Is There a Perfect Age to Die?

Is it better to die young or old? Isn’t it true that when we hear of a young person or a child who dies we feel it to be terribly tragic? On my travels this past summer I visited my dead relatives in a forgotten cemetery surrounded by state forest where the trees are planted in far more uniform lines than the grave stones.

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An uncle of mine was the cemetery sexton over a century ago who’s job it was to dig the holes when the ground was thawed for burial of the little community’s dead. In his neat 19th century script he kept records of the friends and family he helped to bury for a fee, making sure to note who had paid and who had not.

My grandfather (4x) was all paid up in 1860. In that same year his four-year-old son had died and his married daughter too.  On my summer trip I met distant cousins who made a picnic for us by the pond so when we went to the cemetery I wasn’t really able to soak it in as much as I would have liked (though meeting my  cousins and feeling instantly attached to them made up for the little disappointment).

XVXW1091I made sure to take a solitary trip in the fall to commune with my dead. People talk of soul mates but do they talk of soul places? The place my soul is drawn to is a bleak and beautiful county in Upstate New York. If I could live beside the cemetery I would be quite pleased.

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On this second trip, with the wind causing the pines to whisper all around, not a soul stirred for a mile. So much of the county is deserted now and all of my family farm land is owned by the grabby hands of the state. All of the woods chopped by my New England ancestors are back to “forest” though there is hardly a wild feel to these managed rows.

Back to the dead.

I entered the cemetery through the opening in the rock wall that surrounds the place. Once an iron banner stood over the entranceway, but someone had carried it away for their antiques collection or had destroyed it for fun. Nobody knows.  The stones stood white for over a century until acid rain  became a thing and turned the limestone black.

IMG_0098And still I avoid talking of the dead — though I have no fear of death because of the very people I came to visit. As the wind picked up and the loneliness of the place heightened my awareness of the longing I always have to time travel I found my grandfather’s stone. My grandmother’s had broken in two and lay beside her husband’s.

No one believed way back then that this grandfather would keep the faith after his conversion but he did and made sure that his stone would declare this faith with the Holy Bible carved at the very top. He had one made for his wife and even his adult daughter. Of course in a God-fearing community of Baptists the style of stone could have been the basic model, but not everyone in the cemetery have such stones.

My aunt (4x) and even the sexton who was her husband are buried close by, but little Jesse, my Grandfather’s son who died at the age of four, lies close beside his grandfather’s stone. Jesse’s stone is ornate in comparison to many of the others and has a long and hard-to-read epitaph. I knelt before it in the moist grass and scratched the moss from the stone to get a better look. Much of the epitaph has been worn away but there are words about eternity, sorrow and love.

What is the most tragic age to die?

Is it even a tragedy? As a mother of adult children I still pray that I die before my children do, yet I totally believe in the eternity of souls. I was thinking the other day that a long life carries with it far more suffering than a short one. I was reminded of this idea  when reading The Brother’s Karamazov:

“Add to that that he was to some extent a youth of our last epoch — that is, honest in nature, desiring the truth, seeking for it and believing in it, and seeking to serve it at once with all the strength of his soul, seeking for immediate action, and ready to sacrifice everything , life itself, for it. Though these young men unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in many cases, the easiest of all sacrifices …”

This is not to say a child is seeking after all of this. The cuteness of children, the holy innocence of them is maybe why we hate their loss the most and miss them more terribly (if that is true and I’m not certain) amidst this worldly corruption. When young men and women (but still mostly men) sacrifice themselves for causes and wars the thing is terrible, but glorified. But to live on and die an average age, to experience the death of others, to be diagnosed with disease, to fail at work, to be stuck in deep depression or chronic pain … most of these things are reserved for the middle-aged and the elderly.

In the Catholic Church it is not a sin to talk to redeemed souls, to ask after them, and to beg them to pray before God’s throne for us. We can also pray for them. This absolutely thrills me. I’m in no hurry to die, but I long for the day when I will meet generations of family.

