The Inconstancy of Grief

Today, April 24th marks one month since my husband of eleven years has died. I have grieved many things in my life and lost many people who were dear to me. But never in my life have I felt such a loss as I have felt since Ron has died.

There are many times during each of these past days when laughter comes unbidden, or sweet little things occur to warm my heart, such as a three-year-old singing to me on a video chat. But as joyous as those events might be, they do not secure a day without sorrow.

I am grateful for all such happiness. I am not the sort to seek out grief. But my emotions are strained. They seem capable of turning on a dime. Yesterday during two telephone calls, I had great fun and laughed with my eldest stepdaughter and with a former college roommate. But then I get internally angry with someone who treats the death of my husband like an inconvenience or a short-lived tummy ache. “Everything will be better tomorrow.” Really? That would be lovely, if true, but I am not recovering from something minor. I am recovering, if that is even vaguely possible, from the loss of my husband, lover, best friend, confidant, my partner in crime, and the one man who always had my back.

All I know to do is to keep on keeping on. I pray that the Lord will help me get through this. I pray that my friends and family will cut me some slack when I respond in ways that are less than gracious. I pray that I may step up to the plate to take care of business and not kneecap others who don’t understand this kind of loss. Beyond the world of my grief, I ask the Lord’s help for those fighting for their lives, or the life and health of someone they love.

On May 25th, one month, and one day from today, my Mom lost her husband, my dear Dad. They were married for 51 years, just two months shy of their 52nd anniversary. I pray that I can learn from my Mom’s example, how to keep on living with purpose and grace, after losing your best friend and dearest love.

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This Widow’s View of Men

As it has not even been a month since my husband died, this title may come across as a tad bit provocative. Nothing could be further from the truth. I write this post because, as this is a public document, it is an excellent venue to state things that you wish to be known.

I have been married twice. I am not going to get married again. I have dear friends, some of Ron’s and my best friends, who have urged me not to shut that door. But friends can disagree and still be friends. So, let me reiterate. I am not going to get married again. You may think that since I am so recently widowed, it is in poor taste to even discuss such a subject. But sometimes I find that it is good to clear the air.

Being widowed, I am facing some issues in my life that never (or rarely) have been a problem before. In some cases, they have been very unsettling. It has been many years since I last slept alone, and I am having trouble sleeping now. I generally keep late hours before there is even a ghost of a chance that I can get some sleep.

I miss my husband, Ron, terribly. We were nearly inseparable. We were happiest together, and there was very little that we didn’t discuss. The better question might be, what topic didn’t we cover? I can’t think of any subject that was off-limits. I miss that. I miss having such a friend and confidant. But specifically, I miss Ron.

Years ago, I had a dear friend who lived with her husband in a retirement community in Columbia, SC. I used to visit them, and after her husband’s death, I continued visiting with her. We had the best conversations. She told me how, after her husband had died, she had friends of long-standing suddenly showing a romantic interest in her. My own mother had this happen within weeks of my father’s death. My South Carolina friend said that the widows in that retirement community had a name for the phenomenon. They said that such men were looking for “A Nurse With a Purse.” I had it happen to me very shortly after I was divorced from my first husband.

I have three brothers, all of them available for conversation, all of them willing, if need be, to do battle for their sister. But sometimes it is easier to talk about concerns with someone who is not in my family, with someone who is just a friend. Let me reiterate that with a stronger accent: just a friend. I am leery of talking to some men because I fear them as being too needy. On the other hand, I have some male friends who seem to be leery of me, perhaps fearing that I am too needy. So. To clear the air. I am not looking for a replacement for Ron.

Sometimes, it just helps to have a friend to talk with. Period. End of statement.

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Drawings, Cards, Thanks and More

Some days, almost every day that I don’t have a scheduling conflict, I write thank-you letters. I write letters or notes to people who made memorial gifts in my husband’s honor and to people who have taken time out of their busy lives to write a beautiful note or card. Some children from our church prayed for Ron with their parents, but they also wrote me letters and drew me some pictures. Those gifts are an exceptional treasure. I returned thanks to them with a notecard I made showing Ron painting a picture.

