26 January 2009
22 January 2009
21 January 2009
16 January 2009
One of the things that I'm finding particularly painful right now is feeling the sadness for everyone else who knew him. I'm not the only one missing him, trying to come to grips with his absence. For instance, there is the lady who lives across the street who cried when mom told her he had died. There are the friends who live far away, for whom it is unfathomable that he is gone. There are people who knew him years ago who have clear memories of his strong, quiet presence and must now come to grips with the reality of his death. And what of those who really knew and loved him? They now are trying to regain equilibrium within a new frame of reference - one without him.
My dad was a special man - I know it - but the thing is that we are feeling this grief because we are all connected. My dad was a part of us. His being removed from among us is like having a limb excised from our body; we are lacking something that had enabled us to get on before; or in other words, we got on as we did before because of him, and now we must learn a new way of getting on. Each of us has that impact on others. Any one of us taken from this life has this effect of absence and emptiness. We are not the same as we were, but we will carry on because we are still connected, you and I. It was never just me and Pop - it was you and me and Pop.
I often turn to Donne. Below are excerpts from his Meditation XVII which has the famous lines "...for whom the bell tolls" and, "no man is an island".
And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age,some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.
If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that
application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;it tolls for thee.
Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery,as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an
excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.
13 January 2009
Along those lines, one little nephew one day was concerned when the water in the upstairs loo was suddenly blue. Really concerned. He needed reassuring more than once that day (and night) that both he and the toilet were going to be fine. But when his big brothers came home from school that afternoon, he ran right to them, urging them to come quick and see! Upstairs they flew, and we heard the "Flush!" of water, then an excited voice cried out, "See? It's blue! Isn't that cool?"
Sometimes it's the grown-ups who are funny. There is something of a battle going on between one such grown-up and a certain nephew about bathroom etiquette. Specifically on whether or not to flush. Said nephew very kindly is concerned about waking the house if he has to flush at night, but unpleasantness ensues if he doesn't. So the battle of wills goes on. One day, this fine speech was overheard, delivered in truly Shakespearean tones: "Flush. The. Toilet.... I don’t care if it’s 2 o’clock in the morning,... or 1 o’clock in the afternoon; ...you flush. The. Toilet."
And sometimes it's what kids do that is so cute. Still in the bathroom, a certain bath-loving nephew once decided that he was going to join a brother who was in the bath. There we found him, where he'd managed to divest his two-year-old body of its pants and socks. He sat in the bath water, diaper intact, and sodden fleecy sweater, happy as a clam with his water wheel and plastic cup. I think pictures were taken of the event, which may be useful in the years to come!
The smallest of the nephews is just learning to control the flailing of his limbs, and is beginning to be able to move with purpose. He belongs to a very affectionate, vocal, enthusiastic family, so when he makes his appearances between naps, he is greeted accordingly with ringing welcomes. Likewise, when he withdraws, he is sung out of the room with choruses of "Night night!" and waves of farewell. Over the last day or two, he's made sounds like he's trying to say "Night night!" but we may be imagining that much. However, just today he waved his fat little arm back at us! It was a lovely combination of the Queen majestically blessing her subjects and a puppey's wagging tail.
And finally, after a meal consisting mostly of pickles, one nephew announced to the room at large: "Don't sit on me! I'm so full, I might pop!"
12 January 2009
As a writer, one quote I particularly identify with is: "How can I know what I think till I see what I say?" This is so true: my thoughts don't make sense to me until I write them down.
Here are some of my favourite bits of dialogue, from Howards End and Room with a view:
One wouldn't want to keep bumping into Wilcoxes.
Yes, he likes to travel, but he does see through foreigners.
It's in pencil. Pencil never counts!
Margaret, are we concealing a Mr. Bast?
She's got some sort of madness...as if she's mad!
A young English girl transfigured by Florence. And why should she not be transfigured? It happened to the Goths!
Hello! Come and have a bathe.
