Tag Archives: family

The siblings break bread

It is a Tuesday afternoon.  I stir the white sauce that is slowly thickening on my front burner.  On the back burner, a large kettle is beginning to simmer with carrots, onions, celery, potatoes and seasonings.  The shrimp is thawed in the over the sink mesh colander, waiting for its turn to be added to the chowder that I’m putting together for our evening meal.

I hear the door into the laundry room entry way open and feel a surge of anticipation.  He walks into the kitchen with that familiar tread.  My brother is here!  I put down the  scissors I am using to cut the shrimp and dry my hands.  He is not a hugger, but he doesn’t mind a hug sometimes and this is one time when I get away with it.  His smile is steady, but there is a quiet in his bearing that stabs my heart.  He has traveled many miles alone over the last thirteen months, and today was no different.  There are 600 long miles from his home in South Carolina to Shady Acres, and he has driven them repeatedly in the last year.

It isn’t long until the door opens again and in come Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys.  We had invited them to join us this evening. These two. Our Daddy’s brother and our Mama’s sister.  Their presence and persons comfort me like no one else can.  Their support and understanding and love have been inestimable, and in them are the tangible remembrances of the two who were our parents.  It feels so right to have them here.

The doors keep opening and shutting behind my beloved siblings and their spouses.  Bert and Sarah come, bringing tender and delicious homemade biscuits.  Alma comes with luscious looking pumpkin pies, lamenting the fact that Jerrel has a DFA meeting, and then Mark and Polly complete our circle, with Polly bringing a marvelous tossed salad to round our the simple meal.  There are beloved faces missing.  Nel and Rose are in Pennsylvania.  Frieda is in Heaven.  Daddy and Mama — I fight back a catch in my throat, and purposefully put it away. We will be glad for who we have in this place, at this time.  We gather around the long dining room table, ten of us at this gathering, and Uncle Jesse prays the blessing.

How many times did I hear Daddy’s voice, raised in prayer at a meal time?  It’s been a long time, but the words of my uncle’s prayer wrap themselves around me with familiarity and quiet comfort.  He thanks God for the food, for the opportunity to be together and prays for blessing on this time shared and for the ones who made the food. Around the table, the hands are joined and we listen to his quiet voice.

And then the “Amen” is said and the food is passed and the conversation weaves a pattern of memories and laughter and tears.  We share so much common ground with each other and with these two whose genetic heritage is the same as ours.  There are stories of Grandpa Dave, and the laughter is vibrant and genuine.  We ask questions and talk about our childhood.  We wonder how our daddy would have handled getting old and infirm and dependent and agreed that God was incredibly merciful to him and to us when He took him HOME.

We don’t speak much about our Sweet Mama.  The missing has settled into a deep and dark chasm for me and there are days when I feel like my heart will burst with all the things I need/want to tell her. I know she is safe.  I know she is happy.  I know that it really was God’s timing.  And I also know that it won’t always hurt this bad.  But it’s hard for me to talk about her without the tears.  At least for now.  And so we remember the good times, several “safe” things, and draw strength and comfort and courage from the time we spend in sweet, sweet fellowship.

All too soon, the night is over.  Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys have a somewhat long trek back to their home in Dover and it’s dark.  I worry about them heading off into the November cold, but they are cheerful, dispensing hugs and thank yous and beaming good will to us all.  My brothers and sisters and their spouses gather their leftover food and also depart.  Certain Man takes down the table, puts away chairs and helps to straighten the dining room while I load the dishwasher and put away leftover soup.. The neight has been exactly what I’ve needed.  When I kissed my auntie good by, I smelled the sweet smell of cologne and her cheek was so soft against mine.  It wasn’t my Mama’s signature Chantilly, but it was reminiscent of how important it always was to our Mama that she smelled good.  Oh, Mama!  How I miss you!

The years did pass so swiftly.  Sometimes it seems like Daddy and Mama have been gone forever.  This isn’t something new or unusual or peculiar to the children of Mark and Alene Yoder.  It’s just life.  We had excellent parents.  Truly the best!  Human, flawed, and with their own foibles and peculiarities and sometimes follies.  But so right for us.  So full of faith that they lived before us, and they loved us.  This night reminded us so much of our Daddy and Mama.  But for me, the one thing that shone the brightest though the presence of our precious Uncle and Auntie was the faith mixed with that unconditional love.  We were so blessed.  We are so blessed.  The gifts that we’ve been given through no effort of our own, are gifts that many, many people all over this world have not been privileged to have.