I am still working on answering cards and letters. Three weeks after Ron’s death and the mail brings new cards nearly every day. But also, I have begun a different task, albeit a very therapeutic one for me. I am in the process of writing letters complete with illustrative print outs of colorful blog posts that spoke of Ron. These have been sent to or will be sent to the people, hospice workers, doctors, surgeons, who cared for Ron but didn’t know him well, or indeed, at all.

Neither myself, nor Ron, nor the twosome that was us, is or was at the center of the universe. I have been told that it is crazy to spend hours writing thank yous for cards, but I disagree. No one had to pay any attention to us at all. Yet, they did, which is an abundant blessing indeed. Not only that, but some of these same people sent me a birthday card, and some also an Easter card. Many have called and emailed as well.

My daughter has often video-chatted with me, and Ron’s daughters, have called and touched base to make sure I am doing okay. Ron’s sister and my brothers have also been available, helpful, and an excellent backup.

I have not been alone. These connections have all helped with my healing, providing courage and hope when I’ve most needed that. Isn’t that worth a thank you? To me, it is. From the bottom of my heart, I give thanks to all who took time out to remember Ron and to help me heal.

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What Now?

Amongst my family, friends, and folks that I keep in touch with via emails and FB and the like, it seems quite clear that everyone has a lot on their plate right now. If there was any doubt, a glance at the news confirms it. The top stories are many: the dreaded Coronavirus plague, loss of jobs and wages, deadly tornados, and more deadly tornados.

In the midst of all of this, there are some happy bits of news as well. Yesterday I learned of newly expectant parents who have just shared their happy news. A favorite restaurant posted on FB yesterday that they got to provide lunch today for all the staff at our local hospital. Blessings!

Over the last days, there have been videos of amazing virtual events: choirs, bands, friends– shared on the internet. I was invited (and accepted) an invitation to join in that excitement on Easter evening when I had a virtual dinner with my daughter’s family, who lives many states away. What fun! I set my table with my best china and enjoyed getting to chat with family throughout the meal. Although, on the downside, they did have a much better dessert than me! My daughter is an expert maker of pies. They look gorgeous in addition to tasting delicious. But alas, virtual pie isn’t nearly as tasty as real pie. Such is life.

Although I am an Ohio native and moved back to Ohio at my husband’s suggestion in 2018, I had previously lived elsewhere for 36 years. I went to Grad school in Pennsylvania; I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, and then I lived in South Carolina for the next 24 years. Finally, I lived in Arizona for six years. Living in Ohio again is a blessing in many ways, but many of my closest friends live far away, and making new friends in my new town has been slow.

My husband and I took two major road trips this last year, in the summer to the Carolinas, and in November to Arizona. Now a few invitations have been issued to visit family and close friends in Tennessee, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

These tempt me because being with good friends is a comfort. Frankly, I don’t see how I could manage that this year, even if the Corona plague leaves us in peace. But it warms my heart that friends and family have reached out to me. I will do my best to make such a trip within the next year.

Back in my regular, un-virtual world, things are still pretty hard. My emotions are raw, and I am short on sleep. I disgraced myself twice yesterday by lashing out at people—the worst time by swearing and hanging up the phone on someone I love very much.

Nothing about the situation I find myself in is normal to me. Yesterday afternoon I received a call from the funeral home, telling me that Ron’s death certificates have been signed. Today, I received a call from his primary care doctor’s nurse checking in regarding his recent medical events. It was quite clear that they had not been told of his death. So I talked to Sandy, his doctor’s nurse telling her what had happened. Then, during breakfast, I got to call the VA headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, to notify them of his death and to cancel all of Ron’s future appointments, up through September of 2021.

In my husband’s obituary, which he wrote years ago, he requested that rather than sending flowers, he would ask that memorials be sent to any of four charities that were important to him. I have recently learned that all four of those organizations have received donations in Ron’s memory. That would make Ron happy, and it certainly makes me happy. So I keep writing thank you notes.

I thank you, my readers,  for reading, following, sharing, and liking my blog posts. But I would ask for one more thing: Please says some prayers for me, along with all the many people who are struggling right now. We are an Easter people, but it helps to know that prayers are flowing.

