Friday, July 30, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I've often observed that the most fundamental division between Christian churches (and within each individual congregation, and within each individual in the congregation) is the conflict between love and fear. Does serving Christ mean welcoming people, or excluding them? (And make no mistake: progressives can be as exclusionary as anyone else. The challenge is how to be tolerant of those we perceive as intolerant.)
Often, although not always, you can figure out which side any given party falls on by listening to their Scripture quotations. The love contingent tends to quote Jesus; the fear contingent tends to quote Paul. Again, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but in my experience -- I can't speak for anyone else! -- it can be a useful clue.
Thinking about my last post, I realized that another split within Christianity is how we use the word "bring." Are we "bringing people to Christ" within the church and insisting that they honor only him, or are we bringing Christ to other people, out in the world, and serving them whether they recognize him or not?
Yeah, I know: this is too simplistic -- in many places it really is both/and, or some other arrangement entirely -- and I don't for a minute claim to know where that Episcopal church in Flagstaff falls on the issue. It just struck me as being one of the powerful tensions running through the tradition.
Enough philosophizing. Must swim now!
The chaplain I spoke to yesterday is going to do Ken's funeral. I'd also e-mailed one of the Episcopal churches in Flagstaff -- one with a female rector and a female deacon -- to ask if someone there could do it.
When I was talking to the funeral director in Flagstaff yesterday afternoon, I mentioned this. He'd been chatting happily about how wonderful and flexible the chaplain is. When I brought up the Episcopal rector, he hesitated and then said, very carefully, "She's, uh, a little less flexible. I think the other guy would be better for you." And then, in a rush, "Don't get me wrong, she's a great person! She's just, well, a little less flexible."
That, I guessed, translated into, "Will only do Episcopal funerals for Episcopalians."
This is a tricky issue in parishes, where clergy get very tired of being approached by strangers and asked to perform contortionist sacraments. Often as not, the strangers want God left out of the proceedings entirely. Couples looking for marriage venues are the worst offenders. One of my own parish priests, after being asked to omit the "until death do us part" section of the marriage service, lost his temper and suggested, as politely as he could, that the couple seek clergy elsewhere. Since then, we've had a policy that to get married in the church, couples need to be members of the congregation and to have attended a six-month marriage-preparation course.
Funerals are a little different, though. No one approaches them glibly. Everyone needs comfort during grief, regardless of faith tradition. And in my e-mail, I made it clear that we did need religious content; we just needed content that was very inclusive of a variety of traditions, both Christian and otherwise.
After the conversation with the funeral director, I wasn't surprised to get turned down. I was, though, a bit perturbed by the phrasing of the e-mail from the deacon, which said, basically, "I'm sorry we can't do this; here's the contact info for the Unitarians." There was no expression of sympathy. Surely the refusal could have been worded more kindly? Something like, "We're very sorry for your family's loss, but feel that our Unitarian colleagues would be better able to serve your unique cirucumstances"?
It doesn't matter. We've found someone, after all, and I'm glad the funeral director prepared me for the refusal. But the way the thing was handled left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
In any case, let's hear it for chaplains, who meet people where they are during times of great need, instead of requiring spiritual union cards.
Monday, July 26, 2010
I forgot to say that we had a lovely lunch today with Katharine and her friend Maggi from Vermont. The four of us have been to Hawai'i together several times, so it was great to see Maggi and to catch up.
We'd invited them over so we could eat on the new deck. This of course guaranteed that we had a thunderstorm. With actual rain. In Reno.
By the time the hail started, we'd moved everything inside and were sitting at the dining room table, watching the finches on the feeder outside trying to duck the hailstones bouncing off the deck railing.
Gary made superb food, as always, and Maggi had brought us some apple cider (really more like dessert wine) from Vermont. I very rarely drink, but I had a little bit of the cider, which was especially yummy with Gary's wheat-free brownies. The ones he served today were made from oat flour, and I think they're even better than the ones he makes with black beans.
You can be sure that the lunch was on my list of blessings today! So was the rain, since it's so rare and important here. I left the hailstones off the list, though.
We know now that there will be a viewing for Ken in Phoenix on Thursday evening, followed by a graveside service in Flagstaff on Friday. Liz, Gary and I are flying into Phoenix on Wednesday and leaving Saturday. We're going to share a rental car and hotel room to cut costs.
Meanwhile, a friend from my parish also died last week. He'd had brain cancer for three years, and faced it with tremendous humor, aplomb, and intellectual zest. Tim was a dear man who made a point of attending all of my literary readings, something that meant a great deal to me. I'll miss him, and I grieve for his wife and children.
His funeral's on Saturday. I can't be there because I'll be flying back from Ken's funeral.
Meanwhile, today I got the Coast Guard certificate about Dad's burial at sea on July 17.
Are we sensing a theme here?
I called Carol today. She'd just secured a burial plot and firmed up the schedule, but didn't have anyone to do the service yet. She asked very tactfully if I could do such a service, and if I'd be willing to. Our side of the family's pretty solidly atheist (except for yours truly), but her folks are Methodist and Baptist and need Christian comfort, and another cousin's wife and their children are Jewish and need comfort that isn't overtly Christian.
Mindful of the lesson I learned from trying to do Dad's memorial myself, I told her that this was probably too close for me to handle, and that I'm not clergy anyway -- which might be important to her Methodists and Baptists -- but that I'd be happy to make phone calls to try to find someone. One of Ken's brothers had suggested that she talk to me about this; I've evidently become the go-to person for funeral arrangements in the family.
She said she'd like that, so I got on the horn to Flagstaff and, after leaving messages at a hospital pastoral-care department and an Episcopal Church, called a funeral home where the director -- who laughed pretty hard when I said we needed somebody who could do a service that would suit atheists, Baptists, Methodists, Jews, an Episcopalian, a lapsed Quaker and a lapsed Unitarian -- gave me four names. The first person I called, who'd been at the top of the funeral director's list, laughed at the hodge-podge of traditions too, but said that since he's a hospital chaplain, he's used to dealing with situations like this. (He's Lutheran.)
Go, hospital chaplains!
This process brought me right back to making calls to find someone to do Mom's service. Hard to believe that was only a few months ago.