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By the road side where my soul lives …

I feel strengthened especially by those who lived long and hard lives, who learned things from deep suffering and carried on with mystic purpose. In ways that I can’t explain, I feel especially close to some of my dead. I know and have experienced signs that we loved each other deeply in another place. Some people would say it’s a coping mechanism or the product of an active imagination, but the older I get the more I feel it’s true and the less I worry about the end.

Have you ever been in touch with dead souls? Let me know in the comments!

 

A Random Blended Family Dog Tale

I’d dreamed of  having my own Cavalier King Charles Spaniel ever since art history classes when their adorable little faces peeked out from behind skirts of royals in masterpieces. Huckle had me bewitched at once. He was spoiled and not impressed with boys and men. He wanted to be man of the house.

In the tumult of a divorce which soon followed Huckle matured into a sex-crazed teenager. My second husband was not impressed. He had him immediately fixed but his Napoleonic temperament remained (which endeared him to me even more). There’s something impressive about an eleven pound dog who makes people heel. Our boys were afraid of him because he growled at them over throw blankets on the couch.

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The Cavalier Escapes!

One Sunday as we were getting ready for church, our son (who back then in the blended family was my husband’s son) let the dog out by mistake — and stood there gaping. My daughter and son had a special attachment to Huckle because it was their dog from before. They started berating my husband’s son and then pushed  past him along with my husband to chase the tiny king down the three acre field that led to a frothing spring river.

For most of this time I was blissfully unaware in the shower.  By the time I entered the kitchen I could see through the glass doors far in the distance the family slowly returning up the go-cart path. Yes, we had a go-cart. It was embarrassing to my city slicker kids for about ten minutes until they had their go on it.

Turns out Huckle had jumped into the river. My husband had too. The girls waded in but my husband yelled to get back ashore. By the time they made it to the house they were all muddy and sweaty except or Huckle who had been carried in triumph by his servants.

I wondered if it was a Cavalier trait to kick and stomp with his back legs when he wanted something. My husband and Huckle found common ground that day. Timothy kicked and stomped in his mud-stained yellow shirt as we called one of the few family meetings we’ve ever attempted to have.

100_2464Family Meeting and a Solution to the Cavalier Problem

My kids rolled their eyes at the family sitcom notion of civilized meetings. Timothy’s kids were frightened by the looks my kids were sending them when they thought I wasn’t looking. Timothy stormed on. “Huckle is part of this family and there’s no excuse for letting down Huckle. He doesn’t know any better, but you kids do know better.”

My daughter grumbled. “It was your kid who let the dog loose.”

My son signaled for her to shut up.

Timothy took an impatient breath but  let the comment go.  “So, because Huckle is an important part of the family we will have to adjust our budget to buy Huckle a shock collar.” He waited for the looks of horror around the table to subside. “It’s either that or Huckle’s gonna die.”

Another gasp.

“It wasn’t that long ago that Huckle ran unto the highway and you all followed …” he reminded us.

I was one of those crazed lunatics, by the way.

Huckle escaped death on many occasions even with the collar. He got Lyme and a lung infection but charmed even the most hardcore anti-purebred vet who ran out on several occasions to bribe Huckle to eat by offering McDonalds.

As the vet never failed to remind me, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are susceptible to heart problems. He died a few years back but had lived a full and pampered life until the very last day. I was home alone and was glad about it. He was my special sweetheart.

What’s your favorite dog breed? This is a no judgment zone as far as dogs go. We have rescues and purebred critters. A true blended situation. Have you noticed certain endearing things about a favorite breed? Has your dog ever caused conflict (or resolved conflict)? Let me know in the comments!

 

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day (the story behind the song)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Merry Christmas!

Family Histories (Holiday Edition): Dad’s Birthday

Welcome to Family Histories (Holiday Edition). I’ve invited readers and bloggers to share holiday themed pieces with the accent on “Family” and “History” in any way they like.

This story by my friend LUANNE CASTLE nearly made me cry so get ready for a beautiful love story!

When I was nine, my mother took my little brother and me to Robert Hall to buy my father a dress shirt and tie. She asked the salesman for a gift box. “It’s for my husband’s birthday.”

