Tag Archives: Alene Yoder

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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Asparagus Thoughts on a Red Kitchen Kind of Day

It feels like it’s been raining a LOT in Delaware.  I’ve always loved rainy days, and (usually) I’m the one who is delighted when I look out and there are clouds and it’s cool enough to justify running the pellet stove one more day.

The asparagus has started to grow prolifically   I look at the shoots, growing so tall in the wet and spring and wonder, briefly, if there is asparagus in Heaven.  Nope, I’m pretty sure there isn’t.  Especially since you can’t have a crowd of more than two or three without great controversy concerning this vegetable.

I’ve loved asparagus for years, relishing the first picking, often picking it before it was really quite ready, and always taking one of the first pickings to My Sweet Mama.  She often “had a hankerin’ for a mess of asparagus” before there was enough in our sparse patch to take to her.  But the patch has grown over these last few years and we have plenty this year.  I’ve already given away a big bag to a neighbor, and plan to give some more.  There is a lot out there and a whole lot more coming.

I don’t quite understand what is wrong this year with my taste buds. I picked the first batch, cooked it up and scarcely tasted it.  It felt like it stuck in my throat, then lay in my stomach, heavy,  like a bite of bad food.  I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything wrong with it, and was gratified when Daniel and the rest of my household ate it up.  The next picking, The Offspringin’s grilled to go with an early spring cookout.  There wasn’t an abundance, and grilled asparagus has never tempted me, so I wasn’t a bit jealous when they ate that.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve picked it, washed it, snapped it, cooked it, and just haven’t wanted to eat it.

I’ve wondered about the phenomenon over the last several weeks, and felt this gnawing sadness at the back of my conscious thought.  The coming Mothers’ Day celebration has added to the knot in my throat and the catch in my throat.  And then a picture, found inadvertently this week, brought me face to face with the fact that the Mama I’ve had for every single Mother’s day for 62 years is gone.  And I cannot even walk into the place that she called home and find any resemblance of Alene Yoder there.  I knew that in my head, but somehow, stamped in bright read and changed windows and different flooring, was the proof that things have changed forever and my Mama is gone.

The kitchen when she cooked asparagus and a thousand other things with the touch that she learned from her Mama, has been decimated and remodeled to someone else’s taste.  And someone else, who has their own memories and opinions and ways of doing things, will soon be rattling around in my Mama’s house, making it their home.  And part of me hates it so much I feel like throwing up.

Mom's kitchen

I know that things have to change.  I know that it is probably easier for the house to be completely different if there is going to be different people in it.  What am I to expect?  That someone who isn’t my Sweet Mama would move into her house and leave it exactly the way she did, and do everything the way she did?  How would a clone of my mother really work out in my life and in my emotions?  Would it really be helpful?  I promise you!  NO!!!

And so, I give into the changes that have been made, knowing that it isn’t really up to me anyhow.  For me, there is no right, no real choice in this matter, except that I can choose to be happy, to be realistic, to embrace what is mine to remember and to love, to acknowledge that what is most tangible isn’t what is the most real.  And to remember happy times of laughter and love and good, good memories that cannot be changed by a sledge hammer and a paint brush.

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Mothers’ Day, 2015

And so, Mama, once again, I am so thankful for the Mama I had.  I knew that I was going to miss you, and I knew that it was going to be hard.  I’m often surprised at the things that bring a fresh stab of grief and make me pensive and quiet.  Today I remember a year ago when we had no way of knowing that a short 12 days later, a fall in your bedroom would set the course that would take you away from your sunny kitchen and from us.  

I knew I was going to miss you so much, Mama.  I just didn’t expect that missing you so much would cause asparagus to taste and smell like grief.

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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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The Perpetuity of Joy

It comes to me in the quiet of the gray of February.  Sometimes I want to push it away, to savor the sadness for a while longer.  But it insists on having a say.

And it whispers in the warmth of a pellet stove’s comforting flame.  I feed yet another bag of fuel into the waiting hopper and think about how happy it makes me to have this source of heat in a farmhouse that is drafty around the edges.