He asked me if I wasn't off my head with joy, and I said no, no I wasn't!
I shall never be able to forgive myself. - You always say that, but you always do!
I've been on a Merchant Ivory kick lately, and now I must go back and visit the books, which will probably lead me to Wilde, eventually taking me back to Austen. I seem to always reunite with Austen. All my roads lead to Austen...except for the ones that take me to Tolkien, though they do sometimes converge. Is that odd? I wonder if Austen and Tolkien would have found common ground in their interests, passions and pursuits? (That too, is a quotation. Do you recognize the source?)
Merchant Ivory have been making films for decades now, and not all of them have been lush period pieces. But the lush period pieces I have seen bring on a deep longing to live in Edwardian England. I like the idea of clearly defined manners, morals, expectations and etiquette. I like lace curtains in the windows; I like the poofy hairdos of the women, the long skirts and brooches. I like the reserve which prevented people from saying the word 'stomach' in mixed company or discussing personal matters in public. Yes, I do realize that it was also clausterphobic (especially for women) and very repressed. I also realize that life was pleasant for the fortunates who had money and leisure while full of toil and drudgery for those without money and leisure... so I'll take good care to be a woman of the upper middle class who had a comfortable income!
It was also a time of refinement, elegance, and steamer trunks. It is the latter which leads me to choose the days of Lucy Honeychurch over Elizabeth Bennet (though I'd rather be Lizzy and marry Darcy than be Lucy and marry George) because Lucy was able to travel - her world was broader. She could visit Florence with no Baedecker whereas Lizzy was hampered by bad roads, slow horses and no train service. Even the elderly Miss Allans went off to Athens, with the possibility of Constantinople beckoning in their future. Darcy may have had 10,000 Pounds a year, but still he could go no further or faster than his horses could take him in a day.
09 January 2009
I am, however, stuck on the topic of grieving and have a few thoughts to offer. One being that the stages of grief include the Wobblies and the Fuzzies. The Wobblies are characterized by a lack of coordination in, or cooperation from, your arms and legs. I fell down the stairs at one point, because my legs stopped working mid-stride; and I have feared washing dishes because my hands lacked their accustomed strength.
The Fuzzies follow the same principle but they affect the mind. There are memory lapses, emotional jags, a general slowing down of mental acuity. I am having a hard time focusing right now,and notice that conversations sometimes pass me by, or that I'm rereading the same paragraph over and over without understanding its point. There are certain things I must accomplish in the next few days, but this sluggish brain is limping along, one-legged and counter to my plans.
What I'm learning is the importance of being kind to yourself when grieving. Don't apply any pressure to 'get over it' in what you had supposed was a suitable amount of time. Also, when possible, really allow yourself to be sad, or empty or angry or whatever emotion is visiting at that moment. Work or children or traffic may occasionally prevent the possibility but I do think it is important to not deny the emotions every time; they serve a purpose and will bring healing.
This leads to something I'm finding particularly challenging,which is to not look for the exit sign. (I'm not talking 'permanent exit' but rather distractions or other emotional anaesthetics) I'm almost desperate to find distractions. I pounce on people when they're online, hoping someone will serve the purpose of taking me out of this moment in time to where I don't feel the aching emptiness. Or I go to the movies, thinking that Hollywood has perfected numbing its audience, surely they can help me out right now?
Unplugging or zoning out can be necessary in order to carry on from time to time, but I'd recommend keeping a close eye on how frequently you're trying to hide or shut down. Again, I believe that grief, fully experienced, will bring healing.
The picture is of a corridor in La Grande Chartreuse, Motherhouse of the Carthusians, located in the French Alps. It would be so lovely to be in a place so deeply infused with peace and silence during this time of sadness, but my life is here, in the world. I must seek God's peace and silence in the life He has given me.