So he's going to call Carol. His time on Friday is a bit limited, but he's available in the early afternoon, which sounded plausible to me. I'll call Carol in an hour or two to see if the two of them connected, or if I need to keep making calls. In the meantime, I've been trying to figure out what I can do for her and for Tim's wife here in Reno. The best thing anyone did for me after Dad died was to buy me a massage, so I've decided to do that for both of them. Tim's wife and I go go the same health club, so that will be easy. I Googled massage places in Phoenix, but I don't know which ones are a) good and b) anywhere near Carol's house, so I'll wait until I get down there and talk to one of her friends about it.
I also ordered some books for Carol: Joan Didion's memoir of her husband's sudden death, Louise De Salvo's book about writing and healing, a blank journal, and a pen. I'm sure she has pens, but I wanted to send a complete set. The items will arrive via Amazon, albeit in three or four shipments. I told Carol that I know she may be not be able to look at any of the stuff for a year or two, if ever, but that I wanted her to have it.
This all feels like trying to light birthday candles in a hurricane, but it's better than nothing.
Oh, and speaking of journals -- and given the frequency of funerals lately -- today I started a new blessings journal, in which each day I'll write down a list of good stuff that's happened. This sounds simplistic, but it's a quick and handy way to maintain perspective. I kept a daily list of blessings for almost ten years before stopping in 2006 or so, and this seems like an excellent time to resume that discipline.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
I woke up at 6:00 this morning, to find e-mail from my uncle telling me about Ken; he didn't realize that Steve had told me. He'll be back in the States on Monday. The medical examiner will have Ken's body until Tuesday. I don't know anything about funeral arrangements yet, except that Ken will be buried with other family members in Flagstaff, which is a better-than-two-hour drive from his and Carol's house in Phoenix. I'm trying to figure out if it makes more sense to fly into Phoenix and rent a car, or to fly directly into Flagstaff. I guess everything will become clear when there are definite plans.
Liz will be flying to the funeral, too: ironic, since she just got home from a funeral trip out west. We joked wanly on the phone today about how we have to stop meeting like this.
I hope at least some of us get to make a side trip to Sedona. I keep hearing how gorgeous it is, and I've never been.
My uncle's e-mail was very matter-of-fact, so I don't know (and can't imagine) his emotional state. When Liz and I talked on the phone this morning, I was semi-hysterical and she was in stoic "that's life" mode. We tend to be in opposite states at any given moment. (At some point, I'm sure she'll be semi-hysterial and I'll be stoic.) Luckily, I've seen enough of this at the hospital to know that it's normal. Grief's a choatic process even for one person; add others into the mix, and the emotional chaos increases exponentially, since no two people are ever in the same place at the same time.
Meanwhile, I went to the hospital this morning. I have to admit that I questioned whether I was in the right mindset, but I haven't been there in weeks, and I missed it. Luckily, I had a good shift. I got my usual booster-shot of perspective by talking to people whose lives are much more chaotic than mine, and who are handling their Big Chaos -- even from an ER gurney -- with grace and humor. I think I was helpful, especially to a suicidal patient with whom I had a long and fulfilling conversation. I had a fun chat about pets with an RN who was eating his lunch while I was eating my power-bar-plus-V8 snack.
I also told several nurses about Ken, and asked if his treatment for colon cancer several years ago could have made him more vulnerable to sudden death. They said there's probably no connection.
It makes no sense. Liz said that one of Carol's friends pronounced briskly, "There is no excuse for this," and I couldn't agree more. It's completely unfair: Ken was so miserable during the cancer treatment, and we all thought he'd come out the other side, and then he keels over?
The work of grief, at least for me, is to make some kind of sense out of senselessness. I think this one's going to be a long haul. I've already given God the "What were you thinking?" earful. If my father were alive, he'd ask me how I could even believe in God at a time like this. Other events in my life won't let me not believe in God, but that doesn't mean I can't be angry at Her.
Today at the hospital, I reminded a patient dealing with an especially gnarly chunk of Chaos that raging at God is a form of prayer. There's a lot of prayer-without-ceasing happening at my house, in through here.
On a brighter note, on Thursday night I finally picked up the fiddle again. At Friday's lesson, I told Charlene what had happened during the service and how miserable I'd felt about it. "You just froze," she said, and gave me an easy polka to learn, and heaped praise upon me when I picked it up quickly by ear. So I'm much heartened, and am once more enjoying playing simple tunes.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I just got e-mail from my cousin Steve telling me that my cousin Ken died very suddenly a few hours ago. It may have been a heart attack; we don't know yet. His wife -- who just lost both of her parents -- found him in the yard. He finished treatment for colon cancer a few years ago, but he'd been doing well, and there were no current serious medical issues that anyone knew of.
Gary and I just saw him at Mom's funeral. He was a talented painter, and we'd talked about his coming up to Reno to paint some Nevada landscapes. He never got to make the trip. Instead, we'll be flying down to his funeral in Phoenix.
Ken's father Jerry, my mother's brother, is abroad and doesn't know yet. Jerry's wife, my Aunt Bobbie, died a few years ago, and now he's lost his sister and a son in quick succession. I can't imagine what the news will do to him.
My sister was especially close to Ken, and she doesn't know yet either. She'll be asleep by now and won't have seen the e-mail. I didn't have the heart to call her tonight and wake her with such wretched news. I'll talk to her tomorrow.
I think he was about Liz's age, which would also make him about Gary's, which terrifies me, even though I know full well that anything can happen anytime to any of us.
Pray for all of us, please, but especially for Carol and Jerry, and for Ken's brothers Steve and Jim.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Last night I called a church friend to see what I missed at Sunday's meeting. She said it was mostly an opportunity for people to express their feelings. I'm glad I didn't go; at this point I need information, not more grief.
There's no official word yet on when we'll close, but it will probably be sometime within the next six months. After the meeting, she told me, some people were saying that the last parish service should be Christmas Eve.
The two of us don't like that idea, which -- for me, anyway -- raises queasy images of stillbirth. Instead, we agreed, it would make more sense to stay through the end of the church year and then begin Advent in a new place.
The question is where to go. Even before the closure news, our parish had planned a series of visits to other parishes. The first of those is this Sunday, so we'll get a taste of what a new home might be like.