For the gifts of Heritage, warm memories, siblings that are good friends and an extended family who cares — for these good gifts, —

My heart gives humble, grateful praise.

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The Story that is the Song

He took her very heart
into his young care.
And without really planning
or knowing he was doing it
he rewrote the staff and pitch and notes
for the music stirring there.
He encouraged a beautiful Melody,
then added the Tenor.
Their life together was
a (mostly) beautiful song.

And so the years passed.

They added verses and voices
and more harmonies
all carried by the sweet, strong Melody
and the rich, full Tenor.
Somehow they made the rest
of the world sound good.

Then one April day
the Melody faltered.
There were days and days
without a song.
And the Tenor could neither sing nor soar
without the Melody.

Somewhere in our hearts
we still heard the song.
So we stood around her bed
and sang it to her.
We prayed the song would
give her hope.

YES!!!

There came a day when
the eyes recovered the sparkle.
The spirit revived the spunk.
And the song
though tremulous and weak
in her damaged throat
went bravely on in the hearts
of the two we called
Daddy and Mama.

And this new harmony was
so beautiful, so pure, so sweet.
Like nothing we had ever heard before.
Haunting in its tenderness.
Tentative in its joy.
Careful in its hope
But tenacious in that thread of Faith
that defined the rest of life.

And then there came the day
when we stood around his bed
and tried to sing the song to a heart
that was already listening
for the Music of Heaven
He may have heard us.
But the other Music was more compelling.
And he took his full, rich tenor –
And went Home.

What became of the song?
The Melody was still sweet.  Still strong.
But I often saw the faraway look
Like she was listening for something, Someone.
And when we would sing the
Songs of Heaven,
The thoughtful look intensified.
Sometimes it seemed that if
She listened hard enough,
She could hear that familiar voice.
But no.  It was long gone.

But the song — The Song!
It went on and on and on and on.
I heard it in the sounds of the voices.
Of my brothers and sisters.
Our children.
Our grandchildren.
And I heard it still in the heart of
that Sweet Strong Melody.
My Mama.

And then there came the day
when the chords were broken.
We stood again, beside her bed.
And she, with eyes of
quiet intensity,
tried once again to speak
the words of this song
that her heart was
still singing.
We heard the message.
But there was no more music,
no more earth voice
for this song she so desperately wanted to remind us of.

We held her hands,
and sang her the songs of Heaven
while she struggled between
the loved and known,
and the Celestial Unknown.

She didn’t want to go.

But in the end, the Angel’s song won.
She heard the Heavenly music.
She heard, somewhere,
that Rich and Full Tenor.
Already in that Chorus, and
it drew her into the other world.
Suddenly peaceful, suddenly quiet,
she went Home.

These last few years,
She found it hard to sing.
But every day for almost six decades,
She sang a song to my heart.
A Song of Faith;
Of Hope; of Courage; of Love.
Of Heaven.

And I have heard it
so often and so long
that the music sings itself to me.
I hear it on sunshiny days
when the paths seem clear.
I hear it when the rain comes down
and speaks life to the earth.
I hear it when the night is dark
and I cannot find my way.
I hear it in the ice and cold
of winter.

I hear it still.

The harmony is
so beautiful, so pure, so sweet.
Like something I have heard before.
Haunting in its tenderness.
Tentative in its joy.
Careful in its hope.
But tenacious in that thread of Faith
that defines the rest of life.

How I love The Song!

But it will never be the same again
without the Tenor and Soprano.

 IMG_0355
One of my favorite sympathy cards from these last weeks.
Inside, it simply says, “In Sympathy and Hope.”

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On This Rainy Night

It was such a wonderful day.  The friends who came, the people who served by setting up, cooking, serving the wonderful food, those who were still cleaning up when we finally went home, all of these kind people gave us an inestimable gift.  They extended comfort in the form of memories, hugs, encouraging words and assurances of their prayers.

Tonight, at home, with some of the things (I felt) needed to be done finally finished, I sit in the comfortable circle of my family, some of the dear faces missing, some still here for awhile.  I feel bone weariness, soul weariness, and the sub-conscious grief that tugs at my heart.  I haven’t really had time to think clearly about much.

