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The man, the legendary deceased, healed in spirit if not in body, and the tearfully thankful, grieving widow

I have put together the obituary and the bio for my husband’s memorial service. At ten days, I have nothing else to say, no angst, no heart-rending pain, no fear, not overwhelming sorrow. After he died, I felt relieved, and as if things had gone rather well, considering. Considering the different experiences of the friend who cared for a husband with a growing brain tumor, seizures, and psychoses, and my mother-in-law, who watched her strong, big-as-life husband waste away, experience chronic nausea, the insertion of a throat breather, stomach tube filled with soupy cocktails for meals, over a span of four years.

A low dose of opioids, increased a bit in the last day, had made my husband’s discomfort bearable. He was sweet and tender still, and eating, though not much. There had been no nausea for months, and regular fluid draining procedures at the hospital had eased pressure in his abdomen. The friends who had been praying for 100% healing were asking for things more along the line of soul healing, peace, joy, and rest. When nights got more restless due to needing to help my husband with essential functions he couldn’t manage any more, the move to Hospice House had promised me some respite. I brought my overnight bag and sent for a pillow and blanket from home. His mother and step-father (who was also my husband’s second cousin and part of the family by blood) came to join me there for a visit. Then, hours after arriving, my husband started slipping away while his parents and I were out in the garden and the caregivers were adjusting his bedding and tucking him under a lovely homemade quilt. We came back in the room and the young woman that was left was holding his hand and quietly said, “He’s very close,”  and we gathered around him just in time to see him take his last breaths. Then he was gone, mouth and eyes agape, his face a greenish yellow mask. All the natural emotions washed over us, and we wept, stroked his cold hands, looked at each other, startled. It was finished. Only an hour before I’d said, honey, if you do have to go, I want you to know that you gave us so much, and we know you love us so much, we love you so much, and we’ll be okay. They say that’s the permission a dying person sometimes waits for. Did the experience of being carried out by six men in a soft stretcher, four of them close family, as the beginning of the big transition? Was he looking toward the light off and on in the hours afterward, and is that why he kept reaching upward with one arm or another for no other apparent reason?

It was weird to be texting on my smart phone while my husband was going, but I wanted to get through to my kids, thinking there might be time for them to be there, if they wanted. Three of them came shortly after he was gone, the other being indisposed, but assuring me she had said her goodbyes. My oldest daughter and youngest son came first, took one look, felt their throat muscles tighten, and went out to the garden with overflowing eyes, where we soon joined them. I can’t remember it all, except that my fifteen-year old son seemed so grown up, both weeping and reaching out to others with hugs. After a while they said they wanted to go, and a little after my oldest son arrived, they left to find comfort at home in the August afternoon light. Sometime in there, I called a funeral director. We drifted away from the corpse, got some cookies and coffee from the family room, sat on the benches, and later were glad to see that a hospice worker had found a way to relax and close the jaw and eyelids of the body.

We were told to take as much time as we needed, and that they offered a washing ceremony, where we’d wash with warm lavender water to warm him up a little. His mother and I participated, and found it beautiful and meaningful. They there was the option of a leaving ceremony, so when the five of us were ready, we lined up across from the staff by the entrance and he was wheeled there, where three bells were rung–one representing his birth, one his life, and the last, his death. It was perfect, and afterward we agrees that it was a blessing to have experienced the death with the support and experience of hospice workers, rather than at home. Better for the kids, especially.

It’s been ten days. Many friends, family, and co-workers have texted or emailed, a few have called and visited, and I find myself wanting to put them at ease, reassure them we are okay, and I’m using the same lines over and over. How he hadn’t been ready to go the day before because he liked his family so much, and then seemed to hear my words the last time as permission to go. How he had been a privilege to care for, and no trouble at all, how smoothly his illness had progressed compared to what we expected, how we had been carried along by grace through the help and love of friends and family, how my husband was flooded over and over with joy, thankfulness, and love for his family and friends, how the children were handling it well, at peace and secure in the knowledge that they were loved by their dad and that they would be okay. How fortunate it was that his siblings and I as well as a close friend and his parents hadn’t been working and could spend lots of time with him.

I didn’t talk about heaven, or Jesus, or God—that’s isn’t lingo I can roll off comfortably these days. But I think my story was pretty easy to digest, my way of seeing things acceptable, a balance of rational and relational. It seemed to have the desired effect.

I came home from a pizza supper one evening around nine after celebrating my daughter’s eighteenth birthday. Found I had missed a visit from a former pastor, a friend of my husband’s, PR and his wife, BB, who had left the most amazing loaf of bread, still warm, crusty and chewy, and bag of granola on the table. I texted them and they responded that were walking the neighborhood and could come back, so I invited them to do so. They get me, I thought, thinking homemade bread and granola the perfect gift, and are even willing to visit a friend after dark, which most people over forty hesitate to do.

After greeting my girls in the kitchen, PR, BB and I we sat down in the living room. The were observing me, and quiet, waiting, and I wanted to put them at ease. So I went through the same phrases, about the good death, the privilege of being a caretaker, the grace and joy, how my garden was my therapy and it was good to keep busy between feeling worn out and sad. How I had appreciated the commitment of certain members of the local congregation to keep praying for my husband.

