In Loving Memory of my Aunt Mary

There was another passing of a loved one in my family recently. It was my Aunt Mary, my mother’s younger sister, and last of the siblings in their family. My aunt was included in my published story, “Walking My Mother Home,” in Journeys to Mother Love. She loved my writing. It served to bring us closer together. So I thought it would be fitting to write a piece in her memory.

The 5 siblings: JoAnn (Mom), Mary, Henry, Helen and Ginny, 1974.

Déjà Vu

After my Aunt Mary passed away, I devoted two weeks of my life back home in the St. Louis area with her family. Previous to that, I was unaware that her health had been declining. When I heard of her condition and that she was put on hospice, I immediately called her husband, my Uncle Pete. I felt that all too familiar pull to be there—to be by her bedside, to pray with her and for her—and to help in any way I could.

My initial help was limited to calls to the funeral home and cemetery. When I talked with my uncle, I could tell that my aunt’s time was extremely limited. I wanted to jump on a plane and be there. I began the online search for flights and other travel arrangements. It felt like déjà vu—not knowing when to leave or how long to stay—just like when my mother passed.

I waited and prayed for two days.

Then I got the news that my aunt would probably pass in the next 24 hours. I knew I wouldn’t make it back in time so we prayed together. Again, just like when my mother died, my uncle put the phone on speaker. I asked my Uncle Pete and his son Mark, my cousin, to lay their hands on and over my aunt.

We communicated our love to her and asked the Lord to release her from her pain. My Aunt Mary had been unresponsive just prior to our prayer. But then Mark said she squeezed his hand while I prayed. It comforted us to know that she heard our prayer. My Aunt Mary died a few hours later.

I took the red-eye flight to St. Louis that night. The next few days were a blur of appointments and decisions related to the funeral. Both of my parents were cremated, so I hadn’t been down the road of a full-blown funeral and burial before. God was with us as all the pieces fell into place in three days.

One of the things I offered to do was buy the clothes that my aunt would be buried in. She was a very petite woman, much different than myself, but I knew she had a flare for fashion like me and my mother. There were so many cute options for a size 4! I was thrilled to find just the right outfit to bring her back to life, so to speak—in a vibrant coral dress and sweater combination with matching jewelry.

Another Eulogy

When the funeral home found out I was a writer, they asked me to write her obituary. I kindly agreed. I also created her funeral program and offered to do her eulogy. I stayed up late the night before the funeral prayerfully writing it. (More déjà vu and preparation from my mother’s passing.)

I’m honored to stand here today and share a few words about my Aunt Mary–something I never saw myself doing. I didn’t have the benefit of getting to spend my youth living near her and my Uncle Pete. So I didn’t know her well back then.

I have more childhood memories with her sisters, my Aunt Helen and Aunt Ginny. However, I did have the sense as a child that my mother JoAnn and Mary were closer to each other than to their other sisters. That could be because they were closer in age. But as I reflected about who Mary was to me and my memories of her, I realized she was very much like my mother.

Mary was a vibrant attractive woman. Like my mother, she had a flare for fashion and other feminine things like cosmetics. (I say this because I’ve never been like that, but I noticed.) I have this vision of her as a blond bombshell, sort of like Marilyn Monroe. You can see it in some of the early pictures of Mary and Pete. She was a beautiful woman.

Her beauty didn’t go unnoticed by my Uncle Pete either. A few days ago, he told me a cute story about how he met his wife. He said he met Mary at a night club at Scott Air Force Base over 50 years ago. She was out with friends. He saw her walk by him and he knew he wanted to dance with her. So Pete got up the nerve to ask her to dance to a slow song. She agreed. He said he knew then that she was the one.  There was no one else for him.

I only met my aunt and uncle a few times when I was young. When my Uncle Pete was stationed in Alaska my aunt and uncle visited us in Portland, Oregon on their drive to their new home in Anchorage. I think the next time I saw them was after my parents divorced. My mom and us kids were living back in Illinois. I was in high school. They made the rounds visiting family with their young son Mark. A few years later, they were permanently transferred back to Illinois. Unfortunately, I went away to college the same year, so our paths didn’t cross much when Mark was growing up.

When I got married and had kids of my own, Mary and I grew closer, although we were still separated by a great distance because my husband and I lived in the Seattle area. I started the family tradition of sending out an annual Christmas letter and having a family portrait done. Every year she would send me a Christmas card, write a personal note and send some gift money for the kids.

I brought those Christmas cards with me and would like to give you a glimpse into her heart–the heart of a mother, a sister, an aunt.

I tearfully read a few years’ worth of her annual notes to me. My aunt and I both shared a love for Major League Baseball and her notes often included talk about the St. Louis Cardinals or the Seattle Mariners. Some of her notes even mentioned people who were in attendance at the funeral.

Then as I re-entered my mother’s life before she passed 7 years ago, I grew closer to Aunt Mary. You can also tell that from her notes to me. We kept writing at Christmas, but when my writing and publishing started to take off, I would send her paper copies of my writings. She played a big part in healing my relationship with my mother, most notably responding to my plea to go see her in the hospital after her stroke in July 2009. Mary came back with a good report of my mother’s condition. She also prayed over her. I believe God answered her prayer and kept my mother alive long enough for me and my siblings to see her again and to reconcile.