Today we buried my Mama.  I looked at her face before closing the casket for the last time, and put my cheek against her cold one, and told her once again, “Oh, Mama.  You were such a good Mama.  I will always miss you.”  And I know I will.

And then the rest of the day was a blur.  There was lots of music, and there were so many people.  Our cousins from both sides of our big family sang songs that brought back a thousand memories and gave me hope and comfort.  My brothers, nephews, a niece, a son, a daughter and a family friend all worked together and the essence of my Sweet Mama was captured in the laughter and the tears and the words of Eternal Life. Six grandsons carried her gently to the final resting place and another grandson spoke the final familiar words while we sang songs of triumph that exalted in the face of the loss that I could not think about.  And then, we covered the grave.  My mama’s body, the shell of the woman who gave birth to me, was at rest.  I shall never see that form of my Mother again.

Tonight, I sit in this comfortable circle and a sturdy thunderstorm has moved in.  It has rumbled and crashed.  The lightening has flashed, and the rain has poured down in buckets.  I think of that fresh grave and think of the rain pouring down and wonder about the dirt that our family carefully piled in and around and over the vault until it was full and even with the ground.  I think of my Sweet Mama’s body, there under the earth and wonder if the vault is waterproof.

And then I feel that searing, desperate grief as I think of the natural decay of the body that I knew as my Mama’s.  I think of the damp trickling in, and the pretty dress and carefully combed hair and even the perfume that we spritzed on her neckline when we did her hair, and I suddenly want it all undone. I sit in my chair, alone and quiet in my sorrow while I finally have time to think about how this all is, and the tears just won’t stop.  She hated to be wet and cold.  She hated to be alone.  She hated the dark.

I need to stop.  I need to find comfort and I need to think differently.

And then, clear as an angel’s chime, I hear my Sweet Mama’s voice in my head.  It is December 23, 2005, and we have just buried our Precious Daddy.  And someone asked Mama about how she felt about leaving the grave on that cold December day.

“It really was okay,” she said, even in her deep, deep grief.  “It wasn’t Daddy that we left there.  That was just his shell.  He isn’t there.  It isn’t something that he even cares about.”  And as the months and now years have passed, she has never had the need to go to his grave.  She went very occasionally at first but has long since stopped going.  She just hasn’t had the desire or the need.

I can’t say that I am like that.  I still go to my Daddy’s grave when I am troubled or sad or just missing him so much.  I know he isn’t there, but the physical remains of the Daddy I knew and loved are there, and I am comforted some how.  Mostly I talk to Jesus, but sometimes I will cry out my anguished heart and try to think how he would answer me.  And I know that I will do that some more in these next months.

One of the things that was hard over these last few weeks was that there were times when Mama seemed more reluctant to engage her children than she was (outside the family) friends or even strangers, and I found that so hard until the night that Middle Daughter, our resident Hospice nurse stopped me on my way out the door to go to Mama’s side.  I was so sad and confused and weary that night. I had just asked my husband to please pray for me, and he had held me gently and prayed for wisdom and strength and courage.  Most of all, I hated it that I was dreading the time with my Mama.  But Deborah stopped me.  She hugged me and she said something like this:

“Mama, you need to remember that Grandma’s emotions are still on ‘this side.’  She knows that she is slipping away and she is deeply grieving the separation from her beloved children. She cannot yet see Heaven and all the Glory that is waiting for her there, so she is living still with the emotions of this world.  And engaging with you all is a reminder to her of all she’s going to part with, and it is just too hard.  Don’t take it personally, and don’t think she is cutting you out.  She is just working through this business of leaving, and there is no set way that this happens. She loves all of us intensely.  She loved living so much and with the emotions from this life, all of this is probably giving her a deep, deep sense of grief.”

That helped me so incredibly much to believe that God would work in all or our lives to stay focused and steady and working towards the time when she could go HOME. That the less I expected or asked of her, the more she could concentrate on that other world.  It could be our gift to her in this time when it felt our hearts would break.  Truly a sacrifice of praise.  And so, we did.  We kept our heads and hearts where we knew that our Heavenly Father’s care could hold us tenderly and we found Him faithful, and our Mama did not disappoint us.