They listened. Between the lines (to my sub-tweets, as my daughter would say). I felt it. Then PR told me that when he had received my text about my husband’s death, his phone had tagged it text #116, which was the same number as the Psalm he had read to my husband when he’d visited. He said that during the visit he had started to pray, but when he had used the language “if it is your will [God]”, my husband had corrected him, and told him not to pray that way, but to ask for healing, straight up, to believe and claim healing. PR realized then, he told me, that his role was not what he had thought, to comfort and encourage a man who knew he was dying, but to follow lead in asking for something that he wanted, specific and in faith, which is how he then prayed. Okay, he thought.

We talked a little more about how my husband had not accepted that his cancer was progressing, and his attempts to convince me of his views, my desire to avoid discouraging arguments but speak honestly. I saw how it was a good thing to believe, to hope for, and use as a basis for dreaming about the future. Some days my husband spent his mornings in bed shopping for a boat, truck, and trailer, calling to ask the sellers questions. He used his phone’s speaker, so I listened in, and wondered if I should caution him, or the sellers. He also wanted me to enroll him and the kids in a Coast Guard navigation class, but I stalled, saying we’d wait until he could sit for more than a half hour at a time. It was an all day class.

Did I believe God could reverse the cancer and heal my husband? If there is a God, then yes, of course–one can be open to the seemingly impossible. Similar things had reportedly occurred. But I didn’t expect, and this was not the end of the world to me, even considering our children. Death happens, and isn’t the worst thing, as I wrote already (here and here). But something about the visit with this former PS and BB was making me face my thoughts and feelings on that.

PR asked if he could be of any assistance in the service, which we had decided to hold in a local church building. I told him of all the pastors I knew, he was the one I’d be most likely to ask. I knew the governing body of the congregation there had caused PR, as well as my husband, pain in the past. They had fired PR and two or more other pastors they felt they could not control, and discouraged my husband from any real preaching and teaching role, though he has always wanted to preach and is qualified (his sermon was “too intellectual,” they said). They had turned us down for official church membership because we didn’t want to redo our baptisms; alas, we’d been infants at the time they had been performed and had not consented. The reasons I decided to have the service there were, one, some old friends from the the healing prayer team there which my husband had helped start years ago had been praying ups a storm for months, and Mark had gone on Sundays when he could for prayer. Two, it was very close to our house. And three, we’d lost touch with our last congregation and apparently hadn’t been missed. During the first months of my husband’s illness, we’d join in the worship time at this local place, sometimes listen to the sermon (sometimes not), Mark would go to the prayer room, and I’d walk home along the creek trail. At first he went by himself. Although there were two nice new pastors, both of whom reached out and one of whom visited several times, it was the same old theology, the kind that leads to the reading of a Jesus quote, and twisting it to fit., without even realizing it, the bias was so ingrained. Our excuse to step out  was that Mark couldn’t sit that long. They prayer time was the Mark’s thing, and he didn’t care where that was.

I am a widow now. I spread a different quilt on my bed, one that isn’t really wide enough to cover two but that my mom gave me and I love for its bright and warm colors. I packed away the pills, set the walker, oxygen machine, and wheelchair in the front entry for easy removal. I answered all the text and email condolences, put the cards and letters in a box, and worked on the plan for the service–food, timing, talks, slide show, letting everyone know. Between times, I worked in the garden, visited by hummingbirds and abuzz with honey- and bumblebees.

 

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Catholic priest washes the dishes, then kicks off the party

I went to the local country church as a kid, the one nearest to our home, though not the denomination of either of my parents. Not really a denomination at all, only an amalgamation of other failing ones, leftover liberals from when the conservatives took a stand on biblical infallibility and split, or leftover conservatives from when the liberals took a stand in on women’s rights and split–a kind of catch-all: the United Church of Canada. My parents wanted to join whatever was local, as long as it wasn’t too weird or conservative, and the United Church was only a few kilometers away, less if you tool the train tracks. They believed one should connect with the community, like it or not, and expect some hospitality at least.

It was pretty close by road, and even closer by train tracks. The tracks route was quieter, cleaner, and prettier—one could admire undulating fields, streams, and forest thickets full of birds as the level track cut through or bridged over, inhaling the heady mixture of fir tree, blossoms, and tar. You could walk on the rails or keep an awkward short stepped pace on the massive wood ties, interspersed by a leaping gait that took two, or even three ties at a time. Timothy grass swishing, grasshoppers and crickets singing, the thickets alongside full of birds, crows announcing the loner on the tracks with unknown intent. Once I saw a mother skunk tailing three or four kits, making me extra attentive at that spot from then on.

For the church youth there was Tyro (meaning novice or recruit) for the boys, and for us, CGIT–Canadian Girls In Training. The adult women did the kitchen work and had the real control, and the men moved the chairs and tables–but not the piano, by God–that was donated by so-and-so and to move it was an act of social affront as well as likely to make it lose its tuning. The older men drank, danced, and played cards, but not at church events. No, drinking and dancing were not the Protestant Way, however amalgamated and liberalized.

