Category Archives: Heaven

Two years ago, (actually on May 21st) My Sweet Mama had fallen and broken her Femur. Her bird came to Shady Acres while she was in the hospital. We didn’t know it then, but Pretty Boy would become a permanent resident of Shady Acres until he died, almost a year to the day after My Sweet Mama went home to Heaven.

This was my facebook post, two years ago this morning:

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Caption, May 25, 2017: Charis reads to Grandma Yoder’s bird, Pretty Boy. Charis is very concerned about her Grandma Yoder. She made her a card this morning, and put this picture on it. She wrote:
“Der Gremoe Yotre I am retig to your Brde. Love Charis. (And if you can’t read that, there is something wrong with your reading skills.)  

(*** for those who just can’t figure that out, here is what it says.  “Dear Grandma Yoder, I am reading to your bird.  Love Charis.)

On this rainy morning, the memories are making it hard to function. There is much to do today. If all is well, Blind Linda moves to rehab this morning. There is packing and paperwork and phone calls to be made. The unknowns of this are difficult for me.  (Will she ever get better enough to come home?  Will she be carefully tended in the nursing home?  What can I do to help everyone in this situation and still take care of my home and my husband and my family?  What is God saying to me about here and now???)

There is so much for which to be thankful, and even when I selfishly wish for time to sit and think and “wash the windows of my soul” (that’s CRY, if you didn’t know!) I know that God makes a way in our wildernesses, and He cares what we feel and how we grieve and He knows what is going to trigger our grief.

My Aunt Dottie’s fall on Monday of this week has given me a thousand memories of My Sweet Mama.  Aunt Dottie and Mama were friends, peers, sisters in law and almost the same age.  (Less than four months separated them).  Often church and family gatherings found them together, as in this picture, taken at a July 4th picnic, in 2009:

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Sometimes on Sunday Mornings when I see my Aunt Dottie, it makes me so homesick for My Sweet Mama that I turn my head away and think HARD about something else.  Aunt Dottie is a brave and classy lady.  I feel deeply for her in this latest episode.  I know it is devastating and discouraging and disheartening.  She’s doing better, but still is in Christiana Hospital. Please pray for her.

Then last evening we received word that Lawanda Zehr‘s father, Loren Martin, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Lawanda is married to Daniel’s nephew, Pete Zehr, and this young couple has had a special place in our hearts for a number of reasons. This has triggered a host of emotions for me, too, and made me think of losing Daddy and how difficult it was once the reality set in.  With this being the anniversary of Mama’s fall and her homegoing (June 16th),  it feels like the loss of my parents is suddenly right in my face, and “in my way” no matter which way I turn.

And so.  What is the best thing to do on days like today?  Each person is different, I know, but for me, it’s a tried and true coping mechanism.  It’s to give thanks for any and everything that I can think of (while planning for a time when I CAN sit and think and cry) and getting on with the next thing that I need to do.

Which is to go and pack clothes for Linda’s move.  Mark them with her name, pack them carefully into the suitcase that is hers, and get a move on.  The transport will be there in another hour and a half and I have more than enough to fill up those 90 minutes.  (Plus, this computer is driving me batty by not keeping up with my fingers as I type.  This irritates me into being done for now. )

Blessings on you all today — may your day be filled with Grace and Glory.  May there be purpose in the mundane and excitement in the everyday.  May you find Gifts that give pleasure, Friends that give comfort, and a Sense of the Presence of JESUS that make everything look better.

My heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, disabilities, Family living, Grief, Heaven

Chapters in December

The skies are grey and heavy with rain on this Saturday a week before Christmas.  I’m supposed to be editing my yearly Family Christmas letter.  The envelopes are addressed, and stamped, the cards are ready to go into the envelopes, and the letter is mostly finished, but it’s been a difficult task this year.

Certain Man is home today, in the house, working on tomorrow’s sermon for our congregation at Laws Mennonite Church.  I’m sitting for the first time since I got up!  And I did sleep in this morning.  In fact, when I got up and saw that it was after eight o’clock, I rattled around the old nursery rhyme in my head, editing it as I went.

Mary Annie has grown so fine
She won’t get up to feed the swine
But lies in bed till eight or nine
Lazy Mary Annie!

This week has been another week in the journey I continue to make in life.  I think the last months I’ve felt more like I was walking in my Mama’s footsteps than I ever have before.  One of the things that is evident to me is that the Mama I remember best was far younger than I am now.  And often things come up that hit me squarely in the face that were things of the years when I considered her “old.”

One of the things that has been entirely too reminiscent of her has been this thing of getting accustomed to my partial plate.  Mama had a bit more vanity than I do, and she went the route of implants and caps for most of the teeth she lost, but as the years passed, she was forced to go with dentures.  They were a sore trial to her, and they hurt, and they didn’t fit right, and they wouldn’t chew the things she wanted them to chew.  Lots of times she had sores in her mouth from where they rubbed, and she was dependent on me or someone else to take her to her dentist in Dover to get things adjusted or repaired or replaced.  I feel so sorry sometimes when I am dealing with even a minor maladjustment to my partial plate and I think of how she must have felt and how miserable she must have been with the constant lack of satisfaction with her teeth.  I wish that I had paid better attention and tried harder to help her get that one issue resolved.  I felt like I did run her to Dover a lot, but if she felt the despair in proportion to what I feel, I’m certain that she often wished that either she could just do it herself, or that I would have understood better and done more.