The parish that appeals to me most, at least at the moment, has been in financial trouble too. I like the idea of combining with them, although their building is much less pleasant than ours. But my friend shared an interesting bit of information with me. Evidently, although this is far from official, there's some talk of the two parishes combining but then, in five years or so, selling the other building also, and using the proceeds from both sales to build a new church in Spanish Springs, a bustling and prosperous suburb of Reno-Sparks.
This would be a haul: fourteen miles along congested roads, versus the five-minute, two-mile drive I have now. But then, anywhere would be farther away than my current parish. What really bothers me about this idea (which may come to nothing, after all) is the politics involved.
One of the reasons our parish hasn't done well is that we're in a "bad neighborhood." The street looks quiet and calm to me, but according to the police, it's a hotbed of gang activity, a place where people don't like to come out at night. I asked my friend if the other parish is considering relocating for the same reason, and she said yes. They're also considered difficult to find -- although I never had any trouble locating them -- and have limited parking.
Okay, so we have to go where there are people who'll be interested in attending. I get that. But I also have to agree with Gary's assessment when I told him about the rumor: "Ah. The church is moving into a gated community."
There's an obvious Catch-22 here. Most people want to attend "nice" churches in "nice neighborhoods," but the "bad" neighborhoods are precisely the ones most in need of church and what, at its best, it can offer. I'm reminded of a passage from Tom Driver's powerful book Liberating Rites, about the transformative -- indeed, revolutionary -- potential of the Eucharist. Setting forth a template for a politically radical service, Driver says, "Before the last have departed, the remaining food should be taken into the street and given away. If there are no hungry people in the vicinity of the church, the church should be moved" (222).
I love that quotation. I've used it in homilies. Other people have loved it, too. But now some of us are evidently thinking about moving the church away from hungry people, rather than toward them (although, to be fair, there are plenty of hungry folk in areas near Spanish Springs, too).
It's an old conflict. Our parish has a lovely parcel of land that's lain unused as long as I've been there. Before I arrived, a committee worked on a proposal to rent the space to a Montessori school, at a tidy profit to the parish. A significant minority of the congregation spoke out against the idea, because they didn't think offering a place where affluent parents paid hefty kindergarten tuitions was what church was supposed to be about.
That rumpus resulted in a stalemate broken only by the most recent proposal, one everyone liked, for a freestanding residential hospice to go on the land. Now that we won't be there, I wonder where they'll go.
It's very early days yet, and anything could happen. But I suspect the tension between the nice and the needy will outlast all of us.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
On Monday -- still with no word from the Coast Guard -- Liz and I set out on a tour of local yarn and bead shops. She bought yarn. I bought a bracelet (on sale) and some beads to put on another bracelet. (I realize as I write this that in my earlier entries, I left out at least one shopping trip, to REI.)
On Monday night, Liz took us out for a fabulous thank-you meal at one of our favorite Thai restaurants. Then we had dessert at a bar specializing in chocolate. We all ate too much.
As a result, I overslept on Tuesday, and didn't wake up until 8:30. Liz and Gary and I went back to a craft store Liz and I had visited, where Liz got some new knitting needles and Gary and I got a wooden coffee table, on serious sale, for the deck. We went to a movie, a foreign film called "I am Love." Gary loved it. Liz liked it. I hated it.
At some point on Tuesday, we finally heard from the Coast Guard. I got e-mail from a publications officer who said the chaplain had asked her to send me photos of the burial at sea of John Doe (not his real name). There were twelve lovely photos, including snapshots of the box containing John Doe's ashes, surrounded by the red carnations I'd requested for Dad.
I kind of lost it. I shot back an e-mail saying that I didn't know John Doe. I was Alan Palwick's daughter. Did the publications officer know anything about Alan Palwick?
She sent me a contrite apology: yes, there'd been two burials at sea that day, and the photos had gotten mixed up, but both Guests of Honor had been treated with all due reverence and respect, and all of the John Doe photos also applied to the other guest, except of course for the photos of the box with John Doe's name on it.
By now completely rattled, I wrote back and asked her to confirm that the second guest of honor was indeed Alan Palwick, and not someone else. She answered that yes, that was correct, and the chaplain was getting on in years and the weather had been a bit rough, so I had to excuse any confusion.
So here's a red carnation floating in the water behind some ashes. It's a lovely shot. I wish I knew if it had anything to do with Dad: is this Dad's carnation, or John Doe's? I know it doesn't matter, except it feels like it does.
I was absolutely delighted, though, by this shot of pelicans. Dad and Liz and I always enjoyed the pelicans in Mississippi, so I'm happier than I can express that he was scattered in a place that also has them. (And these aren't even covered in oil, thank God.)
Here's a nice shot of someone playing taps while someone else, presumably the chaplain, salutes. It's a lovely picture. I'm sad that the service couldn't happen on a sailboat, but I know the weather was rough, and a motorboat's safer. Dad would understand that. The important thing is that he's in the ocean, with the pelicans and the red carnations.
I know that. I really do. And John Doe's family has my deepest condolences. I just wish I had a photo of the box holding Dad's ashes.
I really do have to call the chaplain, but I'm going to wait until I feel less numb.
Meanwhile, sometime on Monday or Tuesday -- I don't even remember when -- Liz helped me unpack the boxes she'd sent me of Mom's things. I now have some of her parents' artwork, several of Mom's own needlepoint pieces, some family furniture, and the collection of cat gargoyles I gave her over the years. Emotionally, this was very heavy lifting. The piece that hit me the hardest was the framed sampler embroidered by Mom's mother Della. I never met Della; she was killed in a car accident when Mom was twelve. They'd had a fight that morning before Mom left for school. I can't remember a time when Della's sampler hasn't hung over Mom's bed.
Now it's hanging over the sofa in my study.
My grandmother's hands shaped each stitch. We never got to meet each other, but I own something she made. This makes me happy, but it also tears me apart.
This morning I dropped Liz off at the airport. She'd woken up at 1 a.m. with a migraine and felt wretched, although she e-mailed me later to say she had landed safely and felt much better. Then I came back home, reassembled my study, got a bit of fall prep done, swam, retrieved the sunhat I'd left in the movie theater yesterday, and picked up the coffee table we hadn't been able to fit into the car while Liz was with us.
I'm really glad everyone was here. I loved seeing my sister and nephew. But I'm also looking forward to getting back to normal. And I'm looking forward to our new fridge, which arrives next week.
