A Flash of Unforeseen Remembrance

flash of unforeseen remembrance

Life lessons appear around us each day if we can just remember to be attentive. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find one at a celebration of life ceremony for the son of a friend. I guess because it was unexpected that I felt (and still feel) a tremendous sense of awe and gratitude.

At just 31 years old, unable to recover from a devastating two-year battle with a brain infection, Catzby Pitzvada died on December 17. I had never met Catzby; it was only through the stories of his mom Denise that I knew of him.

The ceremony was TRULY a celebration of life because Catzby lived a full life…full of adventure, travel, learning, music, friendships, laughter, and love.

Although the eulogies and tributes were each uniquely personal, one clear message shone through them all:

  • Catzby cared deeply about people.

  • Catzby understood that relationships need to be nourished.

  • Catzby encouraged those in his orbit to also care deeply about people and nourish their relationships.

A high school friend of his was brave enough to admit that she’s always been kind of a loner. She said she had let many friends drift away, but that Catzby always kept in touch over the years and nudged her to do the same, to keep reaching out, to maintain bonds.

That was the lesson that hit home for me. Because it’s easy to get lazy about relationships.

Right now (without having to think twice about it), I can name four people I’ve been talking about visiting for over a year. Each lives within an hour’s drive from me so why do I only talk about it? Do those people feel loved by my inaction? No. Likely they feel forgotten.

A line of poetry by Edwin Arlington Robinson goes like this:

We cannot know how much we learn

From those who never will return,

Until a flash of unforeseen

Remembrance falls on what has been.