And then there is that issue with her feet.  In the last months, the feet that I inherited from her have been giving me a fit!  Last week I had a few days when I felt like I couldn’t walk!  I have been seeing a specialist, and he had told me on my first visit to his office that my feet were not in any kind of good shape.

“The arthritis in your feet, particularly your left one, is very advanced,” Dr. Menendez said that day in September.  “You have some bones in there that are ‘lipping’ and there are calcium deposits and just bad arthritis.”  He sat at the end of the table, holding my foot so gently in his hands, like he was willing it to be better somehow.  I saw a look in his eye that I decided to read as “compassion” instead of “pity” but I knew that he had seen something on the x-ray that told him that I wasn’t lying when I said that my feet sometimes hurt.

“I don’t feel like I’m in any sort of a crisis right now,” I said to him.  “Rather, I’m here for sort of a base line consultation at the advice of Dr. Wilson, and because I have a feeling that in the not too near future, I may need some help.  I also wanted to know if what I am doing now is the best thing I can do for them, or if there is something more I could be doing.”

He affirmed all of the things that I had been doing, prescribed a different anti-inflammatory, and told me that if I ever felt like I needed some shots in those feet, I shouldn’t hesitate to call him.  He did think that “putting them up whenever I could” might be a good practice to pursue.

I went out of his office that day with a heart that wanted to turn away from this aging process.  Dr. Wilson has told me (more frequently than I care to remember) that I’m “a young woman trapped in an old woman’s body.”  Excepting that over the years since he started to tell me that, the “young woman” has mutated to being a bit more age appropriate for the body, I’m rather forced to admit.  I remember hearing Uncle Johnny talking at one of our family reunions some time before he died.  He said, “You know, I’ve always been able to count on this body of mine to pretty much do what I want it to do when I want it to do it.  But something has started to change, and this old body is letting me down!”  Yepper, I’d say that pretty much catches it.  This old body is letting me down.

In the months since that first visit to Dr. Menendez’s office, I’ve had a life so full of happenings that I’ve hardly had time to think about feet.  There’s been canning to finish, lima beans to freeze, a beloved sister in law living in our yard, a dishwasher that needed replacing, seven family birthdays and a trip to Ohio, parties for my grandsons, Grammy days with my granddaughter, an ordination for Eldest Son, a new foster baby in the family, Thanksgiving, a Christmas Open House for Certain Man’s office friends, Christmas preparations and shopping and then the usual things with Our Girl Audrey and Blind Linda.  Life just hasn’t stopped, and that business about putting my feet up just hasn’t been a happening thing.  And slowly I became aware that there was something just not quite right with these crazy feet of mine. And last week, when it was rainy for a few days in a row, and I could barely motor, I called Dr. Menendez’s office and asked if I could come in for shots. The thing that really put me over the top was that the foot that hurt the most was my “good” one.  That kinda’ scared me because when my “good knee” went bad on me, it had to be replaced before my “bad” one.

They put me on the schedule for Thursday, a week out, and I hobbled about and got ready for the Christmas Open House, and prayed.  And the pain diminished and I felt a whole lot better about things.  I started toying with the idea of not going.  But then I had a regularly scheduled visit with Dr. Wilson, and decided to ask his advice about whether I should have it done.  I thought maybe he would advise against it.  However, it was my first visit to him since he had read the x-rays, and he had some strong words to say about it.  “Go get the shots,” he said forcefully.  “By all means, get them.  It’s Christmas, you are going to be on your feet a lot, and it just doesn’t make sense to not get them.  I really think you should!”

And so, on Thursday afternoon, I tromped off to Dr. Menendez’s office.  I thought I had prepared myself quite muchly for this encounter.  I had taken My Sweet Mama to her specialist often for this sort of thing, and I knew that it wasn’t pleasant, but as I sat on that table waiting for the doctor to come in, I was overwhelmed by such a feeling of Déjà vu that it almost took my breath away.  My feet stuck out the end of the table, and the veins, purple and prominent made their tracks across them in almost the same pattern that I had seen on Mama’s.  And when Dr. Menendez brought his spray for numbing, and sprayed it on my foot while putting a needle into almost the exact same spot that Mama often had hers, the pain from the needle wasn’t even a scosche compared to what was crashing through my heart.  My Mama!  My Sweet Mama!  What she must have felt those many times that she went for these shots, hoping to find relief for the pain that dogged her every step.  What had she thought?  Did she really think it was going to work this time?  Did she think she would spring out of there, able to do all the things that she so longed to do?  Did she somehow know that she was fighting a losing battle with time and aging and a body that was “letting her down?”

It was another chapter in my Decembered grief.  I missed her terribly in that moment, wished for the chance to talk to her again, and ask her more about what was in her heart.  Dr. Menendez put bandaids on the the drops of blood that appeared on the tops of my feet.  He smoothed some callouses off the bottom of my feet and reassured me that I would feel better.  I chatted with him cheerfully over the pain in my heart and took myself out of the office and into my mini-van and headed home.  And then, as I motored towards home, I talked to My Sweet Mama and cried some overdue tears.  The years slipped away so quickly.

But my feet are feeling so much better.  The weeks ahead hold so much promise.  The offspringin’s and the grandchildren are coming home for Christmas and I don’t feel nearly as incapacitated as I did a week ago.  I’m looking forward to the celebrations of Joy that are ahead.  The message of Christmas is that of incredible hope.  A Savior is born!  He came to us, in our sorrow, our need, our pain.  He came to bring Light and Healing and Life.  He came to bring Peace and Joy.  All the things that are wrong with this old world will someday be put right by this Precious Christmas Gift.