As the man turned away, I pulled on my mother’s purse. “It’s not Dad’s birthday! His birthday is the day after Christmas! It’s only June 26!” My mother’s lie shocked me. My brother’s little face, peering up at us, swiveled between Mom and me.

“Shhh, this really is a birthday present, but it’s for your father’s half-birthday!”  As we walked out to the car, my mother explained the new holiday she had invented.

My father and his fraternal twin, my uncle Frank, were born on 26 December 1928, just before the start of the Great Depression. They were raised by their single mother, a tailor, with the help of their sister who was only four years their senior. The only birthday gifts my grandmother could afford for her children was the clothing she sewed them. So my father grew up with very little—and what he had was shared with his brother. Even his birthday was shared.

What made it even harder for him was that he shared the season of his birthday with that of the baby Jesus. When my parents got married, my mother saw right away that my father craved the attention of a good birthday. We were careful never to use Christmas wrapping paper for my father’s gift. My mother made him a special birthday meal and cake, rather than serving him food left over from Christmas. But his birthday always felt a little stale, with everyone satiated with food and gifts from the days before—and with gifts to return to the store.

Even as a very young child, I could sense a sadness in my father on his birthday. His gestures and words were brittle, and I could sense that the year after year repetition of disappointment on December 26 weighed on him. In this way, I grew up knowing that my father’s experiences as a child had molded his adult emotions. My mother didn’t seem to carry the scars of childhood with her, but my father did. My mother taught us that we would make it easier for him when we could.

That’s why she came up with the idea of a half-birthday. When we left Robert Hall that first year, we picked up birthday wrapping paper and a cake mix at the grocery store.

When my father came home from work on June 26, he was tired and hungry for dinner. But he saw the gift and cake on the table and smelled the ham and sweet potatoes (his favorite meal). “Happy birthday!” My brother jumped with excitement. Dad smiled at him, then me, and his gaze rested on my mother. “I love you guys!”

When my uncle heard about the half-birthday celebration, he decided he too wanted to celebrate his half-birthday, but the brothers were now living in different states, so they each had their own celebrations with their own young families, and had the spotlight on themselves once a year.

 

Many of you already know Luanne, but if you don’t, now is the time to head over to her blog: LUANNE CASTLE’S WRITER SITE

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Family Histories (Holiday Edition):Do You Have a Favorite Christmas Ornament?

Welcome to Family Histories (Holiday Edition). I’ve invited readers and bloggers to share holiday themed pieces with the accent on “Family” and “History” in any way they like.

Today we have a beautiful piece about the simple pleasure of decorating a family Christmas tree written by one of my favorite bloggers, A.M. PINE at HEARTH RIDGE REFLECTIONS.

The crumpled gift bags are rustled open. The little boxes are poked into – the faint tinkle of a bell is heard in the shuffle. A few stray hooks fall to the floor, sunlight glinting. Glitter shifts down like December snowflakes on our arms and hands. The smell of pine is permeating the air, as we part the branches. We “ooh and ahh” as we unpack our beloved Christmas ornaments one at a time. A daughter takes a big breath of the box and says, “Mommy, it smells like Christmas!” The baby’s first, the humorous hunting one that’s dads, of course, all of us chattering about our family vacation where we bought the wooden cut out one.

Every year the children beg for the stories connected to these bits of our lives. Tangible pieces of the trips we’ve taken. They always want to hear of our honeymoon to lighthouses of Maine, and the other far off places my husband and I have been alone,  the Grand Canyon, represented by a miniature swinging coffee mug, the pieces of love and laughter from Prince Edward Island.

Our hands dip in and out of these boxes and bags of memories, a collective pool as the voices share and we rush and squabble a bit about who gets to hang what and where. Some ornaments are costly, others, cents on the dollar. It’s the memories that give them value.  The scent, the voices, and twinkle all bring us together as a whole, as a family.

The popsicle ‘n glue sled with a cotton ball snowman, the delicate, wooden snowflakes, the tin can punched top with a picture of grandpa and a beloved daughter in it. The yarn, metal, wood, plastic, cinnamon, and dried sprigs of greenery become a genuine, yearly tactile gift that keeps giving. We pass out, dig around, rooting for memories. Christmas love brought forefront, people remembered and celebrated, and dreams hung out for all to see and enjoy.