My aunt’s Christmas notes during that time often referenced my mother and my visits back home to see my mom or Mary herself. Reading those annual notes from her was like reliving those visits again. As painful as it was to share those experiences again, it helped me to face going through the same situation with my aunt’s passing.

My aunt praying for my mother.

It felt so familiar to me, yet so different. The events and the decisions on this trip were much more complicated than my mother’s death. Although I wasn’t solely responsible for these decisions, I was helping my uncle and cousin carry the burden.

What was familiar was how God showed up in so many ways. I felt lifted up, confident and equipped to walk with them through their grief and to look at another layer of my own inner healing work.

I think Mary sort of came to adopt me like a daughter to some degree. I never really had a mother-daughter relationship due to my own mother’s mental illness. I did welcome the rare occasions when Mary and I would talk. And I regret not being more available to her as the years passed.

I guess that leads me to why I came. Mary held a special place in my heart. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I was not around her. We could talk about things at a deeper level. As I got my own emotional and spiritual healing, I was able to more fully understand the complexity of her life and the sacrifice she made for her family. It gave me compassion and empathy for her.

So when I heard of the decline in her health, I couldn’t help but come. I wanted to be able to give back one last time to Mary and for Mary, in a meaningful way. She deserves that. I wanted her to finish well.

I was scheduled to fly back home the day after the funeral, but couldn’t bear to leave. I stayed another week with my family to help them as they started the transition to a new season of their lives without their wife and mother.

For Mary and for God

I’m back home now, but my memories of that trip and time spent with my family linger in my mind. At 88 years old, my uncle relied heavily on me. We had several bittersweet conversations. My aunt and uncle were married for almost 51 years. Along with their special needs son, the three were pretty inseparable.

Visiting my mother’s gravesite on her 87th birthday.

When I was with them, I felt a special bond to them and had the confidence and strength to pour into their lives. I couldn’t stop to think about all the work, the decisions, and the seemingly impossible task ahead.

We often prayed together during the trip. I openly shared about God and comforted them in their grief. There were times when I felt Mary’s presence or could hear her voice saying my name, “Ardis Ann.” At one point my Uncle Pete told me that I was sent by his wife and by God. Together we wept. These are the memories I cling to now.

I don’t fully understand why God wired or equipped me to come alongside my uncle and cousin like he did (and continues to do). I trust it is the next step of my own healing process as well as theirs. The Lord seemed to confirm that by burying my aunt just a few spaces away from where my mother and other family are buried (and it was not prearranged).

I cannot urge you enough that if you haven’t done so, please make your burial and end of life wishes known to your family. Prearrange as much as you can, especially if you want to have a full funeral with a visitation, burial, etc. The decisions and costs are huge. It is a big burden to the family to address this in their time of grief.

I am grateful that I could do this for my uncle and cousin, and ultimately for Mary. Just like my mother, my Aunt Mary is a part of me. I look forward to seeing her again soon. With the Hope of Christ and the Resurrection Power of Easter, I know this is true.

Rest in peace, Aunt Mary.

Saying Goodbye to my Mother

This week marks the 7th anniversary of the passing of my mother. Sadly, those precious memories that forever changed my life are fading. I don’t want to forget them, so I’m writing once again to remember–to keep my loved one’s memories alive–and to honor her.

An Unexpected Call

It was a cold wintery night seven years ago this month that I got the phone call I’d been dreading for years.  Maybe you’ve had one like it too.  It’s the type of call that rocks your world with bad news.

I had just finished attending a weekly support group meeting and was looking forward to visiting my friend Linda afterwards.

As I waited for my car to warm up, I checked my cell phone for messages.  I immediately recognized the phone number captured on the caller ID for a missed call.  It was the nursing home where my mother lived across the country.

I had received several calls from the nursing staff since mom’s stroke 18 months earlier.  At this stage of her health care, my siblings and I had agreed to no more ‘heroic’ measures.  It was the compassionate thing to do—just make her comfortable and as pain-free as possible.

This call—this message—sounded dramatically different.  The message was very sobering: “Your mother’s health is declining.”

My heart sank and my anxiety rose in dramatic proportions as I mustered up the courage to call the nursing home back.

And then Reality Strikes

The nurse’s words hit me like a ton of bricks: “Your mother is not going to make it through the night.”

There were no health care decisions to make.  There was nothing that could be done.  My mother’s body was shutting down.  She was having her last breaths.

When I arrived at the doorstep of Linda’s house, I burst into tears and tried to calmly explain the situation to her.  “My mother’s dying!” I cried.

Linda immediately offered to help and comforted me with her prayers.

Her Spirit filled words cut through the shock, the confusion, and the agony of being separated from my mother by thousands of miles.  It gave me strength to help my mother to finish well.