And that includes bodies that let us down.  My Sweet Mama’s feet don’t hurt her anymore.  She’s dancing in her brand new feet, and they are beautiful.  What a glorious expectation!  What a thing to look forward to!

My December Heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Aging, Dealing with Grief, Family, Grief, Heaven, My Life

Chilly Mornings and Shadows of Sorrow

The promise of a beautiful day made us decide to let the fire go out in the pellet stove. I came down in the early morning darkness, and it was chilly in the farmhouse at Shady Acres.

My heart felt bleak, too.  The last few days have been a struggle to stay optimistic.  I told someone earlier this week that everybody was grumpy!  OGA has been touchy and a little schitzy.  BL has been difficult beyond my ability to understand.  And my own restless heart has been impatient and selfish.  When I felt like even BL’s pulmonologist was a bit peevish this week and I resented being sent for a chest x-ray for BL, I was brought up a little short on the fact that the problem (just might!) lie with me.

This morning, when my alarm went at its usual time, I felt the darkness in my soul.  I turned over, accosted immediately by an unaccustomed ache in my head, and a stuffy nose.  But morning’s work was waiting, so I did what needed doing, the usual morning routines; Making  beds, combing, straightening what needed straightening, washing my face, getting dressed, using moisturizer, washing my spectacles.  Certain Man was already downstairs, having had difficulty with heartburn early in the night.  I came down to find him soundly asleep in his chair.  I went to get my morning vitamins and coffee.

How very much I’m missing my Sweet Mama.  The memories of her last few weeks of life have been hounding me, and the sadness sometimes feels overwhelming.  I know she’s okay now.  I know that she would say that the difficulty of those hard, hard days are but a part of a long forgotten past, and that she blesses the tempest, lauds the storm that tossed her safely on the Heavenly Shore.  I know she’s okay! 

But sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am.  Not all the time.  Not when I have something I want to ask her.  There are just life questions that only a Mama can answer.  Not when I have something I want to tell her. I wish I could see her eyes light up with that familiar gleam, and hear her opinions and reactions and verdicts on human nature.  Not when I just wish for the physical essence that was my Mama for all of my life.  The sound of her voice, the taste of her cooking, the smell of her cologne, the visuals that defined her — her pretty dresses, her neat hair, her beautiful face, her gentle touch.  My Mama.  Everything so gone.  So unreachable.  The aching void is made more acute by the color and light and authenticity of my memories, and by these long nine months.  (“Lord Jesus, she’s never been gone this long!”)

I bring myself into the comfort of the blue recliner that I purchased with money that I was given from Mama’s account, and shiver in the predawn quiet.  Folded on the back of the chair is the trusty afghan that Middle Daughter found, barely started, among her grandma’s things.  Deborah brought it home, worked on it furiously and finished it before Christmas.  When I opened my presents in our family Christmas gathering, there was this lovely blue and white afghan in a familiar stitch, lying in the tissue paper.  And when I heard the story behind it, I knew it would do more than warm me on chilly days.  On this morning, when it is easy to feel bereft, I reach for my afghan and stretch it over my toes and snuggle my arms under its  welcome protection.  It’s time to think.  It’s time to allow myself some grieving time.  It’s time to allow myself to be comforted.

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Allow myself to be comforted?  Sometimes I don’t even want to be comforted.  Sometimes I just want to feel the ragged, broken shards of grief, and I just want to feel the reality of this loss.  Sometimes I don’t want to listen to reason (she was so miserable so much of the time in the last year, she was getting older, we all have to go sometime, it must have been “her time”).  And sometimes I don’t want to listen to hope! (She is healthy.  She is happy.  She is more alive than she has ever been.  She had the promise of Heaven.  She was going HOME to be with people she loved as well her Savior.  She believed.  She had fought a good fight, she had finished the course, she had kept the faith.)

But in the softness of the afghan, in the reiterating of my sorrow, in the tears and in the memories, I find myself (strangely) comforted once again.  I think of the colors she loved, the spring time yearning she always had to dig in her flower beds and make something pretty.  I think about the fact that she fostered relationship with me and my siblings in such a way that we truly knew her, and in these days since her passing, I have things that bring up specific, wonderful memories that remind me that I was so blessed to grow up with the sort of Mama that she was.  Not perfect, but never wavering from her commitment to raise us to love Jesus and to make sure of Heaven, and to love each other and to do all we can to see to it that the next generation knows the way HOME.

Comforted?  Yes, I’ve been comforted.  Easter is just around the corner when we celebrate the victory of JESUS over death and the grave.  When our RISEN LORD became the cornerstone of our Faith.  Where a cross and an empty tomb became a place for me to hang this heart that sometimes feels so fragmented.

Is it enough?

Indeed, it is!

And this old heart gives broken, grateful praise

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Family, Heaven, Holidays, Praise, Resurrection, Uncategorized

The Train Goes Round and Round the Track, and Mama’s Canary Sings.

Whenever there is noise that covers the immediate area, Mama’s bird, Pretty Boy, turns on the trills and chops until it pulls my heart towards the memories of another room, sunny and comforting, with a familiar form in the recliner.  Mama is listening to that same canary, and there is a smile around her thin lips.

“I love to hear him sing,” she would say.  “He doesn’t sing so much, unless there’s some kind of noise, like water running or certain music.”