The hunt for each person’s yearly ornaments always amazes me. The child who you would never think would care, searching deeply for a little ceramic chicken because of mother having picked it out for them two years ago. The tired finishing of the last few ornaments, big clumps of them gathered at the 3 foot mark, and all of us looking for “holes” on the tree.  We sink down onto chairs and the couch, admiring our work, perhaps one of us putting on the kettle for hot chocolate, another year of remembrance wrapped up for the taking.  Joy found in the simple, little things of life.

Hello, I’m Amy. I write at Hearth Ridge Reflections about the intersection between faith, relationships, and nature. I enjoy reading and writing while sipping dark coffee, my idea of bliss. I’m grateful for each day and for flashes of beauty that spur me on my way.

Family Histories (Holiday Edition): The Empty Chair

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today my friend SHARON BONIN-PRATT of INK FLARE shares with us the many mixed emotions one feels about the holidays after the passing of a loved one.

What to do at the holidays when there’s an empty place at your table.

It was the opening statement in a letter offering coping advice when you’re grieving the absence of someone you love. A list of practical strategies meant to give relief to the ache of facing that empty chair and missing the person who’s supposed to sit in it. Who used to be there at all the holidays.

Thing was, I didn’t need the advice. Not this year at least – I needed it ten years ago when my dad died and left me with the responsibility of caring for my mom. When I found she was not in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but well enmeshed in the illness that was destroying her brain. When I had to have her declared mentally incompetent to make lucid decisions and remove her from her home for her safety. When I had to delve into her finances, her medical needs, her social obligations, and supervise every aspect of her life, all while hiding out in the guise of her little girl because she was – the Mom.

That first year after my dad died was the Year of No Celebrations. I missed every single holiday – federal, religious, personal, greeting-card-nonsense event. I got sick – pneumonia, bouts of cold, flu, bronchitis – as well as being the default contact for crises and emergencies. I slept with two phones next to me, frequently jolted awake by a call from the nurses at the residence where Mom lived. Every holiday was a calamity to endure, leaving not a flick of a second to celebrate. Leaving me tense and exhausted, afraid to see the dawn, fearful of the night. Nine years of dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s, but I am no hero. Millions of other family members live this way, trying to find a safe route through a maze with only one outcome for the ill person they love.

My mom died nine months ago, in an assisted living residence devoted to caring for people with progressive and unrecoverable memory lapses. After my dad’s death, I frequently took her to our home for the usual holidays, and she participated in the family gatherings. She read to her great-grandchildren, laughed at the stories and jokes, ate momentous amounts of food because that’s what we do at family gatherings. But the changes were obvious and painful to watch. She could answer questions, sometimes just to acknowledge that she couldn’t remember a detail, but she could no longer initiate conversation. She could react but not act.

Over those years, Mom’s memory fractured and fizzled as we knew it would. Bringing her to family celebrations at my home became more and more difficult. To discuss why would betray Mom’s privacy, and I’d vowed not to do that. Four or five years ago, the situation declined into impossible. I couldn’t watch her every second as she turned my house into tumultuous residue from her condition. She didn’t act with malice but with mindless energy. This is what Alzheimer’s does.

After dad’s death I felt like a battleship trying to barge through a pinhole. More accurately, a sob soaked wad of tissues attempting to dry up the desert. For the first three years, driving up and down the California freeways to the residence where Mom lived, to her attorney’s or accountant’s offices, to the mall to shop for her clothes, I cried and raged at the injustice of so much to do and no past experience from which I could draw. Every encounter was a new one, every crisis unpredictable, every visit with Mom another failure to communicate.

Friday evenings at our temple I said Mourner’s Kaddish for my dad, tears streaming. Synagogue was a safe place to cry – the other congregants understood. They surrounded me with their arms and their comfort. Kaddish is an ancient, exquisite prayer in the Jewish tradition. It’s recited while remembering those we’ve lost in the past year, but not one word has anything to do with death or human beings. It’s a prayer that extols God’s virtues and greatness, reminding us that after life, there is the World to Come.