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

While I was on the phone, Linda made arrangements for me to travel back home to the Midwest on the first available flight in the morning.

By this time, my brother Glen and his wife Betty, who lived locally, had arrived at the nursing home and were at my mother’s bedside.  We spoke through our joint tears.  As the reality of my mother’s state sank in, I turned to prayer to help me calm down and focus on what my mother and brother needed at the moment.  I asked Glen to put his cell phone on the speaker setting, so I could talk to mom and pray over her.

After all these years I don’t remember what was said. But I do remember having a sense that the Lord was speaking through me.  It was a holy moment. Somehow He gave me just the right words to show honor, gratitude and love to my mother in her final hours.

“I love you Mom.  I’ll be there soon.” Those were some of my last words to her.

I longed to be there with her and petitioned the Lord to get back to the Midwest in time.

Finishing Well

I hurried home to pack for my flight.  It was as if time stood still during those late night hours up to her death. I was still awake and packing when my brother called back to tell me that our mother had died.

I was numb.

For months I’d been praying for the Lord to release my mother from her suffering. In the rawness of the news, it didn’t feel like answered prayer. It was more like a dagger had just ripped through my heart, and I was bleeding all over.

“What now? What am I doing?” were the thoughts running through my mind. The urgency of my trip and purpose seemed to have radically shifted in an instant. I wasn’t going to see her alive again. “How would I move forward?”

The purpose of my trip became one of service and honor to my mother.

It was ironic. I hadn’t been there for her over the years. There were so many times she reached out to me and I would barely talk to her or worse yet, I flat out rejected her call. Now I was the one God prompted to step up and allow her to finish well.

My mother had no formal final requests, no will, and no material items of any value. My brothers and I made some decisions for her remains during a previous trip back home. I knew what had to physically be done, so I carried out that plan. However, we had never talked about any sort of service. So when it came to planning a memorial I followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit. All the pieces effortlessly and miraculously it seemed to me, fell into place: an intimate foot-washing ceremony at the funeral home, a eulogy given at the nursing home memorial service, and a gravesite ceremony–all within 3 days.

Those few days were some of the most painful days in my life, but they were also the most beautiful. I was carried through it by the prayers of friends and family and the love of our heavenly Father.As I wrote in “Walking My Mother Home,” my story in Journeys to Mother Love, the events of that week led to some radical identity revelations. I accepted the uniqueness that God gifted me with and started seeing the world through the new lens of healing and with hope for the future.

Gone was the fear that I was mentally ill like my mother.  It was replaced with the most amazing love for myself, for others and for God. I was filled with gratitude, joy, and peace.

Making Peace with Our Parents

Over the years since my mother’s passing, I’ve become an advocate for supporting our parents to finish well. I’ve encouraged others to make peace with the past and to work through the pain of forgiveness before it’s too late.

Some people step in to care for an aging parent or to handle their final estate. Others enter into the therapeutic process to help with their grief. Or they may physically move to be closer to an aging parent.

Because I’ve been down this road myself I can empathize with their pain and have a bigger heart for their burden. I’ve been given a spiritual perspective that goes beyond their current circumstances.

I’ve been blessed to comfort, support and pray for them as they walk through this season of life–rewriting their story and that of their parent’s along the way.

So today I write to not only honor the memory of my mother, but to also honor my friends who have lost a parent in recent years.

You did well by your parent and allowed them to finish well. You did well for yourself and are reaping the fruit of obedience. Well done, good and faithful servant.

If you are separated from your parent by bitterness or unforgiveness, I urge you to pray for the Lord to give you a new heart. He will give you the courage and the love to help your parent finish well and to turn your healing into hope.

Another Life Lost to Cancer too Soon

I recently heard of another friend losing their battle to cancer. Her name was Mary Ann. She was a part of the group of friends I hung around with back in Illinois at Monmouth College. We were all feeling a loss as the news trickled across Facebook last week.

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

College friend Mary Ann, Fall 1982

Mary Ann was a brave woman fighting for her life against cancer. Fighting that is until about two months ago when she found out that her cancer had spread to her liver. She posted on Facebook: “We have decided to move to hospice care instead of putting me through more debilitating treatments that could possibly shorten what time I have left to spend with friends and family.”

That post sent shock, sympathy, and sadness through our college network of mutual friends. She was in my thoughts and prayers ever since.

Remembering Mary Ann

As I reflected on my friendship with Mary Ann, a woman of Chinese descent, I dug out old Christmas cards and annual holiday portraits from a filing drawer neatly organized and stuffed full of such items from friends and family over the years. It’s one of those things that my husband would probably prefer that I get rid of. But on that night they served me well to pay tribute to my old college friend.

On her wedding day, 1997

On her wedding day, 1997

Mary Ann was young—a mere 56 years old when she passed away. She found love later in life than most of the college gang, marrying her husband Jerry 16 years after graduation.  By that time I had already moved to Seattle and had a 2-week old baby. A trip back to Illinois for the wedding was not possible. They vacationed in Seattle once, and we spent some time sightseeing with them.

