Poetry from the Corner

I write poems from time to time. I’m not a poet. I don’t have the soul of a poet or the intuition to feel and relay “universal suffering” in my words.

Sometimes, though, I can make rhyme and rhythm into something relatively relateable.

You might guess from recent posts, that I’m struggling with some hard things. Maybe this poem will give you a glimpse through the tinted windows of my soul.

Once upon a Teardrop

Once upon a teardrop
A heart began to weep
Aching wounds so deep
Blood did spill and seep

Once upon a heartbreak
Blackness swarmed like bees
Hope whacked at the knees
Heaven ignored the pleas

Once upon a deathbed
Angels refused to sing
Acidic breath did sting
Hells bells pealed sharp a ring

Once upon an autumn
Leaves refused to turn
Fiery beauty spurn
Smoking furies burn

Once upon a teardrop
A broken heart bled
Joy and truth both fled
Faith in God was dead

I felt my heart stop
Once upon a teardrop

What do you think? Does this short verse bring any images to mind for you? Feel free to add your own stanza in the comments.

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Something for Everyone in I’M ABOUT TO GET UP

Once you pick up this book from Julie Hunt, skip right to chapter 25 and you’ll see why a review of it appears on my “No Fear This Year” blog. I’M ABOUT TO GET UP is a memoir about grief written from a Christian perspective, but it has nuggets of truth to help anyone who wrings their hands when faced with death.

You’re at the funeral, next in line. The family stands there, red-rimmed eyes glistening with tears, hugging each person in turn. What will you say?

I’ll confess that I avoided a number of funerals in my younger years just because I couldn’t imagine how I would interact with the grieving family.

Until I was the grieving family. And I heard those cliché phrases that meant nothing or experienced the deep comfort of a wordless hug.

I’M ABOUT TO GET UP

about_to_get_up_coverThis book came to me before it released to the public. A publicist whose newsletter I follow invited me to be on the “launch team” for the book.

Since I’m intermittently writing my own grief memoir-ish book, I thought reading one would give me an idea how other approach the topic.

I’ll admit, it was difficult to read the book in December. Christmas has been a difficult time since 2009 when my grandmother graduated to Heaven a few days before the holiday.

Julie’s experiences are raw and real. She pulls you in to the Rainy Day with her and the grief she depicts resonates. It was too close to my own heart some days, so it took me a few weeks to get through the less-than-200-page book.

If you read nothing else, read the appendices. Here Julie lists all the things people want to know, the “where the rubber meets the road” practical things. Like what you can do for a grieving person, what NOT to say at the funeral (or any other time) and words that do offer help or hope.

In a world where people want to sweep the grieving process under the carpet, this book is just the dose of reality we need.

My Review

It was obvious from early in the book that Julie’s religious beliefs differed from mine. There were moments when my eyebrows scraped my scalp as I thought, “They did what?!”

Still, that’s not what this book is about. And Julie didn’t defend or expound on her specific spiritual ideals. Well, not the ones that had me gawping. The ones that had to do with facing grief head on? Yep, those she tackles.

Nothing can prepare you for the death of a loved one. I speak from experience at the bedside of a terminally ill mother. When they go, you grieve. A part of you shatters and needs time and care to be repurposed.

Julie goes chronologically through her own grieving process. This approach worked well, making the book read like a novel. If you like “based on actual events” reading, this book fits that bill.

Advice and encouragement for both those struck by grief and those attempting to minister to them is sprinkled throughout the prose. You won’t find sermonizing or patronizing in these pages.

In fact, the best part of the book is the practical, pro-active lists given in the epilogue and appendices.

I give four out of five stars to this book.

My Recommendation

This book is a must-read for every person in ministry. The glimpse inside a grieving heart will offer the best hands-on training a person could get without facing an actual death in the family.

Julie admits that she couldn’t read books when she was grieving, but I think this book is the sort that could be read to a grieving person. It is certainly an exceptional handbook for someone who fumbles with how to comfort others in the face of loss.

If you’ve been grieving a loss for a while and feel like the pain is still more raw than it should be, pick up this book. I promise you’ll see yourself reflected from a page or chapter, and you’ll be able to take the next step toward healing.

Thank you, Julie Hunt, for being real with all of us. Your journey will empower others so they can get up and get back to living.

What books helped you deal with grief and loss on a practical level?

A Cherished Journal

Life is never appreciated quite so much as when Death comes calling. The same is true of this journal chosen for the 2016 Cherished Blogfest.