This afternoon, though, metallic screams started emerging from the dryer.
Be very afraid.
On Saturday, Liz and I dropped Owen at the airport at the unholy hour of 4:30in the morning. We went to a casino coffeeshop for breakfast, went swimming at my healthclub, and then -- still with no word from Oregon -- went to an arts festival in Reno. We saw Marin there, and one of my former students, and I found a potter who's not only willing to do something with the rest of Dad's cremains, but excited about the commission. Yay!
I also bought new earrings and a necklace, although both were inexpensive. Well, of course. What do you do after you've just spent thousands of dollars on appliances? After the arts festival, Liz and I drove up to Truckee to do more shopping, natch. But I only bought one t-shirt. I didn't even buy yarn. Amazing!
Sunday I decided to skip church, as well as the meeting after church about how church is closing. Instead, Liz and Gary and I drove to the big fancy mall south of town and . . . shopped. Liz and I bought clothing at Orvis. Gary, man of steel, didn't buy anything.
We still hadn't heard from Oregon. I kept promising myself I'd call, but then other things would happen and I'd forget. We were increasingly puzzled, though.
Well, I overslept on Friday and got to the garage around nine, rather than around eight as I'd planned. The mechanic said that finding the AC problem and fixing it would probably take about an hour. I called Liz, back at the house, and we decided that for an hour, it wasn't worth renting a car. I headed off to a nearby chi-chi mall to browse.
An hour later, the mechanic called to say they hadn't found the problem yet. I called Liz. We decided to give it another hour.
Long, hot, sweaty story short: at 12:30, the mechanic finally found the problem, a failure of an obscure electrical part buried so deep in the engine that he'd had to trail bread crumbs behind him as he tracked it down. It would take another few hours to fix; I'd better rent a car. So one of the garage guys dropped me at the airport. I rented a car, drove home, and ate lunch with my sympathetic family, who'd been wondering if they'd ever see me again. (I should have just had the mechanic drop me back home as soon as I left the car, although it would have made getting the rental trickier.) Then we piled into the shiny rental, with its bodacious AC, and drove to the mall so Gary and I could buy a new fridge to replace our old one, whose freezer -- along with the car AC -- had gone on permanent strike.
Somewhere in there, the mechanic called to tell me that, checking out an annoying squeaking sound I'd told them about, they'd also found some brake problems. This would cost me another $400 on top of the $400 the obscure electrical problem was already costing. Was I okay with that? Should they go ahead and fix the brakes?
"Sure," I told him. "Brakes are good. I like brakes." What the heck did he think I was going to say? "No, sorry, that's too much money, I'll take my chances on broken brakes"?
We had the car back by the end of the day, which meant I only had to pay for one day of the rental. But between the car, the fridge, and the rental, we spent about $2,000.
Also, we'd been expecting the Coast Guard chaplain to call us on Friday to let us know whether Saturday was a go or not. He didn't call. We were puzzled.
Thursday morning, we woke up bright and early and ate breakfast on the deck. Liz and Owen and I dropped Fran at the airport for her flight back to Chicago, and then we drove up to Donner Lake to go swimming (making the mandatory dining jokes along the way). The AC in the car didn't seem to be working, which was weird because I'd just gotten the car serviced. When we got to the beach, I called my mechanic, who said a lot of people were having that problem in the blazing heat, but that I should bring the car in the next day if things didn't improve.
We swam and got some sun. Here's Liz grinning up at me from her beach towel. She'd specifically requested a trip to Donner, because she and Mom and I went there together years ago and loved it. The water's very cold up there -- it's snowmelt, after all -- but we all got in and swam around a bit. It felt great, especially after the car!
Owen was shyer about the sun, and about the camera, than his mother, but I think he had a good time. He's considering moving out here at some point, and has been investigating the UNR website. I'd love it if he were here, although I imagine his mom would rather he stayed closer to home!
After our swim, we drove up Old Route 40 to the gorgeous lookouts over the lake. It's a stunningly beautiful place when it isn't under twenty feet of snow and inhabited by people eating each other. Actually, it's stunningly beautiful in the snow, too; Gary and I went up there for a cross-country ski weekend with friends once, years ago. We wound up -- surprise! -- getting snowed into the rented cabin, but mindful of history, we'd brought lots of food, as well as a Scrabble set. We had a fine time.
On this particular visit to the lake, our problem was too much heat. The AC stayed broken during the drive back down to Reno. Annoyed, I realized that I'd have to spend precious family-visit time taking the car to the shop. I decided I'd go first thing the next morning. They'd pump in more freon, and I'd be home in a jiffy. What could go wrong?
The past week is an utter blur. My sister left this morning, so I'm going to try to catch up on blogging.
As you may recall, I was exhausted the day before the service. I was exhausted the day of the service, too: also very tightly wound, and snappish, and generally feeling overwhelmed. I realize now -- I realized then, actually -- that for one of the chief mourners also to be the MC was a really bad idea. This is why we have clergy, so someone not caught up in the emotions of the moment can direct traffic and everybody else can concentrate on emoting. But I didn't figure that out in time to fix it.
I was very conscious of having to direct traffic, and as a result, I was very numb emotionally. I fussed endlessly about the physical arrangement of the space. I'd planned to have the dinner/birthday party on the short, shady end of the deck and the memorial service on the long sunny end, but it was ninety gazillion degrees out, and windy, and I kept worrying that Fran would keel over from heat prostration, so I moved everything to the short shady end. That worked fine.
I had a lot of fun with the place settings. I'd bought seashells and small wooden lighthouses at the dollar store, so each setting got several of those. My sister Liz had found shiny red party weights to hold down the red paper plates, and those worked beautifully too. We blew up a ton of balloons -- we'd also bought some red helium ones -- and we tied those all around the deck, which was also decorated with red crepe paper.
The actual service was . . . well, it did what it had to do, but it was chaotic. Because the weather was so hot and I didn't want the fiddle sitting outside for long, I decided to play Ashokan farewell at the beginning, rather than the end. I was tense and nervous and did a horrible job (I haven't practiced since, although I have to overcome my shame and get back on the horse). Dad's friend Kathy read a hilarious and very honest section from her journal about when she and Park met Dad. It was great writing (and she gave us copies), but it was long, and I was antsy. I was expecting my friend Marin, one of the few people in Reno who got to know Dad at all, to arrive from work -- I'd left the front door unlocked for her -- and I kept wondering where she was. Also, balloons kept exploding in the heat.