In 2005, Jerry and Mary Ann adopted a baby girl from China. Every year since then she sent photos of their darling daughter. At first it was photos of their small family, but it soon turned to photos just of her daughter.

One year she wrote how she loved receiving our annual letter and wanted to do the same herself. Multiple times she indicated her desire to start scrapbooking. I don’t think she ever did. But she did tell me one year that she was hooked on rubberstamping. The year that they adopted their daughter, she sent a nice typed letter describing the adoption process:

Mary Ann family After a year of completing various paperwork for the U.S. and Chinese governments and 6 months waiting for a referral, Jerry and I traveled to China in February of this year to receive our daughter.

We spent about 2½ weeks in China waiting for passports and visas for her. During that time, we did a little sightseeing and spent time getting to know each other. We were lucky to be able to spend a day visiting the childhood village of Mary Ann’s father taking lots of video and photographs to bring home to her dad and siblings.

It has been a fun year watching our daughter grow and learn things on her own and from her cousins. We have been discovering all the family-friendly places in the area.

We have truly been blessed this year.

My heart aches for this young girl now, just entering puberty and without a mother to see her through the years of seeking her own identity and independence. I pray that the Lord will heal her heart over time.

College Memories

Mary Ann and all of my Monmouth College cronies have been in my thoughts a lot lately. Earlier this summer I was working on some page layouts in my scrapbook from our 25-year reunion. That was in 2006, and was the last time I saw Mary Ann.

That reunion was a marvelous experience for us all. I had been in Seattle for almost 20 years by then. It was before Facebook and social media was popular. Our main contact was through holiday cards and letters or an occasional email. Being back together after so many years was a priceless experience. We shared memories of the past and laughed so hard at times I cried. It was like we had never parted. (Below are some memories from that reunion weekend.)

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I miss those days—days when we didn’t have to carry such heavy burdens and responsibilities, days when we lived, dined, studied, and played together. We were a creative bunch—involved in the college newspaper, yearbook, radio station (me), theater, or music.

The one thing many of us had in common was meeting at the Christian fellowship group, Ichthus, our freshman year.  It also helped that the girls all lived on the same floor in McMichael Hall. We became best buddies.

Mary Ann was only at Monmouth for two years. She was in a nursing program that required a transfer to Rush University in Chicago after her sophomore year. But she returned on occasional visits and remained close to several group members.

When marriage entered the picture for us, some of these girlfriends were in each other’s wedding parties. At my wedding in 1983, Mary Ann greeted guests as they arrived and had them sign the guest register.

Final Thoughts on my Friend

My parting thoughts of Mary Ann go back to an email exchange we had about a month ago. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to write her about the healing aspects of writing.

I want to encourage you to write as you feel led for your family, leaving them something that will help them when you are gone.  Maybe you could write a letter for your daughter on her wedding day, or other significant milestone.  I know it won’t be easy.  But please rest assured that whatever you do, it will bring them closer to you and keep your memory and love for them alive.

I was glad to hear back that the hospice people were helping her to write. Unbeknownst to me, Mary Ann passed away a week after that communication.

Writing this now doesn’t feel particularly eloquent. (I wonder what grade my former English professor would give me.)  But with the recent knowledge of Mary Ann’s passing several weeks ago, I felt compelled to write—to somehow give back a little bit of Mary Ann—to her friends and family, or just to the old gang from Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

The spring of our freshman year at Monmouth College.

I don’t know the kind of impact my life has had on these friends and comrades from the past. I know I’m not the same person that I was back then—none of us are. Although we are thousands of miles apart and our lives have rarely intersected over the last few decades since college graduation, I know we all treasure the memories of that special time in life that we shared together.

The next time we gather together at a reunion, we will all have a hole in our hearts and sadness to share over her parting. We lost a true gem of a woman when Mary Ann passed away. She was caring, gentle, funny, and most of all brave.  If I close my eyes and think of her, I can still hear her cute giggle.  It brings a smile to my lips and tears to my eyes.

Mary Ann, your brightness shines from Above on those whose lives you touched. Rest in Peace, my our friend.

Remembering Wanda

The community of women that I scrapbook with lost our fearless leader Wanda rather suddenly earlier this month.  Going out in style, Wanda passed away on National Scrapbook Day.  She had just laid her husband to rest a few months earlier after serving as his primary caregiver for several years.  We were all looking forward to this new season of Wanda’s life, where she could rest and relax.  But that wasn’t part of God’s plan.

Remembering Wanda 01

A toast to our courageous cheerleader!

Celebrating Wanda

Today I will be attending Wanda’s memorial service.  But a few weeks ago, one of her best friends, and a fellow scrapbooker, opened her home to our scrapbooking community, Wanda’s Croppers, to celebrate Wanda and to share stories of her life.  It was a beautiful evening with wonderful food accompanied by a champagne toast to her.

We all shared stores about Wanda going back as far as 40 years when she first met her husband, although most of us met her in the past two decades.  Tears and laughter intersected as we grieved and celebrated her life.