As a writer, I have stacks of journals. Finely bound books with gorgeous illustrations…

Journals

Spiral notebooks covered in scrawling ink and lead…

Spiral Notebooks

And then there’s the Cherished Journal.

Cherished Journal

After I wrote in in the other night, I realized there were only five empty pages waiting to be filled.

Tears puddled. I flipped to the first page, lovingly inscribed by my mother. She purchased it during a ladies’ retreat with a group of women from church.

IMG_0997

Years from now, when I’ve forgotten what the lessons were about that October in Seaside, Oregon, this note from my mom will crackle like a fire in my heart.

Because three short months after she wrote those words, my mom graduated from this earthly plain. Now she waits in Heaven to impart more encouraging words – someday – when I have moved past this life.

This made me think, not for the first time, how neglectful we are of the people in our lives. People we love tend to see the worst from us. We pick up the phone and vent at them when a day turns mean.

How many times have I snapped at my husband because something or someone else hurt or irritated me? Too many to recount. And the thought shames me.

On the other hand, how often have I hugged him and told him what he means to me? Since the day my mother broke the earthly chains, this has happened more frequently.

But less so the further from that painful goodbye I travel.

Do I really need someone dear to me to depart in order to cherish those who remain?

It chills me to think this has become the way of things in my world. Casual words and flippant teasing dominates the conversation. What about meaningful remarks of sincere appreciation?

I hold the cherished journal in my trembling hands. It blurs. The dry ink can’t be touched by my teardrops.

Open Journal

But can my heart? Will I finally learn the lesson this simple gift – now filled with my own thoughts and plans – tries to teach me?

Don’t wait for Death to show you what is truly cherished.

Live today with words and deeds that cherish all those whose presence in your world is a greater gift than any book or heirloom or brightly wrapped parcel.

Who will you cherish today?

cherished-badge16

Life, Time and other Non-renewable Resources

Image courtesy of gacowallfoam.com

Growing up, I heard about water conservation and gas shortages. Sounded like another lesson to memorize, but it didn’t inspire me to take shorter showers or keep the faucet off while I brushed my teeth.

Sometimes, I think we’re as careless rationing the valuable resources that pepper our emotional biosphere. We waste time playing Candy Crush instead of choosing to interact with people around us. Procrastination paves our daily to-do lists with something other than lines indicating accomplishment.

Sometimes it takes an emotional earthquake to shake us out of our wasteful stupor. Time is valuable; once it is spent, there’s no bringing it back, and it can’t be hoarded like Scrooge McDuck’s gold. Life is more than lists. We can make a difference or we can trudge along, minding our own business.

Hours and days have been invested by me into the lives of middle school students. Many of these kids touched my heart. All of them meant more to me than a paycheck. (If you saw the size of the check, you’d understand I’m not really esteeming them all that highly.)

One student entered my classroom, a pixie of positive energy. Her voice, made more childish by a slight diction issue, spread feel-good fairy dust whenever I heard it. The round face of seventh grade matured to a lovely young woman’s features by the end of eighth grade.

I spent several hours each school day with this girl. Some days felt like weeks. She would probably say they drug on for a year. Hyperbole, a teenager’s best friend.

“The sixteen-year-old driver was killed in the crash.”

Image from OSP
Image from OSP

Time stalls for no one. It doesn’t give an extra second to those in desperate need. All that time I spent with her, not enough, non-renewable.

A winding road in the wee morning hours combined with the whir of the tires against pavement to create a lullaby. Snapping awake when the tires spun on the gravelly shoulder, the driver jerks the wheel. Too sharply.

The car rolls end over end. Seat belts strangle the two occupants. Air bags deploy to soften the impact. The windshield shatters, spraying glass shards into the front seats.

“Police suspect driver fatigue could be the cause of the accident.”

Only 16 short years of life – gone. No mulligans. No second chances. Life is a precious commodity and sadly, non-renewable.

Several months before this, almost two years after she spent all those hours in the classroom with me, I saw the pixie at the grocery store. Or I should say, she saw me. Ran up to me and threw her arms around me.

I’m not much of a hugger, but her affection softened my reserve. I returned the hug and asked about her life. School wasn’t going so well. There were so many activities at high school to distract from doing homework. She missed having someone like me to help her understand the assignments and encourage her to complete them.

She was floored when I said I wasn’t working at the middle school anymore. “But you were one of my favorite teachers.”

Precious words. The time wasn’t ill-spent. Meaning infused those years of my life. Apparently, the investment paid dividends.

What other “non-renewable resources” do you see being wasted or well-used in our world? Don’t let it take an earthquake to make you consider conservation and productive use of these irreplaceable commodities.