And tonight, Mama’s emotions are all on the other side.  She is home free.  She is not thinking about a deserted grave in a dark cemetery or the rain or the ones she left behind.  She’s alive and free and timeless and full of incredible joy.  The journey to Heaven was but a split second from that last peaceful breath, and she is only beginning this new adventure.

And this aching heart still offers grateful praise.

‘Weep not.  Weep not.  She is not dead!  She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus!”  (James Weldon Johnson)

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She’s HOME

It was soon after lunch that I texted my sister, Alma, who was keeping watch with her daughter, Carmen, and said that I was going to come out to Mama’s room where our family has kept constant watch for the last two weeks.  Each of Mama’s children has spent time by the bed in the corner, speaking love to our Sweet Mama, spooning food into her reluctant mouth, giving drinks of ice water, adjusting the fan, and, along with the amazing staff at Country Rest home, doing all we could to keep her as comfortable as possible.  There was music, there was sunlight, there were clean sheets and fresh nighties, there were gentle hands and kind words, there were prayers and prayers and more prayers.

I left my house around 3:15 and got into the room soon after 3:30.  The noise of my mother’s labored breathing was the first thing that I heard.  There was the swish of the oxygen in the background as I leaned over her bed and spoke to her.  She couldn’t talk, her eyes were seeing things I couldn’t.  When they would catch and hold mine, the suffering there wrung my heart.  “Oh, Lord Jesus!  How long?”

Mama’s sister, Alma Jean, was there with our sister, Alma, and Carmen.  It wasn’t too long until our sister, Sarah came and our brother, Mark, Jr., and we, along with Aunt Alma Jean, stood around her bed.  She just looked so bad.  I looked at that lined face, so sunken and tired and thought about how much the Mama of better days would hate this.  She always hoped that she wouldn’t have to suffer, especially gasping for breath.  My heart ached for her in the hard, hard work that she was doing.  And on this day, it seemed that none of the usual remedies worked.  And I suddenly realized that this was probably home going time.  That this labor, so like the labor of birth, was the inevitable labor of death.  It was hard.  It was real.  It was wrenching.  But Jesus was with us and His presence and the Hope of what was to come, kept us steady, even while we often wept.

Throughout the afternoon, family came and went.  There was a time, after supper when it was Sarah, Alma and I, Nel and Rose and Mark and Polly, were alone in the room and we sang for her, songs of faith, songs of Heaven, songs of our childhood.  I listened to the full, rich harmony of our family, singing our Mama Home, and felt the comfort and the peace of the unity we’ve been so blessed to enjoy, and my heart swelled with so much emotion it felt like it would explode.  We started with the song she first taught us, “Jesus Loves Me” and worked our way through “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and many other old favorites.  Then, again, family started coming in.  She had three nurse granddaughters in the room at one time last night, and their tears told me more about the gravity of the situation than anything else.

Through it all, the labored breathing went on and on and on.  When it seemed like she just couldn’t breathe another breath, it still went on. Occasionally she would be with us, it seemed, but as the evening wore on, she was clearly leaving.  We prayed for God to just take her home, to set her free and to give her the ultimate healing.

And then, soon after ten, with granddaughter Holly on one side, and granddaughter, Carmen, on the other, and the rest of us sitting around and waiting, some in quiet conversation, some in contemplation, her breathing changed.  Instead of the ragged, labored breathing, there was this peaceful, no struggle, easy breaths.  Her face was peaceful.

“I think she’s going,” said Hospice trained nurse, Holly.

“Really?”  Said Carmen.  “You think so?”

“Yes,” breathed Holly.  “She’s is definitely going.”

We gathered around and we held her hands, touched her where we could reach her, and watched in awe as a Saint of God made her final journey.  Peaceful.  Quiet.  Eternal Rest.

How very much we will miss our Sweet Mama!  She has been where we go for comfort and understanding and reassurance and unconditional love.  But how we rejoice in her triumph!  What a joy to think of her in Heaven with Daddy and the rest of the family that has gone on before.  She loved living here.  Heaven is so much more.

I can only imagine.

And this grieving heart still swells with grateful praise.

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Living with October Grief

Three years ago today, my cousin, Merlin Yoder had a terrible farming accident and passed away two days later.  That October was a terrible time for me, and some days I didn’t know if I would ever be happy again.  In Daniel’s family, we had a suicide early in the month, then my uncle, Vernon Zehr, passed away mid month, and then a week later, Merlin had his accident.