The Art of Scrapbooking

As a writer who is also passionate about scrapbooking, my blog has become a reflection of both crafts.  I spend time searching out just the right image, captioning them when needed and writing stories that I hope inspire and intrigue others.  My scrapbooks aren’t just photos stuck to a page; they are stories and works of art.  These creative endeavors go hand in hand for me.  So Wanda shows up in a small way every time I publish a new post.

Digital scrapbooking page courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Digital scrapbooking page at a retreat with Wanda, courtesy of Jenny, my long-time scrapbooking buddy.

Wanda was a courageous, caring and Godly woman who inspired us to share our legacy and family heritage through the art of scrapbooking.  Her legacy touched hundreds if not thousands of people as the passion of storytelling through digital and handmade scrapbooks will be passed down for generations to come.  She left a mark on us all.

A Tribute to Wanda

When Wanda’s croppers got together a few weeks ago, I wrote my thoughts down on paper in advance.  Below is my tribute to Wanda from what I shared that night.  I hope it gives you some inspiration to consider your legacy and treasure the moments you have with those you love.

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Pedro’s scrapbook inscription.

“Pedro, May this book serve as a remembrance of the wonderful adventures we shared together in 2010 and mark the start of a summer filled with wonder and awe.  Remember—that is what the Lord tells us to do—not to live in the past, but to give us hope for the future and to keep us grounded in His promises.  I hope this book serves as a spiritual marker of the wonderful things that God has in store for us if we are open to His leading.”

That is an inscription that I wrote on the inside cover of a digital scrapbook that I gave to Pedro after the first summer he spent with our family.  How I toiled over that album.  It was my first one with the Creative Memories software.  I was rushing at the last minute to upload the files hours before my precious coupon would expire on New Year’s Eve.  And Wanda helped me all along the way as she did with subsequent albums as well.

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Always at ease behind the camera, and planning that next scrapbooking page in our minds.

That is what Wanda was all about, helping us to preserve our memories—and our stories.  So tonight I want to share with you some of my memories of Wanda and what she meant to me.

First of all, I have to admit that the news of her passing hit me pretty hard—surprisingly so.  I didn’t consider myself close friends with Wanda like many of you here are.  But I greatly admired her.  She was a kind and giving soul.

When Pedro’s CD was released, she was one of the first to buy it.  She told me how much she enjoyed playing it on her drives over the mountains.  She let me play Pedro’s music and sell it at the crops and retreats.  The same was true with my book.

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CD and book display at one of Wanda’s crops.

I’ll never forget attending her first Open House when she returned back to Western Washington.  She took time out of the event to sit down with me and tell me how moved she was by my story.  She actually apologized for not saying something to me sooner.  No apology was needed.  But she wanted me to know.  She wanted to have that connecting time.

When Creative Memories (CM) filed for bankruptcy, I reached out to Wanda to pray for her and for the business.  I knew it was her passion and financial provision.  None of us wanted CM to close its doors, and we didn’t want Wanda to be cut off from her livelihood.  I knew what it was like to be a CM consultant.  Back when I started scrapbooking, I signed up to be a CM consultant for a few years.

She worked hard at her business.  A former teacher, she was the perfect consultant—always doing crop talks and teaching us new tricks and tips.  There was never any hard sell or pressure.  She was just interested in keeping us motivated to keep working on our scrapbooks.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Sharing my tribute to Wanda.

Wanda was our leader—a cheerleader to be more exact.  She fed us, wined us, dined us, and nurtured the parts of us that connected to our families or whatever scrapbooking project we were immersed in.  She knew it was important to us and she made it important to her too.

My heart aches for the loss of this woman and the community of memory keepers that she mentored and invested in in sacrificial ways.  She will be missed in so many ways by her family and friends.  But this group of women will miss her in an entirely different way with a grief that will connect us beyond tonight and beyond Wanda’s public memorial.

Every time we get together again to scrapbook Wanda will be there in spirit.  It will be hard to not notice that empty void that she once filled.  We unexpectedly got a glimpse into that in February as we gathered at a retreat while Wanda was caring for her husband who had just been put on hospice.  He died a few days later.  We never imagined that this would soon be her fate as well.

Wanda's granddaughter

Wanda’s newborn granddaughter.

I thank God that He took her in such a beautiful way, how He timed her departure to be with her husband so quickly, and to see her first grandchild days before she passed away.  The time between those few hours when we got the shocking news of her cancer and her passing were surreal to me.  It was hard to pray for her when I knew all hope was gone for her recovery.  But I prayed for her family and what they were all going through.  And then her son gave us all a gift when he posted her tribute on Facebook hours after she passed away.  It was as if God wrapped it up with a bow Himself.

Tonight, I’m very grateful that this gathering was planned for us so that we can openly celebrate and grieve the loss of this friend who was so passionate about life, about her family, about her faith, and also about scrapbooking.  I know she is looking down from above at us now.  I think she is probably taking photos of the entire event and planning a 2-page spread that she can show off to her new friends in heaven.  So let’s all stop, look up, and smile for her camera one last time.

Save us a place at the crop in heaven Wanda!  We miss you!

