Monday, October 16, 2017

When Grief comes to visit

Grief is one of those guests who show up unannounced, assured of their place even though they're not welcomed with open arms. Grief keeps to himself a lot of the time, leaving us alone as we putter around the house or go shopping or to work. But every once in a while Grief becomes really annoying, getting right in our face, making demands. We can't shrug him off, or talk him into going away. He just stands there, front and center, immovable, and we can't get around him. He badgers and pesters and brings us to tears. Then suddenly he stops and goes back to his room for a while and we are left in blessed peace. Unfortunately we never know when Grief is going to come back out, so we're always a little on edge. He seems to delight in catching us when we least expect it, and then BOOM! he's all up in our business again.

The other unfortunate thing is that we don't know how long he'll stay at any given time. His visits can last weeks or months or years. There's no known way to shorten his visits, because what works for one person won't work for another. Some seem to handle Grief better than others. I wonder why that is? Grief is a mystery to me. I don't like him much, but he's a part of my life -- and yours -- and we just have to learn to deal with him the best we can. And that's going to look differently for each of us. I try not to let Grief overwhelm me (he's that sort, you know) and most of the time I succeed. But once in a while he gets under my skin and drives me absolutely crazy. I'd like to send him packing, but I know he won't go until he's good and ready. So meanwhile I hunker down and try to handle his unpredictable behavior the best I can.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Grace and Grief

I lost someone very dear to me this week and for a few days the words defeated me, as my Ugandan friends would say. My thoughts were a jumbled mess and I've felt like I was slogging through mud, both physically and emotionally. Then this morning I woke and the words were there, crowding my brain and I knew it was time to sit down and write.

The floodgates of grace released, pouring over and filling every nook and cranny of grief. Grief that I felt right down to my bones. Grief I'd been feeling all summer but especially this past month as Sharon's health steadily declined. Early in the summer it became obvious that the experimental drug trial she was in was not helping. Her lungs filled with fluid and had to be drained. Again and again. Her breathing was so labored that it hurt to hear her panting, gasping for air. And when she was hooked up to a monitor we could see how fast her heart was racing as it struggled with the oxygen deprivation.

Her big kind generous heart was slowly wearing down.

But she kept going by her sheer force of will, ready to try anything that might help. Chemo, immunotherapy, oxygen 24/7, pleural catheters... But it was becoming clear that nothing was really helping. Her sister Karen called her mom and other siblings. They started arriving last weekend. On Monday another breathing crisis meant yet another trip to the ER, but this time she was admitted to ICU. I wasn't there when the nurse practitioner from the oncologist's office came to the hospital to say they felt the best thing was to stop everything and just make Sharon as comfortable as possible.  I was on the way and had to pull over when her sister called to share the news; just sit there a while and pull my messy self together.

When I arrived at the hospital, I saw a glimpse of the old Sharon, purposeful and focused, using her last reserves to do what needed done, especially to help her husband and sons deal with her impending death. I held her hand a while and we talked and I held my tears in. Barely. Other people crying stressed her out. Her pastor came and she asked everyone to leave the room so she could talk with him alone. I said goodbye, not knowing it was for the last time here on earth. I did know it wouldn't be long though, and I sat in my car and cried for a good long while before I could leave the parking lot.

The decision was made to transfer her to a hospice facility in Ft. Wayne where they had the respiratory equipment she needed. That happened Wednesday evening. She was gone before dawn broke the next day. Thursday, October 12, 2017 I lost one of my best friends.

I don't know how long it will be before I stop thinking about things I need to tell her. I don't know how long it will be before simple things won't make me cry -- like seeing a generic Pinterest email in my inbox. She and I often sent each other pins, and we shared boards for various rehab projects. I don't know how I'm going to design and make this next baby quilt without her ideas and suggestions. I've never had to do this alone before. I don't know who to send funny animal memes to any more. I don't know who I can find to be snarky with about life; who shares the same irreverent sense of humor.

But amidst this great big whine fest, as I feel sorry for myself and mourn her loss, I have to also be grateful she's done suffering. Because believe me, she suffered. She did not go quietly into the night. She fought long and hard and with all her being, and it was hard. It was bereft of dignity as other people -- strangers mostly, although some became well known -- poked and prodded and scanned and drew blood and took x-rays and drained lungs... It was the loss of privacy for a very private person. It was becoming dependent on others when she could not do for herself, a person who had always done for others. It was painful and miserable and hard. And I can't but help feel relief that she's past that now.