Today is the ninth anniversary of Old Gertrude’s death, also the ninth anniversary of the death of Carolyn Swartzentruber, five year old daughter of friends,  Harvey and Judith.  I went to Old Gertrude’s grave today, as I often do when I have a class at Stockley Center, and the weather was wet, the sky so grey and the wind was whistling through the trees around that graveyard for indigents.  I thought about my sister in law, Frieda, and about the journey we all must make some day, and about how much I love living, but how hard things are sometimes and how knowing Jesus doesn’t make the parting “easy.”  I know that Jesus conquered Death, and that Death is to have lost its sting, but the crossing is still not easy and the unknowns are still so glaring. What we know about Heaven is so intriguingly wonderful.  What we don’t know about the crossing is what we hate so much.

All this pondering made me go back to try to find something that I had written the morning that we got word that Merlin had crossed over, that he was “done with troubles and trials.”  This post says a great deal about what I’m feeling now.  I know from experience that we won’t always be this sad, and that it won’t always hurt this much.  And I know that Clint and his family are not alone, and that the prayers and the love and the concern are helping to hold them steady.  But it is hard.  And time grows short.

Ah, dear friends.  Please pray for us . . .

*******************

I was sitting in my chair, in the corner beside the fire on this chilly Monday morning.  I kept trying to wrap my head around the ache in my heart.  I just could not really believe that Merlin was gone.  He was so vibrant, so healthy, so alive!  The usual things have been said, and I believe, I believe!  He IS more alive than he has ever been.  He IS in the presence of the LORD, and he would never have wanted to stay in that broken body.  I’m sure he has seen The Father, I’m sure he has seen his Dad — and mine.  But it all seems so surreal.

I was working on a letter to my kids when the morning quiet was interrupted by the phone.  It was Certain Man. His quiet strength and understanding have helped to hold me steady in this last week.  Sometimes I see him watching me with a calculating look, sometimes worried.

“I don’t know if you can see it or not, Hon,” he said, “but the sunrise is spectacular this morning.  Go look to see if you can see it.”

Almost four decades with this guy tells me to never ignore such information, and I got up and looked towards the east.  “What do you see, Sweetheart?” I ask, looking at a gray horizon, and seeing nothing of significance.

“I just came across the bridge at the swamp,” he says, “and the sun is hanging over the swamp like a big ball of fire.  You may not be able to see anything because of the trees, but it is simply gorgeous.”

I look and look, and don’t even see a glimmer of the fire.  Just gray horizon with an area that is a bit brighter where the sun will probably appear after a while.  I don’t doubt that he is seeing it — and that it is breath taking, but I just can’t see it.  Yet.

“I’m sorry, Daniel, but it isn’t up far enough yet.  It sounds wonderful, though.”  We exchange a few more bits of conversation and then I am back into the morning routine with my ladies and laundry — busy stuff to keep my hands occupied while my heart weeps.

And then, fixing a cup of coffee, looking listlessly out the side window where the summer flowers escaped frost one more night, I keep thinking about the morning and the sunrise I couldn’t see.  I keep thinking that there is something nagging at edge of my conscious thought.  I keep thinking about Merlin and how they said he often would call one of his brothers in the early morning hours to “go riding.”  He was an accomplished biker, and loved to cycle, too.  I got to thinking about what he might tell us this morning if he could call back.

“Come.  Ride with me!  You can’t see it yet, but the Morning is glorious!  The Son is like a ball of fire, and all the air is alive with His presence.  You can’t see it yet, you can’t see it yet, you can’t see it yet . . .”

And the fact that I don’t see it yet — don’t begin to understand it yet, doesn’t change the fact that I believe it is for real, and that someday, The Son will come for all who look for him, and it won’t carry the grief of this day, but rather the promise of a Glorious reunion and an eternity without the pain of separation.

“Ah, Merlin!  The ‘if only’s’ and the sadness of this day crowd out the the things my head wants to say.  We will miss you, and you will always be thought of with good memories in the hearts of so many.  May God grant healing to your family, and may this “seed sown in the mortal body” rise to everlasting life.”

(Lord Jesus, forgive my questioning heart, but WHY did it have to be him????)

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