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Wanda’s Croppers

Today’s memorial service will be surreal once more to be together with Wanda’s Croppers and not have her there with us.  I think it will bring us together in a way that maybe scrapbooking couldn’t—in our shared grief.  Some of us will create scrapbooking pages in tribute to her.  I am choosing to write and craft this tribute to her.

In closing, I’m sharing with you the same scripture I inscribed on Pedro’s scrapbook:

He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.  Psalm 111:4

Wanda was one of those wonders we will always remember.

This post is happily shared with Christian Mommy Blogger/Felllowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

A few days before Christmas, while in the throes of the holiday rush, I dedicated some rare bedtime reading to a book given to me by my friend Debbie.  The book was a short memoir by her sister, and best friend, Shelly, published posthumously.  Debbie lost her sister to cancer on Christmas Day last year.

I’ve watched Debbie bravely live beyond her grief, especially over the past few months while serving together in ministry.  It is in honor of Shelly’s memory and Debbie’s family grief that I am writing this post.

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, circa 1983

The Cancer that Saved Me*

Shelly’s book, “The Cancer That Saved Me,” is a chronicle of her 19-month journey through cancer treatment, from diagnosis to her passing.  I didn’t read it to learn about cancer treatment, although I did get a better understanding of the medical process, I read it to get a sense for what Debbie went through—as a way of identifying more with her grief.

I had also heard Debbie recount how Shelly was full of spirit and that her battle was having a profound effect on their family.  Shelly’s ability to lean on God was giving back to the family and giving them the courage and strength to be there for Shelly.

A few pages into Shelly’s book, I didn’t think I was going to be able to read it.  The Forward of the book gripped me.  Below is an excerpt:

“I no longer ask, ‘why me?’  I now say ‘thank you.’  I no longer feel sorry for myself.  I now feel ‘blessed’ for every day.  Through God’s grace, I am alive, and although my body may be broken, it was my spirit that was broken before I got cancer.  God has given me ‘time.’  I may have a little hiccup in my giddy up, but I amble along every day giving thanks for all my blessings.  Ironically, I did not see them when I was healthy.”

One of the things that struck me is her statement about God giving her time.  When I read that I think of how most people don’t know when or how we are going to leave this earth.  Shelly was given a gift of time to prepare—to be aware of the gift of life—to turn to the Lord with her remaining time, and to develop an attitude of gratitude and worship.  Yes, even in the face of death—or especially in the face of death.

DoveLeaving a Legacy

Life isn’t fair.  It doesn’t seem right for a 51 year-old woman who was full of life to be taken from her family so soon and in such short order.  But through it all, God’s purposes did prevail.  With Shelly’s passing and limited publishing of her story, she was able to leave a legacy greater than her love for animals and her family.

Shelly left a legacy of restoration in her heart, love for the Lord, and hope for the future.  Her renewed commitment to God helped her to face each day.  She knew she was not alone in her battle.  That gave her great peace.  I see that same legacy of God’s comfort and love in Debbie every time I see her because she proudly wears it and shares it as well.

We each have a date sometime in the future that the Lord will call us home to be with Him.  We can live our lives for ourselves, or we can live them for God, leaving a legacy that is full of His Light, His Love and His Hope.  Shelly did that, finishing well.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

Sisters and best friends, Debbie and Shelly, in a Christmas play from their youth.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

We all long to be home for Christmas–to be with our earthly family and friends.  But it doesn’t always work out that way due to distance, finances, broken relationships, and more.  We also innately long for our heavenly home, where peace will reign.  Revelation 21:4 tells us it will be a place of no more mourning, or crying or pain.

On Christmas Day 2012, God got a beautiful present when Shelly joined Him in heaven.  Shelly got a gift too, as she was freed from the cancer that ravaged her body, and united with her heavenly Father.

On Christmas Day 2013, the family turned over the calendar of first-year milestones in their grief process.  Just like anyone who loses a friend or family member at Christmas time, their holidays will be filled with sorrow and hope.  Their grief will continue in invisible ways for years to come, dissipating over time.  Shelly’s final legacy will see them through it—and us as well, if we are open to living a life dedicated to following God.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

*“The Cancer that Saved me”, by Shelly Lynn Bartholomew, is not available online.  In lieu of payment for the book, donations are gladly accepted and forwarded to the Swedish Hospital Uncompensated Care Program/Oncology Department through her family.  There is a nominal charge of $4.50 for shipping.  You can request a copy or more information by contacting Debbie@gowise.org

Learning to Grieve

Grieving is such a subjective process.  If you think about it, most of us have not been taught how to grieve.  There are no preparatory classes for grieving like there are for other major changes in our life, like pre-marital counseling, parenting, childbirth or even becoming a member at your church.  There are a few grief classes like “Grief Share” conducted through churches or at local hospitals, but those are after the fact.

Generally we are thrown into it abruptly and have to figure out how to cope the best way we can.  If you seek professional help with grief or even look it up on the internet, you will learn about the “Five Stages of Grief” introduced by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.  Depending on the depth of grief one experiences, professional help is generally a good idea—especially if you become depressed or feel hopeless with your loss.