After Kathy read, Fran started talking, but I don't think she understood the structure of the circle sharing, and she kept wandering off. Park basically passed, as did Liz; my nephew Owen, to his own surprise, had a lot to say and struggled with words and tears, but Liz had to shush Fran, who interrupted with a random anecdote because she didn't realize what was happening. Gary shared a brief story, and then we all said the "prayer? what prayer?" I'd written:
We give thanks for Alan’s life, and for the love he shared with us.
We rejoice in our memories of his wit and laughter.
We forgive him for the times he hurt us.
We forgive ourselves for what we could not do for him.
We promise to remember him and to comfort one another.
We love him, and we know he loved us.
As we release these ashes, let us remember that he will be
in the wind that fills every sail.
He will be in the ocean off Oregon, and in all oceans,
for all oceans are connected.
He will be in the beauty of the clouds he adored,
and in the sunlight that delighted him.
He will be part of the Earth that sustains us,
and he will be in our hearts forever.
Fran really liked this -- I'd printed it extra large so she could read it --and kept asking me if I'd written it. That made me feel good.
Then I invited each person to scoop up a small amount of ashes (which I'd put in a pretty little wooden box, also from the dollar store) and scatter them in the backyard. That went okay, although it felt somewhat wooden. I was interested to watch the different scattering styles. Some people sprinkled them gently; others hurled them. I'd made sure to check the wind direction so nothing wound up in our faces.
I gave out presents: memorial pendants for Fran and Liz, one of Dad's books for Kathy, some of his clothing to Park and Owen.
The service over, it was time for dinner, but where was Marin? I went into the house, opened the front door to look for her, and found two cards (one for me and Liz, one for Fran) and a bottle of wine sitting on the porch. I'd forgotten to leave a note to tell her that the door was unlocked; I learned the next day that she'd knocked, gotten no answer, sat there for twenty minutes, looked through the gate to the deck, decided not to interrupt us, and left. But since I didn't learn that until the next day, I was worried. Where was she? Why hadn't she called through the gate to us? Was she okay?
Dinner was good, but there was too much of it: we didn't even open a lot of what we'd bought! Kathy and Park left early because Park had a bad accident about a year ago and tends to fade at the end of the day. The rest of us ate brownies and ice cream, although the ice cream was soft because our freezer was struggling in the heat.
After dessert, we cleaned up. Our backyard features an artistic assortment of objects Gary's found on the trail; one was an arrow from an archery set, so we had fun throwing that, javelin style, at the few remaining balloons to try to pop them. But when it was all over, I felt as deflated as one of the balloons.
I think other people got something out of the occasion. I hope so, anyway. But if I were doing it over again, I'd definitely invite a clergy friend to MC, not to mention leaving a note to tell Marin to come into the house!
Dad would have loved the place settings, though. And we kept joking that he was the one popping the exploding balloons.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
It was gorgeous in Reno today -- although exceedingly warm -- but this morning in Philly featured very heavy rain and lightning. As a result, my sister and nephew's departure was delayed, so they missed their connection in Phoenix, and then their second plane had to go back to the gate because of mechanical problems. They finally arrived five hours later than they'd expected.
In the meantime, Dad's friends Kathy and Park from Mississippi (they're now from Pennsylvania, actually), arrived in their camper. They tried to pull into our RV space and wound up taking the trim off one corner of the roof. Gary and Park got onto a ladder and fixed it, but Kathy and Park decided to stay in an RV park, just to be safe.
We served an extremely informal buffet dinner on the deck. It was very windy. This bodes ill for tomorrow evening, when we'll be eating from red paper plates and plastic utensils. Yikes!
I have some of Dad's ashes -- the ones the Reno potter didn't use -- and I asked the guests if anyone felt strongly about having our own small scattering ceremony tomorrow, as we read along with the Coast Guard service. Fran wanted to do it.
Then the Coast Guard chaplain called to say that they won't be able to go out tomorrow because the weather's too rough. They're trying for Saturday. So much for returning Dad to the ocean on his birthday!
In one way, this makes things easier: instead of reading along with the Coast Guard in the morning and then reconvening for dinner, we'll just do everything around dinnertime. But it also left me with the challenge of not having the Coast Guard ceremony to use. I could justify the religious language in the Coast Guard ceremony because we'd be following along with them, but now things are more complicated. To wit:
Fran feels really strongly about scattering the ashes, but isn't religious.
My sister feels strongly allergic, bordering on hostile, to anything resembling a religious service.
Kathy and Park are deeply spiritual -- and used to argue with Dad about his atheism all the time -- but don't care much about the scattering part of things.
I don't need to scatter the ashes, but do find Christian language deeply comforting.
Gary and my nephew will go along with whatever the rest of us do.
So: we have to scatter for Fran, but the "service" has to be as short as possible for my sister; it can't mention God or Christ because that would offend the non-religious folks, including Fran, but it has to be implicitly spiritual/Christian enough for me and Kathy and Park.
I'm happy to report that I've come up with a one-page service that should, I hope, make everybody happy, or at least not too unhappy. We'll go around and share brief readings or memories of Dad (something we'll do during dinner anyway). I plan to do my usual reading, two paragraphs from the end of LotR; I know Kathy plans to read some journal entries she wrote about Dad. Then we'll all say ten lines together about Dad and the ashes. I'm not calling this a prayer, and it doesn't mention God (it's heavy on nature, which works fine), but anybody who wants to see it as a prayer can do so easily, I hope. (I'll post the "prayer? what prayer?" prayer at some point, if all goes well.)
Then we'll scatter ashes. Just in the back yard, but Dad liked the deck, so it will be fine.
Then, the fiddle gods and my emotional state willing, I'll play Ashokan Farewell. My double stop's still very iffy, but I think I'll have a forgiving audience.
Then we'll eat. I have small presents for everybody but me and Gary, stuff of Dad's I think they'll like. That will make it seem more like a birthday party, albeit a very hobbitish one, since hobbits give other people presents on their own birthdays.
