Death and Grief

Thursday afternoon, September 3rd, was the worst day of my life. My spouse of 40-plus years, Ralph, went into the hospital last Monday and this Thursday had surgery to remove a bowel obstruction. What they found shocked everyone including his surgeon. His entire abdomen was filled with metastatic melanoma cancer. There is no cure. There is no treatment. His digestive system has shut down. He cannot eat and can only ingest small amounts of clear liquid. They are only giving him weeks to journey with me in this place. He is coming home to me today and into hospice care to die in peace with dignity.

Monday morning, September 7th, my beloved soulmate, Ralph, ended his earthly journey at the stroke of midnight announcing Monday has begun as his cherished grandfather clock tolled twelve for him. He will be deeply missed but his memories live on in my heart and will forever. Rest in peace, sweet, kind man. Your footprints are left on this earth and in my soul. The memory of your smile will continue to light up my life.

Ralph W Peters, Jr. 1932 – 2020

Thursday, September 24th, a friend asked if grief would be different when death occurred at different ages. I think if a spousal death occurs when someone is younger than 50 it could have a greater impact on the grieving process.  I think that when the spousal death occurs when people are in their 80’s there is less impact since there is less time to live ahead of them and often couples speak of death and some even make plans such as funeral arrangements, wills, advance directives, etc. Death is much closer at hand and I think some subconscious grieving occurs even before a spouse dies.  I know in my case, if I was up early and doing chores that Ralph usually did, I would say I was preparing for widowhood.  Sometimes I would even shed some tears at the thought of losing Ralph whenever that might be.  Also, older people have experienced more deaths of their contemporaries which brings them face-to-face with death more often than younger people.  

So, I guess the short answer to her question is yes, age does make a difference. I am sure her daughter Liz will grieve much more deeply and perhaps longer because her spouse Brian died so young at age 42 of alcoholism.  She can’t say things like, we had a long and happy life together, or I have forty years of memories that will sustain me.  And, of course, the quality of the relationship will have a bearing as well. I think the grief from the loss of a spouse in a happy marriage is going to be different than grief from the loss of spouse in a miserable or abusive marriage. In a miserable relationship, grief is often mingled with guilt. Guilt because part of you is free, released from the misery. Grief because you lost the once love of your life.  In a happy relationship it is much easier to dismiss and forgive those arguments you had, the niggling little annoyances in life you both tolerated in each other, and bathe in the overwhelming happiness of the relationship as a whole.  I am blessed with the latter. Thanks be to God, and thank you, Jesus.

Losing It

It is the beginning of month six of the pandemic in my part of the world. And, it is the beginning of month six for us wrinkled ones to “Shelter-in-place” as they say. And it is the beginning of me slipping into premature dementia.

Now I’m usually a very conscientious person who remembers important things. But these days whenever I go out (to non-large crowd gathering places) I forget to wear my mask. How can that be when it is a matter of life and death. Okay, maybe not death, but a matter of getting COVID19 from someone else. It is also a matter of giving COVID19 to someone else should I have it without any symptoms. Scary. Hmmmm…it could be death if I’m on a ventilator and don’t recover. I’m old, very old.

The funny thing is I don’t feel old. My mind has settled somewhere around 38-years-old, but with an extra 43-years of wisdom smushed into the corners. God, where have the years gone? What lessons have I missed? What mistakes should I correct? Never mind. I can’t go back and change anything, so why bother ruminating about it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, I think I am slipping into pandemic induced memory loss. I get up and don’t remember what day it is. I look at my computer but it only tells me the date, not the day. I open my calendar, oh yes, it is Tuesday. And it is only then that I notice an event the day before that I completely forgot. My doctors all give me a reminder call. Maybe I need a calendar, or even Alexa, who will tell me it is time to do this or do that.

I get really worried and really aggravated when my spouse tells me I said something an hour ago and I flatly deny ever saying it. Or, he says I did something (which is worse) two days ago and I find myself screaming NO I DIDN’T, only to mysteriously find out I did.

I guess it comes with the territory of celebrating birthdays. Sigh. I’m not ready to give those up yet, so I guess it will have to be my memory.

When the Wheel Comes Off

It was Sunday, April 10th, just a little after Noon, and we were crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel returning from a trip to Florida. The speed limit was reduced to 50 mph and the wind was howling a steady 40 mph with gusts up to 60 mph, and white caps on the bay.

White caps on the Chesapeake
White caps on the Chesapeake

Our silver mini-van, affectionately called “Minerva,” was buffeted about, but stayed true and steady on the path.  The bridge is 12-miles long and we were in the last 600 yards when i heard what sounded like a small rock hitting the side of the van.

“What’s that?” I asked my spouse, R, as we tooled along.

“What?”

“Didn’t you hear that sound?”

“No.”

Back to reading my book.  Not more than two minutes passed when there was a loud rattling sound.

“What’s that noise?” I asked R.

“That’s just the luggage rack rattling.”

“Oh.”

Another minute passed. “You know that doesn’t sound like the luggage rack sound.”

“You may be right.”

“Let’s pull over on the next side street and take a look around.”  We did. We both got out of the van and peered at all four tires, under the van, and over the van.  Shrugged as we found nothing visually amiss.  Hopped back in and went back to highway 13 in Cape Charles, Virginia.  The noise was louder now and more a clunking sound than a rattle.  R put on his flashers and slowed down to about 20 mph as I looked up the nearest gas station.  It was 1.7 miles ahead.  We clattered and clunked along.

We pulled into the station.  I went to the ladies room, R went in to ask about the nearest repair facility.  It was a Shell station 7 miles up the road. Back out on the road, we started up the highway.  Not 100 feet later the clunking sounded like a train running us over.

“This van is not going to make it seven miles. Let’s go back to the Citgo station.”