Crying, screaming, driving, reciting Kaddish. This was how I spent my three years of grieving.

I didn’t have time to indulge in a grief support group though I participated erratically in an Alzheimer’s support group. Erratic not because the dissolution of keeping to a schedule is my nature but because it’s the nature of the disease to flummox every situation. Don’t plan ahead except for the advent of chaos, the world shaken like an abused child – and with the same ultimate effect of unimaginable damage.

Our table has been reduced these last ten months and the ten years previous. My parents are missing. But our home is surrounded by photos of those we love. It is saturated with their presence. My sorrow ebbs day by day, but capriciously – a reminder here of how my mom cooked spaghetti that was better than mine, there of how my dad spoke wisely about how I could better parent my sons. The lacy blouse I nearly bought Mom a month after her death, the scent of a flower recalling the rose garden Dad lovingly tended. The dream when they stood by my side and we watched the sun set over the Pacific, all of us at peace, seeing future.

I won’t refer to the coping advice generously offered by the grief support group when my family celebrates the seventh night of Chanukah this coming Saturday. As I look at the chairs where my parents used to sit, I will not mourn the vacancy. Their places are filled with my memories of them and always will be.

 

Note: I’ve written a novel, Where Did Mama Go? about the devastation Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on families. It’s in the process of being edited, and then I’ll start querying for an agent to represent my work. My credentials for writing this story are eighteen years of assisting my mom through the labyrinth of this illness.

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Photo courtesy Bonin-Pratt family archives: Sharon at 3 with her parents.

Family Histories: The Copper Coffee Pot

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today I’m happy to share a poignant poem from MIRIAM IVARSON about connecting to her seafaring forefathers when polishing a family heirloom.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you just look at the title
and think;  Coffee Pot!  What is there to say about such a
seemingly everyday object?
And I would understand you, but please stay with me a little
longer through this post.

In my About page I hint that there will be stories coming
that show vignettes of my life both in England and Sweden.

O.K. , I can hear your frustrated sigh, so why a Coffee Pot?

This Copper Coffee Pot is very old, goes back to my
Grandfather’s days. It was an important part of the men’s life
and I am now the caretaker, until such time that it passes to the
next generation. It has pride of place and I often tell the stories
that were told to me, hence giving my children a feeling of their
ancestors.

The poem below came to me as I was polishing it one day
and all was abandoned for the notepad and pen.

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Copper Coffee Pot

An inanimate object it might seem,
Yet, is it really so?
Emotions stirred by the Pot,
The Copper Coffee Pot,
say no.

Polishing this morning,
its surface filled;
With lustre and life lived.

It had sailed the Sea, in storms,
in hurricanes,
also in still, smiling swells.
For seven men it brewed every day,
Gave warmth and cheer,
clattered its spout lid to say;
Coffee ready, take a break.

Men with strength of body and heart,
with purpose and skill;
In tune with the elements each day,
feeling the mood of the Sea.
Respecting and honouring,
Its power, its gifts.

Their work was heavy,
cold, among waves,
Full trawls spread smiles.
No-one minding the tearing of
sinews, muscles and backs.
In this age old task.

These men were my ancestors,
part of who I am, and I of them.
Their lives, their hands had touched me,
Given me strength.

The Copper Pot in my hands
A cherished and vital part
of their days.
Here they met, found warmth,
succour and laughs.

An empowering friend.

© miriam ivarson

Vinga lighthouse

All photographs © miriam ivarson

For more of Miriam’s poetry visit her blog: MY WINDOW

***PS~ Also had a thought that Miriam’s poem and a story shared by ANNIKA PERRY  here on Family Histories are great companion pieces. You may want to check it out! LOSS OF A PATRIARCH

Family Histories (Holiday Edition): Pass The Pie

Welcome to Family Histories (Holiday Edition). I’ve invited readers and bloggers to share holiday themed pieces with the accent on “Family” and “History” in any way they like. I’m pleased to offer you this Thanksgiving  visit  from Chris Michaels’ memory bank:

” Pass The Pie “

Holidays.