My first experience with death was the loss of my maternal grandmother when I was ten years old.  We had just moved 2,000 miles away from my father and my friends to be near my mother’s side of the family after their divorce.  My grandmother had a heart attack one night while I was staying in her home, they rushed her to the hospital and she died.  I had only known my grandmother a few months but we were inseparable.  I remember crying buckets of tears over that loss.  Over the years, other relatives passed away, but I was not close to them and there was no grieving to speak of.

Then came the death of my father last month preceded by my mother’s passing last year.  With those losses so close together and fresh in my mind, I have found myself pondering the grief process.  After spending a week tending to family matters and the memorial service out of town, my life quickly returned to its normal hectic pace.  I wrote a few blogs about my father’s passing, I sent photos and videos to family members and even listened to a few of my recorded conversations with my father.  For the most part, these things were done void of tears.  Then there were the occasional times where out of the blue I would just cry, for what seemed like no apparent reason.  It has been mystifying to me.

What I am most grateful for in this time of emotional ups and downs is that I am modeling something to my kids that I didn’t have modeled to me growing up.  Both of my sons have caught me in some of these tearful moments.  The first time they witnessed it, I calmly and tearfully explained to them that it is part of a normal grieving process.  Their concern and assurance of their love have helped me to integrate the loss.

The biggest lesson I have learned in my year of grieving was to offer forgiveness and reconciliation with my parents while I still had the chance.  The healing of those relationships made all the difference for me.  Having no regrets has made my grieving process easier.

So how long will the tears last?  I have no idea.  Everyone goes through the stages of grief at a different pace.  I am content with God’s timing on all of this and knowing that one day He will turn all of our mourning into gladness (Jeremiah 31:13).  Until then, I am carrying on with my life and embracing the healing process that God designed for us, one tear at a time.  Those who sow with tears  will reap with songs of joy. Psalm 126:5 (TNIV)

Van’s Requiem

It’s been a year and half since I found out that Pedro, the Spanish young man whom we hosted as an exchange student in our home was a composer.  Since that time, his music has become an integral part of my life, including the culmination of recording his music and putting it online.

A few days after my father died, I received an email from Pedro with “Van’s Requiem” attached.  The email merely said, “You know what I can do right now from Spain, is composing.”  I let the tears flow.

A requiem is a musical composition associated with death and mourning.  When I played “Van’s Requiem” for my step-mother, she told me I couldn’t keep this song to myself and requested that I play it  at the memorial service.  She also said my father would’ve liked it.  And I agree.

My father enjoyed music.  His musical interest started in grade school when he was taught to play the violin by a nun.  He didn’t like the lessons much or her instruction, but he did love music.  He soon took to learning other instruments on his own.  He could play the string bass, clarinet, saxophone, accordion and the organ.  He also had his own band, Bud & His Buddies, for a few years in the late 1930’s to earn some extra money after high school.

Dad passed that love of music down to his family.  My older brother played Dad’s saxophone in school as well as some of Van’s grandchildren, including both of my sons.  For my sons anyway, the saxophone was their secondary instrument.  It was a small way that they got to connect with their grandfather.

I took a few piano lessons in college, but by that time, it was just too difficult for me.  I turned my love for music into an easier way to enjoy it—by working at the college radio station as a disc jockey and eventually becoming the Music Director.  It was a far cry from reading sheet music or performing in recitals, but fun nonetheless.

When Dad met Pedro last summer, they had an impromptu music gathering at the piano and organ.  Pedro played some of his own compositions and attempted to play whatever sheet music my father put in front of him.   It was entertaining to watch and even more precious to me when I watched the videos after my father recently passed away.

The day after Dad passed away, I sent an email to Pedro to tell him the sad news.  I was shocked to notice that they met exactly one year ago—July 10, 2011.  It was hard to watch those videos.  My father’s health deteriorated a great deal since then, but it didn’t seem as noticeable until I watched those videos.

Dad & Pedro doing a sound-check on the family organ, 7/10/11.

I am incredibly glad I recorded that time between Pedro and my father.  One of the songs Dad asked Pedro to play was “The Old Rugged Cross”.  Unfortunately Pedro didn’t know that song.  One year later, I found out that song was Dad’s favorite hymn.  We closed his memorial service with it.

The service was opened with “Van’s Requiem.” I know that on that day one year ago when this relationship was developed, the basis for “Van’s Requiem” was also being developed.  The ripple effect of that encounter had eternal consequences.  I’m sure my father was tapping his toes to his own personal song.

“Van’s Requiem” © 2012 Pedro González Arbona

Indeed music is an integral part of my life.  It has created memories that are priceless to me.  And along the way, it has grown my faith too.

Saying Goodbye to My Father, Part 3 – Letting Go

My Dad was a cancer survivor.  29 years ago he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in the parotid (saliva) gland.  At the time, only three other people had ever been diagnosed with this and all of them had died.  His prognosis was grim with a life expectancy of less than a year.  My father recognized his survival as a miracle, but never understood why his life was spared.