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Christos Anesti!
Alithos Anesti!

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Life and Death

I concluded my last blog post, Remedial Lesson Prompted by Facebook and Lent, dated March 10, 2020, by asking for prayers for my best friend and the man I dearly love, my husband, Ron. At that time, he was having some very worrisome health issues. We had some data but were waiting on more conclusive medical testing.

Long time friends and first-time readers of my blog responded beautifully to my requests. Ron and I received word that many people were praying for us. We received encouragement, love, prayers for healing, and kind offerings of friendship conveyed via snail mail, telephone, email, and text messages. Most importantly, there were many prayers for healing. The United States, and indeed the entire world, was getting increasingly worried about a horrible pandemic. Yet, many people took time out of their busy lives to pray for us.

I have not written on my usual Tuesday/Friday blog schedule since that time because life intervened. Death intervened as well.

After visits to specialists and increasingly debilitating pain, Ron’s Doctor ordered us to go to our nearest Emergency Room. There, after examination of Ron, the doctor arranged for him to be taken by ambulance to a hospital that treats veterans, about an hour away.

We learned there of the gravity of Ron’s illness. The surgery they performed made clear that Ron did not have long to live. Due to the coronavirus, the hospital was no longer allowing visitors. I wanted to take Ron home where I could be with him. With the caring and professional help of our local Hospice, Ron was released from the hospital and brought home. Finally, we were able to be together. As I learned the ropes regarding his care, I leaned heavily on Hospice staff. I was overcome by their professionalism, thoughtfulness, care, and concern, both for Ron and for me.

He wasn’t able to speak much, but when the Hospice worker left, and it was just the two of us he whispered, that he loved me.

I just sat with him and talked to him and held his hand. We sat that way for maybe an hour. I had to go to the kitchen for just a moment, and when I came back, I discovered that my dear husband had died. It was about 1:30 in the morning.

Ron and I got what we both wanted. Days earlier, after they had drained fluid from his lung, Ronnie was his old self. We spoke by telephone, and I was amazed at what a little oxygen will do! At a very brisk clip, the first words out of his mouth were: “So when are you gonna spring me from this joint?” 

So finally, we were able to spring him from that joint! We got what we wanted. I got him out of the hospital, and when he was home, and it was just the two of us, he died. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. He has gone home to the kingdom. One of my first thoughts was that he has finally been able to meet my parents.

Despite the optimism of these lines, I confess that these weeks, since my husband’s death, have been harder than any trial I have ever faced.

But now, we are again in Holy Week. The week spoken about in holy scripture, which began with Palm Sunday and the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Tomorrow will be Maundy Thursday, the day that commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. Then on to Good Friday, when our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and laid in a tomb.

But the tomb wasn’t the end of the story of Jesus. On the third day, as Easter morning dawns, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

The Gospel of John, 11:25:

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:”

This is what I believe. This is what Ron believed.

Thanks be to God!

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Remedial Lesson Prompted by Facebook and Lent

The other day I posted a little verse I wrote years ago which was about how not to pray. It appears that almost no one looked at it, but I do hope that the couple of people who said that they liked it – actually got the point. My little verse was about good people who cared about others but who really didn’t believe that prayer could radically change anything. They seemed to think that really, everything good that happens has to happen because good people step up to the plate and help out in times of need and take casserole dishes and offer rides– rather than pray that God would HEAL our friend, Raise the dead, etc.

I wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t step up to the plate & help others – I’m only saying that we are NOT God and there are things that God can do which we cannot. When we pray – we are talking to God and we need to be straightforward and truthful.

If you want to reread it, you can find it here: When the River Won’t Flow: Prayer

As to Facebook, I can’t tell you how many people with whom I am friends ask for prayers. People that are religious and people who are just in a bad place or know someone in a bad place often ask for prayers. But what I find interesting are their friends’ reactions to their requests. Many people write back and say that they are “sending prayers your way” or similar words.

What is wrong with that? What are prayers? Prayers are when we talk to God. Scripture tells us that we may talk to God, we may actually ask for things. Prayers aren’t just warm fuzzy feelings like “I care about my friend & I want her to get well.” That isn’t bad. That is something you can write or send to your friend. But in scripture when we are taught about prayer – we are taught some specific lessons about prayer.