You have to admit, there’s very
few occasions that create more
memories than those family
get-togethers around the holidays.

My grandmother had a tradition –
– she liked to do Thanksgiving
at her house each year, which,
considering how well she cooked,
became quite a favorite event in
my family over the years.

There were several dishes she
could make that no-one has
ever gotten close to doing as well.

Lovely.

Yes, Thanksgiving during my
teen years was very special.

Well,
usually, that is.

Except for the time1915judge
my Aunt Minnie made such
a fuss over it, that it was
somehow decided
(on the board room level)
that she could host it at
her house that year.

I can still tell you
exactly which year
that was – 1974.

Memorable?
Oh sure.

Because it was the year
of the great ‘pie in the eye’
controversy.

Now, to start with,
lemme say that it was
a complete accident……

Alright, I’ll start at
the beginning.

Nobody had asked me –
– I was a kid – but the idea
of going over to her house
for dinner at Thanksgiving
just seemed like a terrible
waste of a perfectly good
holiday – not to mention
missing out on all my
Grandmother’s traditional
goodies.

And it didn’t take long for
the idea to start losing any
merit it ever had-
(if it ever had any)
when Aunt Minnie
proclaimed that everybody
would bring a cooked
dinner component,
so she wouldn’t have
to cook herself.

Perhaps it did make sense
on some cosmic level –
considering that the
predominant flavor profile
in all of my Aunt’s cooking
could be described as
ewww, that’s way too salty‘.brundage

She was the only person I knew
that had a 50 pound bag of
Morton’s salt in her pantry.

When it rains, it pours.

( It was widely rumored among
us youngsters that the lady lost
her sense of taste and smell in
a gas attack during the
Crimean War –

ok, so, hey,
we were still kids,

and didn’t know that much about
history, but still, her taste buds
had to have gone somewhere. )

But my Aunt wasn’t much
on organizational things….1880
and so, when she told
everybody to bring ‘a dish’,
I guess she just assumed that
they knew what she meant.

And, considering how long
she had been a member,
(a charter member, one
might say), she should have
remembered that our patronymic
name’s alternative meaning in
it’s original language was
something resembling ‘cheapskate‘.

When the final menu was
assembled and inventoried
on the big day, the holiday
haul consisted of:
several (5) cans of green beans,
1 can of French Fried Onions
(meant as a topper for the
green beans applied ‘a la minute’),
a yellowish gray jello-mold thing,
1 canned ham,
a tray of Gino’s pizza rolls,
a large turkey-noodle casserole,
some damp and foul smelling
slimy stuffing-ish substance,
macaroni cheese (still in the box),
a package of hot dogs and buns,
a hunk of Kielbasa,
cookies (my Grandmother’s)
and a very large assortment1909
of cold drinks and alcoholic
beverages.

Happily, my family brought
some pumpkin pies
and whipped cream.

Now, I have to say that,
due to the turkey-noodle
casserole, my Uncle Harry
didn’t put on his usual
big production about carving
the bird, which might have had a
motivating factor in the choice,
for all I know, although it still
tasted, of course, as awful as
it sounds.

During ‘dinner’,humor
my Aunt Minnie used her
once-in-a-lifetime home court
advantage to full effect :

She started with a blessing that
included a plea to the Almighty
to help:

my older cousin Larry ‘get a
real job instead of living off
the fat of the land’,

my Grandmother to
‘share the holiday’,

my Mom to ‘dress more
appropriately’

and other assorted
helpful suggestions
like that ………

While passing the green beans
(served three different ways)
she was also kind enough to
remind me that she didn’t like
the length of my hair, my clothes, my manners, and my plans to go into the Navy
when I was old enough.

As the pie was coming out,
she was ragging on me
for not bringing a date….
‘you’re old enough to have
a girl friend, aren’t you?’
….

Hey, who would subject
anybody they liked to
dinner with Aunt Minnie?

But you see,
no matter how hard
the going gets at one
of these doooos —-

one always must keep some kind of
secret plan for sweet revenge in the
back of your mind, just in case.

