Monday, November 5, 2012


On Sunday, November 4, 2012, I participated in a venue for getting acquainted with two members of our church’s confirmation class, and to that end, they ‘interviewed’ me, and I likewise did with them. One of these boys is the teen I am sponsoring during this academic year. During the conversation, they asked me to relate to them the significant events in my life, and among those, times when I felt that God was present in my life - - times when I felt that God was leading me. Naturally, the important events include John’s illnesses and subsequent death. Both boys were sympathetic, yet curious. As with any first real conversation, each boy tried to indicate a common understanding, and yet, of course, they cannot match experience for experience. They have not been married yet, and therefore have not lost a spouse. One of them had faced the serious illness of a parent, and has watched his grandfather grieve the loss of his grandmother. As we discussed it, he abruptly said that he was sorry to keep talking about death. I guess he was afraid of hurting me, or of bringing up unpleasant memories.

As I reflected on this discussion throughout the ensuing afternoon and evening, it occurred to me that probably a lot of people fear approaching a grieving person for fear of causing that individual pain - - or evoking tears in the mourning individual - - as if crying were the thing to be avoided at all costs. Since I am now something of an expert in my own grief struggle, I decided to share some thoughts with you. I can’t say that my experience is true for others, but it is how it is for me having experienced the death of my husband.

So often over the past four months, the tears have come - - with or without aid from other people! And that’s o.k.! It’s normal that some of the memories of my husband bring me to tears! I welcome them! If I try to stave off the tears, it might mean avoiding the memories. And I don’t want to do that. Not a day goes by that I do not think of John; that I do not miss his silliness or even his tired grumpiness. For those of my readers who knew him, trust me, he DID have a grumpy, angry aspect to his personality that he tended to keep from most people, but felt quite free to share with me! He could infuriate me with his ultra-conservative political views, and we would occasionally argue, but in the end, it didn’t change what was important. We loved each other, and our being together mattered! We spent the last twenty years of his life together. We were two who became one flesh in the Father, but who have now been torn asunder - - ripped apart permanently. He’s gone and he’s not coming back! How do I wrap my brain around that? Or more accurately, how do I wrap my heart around it? My brain has accepted the facts of the situation; and yet, other parts of my soul have not. In my dreams, he and I have had conversations where he has indicated his awareness that he is no longer incarnate here with me. I wake up at first confused and then exhausted. Naturally, I am aware that dreams are often the attempts of the subconscious mind to make sense of reality.

But my reality makes no sense right now without him. I don’t know where I belong anymore! I want to scream that I feel a sort of emotional paralysis. I am unable to be consistently productive with the tasks involved in going on alone. Grief is physiological as well as emotional. There have been many days that I have escaped into sleep to avoid the dullness of another day without him, arising only to tend to the canines and to answer nature’s demands on me in the categories of personal hygiene, care and feeding. Many of those days have followed sleepless nights. Everything is just a bit ‘off’. I have bad days and some not so bad days. Once in a while, I even have a good day, but the good days are not quite tipping the scales yet. In time, they will. I think. I hope…

I recalled reading a book entitled, The Year of Magical Thinking, written by Joan Didion. I pulled it off my bookshelf, and am rereading it; and this time, it is speaking to my heart instead of just being an interesting read from a skilled writer. I’ve found myself almost saying aloud, “yes, that’s exactly how it feels!” at times. Her story is the account of the horrendous events of December 2003 and early January of 2004. Their only child became desperately and gravely ill, on life support, on Christmas night. Less than a week later, on December 30th, as they are sitting down to dinner, her husband suffers a sudden, massive and fatal coronary arrest. She and her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, had been married just short of 40 years; and it was a relationship that was intricately intertwined and interwoven. They frequently worked together on writing projects - - some of them plays or screenplays of novels one of them had written. Ms. Didion writes of being simultaneously cool, even efficient in handling the necessary business details involving the facts of the situation, while almost delusional in some of her expectations for her future. I commend the book to anyone who has experienced the loss of a spouse or a child. Or perhaps, someone close to a person who has lost a spouse or a child. In a subsequent book that I have not read, I’m told that Ms. Didion recounts the further tragedy in which she experiences the pain of eventually losing her daughter to death less than two years later.

Of course, my experience is different in some very key ways. John and I were fairly independent of each other in some ways because we had been on our own as single adults well into our thirties before we married. We did not bring children into our marriage. We did not share a career path, and we were together for about half as long as Ms. Didion and her husband. John’s passing was not the bolt from the blue to me that Mr. Dunne’s death was for Ms. Didion. I had a little bit more warning that it was coming.