This week I needed to go out to Country Rest Home.  I parked in the front lot, facing the window where Sweet Mama spent her last days, took her last breaths, and from where her spirit took flight to Heaven.  I tried not to look at her house, tried not to think, but I knew, I knew that I was going to go over to the house that was first my parents’ home,  and where Sweet Mama lived for almost ten years alone.

I finished my errand at Country Rest, and sat in my car for a bit.  And then, when I was pretty sure that no one would follow me and that I would be alone in my journey, I parked my van in front of the familiar front porch and looked at the curtains and blinds in the windows and bushes and (now wintering) plants that look just about the same as they always have.  Except that there was no light inside.  Mama almost always had light.

I stopped at the mailbox and retrieved some mail, and then went in through the front door as I always did.  It smelled just like my Mama’s house.  Her smell was there.  I felt my heart quicken just a bit with the recognition of the sweet, identifiable scent of Alene Yoder’s house. I was home!

I came around the corner, into the living room and it was then that the import of her absence hit me full.  The house was empty.  From where I stood at the opening into the living room, there was a broad expanse, with almost nothing to break up the space.  All the way at the other end, a lone folding chair sat at one table space, and a hickory rocker was pulled up to another.  A small, rickety bookcase, that had served as her bedside table for as long as I can remember, was against a far wall, and two recliners were snuggled together inside the short wall to my right like Daddy and Mama were using them when they shared their nightly devotions together.  The silence was a roaring noise in my ears.  It felt like I should be able to call, “Hey, Mama!  I’m finally here!” the way I must have done a thousand times over the last ten years, and hear her respond from the next room, “I’m here, come on in!”

I began the trek across the big living room, into the dining room, my footsteps muted on the carpet in the deserted house.  And then I heard the sound of weeping.  A whimpering noise was coming from somewhere in my throat, spilling into the empty house, running rivers down my face and dripping off my wobbly chin.  The sound in my ears made me only cry harder, and I stood helpless against the onslaught of grief, suddenly fresh and raw and anything but reasonable and restrained.  I plodded into the deserted study, hovered at the door of her bedroom where she took her last, catastrophic tumble.  The floors were swept clean, and there was no vestige of my Mama there.  “Oh, Mama, Mama!  You are so gone!  I miss you so much.  I miss you so much!”  I stood where her recliner always sat and wrapped my arms around the empty space and brought them tight against myself as if I could somehow hug the place where she always was, but I came up with nothing.

It was probably in that moment that some things began to sink into my fur brain.  I realized that I was never again going to feel my Sweet Mama’s presence in that empty house.  I would have memories, and as long as the smell was there, and the shell of the house was largely unchanged, I would remember her, and think of her, and feel the familiarity of this place that held so many good times, but I wouldn’t be able to feel like she was there somewhere, lurking just around the corner.  And that was a big enough thought that I decided to not stay any longer.

I picked up the rickety little bookcase and thought I would take it home and see if Certain Man could sturdy it up and maybe it could be useful somewhere in the house.  And I got into my van and headed for Milford.  Home was waiting, and the afternoon was gray and chilly.  I came around the corner at 36 and 16 and considered stopping at Mama’s grave.  When all was quiet at Greenwood Mennonite Church and there were no cars in the parking lot, I pulled in and parked beside the brick steps going into the country cemetery, and walked over to the granite marker where we laid her body to rest.

I was crying again, and I traced the letters on the stone.  “Why???” I asked aloud.  “Why???”

And that was when I felt like I was held gently by my Heavenly Father.  “Are you asking why she went to where she is happy, healthy, and free?  Do you think she is worse off now than she was when she was with you here?”  I looked at the grass, almost totally grown back over the grave, and thought about Daddy’s body, now there for ten years, and thought about why the grief was so unmanageable on this January day. I thought about her there, in Heaven with Jesus and Daddy, with her parents and many, many friends.  I thought about what it was like up there, and wondered again just how it would be.

“There’s a city of light mid the stars we are told,
Where they know not a sorrow or care.
And the gates are of pearl and the streets are of gold
And the building exceedingly fair.”

The song rose unbidden in my heart and the next thing I knew, I was singing it in a shaky voice to the falling light.  The cemetery was quiet, and the notes were anything but beautiful, but I grew stronger as I plowed on.

“Let us pray for each other, not faint by the way,
In this sad world of sorrow and woe.
For that home is so bright
And is almost in sight,
And I trust in my heart, you’ll go there.

Heaven.  Our someday Home.  Her present Home.  I cannot begin to understand what was waiting for Mama that June night when she left this all behind and stepped into GLORY and LIGHT and PEACE and PRESENCE and ETERNAL LIFE.  But this I do know.  It wasn’t empty.  It wasn’t quiet.  It wasn’t full of any memories that made her weep.  Mama was Home, and I believe it somehow smelled and looked and felt familiar, but still so far beyond her wildest expectations that it’s unfathomable to us mortals.

I turned away.  Homefolk were going to soon be worried.  It was time I headed on out to Shady Acres where my life still is, and where the people I love still gather.  My tears were over for now.  There will be more, and there will be days when the grief feels fresh and raw and unmanageable.  I’ve come to know that it’s all part of the process.  I don’t like it, but I’m trying to make it my friend. There are valuable life lessons to be learned here, and I don’t want to miss them.

