Friday, July 12, 2013
And Life Goes On
The repairman is whistling behind me as I type these words. His bill will be $300. Maybe it’s because I’ve written so many checks these past couple of weeks, but somehow that doesn’t seem to bother me right now ---- much. But that’s the end of this story. At its beginning, I worried that many things would bother me, and that they would never stop.
It’s hard to think that it’s been over two weeks since mom died; maybe that’s because I was so busy much of the time and the days just flew by. Those first days I will always remember, though. And I will remember that it rained --- it rained almost every day --- from the day of mom’s death until the day of her being put into the ground. All that rain seemed to somewhat fit my mood, though, and seemed appropriate, and not at all bothersome. But then the sun finally did come out, and a clear blue sky marked the day we stood around her grave site, just me, my three nieces, the neighbor who took care of mom’s house for seven years, and the couple dad used to golf with (and who still drive his golf cart), and the deacon who intoned the final prayers that day for mom. We all looked up at that bright blue sky, and then down at the dirt around the grave, and then at mom’s casket. And all this, too, seemed appropriate. A new day, a bright new day, was beginning for all of us.
Those first days after mom’s death, however, were spent in a whirlwind of meetings with the church, with the funeral home and, of course, with the lawyer. And in mom’s case, with yet another funeral home in Wisconsin, the state where I would fly her body to be buried, to be next to dad and my brother. I told the people at my parish church to expect perhaps 10 to 20 or so of my friends at mom’s funeral mass; she had outlived all her immediate relatives, except me and her three granddaughters, and none of my friends had even met mom. My best friend took control of all the flower arrangements, and so when my nieces arrived that weekend from Arizona and Idaho, it seemed like things were under control, and so I smiled again.
With their heads in a time zone three hours earlier than mine, my nieces and I played pinochle each night until 1 or 2AM, (Eastern Standard Time). We told stories and we laughed, and on that first night, at least, I thought mom was shuffling the cards in my favor. “You’re on fire, uncle Tom,” the girls all said. From the first hand which I laid down on the table and melded points for every card, to the hand where I had no points in my hand --- except the double pinochle, the cards went my way against all odds. And we laughed.
I was so glad they took the time off from work to be with me, and their beloved grandma.
On Monday, I was surprised at the funeral when over 60 of my friends took time to be with me in my time of sorrow. I was VERY surprised. Some came from my work, some from my volunteer activities, some from church, some from my caregivers support group, some from the men’s prayer group, and some from the charities I support. And then there were my mom’s two caregivers who had been there with me in her most difficult times. Because I had been somewhat secluded for the seven years caring for mom, I hadn’t seen some of the people at the funeral mass in years. And so, while I did shed some tears that day, it didn’t feel nearly as bad as I expected.
My nieces and I drove to Wisconsin the next day in the SUV we had rented from Hertz. The Hertz store in Canton had only been open a couple of days; I may have been its first customer, or at least it looked like it from the sparsely furnished building I entered and the single Hertz agent there. He apologized for the vehicle’s high rental rate, noting that it was a holiday week, but as we spoke he offered me a bereavement discount, then a Ford employee discount, and then as we talked yet another discount --- just because I’m a nice guy, I guess. And at the end, the rate he gave me was only half the one originally quoted. I’ll go back there.
The trip up to Wisconsin was long but uneventful (except for me getting lost in Milwaukee --- why didn’t anyone tell me that in the past 7 years they had totally re-done highway 894 bypass, and so I missed the exit). After arriving in Appleton, we went out and bought a pile of cleaning supplies, figuring we’d have to do some major cleaning of mom’s house, unoccupied for seven years, and moving furniture donations to the Salvation Army, in preparation for putting mom’s house on the market. But when we arrived we sat down and chatted at length with the nearby neighbor, who had been caring for the house and yard these past years. She is a wonderful person, and indicated that she and her husband, a builder, would buy the home as is, and later tear it down and build a new one on mom’s very scenic spot on the river. And so we didn’t need to do any cleaning at all, and suddenly we had time on our hands, and so we wandered about the area and about town. (Later, two other neighbors also indicated an interest in mom’s house, so regardless who buys I expect selling mom’s house will be a simple matter.)
After mom’s gravesite ceremony on Friday, just the neighbor and my nieces and I went out to lunch. And after my nieces flew home that weekend, the neighbor invited me to lunch again, and we talked for hours about the years she and her family had spent time with my mom and dad. It was so comforting to know how much they were loved every day in their final years together. I checked with my dad’s lawyer in Wisconsin about what needed to be done legally to sell mom’s home, and he said he’d take care of things for me, including getting a current assessment of its value. And so many of the things which I worried about and which could have been so time-consuming and complex, all fell into place.
And during the free time I had, alone, reading, thinking, remembering, and wondering what plans God had next for me --- for I certainly have none --- I was given a glimpse, I think, of what might be next for me. One afternoon, sitting and reading alone in the hotel lobby, a woman stopped and asked me if I were a veteran. After she chatted on for a while about her husband and how he had served in the Korean War, I invited her to sit down. And then she told me why she was in that particular hotel. Fearful of her husband’s growing depression and resistance to treatment, and his guns in the house, she had recently moved out --- taking with her the mother she cares for, who has Alzheimer’s. She was taking a major step in her life, her own moving on, and she just wanted someone to talk to. And I was there.
On my last night in Wisconsin, she knocked on my hotel room door at 8:30, apologizing again for disturbing me, but saying that her mom had gone to sleep, and wanting to know if she could bounce some further ideas off me. She talked about her life and her family until 11. She seemed a strong woman, making some hard decisions in her life, and just wanting someone to talk to, so she didn’t feel so alone in her difficult time. Little did she know that she was talking to someone whose name is: Do Not Be Anxious.
I drove the 500 miles from Wisconsin on Wednesday in 7 ½ hours, arriving home in time to turn in the rental vehicle, drop off the books on CD I had rented for the trip, and picking up my plants and mail from the neighbors. I opened the pile of cards from friends --- mom is having more masses said for her than anyone I ever knew --- and I realized I have lots of thank you notes to write. But that will be next week. For now, I thought, I was home. I was going to relax. The new normal, for me, was beginning.
I poured myself a drink and reached into the freezer to get some ice ---- and touched the water in the tray. Uh-oh! Everything in the freezer was thawed; I guess my refrigerator had decided to take the week off also.
Yes, the new normal for me was beginning. And like any normal life, I was reminded, into it a little rain must fall.
Life without mom will not be some bed of roses for me, a glorious retirement of travel and fishing and golf. No, there are still things for me to do, some trials to bear, and some people, who I probably don’t even know right now, that need some love. No, I’m not sure my life will really be changing that much, just the focus and the needs of whom I am to love.
And like all thing and all times, God will provide. He will lead, and I will follow. And I will not be anxious.
(Although that repairman’s whistling is driving me crazy at the moment!!)
And I wish you love, my friends.
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Be With Me Lord
O Lord Jesus Christ, as in Your Passion, sooner or later we must all go on alone – and there is always that place in my heart where no one can come but You. Without Your presence, that inner solitude becomes oppressive, even devastating – a wasteland of howling winds and dark nights. But when you are there with me – and only You can come there – my whole life is filled with light and I can go on even in the midst of great trials.
Be with me, Lord, in the dark time, and let me rise from the darkness because You are there. Be that friend who brings me all that I may have lost in life’s crushing and heartbreaking blows. Give me Your hand, and I shall be saved. Amen.
--- You Are Not Alone, Prayers in Dark Times by Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel