In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Around the Memorial Service for Tom

Since this is Lent in the tradition of my Episcopal Christian faith, I'm beginning with a quote from Anne Lamott taken from her newest book, Stitches.
     "My understanding of incarnation is that we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering.  Sometimes we feel that we are barely pulling ourselves forward through a tight tunnel on badly scraped-up elbows.  But we do come out the other side, exhausted and changed." 
She speaks for me, as she often does.

While the part that hurts is still hurting, I'll begin this post with no promise to finish it today.  But then you won't know that unless you notice the posting date (which is usually when I start writing) and find it only posted later.

The hardest part was Michelle not speaking.  I knew that would be the case ahead of time, but it didn't make it easier.  My quality time with grandson Sam and his dad was on the drive to the airport and our wait there.  It was fun waiting at DIA with Sam!

Mike met us at the airport, where his duties included renting a car for Bruce, who had forgotten that his drivers license had expired and after that, waiting to get grandson Ben, then another trip to the airport through a slow rush hour, chauffeuring to the hotel and back to the house.  In that time Mike received at least a dozen text messages about what to do about this and that.  We could say that he had become the dad with Tom's passing but it had been many years--many, since anyone had checked with Tom as in charge of a family event.  Mike carried his responsibilities well, but was very sad with barely time to think about it. 

At dinner sister-in-law Mary Ellen's, who had been there for two weeks, first words were, "I'm so glad you are here."  I'm brother Bob's person in the family so it was no surprise when Mary Ellen whispered that Bob wanted to sit with me.  Mike took one end of the table and when Michelle came, she took the other.  With over twenty folks there, it was some distance to the other end, but hard not to see her when I looked in that direction.  The cousins pictured with Mike below are two of the six who grew up with family gatherings when I was "Aunt Margaret" and rotated in and out of a seat beside me to chat. 
Bruce ended the evening with a nice touch, staying behind a bit to give me a hug.  I let Ann's son know that I was thinking of going out with a friend rather than coming to the evening gathering after the Saturday service.  I explained my rationale of letting Michelle have more freedom (and Ann too though I didn't say that).  He said the gathering was for all, and we let it go.
On Saturday we were to be at the church, thirty minutes or so away in a suburb, at 9:30 so making sure we all looked presentable by Nashville church standards was the order of the morning.  It's easy for Mike to put on a dress shirt and tie, but getting the boys' to choose ties to borrow and then getting them knotted perfectly fell to Mike. 
I dreaded the 9:30 - 11:00 reception prior to the 11 am service, and Mike was careful to have us there on time.  Other than Ann's children, the relatives came later, some much later as those out-of-town relatives didn't know those who attended.  Ann's first comment as she welcomed me to the church was "I want you to be at the dinner tonight."  That took care of our idea for me to skip it and attend a play with friend, Tiffy.  Would I have rather not been there?  My feelings were mixed.
At the reception, only two long-time St. David's parishioners talked with me.  That excludes dear friend Annette, who spans a long-time friendship with me and is a Daughter of the King sister with Ann, who welcomed me right beside Ann as we came into the church.  I have to say that I didn't recognize most of the men, and there were a number of church members who had come in the many years since Tom and I took our children and attended regularly.  Our son said that one old man reminded him that he had grown up in that church--as if he needed reminding. 
As I think of when I should move back to Nashville, since that's where my family who would help out if I needed it live, I don't think of attending St. David's.  My memories of our time there are mixed, and most of the folks I sang in the choir with have either died or don't go there any more. 
I didn't have to be concerned about standing alone at the reception for long as school friends of both Mike and Michelle spent time visiting and explaining to those to whom I introduced them that they had spent a lot of their senior high school years at my home with fond memories it seemed.  Dear friend Tiffy arrived and other high school friends of Michelle's and work friends of Mike's spoke or stopped to chat and by that time the family members had arrived.  The grandsons were around too, and we looked at the video that Ann's daughter had prepared.

The Video:  I was surprised at the number of photographs that included me--some I would have excluded given the chance, but glad that my children obviously had a mother during those growing up years!  Later I would learn that since I came into the sanctuary with brother Bob some thought I was his wife!  If you knew my slow-speaking, Fox news watching, barely managing to walk his dog brother-in-law, you would realize just how humorous that is.  Mary Ellen and I love him, but couldn't imagine hanging out long term.  Her favorite threat is "If you don't start eating and taking better care of yourself, I'm going to come and live with you."    
The Service:  It was the traditional Episcopal "burial of the dead" (though there was no body to bury) liturgy with only the singing of "The Land Where We'll Never Grow Old" by step-son Jay's band brothers to deviate from that prayer book service.  The service was perfectly executed, but among ourselves, several of us would have liked the priest, who had known Tom for 26 years and under whom Tom had served in leadership capacities, to toss in a personal story.  He did not.  I am told that sometimes he does, other times not, so church members weren't surprised.  An especially tough part of the service came when the peace was exchanged and our daughter, sitting in the pew in front of Bob, his son, and me, wouldn't turn around nor let her husband turn either.  She did tell Sam that he could however.
Today our church began a "preparing for death and dying" series that will conclude with adult classes in the fall.  I attended primarily because a close friend was the financial advisor presenting ways to be certain that one's estate, whatever its size, is taken care of as one would want and touching briefly on those durable power of attorney type documents that we need for medical reasons. 

Will, like his Papa, would be the MC--but with stories not X-rated!
I hope that should there be a service when I leave this world, that someone will find something memorable--amusing or not--to share.  Maybe I should coach my grandsons, with Will as the spokesman, to put together some amusing stories about their Nana now and keep them in reserve.  And since I expect to die in Nashville, I'd better hurry up and move so I can ingratiate myself in some clergy person's mind so something other than how much I love God can be said.  Our priests here at St. John's gather stories to share about the deceased even if they don't know them well, but they may be the exception.  Since music has always been such an important part of my enjoyment, worship and peace, I would want classical music to be the prelude.  Here, I have musician friends who could be asked to play, and our organist, a friend, is a marvelous cantor.  In Nashville, I should find such talent easily, but have none of those connections at this time.  Confusing, isn't it?!  And instead of a reception here, I'd want a hike, preferably in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Now it might have to be around Sprague Lake--lovely but not a real hike--depending on the physical condition of the participants.  Maybe I should re-connect with a local hiking group so I could ensure that activity should I not make it back to Nashville! 
Now, isn't this interesting.  This blog is showing just how much a memorial service for a close family member, particularly one with whom I shared children, has made me think in more detail what I might like when I move on to another realm.  It really wouldn't be the liturgy for the burial of the dead, except as necessary if held in my church. 
Poetry was completely missing at the Nashville service.  I think of what my friend Katy, who died several years ago in Estes Park, did.  She had poems and prayers, some she had written and some by favorite writers, put together with a request for friends to read them.  And her DOK group read scripture--all of this in St. Bart's Episcopal Church.  Yes, I would want poetry.     
I would be remiss not to mention the importance of having friends at Tom's service who came for me.  While Tiffy, Kathy and John and I were chatting, a friend we all knew from our Unitarian days came to say a warm hello.  It was a nice surprise--also that she had recognized me from behind though my hair color is hardly the same as when we last saw one another.  She got her husband, who sang in the choir with Tom, to join us.  We had been "girl friends" when she chose him rather than the other UU man who was interested.  And she made a point of saying to be sure to let her know when I was ready to move back to Nashville.  Perhaps there will be other long-ago friend who will reappear if and when I move back.  Another friend treat was that I left with Kathy and John to visit our friend who was celebrating her 88th birthday that day in a near-by assisted living facility. 
I must say that I didn't have the friend time that I needed while there, but can't imagine what the trip would have been like without the support of old friends.

John and Kathy, top, and I arrived at the same restaurant where Mike and Margaret had gone for a quiet lunch after the service.
The last two family gatherings don't require a lot of space.  Brother Bob and his son left immediately after the service to drive back to Oklahoma and Mary Ellen, her daughter, and son-in-law left early Sunday morning so missed one or both of the last group gatherings.  The barbecue dinner that Michael funded with a tiny bit of help from his brother-in-law was held in the club house at Ann's development.  There I had the first really good talk I'd had with grandson Ben in a couple of years.  I was pleased that our connection is still strong.  Brunch at the Marriott Sunday morning wasn't attended by Michelle so that was a nice easy meal and conversation.  It was especially enjoyable to have a chance to hear more from our youngest nephew and his wife from NYC.  He was there representing his parents as they were home in CA grieving his grandmother's death.

Yes, there was one more, a birthday gathering for Sam, whose tenth birthday was on Monday when his family would be flying back to Colorado.  And no, I wasn't invited.  I spent that afternoon and evening with Tiffy and was delighted to have the time with her.  However, there could not have been a much more unkind thing to do than to have a family birthday party for Sam and exclude me.  Forgiveness is sometimes a very big task!
The aftermath for me is spending time with the grubbiness--love that word!--brought up from deep dregs in all of this.  The several spaces shared with my daughter acting as if I didn't exist dissolved the armour I had used to protect from the pain.  All of the time since Tom's and my divorce that I've been alone--never knowingly intended--not having that special man to share my life, provide comfort or a good laugh, I've been grieving for a while as Tom neared death.  The service and the photographs, both the ones I've plowed through and still linger on tables and floor space and the ones in the video, have brought that into stark focus.  And coming back to Boulder where my daughter lives as if I were already dead, wasn't something I wanted to do.  Other letting go that I've known should be done has surfaced as well.  And it must be time!
James Finley's mantra has become mine.  "Weaning ourselves off the things that console us to be ready for the fullness available to us" is my task.  I discovered as I let go of being a co-teacher for our new healing prayer ministers-in-training that it was still hard.  I kept wanting to put in a "when you need my help" or some other phrase that would have left my cohort thinking she should find a place for me other than as her confident and supporter. 
And spring is coming.  Wildflowers will bloom again.  I will savor the fields filled with golden banner, the masses of blue.  I will be surprised that such beauty, often tiny and perfect, can come from the cold, hard, rocky ground of our mountains.
And I end with another Ann Lamott quote:
"We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky. ... .  And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unraveling, but if it were precise, we'd pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch.  This is not helpful if on the inside our understanding is that life is more often a cuckoo clock with rusty gears." 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Flood Leftovers and Hints of Spring

When in Tennessee recently, several asked if everything was back to normal after last fall's flood.  On a day when brilliant sunshine and mild winds almost made me believe spring was here, I drove toward our Chautauqua Park for an afternoon hike.  I chose my favorite training hike, knowing that there would be muddy patches.  As I started up the second tier, I was struck by the stark "river" of boulders and rocks that stretched out beside what had been a trail through the woods without a stream down the bank except for perhaps, spring runoff.  The photo above captures those rocks and stones that now line the trail.  Below are uprooted trees that haven't yet been cleared.

The trail climbs above this carnage--through more mud and ice than expected yesterday.  I don't have photos of the worst as I had carelessly left my hiking poles in the car.  As snow turned to ice hugged rocks that lined a portion of the trail, I stepped to one side and held onto bush limbs that I thought might hold if a foot slipped out from under me and looked for a spot where one foot could find purchase before I took the next step.  I did wonder what I was doing on that trail when others were likely less slippery.  Then the trail became dry as a bone for a time, then more mud and ice.  The slow uphill hike gave me time to notice buds forming on the bushes and a wonderful crop of moss on a boulder that I would have walked by had I been making my usual ascent to determine just how out of shape I was.  And yes, I'm not in shape for early hiking, but have not as much work to get in shape as some years. 

I knew the final approach to the main trail would be muddy and slogged on through it as I looked up the "stairs" ahead.  If you look closely at the trail picture below, you'll see tufts of green grass. 

The best part of this trail's end is that it opens into an area of thick woods where one would not know that Boulder was nearby.  I took a short-cut through the woods with no one around, letting go of those concerns and problems that made me want to delay my return to Colorado--or perhaps not come back at all. 
Today is gray with a prediction of a rain-snow mix--only enough to be annoying.  On my neighborhood walk earlier in the week, I took hints of spring photos and hope our usual spring snows will not damage those early budding trees.

Though I didn't write about my experiences in Nashville, I wouldn't want to leave this post without a couple of photos of "my boys."  The baby is Rowan, the newest baby in our extended family.  Tom's step-daughter, Laura, is the mom.  The other two are my grandsons, Will (Mike's youngest) and Sam, who turned ten while on the trip.

And would you image that well-brought up Nashville boys could tie their borrowed from their Dad ties as we all dressed our best for the memorial service?! 

Mike fixing Ben's tie
From Terry Tempest Williams, yesterday's word for the day:
"The world is holy.  We are holy.  All life is holy.  Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Marriage -- Reflections

Tom in Oklahoma 2012

                                                             With Mike at the Coxes

                                                                  We loved the holidays!

Since the death of Tom Means last Wednesday morning, a raft of feelings have come and gone--floated on down the river so to speak.  Some have stayed.  It has been special to hear from friends from our years in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the best two years of our marriage (in spite of my horror at the thought of moving there instead of the expected move to St. Paul, Minnesota).  Those messages and perusal of many photographs, trying to choose a few to scan and send to Nashville (per our children's request) for possible inclusion in the DVD loop that's being prepared have brought chuckles, smiles, and tears.

One of the quotes posted on Facebook said that Tom wanted to be remembered for making folks laugh.  That was one of the reasons I married Tom.  He was the playmate my little girl self longed for--fun, joyful and affectionate. 

                         A cute man moving in
                            flanked by two women, one shorter, one taller.
                        A girl friend or two, we wondered, watching
                            from our doorway.
                        A short man, cute, almost prancing up and down
                            the sidewalk.
                                                       A stranger.

                        "Come over and I'll cook you a steak," the stranger
                             said right after saying "hello, I'm Tom Means."
                        "Didn't you hear those guys saying they would pick
                             me up at 7?"
                        "I didn't take them seriously.  They're just boys,"
                             this new stuck-up resident replied.
                         Watching, waiting, knocking after I got home
                         Persistent.  Stuck up, a fake Eastern accent covering
                             the Okie he was.
                         Cute, funny, tossing jokes, compliments in equal
                         So sure I was the one.  Could I resist his charm? 
                         Meeting for drinks (and sometimes dinner),
                             The Shady Inn our place.
                         Symphony and opera music floating over our
                             Hugs and kisses, soft and playful.

                         Courted, engaged and married we were.
                              Surprises came--a baby boy, a joy
                         Some causing distress, a mess.

                         The laughter, snuggles, "you are 
                              beautiful" compliments continued--
                         Moves made, around in a circle
                              back to where we started
                         A baby girl, more joy--
                              and work, time alone with
                                    Two young ones.
                        Bars, their allure, my competition.
                              My causes, not his
                        The beach, joy and freedom
                              Laughter and fun
                        Friends -- couples we relished,
                              Neighbors so fine.
                                   A good life

                        A job lost, another move--sad, too bad
                             Our life together, never the same.
                                          The bar won.

It wasn't that simple, and yet it was.  My League of Women Voters and AAUW causes were serious.  He once commented, coming home from travels a night early as my State LWV colleagues were leaving, "Ugliest group of women I've seen.  Lace-up shoes," as he headed for the kitchen and his martini.  A history lover, Tom could have lived in colonial times--as long as he was of the gentry.  Looking ahead, I relished changing opportunities and challenges.  Commenting on what became our incompatibility, a friend said that she could live in the closet as long as the door was open and I couldn't.  Still, happy hour and the bar called--the allures found there most attractive.

I didn't quit loving Tom Means when we split up for good.  I was, however, relieved to no longer be married to him.  Over time as our lives continued to be intertwined with graduations, marriages, grandchildren and holidays as a blended family, I came to think of Tom as a friend.  It helped that I introduced him to the woman who became his life partner (after our divorce per her request), and that our son was committed to the "all together" holiday dinners.

Not sure of my place, I go to Nashville asking the Spirit to fill me with love and light and to surround
family gathered there with God's love and peace.  I am grateful for the good times, for our children and grandchildren and for the many holiday dinners we've shared over the years. 

NOTE:  Brian, if you are reading this, it's for blog followers only -- PLEASE.  You are the only family member who reads my posts.
                                                           Good Times!!!!