Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deep Time This Year Too, December 21, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

Since September 24 I have been rereading the blog entries posted here on the corresponding day this year. I had already decided to set aside the time between Solstice and the date of Francis’ death, January 3, as an overall/not rigid retreat time for myself. (I’ll still go to church, food pantry, join in a Christmas dinner and lead the dances of universal peace New Year’s Eve.) But I want to go deeper into Francis’ journey and mine -- his transition and death.

So what a lovely coincidence to discover: On this date last year the entry was called “Deep Time!” Just what my retreat time beginning tonight, after a small gathering at a friend’s home, was meant to be! So it’s deep time for me again this year! In fact I know Christmas will never be the same for me again.

Last year’s “Deep Time” entry of Dec 21 relates the extraordinary afternoon when Lee and Lynn recorded Francis and me singing together. So I can’t resist copying it here for you, to save you the trouble of digging it out in earlier posts. It reveals Francis’ holy joy.

I thank you all for your kindness! And thank you for keeping me in your prayers.

My Christmas letter is attached below last year’s December 21, 2009 “Deep Time.”

Love, Peace & Joy,

Monday, December 21, 2009 Deep time
Dear Family and Friends,

It could happen sooner or later. No one knows when. But we're told to get ready even though Francis is eating again, and with "some gusto!" -- his words. (That gourmet macrobiotic food prepared by Meg
Wolff and company may prolong his life for all we know!)

As I'll share below, Francis and I also had an extraordinary day yesterday.

Yes, we're in a new phase now. I need to reserve my energies for Francis himself, for preparations for his funeral and for giving all the space needed to experience this precious time together when the veil is thin.

Pam Shay his hospice nurse said people nearing death need time to do deeply personal work. She explained that those who haven't experienced close at hand the process of losing a loved one tend not to understand that the terminally ill find visiting very tiring. Though they can rally for visits and look good, they're exhausted afterwards.

This truth was made obvious to us today: After talking with three members of VNA's Hospice staff, and after a visit with Fr. Mike McGarrigle, 85, a close friend for 50 years, Francis was wiped out for the rest of the day. In fact he's been sleeping since 3:00 pm until he surfaced around 8:00 pm for a little supper.

Pam made an excellent suggestion however, to give friends an avenue without tiring him. Those who want to talk to Francis could send me an email with the Subject line reading:
I will then read him your messages when he's awake and rested. It's likely I won't be able to answer your emails as I would really want to since it would take time away from Francis. But you can reach him this way and I know he would welcome the connection and returns your love.

He's been bed-bound since Friday night the 18th because standing and sitting in a chair are too much of an ordeal for him. Luckily reclining fully is, as it has been all along, a pain free position. Sitting in bed at a 45 degree angle is also okay for a short while.

He's such a sweetheart! In his situation, can you imagine his saying to me tonight after I helped him use the urinal while lying in bed, and then flossed his teeth, -- "This is another wonderful moment, -- sharing the little chores of getting ready for bed. My beloved is preparing me.....You look good, feel good and are good to me."

How can I not love a man like this ?! I met him in 1968 -- 41 years ago. That means I have been in love with this 82 year old man of mine for half his life!

There are many extraordinarily ordinary moments like this throughout the day. One very big one happened yesterday when Lynn and Lee came for their weekly visit. Surprisingly, this visit totally energized Francis, not just in the moment either, -- but for the rest of the day!

While we all ate our favorite Hot & Sour Soup (from Stir Crazy's on Congress St) which Lynn and Lee brought us, we talked about funeral plans, weeping and laughing while Rowan lay sleeping on our bed.

Then Lee went out to buy a microphone and set things up on our computer to record Francis and me singing the entire Lord's Prayer in Aramaic. I can't thank Nicki Piaget enough for this suggestion! Nor can I describe my joy seeing the earnest proud look on Francis' face as his voice got increasingly stronger and surer. My joy increased seeing Lee and Lynn's response to those beautiful middle eastern melodies! As the last note echoed in the room we spontaneously cheered. And the recording caught that joyous burst.

(When Lynn and Lee come tomorrow to talk finances, I'll ask them what it would cost to make lots of copies of this recording to give away after the funeral.)