07 January 2009
- My sister was meant to have surgery in December, which would mean being incapacitated leading up to Christmas if not longer. She was inexplicably unable to contact the clinic, and whenever they phoned the house the message was forgotten and not passed on to her. Very frustrating for her at the time, but in hind-sight, a good thing, as it meant she was mobile and up to the traveling when our dad died.
- On the day he died, I had been trying to escape in various ways, one of them being taking in a matinee. Oddly enough, the obscure movie was sold out, and the theatre lobby so crowded I decided to just go home and lick my wounds in private. However, once home, I couldn't bring myself to hide in my room, so I immersed myself in the family. We were all of us gathered together when the phone call came...none of us was alone. It would have been wretched to be sitting in a darkened theatre, watching an inane movie, feeling my phone go off in my pocket, and getting the news that way. I was so peeved when my plans didn't work out, but what a good thing it turned out to be.
- Going to the funeral home was a very difficult thing to do. I was worried about losing control of myself and just didn't know how I was going to be able to manage it. As I stepped into the very crowded lobby, a beautiful grey cat sat at the edge of our family group, looking quite alot like my cat Diggory. I got a great deal of comfort from the cat that day, as it followed us from room to room all morning. I think that was a wee present from Pop...a little something to help me get through the more difficult moments of our time there. The cat consoled Number Three Nephew as well, who was really hurting from the loss of his beloved Opa.
- We had the opportunity as a family to see him and say goodbye at the funeral home. What joy that brought! I know that sounds very peculiar, but it's true, and good. You see, he had suffered a great deal and that shows on a person. When we saw him, he looked himself again, dressed in his favourite casual suit without a tie and his t-shirt peaking underneath his open shirt collar. He was at peace, restored to himself and therefore to us as well. He was Pop once more.
- Mom had a strangely difficult time getting in touch with her family, which set off a chain of events which just may lead to healing and reconciliation. It also prompted a visit from her long distance younger brother we haven't seen in over 25 years. He was able to stand by his sister's side as support, and serve as Pall Bearer to his brother in law. His nephews adored him, and we have great hope that this bond will continue to grow and strengthen with time. Pop had often encouraged Mom to visit her family but for one reason or another it wasn't possible. It will certainly happen now, and I'm sure he's had a hand in it.
- The Funeral Director (referred to by us as Mr. Director) very properly cautioned us that due to weather conditions and the time of year, it was almost likely that a grave could not be dug, and that Pop would have to temporarily be in a vault, and be buried in the spring. Well, while we reconciled ourselves to the idea we knew very well Pop would not approve of that: paying rent for a vault when he already had paid for a plot? Not likely! So the fellow whose job it is to do so said that due to the unseasonal warm spell, he felt he could prepare the site for one last burial but it really would be the last one until the Thaw. There you go: another point for the stubborn Dutchman!
- Mr. Director guided us through other decisions that needed to be made, such as who would provide the music during the Mass. There were two options: an organist and his wife, or a guitarist. The organist, a teacher, would likely be available as it was still Christmas holiday for the schools, but his wife is a dentist, and quite possibly would not be free... or they could be away on vacation. The guitarist was pretty certain to be able to do the job. Once again we resigned ourselves, but it must be said that Pop was not overly keen on folksy guitar strumming. Sure enough, both the organist and his talented wife were available and willing.
- There is a priest - Father Brown - whom Pop loved very much. All along, Pop would confidently say that Fr. Brown would be at his funeral. (Fr. Brown lives far enough away it is measured by hours, and is also a very busy man.) Mom would caution that, yes, for sure Fr. Brown would want to be present, but may not be able. Father Brown was indeed there, and gave a very beautiful homily about confidence in God's promise, God's faithfulness to us, and that Christ is always asking us to 'come to Him'. Hearing such a message of hope and love from a holy priest who knew, respected, and loved my dad was a real blessing and consolation.