One of the things I am noticing is that in telling her story, Ms. Didion recalls little details of her husband’s last year that seemed, in hindsight, to indicate that perhaps he knew he didn’t have long to live. That is ringing very true for me as well. John told me fairly frequently in his last six months that he felt that he was dying; that he had waited too long to seek treatment for the condition that ultimately led to his falling so ill. I certainly knew the situation was of supreme concern, but he had pulled through before, and I believed he would again recover. Or perhaps I just wanted to believe it. But now I realize that even though the doctors had been straightforward with me the whole time, I was not prepared for his death in any respect but the factual. I was able to report the facts to my family and his; to get his immediate family there in time for us all to say goodbye. We were all with him when he died, but I was every bit as traumatized when he took his last breath as was Ms. Didion when she realized the reason the medical staff had stopped resuscitation efforts on Mr. Dunne. I was able to tell John that I loved him, and that I always would; that it was o.k. for him to let go and find his rest in the Lord. I can remember those details so clearly, yet much of the subsequent couple of weeks is a blur.

I realize that I need to bring this to a close for now. Grief is a process with which we will all be familiar at some point. Ms. Didion very skillfully described how it has been for her in her book; this blog is carrying you along my journey through the valley of shadows that the psalmist references. For the psalmist and for me, evil is not to be feared. I know with absolute certainty that God is with me, and I know that you are, too! For that, I am truly thankful!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Uncharted Territory

I last posted on March 13, 2012.  At that time, I was exploring what is meant by "coming home" in a number of contexts.   One of those contexts was one of someone "being called home to heaven".   Following my retirement and a wonderful trip to Wales, that someone in my life was my beloved husband, John Anthony Taylor.

Our final adventure together began as my Wales trip ended.  I knew that he would be going into the hospital when I returned.   Even as he picked me up at the airport, he was clearly struggling and I felt some pangs of guilt at having gone away.   We stopped on the way home, retrieved the dogs from the kennel, and I spent the next few days getting over the jet lag.  He was admitted to the hospital on May 13th for a procedure on his heart that was supposed to help with his congestive heart failure symptoms.   On June 13th, John was flown (and I drove) to Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina for evaluation to determine if he would receive a rather complex heart and aortic arch transplant.   His condition deteriorated rapidly after he arrived at Duke, and he developed pneumonia and a renal infection.   He had a balloon pump inserted on or around June 20th and he was intubated on June 23rd.   On July 5th, the doctors told me his kidneys were starting to fail.  I called his family and suggested that they speed up their plans to come to Durham.  They arrived on the evening of July 6th.  We had the balloon pump turned off, the blood pressure elevating medication stopped and the breathing tube removed around 11:30 am on July 7th; and he was gone within ten minutes.

The next few hours were spent in meetings with various members of the Duke University's representatives for decedent affairs.  My sister-in-law telephoned local funeral homes and cremation services in Durham.   We selected a lovely box for the ashes.  John's body was removed from the hospital and his cremation was scheduled for the following Tuesday.  His brother and younger niece came to go with me to some appointments there in Durham and take care of some other items of business that needed to be done on Monday.  We decided on the date for his memorial service and wrote the obituary.  I waited in Durham for the appointed time to pick up his ashes on Wednesday, then I returned  to Virginia.

The first few days I was back, I was a veritable whirlwind of activity.   I cleaned up the kitchen, went to work out, and tried to get back to my Paleo diet.  Everyone thought I was handling things so well.  I was so proud of myself even as deep down, I knew better.  I decided that I needed to visit my family, so I made arrangements to attend my family reunion.  Then the memorial service was on July 31st.  Once my family had left, and I was alone at the house, it really hit me; John is really gone and he's never coming back!  I am never going to have a conversation or share a hug with him ever again!  I was gutted; completely devastated.   That evening, I received word that the cousin who, along with his angel of a wife, had been my support system in Durham, had also passed away. 

Folks, the little boat that is carrying me down the river of my life has been tossed about on whitecapped waves, repeatedly bashed against the rocks and has now become marooned on a rather large boulder in the middle of the stream.  I am wounded in a way I never imagined, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to get off this rock and back to floating down the stream.   The storms and flooding of retiring, the exhileration of going away for my first international trip, and the ordeal of watching the man I love lose his battle to stay alive have given way to the receding waters that have left me stranded with my oars out of the water.  Despite my attempts to push myself off and back to the water, the vessel simply will not budge.   So I sit here watching the currents that comprise the days of my life go by, wanting to get back into the stream but not being able to face the prospect of the storms and floods that would either enable me to float off this rock, or scuttle the ship completely.   I have tried so hard to grab onto the ropes being tossed out to me, but I keep coming up short.  So the sun's searing rays pierce my brain, resulting in my feeling burned, dried out and thirsty, all the way into my soul. 

