Start over

Today is already half gone
Never to be relived and likely
Never grieved just forgotten
A small yet significant piece of
Your great puzzle

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2019
Photo found at pinterest.com

Loose ends

At loose ends with myself
Weary after a week of pain
Strangely connected to my
Healed yet still broken jaw

Struggling a bit with morning
Light now arriving so early
That my body rebels when I
Try to sing it back to sleep

Heat is piling on this week
Heavy eyelids insist on falling
Down when I want them to
Stand up and fight for me

My attic chair beckons
High above the noise of
Everyday traffic and business
As usual in these strange times

I think it’s time for another
Little catnap from the ups and
Downs of this week perhaps
With my eyes closed snoozing

What a bizarre few weeks. Sharp pains in my left front side—triggered, it seemed, by lifting items or bending over and then standing up. It made sense to me.

Wrong! My doctor says the pain is triggered by tight muscles in my upper body. It seems they’re trying to protect me from the pain of chewing anything too hard or crunchy. Along with some muscles in my face, they’ve become stiff, inflamed and painful.

As of yesterday, I began exercises that seem to invite pain. Not in huge amounts, but as much as I can tolerate. This is followed by smearing my favorite inflammation remedy (arnica cream) on my back. I’ve also signed up for clinic sessions to work on my rib cage and scapula. Though I won’t be as loose and relaxed as Smudge or his distant cousin at the top, I can’t wait to get there.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening! The attic beckons. Life is good.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 6 May 2019, Longwood Gardens

Transformation

Shepherds and sheep
Transformed at the sight
Of one small baby in a
Rude bed – the table set
Unexpectedly for all who
Dare follow this child into
Our upside-down world of
Rags to riches-and-glory–Now made small and lost
In an upside-down kingdom
Of lowly shepherds and dumb
Sheep besotted at the sight
Of a tiny homeless babe
Birthed in a stable beneath
Stars in the night sky

I know. It isn’t Christmas. Nonetheless, during the past week I enjoyed revisiting Dinah Roe Kendall’s collection of her paintings, Allegories of Heaven. In it she explores the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” The collection includes Kendall’s brief comments about her paintings, and short excerpts from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message.

These days I’m learning to spend half an hour each day with myself. Not with a list of things to do, but with something I love or with nothing at all except the view from my attic windows. Which is why I began looking at this collection — a Christmas gift I received years ago.

The simplicity and awe of both shepherds and sheep grabbed my attention and prompted my thoughts in the poem. It’s never too early or late to consider this invitation to join the upside-down kingdom and become part of the revolution.

How to do this at my age? I’m not sure, but I know it will put me in good company no matter where it’s found.

Looking forward to a new week!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2019
Artwork by Dinah Roe Kendall found at art.com

Aging Beauty

gnarled, scarred and off-center
rising awkwardly toward heaven
sinking into earth’s riches
the aging wisteria trunk twists and turns

youthful offspring
dance in early spring
carefree and dependent


©Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser, 12 June and 6 May 2019
Longwood Gardens

The mind is the last to consent

Or, Semi-poetic thoughts about death and dying

The mind is the last to consent –
Alternative scenarios tease us
Surely this can’t be the end
Wispy threads dangle enticements
We could try this or look into that
Prayers for miracles multiply

Cheerful faces mask sad truth —
The patient is dying, yet anguish
And well-meaning hope sometimes
Impede consent to the obvious
Resulting in further digressions
That produce even more anguish

The end is upon each of us sooner
Not later, with or without goodbyes

To ‘give in’ to death may seem to be
Callous dismissal of those we love
Or loss of hope or lack of faith to
Demand of God great things with
Or without the patient’s consent

Worse, if I’m a medical person perhaps
Giving in means failure to do my job
Even though I may agree that this
Dying person is sick unto death and
We were not created to live forever
In these temporary earth-bound bodies

My hero when it comes to dying is my sister Diane. She chose to go on comfort care after living with ALS for ten years. When she learned she had ALS, she worked with trusted people to identify what she was and was not willing to endure, and where she wanted to die—at home.

Even so, in the end she had to consent to the criteria she herself had itemized. She had to communicate to her doctors and nurses, ‘Enough is enough.’ She also had to trust that those with power of attorney would honor her wishes.

So what does it mean for me to ‘prepare’ for death? At the least, it means living each day well, insofar as I’m able. Especially when it comes to self-care.

I wish that were enough. Unfortunately, given medical structures and practices here in the USA, it isn’t. If I want to avoid getting caught in an endless search for ‘health’ or extension of life, it’s up to me to take the initiative. This includes decisions, paper trails, agreements, and work with family and friends involved with my care and wellbeing.

I can’t do this alone. I’m reading books, and have family and a few friends with whom I can talk. Yet it’s up to me. Even so, there’s no guarantee my wishes and directives will be honored. We don’t always get to choose the time or manner of our deaths.

Blessings to each of you, and thanks so much for listening.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens, 12 June 2019

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