As family went through his belongings, personal affects and files the week he died, I came across a letter from that time in his life.  It was so profound for me in connecting the dots of his life that I used this as a key part of his eulogy.

My father accepted Christ as his Savior during this time and he was preparing to die.  His letter logically explained to family and friends what was happening medically, but it also showed a side of my father that I didn’t see in later years.  In the letter, he shared his faith in God and asked for prayer on his behalf.  Clearly those prayers were answered.  As I read that letter, the reason(s) why God spared his life 29 years ago became clear to me.

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a Christian is that we are not in control and that we need to trust God.  Proverbs 3:5-6 speaks to that: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  It is easy to trust God as long as things go the way we want them too—and we think we are in control.  But God has a way of reminding us that we are not God and to not rely on our own self-sufficiency.

What I observed about my father during his final years was how hard it was for him to let go of the control of his life.  No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t be self-sufficient any longer.  He had to accept the frailty and aging of his body.  He had to accept his periods of mental incapacity.  He had to accept help—and learn to ask for it.  He had to let go of the timing of his death.  It frustrated him.  And I think one reason my father’s life was spared 29 years ago was that he had to learn to let go and give God control.  He was a stubborn man and so it took him a long time to finally surrender to God’s plan for his life.

More importantly, I think the main reason my father survived that rare cancer was because of the healing and forgiveness that needed to happen in our family.  Dad may not have directly realized it, but he said things to family members in the months, weeks, days and hours before he died that provided much healing and closure.  I know that if he passed away all those years ago, this healing wouldn’t have happened.

For me, learning to let go and turn over my will and desires to Christ is a daily battle.  Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a “Van Boxtel” or because I’m human.

Me & Dad circa 1962.

As my father neared the end of his life, I had to learn to let go of him too.  I let go of expecting the words of affirmation that the “little Ardis” never got from him.  As an adult, I was learning to love him for who he was.  When I did that, I ended up getting what I longed for, but it had to be in God’s timing and ways, not my own.

Two weeks after his passing, I am learning to let go of not getting any more answers from him.  No more questions about my mother and no more questions about what happened when my parents divorced.  It’s pretty final.  I’m getting to be ok with that.  And I’m resting in the knowledge that he is at peace and my letting go is only temporary.  I’ll see both of my parents in the blink of an eye, and ALL of my questions will be answered then.

Saying Goodbye to My Father, Part 1 – His Legacy

My father died last week after living a long life of 94 years.  It was such a beautiful passing with family by his side.  He had just come home from the hospital hours earlier.  We all knew he was coming home to die, but didn’t realize how quickly his time would come.

The family was preparing to provide his hospice care for several weeks.  Just hours before he passed away, we met with the hospice nurse and were instructed on how to administer his meds and keep him comfortable in his final days.  An hour after the nurse left the house, my father’s condition rapidly deteriorated and my older brother, John, was tested in his new caregiver role much sooner than he anticipated. He rose to the occasion and demonstrated grace and wisdom under pressure.

My younger brother, Glen, arrived from St. Louis just hours earlier and had a poignant conversation with our father.   Dad blessed Glen with words that provided closure and reassurance of his love. Other family members were quickly called to the home and a bedside vigil ensued for the next two hours.

After my dad passed away, we had the added luxury of remaining with him before he was taken to the funeral home.  We held an impromptu wake, telling stories of his life, laughing and crying and processing out loud what we had all just witnessed.  We were in a bit of shock, but not totally unprepared for the finality of it all.  It was so perfectly orchestrated by God.

My father did not openly share his feelings or engage in sensitive dialogue.  He was analytical, logical and often critical in nature.  But in recent years there was a softening of his heart.  He was learning to let go and surrender in small bits and pieces.  I was always watching and processing the changes that were going on with him—and their effect on me as well.  We were both preparing to say goodbye.

My relationship with Christ provided the perspective I needed as I witnessed the events surrounding his death.  Not only did I get closure, but I also witnessed or heard second-hand of other conversations family members, like Glen, had with my father.  When it came to writing his eulogy, those reflections were immediately where I felt led to share.  I wanted my family to remember the softening of his heart and the good that he tried to leave us with.

His memorial was a beautiful family event.  My step-mother told me he would’ve been proud.  Even though there were many tears and lots of sentimental things shared, I think he would’ve been proud too.  He left this family with many legacies: his frugality, his wisdom, his wit, his perseverance, his pursuit of excellence, his logic and analysis of every situation and I think greatest of all, as my brother John shared at the memorial, was his final provision for his family.

My father lived a long, long life of 94 years.  He had a passion for his hobbies like fishing and playing bridge.  He travelled the world with his wife by his side.  Yet he also scrimped and saved.  So in light of that, I think he was preparing to say goodbye all his life.  It was a beautiful legacy to leave his family.

Family crest designed by my father.

We love you Dad.  Thanks for each and every legacy you left for us.

  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

  • Returning to Spain

    Arrival on Spanish SoilApril 29th, 2018
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