It talks to me in the voices of friends and family, and I hear the love and sense the care.  I can almost touch the intangible when I see their help, freely given.  A clean house, an encouraging note, an errand run, an understanding word, a listening ear, pellets brought into the garage before I had to ask, trash taken to the road . . . The list is endless.

I smell it in the warming scent of chicken cooking on my kitchen range.  The celery and onion combine with the smell of chicken and it makes me laugh to think that I got to the store at the right time to get two chickens for $.75 a pound just in time to make a big pot of soup on this gray day.  When I go to the freezer, there is corn just waiting to be put into the big pot of broth.  And I remember hot summer days and so much corn I wondered what in the world we were going to do with it all.  And then I remember the helping hands and the conversation and the incredible results with more than enough corn for everyone.  I rummage in the freezer and find the Lima Beans that  are carefully stashed from last summer as well.  I remember long hours in the bean patch, with the biting flies and  wasps and stink bugs.  The memories of having bean plants that good friends gave us, picking fat Delaware Limas that my strong husband planted and weeded and tended so carefully, along with the memories of the sweet yellow corn, make me happy down to my toes.  The green limas look vibrant, and I know will taste wonderful.  I drop them into the soup along with with the corn, shred two long orange carrots and put those in for some color.  The lid of my big kettle pops a merry tune while the soup simmers.  It makes me so happy to be able to make soup, enough for us and to share.

On a busy Saturday, my neighbor stops by to get some of that soup.  I’ve not known her long, but she is kind and she offers friendship and smiles and diversion.  We visit together while I fold my laundry and it’s an interlude of shared life and the joy finds me and reminds me how good it is to have new friends and neighbors that are friendly.

The days have been the strange mixture that I’ve learned is normal for February and also for this season of my life.  The sadness wants to crop up, unexpected and unbidden, to drip onto the counter where I’ve turned to try to hide the fact that, once again, I’m crying. And I think about the losses, and  I miss my Sweet Mama, and I want to just stay there in the sadness for a while.  I want to sit on my chair and think  about, well, stuff.  But often, when I go there, there is this little bird that chirps a greeting, and often sings a chop and a trill of joy.  He’s a grey canary, and he lived with my Sweet Mama for the last years of her earthly life.  On days when I’m missing her the most, I’ll stand by his cage and ask him, “Pretty Bird, do you miss her, too?’  He’s often very quiet while I weep.

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But sometimes, he sings.  He sings a song that speaks hope and Heaven to my heart.  He sings of contentment and he sings joy.  I listen to his song and think about another bird, no longer caged, but truly home and free and alive and singing.  I know she’s singing!

And through the sorrow, I know the perpetuity of joy.  It seeks me out, it will not let me go.  I will always miss her, and this life will always hold sorrow of some kind, some how (and usually, today!).  But it gives all of life a different color to have glimpses of joy where ever I look and in whatever I see.  Sometimes it’s so fleeting I’m not sure it’s there.  But usually (usually!) I can find it if I look for it.  And so, I will look.

And for this gift of constant joy, my heart gives grateful praise.

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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

Things That Didn’t Happen

She didn’t come for lunch on Sunday.  She wasn’t in church.  I thought about the potato salad, corn, and steaks on the grill and knew that she would really enjoy that lunch.  But she wasn’t there, so I couldn’t invite her home with us.  The memories of when she was there dogged my heart all day.  She would sit in my chair while we finished making lunch and play with Charis.  Silly little games that would have Charis helpless with laughter. Often on the way home, she would confide that the games made her so tired, “But I like playing with her so much.  She really gets into it, and it makes me happy.  I probably overdid it, but it was worth it to see her enjoy herself so much.”  There were no games in the corner chair this week.  Charis rode her bike while her Daddy and Grandpa minded the grill.  She didn’t mention anything about the empty chair.  The young are so resilient, but she sometimes crawls up on my lap and says, “Grammy, do you miss Grandma Yoder?”  (Oh, Girlie!  If you only knew . . .)