Look at the prayer that Jesus gives to his disciples as a lesson in how you pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

Quick notes:
We are told to address our prayers to God Our Father. So it makes no sense to send our prayers to our little friends. We need to pray to God Our Father for our friends. So rather than tell our friends we send them our prayers – it is more appropriate to say that our prayers are ascending i.e. they are going UP to God (who is in Heaven)!

The Lord’s Prayer – asks for specific things:
• Thy will be done, on earth, As it is in heaven. (i.e. God’s will and purpose – not ours!)
• Give us this day our daily bread.
• And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. (We ask for God to forgive us – but He reminds us we also need to forgive others!)
• Lead us not into temptation,
• But deliver us from evil.

What’s more, we can have the courage to ask because God is Lord of all and King of Creation:

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

Now there are many other kinds of prayers. Some we pray at different times of the day. My Nana Miley taught me these two:

Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer:
I give thanks unto Thee, Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ Thy dear Son, that Thou hast protected me through the night from all danger and harm; and I beseech Thee to preserve and keep me this day also, from all sin and evil; that in all my thoughts, words, and deeds I may serve and please Thee.

Into Thy hands I commend my body and soul and all that is mine.

Let Thy holy angel have charge concerning me, that the wicked one have no power over me. Amen.

Martin Luther’s Evening Prayer:

I give thanks unto Thee, Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ Thy dear Son, that Thou hast this day so graciously protected me, and I beseech Thee to forgive me all my sins, and the wrong which I have done, and by Thy great mercy defend me from all the perils and dangers of this night.

Into Thy hands I commend my body and soul and all that is mine.

Let Thy holy angel have charge concerning me, that the wicked one have no power over me. Amen.

Now, I am going to ask my readers to please say a prayer for my husband and me.  He needs healing.  We have been working with excellent doctors — but my husband is hurting badly and needs healing.  Please say a prayer and ask Our Father in Heaven to Heal my dear husband, Ron.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! 

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Prayer

Embarrassment
before the Lord
when holiness around us rings
we dart and weave and pray,
not asking God
to right a wrong or cure an ill at all
but less offensively,
to let us use this prayer platform
to amplify a need,
that we might just address
if we were made aware.
“God make us mindful.”

We could send fruit, or hold a hand,
and when death comes,
arrange some meals.
We might indeed show empathy for want and
offer rides when illness strikes
if we were made aware.

To dare to stand and pray
that He will heal the sick,
or raise the dead
protect and keep us
and with His Holy Angels wrench us free from peril:
This is gross presumption.

Less offensively
we might just address these issues
if we were made aware.
Amen.

 April 28, 2014

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Theological Sorrow

As I have written before, because of sickness, we are homebound these days, and we have updated our funeral plans and our obituaries. Not because we are at death’s door, but because we want to make such plans precisely when we are NOT at death’s door.

But I have been kept up nights of late thinking about something I have always planned to have at my funeral — which now seems nearly impossible. So if there are any clergy or professorial theologians around who will weigh in, that would be welcome.

First, please, pardon a little family background.

My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, became a Lutheran Minister, like three of his brothers. The Rev. George W. Miley served his third call as Pastor of Augsburg Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio, from 1924 until 1941. His last official act at Augsburg was to perform the marriage of my parents in 1941. He headed to Columbus, Ohio, the next day, to assume the presidency of the ULCA Synod of Ohio from 1941 until 1957. He died later that same year. I never knew my grandfather as I was born a year after his death, but my parents eventually returned to Augsburg, which is where I was baptized and confirmed.

After high school in Toledo, I went to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and then headed to seminary because I wanted to be a pastor. At some point, I was required to go to career counseling to see if I was suited to be a pastor. I believe it was something the Ohio Synod required. When the testing was over, the counselor met with me to explain the results. He told me that I was best suited to be a Roman Catholic Priest. I responded that the outcome was beyond intriguing and asked him why the testing would come out that way. He somewhat sheepishly replied that the examination was weighted in such a way that those more interested in Liturgy and Sacraments came out as priests and those that ranked a little higher in spaghetti suppers and glad-handing came out as pastors. You can’t make it up! I’m sure that explanation wouldn’t sit well with all the very liturgical and theologically gifted Lutheran pastors I know.