And so, tonight, for the process of letting go, for the part that empty houses and tears and gravestones fill in that process, and for the hope of Heaven and for Jesus, who made it all possible; for this and so much more:

My heart gives grateful praise.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Family, Grief, Heaven, Uncategorized

A birthday Gift for Mama

The grief walks stealthily these days, pouncing at strange moments, catching me flatfooted and unprepared.  The mild, misty mornings and the green grass and blooming forsythia remind me that nothing is quite right this year.  The busy, busy days of before the holidays have given way to a welcome lull.  I’ve stirred around in my empty-ish house and worked at the paperwork for the State that has been accumulating for almost three months, and I’ve made an effort to think happy thoughts and to remember good memories, but I’ve cried quiet tears onto the torn tapestry of what is my life in this time and in this place.

They say that the holidays are the worst for missing people we love, and I know it’s true, having experienced the passing of Daddy at Christmas ten years ago, and now this, the first year without Mama.  Not only is it that she has participated with almost every Christmas Eve for thirty years, but Mama was born on January 1st.  For all of my 63 January firsts, it has carried the extra special connotation of my Sweet Mama’s birthday.  This year she would have been 87.  The thought of her birthday is dogging my days.

I wanted to go to her grave last night.  I had that terrible aching need to just talk to her, and even though I know she isn’t there, it’s still the place that works best for me when I need to talk to her.  Certain Man encouraged me to just drop everything and go, but the evening looked full enough that I thought it best not to.  My head told me that I could say anything over my sink full of dishes that I wanted to tell her and if she was going to hear, she could hear it as well here as she could if I was out there.

“Oh, Mama,” I whispered when there was no one to worry about the tears sliding down my face.  “I wish I could talk to you tonight.  I don’t have anything BIG or important or terrible or wonderful.  I just need to hear your voice, to have a place to talk comfortably, to tell you the things that I know you would be interested in, to have you cheer me on, to encourage and to remind me that it won’t always be this hard.  Whenever I was grieving, your love and concern always helped to hold me steady.  And your prayers for me were something that I counted on.”  That made me stop to consider the fact that Mama would care very deeply about this grief that I’m feeling over her death.

That was enough to make me thankful that where she is, there is no sadness, no coming back to our human emotions of grief and loss.  She’s There and it is light and joy and the very presence of God, and there is no more “death, neither sorrow, nor crying.” (Revelation 21:4)

She’s there, not saddened by the things that tug at our hearts.  Things like a great-grandchild picking up a Christmas ornament selected last summer from Grandma Yoder’s things.  She carried it to the couch where she cradled it lovingly and wept for the Grandma that always loved her, always played with her, always had time for her.

Or, Peppermint Bark Candy, on sale at Hallmark, always our signal to stock up so that she would have plenty in the months ahead when she couldn’t get it. I blink back my tears and walk on by.  I bought some before Christmas at regular price, just for the sake of the memories.  I don’t need any more.

That empty chair in our family’s Christmas celebration.  No one spoke about it, but I kept feeling the void.  And then I opened a gift from Deborah, and it was a lovely blue and white afghan, done in a familiar stitch.  My heart nearly burst when I heard her say, “I found this among Grandma’s things, Mama.  It was only begun, but I finished it for you so that you could have it.”  It’s soft and beautiful and I cannot tell the difference between the stitches of my daughter, and those of my Sweet Mama.

Remembering how she always tried to be first to say “Merry Christmas!” on Christmas morning, carrying on a family tradition from her parental home.  She never wanted to be the one to say, “Thank-you, the same to you!”

Visits from the couple that comforts me best, Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys.  My Daddy’s brother, married to my Mama’s sister.  They make monumental efforts to connect, even when the ravages of time make it hard for them.  Sitting in our house, reminiscing, talking, shedding tears together helps me gather my courage to go on.  Their steadfast support and the reminders of their love has been integral to my healing.  The commonality of grief between my Mama’s sisters reminds me of the many facets of my Sweet Mama’s life, and her deep and vibrant relationships with her family.  How fiercely she loved her siblings, and there were cousins who were kindred spirits and friends for her entire life.  They are grieving, too, and my heart goes out to them when I hear their pain.

Meeting with our Church Family in our renovated church building.  It’s warm and inviting and the pews are so comfortable.  Everything is so different, but the thing that tugs is my beloved Aunt Dottie, sitting alone in almost the same place that she would sit with Sweet Mama on Sunday mornings.  How Mama would have loved this new church building, and it would have been so interesting to her to see the changes that have been made.  I can almost hear her saying, “Oh, if only Daddy could see this!”

There are just so many things at every turn that remind me of My Sweet Mama.  But I’ve wallowed around enough in these past couple of days.  I’ve decided that I’m going to use that sudden stab of grief to recount things that make me happy when I remember them about Mama.  I’m hopeful that remembering the joy will transform the paralysis that wants to invade these old bones when the sadness is tenacious.  The New Year is a good time to start.

The thing is, Mama would approve.  She always believed that you could decide to be happy.  “If you smile for a while, you’ll forget that you are blue!” she would carol to me when she thought I should cheer up.  (I wish I could find that old song.  It’s helped me a whole lot in my life!)  So here’s my birthday present to My Sweet Mama:

I’m going to smile for a while. I just might forget that I’m blue.

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Filed under Dealing with Grief, Grief, Heaven, My Life

Sorting it All Out

My Daddy’s study.  Spiral notebooks of my Daddy’s careful sermon notes, reference books, history books, family pictures, boxes and boxes of correspondence, endless files of minutes from various local church and school committees as well as incredible amounts of detailed secretary’s notes that he took from conference committees through the 70’s and 80’s and beyond.  There were school yearbooks, conference reports, even private files that held the responses of church members dealing with church problems before Daniel and I were back from Ohio.  (I refused to read them, but rather discarded with abandonment and even a sense of having no right to know any of it when I would discover such incriminating evidence.  Did he have to keep this???  Was this something that would ever be necessary for posterity???)