The Double-Edged Sword of Grief

Slice on the forehand and the backhand. Dice with a downward stroke and an upward cut. The thing no one tells you about the grieving process is that its quite similar to a two-edged gladius. Yes, I’m claiming an emotion cuts like a double-edged sword.

She’s finally fallen off her rocker. What sane person would compare grief to a weapon? Perhaps one who is crazy with grief over the loss of someone irreplaceable.

Grief isn’t meant to be a weapon although it does hurt. The analogy isn’t based on the use of the sword but the quality of its edges. It is sharp. No matter how you touch it, you will bleed.

Ah, grief. No matter how you approach it, the edge is sharp and your heart pays the price in red currency.

Case in point: A photograph

Original image from Gospel Bondservant
Original image from Gospel Bondservant

Nothing especially hurtful about a picture of smiling people gathered around a Christmas tree. Except when you realize there can never be another one. Not starring the same cast.

Nope. Can’t recreate it next year. One important person will never attend another family gathering. That place is empty. Like my soul when I reflect upon it.

Looking at a happy moment brings a smile. Then a tear. It cuts both ways.

How can you smile at a time like this?

I have hope that pain is ended and vitality restored. No rainfall mars a walk and no nightfall ends a blissful gathering.

Who can not smile when envisioning such paradise?

Tears fall on the upturned lips. Rain showers on a sunny day. A paradox.

And still it aches. I’m laughing at the recollection but my heart squeezes into the empty juice glass. Grief draws blood during memories.

Case in Point: Success

A new day sheds rays of hope. Time marches onward. Goals can finally be checked off the bucket list. Accomplishments attained after decades of unfulfilled dreaming.

An un-mar-able moment, right? Joy sputters on the empty tank of a special someone no longer present to share it. Grief spills guts while life marches on.

Two edges, you see. If I remember, it hurts. Whether I recall it with laughter or tears, the wound is opened. In a forgetful moment, triumph blasts an exultant peal. Even in victory, defeat comes with the penetrating blade.

Eventually, I’ll find the protective sheath (a scabbard – because the wound will scab over?) for the sword of grief. Time and distance will dull the edge.

Thus another paradox is born. The dull knife hurts worse than the sharpened one.

Irony or agony? Don’t worry. There’s a double-edged sword for that, too.

The Truth about Death and Dying

Image courtesy of images4.wikia
Image courtesy of images4.wikia

Dying has been glorified in recent years. Meanwhile, Death remains an insidious villain. Recent experience leads me to believe these two attitudes have no basis in reality.

Hear me out.

It’s not my intent to start an argument or step on anyone’s toes. Death and dying are personal avenues for every living soul on planet earth. My thoughts on these concepts will hardly prevent me from treading the dying path toward death.

If only it could be so easy.

Glorification of Dying

Movies glorify dying. Look at the soldier throwing himself on a grenade. How about the stranger tossing a child from in front of a speeding car at the cost of his own mortality?

Gaming forums are the worst offenders in this area. Actual snippets overheard during an online gaming session:

  • “Would you stop dying? You’re killing our team score.”
  • “I’m on my last life so try and keep me from dying, will you?”
  • “What do you mean? I only died three times!”

In isolation, these snippets would be cause to call in a grief counselor for an intervention. They are commonplace in a household where first person shooter games are cool and hopping onto Xbox Live to kick some alien booty with friends is a favorite pastime.

“Dying grace” is a phrase I used myself – before I had to watch my mother die. Dying in a bed of affliction in never graceful. If the phrase is speaking of an attitude toward death, it might make sense. If it’s a rephrasing in regard to God’s grace for daily living, I might be able to swallow it.

Dying is ugly. Whether there is blood and gore or just a silent slipping away, it isn’t glorious.

Death: Hero or Villain?

I recently read a novel that depicted Death as just another guy doing his job: collecting souls and taking them to the afterlife. How does that make him a villain?

Death is a gateway. It marks the end of this thing we call life. We love life; therefore, we hate death.

The actual moment of death happens in an eye’s blink. Dying provides time for that last monologue (courtesy of Shakespeare). Death silences those lips. Dying is the thing that prolongs suffering. Death is a doorway to relief.

In this sense, death can be a hero. If death is a villain to be avoided at all costs, it’s wrong to make dying appear to be something marvelous and desirable when its end is death.

My logic could be faulty, but here’s the bottom line. We glorify dying when it is done in a certain manner: sacrificially or stoically. In the same breath, we vilify death as a lecherous beast that sucks life away. It’s backwards. We should despise dying for diverting us from the pathway called living and embrace death as the gateway into the next life.