I went to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and graduated with a Master of Divinity Degree. I did the required internship and clinical pastoral education. I was approved for ordination by the Ohio Synod of the ELCA. For a variety of personal reasons, I did not pursue ordination. My former husband, the father of our only child, is now Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at a seminary of the North American Lutheran Church.

During her college years, our daughter was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church. She and her husband and children are Roman Catholics. During my 24 years of living in South Carolina, I was a member of several (ELCA) Lutheran churches. Years later, when my second husband Ron and I moved to Arizona, we joined a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, chiefly because all of the ELCA churches that he had previously attended were too far from our home, southeast of Tucson. We felt very much at home and had an excellent pastor and many wonderful friends at Mount Olive Lutheran Church.  When we moved to Ohio, to get me closer to my brothers, we joined another Missouri Synod congregation, where we also have an excellent pastor and have made some wonderful friends.

Now, returning to the point of this post. Ever since I was a young woman in seminary, I have wanted to have full communion at my funeral service. I’ve attended church all my life. I have sung in church choirs off & on since I was in Kindergarten. Somewhere around eighth grade, I switched from piano to organ lessons and then started substituting for Sunday worship and funeral services. I have long been active in worship planning. Both my former husband and I were chairs, at different times, of the Worship and Music Committee of our liturgical church in Columbia, South Carolina.  Working with the Pastor and the amazingly gifted organist, we helped take that congregation to weekly communion with a common cup.

The draft of my funeral service was first done years ago and has seen a few revisions over the years. I planned the service with many gutsy hymns and full communion.

I have heard the reflections of others speak of the relief or joy of receiving communion at a funeral. It allows people to confess their part in any conflicts that may have existed between themselves and the deceased and receive forgiveness.

But alas, it seems that my wishes are impossible on earth.  I am a member of a church that has closed communion. My daughter and many of my extended friends and family are members of another church with closed communion.  So neither my family nor many of my friends, who are Roman Catholics or NALC or ELCA Lutherans, will be allowed to receive communion at my funeral service.

Right now, as my husband and I deal with issues of health and the frustrations of being homebound Christians, this particular sorrow has loomed large in my mind. I confess it has caused me to shed more than a few tears.

 

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A Small Lenten Offering

The days of Lent are traditionally a time of contemplation, introspection and, renewal of faith. Beginning with the ashen crosses on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, we walk with the Lord, until we stand, beneath the cross on Good Friday. Then we wait and keep watch, while his body is in the tomb on Holy Saturday.

We weren’t able to attend worship on Ash Wednesday. We are living like shut-ins; in that waiting time between my husband’s emergency room hospital visit and follow up doctor appointments. He has something going on in one lung. The cold weather causes him great distress. We have managed to attend worship just one time since the New Year. We are hunkered down at home with snow everywhere outside. The time is 1:47 a.m. I am typing in our home office; I can hear his coughing in the bedroom.

Where I write But it is Lent. It seemed appropriate in addition to our daily prayers, to do something for someone else. Yesterday I thought of one thing I could do without going out. I wrote three little hand-written notes on note cards. All three of the people I wrote live alone. The first one went to a lady from our former church in South Carolina. The second note went to my daughter’s Godmother, who, with her sister, is soon to take a trip from California to Texas. The third note went to a man from our former church in Arizona, who lives alone and has little family nearby.  It is a small thing. But it was something I could do for others without leaving home, courtesy of the USPS.

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Imposition of Ashes

Bangs held back with a blue barrette
your seven-year-old forehead has the ashes
of the cross
brought home from school.
Still wearing school jumper
blue knee socks fallen down
you leave with me for worship.
The night has turned colder
February still is dark at six-fifteen.

Quietly
we enter the nave
we wait
and read
we look about:
purple paraments
adorned with thorns
and nails
a glaring change from Sunday’s whites.

You hold my hand and nestle close.
I move over to give you room.
You nestle closer and hold my hand more tightly.
Dust to dust.
Ashes to ashes.

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