When we left for Claytor Lake State Park in Virginia one Thursday afternoon in September, I was to the point of not wanting to go.  I was bone weary and soul depleted.  There had been incredible amounts of canning, bean picking, laundry, sorting, bill paying, estate work, State reports for OGA and BL to get into the proper persons, and the ordinary household chores that needed doing.  I had been determined that I was going to get it all done before we left, and I fell far short of my goal.  My sister in law, Rose, had done a lion’s share of the physical work at Mama’s house that week, but I felt the pull of all the essence of my parent’s home and their very lives being drained away by the decisions I was making concerning their “stuff” and nothing felt “right.”  It may be possible to read every card ever written to Mark Yoder over the course of his life, (including his teen years) but is that the proper use of time?  Do I take a year of my life to organize all the papers, all the files, all the notes, all the sermons, all the tax returns, all the medical and financial records just so they are organized?  And then what?  Who wants them?  I would like to know what is in all those pages and pages of information, but then what?  My siblings and I conferred (as well as the inlaws) and they all said the same thing:  Unless something is legally important, or specific to your particular family, Don’t Save It! (With the exception of Daddy’s sermon notes — those are in high demand among the grandsons.)

And so, I would run a perfunctory eye over files, riffle through committee notes, check the correspondence for personal letters from or to family members (and that alone was voluminous!) and then turn my head and put them in the large dumpster.  Over and over again my siblings would reassure me, “Mary Ann, we just can’t save everything!”  And they were right, of course, but it was still one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Late that Wednesday afternoon, I left My Sweet Mama’s house barely able to hold back the tears until I was in my car and out of the driveway.  Much of my time that afternoon had been spent going through cards, letters, birth announcements, engagement announcements and wedding invitations that had been sent to my grandparents, Michael and Alma Wert, from Daddy and Mama and my siblings and their families.  The years that were marked in that brown manilla envelope were full and exciting and so far gone.  I had read a letter that I had written to my grandparents while I awaited the birth of our third child, telling about five year old Christina and two year old Deborah and the excitement I felt over the new baby coming.  I held the birth announcement for that baby, and thought about Raphael, now older than I was when I wrote that letter.  I drove along the familiar road through the small town of Greenwood and tried to see through the tears.  I rounded the corner at 16 and 36 and came down the road towards Milford.  The brick church by the side of the road with the familiar cemetery was on the right and there were no cars in the parking lot.  I pulled my van up beside the steps going into the graveyard and stopped.

I had not been to Mama’s grave since the day we buried her except for the day we buried Uncle Eli.  In the days following Daddy’s death, I had stopped often, sometimes going in the dark, sometimes in the rain, usually in the winter cold, but always feeling such a need to somehow be where we had laid his mortal remains to rest.  I knew he wasn’t there, but the part of my Daddy that I could see and touch and talk to was down there — somewhere, and I felt like I could talk to him there.  And I would!  I always ended up with my heart turned toward my Heavenly Father and there was where I found comfort.  However, I always felt better after being there.  With Mama, it’s been different.  To think of her body being there — and knowing how she always wanted to be carefully dressed and combed and smelling good and attractive, and knowing how she hated being alone and cold — well, that has been a huge hurdle for me.  It’s just been easier not to go.  But on this day, I needed to be there, the place where we had laid her to rest, and I needed to tell her my heart, and to sob out the grief and heart pain and indecision and questioning that was eating away at my resolve to be strong and upbeat and cheerful. I traced her name against the hard stone, and thought about her life and the last weeks that took her away from us.  Even as I acknowledged that the Mama we knew had been starting to slip away, it was still this horrible, empty place in that house that was always so cheery and welcoming, and this horrible empty place in my heart where this woman, who gave me life so often gave me comfort or encouragement or just plain took my part — whether I was justified in “my part.”  Or not.

I finally pulled myself away.  There was so much yet to do.  The tears ran on and on down my face as I headed my mini-van out onto Shawnee Road and headed towards Shady Acres.  The sun was heading down the sky behind me and I felt keenly the weight of sorrow and grief and loss that seemed to be embodied in the discarding of the things that were important to the lives of my Precious Daddy and Sweet Mama.

The weeks have passed.   Almost six to be honest.  I haven’t been back to my Mama’s house since that day. It’s hard to go without one of my sisters with me and they have both had incredibly unpredictable weeks this last while.  And on days when it may have suited them, it didn’t suit me.  But this excuse has come to an end with the return of my brother, Nel and his good wife, Rose, for a few days.  Tomorrow, it looks like we go back to the fray.  And I will be glad to be there with good support and diversion and helping hands.

But I also dread it.  I keep thinking about that house — particularly that spot where her chair sat so that she could keep an eye on everything, and be a part of everything that went on in her big room that was so full of light.  Her bird that she loved, and that she pampered and talked to, is now here at Shady Acres in the care of Deborah.  I come down in the mornings sometimes and take off the polyester wrapping cloth of pale blues and white that Mama always used.  He looks up at me and chirps his questioning noise.