Catzby, thank you for being such an inspiration, for choosing a full and joyful life, for having smile lines around your eyes before you hit 30. And especially thank you for the flash of unforeseen remembrance that we need to hold onto our relationships, to value them and care for them like the precious gifts they are.

~~~~~~

Catzby’s obituary

 

Itsy Bitsy Teeny

infinitesimal

Someone at a party on New Year’s Day mentioned she was vaguely aware of my blog. It turns out a mutual friend had forwarded her several of my posts over the last few years. “How do you figure out what to write about?” she inquired.

My standard answer is that typically I’m inspired by something I’ve heard or read or seen or done. Or sometimes a story or event from my life seems worthy of sharing. Today’s post is different.

At the risk of sounding like a yaya-new-age Mrs. Mysterio, I’m going to tell you the truth. A word came to me just as I was waking from a short nap today.

The dog and I had been going to just rest on the sofa for a few minutes, but the rain lulled us to sleep. As I began waking, the word infinitesimal kept repeating in my mind in a woman’s voice.

As I became fully awake, I tried to make some sense of it. I couldn’t even recall the exact meaning of infinitesimal and had to look it up. Mainly used in mathematics, it means “so small as to be impossible to measure.”

Great. How do I write about almost nothing? It’s a new year, a new decade. I want to talk about BIG ideas and BIG thoughts, and definitely NOT something so small as to be impossible to measure.

But I’ve learned when a topic strongly presents itself to me, it’s my responsibility to write about it. What slant on this subject might be of help or encouragement to my readers?

In considering the concept, I realized that right now, in this moment in time, I know more than one person who is feeling like an infinitesimal.

Their existence feels like nothing; their lives are nearly unbearable. One is due to the tragic early death of a loved one. Another has a multitude of serious illnesses that afflict him. He said recently that he’s in such unrelenting pain that he wishes he could just disappear.

And I’m willing to bet that each one of you reading this post also knows at least one person who feels so beaten down by life circumstances that he/she feels like an almost-zero.

When people are in that state, we need to be there for them. To me, being there means something specific. It’s not showing up with a casserole and a smile and singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.” Each person will have his or her own needs. Listen to your heart and empathically provide what’s needed. It may be simply holding a hand and sitting in silence with them.

This is one time when it’s OK to make something out of (almost) nothing.

 

The Color of Christmas

a blue Christmas

This entire day I have been thinking about people I personally know who are suffering in some way. My heart is full of loving compassion for them. If you are one of those people, you will know that this is written for you tonight.

Thanksgiving was not happy for these friends nor will Christmas be merry.

Some of the tragic circumstances involve recent deaths—a loving mom not yet 50, a grandson from a brain tumor. The year of “firsts” is upon those families; the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas without that special person; birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays will follow.

One friend has a grievously ill adult child who has spent the past several months in the hospital; this mom already lost her other son a few years ago. I pray for them and have asked many to pray for Denise and Catzby, and yet I feel as though words are not enough. No matter how much I wish I could, I cannot fix this for them and I feel useless.

Some of my friends have a chronic illness and live everyday with pain. Cancer and other life-threatening conditions have entered some of your lives. Getting ready for the holidays may not even be something you’re considering.

Others have lost a special someone…a mom, a dad, a grandmother, a grandfather, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend. Regardless of how much time has passed since that person’s death, we all miss them terribly. If Christmas was especially important to our loved one, this time of year is even more difficult for us.

And it’s made all the more trying by the “noise” about Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Doorbuster deals and how much everyone will be stressing because there are only 28 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas instead of the usual 35. None of that matters to people who struggle to get out of bed each day because they are desperately sad.

Some churches offer what’s referred to as a blue Christmas service. My church, St. James’ in Warrenton, VA, is one of them. To quote from the church’s website: A “blue Christmas” service acknowledges that Christmas is not always met with joy and celebration. Sometimes it can be difficult to participate in the glad carols and merriment of our Christmas services. This service provides an opportunity to light candles acknowledging the people we miss, the pain or emptiness we may feel.

If Christmas is a difficult time for you, this type of service may offer you some hope, and I encourage you to find a church near you that provides a blue Christmas service.

For the rest of us who are doing okay, let’s remember to live the words of Henri Amiel from 1868:

“Life is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So, be quick to love; make haste to be kind.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Piano Guys and Craig Aven “The Sweetest Gift”

One man’s take on the “year of firsts”

Invitation to St. James’ Warrenton blue Christmas service on December 18

 

The Circle of Family

CIrcle of Family

A child dying before a parent is something that no mom or dad should ever face. Whether that child is six months, six years, or fifty-six years, the agonizing heartbreak is the same.

My nephew Greg died recently. He was born when I was fifteen. I left home at nineteen, and Greg also moved out of state as a young man. So my only recollection of him was as of a little boy.

Seeing my brother Gene’s son lying in a casket, no longer a little boy but a man of middle age, brought forth feelings of deep regret for not having kept in touch with him across the many years and miles.

But deep-seated feelings of contentment and peace outweighed my regret. Because from his mother’s side of the family, Greg’s brother, many cousins, aunts and uncles and friends came and stayed for the two viewings and the funeral service in Pennsylvania. Greg’s two grown daughters drove from Ohio to attend as well. The girls, now with young families of their own, cried when they saw the outpouring of love for their dad.

His daughters hadn’t even known about their aunts, uncles, and cousins from their paternal grandfather’s side of the family. When I held open my arms and said, “I’m your Aunt Norma,” together they fell into my embrace. My sisters and others shared that they had similar encounters over the two days.

Yes, I know there are schmaltzy Hallmark movies about “instant families,” but this was the real deal! It was a perfectly lovely experience shared by many in the midst of a tragedy.

The day I returned home I took the dog for a walk at a local park. I happened upon this view of three trees in a triangle shape about twenty feet from each other. As you can see, one tree branched into two trunks, another into three, and the third into many. I knew it was a perfect metaphor for the funeral experience.

The trees are separate, yes, but joining them together are their roots which have reached out across the expanse almost like hands extending out to reach another’s hands. At first glance, they may appear gnarly. But look closely and admire the beauty of their endurance.

Our individual families may consist of a few members or many. But joining our individual families together are our roots…our family ties. Our family roots run so deep. Sometimes they are deep underground. Other times they reach the surface for all to see. Our roots are strong. They are resilient, withstanding neglect, and years, and miles. Our family roots help us carry one another through sorrowful times.

There is a print that hangs over my son’s bed that says this:

Our family is a circle of strength and love.

With every birth and every union, the circle grows.

Every joy shared adds more love.

Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.

 

 

Thoughts on Prayers

Thoughts on Prayers

image by Coco Parisienne on Pixabay

During my final year of commuting to work, I passed by the same young teen waiting for his school bus. He was a lone soul at that bus stop. The thought that I should pray for him popped into my head one day. So I did, calling him Bus Stop Boy in my mind since I didn’t know him.

It became a habit for me to offer a short prayer for him as I drove by. And then I wondered, “What if I am the only person on earth praying for this child?”

Most often I don’t feel as if I am good at praying. I feel I am lacking; that there are others who pray more fervently or more genuinely. I suffer from Imposter Syndrome in my prayer life.

It likely won’t surprise you that among the many books on “how to pray,” there is one in the “dummies” series called appropriately enough, “Christian Prayer for Dummies.”

The author offers an acronym so readers can remember the four parts of an effective prayer:

ACTS

Adoration Praising God the Almighty
Confession Verbalizing and asking forgiveness for the sins we have committed
Thanksgiving Remembering to be grateful for all we have
Supplication Asking God to watch over us and care for our needs and the needs of others that we name; seeking God’s healing grace for those who are ill in body, mind, or spirit

While I poked gentle fun at Prayers for Dummies, I actually like the ACTS reminder. Although I feel more in touch with God when I follow the acronym loosely and not as if I’m at the grocery store checking items off my list.

One of my favorite true stories about prayer concerns my friend Sherry. She had been having horrendous headaches for months. One day while shopping, she saw a man who, from the rear, bore an uncanny resemblance to her dad.

When the man turned, however, he looked nothing like Sherry’s father. The two exchanged pleasantries, and then the man asked if he could pray for her because she seemed upset. Sherry agreed and bowed her head as the man touched the exact area on her head where a brain tumor would successfully be removed one month later.

She said the touch brought her chills (good ones) from her head to her toes. A prayer from a complete stranger—and how she needed the prayer at just that moment.

After my friend Linda was diagnosed this spring with stage IV ovarian cancer, I found a prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy. I amended it to include Linda’s name and sent it to mutual friends and other prayer warriors I know. I’m sharing it here and asking you to not only include Linda in your own prayers but forward it on to others.

May God heal Linda, body and soul. May Linda’s pain cease. May Linda’s strength increase. May Linda’s fears be released. May blessings, love, and joy surround Linda. Amen.    

Here’s the tough question: What about when our prayers aren’t answered the way we want? When the child doesn’t recover from the disease, when the elderly parent’s first slip into dementia rolls into an avalanche, when car wrecks, freak accidents, and people with weapons take our loved ones from us… what then? Why were our prayers to watch over those we love not fulfilled?

Life isn’t easily understandable. And I don’t have the answers. Certainly, I have questioned God’s wisdom myself.

But I do know that it’s at those very worst times in our lives that we need the prayers of others. Because in tragedy, we need to be lifted up in love and empathy, to know that no matter what, we are not alone and that we are indeed loved.