Yesterday morning, I came down to the kitchen and opened a window.  The oppressive heat had given way to an unusual August coolness, and the breeze came in with the sound of the mourning doves’ quiet calls.  The hummingbird feeder was empty again, and the jays were flying in for the peanuts on the platform feeder.  It was a good time to call my Sweet Mama.  There was weather to discuss, birds to report, and the pesky jays to criticize. But it was only a passing inclination.  Then there was just the mourning dove’s familiar call and I heard the echo in my stricken heart.

The day was a hard day.  I call it “grief work,” and it is not easy.  It stills my hands, makes it hard to do the things I know I need to do.  It keeps me from even the enjoyable some days because I just cannot get past the sudden, blinding moments when who my Sweet Mama was is now so far gone.  The moments she filled by being herself.

Often on Monday evenings, she would call me.  Monday is the day when it is almost impossible to get everything done, but she was looking forward to Tuesday (when she knew I would spend the day with her) so much that she would often “break down and call” me to see what the plans were for Tuesday.  Sometimes she called just to talk about the day, but often there were things she needed from the store, or prescriptions from Rite Aid that she wanted me to pick up for her before coming.  “I need creamer again — the kind with coconut flavor,” she would say, “if you can.  I seem to be going through it terribly fast, but I’m not the only one who drinks it.  Mark comes in and gets himself a cup of coffee and others seem to like it, too.  Oh, and I need some Tasters Choice.  I’m almost out.  If you see something that looks good, get it for me. I feel hungry, but nothing sounds good to me.”

Last evening, I was finishing up the laundry, came in from picking another five gallon bucket of lima beans, and was fixing supper for Blind Linda and Our Girl Audrey.  Things were in good order in the kitchen, thanks to the help for Middle Daughter and Youngest Daughter, and I was thinking what had to be done yet before getting my ladies to bed.  Suddenly, I thought, “Oh, I haven’t talked to Mama today.  I wonder if she called while I was out picking beans?”

She had not.   I stood in my kitchen as the reality hit me again.  “What is it with this day?”  I wondered to myself as the tears dripped down.  “Why is Mama’s absence cropping up at every turn?”

Because that is the way grief is.  I realize am revisiting these rooms where the memories are filling every crack and crevice and where the changes and losses of the last year and a half of Mama’s life have diminished to almost nothing.  It’s hard to remember how it was, and it’s easy to remember the essence of my Sweet Mama and to long for her to be here, as she was for most of my memories — active, engaging, and always, always interested in what was going on in my life.

And now those things just don’t happen.  And it is the way it is.  This Tuesday (still marked as “Mama Day” on my calendar) came in on the crest of rain and wind.  Blind Linda had a fever, OGA had a dentist appointment.  Youngest Daughter’s car is in the shop.  Middle Daughter is in Dover.  It would have been a dreadfully inconvenient day to have to go to Mama’s house.  I would have had to juggle and shift and maybe even ask her if I could please come tomorrow.  She would have said that it was okay, but I would have heard in her voice that it wasn’t.  “I don’t know why, Mary Ann,” she would say, “But whenever I know it’s Tuesday and that you are coming, I have such a good feeling!  But it’s okay.  Tomorrow will be fine.  I’ll just look forward to that.”

And she would have.  But this morning, it didn’t happen.  Not that she cares from where she is.  Not that she even knows.  If she does know, I think she would say, “Mary Ann.  It’s okay.  It always was okay.  There is so much more to life there than what we think.  It’s okay.  Just put first things first, and always remember Heaven.  You cannot begin to imagine!.”

No, I cannot.  I think about the “City of Light, mid the stars–” and about Mama, being in the presence of Jesus.  I try to think about how she is enjoying the LIFE that she has there, and about what it must be like for her to be with Daddy and her parents and other people she loved so much here on earth.  I think about what it is like for her to “know as she is known.”  There’s no pretense, no misunderstanding, no competition, no jealousy,no inferiority.  And what it is like for her to have a new body; no more pain, struggle or failing health.  No aging.