“Good morning, Pretty Bird,” I often say to him as he hops about in the cage she bought for him.  And then I often find myself saying, “Oh, Pretty Bird!  Do you miss her, too?  Do you miss her as much as I do?”  He’s just a bird, but his morning songs comfort me as I remember that last day, as she was sinking fast, how he burst into song on that long afternoon and sang and sang.  He — here at our house.  She — there in the sunny corner room at the Country Rest Home.  He doesn’t often sing in the afternoon, and Middle Daughter, noting the song, told me later that she felt certain that Grandma was about to head on HOME.

HOME.  That’s where she is.  She is safe.  She is happy.  She is with Jesus.  She is warm and comfortable and healthy.  She is where there is no night.  She is not lonely.  She has no need to cry.  She is never afraid.  She has no more pain.  She isn’t being bossed around.   She is beautiful.  She is alive.

The thing I miss most, of course, is the conversations I had with Mama.  Last week, I wrote a note to her, briefly touching on a number of subjects — things that I would develop into a longer conversation if she were here to participate.  This is what it said:

Ah, Mama.  I wish I could talk to you today!  The leaves are falling without changing much color this year, and the beans got froze out early.  I saw a robin and his mate at the outdoor bird watering station in the cold.  Doesn’t he know its time to fly south?  The hummingbirds are gone.  Aunt Gladys has two new great grandbabies, and they are both Naomi’s sons’ children, born less than forty hours apart.  The church building is coming along.  This morning, Daniel talked to the person who called 911 for us.  That was so interesting.  It seems impossible that a year ago, we were waiting for word of Frieda’s homegoing — and now you are there with her.  We couldn’t know how soon you would leave us, it’s true, but I’m so glad we didn’t.  I don’t know if I could have borne that.  Rachel finally found a job, and will be moving to Washington, D.C. next month.  She placed third in the Pennsylvania Society of Clinical Social Work’s annual awards for Clinical Excellence. Our chickens are almost ready for market and we want to go to Ohio and see Raph and Gina and the boys.  We still aren’t finished cleaning out your house.  It’s mostly done, but I think I’m allergic to something in that house.  Everytime I go in, my eyes water and my nose runs . . .

So much to tell you, Mama.  And no more time.

The thing is, as I looked over this note, I realized something.  I was wrong about something.  That business about the leaves falling without changing colors.  That’s how it looked about ten days ago.  The leaves were falling off our trees and they were brown and green and nothing else.  But something happened on the way from then to now.  I’ve had the chance over the last three days to observe a number of woodlands and ponds and lakes — and the leaves are more beautiful than I have ever seen.  it has to be the prettiest display that Delaware has had for — well, maybe forever!  And I cannot get this off my mind.  I was so wrong about the leaves.  Maybe, just maybe I am wrong about this, too.  Maybe this grief that right now looks so dark and colorless and even “terminal” is going to surprise me someday with its color and life and beauty.

Maybe.  And not just “maybe.”

I have to believe that the word is more like “Probably.”

And for that hope, my heart gives grateful praise.

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Sing Me a Song of Heaven

I came to this past weekend and our annual church retreat with a sense of restlessness and even heaviness.  I have always loved our church retreat weekends.  And I was looking forward to this time together.  But I just felt grumpy and irritable . . . and sad.

The books tell us all about the seasons of grief.  And sometimes the thing that is the most noteworthy to me is how unpredictable it is.  There are stages, and I am so aware of this.  But experience has also proven that the stages of grief get all mixed up, and they may have a predictable pattern, but more often than not, there is a stage that pops up all out of the order in which it was supposed to appear.

And this past weekend, with its full moon and its busy-ness and the whole thing of a completely different venue for our church retreat, made my emotions and my heart feel so unfamiliar and wretched.  I was happy to help with things for retreat, and made sausage gravy and tea, took snacks and diversions, lent frying pans and drink dispensers and wasn’t at all resentful of any of that, but there was this unruly, childish inclination towards irritability that colored and clouded my enjoyment of the time together.  Things really were done decently and in order, but nothing felt quite right.

“I just need an attitude adjustment,” I told OGA, on our way home on Saturday night.  She thought that she was somehow responsible for the fact that I left early and was lamenting her life and needs and supposed impositions and pretty much everything in general.  “It has nothing to do with you, Audrey-girl.  I just wanted to come home.  I’m tired and sad and irritable and nobody can do anything to please me.”

“Oh,” she said in the darkness beside me.  And lapsed into silence.

“I miss my Mama,” I said then.  And started to cry.  I thought about how My Sweet Mama never liked going to picnics and church retreat and anything that was less than convenient when it came to eating and socializing.  She tried to overcome that, but it was rare for her to spend much time at church retreat on a good weekend, much less when she wasn’t feeling well.  But I could call her and tell her all about everything.  What we ate, who did what, what the activities were, who was there, who helped with the cooking, how the serving went, whether there were many leftovers, who did the work, who cleaned up, and always, all about the children and little ones and what they did for fun and mischief and amusement.  But on this weekend, there was no outlet for my observations, no one to comfort me in my sadness, no one to validate my feelings, (whether legitimate or not).  Mama was in Heaven.

Heaven.  I’ve thought more about that place in these last three months than probably ever before.  I thought about it a lot after Daddy died, and felt a sense of wonderment and curiosity about this uncharted territory.  But Daddy always pretty much could take care of himself, and I had no doubts that he took Heaven in stride and went about with his insatiable curiosity, discovering all sorts of things, filling in the spaces of all his questions, and meeting new people.  Yes, I didn’t think too much about how Daddy was doing in Heaven. But I did wonder about the place that we call “Heaven.”