Then I got invited to my Catholic friend’s church in town. I’d have to go to Mass, she said (she showed me what to say and do as I received the wafer–I was nervous to get it right). Then we could go to the youth dance. The idea that a church would hot such a thing was golden–I was crazy about dances, shy as I was/. I loved music, wantes to move to it, and let it carry me to…BOYS. Tough I would not see my greatest crushes there, there would be boys. I had a great time, developed a fifteen-minute crush, and concluded that although Catholics had some weird habits in church, they knew how to party.

This was confirmed when I found out in college at a Catholic wedding that not only did they use real wine for the Eucharist, they brought it out at parties, too. But that was nothing to my first experience at a Sabbath meal in Israel.

We were living as a family in student housing, and a rabbi would periodically set up tables in tents in the quad and hold a celebratory mean, complete with plenty of sweet wine, he being a heavy partaker. We left early with our children when it became a little too raucous, though I’m sure the dancing would have been a lot of fun for college students, and led to a deepening of community ties and maybe late night conversations about what God required of them, anyway.

So I was pleased that my husband and I were invited to our current Catholic friends’ fiftieth birthday party, with mass beforehand. Sure, I had Protestant, even evangelical, friends who enjoyed a wine or a beer on occasion, but they never could bring themselves to incorporate this into their services, or even potlucks, except for a little red wine in the sauce and real vanilla in some of the cookies. A shame, living this double life. So, not even because I enjoy a drink–I generally don’t / makes me sleepy and I prefer coffee. But I like seeing people willing, as the Bible teaches, to use wine and strong drink to make the heart merry, to comfort or relax the stressed, and especially, render us more willing to dance.

The priest, who had given the sermon in the church across the road from the hall just before the party, gave the blessing, and then went to wash the dishes. There was a dance instructor, and we danced, though this was the beginning of my mate’s yet undiagnosed illness, and he was not up to many sets. I had a lovely time, met some new folks, and went home  tired and cheerful instead of frustrated and disappointed, which has been a frequent result to my regular daytime church visits over the years. I say to the pastors, priests, and rabbis out there, if you can’t give an intellectually and spiritually challenging sermon and help people connect deeply over coffee, prayer, or discussion, then throw a foot-stompin’ hoe-down, with biblical refreshments served.

 

 

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CONTENTS EXAMINED AT BELLINGHAM WA 98226

CONTENTS EXAMINED AT BELLINGHAM WA 98226

It’s been a long time since I saw my mail had been checked. The first time was in Togo in 1987 during a coup, the second was in Israel during the 2008 war in Gaza. Now I’m in my home town, and it happens. It’s an invitation card from my church to participate in the now international movement called Advent Conspiracy. The word “conspiracy” could be tagged as a possible security threat, to be sure. But that was on the inside of the card. Outside, just name of church, our name and address. Maybe a scanner read what was taped inside: “Advent Conspiracy: Worship fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love all.” A Threat? Unpatriotic? Countercultural, yes.

Worship fully. God, not country, God, not security, God, not economy, God, not culture. God, not self. God, not doctrine. God, not tradition.

Spend less. Definitely a threat to the American economy, as seen by the measurers of “economic growth.” Economic growth depends on continuous and increasing consumption. Which depends on production, but not production as in nature, as one stage in a cycle using recycled materials. We all learned about that in elementary school.  It goes like this:  production of energetic organic material by plants using free and essentially unlimited sun’s energy along with surface materials and atmospheric gases -> consumption of plant material by animals and the like, to obtain essential energy and nutrients for life processes -> decomposition of bodies and waste with the aid of organisms, releasing solid and gaseous materials and waste heat  -> production by plants using sun’s energy and these recycled materials…

Our economic system: Specialized extractors use refined fossil energy sources to obtain finite fossil energy stores -> Energy stores converted to refined energy sources and other materials, releasing waste heat and waste materials -> Refined energy sources transported to consumer-producers, using refined energy sources as fuel -> Specialized consumer-producers (manufacturers) use materials obtained through the use of specialized materials extractors (using refined energy sources) to assemble consumable products, using refined energy sources -> Products transported to markets, using refined energy sources -> Consumers “use” products, often  without obtaining energy or essential nutrients -> Used products discarded, or reused then discarded -> Wastes transported, sorted and stored, dumped or recycled, using refined energy sources -> ?

Give more: If people just give, how can other people make a living by selling goods and services? And how can recipients of gifts be motivated to work so as to be able to consume market goods? What about the decreased tax revenue due to charitable giving (possibly balanced by less need for government social programs)? If the food is not locked up and sold in installments, what will happen to the economy then?

Love all: Even people that don’t keep buying things to look good and keep up their homes to the standards set by fashion? People content with their simplicity?

We call it Advent Conspiracy for a reason. Con=against, spire=breath or wind. Conspiracy goes against the prevailing wind. Conspiracies are counter-cultural, in opposition to powerful forces which may be from within as well as without, and carried out by people working together against the wind. Worship fully. Spend less. Give more. Love more.

 

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