Tag Archives: grief

I get to be there

“I get to be there.”

I ran across this phrase in an email from a friend, it stuck in me. She was alluding to a time of grieving, healing on the horizon for me.

I can’t hear myself saying those words to anybody.  That doesn’t make me proud.

I’m not good at being there. I am elsewhere, always. Behind, before, circling about. And when needed fully there, even in crisis, I struggle to stay near in my person, if not my body.

But there are people who I want “there.” I can think of some. Maybe I am especially morose, but I do occasionally make a list of people ( and write it somewhere to be found) that I would really want there, say if my parent died or child was grievously injured. The older I get, the more I think about such things.

In times of great grief, I, the loner, really do not want to be alone.

I’ve been thinking about this. It’s been coming up in me. So, it’s my strong suspicion that I have some grieving to do.

I’m one to put that stuff off. My mantra has always been, “I have to…”

I counted once during my most survivalist mode – I said it like 100 times a day.

My Dada died when I was 11. I grieved that when I was 19. Because, I think, people came into my life who made it possible. They were safe – in a way for which I have no words…I never felt that there was anything that I had to do when I was near them, except be me. I had responsibility for holding – nothing. My job in our society of friends was, if I liked, to be clever and insightful and deep….and to drive, but I like driving, and I much preferred to drive with my directionally challenged friends. Otherwise, there were no weights to keep pressed over my head all the time.

As “I get to be there,” rolls around in me, I think of weights not surrendered…maybe not pressed in full extension, but worn round my shoulders like some mantle….mine, always mine.

I lost my grandmother, seven years ago, the one that I am suspiciously quiet about. Words, tears are yet under the cloak of  “I have to…” Then there’s that ten years of my life lost and all the friendships I sacrificed, and the daylight vision that now seems nightmare and ….

I am doing something that I never do…I’m going to go grieve…some things.

I have to…


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deep greens and blues

I grew up going to Panama City Beach every summer with my parents and sister. There is nothing like the squeak of that sand, the brilliant  greens and blues of its sea and sky. Panama City is brightly beautiful. Sun glasses are a requirement at PC. My older eyes cannot exit the room anything but blind apart from them.

My kids are getting old enough for me to let them play in the waves: boogie boarding and body surfing, while I sit on a bluff carved by the morning tide. Usually, I ride every wave as well. But yesterday, I took the opportunity to sit and stare out into the deep greens and blues. The sky was cornflower colored with wisps of white and the water had that sunburned brilliance that is so hard to communicate to those who have never seen our gulf. I tried to drink in those colors, stain my mind with the pigments…afraid that the sea will dim, will be dank the next time I make my way there.

I have stood along the stony shores of Maine, the waves dark and threatening. I have tiptoed the cool waters of Cape Cod’s finger. I have ridden good, strong waves at Myrtle Beach, seen the brown, sandy trails of sea turtles at Hilton Head, come to know the specific briny perfumes of Jekyll, St. Simons, and Cumberland. I have driven down Daytona, searched for shells at St. Pete and found sanctuary from a named storm at Madeira. I have dug my feet deep into gray-brown sand above Santa Rosa and felt the 747 sounds of the Pacific roar through me. I love the beauty of all of these beaches…New England’s steel grays, the South Atlantic’s muted blue greens, the Golden isles sepia tones, but nothing cuts through like the color of our gulf – blinding beauty – stronger than even our sun.

I have also seen the foam and stain that is Mississippi and Texas. Motor oil is my favorite color plastic worm, but my least favorite color ocean.

God, please continue in your mercy.

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…for they shall be comforted.

When I am most vulnerable, when I have the greatest need to grieve, there are people who I want near. They are not necessarily those that I spend the most time with, they are not necessarily those who know me best.  The ones I want near are those that grieve easily, those who are tender themselves. I really treasure those folks. I am not good at grieving, giving expression to my feelings, to my unspoken pains. I want to jump on ahead to what I think and know – just move on past. I know that is not healthy, not best.

Matthew 5:4

4“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”

When the flood waters rise in me and their pressure builds but I cannot find the courage to break under them, when I am so tempted to fortify with thought and knowledge, sometimes God will have mercy and send someone who embraces grief, my way. They don’t have to do much or really say anything. They just have to come close, near …and something just seems to give in me.

I have a few folks like that in my life right now. God, I love them.

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The waters are rising…

This season comes around every now and then. Flood.

We don’t really mark our seasons in the US as flood or rainy or dry, but many places in the world do. That kind of weather is sort of intermittent here. A huge storm (tropical or otherwise) can set in and bring on flood. There are times when those storms are much more common. But you can’t plant your crops by them much less set your watch by the phenomena here.

Rainy, dry and flood make for good spiritual metaphor. I feel flood waters rising. You know that point where it has rained enough, the ground is all saturated, pools are forming in yards, the creeks are out of their banks – usually that’s when the rain stops and the waters begin to recede. But sometimes, it rains more, then more, then more…and things move and shift and slide and sometimes succumb. Flood looks like the least frightening of  the weather phenomena, but that is deceptive.

We have lots of thunder and lightning storms in the South, and lots of tornadoes as well. That kind of weather makes the hair stand up on your arms, it gets your attention, and if it doesn’t, the sirens that accompany it surely will. But flood is subtle, a building thing that comes continually and calmly, doing its quiet damage under cover of the waters.

We had a “for real” flood in our little town about two months ago. The creek that joins up to the river about 1/2 mile down from Helena, rose maybe 25 feet in a hemmed in place. The creek bed is rock lined. This creek doesn’t flood wide and shallow; it grows tall and powerful. The great scooped-out space at the base of the falls was filling like a tea-cup. The waters surged just under the only open (non-flooded) bridge to my town from any direction for about  day. I could only imagine the shifting, the destruction occurring underneath the brown, frothy waters.