Crazy? Maybe if you have no faith to mark the gate of death for what it is: the elevator to eternal life.

Regardless, dying is ugly. There is blood, pain, sickness, and heartache. Dying involves a loss of vitality, a surrender of dignity, and the murder of hopes and dreams. My prayer: to skip dying and just screech, tires spinning all the way, from life into death.

What truth can you share about death and dying? How does your perspective differ from mine?

Funeral, Memorial Service or Something Else

quote-about-grief1“I don’t want a funeral. Don’t cry when I’m dead. Have a party and laugh about my stupidity, hilarity and ingenuity.”

My husband looks at me like I’m crazy. As much as I cry when a loved one passes, he thinks it’s the epitome of hypocrisy that I expect people to laugh after my own departure from life on earth.

I’m all over Ecclesiastes chapter three and think that the time to weep and mourn for me can happen in a dark room somewhere. When they hold my service, I want laughter (and for me laughter often involves tears).

In that case, I don’t think a funeral or memorial service will be appropriate for me. After planning a memorial service for my mother, I had no expectation to laugh during the service. Laughter at a funeral would be even more blasphemous, right?

These days, people hold a service after a loved one passes and call it “a celebration of life.” That sounds more my style. Of course, in the throes of recent loss, I find myself choked up and ruining my makeup at these events, too.

Some people have the knack for enticing people at the reception after such a service to share an anecdote. Others join in. Soon, people are smiling and laughing. Reminiscing is the healthiest way to mourn a loss.

Was I ready for this when my mother was in her hospital bed dying? Not really. The evening I witnessed her last breath, could I think of a funny story to share? Nope. As I sat across from the funeral director, did I believe cracking a joke would lighten the mood? Negatory.

These events aren’t the appropriate time and place for cutting up. Sometimes people share anecdotes at the end of an organized service that bring a smile or a titter of laughter. That’s okay. Those who feel it’s appropriate to join in will do so; others will cry and grumble.

I prefer a small gathering of family and close friends in a neutral location – after the reception perhaps. Get the stories flowing. “Remember when Mom piled ten kids into that VW bug?” “Picking up rocks from the garden plot was torture, but Mom sure grew the best green beans and peas afterwards.”

This is the type of casual get-together that I’m talking about when I tell my husband I don’t want people blubbering over my death (after all, I’ll be rejoicing in the presence of my Lord and Savior; what’s sad about that?). Of course people will cry (some will be tears of joy) when I’m dead. My place in their lives will be empty.

Image courtesy of babble.com
Image courtesy of babble.com

We don’t cry for the dead person. We weep for ourselves. Our loss is their gain. Grief isn’t an indulgence; it’s a necessary step in resuming our life – now changed in the absence of a vital player.

How would you like to be remembered when you’re gone? Have you ever been in a funeral-type service where the air crackled with joy rather than grief? If so, why was that the case?

A Mother’s Life

When you’re writing your mother’s obituary, it occurs to you that sometimes words fail. A life is more than education, residence, employment, awards and surviving family. All the column inches in the newspaper can never hope to capture the full story.

My mother’s life conceived mine. If she had listened to the obstetrician who told her pregnancy and her body didn’t mesh, I would not be here to write these words.

My mother worked hard to make sure I had what I needed. She taught me the value of hard work as a means of reaching beyond the necessities of life into the pleasures. Did I appreciate having to scrub the toilet twice a week? (Make that six times if the first attempt didn’t meet her specification for cleanliness.)

Episodes of raw fried chicken and undercooked potatoes aside, I can prepare tasty and healthy meals because my mother taught me how to use a stove. I started drying the dishes at the age of five (lucky older sister got to wash). I recall stirring jam until I thought my arm would fall off, being hypnotized by the valve on the top of the pressure cooker and sending raw venison through the meat grinder.

My mother taught by example as much as by direct instruction. She loved to read. She sat in the chair with my sister on one side and me on the other, reading aloud to us. When we were old enough, we took turns reading the stories to her. She sang along with The Carpenters as their 8-track played on the stereo. She took us to church on Sunday and helped us learn to recite the books of the Bible.

As much as I grumbled about keeping my room clean, I knew what a clean room should look like. Our house was spotless. No need for a “five second rule” in our kitchen. Go ahead and eat directly off the floor; it’s as clean and sanitary as the counters. No joke.

My mother worked at the bank when we were younger. When we were in high school, she returned to college to pursue a nursing degree. She taught me that a person is never too old to pursue a dream.