~~~~~

Please take two minutes and listen to Sarah McLachlan’s lovely rendition of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

The prayer of St. Francis

Make New Old Friends

old friend

Image by Wallula on Pixabay

Isn’t deep conversation with a friend fulfilling? It nurtures the soul. It leads to stimulating thoughts. It can help us understand others better.

In talking with my friend Jen today, I learned she grew up in an Army family. They moved every single year until she was a teen. She now thinks those early years played a part in molding her into feeling like a loner who is insecure about what may come next. And that’s understandable because it’s hard (especially when you’re a kid) to build lifelong friendships when you know people less than twelve months.

When I asked Jen if I could write about her story, she agreed but added that she recently met another “Army brat.” That woman was affected by the constant shuffling in a way quite opposite to Jen. When they first learned they had similar backgrounds, the woman exclaimed something like, “Wasn’t it wonderful to always be on the move, meeting new people, having different experiences?!”

Hearing that story reminded me that various life circumstances impact each of us differently. We know that’s true if we draw on our rational brains. But too often we take the lazy way out and lapse into thinking that everyone should respond to issues just like we do. And if they don’t, they’re “wrong.”

My personal belief is that much of the negativity and hostility going on today is due to a lack of empathy. Wikipedia defines empathy as, “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”

Instead, too many people automatically jump to judgment, blame, point fingers, and instantly spew forth opinions from their own frame of reference.

My only link at the end of this post is an old favorite of mine by Brené Brown. It is less than three minutes long. Please watch it, even if you’ve seen it before.

That topic of childhood friendships popped up today because I had mentioned I’m still close with my oldest friend (we’ve known each other since we were toddlers) as well as with my best friend from high school. And I noticed the wistfulness on Jen’s face as she shared that lifelong friendship was an unknown experience for her.