That's where the grace comes in, flooding every crevice and pushing out the grief bit by bit. It will hurt for a long time. I will miss her always. But I'm holding onto the many memories and feeling thankful for the years she was my sister-in-law and my very dear friend.

Sharon Lynn Hoyt
Born: January 15, 1962
Died: October 12, 2017
Memorial Service: 
October 15, 4 p.m. 
Community Grace Brethren Church 
Warsaw, Indiana 

And because it would have pleased her to no end, I'm including a picture of her beloved dogs, Rilla and Walter (Little Cat is camera shy, but trust me when I say she rules the roost and those dogs!). She loved her pets to distraction and would have had more if it had been possible. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Wandering is a weak word for what I do.
But you relentlessly pursue me,
telling me again and again.....and again
that I am your beloved.

You bend grace when no one else would,
when my ugly is enormous 
and hurtful.

You shower me with joy
in moments unexpected,

You bend down to listen intently,
to every word or groan,
careful to hear my heart.

You are the Great I Am,
Almighty God,
Awesome Creator of all that exists,
Place of safety and rest,
Protector of the defenseless,
Provider of all that's good,
Relentless Redeemer.

My psalm offering for Harvest Sunday at Valley Springs Fellowship, 2017.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

You know that feeling when the adrenaline drops because your body senses the danger is over and exhaustion ensues?

It was like hitting the wall. As soon as we got the very good news that, while the tumor they removed from Ivan's kidney was cancerous, the tissue around it was clear, it felt like someone popped my balloon and all the air whizzed out. I could finally relax and, boy, did I! I found it hard to keep my head propped up, so I just laid the seat back, put my eye mask on and relaxed all the way home. When we got back, as soon as I'd put away all the clean laundry and things we'd taken for overnight, I climbed into bed and just laid there a while. I couldn't sleep but I couldn't move either.  I was completely immobilized.

Dinner was simple: roast chicken, green beans I cooked the other day and reheated, and a caprese salad made with tomatoes picked fresh that morning from Tina's raised bed garden. I couldn't have done more than that. My mind, which has been on overdrive for months now, is finally feeling like it can rest. This is a real problem for me. I'd love to be able to turn my brain off when I go to bed but I can't. I waste useless hours going over what has happened, thinking about all that might happen, completely overwhelmed.

That fizzled out feeling has persisted all weekend, and I woke up with a sore throat this morning. I'm gargling like crazy in hopes I can reverse the sore throat trend, and also keeping my distance from Ivan, who has a raging head cold. I'm not nearly as worried about me as I am about my sister-in-law. I can't help her if I'm sick, because it could literally be life threatening at this point in her fight against cancer. She really cannot afford to get sick!

So we are hunkered down today, resting and recuperating and praying for healthy bodies. Ours and others. Not just those we know but those we'll probably never meet. We're listening to reports of Hurricane Irma ramming Florida, while the news on the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana is still fresh. I'm reminded of how small we are in the whole scheme of things; how insignificant our problems, when others face such devastating loss. Who hasn't been brought to tears by the stories coming out of Houston, Port Arthur and other places? It's one thing to hear the numbers (which are staggering) and another to listen to the individual stories of people. It's one thing to hear an entire island is uninhabitable after Irma, but as the camera pans over the landscape of Barbuda, I wonder about the people who lived in those homes, most now razed to the ground. What is their life going to look like moving forward?

And my tired brain cannot even process what they must be going through. I've made two major moves in the past decade but had time to prepare for each of those. Gotta be honest, now feeling a little embarrassed that I whined about how hard it was to pack up and move in five months when we returned to the U.S. this last time.

I moved. They've been displaced. Their adrenaline is probably still pumping like crazy and it might be a while before their bodies sense the danger is over and they can relax, falling into exhausted heaps like I did this weekend.

Displacement. It's a word we're hearing a lot these days. I'd like to start a discussion on the topic, but broaden it to include what it means to be displaced for whatever reason: natural catastrophe, war, poverty, religious persecution... I know I don't have a ton of readers on this little blog, but I also know we come from a wide background in terms of politics, religion, geography. I'd like to maybe open all our minds a bit, to see what it means on a personal level, to be displaced. It's so easy to lump everyone into categories, isn't it? To put all "those" people in a neat little box, and assign them all the same beliefs, feelings, life. But it's not that simple. It's actually a lot more complicated and messy and beautiful and I'm hoping to find some people who are willing to share their stories with us. Because we aren't just numbers, are we? I promise to do my best not to get all preachy on you, and I'm asking you to keep an open mind and be a part of the conversation. Deal?