All of this will happen after I've run around all morning shopping and doing last-minute prep. I hoped to do some of that today, but the schedule got too crazy.
I'm exhausted. I hope tomorrow goes more smoothly than today did!
Monday, July 12, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Yesterday went very well: I got the info I needed for my Tolkien essay, scored bigtime at the dollar store -- where for $42 I got a lot of party decorations and place settings for Wednesday -- and then went to Ross, the discount place, where I got four new pillows for our guests, a new skirt, and a new pair of slacks. I also swam for forty-five minutes, until a charleyhorse in my calf stopped me.
Today, my good mood vanished. It's the three-month anniversary of Mom's death, and today at church we were also saying goodbye to Sherry Dunn, one of our priests, who's retiring and moving to Tucson with her husband at the end of the month. Sherry's the best pastoral caregiver I've ever met, and a wonderful preacher, and a lovely person. She preached the first Sunday I attended St. Stephen's, and she was big part of getting me hooked on the Episcopal Church. She's seen me through a lot of major changes, including the death of both of my parents.
Everyone was in tears this morning. We would have been in tears anyway, but the fact that the parish is closing hardly helps. A lot of us got up during the service and offered memories and small tributes, or simple thanks. Before the service, I'd given Sherry a pair of socks I'd made for her. Afterwards, I took this photograph to remember her by. It's a very characteristic expression.
When I got up during the service, I'd talked about how one of the things I appreciate about her is her honesty: she's isn't afraid to offer cricitism when necessary. Sitting in my pew after I'd spoken, though, I became obsessed with the memory of a moment when she told me sharply (more sharply than she's ever said anything else) that I cared more about being right than about being kind. I don't even remember now what sparked the comment, and she's certainly said many loving things since then, but I sat there and beat myself up about it and cried some more. I found myself praying, "God, help me be the person Sherry thinks I should be."
I just reduced my meds dosage again, so that little meltdown was probably the neurochemistry talking, along with the fact that I skipped my hospital shift yesterday. That was a wise move, since I got a lot done with the extra time, but being at the hospital gives me a solid, baseline sense of self-worth: that "even if you screw up everything else this week, you brought a cup of cold water to patient X" cushion. (And yeah, that's a selfish reason to volunteer, but hey: no such thing as pure human motivations.)
Tucson isn't far. I hope Sherry will stay in touch, and I may even get to see her again sometime. It's just that the confluence of events -- Mom, Sherry, the parish -- was a bit too much today.
On the bright side, some friends brought their therapy dog to church. Look at those eyes! Is that a soulful animal, or what? And she's about the best-behaved dog I've ever met, although she'd have to be, as a therapy dog. I didn't get as long a cuddle with her today as I have some other Sundays, but it was still nice to be able to pat her.
Next Sunday we're having a meeting after church to discuss the nitty-gritty of the parish closing. I'd like to be there, but my sister and nephew will be in town, and I think spending time with them is a better use of my time and energy right now. A friend told me I can call her to find out what happened. Church is just too sad in through here: I need a Sunday off!
After church I came home, ate lunch on the deck, took a short nap, and went to the gym. I need to lose at least ten pounds, and probably more like twenty. My doctor gave me a sensible talking to on Friday: "exercise regularly, vary your exercise, eat just a few hundred calories less per day." He also said, "It's hard."
Today at the gym, I worked out for fifty minutes, twenty on the elliptical and thirty on the treadmill. I wasn't a speed demon, but I definitely got my heart rate up (to a max of 126 or so) and broke a good sweat. I felt pretty good about it until I stopped to ask about target heart rates at the fitness desk, where a brusque twenty-something who's never had to lose weight in his life told me that my target heart rate should be 145 -- which sounds way too high to me, but he said the guidelines have changed -- and also said I'll have no luck losing weight until I work with weights. I'm really very faithful about cardio, but that's not enough.
I hate weights. If I have to work with weights, I won't go to the gym at all.
When I got home, I talked to Gary about this, and he basically said, "Do what feels right and ignore all the stupid numbers." I knew that, but needed to hear it from someone else!
In the meantime, my knee's more painful than it's been in ages, so I suspect I overdid today's cardio, although it felt good at the time. Sigh.
This is a very whiny post, isn't it? Fran arrives tomorrow, so I hope I'll be feeling better then.
Must go clean now. Thanks for listening!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
I'm now almost finished with my essay on using Tolkien to teach trauma theory (for the MLA's volume on "Approaches to Teaching Tolkien"). It's due Thursday, and at the beginning of the week I had nothing, but now I have a solid piece. Gary actually loves it and would like it to be longer; I'd like it to be longer, too, but the editor imposed a very strict length limit.
This project taught me a) that I really do know a heckuva lot about Tolkien, although I'm certainly not a Foremost Authority, and b) that I'm very good at editing to length. Also, I enjoyed working on it. It was fun.
I just sent the essay out to students I quoted to make sure they're okay with it. (Since they sent their comments specifically for this project, I hope they will be.) My remaining task is to find the edition of LotR I'm required to use and get correct page numbers, but I should be able to find it at a bookstore or in the UNR library.
After that's done, I really need to haul on cleaning and preparations for the party next week. Fran arrives Monday; my sister and nephew, and Dad's Mississippi friends, arrive Tuesday. My study's even more of a disaster than it was a week ago, since it's now strewn with Tolkien material. Yikes!
I reluctantly canceled my hospital shift today to give myself more breathing room. I hope I can make efficient use of the time!
Last night, Chaplain Stephen from Oregon called to tell me that the box had arrived safely and that all the paperwork was in order. I asked tentatively if there might be a chance of getting video or photographs of the ceremony; I expected a flat-out "no," but instead he said, "I'll work on that. What were your Dad's favorite flowers?"
After thinking a minute, I said, "Probably red carnations. Red was his favorite color, and he loved anything that was cheerful and inexpensive."
"We have a lot of generous merchants in this community," Stephen said, so I imagine he has florist friends.
Again, he's really going above and beyond, and I'm very touched.
On a comical note, I had a small kitchen mishap yesterday. I use soy milk in my coffee, and soy milk comes in one of those rectangular cardboard boxes with a pouring spout. So I reached sleepily into the fridge, grabbed a box from the shelf where the soy milk lives, poured it . . . and realized that I'd just poured chicken broth into my coffee.