Well, that mystical moment together didn't get lost on Francis. When I greeted him this morning he was so happy that I grabbed a pen to catch every word.
He said: "This is the deluxe way of getting up! Everything is falling into place! There are lots of wonderful moments! Wonderful, wonderful moments! NOW! They just keep coming! I'm amazed how much energy I had all day yesterday...It was unlike any other day! After two hours I usually cop out. But I was with it all day. I couldn't believe what was going on and on and on into the evening. Then I had a good night's rest."
Oh my God! What a gift to hear him talk like this!!!

I have so much to write about, and will continue sharing this story of Francis' journey sometime in the future. But except for skeleton outlines, detailed updates as I've been writing will have to wait until later, or at least until all the funeral preparations are completed. I want to dig out photos of Francis, and letters, and papers, and artifacts that illustrate the richness of his life.

It's been a life of great integrity. It's something to celebrate! Even as grief creates the numinous time and spaces that deepen the soul.

Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland put it so well in his book which I picked up years ago: How We Die, Reflections on Life's Final Chapter: "In ages past, the hour of death was, insofar as circumstances permitted, seen as a time of spiritual sanctity, and of a last communion with those being left behind....For many this last communion was the focus not only of the sense that a good death was being granted them but of the hope they saw in the existence of God and an afterlife." p. 256


Deep Time this Year Too + Christmas Letter

Dear Family and Friends,
I want to thank you for your support of me this year, in whatever form it took; your kind concern was not the least. I also pray: May this season bring you deepening joy, whether from the world-shaking gift of Jesus’ birth, and/or the return of light on the Solstice , after the darkest day.

This most difficult year of my life since Francis’ death on Jan 3, though never easy, has also brought its gifts. Whenever people ask how I am, I repeat what a friend said at my 75th Haiti-benefit birthday party in September: “You look as if you’re both grieving and thriving,” and I add my own comment: “They go together. I’m thriving because I’m grieving.”

I’ve survived and thrived through prayer - my indispensable mainstay, - journaling, regular sessions with my spiritual adviser, and since September, -- writing poetry, an unexpected development, (even though I’ve written poems before.) A friend’s gift of poetry books by Donald Hall grieving the death of his wife Jane Kenyon, gave me the idea. Support from family, friends and community has also begun to restore my will to go on living.

It did me good to continue Francis’ and my regular traditions and practices: attending out of town conferences (Dances of Universal Peace, CORPUS, and Call to Action,) participating in Pax Christi meetings, monthly distribution of food at our parish’s pantry, and occasional cultural offerings like local theater. I’m glad I still teach one morning yoga class a week. And I delight in babysitting Rowan every Wednesday from 2:00 pm until after supper when Lynn picks her up.

After fetching her from school, Abigail, Rowan’s neighborhood playmate joins her for all kinds of activities that 6 year olds dream up. To name a few: visiting the chickens, (in summer - picking fruit, watching the frogs) indoor artwork, and always, - reading. Knowing how quickly events slip away with the winds of time, I invite special moments with them to be imprinted in my mind & heart. For example, Rowan sitting on my lap at the computer typing a note (all by herself) asking our neighbor Matt if we could visit. Then, watching them run up the street to see his three big Pyrenee dogs, larger than they are! En route home Rowan yelled to Abigail “Wanna gallop like a horse?” And off they bounded down the street. What delight their contagious joy!

Another indelible moment this week: Rowan sitting on my lap while I read her stories from Free to be You and Me. I laughed right out loud during one story about a girl wanting to join the boy’s baseball team. Then, reading a sad story, -- since my emotions are very close to the surface, -- I wept. So Rowan is learning about grief. An outstanding grief book for children is Waterbugs & Dragonflies by Ruth Stickney.

Christmas will forever be a sacred time for me. Beginning with Christmas Eve, 2009, Francis and I had dialogues in which he shared, in an extraordinary way, his thoughts about his approaching death. I am now rereading (on the corresponding day this year,) everything I wrote last year which is posted. I also plan to listen to the recordings of those conversations, tears or not. I need and want to go through the grief, not bypass it. Then in the new year I will begin writing our story, -- my “God-willing-book.”

I’m reading less but writing more these days. Even so, the title of a book which offers a comprehensive look at how the various religions, east and west, view death, supports my view, -- and more than just my view, -- my conviction:
La Mort Est Une Autre Naissance (Death Is Another Birth,)