And I had one, too, buddy……

It was more fantasy than plan, really….

— involving an innocuous lookingchase
can of Reddi Whip that my family had brought with the pies —

— one would only need to
shake firmly, point it in the
right direction and push down
on the tip for instant gratification.

Uh huh..

Ever hear of ‘thinking’ out loud?

Well, what about ‘doing’ out loud ?

One naughty thought caused
the slightest pressure on the
nozzle to explode in a very
specific direction —
— all over my Aunt.

Ooooops.wwdenslow

“Oh, I’m soooo sorry…..”

Well, “,
my mother added helpfully:
“…. that wasn’t exactly a new dress there, Aunt Minnie… ”
(she’d worn it every year
since 1957) ”
….. and accidents will happen,
ya know “.

You know how they say that
every cloud has a silver lining?

It certainly was nice to have
all our Thanksgivings back at
my Grandmother’s house again…

And we did for many
delicious and memorable
years afterwards.

Happy Holidays, y’all.

.

For more of Chris Michaels go visit his FANTASTIC Blog: THE MUSCLEHEADED BLOG

Slaying Dragons

Was the trial sore?
Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!
Why comes temptation but for a man to meet
And master and make crouch beneath his foot,
And so be pedestaled in triumph? Pray
“Lead us into no such temptations, Lord!”
Yea, but, O thou whose servants are the bold,
Lead such temptations by the head and hair,
Reluctant dragons, up to who dares fight
That so he may do battle and have praise.
— Robert Browning.

 

It’s counter-intuitive this Christian walk. To battle against dragons with meekness …

 

“The quietness and openness and vulnerability of meekness is very beautiful and very painful. It goes against all that we are by our sinful nature. It requires supernatural help.” John Piper

 

My sinful nature says I should borrow someone’s shotgun and go coon hunting today after waking up to half of my chicken flock dead. My favorite Dominique who managed to live for years with crippled feet was one of the victims. Only two days ago we found one of our ducks dead, too. And then the other (right after I agreed to take a few ducks from a friend to keep the second duck company).

 

My sinful nature says we should re-home our foster kid. My husband fears this kid destroying our peace — and our marriage. After three years she’s only improving on ways to be deceptive. Frankly, we worry that her desire to be promiscuous will lead to us  raising her low-IQ offspring well into our eighties. It puts to the test our notion that every child is here for a reason and deserves love. Some days I just want to slink away to some cave and let the world fend for itself.

I don’t want to feel my blood rise at the sight of this kid who insists on touching upon each pet peeve of everyone in the family.

Examples:

My husband has trouble with his weight so she asks him constantly if he’s eaten her ice cream or done his time on the elliptical.

I have trouble dealing with her insisting she’s right about things she’s so obviously  clueless about. I spend countless hours fuming about the steps of long division and the proper way to engage strangers in public places.

rudolph jettmar

Rudolph Jettmar

Meekness is a concept I struggle to wrap my mind around. If I want to fight the good fight, I want it to be done in a series of active steps that leads to an outcome I’ve decided upon.

The notion of handing over these desires to a higher power seems ridiculous and insane.

In the face of evil raccoons (who happen to also be cute) and unfit parents who get away with abuse and then just disappear what does meekness offer?

I’ve always thought of meekness as a mousy way to be. I imagine a weaker version of me curled up in a corner somewhere (still fretting and wringing my hands).

But meekness is something different. I think it’s that point when you realize that, despite your handmade armor and big plans, you’re powerless in the face of sin and evil. Sure you can slay a few dragons now and again with only minor scrapes, but then you turn and realize that those were just the baby dragons.

For the last two weeks my husband has been battling his mother while, for the first time, developing a relationship with his mostly absent and passive father (who is now dying of cancer). My father-in-law’s pain had brought a certain poignant beauty to their encounters, yet a dragon that has stalked my mother-in-law for years in the form of depression and addiction chooses now to scorch anyone in breathing distance.

