Our lasting hope, our consolation

My dear friend- buried Monday on a beautiful November afternoon. Snow softly falling as if to quell the pain. The hour prior, friends and family crowded into a small country church, four hundred strong to say last goodbyes. To sing and pay tribute to the woman they loved while honoring the God she adored. To bring humble offerings before the One who had held her through it all- knowing that same Dear One stood in God’s very presence even as we mourned. Her beloved family there, lining the rows. Clutching Kleenex in hand, heads bowed in sorrow even as they said final earthly goodbyes to a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt and kindred spirit. Not a dry eye in the place.

What if your blessings come through rain drops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

This life- it is never time enough for those of us who love. We always crave for more. More time, more moments, more memories, more laughter, more hugs, more touch. More opportunity. And when time is up and eternity claims the ones we hold the closest, we wonder: where is the good in all of this? How can good come from so much sorrow?

When friends betray us When darkness seems to win We know that pain reminds this heart That this is not, This is not our home It’s not our home

And this life- it is so hard. So much to bear. I talk to another precious woman, listening as she shares her story of a broken marriage, a baby lost and the hope of any other future babies gone with a medical complication not of her own doing. I talk to others, even as I think back over this past week’s events and wonder: how can we carry on? A colleague killed crossing the road, another three-car pile-up, a mother left to carry the burden of her sister’s accident, a father and mother-in-law struggling with the ravages of Parkinson’s. A father taken, a mother. Disease and death surround us at every turn. And that is just my story- my precious friends with their own stories of sadness to share. It is all too much. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the misery that this life brings. Our own dear family- both immediate and extended- a testament to this truth. So much suffering. So much pain. And I have to wonder, how is all the misery of this life able to become a blessing?

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace Comfort for family, protection while we sleep We pray for healing, for prosperity We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

We pray for the realization of all that we believe would give us joy: an end to cancer, an end to disease. An end to brokenness of any sort. We pray for restoration in marriage, for lengthy lives lived until the grey hairs crown our heads in glory. We pray for an end to all suffering. We pray for inner peace, familial peace, relational peace, world peace. An end to poverty, famine, war and pestilence. We pray for an end to our misery and trouble. We pray.

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love As if every promise from Your word is not enough

And we wonder: where is God? Where is God in all of this? I come across a beautiful message in my Facebook feed from this same dear friend whom I am mourning the loss, a note written to me six years earlier. Who would have known that this message would come back into my present reality and speak to me- as if they were words given to me in my time of sorrow from God Himself. Words offering comfort and hope.She writes:

Hi Lori, I know things are going to work out for all of you, time is a healer and GOD is all powerful, nothing happens without a reason…the healing can start…. Time will bring everything back to where it should be!! …you are a wonderful person, God is not finished with any of us yet, and he is doing a wonderful work in you, it may be a very DIFFICULT time right now, but look how close you have come to God in all of it!! GOD is using you in many ways, some you are not even aware of, HOW EXCITING!!! Just let go and let GOD, he is carrying you and he will never let you go. I was thinking of that song today, it is my favorite and my prayer when I am down, “Draw me close to you, never let me go” I pray that you feel so close to GOD, I love you guys, and am still praying for you all!! Good night my friend! and GOD BLESS YOU.

And all the while, You hear each spoken need Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

What if the heartache of this life was the pathway to understanding? What if the insight we gained, the perspective we were offered- was the open door? What if the purpose of all this pain and sorrow in life was not for it all to end, but for us to endure so as to find the beauty within the pain? What if beauty could truly come through ashes? Joy through mourning? What if every-day, private miracles were just as necessary as public sensations? What if the little moments of victory were our true pursuit? And what if the moments whereby inner strength was gained were as valuable as those moments we derived the sustaining ability necessary to climb physical mountains?

What if life was less about the mountain-top and more about the climb?

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea And long that we’d have faith to believe

I take a walk the day after, last goodbyes already having been spoken; and the brilliant sunset brings me to tears. It is not that I see my precious friend or even Heaven in this earthly vision so much as I see hope. It makes me long for another time, another place. I think of Heaven and Wendy and others who are there. I think of Jesus and I long for home. Long for an end to the aching of this life. A brand new beginning.

