Saturday, December 31, 2005

I've heard it said that when someone close to you dies, it is as if you are a big Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon with one less anchor holding you down. I relate to this feeling. I am utterly weightless, directionless. I rely completely on the many people on the ground, holding on to the ropes making sure I don't just float away. This sensation is ironic really, as the very nature of grief should make us feel heavy and weighted down. Perhaps this is true for me and not for everyone. Perhaps I have floated through my life like this -- allowing others to hold on to me and direct my path. To be honest, it's been nice having them down there. Maybe it's the mere perception of them being there that has given me comfort all these years. I never fear floating off into oblivion. I completely trust the people on the ground to get me to my destination.

My grandfather's death came to a certain extent without surprise. At his age, how many years could he have left? But he was extremely youthful, even in his coffin. Only last year we were celebrating his 90th birthday in NY. I think a part of me believed he would live at least another 10 years. Even to the day he died, he spoke to us on the phone, blessing us with his words. "You are the apple of my eye" he'd say, or "I am so proud of you," or my personal favorite, "You delight me." His final sentence to me was "I hope in your eyes I will always be one of the good guys." I called him a couple of days later to tell him how proud I was of him, how wonderful it has been all these years to have him as my grandfather, to know he had my back. I wanted him to know that he delighted me, too. After his surgery, he was mostly in intensive care. There were no more phone conversations. I did not feel that anything was left unsaid. His funeral was beautiful. He had finished his race. Well done, Thomas, Well done. All my family was there to say goodbye -- aunts, uncles, cousins -- I come from an incredibly warm bunch: noisy, hugging, laughing, eating, drinking, crying and more hugging. It was incredibly hard to get on that plane and fly back to California. As long as he was alive, I had complete faith that I was an expansion of the clan. But without him, I feel separated by the miles, isolated, lonely. He was the glue that connected us, the balloon handler that held a rope to all of our balloons. He was the expert. And without him, we are floating apart. It can't be helped.

Perhaps tomorrow I will feel better about all of this. But tonight, with 1 and 1/2 hours left to 2005 in California, and 1 and 1/2 hours into 2006 in NY, I feel I am straddling the continental divide. At this moment I fear I will fall into the abyss and be seen no more. But soon I suspect I will get my balance back and ring in the New Year in CA, with my family, where I belong. There are a thousand things I'd like to tell you about him -- how he'd always send the Christmas money in plenty of time for Santa to get everything my kids could possibly dream of -- every year -- even this one. How he prayed every day for each of us (12 great grandchildren, 9 grandchildren, 4 kids). How he walked the mall with the young girls (they were all in their 70s and 80s) for exercise. How he remembered every birthday by calling and singing. How he took each of us to places we loved (Westbury Manor for me, to walk with him in the gardens, San Diego Wild Animal Park later with my kids). Even just blurting out this little list makes the moments seem cheaper somehow -- less majestic -- but majestic is what they were. He had the ablility to make us all feel special, important, worthy. And now it's up to us to be sure our children and their children and their children's children are given the same chance, the same gift. Perhaps the knowledge and weight of that responsibility will be the thing that brings me back to earth. Perhaps I won't float away after all. I have an important job to do.

Goodbye 2005. With you resides my final memories of my grandfather here on earth. He was the last of 6 healthy, handsome Italian brothers. He's gone home to be with them all -- and boy will we miss him here. I hope we will all live up to his example. Thank you, God, for the incredible gift You gave us in him. I know how very blessed we are to have had him in our lives. I look forward to that day when I will be reunited with him, but until then I pray I will be as faithful as he was to run the race you have put before me. "6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Tim 4:6-8

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas to all my friends residing in the Land of Blog!

My son's MRI came back "normal" -- yet another reason to rejoice at our house. We are blessed beyond measure.

My grandfather's funeral was simply beautiful. What a wonderful end to an exceptional life.

I intend to write more on these topics, but not today. Today I will celebrate, and I hope this note finds you doing the same.

"I bring you tidings of great joy that will be for all people, for unto you this day in the City of David is born a savior, which is Christ the Lord". I pray for all of you, from wherever you may journey, that you will find the child of the manger. God Bless you all. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

This summer while at Disney's California Adventure theme park, I went on a ride with my son that shot us up into the air, then dropped us down one small drop at a time. I knew it wasn't my kind of thrill, but I didn't want him to go alone. As the attendant was strapping us in, I nearly asked to get off. I was literally terrified - even to the verge of tears. I felt foolish. I shut my eyes and prayed, white knuckled. The ride went it's course, but I entered into a place somehow of peace and floating. As my fear subsided, I managed to pry open my eyelids only to find out we were in the process of landing -- the ride was over. I wondered several times since then if what I experienced was an adrenaline overload, or the real peace of God flowing over me. I imagined others in terrifying situations (real terrifying situations, by the way -- not at Disneyland...) finding peace in their worst moments. This seemed more possible to me, having experienced this as such.

Today, my son had an emergency MRI due to a bad screening on a standard eye exam. Although all reports are positive and indicate a false alarm, I felt as I did that day in Disneyland -- white knuckled and terrified, at the verge of tears. I remembered the sensation I had then of peace and floating, and I prayed continuously while sitting alongside the ominous tube, the muffled sound of the knocking and buzzing made surreal by the thick ear plugs. All my thoughts seemed to echo in my head. If I put words to my prayers they seemed thin and whiny, so I prayed in my spirit. More than once this year, I imagined Abraham and what he might of thought and prayed during his infamous hike to the place of sacrifice. "bring your son, your only son, whom you love..." I looked at my boy's giant size 14 feet peeking out from the blanket and wondered if he was cold. I wondered if he was afraid or uncomfortable. I wondered if he was praying, and if he was in that peaceful, floating place. Mostly, I prayed that God's will be done -- whatever that will may be -- and that I would have the strength to stay on the ride, white knuckled or not. Before I knew it, I pryed open my eyes to find us safe on the ground once again.