I’ve seen this wrath, delusion and animal fear before in other cornered addicts I’ve known. Meekness in the face of it shows true bravery and strength. My husband and I take turns fending off the flames with as much meekness as we can muster, but I’m seriously less patient than he is.

In the evenings after the dragons have gone to bed we sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit) find it hard to be meek with each other. I’m disgruntled and want to slash away. My husband is just exhausted and doesn’t want a battle-frenzied companion at his bedside.

The problem with dragons is that, if they can’t kill you outright, they equally enjoy recruiting you as ally before they send their flames when you turn your back.

“Meekness begins when we put our trust in God. Then, because we trust him, we commit our way to him. We roll onto him our anxieties, our frustrations, our plans, our relationships, our jobs, our health.” John Piper

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Moser-Franz-hfersv

Franz Moser

HOW DO YOU SLAY YOUR DRAGONS? I’d love to know! Tell us in the comments below.

LINKS:

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEEKNESS AND HUMILITY

GOD’S CURE FOR PRIDE AND ARROGANCE

NOT TO WORRY

Healing a Midwesterner

A bullet through the skull is a quick way to end the life of a suffering animal but things aren’t as easy when it comes to old people. Not that I think we should kill old people, but after a week of watching my failing father-in-law endure many an indignity I wish there were a more graceful way to exit the world.

Last spring when my favorite goat was slowly wasting away and unable to fight a staph infection it didn’t take long to realize that not only did she suffer but she also endangered the herd. We played God. I didn’t like it, but when the sound of the gun reverberated across our property at least I could be certain the pain was over.

But pain returns again and again in our lives. I panicked when my husband called me from the Midwest.

“Are you ready for a bombshell?”

“No … not really.”

“I’ve convinced my parents to come live with us for a while. In the basement.”

I’d met these parents once. For three days. Five years ago. Now they were older and sicker. Cancer and hip replacements. Bouts of insanity possibly brought on by organs unable to process morphine for pain.

“Okay, I’m not letting your parents sleep in the basement,” I said, imagining them calling up the stairs for water and a crust of bread.

They now have our room and so far so good. We’re all getting along, but it’s so hard to watch people lose their autonomy. Joe is frail. He has cancer and back problems. He needs hearing aids that don’t really work. He has eyes that don’t really see. Yesterday he slipped out of his chair. I heard his wife telling him to get on his knees in hushed tones and wondered what was going on in their room but didn’t feel comfortable asking.  Finally they asked for help. when my son and I entered the room Joe lay on his side.

“Are you okay, Grandpa?” my son asked.

“Oh, I’m fine. Could you do me a favor and help me up?”

We joked about the situation a little uneasily. Later I overheard him talking with my husband.

“I used to love reading. I used to love listening.”

My husband does many things for his father that neither of them would want me to talk about.

Once we went to have our auras read for fun. The woman we paid told me I was a drama queen and creative. No shock there. She told my rigid, military husband that his true calling was healing. I see it now as he kneels before his father to assure him that he’s no burden.

Joe expresses regrets. “No, I wasn’t a good father. I didn’t do shit.”

My husband’s reply is waved off impatiently.

Joe falls asleep every few minutes. His wife of sixty years has been his caretaker for the last ten. After breaking her hip she had to swallow her pride and ask for help. She reassures my husband that every time Joe closes his eyes he’s not dying. But he is. Maybe it’s the Midwest in them all but as a family they hang on. Joe lustily enjoys a piece of blueberry-lemon cheesecake or a salty joke. He has a mischievous smile and bright, soulful eyes in those moments but the moments abruptly come to an end. His jaw goes slack, his eyes go vacant.

My husband drove his parents eighteen hours from Illinois because he couldn’t think of anything else to do with them. Joe said the drive was the only bit of hope he’d had in years.

My husband hopes he can save his father somehow. He fills the calendar with appointments. He researches medical marijuana. He wants to make his father’s ride easier. He wants to prolong life. I think in the end he may only be able to heal that part of Joe that believes his life was a series of failures. “You’re actually a good son, aren’t you.” Joe says as if it surprises him.

Featured Image: Evangelist Matthew and the Angel by Rembrandt