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy What if trials of this life The rain, the storms, the hardest nights Are your mercies in disguise

And this is our lasting hope, our consolation: eternity. Forever is such a very long time.

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The Pursuit of a Joyful Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is hard to understand, to fully comprehend: how someone who brought so much joy to other peoples’ lives could himself be eluded by that same joy and wonder. And yet, here we are on a Tuesday night, grieving the loss of a beautiful life- grief those of us who loved his work feel in some form or fashion.

Another light has been extinguished. You are already greatly missed, Robin Williams.

I just came from a funeral home myself an hour ago- a loving father and husband lain to rest, his family sorrowing the loss. As I slip into the restroom to refresh, I overhear a conversation referring back to another deceased, sharing another room in the funeral parlor adjacent to the one I have come to bid adieu.

“I am so sorry for the loss of your father.”
“He would have been 93,” comes the reply. “He lived a good life, though.”
“Yes, but it is still hard,” says the first woman. “One is never ready to lose parent- it is never time.”

So too it is with the family I have come to give my deepest sympathies. It is never easy to say goodbye to those we love. Emotions strain to find the right words, the right sentiments at times like this. Saying goodbye is never easy.

It is never time.

And as thoughts drift again to the recent death of adored actor Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire- I can’t help but wonder if his greatest legacy was that he lived as a father. His daughter Zelda leaves the following words written by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as a lasting tribute to her father’s legacy:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

I write often of care- specifically the care of Significant Others in our lives, and particularly as it concerns children and students. But without an understanding of the role that self-care plays as a first step in the process, we cannot truly understand the impact of care in our lives and in society. I often think of the airline rule to first affix one’s own gas mask before attempting to help one’s dependents. Is this not also true of everyday life at times? If we have not given our own bodies and souls attention and replenishing, are we really of much assistance and benefit to others? We must remember that we cannot run ourselves into the ground, depleting our own resources and ignoring our own needs and requirements to the extreme that we are of no earthly good to anyone else around us. Is it worth our while contributing to the world at large at the extreme expense of losing ourselves? These are tough questions to ask and perhaps the answers will differ depending on who is answering. One thing remains- without care given to ourselves, we eventually run down. We diminish. And the cycle of care cannot be continued without more care invested from either without or within.

Since the only dependable source is from within, that is where our greatest efforts must be concentrated.

Nel Noddings writes about caring for self in terms of meeting the physical, spiritual, occupational, recreational, emotional and intellectual needs of all human beings. If I had to pick one to focus on primarily (acknowledging, of course that the basic needs of the body must be met), it is my beleif that the spiritual needs are the most significant. For without an inner purpose and greater meaning to act as our guide, where are we headed? What direction do we choose? And what benefit is everything else going to be? We must decide what truly matters in this life; for me, I have found purpose, meaning and significance in the person of Jesus Christ.

2000 years ago, I believe that very Person willingly chose to lay down His life for me. And it wasn’t a suicide pact or mental illness that compelled Him to the cross. It was love. And because of that Love, I too am free to love. Free to care. Free to give my life in service to the Call. Free to give my love with generous abandon. Free to live- free to really live.

I am free.

And even though I know that death will one day call, I daily make it a priority to care enough for myself to ensure that when that time comes, I am ready to die. No stone unturned. Living my life as if today might even be my very last (we never can know). Living each moment, each day with joy, passion, wonder and care. Living with a healthy appreciation for the fact that Death is part of life. Even as I focus on living my life to the fullest.

Even as I live this brief expanse of time that we call life with a wild and beautiful pursuit- the pursuit of a joyful life.

You don’t know what you’ve got. Until it’s gone.

I’m doing double-duty tonight.  Husband lies feverishly curled up in the fetal position on the couch under that stringy, blue blanket that has seen better days.  While the girls and I tiptoe past like fervent mice on a scavenger hunt.   Then, on up the stairs to bedtime routines and tuck-ins.  I haven’t done the bedtime gig solo for a while.  Makes you appreciate what you have…a  capable, competent life-partner to share the load.

You don’t know what good things you have until they’re gone.