Then the van started to shake, the steering wheel had a quivering life of its own.  R made a quick U-turn across the divided highway, sidled over onto the shoulder, and crept up to the gas station entrance.  Twenty feet into the parking area, the left front wheel clunked off the van and started its independent journey headed for the highway.

2016-04-09 13.07.42 - Copy

Sheared bolt, four unscrewed bolts. Off goes the wheel
Sheared bolt, four unscrewed bolts. Off goes the wheel

Jolted, but unhurt, both R and I jumped out of the van in pursuit of the meandering tire.  Fortunately, it hit a curb, swerved to the left, and just averted heading into the oncoming traffic when I caught up with it and stopped its progress.  Phew, that was close.

“AAA, may I help you?”

“Sure, we need a long tow.  How many miles do we get for a free tow?” Luckily, we had the premium level coverage.

“You get 100 miles free for any tow, but only one free 200 mile tow per year.”

“Yah.  We need a 120 mile tow.”

Up on the flat bed, Minerva. You're going for a long ride
Up on the flat bed, Minerva. You’re going for a long ride

Four hours later, two in the cab of the tow truck, we are nestling the van in front of the repair shop.  They will pay to have the work done since they had just taken the four wheels off to install new struts and shock, the day before our trip to Florida.  Obviously, the nuts on one tire had not been torqued.

But, the weirdest part for me a least, was that I never worried about any consequences until it was all over and I realized we could both have been killed, along with perhaps several others, had that wheel come off as we were traveling perhaps 65 mph on the Interstate.  Then it struck me how fortunate we were, and how much worse it could have been. I started to cry.  Thank you Jesus.

Quiet

Today is the first day of Lent.  Forty days of reflection on how this little speck of dust is living her life on this fragile planet, earth.  A list of 40 words was published on FB for contemplation, so I plan to try (I might not succeed) to write a brief paragraph each day on this blog as my Lenten discipline.

Quiet

It was in the middle of American Idol.  The electricity went out in our development.  The night was without a moon.  It was as dark as I ever remember.  But, it was the quiet that astonished me.  Nothing buzzed, hummed, chirped, dinged, clicked, clacked, or shuffled in the house. Quiet. I wanted it to last forever.  It didn’t, but the memory of those few minutes of quiet will forever ring in my ears.  It is in that kind of quiet we are closest to God. Maybe, if I try hard, I can muster up some interior quiet and talk with God.  “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

Grief

The Holiday season.  A time of celebration, gifts, parties, happiness, lights, decorations, jubilation.  Well, not quite for everyone, and especially for some of my close friends and associates.

Grief by Gwen Flowers

“Grief is not a task to finish

And move on,

But an element of yourself-

An alteration of your being.

A new way of seeing.

A new definition of self.”

It started on December 23rd when the son of one of my clergy associates died in an automobile accident.  He was 42 and he died on his birthday.  He was an only child.

On January 1st, amidst all the football games, Heather, the daughter of our Council member Jerry Davis, died at age 43.  Many of you have followed her five-year journey in a battle to conquer colon cancer.  Some might say she lost that battle.  I believe she won the hearts of all of us with her open and honest sharing of her journey.  Through her we were there with her.  We cried with her.  We laughed with  her. We prayed for her.  She might have lost her body to the dust, but her heart and soul will live on in many forever.  She inspired everyone she met. She was a brave warrior to the very end of her bodily strength.  I believe God will use her spirit to continue to touch the souls of those of us left here on earth.  I believe that.

HOPE by Heather Davis Johnson (From a talk Heather delivered to the staff of the Kimmel Cancer Center on the importance of hope.)

“Life is to be enjoyed NOW.

Tomorrow will wait.

Each day is a celebration.

Each day is chance to get a running jump

before hitting the slip and slide,

a chance to jump in the leaves,

a chance to roll down a hill,

a chance to dance in the rain,

a chance to take in all of the small things…

a chance to recognize the big things.

We don’t wait “until” whatever to live.

Living happens now.

Hope happens NOW!”

Epiphany, January 6th, which celebrates the light of God shining in all of us, the Christian Education Director at St. Peter’s church in Lewes, died of a blood clot to her heart at age 59. They tried heroically to save her, but couldn’t.  She was one of those people we call “beloved,” because the love they shared with us touched us deeply.  I didn’t know her, but the grief and testimony of those who did touched me.

My prayer is that all three of them will rest in the peace of God.  That the comfort of God will dwell in the hearts of those left behind to cry and mourn and grieve.

My prayer will be that each of us, as we enter this year of 2016, will have an alteration of our self, find a new way of seeing life,  and a new definition of ourselves.  That in spite of the specter of death in our lives, whether that be an actual death of someone we love, or the death of dear pet, or the death of a marriage, or a dream, or a wish, we will always, always hold onto a kernel of hope. Hope for living and enjoying life that God has planted in our heart.  Heather held onto that hope.

My prayer is that we will live the coming year with love, and joy, and a spirit of kindness to ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, and the stranger we do not know.  For as it says in my Christian scriptures (Hebrews 13:2):

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

And we all know and love angels, right?

Phew, I’m Back

It has been well over three months (maybe more) since my last post.  My computer crashed, can you believe it?  I mean, no one’s computer ever crashes these days, right?  Okay, okay, they do. At any rate, after crash after crash after crash, a trip to Staples, and 4 more GB of RAM, I’m in business again.  It was a memory problem, just like my life these days.

My in-house techie now has to upload (or is it download) all my archived blogs, and I am hopeful that will happen sometime within my lifetime. Next, I have to figure out if those faithful readers who were getting my blogs via some kind of feed or via email is still working.  And, if not, how I let them know I’M BAAAACCCKKK.

I’ll ponder that for a while.