I know because I believe in the trinitarian God that at some point, I'll have the strength to work the oars, to catch a rope and to get back into the river.  I don't know when that will happen, where the currents will take me or what God has planned for me at this point in my life.   When I look back as far as my last post, I realize that I still have quite a number of my homes as defined therein.  I still have my families, and friends.   I still have the house in which my husband and I lived out our entire marriage.  I still have the dogs we adopted 14 and 10 years ago.

So, I now have to figure out how to steer the vessel in the river once I get back into it.  I'm sure that will take some time.  I will probably allow my calculations and chartings to spill onto this page from time to time, and I ask in advance for your forgiveness.  I've never been a widow before.  I'm in uncharted territory now.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Welcome Home!

“Welcome Home”. So much is conveyed by these two simple words. I’ve been thinking about home a lot recently, particularly as I am coming to terms with elements of my past, reconciling the truth with the ways I have chosen to remember them. In so doing, I have needed to delineate my definitions of home - - and there are several - - exorcise a few demons and wipe away the remaining debris. Herein lie a few random thoughts about home, as I have been pondering the subject.

In thinking of home as a physical address, well, I’ve had many. I counted it once, and I have lived at 18 different addresses in my life, with the longest at any one in particular being my current one in Virginia - - eighteen years and almost four months. I moved here when I got married. When I was single, I moved every chance I got at college in the dorms or the Wesley Foundation, and then at the ends of leases after I had embarked on my career. I guess I was restless and searching for something to ease the boredom. When I did manage to remain in one house, apartment or flat for more than the one year, I had to rearrange the furniture so that it felt as if I had moved. When someone asked me back in those days, “where is home,” I would answer that home was where my stuff was located. There were times that it felt as if home were a hotel room or an airplane.

My mother refers to me visiting her, my dad, my brother and his family as “coming home”, and there’s something to that. Home can be where one’s family is, and my nuclear family is there in Florida - - hundreds of miles away from our original home in Tennessee, and even well away from the homes I had in Orlando and Tampa back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. To some extent, visiting Florida is a “been there, done that” experience because I resided in the state all those years ago for a period of about five years. On those occasions that I have been to Nashville over the years, it feels less and less like home, and yet, it’s where I was born and was home to the families of both of my parents for generations. As I write this, I am preparing to embark on a pilgrimage of sorts to Wales, birthplace of a number of distant ancestors on both sides of my family tree. Make no mistake, I’m about as American as one can be without having Native American in my heritage! And yet, I feel an indisputable tug when experiencing the music and culture of the Celtic countries.

Home may well be less of a place than a feeling of belonging. Home is safe and it is a situation, perhaps, where, or in which, I am at peace. Home is being in the company - - physical or virtual - - of those who know me the best, have my best interests at heart and accept me for the person I am, and not the one I would necessarily want others to think I am. For some, home may be a marriage, a deeply held conviction or faith, a long-standing or perhaps recently rekindled friendship, and it is often a prayer. For me, home has taken on some interesting meanings and situations: the Presbyterian Church USA, the Shenandoah Presbytery and the Warrenton Presbyterian Church congregation are home for me; my marriage to the man I love is another; my friendships with people I have known only a few months to those I met some 45 or 46 years ago, with whom I am once again in contact; all these constitute situations where I feel at home, no matter where I happen to be physically located.

I’m something of a Josh Groban fan, and on one of his more recent recordings, was a song written by Randy Newman entitled, Feels Like Home. I’ve never cared much for Newman’s compositions, but this one is absolutely beautiful, both musically and lyrically. It is undoubtedly written about a romantic relationship, but love is love. Whether agape or eros, love is that indefinable something that attracts people to one another and then binds them together forever. Similarly, home can be that inexplicable connection that people have when they are truly “mates of the soul”, whether mates in a biological or erotic sense or not. It’s that property that allows people who have not been in contact for years to meet again and pick up the relationship at the point where it was set down previously. There are a few people in my life about whom I can make the claim that they are “mates of my soul”, and the love I have for them is similar, yet still different than what I feel for my family in general and my husband in particular. Each of them “feels like home” for me every time we’re in contact. So perhaps home can be considered to be love in some sense. I’ll come back to this point.