We brush teeth, wash hands, taking care with the green marker-puppet drawn on one set of fingers.  We scrub until most of it is rinsed away.  Green soap suds, washed away.  Another day gone.  Clothing is slipped off, pajamas pulled on in their place.  Four stories are selected, two picks from her and two from me.  And then the prayers.

Ah.  The prayers.  They are either prolific or torturous.

Last night’s prayers killed me.  She held her hands pressed tightly together in the iconic prayer clasp.  Her cherubic pose, one for the record books.  This is not our norm, so don’t be fooled.  Most nights, there are pleas from the Mama for her to co-operate and settle down, and “would-you-please-say your-prayers”.  But tonight, she obliges without a fuss.  I leave her in her cozy bed to go to the others.  Same thing, different faces.

The Older One has a tummy ache.  The magic bean bag is fetched, heated, delivered.

I read to the girls from a Christmas chapter book.  Because I have made this the one chapter book I will finish this year.  Even if it is January.  Christmas is still very much a topic of conversation in our home.  Youngest informs me she already knows what she wants next Christmas.  A train set, a camera and a surprise.  Her sister tells her to wait for her birthday.  We finish the book.  Check.  I can cross that off the to-do list.  But it really isn’t a chore.  I enjoy this time spent with my head stuck in a good book.  Making it come alive for my children.

That’s what readers do.  Make it all come alive.  Even for the moment.  Because the smallest of moments are those we often remember best.  And they slip away so quickly.

You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

I lay down with the Boy.  We talk about this and that.  Moments later, I am tucking him in and then that the door too is closed.  Another page in the chapter of our lives turned.  Did I make this day count?  Was it all worthwhile?  Did I treasure what I had?

No regrets tonight.  But I reflect on this: a wake for a woman I never knew.  Late afternoon, I watch as a family celebrates the life of their mama in stills.  Black and whites.  Technicolor.  I would’ve never noticed either had the circumstances been different.  Had I arrived a half hour earlier.

We drive the short distance travelling winter roads that takes us to the funeral home.  Predictably, we’re late to the wake.  We nearly miss it.  “Should we turn back,” I ask.  “It’s nearly four.  The wake…it’s over soon….probably not worth it to drive in,” I add.

We arrive to an empty parking lot, but on a whim, go inside.  Just in case. The family is gathered around a screen while pictures fade in and out.  Three boys, grown men now.  The pain evident on their faces, for they are still boys inside.  A mother knows.  I understand. They are their mother’s sons.

The black and whites are simply captivating.  I am drawn in, wanting to know “with whom” and “where” and “when”.  What was her story?  The moments she made count.  Her life in pictures: a reminder to the living to breathe in the here and now.  Seize the day.  What a family has left when the music fades and the song is done is never enough.  But a picture counts for something.

Photographs.  Those precious moments, preserved for posterity.  They tell a story.  They breathe life into the desolate and bring hope to the grieving.  And these happy memories are only possible when one has invested the time in those smallest of moments.  The simple joys that happen.  Inside a day, inside a moment, inside a memory.

We don’t know what we’ve got.  Until it’s gone.

joy found in the oddest places…

When I first moved to P.E.I., I had never heard of a wake.  Well, I had heard of a wake, it just was not the funeral kind.  Wake was a verb that my father used on school days when I wasn’t getting out of bed in time to do the essential morning prep before school, and it sounded something like this, “Wake up and get your shower started and don’t use too much water.”  Or, “you did not wake up in time for breakfast, so no toast for you.”  The usage of the word wake as a noun was something new for me, and to find that this noun was also an event was a bit mind-boggling.

The summer of our wedding, my husband and I attended wakes with his parents almost every weekend.  It was a rush to get to the wake on time so you would not have to stand outside in inclement weather while the line of mourners snaked around the outside of the funeral home.  Often times, the wake was the only chance to catch up with the locals, one’s neighbours and friends, on who was doing what, with whom and how often.  In other words, the wake as an event was much more than just imparting soft words of sympathy to grieving families, it was, and still is, an important social event in the community wherein one is able to, as secondary to offering condolences, catch up on a bit of information and news in the foyer.

In the last week, I attended two wakes, both of which were for people I have never met.  It is always interesting going to a wake for someone you meet for the first time in the coffin.  There are some very informal, yet absolutely necessary rules one must understand when proceeding to attend a P.E.I. wake.  Here is how it all goes down.