As the radiologist rolled my son out of the tube, I couldn't help but imagine him as the attendant at another scary thrill ride. "You survived," he said sarcastically to my stiff necked son. "Barely. I need food (what else?) and some serious head movement." "Ah, quit whining," our attendant said playfully, "you'll live to see another day." He seemed to direct that comment at me. "Does it look okay?" I asked (typical mom). "I'm not the Dr.", he said sternly, then added with a wink, "but I did throw you a little hint just then." There I was again, on the verge of tears. "I have to hug you, " I didn't really give him enough warning. I hugged our ride attendant and told him thank you and merry christmas. He looked boyish and tried to wipe the "ah shucks" expression from his face. He stiffened up as I saw him look beyond me and I saw his stoic expression come back. I turned to see a frightened looking old woman preparing for her turn in the tube. I told her "good luck" and meant it. It's a scary, scary ride.

We'll find out the final report next week (you know, the one the Dr. will prepare for us. Frankly, "you'll live to see another day" is the only sentence I'm really interested in hearing). We leave for my Grandfather's funeral tomorrow. I'll save that story for another day. It's been a busy couple of months.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Thanks to Monk-in-training and Minor Clergy for this timely artical. This issue has irked me, but I haven't had the time or inclination to really wrestle with it all. I think the writer did an excellent job here, and I hope you take the time to read it.

Those of you who know me are aware of my great love for Christmas and all its trappings -- every bough of holly, every Christmas light, every gift and Christmas tree -- I do not care to do without any of it. I love the very excesses of Christmas. I am not offended by the commercialism. I enjoy the communal celebration of it all. It is a season to be jolly, and I take full advantage of that.

I try to carry my Christmas spirit around with me all year long. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes not at all. It's always so much easier to be of good cheer when you are surrounded by others in the same mood. I don't care how many jump on that bandwagon -- the more the merrier. You want to have a blue snowman on your lawn? Have at it. You want to add a Christmas palm tree to the festivities? Bring it on. For me, Christ makes Christmas that much more meaningful -- and this is a time of year that lends itself to sharing that meaning with others you might not be inclined to share with other times of the year. Perhaps people are just more inclined to give and receive -- more needful of giving and receiving -- this time of year.

I'm not entirely Pollyanna on all of this, by the way. I know that greed tends to show its ugly face this time of year, tensions increase, "entitlement" rears its head. I see people fighting over the bargain priced items and racing like maniacs to get stuff done. People seem to be offended so easily these days -- they have such thin skin. Whether Wal-Mart wishes me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday has really no impact on my faith. I fear a population of people that are that easily pursuaded. Grumpy people certainly tarnish the joy of the season. It is especially unfortunate when the most grumpy of the bunch are the Christians. If only the voices we heard were of the ones who are rejoicing. (I know there must be some!) To quote Minor Clergy, "Let them find Christ. In us. Not in Wal-Mart."

I wish you all a magical Christmas -- one of warmth and love and endless possibilities. Listen carefully, you might even hear the angel voices (even in Wal-Mart if you are brave enough to venture...).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! I am amazed that a full month has gone by since my last post. It will take me at least that long to catch up with you all! We enjoyed a big Thanksgiving here with local friends. We cooked 2 turkeys, actually soaking one of them in a brine. My husband cooked the brined turkey outside on the Weber Grill -- (one of the benefits of a California Thanksgiving is the ability to cook outside, eat outside and play outdoor games such as horseshoes and bocci ball -- we took advantage of all of these options). I tried several new side dishes this year including sweet potatoe pie and corn casserole (neither of which were listed on the Weight Watchers Top 10 Thanksgiving options, I promise you). I even made my own cranberry sauce from scratch, which was as easy as everyone has promised me it would be. We ate, drank and were merry. It was a good day. We reflected on our many blessings -- and enjoyed being home. We pulled out the Christmas decorations and in accordance to our own little family tradition, decked the halls. We are officially festive and I am in the mood to be jolly despite a multitude of typical irritating factors that would on other days stand between me and euphoria. My cup overflows.

This joy is unexpected at best. Since my last post we have buried my husband's uncle in Arkansas, where he outlived his dismal cancer prognosis by 2 years. We held our breath at the near death of my paternal grandfather, (aged 91, in intensive care today after a rare emergency surgery that threatened his already frail body) then again for my baby brother, hospitalized for the second time in less than a year for alcohol related illness. My own son's recovery from his neck injury comes slowly, but his prognosis is good and his body is strong. We learned of another not so lucky -- an old friend's baby boy struggles for life at 3 months old with a rare and incurable nervous system disorder. Their only hope is in a miracle, and a miracle is what they are seeking, actively every day. (I will post more on this later). Money is tight, news is grim -- at both a personal and national level -- yet I am filled with joy, with the peace that passes all understanding.

Frederick Buechner sums it up as follows: "In the Gospel of John, Jesus sums up pretty much everything by saying, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11). He said it at the supper that he knew was the last one he'd have a mouth to eat. Happiness turns up more or less where you'd expect it to--a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the One who bequeaths it." from "Wishful Thinking - A Seeker's ABCs"

Blessings on you, my blogger buddies. May the abundance of God's love fill your life with a rich appreciation of the little things, joy in the journey.