I resented her determination to get high marks in college. She spent too much time studying, I thought. Of course, when I returned to college as a 40-year-old, I couldn’t settle for less than an “A” either. She had passed her perfectionism on to me – by example as much as admonition.

I wanted to make my own choices. I deliberately chose things she disapproved for my life, claiming it demonstrated my independence from her. Most of my regrets were decisions I made simply because I knew Mom wouldn’t want me to do it. Can anyone say “stupid”?

I didn’t appreciate her advice until I had children of my own. I didn’t understand her grief at my rebellion until my own children stood toe-to-toe with me debating the rules I set for them. The magnitude of her love in the face of my idiocy boomed like a megaphone when I cried over my own children.

How can these sentiments be expressed in journalistic style for the obituary page? In truth, I’ve barely scratched the surface of describing my mother’s life. More experiences lie ahead when the epic boundlessness of her love and sacrifice will be revealed again and again.

A mother’s life is about securing the best for her children and grandchildren. In the absence of financial wealth to purchase this, my mother spent her own blood, sweat, tears, love, wisdom and time to procure success by outfitting us to strive for it.

What words describe your mother’s life or your life as a mother?

The Book Thief

Sometimes friends urge you to read a book, extolling it as classic or calling it riveting. When you open the cover, your expectations soar. A few pages in, you begin to wonder if you have the right book. By the end of chapter three, you can barely keep your eyes open.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is not this sort of book.

Did my friends encourage me to read it? *nods head* Several teachers I deeply respect seemed amazed I hadn’t read it. Not amazed in a good way either.

The book has been on my “to be read” list for months. It has hardly been alone. At least 20 others books kept it company.

My sister received a Kindle for Christmas and the next week I benefitted. Imagine my surprise when I perused the email telling me she had loaned me an ebook. (“You can do that?”) After I figured out how to return the favor, I opened The Book Thief and began to read.

Why I hadn’t been eager to move the book to the top of my list

I like happy endings. What a Pollyanna, you say. *Shrugs* I can’t help it. Life is full of sad beginnings, middles and endings. When I open a book, I want to escape all that.

Zusak’s book is set in Nazi Germany. That was enough to help me pass it by on several occasions when my teacher friends handed it my direction.

If there is a more UNhappy time in history, I don’t know what it is. Please don’t tell me. The eradication of six million innocent people because some maniac didn’t like their ethnic background gags me just fine, thanks.

Incredible things about the writing

In Nazi Germany, there is only one person whose point of view we haven’t read a story from. No, not the Fuhrer. Death.

It is the irony of the narrator being Death that immediately drew me into the story. Seriously, if anyone can understand that time period, it would be him. Death reigned (not the Fuhrer, regardless of the man’s delusions of grandeur).

Reading the story from such a unique (and dare I say, hopeless) perspective compelled me to keep reading. By page ten, I was feeling a little sorry for Death. After all, he was overworked and saw no chance of a vacation in his future.

Blasphemous thought, isn’t it? That Death might need a vacation. Even on a regular day, thousands of people die. A day in Dachau in 1940? You get the picture.

Dachau Concentration Camp

The point of view aside, the voice is authentic. I could hear the tired sighs of Death. I could sense his amazement at the inhumanity of man to his own kind. Why should we be surprised when Death thinks murder and mayhem are socially unacceptable? After all, these things mean he has to work overtime. And he’s long overdue for a single day off.

Zusak uses unique turns of phrase in his description.  His writing has verve and pizzazz, but isn’t too sophisticated for young adult readers – his target audience.

Liesel and her supporting cast come alive. No cardboard caricatures here. Well, maybe the Hitler Youth bully and the spoiled rich criminal, but none of the major characters were anything other than round and relatable.

In the end, I cried. There’s no such thing as a happy ending from this setting. However, the overwhelming theme  and the takeaway feeling for the story pack a knockout punch. The last line of the book clues you in: “I am haunted by humans.”

Consider who tells this story and let that sink in for a few moments.

Wow.

Right?

My recommendations:

  • Every person between the ages of 12 and 120 should read this book.
  • There are German words and phrases. Don’t stumble over those.
  • Death narrates, so there is death and destruction galore. It’s gasp-worthy but won’t cause you to turn away like the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
  • You will cry. Okay, I cried. Maybe you don’t cry when you read books, but if this one doesn’t choke you up, there could be a deeper issue.

Reading this book will help you appreciate the life you live. How can Death tell a story and make you want to hug everyone you know and celebrate being alive? Read. The. Book. Then you’ll understand.

Have you already read The Book Thief? Share your observations and reactions below.