First of all, in the event the circumstances of the death are normal, the receiving line is often short enough for a gathering of well-wishers in the lobby.  It always helps to have a group to walk in with, especially when you might only know one person in the receiving line.  This almost never happens in P.E.I. because usually everyone knows someone you might be distantly related to; but in the event you are “from away” like I happen to be, the chances of not knowing a grieving soul in the funeral parlour astronomically increases.  At times like this, it really helps to be married to an Islander.  It also is helpful to form a line with people that have the greatest chance of knowing someone on the inside, with the person who is the best acquainted with the family at the forefront.  That way, you are able to sneak in behind, on the coat tails of someone with connections, thus reducing the amount of talking required and putting the emphasis rather on the handshake.  Which leads me to the all-important viewing of the slideshow.

Of late, there is usually a picture collage and slideshow in the corridor leading into the parlour.  The second rule of etiquette for the wake has to do with these photographs and images on display.  The slideshow is of utmost importance for those whom have never met the deceased.  This is your opportunity to acquaint yourself and get the five minute “history-in-a-nutshell” account of the person’s life so that you might be able to make a fleeting connection in the event the handshake fails.  Let me give you an example.  Often times, if the deceased was an older person at the time of their expiration, you are able to get snapshots that might date back to sweeter, happier times, like the departed’s childhood.  So, you can make reference to the fact, if there happens to be a lull in conversation upon your sympathy offerings, that so-and-so was a sweet little cherub of a dumpling when she was five.  And my, how time has flown .

The third understanding of all wake attendees is that one must give some attention to the deceased.  It is acceptable for one to view the remains for a moment or two prior to moving along to the receiving line.  However, one must never make comment on the price of the casket or urn, as cremation is becoming the custom for Island funerals, in such a way as to draw attention to the fact that so-and-so is being buried in little more than a pine box whilst the extended family is already planning their trip to the Bahamas.  Save those conversations for the parking lot.

Upon the viewing, one must needs go through the most difficult of all customs at Island wakes, that of the handshake and condolences to the family.  I have been seized in a death-like vice grip by grieving wives of men I have never met.  I have hugged sisters and brothers whom I never before laid eyes upon.  And, I have watched my husband become enveloped in a stifling embrace, all the while I stood nearby trying to find a place for my eyes to look other than at the spectacle of my husband in another woman’s arms.  Such is the custom of the wake.  It is all good.  One never quite knows what to expect, and thank goodness because how could one ever prepare for the emotional baggage one ends up carrying out with them at the end of this life altering experience?

Finally, there is the etiquette surrounding one’s exit out of the parlour, back into the main lobby.  The rule of thumb is this: do not join the receiving line unless you happen to be a member of the family.  I have heard of, and even shaken hands with, unsuspecting folks who just happened to sit down for a moment in one of those inviting, over-stuffed chairs to wipe a sweaty brow and dig out the soggy tissues, only to find they have inadvertently joined the receiving line.  This is not just an embarrassment but can literally end up putting you and the grieving family on bad terms in very short order.  Believe me, I know someone to whom this actually happened.   Recently.

One last word of advice, one should never, ever forget that the wake is not over until you are in your car headed for home.  Many the thoughtless person has made the mistake of confusing the lobby with the local watering hole or coffee shop and thus over-extended their welcome.   Such can be the case when one arrives in a group and uses the time after the viewing to discuss the money one owes to whom for the over-priced flowers on display in the parlour next door; or even more distasteful, to us this time to discuss funny things that might have happened that day or plans one might have for tomorrow.  This can be particularly awkward if those plans do not include attending the funeral.

To summarize, the wake as an event is a cultural Island experience, and one cannot say they have truly experienced the Island way until they have made their way to an Island wake.   Please note: for those who happen to be from away, prior connections to the deceased are helpful, but not necessary.  It is possible to leave a wake with more associations, family or otherwise, than one had when they arrived.  As well, one will never use the phrase “wake up and smell the coffee” and other such colloquialisms, again without giving thought to the proper native usage of the term, wake.  Of that, you can be certain.