Well, Jen, while we’ve known each other for only seven or so years, I’m making you a promise: I’ll be your friend for the rest of our lives. So from this point forward, you have a lifelong friend.

~~~~~~

Brené Brown’s classic take on empathy

Front Porch Lessons, Part 2

Front porch lessons

Be still and see what comes to you.

As noted in last Tuesday’s post, so many lessons came to me as I sat on my porch in the early morning that I needed to turn the idea into a two-part post. And again, these are my photos, not professional ones.

Front Porch lessons

The Hellebore, better known as a Lenten Rose, blooms before nearly everything else. I snapped the photo above this past March. The foliage stays a beautiful dark green all year, but the blossom itself fades from bright to pale as you can see here.

Beauty comes in all shades and intensities; time, whether seasons or years, does not make a plant or a person less beautiful.

Front porch lessons

Last year I bought two of the same gorgeous perennial; one for me and one for my best friend. Hers did remarkably well and recently she couldn’t wait to show me how large an area hers now covered. Mine died over the winter…or so I thought. As you can see here, a revitalized portion appears to be growing from underneath a rock. It’s possible to thrive in difficult situations.

We (humans, cats, dogs, lizards, skinks, etc.) tend to seek out light. Yet I have learned to appreciate the play of sunlight and shadow. I’ve taken other photos of this angel dog statue, but I believe this is my favorite. Sometimes when we can’t see perfectly, we need to look a little closer or a little longer and we end up absorbing more than we would have.

Wouldn’t it be great if our stepping stone paths in life were straight? And oh to have a clean path…no dirt that spilled over from the last rain storm. Let’s not forget brightly lit so we can see what’s coming next. But life, much like the stones that will lead you to my front door, is often curvy, dirty, and in shadow. With all its imperfections, life is what we have.

Finally, a word about this tiny-pathetic-Charlie-Brown-looking tree. It was a gift from the funeral home that helped us with the arrangements when Tim died in 2008. The sapling came with a note instructing us to plant it in Tim’s memory. So we did, but it never prospered. Some years the deer nibble on it. Other times it appears to be dried out. Nothing we do seems to make it better or worse. We even planted a replacement evergreen close by, agreeing that this original just wasn’t going to make it another season and that we should dig it up.

And yet it hangs in there.

Never underestimate the difference a strong desire to persevere can make.

~~~~~~~~~~

2012  Washington Post article on the Lenten Rose 

Front Porch Lessons, Part 1

front porch lessons

I typically use images from professional sites; today’s photos are all mine.

This time of year I enjoy rising early to prepare a simple breakfast that gets transported on an old hammered-silver tray to my front porch. The peaceful morning is a perfect setting for considering what lessons are offered up to me from the garden and surroundings.

Above is a plant whose lovely blossoms open only in the morning. By early afternoon the flowers have enclosed themselves back into a ball. This plant, like me, is a morning person. Sometimes we morning persons feel an edge of superiority over “regular” people. So it’s good to be reminded that afternoon and evening people bloom differently than I do.

In 2004 we planted a small fringe tree out front. So named because of the fringe of silvery white flowers that hang from its branches in late spring, it grows into a rounded form 12-20 feet tall AND wide. So in fifteen years, it became an unwieldy monster. Until my husband pruned the lowest branches, I had no idea of the view it was blocking. The lesson here is that clutter (physical or mental or green) blocks our view. Over time, without our awareness, we lose sight of what’s around us.

About ten years ago a gardening friend gave me a lilac bush. Disappointedly, it never bloomed until last year when one small sprig of lilac showed up. Then this year there were two sprigs! Hmm…I’m hoping that this lilac will mimic the effects of compound interest and grow like crazy from this point on. But the truth found in this slow lilac is that some plants, some people, some ideas, some dreams take their own sweet time to burst forth. And that’s OK.

This tall spindly native Virginia plant needs to be staked and supported. Otherwise the stems, top heavy with flowers, would either bend to the ground or break. The plant doesn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed about needing help. We humans each likely have already needed or will need support at some point in our lives. Follow the plant’s lead; accept help graciously so you can continue blooming.

This hydrangea bush nearest the front porch was once annually abundant with gigantic blooms. Severely decimated by deer some years back, it hasn’t flowered for at least three years. But this summer it’s back, although not in the same luscious way. The flowers are much smaller, but that one bush has flowers of several colors: purple, pink, blue, and white. It makes no sense to think I could demand the hydrangea to be like it used to be. I’m accepting this change graciously because sometimes different can be more interesting than normal.

This was going to be a one-shot post, but the longer I lingered over my coffee the more lessons appeared. So stay tuned for Front Porch Lessons, Part 2 on Saturday. And in the meantime, go sit on a porch and find your own lessons.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Billy Joel Nailed It

Billy Joel Nailed It

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I want you to label your friends. No, not in a bad way. Take some time and think deeply about your core group of friends and pose this test to yourself: Identify the aspects that each good friend possesses that prompts you to hold them close to your heart.

Ponder this for a while. Don’t let yourself settle for a quick non-specific response such as, “He’s just so nice,” or “She’s a great person.”

And then tell each friend why you’re so happy they are a part of your life.

Yes, even if you’re NOT a mushy-gooey person who enjoys sharing deep feelings, you need to do this. And here’s why.