And even though I cannot just “smile for a while to forget that I am blue,” I can plug into what God said would happen to my Sweet Mama in that very moment that she breathed her last breath here on earth and entered into the presence of God.  And this I choose to believe for all the days full of the reminders of the things that will never happen again.

This is the promise.

1 Corinthians 15:53-56 (NIV)

53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

And while I honestly don’t know what that will look like, I do believe that The Victory is hers.  Already.  Forever settled.  And all these things here are, if anything, but a dim memory.  This is smile worthy.

And so, my heart will bring a sacrifice of Grateful praise.

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weet Mama and Charis, just 11 days before she fell.

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Of Roses and Rainbows and Promises and Quit Claims

There has been a plethora of emotions almost every day.  And stuff keeps happening so fast I can hardly keep up!  In fact, I’m not trying to keep up.  Just kinda’ going around in my little world, doing my stuff; laundry, cooking, changing beds, taking care of ladies, talking to my husband and kids, loving on my granddaughter, missing the grandsons, and my absent male Offspringin’s and their wives.  Just living!

There is more than enough sadness to go around, to tell you the truth.  It almost seems like my Sweet Mama started some sort of maudlin march that has people joining in right and left.  Yesterday, another beloved and valuable and wonderful man, Herman Kauffman, folded his tent and went away to take possession of his mansion.  That’s all well and good (and GLORIOUS) for him, but what about the people who loved him so intensely that he suddenly left behind?  My heart aches for them and for this old world who needs more people like the four that have gone to Heaven in less than four weeks from our community.  Alene Yoder.  Richard Bender, Eli Bontrager.  And now, Herman Kauffman.

But life goes one.  Tomorrow, Certain Man and I will mark another anniversary.  42 years ago we married in the same church where some of these funerals have been held.  Tonight, I looked up from what I was doing to see Daniel come in with a gorgeous bouquet of yellow roses and baby’s breath and greenery.

“We had yellow carnations at our wedding,” he said.  (We did???) “But I couldn’t get yellow carnations, so I decided to take yellow roses.”  They were so beautiful it almost took my breath away.  And I would have much rather had the yellow roses.  We did have roses at the wedding.  I had worked for Warren Golde’s wife, Jane Ellan, and they had allowed us to come the morning of the wedding and pick roses from their beautiful rose garden for the bridal party to carry.  They were simple as all get out, and unadorned by anything except some narrow ribbon, but they were just fine.  We were still very married.  I looked at this bouquet today and the man that brought them for me and I gave thanks for the here and now and the living and breathing earthly editions of LIFE that I’ve been allowed to love.

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The Bouquet sits on the tablecloth that I bought for my Sweet Mama.  She professed to like it when she was talking to me, but when she talked to my siblings, she confessed that she was bothered by the fact that the bugs on it looked so real.  I always loved it, and when she went to Heaven, I brought the tablecloth home and put it on my table.  It makes me laugh, and it makes me pensive and it makes a wellspring of memories spring up within my heart.

And then, tonight, after a supper of fried squash and chicken casserole that didn’t turn out very well, Youngest Daughter went to pick up a few groceries.  She was barely out of the house when she called me, and like her father, implored me to “Go look!!!  There is a gorgeous, complete rainbow out here.  You’ve gotta’ see it!  But you better go quick, or you’ll miss it!”

I took myself out over the slippery side deck where the moss makes navigation treacherous, down the steps, and across the lawn to the edge of the trees.  The rain was lightly falling, but there was this ethereal light around me.  And then, I saw it!  Stretching from one end of the sky to the other.  Perfectly complete.  This summer rainbow of promise.
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I don’t profess to understand all this grief.  I know there is a time to be born and a time to die.  I know it is appointed unto man once to die.  And we all will.  But how that will be, or where Heaven is, I don’t know. And sometimes I could “lose my steady” when I ponder and wonder and imagine and think about all the things that I don’t know.

But I do know this:

A God who has always kept His promises is worthy of my trust. 

And here, with a grateful heart, once again, I offer up my quit claim.

The Promises are enough.  I choose to believe

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