“We say we know where Dad is,” said my brother, Clint, one day.  “We say he is in Heaven, and I believe he is.  But where is Heaven?  We can’t really say where Heaven is.  So in some respect, since we don’t know where Heaven is, we don’t really know where Dad is.”   That was an interesting observation to me, and I chalked it up to another one of the mysteries of the life beyond the here and now.  It wasn’t troubling nor did it cause disbelief.  It just was.

But since Mama died, I keep coming back to this thing of Heaven, and wondering what it is like.  Wondering, more specifically, what it is like for Mama.  I know she is healthy and whole and beautiful and happy.  I know she is with the LORD and Daddy.  I don’t think she misses us, and I know she doesn’t want to come back.  But does she ever think of us?  Does she talk about us to the ones already there?  Do we even figure into the equation of LIFE in that place.  And why does that even concern me?  Why does my heart lurch at the thought of her being so alive and happy and present with the LORD that life here is forgotten, swallowed up in victory?  Am I this selfish? Or am I wondering about how the things I give my life to will matter when I leave it all behind?  Or is this just yet another stage of the grief that dogs my days?

I came down to the kitchen on Sunday morning.  The weariness that pulled me back on my heels was that of a heavy heart and not enough sleep, coupled with the morning things pressing in.  Checking in on my ladies, I realized that Audrey had a potty accident in the night.  She had stripped herself of her soiled nightie and piled it and her protective bed pad into an odiferous mound on the floor of her bedroom.  She had soiled the sheet under the pad (how did she do that?) and had opted to put on a clean nightie and to wrap herself up in a blanket and finish the night on her chair rather than get back into bed.  She must have moved stealthily in the night because I hadn’t heard her on the monitor.  She was full of apologies and very embarrassed and sad.  My heart ached for my Audrey Girl.  Life was hard enough to cope with at this particular juncture of the Moon and Earth and she already was struggling mightily with feeling like she was a burden.  I looked at the disarray in the bedroom, and struggled with the whole thing of readjusting morning plans to allow for the catastrophe at hand, getting to church retreat in time for breakfast, and the contradiction of just wanting to sit down and do nothing.

Somewhere in the middle of the whole mess, the thoughts about Heaven came crowding in. I had this sudden urge to know what Heaven is like.  I was pretty sure that it held very little of the present dilemma, but there was this deep, deep yearning for something explicitly definitive and descriptive.  I wanted to find Certain Man and crawl in close to his heart and whisper, “Tell me what you think Heaven is like.  What will we do?  How will we be?”  But he came in late from morning chores with almost no time to spare to get to retreat on time, and the words wouldn’t come.  I finished the tea for the noon meal, and he hurriedly loaded it and prepared to leave.  When he hugged me, his eyes clouded over and he asked, “Are you okay?”

It was the perfect chance, but the words stuck in my throat.  I finally said, “I’m just so grumpy and sad.  I’m really missing my Mama.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Mama didn’t even like retreat.  Why does this retreat make me miss her so much?”

He was understanding, and he didn’t dismiss my feelings, but we both knew he needed to get ice down to retreat for breakfast, and he was running late.  He sympathetically said, “Well, Hon, that’s just the way things are sometimes.”   And he was off to breakfast with the rest of our church family.

I decided to just get to the lodge in time for the morning service and the noon meal, and I methodically organized the morning, changed the bed, put the linens in to soak, gave Linda her shower and dressed her, checked and counted the day’s meds and fed breakfast.  Automatic things while my heart was turning over and over again the restless longing for another place beyond this terrestrial plane.

And then, curling around the edges of my brain swelled  an old, old song that My Sweet Mama sang when I was a little girl.  It embodied the longing, gave words to the ache, and gave substance to Hope.  I began to sing the song as I remembered her singing it.

Sing me a song of Heaven, Beautiful homeland of peace.
Glorious place of beauty, there all my trials shall cease.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.

The music comforted me, even more than the words.  I could hear My Sweet Mama’s voice singing from somewhere in my memory, and I thought some more about Heaven.  One thing I so often get caught up on is that we’ve said so many things about Heaven that we don’t really have scripture to back up.  What we do have from scripture leaves lots of room for the imagination, to be sure, but the Bible says that we cannot imagine what God has in store for us.  Over these last months, I’ve clung to what the Bible says about Heaven and I’ve come to realize that it isn’t so much what is there that I long for as much as I long for what isn’t.  No more parting.  No more pain.  No more death.  No more sin, sadness and the brokenness that sin brings.  No more war.  No more bad attitudes.  No more restless selfishness. No more grief.

But there is one thing that it says will be there: Singing.  Praise.  Mama is singing.  How I longed to hear that voice again! It had been a long time since she did any singing here on earth, and I could imagine that it is one of the things about Heaven that she enjoys. And so it was, on this Sunday morning in late September, when it felt like I had to hear something from Over There, that My Sweet Mama sang to me a Song of Heaven.  She started to sing it decades ago, but it only really got to my heart after she was There.  And just when I needed it most.

Yes, Mama. I hear you.  Sing it!  And if you should be listening, I’m singing it, too.

Sing me a song of Heaven, when life shall come to a close.
There in the arms of Jesus, my spirit shall find repose.
Sing me a song of Heaven.  Beautiful Eden Land.
Dear ones are waiting for me, there on that Golden Strand.
Land where no tears are flowing, Land where no sorrows come.
Sing me a song of that beautiful land, my home, sweet home.
-Haldor Lillanas

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