Chicken broth also comes in a rectangular cardboard box with a pouring spout. When I told Gary what had happened, he said, "Now we're even. Remember that time I cooked the dumplings in soy milk instead of chicken broth, because I grabbed the wrong box?"
I drank the coffee, although it was a little strange. As I told my sister, "This gives the phrase 'tastes like chicken' entirely new meaning."
This morning I made sure the box I was holding contained soy milk. Today's coffee tastes much better than yesterday's. Fancy that!
Thursday, July 08, 2010
I'm blogging from the deck! This morning I belatedly realized that my laptop, when disconnected from a power source, automatically dims the screen to conserve battery life. When I carried the machine outside and bumped the screen up to full brightness, I could see well enough to work.
Granted, it's not perfect, and I have to be in the shade, but it's a lot better than it was. Now I can work outside without the hassle and expense of getting a new machine. Hurrah! I can write on the deck: what bliss!
Gary walked down to the main drag to get a haircut. While he's at it, he's going to stop by Staples and try to find either an extra-long heavy-duty extension cord, or a surge protector with an extra-long cord, so I can have my laptop plugged in while I work. We have outlets out here, but unfortunately, they're many feet away from any of the chairs, which we don't want to move.
Worst case, though, I just work outside until my battery's almost gone, and then go in to recharge.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Yesterday's mail brought proof of Dad's military service -- the documents my sister sent me -- so today I assembled everything the Coast Guard chaplain needs and went to the UPS Store to mail Dad's cremains and the paperwork. I thought I remembered that the chaplain had advised me to use UPS.
Evidently not, because the young woman behind the counter said, "We can't do that. We can't mail ashes."
"It's against the law."
"Against the law? Why?" Appalled, I had a sudden vision of trying to drive to Oregon and back before Fran arrives on Monday.
"They're hazardous material."
I almost laughed. "Oh, come on! They aren't hazardous material. They're sterile -- they've been heated to a bajillion degrees or something -- and I have the permit to transport them."
"I'm sorry, we can't do it. Call the funeral home and ask them what to do."
I called. Turns out the U.S. Postal Service can do it, but not UPS. Go figure. Ashes are hazardous in one situation but not the other? This makes no sense.
I went to the Post Office, where a very nice lady told me they ship ashes all the time, but said I'd have to put everything together in a bigger box. She gave me the box and tape and bubblewrap, and I did a pretty messy job of putting the box together and getting Dad packed in there while fellow postal customers eyed me curiously. The clerk, though, couldn't have been sweeter, listening to a very short summary of Dad's boating career ("It sounds like he had a wonderful life") and convincing me to send Dad registered express mail and get signature confirmation ("Honey, you don't want somebody stealing the box thinking it's jewelry"). Before I left, she patted the box and said, "We'll take good care of him, don't worry. I'm going to put him in a special bag."
I wonder if it's labeled "hazardous material."
So that was all fairly surreal. I went straight from the P.O. to my psychiatrist's office, where I convinced her to lower my meds dosage yet again -- after this step I'll be off completely! -- despite her obvious skepticism. "Are you sure you don't want to stay on for a while? You have so much going on."
Yeah, well, that's not likely to change anytime soon. But under the circumstances, I think I'm doing fine. She said a lot of people go off, do splendidly for three months, and then crash, but I can always go back on if necessary.
In computing news, the 10.1" Pixel Qi screen won't fit my 10.2" Samsung. I'm trying to find a netbook that will do okay in sunlight, but as Gary said, if I just wait another six months, the sunlight-readable screen will probably be standard issue.
In fiddle news, I recorded myself playing Ashokan Farewell -- three times, in fact -- but on each occasion it sounded like I was playing the accordian, not the violin, even though the tune was recognizable and most of the notes were even right.
I hate accordians.
I have no idea what caused this, but I'm sure Charlene will know what to do. In the meantime, Jean, please be patient! If I ever get a recording that sounds like an actual fiddle, I'll post it.
Tonight I called the Coast Guard chaplain to alert him that Dad's remains will be arriving Friday. He's going to send me a copy of the service he uses. "We'll probably be doing it about 9:40 in the morning, so if you folks want to say it along with us at that time, you're welcome to." He'll also call me Tuesday night to let me know if weather conditions look good for Wednesday, and if he was able to get a sailboat rather than a powerboat.
Bon voyage, Dad. You're off on your last grand adventure.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Many years ago, during one of my mother's visits to Reno, we drove up to Virginia City. Halfway up the steep, twisty mountain road, Mom called out, "Susan! Stop!"
A mother quail, followed by what seemed like dozens of tiny chicks, was crossing the road. Luckily, no one was behind us. We stopped to let the fluffy parade reach safety.
My mother, who loved animals, was enchanted by this incident, and it became one of her fondest memories of Nevada. Later that day, she bought me a beautiful silver bracelet in Virginia City. When I flew to Philadelphia the day after she went into hospice, I wore the bracelet, and when I walked into her room -- after her joyous greeting, with many hugs -- I asked her if she recognized it. "Of course," she said. "I got that for you the day we saw the baby quail."
For Mom's eightieth birthday, five years ago, she took my sister and her husband and me and Gary out to a fancy Philadelphia restaurant. She'd done the same for her seventy-fifth, and we'd had a wonderful time. But her health had deteriorated greatly in those five years, and she sat drooping and disconsolate at the table. There wasn't much on the menu that interested her, but finally she ordered quail.
None of us was thinking, or we would have warned her.
When the two tiny birds, cooked nearly whole, arrived on a beautifully prepared plate, Mom looked down at them. Stricken, she said, "These are the birds we saw in Reno."
My heart sank. "Yes, Mom. They are."
She couldn't eat them. She refused to order anything else. Finally, Gary and I ate them, so the quail wouldn't have died in vain.
It wasn't a very happy birthday.
She would have been eighty-five today. Drinking my coffee on the deck this morning, looking out over the yard, I thought of her with an intense, painful pang of love, and just then saw movement in the dirt a few feet away. A mother quail and five babies -- slightly past the fluffy-chick stage, like the young birds in the photo above -- paraded past me. Later, the papa bird joined them.