Linda, a very close friend of 50+ years, is in the midst of an extremely serious health crisis: ovarian cancer. Besides having a dedicated husband and loving family, she is blessed with a wide circle of friends from her librarian/teaching days, neighbors from both their Florida and Pennsylvania homes, people who know or work with their grown children, and many other outlets including a group of high school friends of which I’m a part.

Linda recently shared that the one bright spot in this scary situation is that so many people in the circle of her life have reached out to her with cards, calls, texts, emails, and visits. She said she was completely unaware of how much she means to all of these people, and how wonderful it is to actually know it NOW.

Another friend made the same type of comment after a healing service for her was held at church. How amazing it is to be told what you mean to many “someones”! One person commented that too often we wait for someone to die and then we tell those appreciative words to their surviving family. Yes, at a loved one’s funeral it’s comforting to hear, “Your mother stepped in to help me when I really needed it.” Or “Your father once gave me advice that changed my life.”

But it’s sad when the words have gone unspoken to the persons themselves.

Linda is one of my most faithful blog fans. So publically, here’s what I’m telling Linda:

Linda, no one has ever made me laugh like you do. You make every story funnier. Even though it takes a long time for you to finish telling a story (because we’re both laughing so hard), you are my favorite storyteller ever.

You remember what’s important to other people. Even now, at a time when it’s not easy for you to even take a breath, you remember how much my dog Riley meant to me and you ask how I am doing without him. 

You are a source of encouragement and inspiration. The night before you left for college and I was staying behind, you convinced me that I could learn to cook by walking me verbally step-by-step in the dark how to make mashed potatoes. You are a big part of why I blog. On a Christmas card some years ago, you encouraged me to write a book. I didn’t get that far, but from reader comments, my writing means something to others. If it weren’t for you, this blog wouldn’t exist. 

I love you the same as I have loved you all these years, and I pray that the cancer is on its way into remission even as I type these words. 

Yes, Billy Joel nailed it; you have a way about you. And everywhere you go, a million dreams of love surround you…everywhere.

  ~~~~~~~

Billy Joel singing live “She’s Got A Way About Her” 

Beautiful Sounds Are In The Ears of the Hearer

Ears

Image by Skeeze on Pixabay.com

To paraphrase a favorite line of poetry, “Even after all this time, I can still hear the sounds of him not being here.”

When a family member, a favorite someone, or even a beloved pet dies we remember him or her in countless ways.

Many people believe that sight is the strongest sense. And considering the studies of learning styles that indicate over half of us are visual learners (65%), I lean toward believing that sight does indeed play a huge role in how we remember people, events, places, and things.

We look at photographs or view videos of the people we miss. We continue to scan their Facebook page or other social media accounts, recalling what it was they posted while alive. We stare at the “things” they left behind, wanting to remember always the significance of each object.

Yes, the sense of sight plays a huge role in our remembering someone who has passed from this earth.

And even though I am part of that 65% group who leans heavily on vision skills for learning and remembering, sound is also pivotal to my recalling the essence of the person.

My son Tim’s joyous laughter and the way he would draw out the greeting, “Hello, Mama!” as he bounced through the door…

The harmony of noise my mom Bertie made as she worked in the kitchen whipping up simple but delicious meals and baked goods…

Beautifully sincere conversations my aged mother-in-law Rosalie had with God as she lay in our guest room bed…

The sound of a spoon hitting an empty peanut butter jar as my brother Bud finished that last tasty bite of his favorite treat…

My elderly Aunt Gerri opening her door and announcing to my sister and me, “I don’t know why you girls keep wanting to visit an old lady, but I’m so glad you do!”…

And yes, even the sound of Riley’s tags as they jangled together when he trotted along and the snuffling sounds he made as he scavenged the ground for early morning smells…

All these might seem like ordinary sounds but to me, they tie together precious memories.

And then I started wondering what sounds people will remember about me after I’m gone. That’s probably a good exercise for everyone to consider. Because I sure as heck don’t want anyone to recall me as constantly complaining or as someone who spewed negative words about others.

I’m pretty sure that keeping this idea about the sounds I’ll leave behind will help me be a better human being.

How does that sound to you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Inc.com article on learning styles

An interesting concept that Researchers found out that different music frequencies stimulate the human brain and the outcomes are incredible. In this video, the frequency of 48 Hz might stimulate far memories and also crying.”

NOTE: I had a better experience just listening to it rather than watching the letters float by on the screen since typos got in the way of my just releasing myself to it. Yes, I am that person.