- The priest lays a Crucifix on the casket for the Mass. This Crucifix was given to Mom before we left the Church after the funeral. It broke in two pieces, for which Father apologized, but Mom found to be very symbolic of the fact that Pop's suffering was at an end. I believe it was the Sunday following that she picked up the Crucifix again to look at it,and the Corpus fell off. Again symbolic, this time of freedom. There is comfort in that, too.
- Wanting a simple funeral meant no flowers. There was some bartering on this issue: No flowers; ok, one flower from Mom if necessary; well, alright one each from the children if they had to...but the concessions were reluctantly given. We placed our order with the florist for the one flower each of us wanted to pay tribute with and charged a friend with their safekeeping. Through no personal fault at all, the flowers were not at the cemetery, and there was only one white rose there, meant to be given by a friend who kindly gave it to Mom, so she was able to place it on the casket. We brought our flowers to him the next day, which I'm sure he allowed only becuase he had gotten his own way for the funeral!
- The funeral was quiet and simple as he wished it to be. And yet there were friends who traveled long distances to be there with us. I thank you all for making the personal sacrifice and want you to know what comfort and joy you brought with you.
06 January 2009
Shouldn't I have been prepared for Someone Else's plans to unseat my own? I woke up during the night with a heavy pain in my back. Breathing was difficult, and certainly flying was going to be pretty impossible to do. So, I had a very quiet, unaccomplished day. No problem! I planned that I would make up for it today by going to morning Mass, hitting the library, writing brilliant and focused words for several hours, and then attend to a few other essential bits and pieces I've been putting off for months.
I barely slept all night, beginning my day rather later and rather less sprightly than I would have liked. Mass was out, but surely I could still go to Adoration? Today is one of those 'first' anniversaries, and I wanted to do something to spend time with Pop. He would have gotten quite a kick out of the situation. This tiny little chapel, tucked between the modern church-in-the-round and the parish hall (which was hopping with what appeared to be a Chamber of Commerce meeting) contains five little chairs and insubstantial kneelers tucked cheek-by-jowl in a row. Hopefully you know your fellow adorer and they are fond of toothpaste, because you become rather intimate being so close together. (Granted, praying together brings people closer, but perhaps we can keep that to the spiritual plane?)
Anyway, I had imagined for myself an hour or so of deeply focused, quiet prayer - communion with my dad and my Father. Wouldn't you know? There were already two people there; but this is what Pop would have appreciated: they were two 'old guys' straight out of a British comedy. One was slightly deaf, and the other seemed to snooze between prayers. They were lovely though, praying next Sunday's readings together, offering intentions and thanksgiving, and even singing a little hymn together. Instead of solitude, I had focus and companionship; and one of their prayers lead me to a Scripture that encouraged me in one of the questions I have regarding my future.
Those two elderly gents offered me a lighthearted moment, and a reminder to ask before planning. Pretty good advice, don't you think?
04 January 2009
I must say that this was in spite of the fact that my dad himself was living his life with faith and trust, embracing his suffering to the best of his abilities, believing that God in His mercy was allowing it for some purpose. And my mom right beside him, lending him her strength when he needed it, and all the while having complete faith that her trust in God would not be overlooked.
When the news of his death came, I felt something that came close to despair. I didn't know how I could go on, whether I would ever not feel such a heavy sadness, or if the emptiness would remain as bleak and heavy in my chest for the rest of my life. And so it continued for the next three days, right up until his funeral. (there were moments of light throughout, and I'll share those later...they are important, too)
As soon as I walked into the church, I felt a warm peace, reassurance, and at times even exultant joy. Since then, I do have the assurance of my faith: God is merciful, He is love, He is faithful and compassionate, and He has been present all along. My dad knew that, and that is what enabled him to go on for as long as he did. (I know that Christmas was a gift he gave to us.)
There is still sadness - of course there is. It washes over me like the tide: sometimes it's a gentle lapping, barely discernable; sometimes it's a rough wave that almost knocks me off balance. I'll take refuge in my lighthouse for a while, and when I'm ready, Pop will show me how to carry on... he's perfectly placed now, to do just that.