Gary and I see quail in our yard all the time, forty at a time sometimes. We love them, with their little bobbing topknots. They look like avian wind-up toys. The cats love watching them, too, especially when the birds perch and strut on the roof of the garage, where the cats can line up on the windowsill of Gary's study to watch the kitty TV, three furry heads moving back and forth as the quail do. But I've rarely, if ever, seen a mother and babies in our yard.
It's easy to dismiss this as coincidence, but I choose to see it as a message instead, as a reminder of my mother's love for me. I can still hear her saying, "I love you, baby."
I love you too, Mom. Happy birthday.
I've had some technical difficulties this morning. Jean and mybabyjohn, I got your comments, but when I tried to post them, Blogger ate them instead.
Or, as my friend Barbara would correct me, "Bad Blogger behavior!" The behavior is bad, but we don't want to shame Blogger. Blogger isn't bad even if Blogger behaves badly.
Anyway, thanks for the comments. I appreciated them, as always.
Monday, July 05, 2010
The holiday weekend is almost over. We've had a good time. On Friday, Charlene and her band Wyndel played a gig at a local restaurant. The music was infectiously joyous; Gary and I sat at outdoor tables and watched the folks in the audience who got up and danced (something neither Gary nor I is brave enough to do). I was really touched when Charlene played Ashokan Farewell and dedicated it to "my student Susan, who's learning this tune." Awwww!
Part of my homework this week is to record myself playing it. Ack! If I sound halfway decent, I'll try to figure out how to post the soundclip here.
In other fiddle news, Charlene's husband's graduate funding at UNR has been badly dented by the budget crisis, and instead of staying for a PhD, he plans to get a masters and leave next May . . . which of course means that Charlene would leave too. Waaahhhh! I suppose there are other teachers in town, but I hate the idea of switching. Charlene recommends, though, that I think about attending a fiddle camp: a week-long gathering of folks of all ages and at all levels who spend the week in classes and then play together in the evening. A friend of mine goes to a fiddle camp up in Washington State and loves it. Looking for one around here, I stumbled on Alasdair Fraser's Sierra Fiddle Camp, which is only two hours from here. I adore Fraser's playing, so I e-mailed Charlene to ask if this camp might be a good fit. She said it would be. I'm now on the camp's e-mail list. I told her, "I'd be the worst one there," and she assures me that everybody's scared of that. I'm really glad the camp advertises itself as supportive and non-competitive, and hope they walk their talk!
Saturday, I went to the hospital and then we worked on deck furniture. Yesterday, we finished working on deck furniture. One of my former students had invited us to her house to watch fireworks, but I was feeling really lazy and wanted to stay home, so instead -- very much on the spur of the moment -- we wound up inviting four friends, one of whom brought a friend of hers. The seven of us sat on the deck, drank beer or iced tea or juice, ate Gary's homemade guacamole with chips followed by ice cream, and tried without too much luck to get a glimpse of fireworks. We couldn't see much of any of the official ones, although someone in the neighborhood was setting off some doozies, and we had a great view of those. (Later in the evening, Gary saw a sheriff's car rushing up the street and wondered if the firework-blasting neighbor was about to receive an Official Visit.)
Aside from unofficial fireworks, the evening's entertainment came from my friend Marin's dog Squid. He's a terrier mix and looks like Toto, although he isn't a Cairn. He's a cute little guy who was content, for the most part, to snuggle in Marin's arms, with a few notable exceptions. At one point, he let out a piercing howl and tried to leap off Marin's lap into the yard; she grabbed him, and we all turned around to see a rabbit racing across the yard. Later, Squid was exploring the deck when he saw the three cats glaring at him from behind the deck doors. (I'd had Marin bring him through the gate into the back yard so he wouldn't have to go through the house and traumatize the cats.) Squid was enchanted. He ran up to the glass and licked it. Bali puffed himself up, in full Scary-Cat mode; Harley tried to bat at Squid through the glass; Figgy jumped up on the kitchen windowsill so he was taller than the dog -- classic mammalian domination tactic -- and stared down with narrowed eyes. Squid, oblivious (ya gotta love dogs!) discovered our unused doggy door and tried to get through it to visit his new friends, but of course he couldn't. Poor Squid!
For the rest of the evening, the three cats sat in the windowsill overlooking the conversation area, just to make sure the dog wasn't up to anything sneaky. And Bali was very affectionate with me this morning. I think he wanted to make sure that I still love my puppy-cat more than that dratted puppy.
So, anyway, the deck's maiden voyage went very well, and we look forward to using it for other parties. I've been spending a lot of time out there every day; the only problem is that I can't write there, since my netbook screen isn't readable in sunlight. I'm considering investing in a pricy Pixel Qi replacement screen, but have to do more research to find out if the screen will be compatible with my machine. It's guaranteed to work on the Samsung N130, but I'm using a Samsung N110. If anybody has any information about this, please let me know!
Tomorrow would have been my mother's eighty-fifth birthday. My sister and her husband are going out for dinner, to the very fancy restaurant where Mom took us all on her seventy-fifth birthday. Gary and I will drive up to Truckee, a trip Mom always enjoyed, for lunch and shopping.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Thursday, July 01, 2010
Today's the twenty-first anniversary of my self-marriage ceremony, and the twelfth anniversary of our move into the house. I spent the day relaxing on the new deck: knitting, listening to my current audiobook, and even doing a bit of writing (although not, alas, on the novel).
It was a very pleasant day, although I may have overdone the sitting outside -- even though I was in the shade and pushing fluids -- because at the end of my early-evening (6 PM) walk, I felt really weak and shaky. That's the second time that's happened, actually. The first time was during a much longer and more strenuous walk Gary and I took a few weeks ago. It's sufficiently odd and worrisome that I'll probably call my doctor tomorrow. I decided not to go to Urgent Care tonight because I didn't have a temperature, and my heart rate and blood oxygen were both fine (I kept Dad's oximeter), and I felt better after eating something, although I'd eaten my usual amount during the day, so my blood sugar shouldn't have been unusually low. It wasn't especially hot, either.
Weird. But at least I feel better now.
In other news, Dad's military records finally turned up -- in the effects of his estranged second wife, of all places -- so the Coast Guard scattering should go as planned, weather permitting.
I'm desperately behind on any number of projects; what else is new? But my mood's good and I've been exercising every day, so on the whole, I'm happy.