Sometimes home lies in memories. Perhaps in vacation trips with loved ones, or in recalling those who have passed from this life. I became acquainted with grief at an early age, with the loss of my lone maternal uncle when I was still only two years old. Other relatives would follow soon thereafter in my childhood - - my paternal grandmother when I was eight and my maternal grandfather when I was twelve. My grandfather was my favorite person when I was little, and memories of spending time with him are warm and inviting, as well as comforting. This is true of others of my relatives and friends who have passed from this life, but I’ll leave them for another discussion. There are wonderful memories associated with all of them. So home can be warm and fuzzy memories.

Home is where one is known. I don’t mean that the face and name can be connected consciously, but rather, there is a deep knowledge of who this person is, his or her history, his or her opinions, and thought processes. Home is when and where one can pour out one’s very soul, trusting that the one on whom this torrent of words and emotions is being placed will honor it and respond to it with compassion and an equal sharing. Home is when and where one is the trusted recipient of such thoughts and emotions, too. It goes back to that “mate of the soul” concept for me. I have several friends with whom reestablished contact can just pick up the relationship where it was left off, even if years have elapsed in the interim.

So, if home can mean love, then by definition, home must mean God because God is love. People sometimes refer to death as being “called home” to heaven. God’s kingdom is here and now, and it will continue be home for many incarnate in the world today, as well as for those who have gone ahead of us. I cannot imagine it, but the kingdom is said to be a new heaven and a new earth. I’d like to think that earth will retain its wondrous beauties such as the Grand Canyon, or the mighty rivers such as the Amazon, mountains such as the Alps in Europe and the lush tropical beauty of a South Sea island. I also believe that all the filth and decay from evil and sin would be wiped away from all creation, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, and that we will be restored to our original purpose, which is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Prayer, particularly centering prayer, can incorporate many of the definitions of home. With eyes closed, in a quiet room, sitting in a comfortable chair, I can banish for a few moments some of the stresses of life, imagining myself to be enveloped in the loving arms of God - - almost like being held in my grandfather’s lap when I was little - - safe from harm, warm and comforted, resting in his strength. It sure feels like home to me! I hope it will for you as well.

May the Peace of Christ be with you, and Welcome Home!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Confessing our Faith

This morning, March 11, 2012, the worship service at Warrenton Presbyterian Church here in Warrenton, Virginia, was led by our congregation’s Presbyterian Women. The entire service was based on the Bible study being used this year by the Circles, called “Confessing the Beatitudes”. As it happens, our pastor, Carl R. Schmahl, has been preaching a series of sermons this academic year on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and this morning’s section had to do with giving to the poor. The entire service was very thought provoking, as the different segments of worship fit together perfectly, and I firmly believe that our Lord was pleased by the experience; I know I felt a renewal of my own commitment as I exited.

When I arrived home this afternoon and logged into my Facebook account, one of my friends from the church had indicated that she wished she had enough room to post the creed that had been written by the Presbyterian Women specifically for this service. I promised that I would share it in this venue. Without further ado from me:

Written by the Presbyterian Women of the Warrenton Presbyterian Church
Based on the Bible study “Confessing the Beatitudes”
(Read Responsively)

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to honor the destitute and hopeless.
With Christ’s help, I will seek to work with others in ways that meaningfully honor those who are poor.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to honor the weepers and mourners.
With Christ’s help, I will seek to honor the weepers and mourners by listening to them, standing with them, and telling their truth when they cannot.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to stand with the humbled against the wicked.
With Christ’s help, I will look for ways to honor the humbled through my prayers, my choices, and my uplifted voice.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to honor those who are hungry and thirsty, and those who are famished and parched for justice because they are the particular concern of God.
With Christ’s help, I will seek to honor, with my prayers and my gifts, my voice and my actions, these famished sisters and brothers of mine.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to to show mercy by our emotions, our actions, and the dedication of our lives.
With Christ’s help, I will rededicate myself to the practice of mercy that Jesus calls honorable.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to be pure in heart.
With Christ’s help, I will have a “heart condition” that compels me to live with more integrity as my vision of God gets clearer.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to be peacemakers in the church and in the world.
With Christ’s help, I recommit myself to the joyful work of peacemaking, that all the world may know God’s shalom.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to follow him even in the face of persecution.
With Christ’s help, I trust that in times of trial, the Spirit of God will give us the words to speak.

I confess that Jesus calls his disciples to the fearless work of discipleship.
With Christ’s help, I will follow the way of Christ, honoring those who are destitute, weeping, humbled, and famished for food and justice; patterning my life after those who do mercy, walk with integrity, and make peace; and living a life marked by the unearned and overwhelming grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

May the Peace of Christ be with you!