My children routinely play in that creek; they fish, wade with nets, catch crawdads and ride kayaks in those waters all the time. They have free run in the park aside it. But as the flood waters rose and we went down to see them at the falls, I could not help but hold the t-shirt backs of my children who stood ten feet away from what was becoming the bank. I was shaken; people came and stared. There wasn’t much to say above the never before heard roar. It scared me; I wondered what would remain, what would stand in its former place.

I went back a week or two ago. Plastic trash bags flag the trees twenty feet above the settled waters. I don’t know how to get those down. All other debris was pushed  far beyond the falls. Tomorrow, as we paddle, I’ll look miles down the river for the dead trees, as wide around as my arms will reach, that I saw bouncing upright like British style bobbers do in the currents.

Flood is frighteningly powerful, carving wide and deep the channel of its flow.

There was nothing living that could have resisted those waters.

The flood of God’s waters is rising in me…(Buck Creek is never above waist-high in Helena.) But I feel the waters at my chest this very moment. It’s still rising. I could try to stand “my” ground against it. But it’s still raining and I know that another inch of rain will raise the flood waters feet.

I’m about to succumb and secede. Nothing else can occur.

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Young Harris UMC

Now a days we build churches that are functional and sleek and have good traffic flow. Back when I was little that was not so true. Our church sanctuary was the typical white box with the high steeple.  The “Sunday School Building,” however, was a converted ante-bellum mansion with a modern classroom wing that ran across to the sanctuary. The children’s classes were held in the old building. My kindergarten class was in this huge room that once served as a ballroom. The room had twenty-foot ceilings, beautiful trim work and  fourteen foot many paned windows. Standing in the sill, my head barely reached the second set of panes…there were probably six sets. It was a surreal feeling standing in those windows looking out on another world…the property of the church was basically a city block which had once been the domain of the home. Huge oak trees were spread across the green grassed square, fingers barely touching. Squirrels ran between them along the trees’ long arms. The front porch of the house was wide and breezy, the rails filigreed ironwork. The front door was massive and oak. I can so vividly remember the feel of the big brass handle in my little hand. The glorious inner stairway came to an end right at the doorway of my kindergarten classroom. It was a long twisted number that I must have slid down hundreds of times, regardless of the little old ladies’ warnings about falling and dresses. I never fell. Can’t be so sure about the immodesty. The majority of the church members were definitely Blue-Hairs. About the only middle-aged folks at Young Harris were the sons or daughters of the old members. We didn’t have many youth, but those who came were faithful and faithfully shepherded by a family with a heart for young people. We, the children, fared better. We were doted on and spoiled by most all of the old people. There were always surprises pulled from purses and sticks of chewing gum that appeared from the coat pockets of the old men. The church calendar was nothing like my church’s today. There was the Fall Bazaar and the Christmas Social and the Spring BBQ and a series of senior citizen trips that carted away most of the membership. Most events centered on food more than spiritual formation, but the fare that they brought was always homemade and always their very best recipe and as such made every gathering a spiritual one. When Laura and I grew older my family changed its membership to the local suburban Methodist church. It had a well-organized youth program for its many young people. There were lots of good things about changing to Tuckston UMC. My mind and spirit flourished in the new environ, but my heart never cleaved from Young Harris. Of course, I married at Young Harris. It was perfect for weddings, the gorgeous grounds, the staircases and windows and beautiful porch. They didn’t have many weddings with their demographics and all so the ladies went all out. There were beautiful homegrown arranged flowers in every room of the great house and of course in the sanctuary compliments of Nana’s Sunday School friends.

When Nana died we sent her off from Young Harris. It was spring. I dressed my girls in bright green and white dotted dresses. We took pictures in the great windows and took a turn down “Nana’s banister.” Finally released, Trent, tied and smartly shod, rambled all over the houses’  tree  guarded domain with the five girl cousins tumbling behind. When we had finished hugging necks and hearing sweet tales about Sara, my Nana, we gathered the great-grandchildren at the large cast iron bell now anchored  in the churchyard. The bell once hung in the steeple; now new electric chimes graced that space. The bell had been spotted by the great grands on visits before. When Nana died and we told them we were going to Nana’s church for the funeral, their first question was,”Can we ring the bell?”  Young Harris didn’t ring out the age of a member at her passing anymore as a matter of practice. But no one took issue with the great grandchildren’s request. They each held the pull and heaved…three long peals rang her home. I have been in Alabama nearly twenty years. When I die, I want to go home. I want my kids to take pictures of their children in the great windows, to let them romp about grass under the canopy of the majestic trees and ring that bell as long as they like.

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Why I am okay with not living in Athens anymore…

First, I have a thousand reasons why I am not okay…there are many trees I miss to the point of pain, there is my fishing lake, there are old homes and buildings and fences of iron, and there are the o so many places where God and I have met that call to me as well. Most of the people who glue me to that place have gone on…but the ones remaining, I miss terribly.

But I do have one reason that I am okay with not living in Athens, Georgia.

Some cosmic connection broke in me the day A&A Bakery closed. Yes, those who know me well have heard this lament nigh on twenty years now…but for those of you who have not…

A&A Bakery was everything small town life is supposed to be. The cherry turnovers, gingerbread cookies and pie were good, the cake squares, without compare. But what I loved was all the things that it was not. It was not shiny. The door, always open if A&A was, was huge and heavy, not glass, except for this small area that I was too short to see in. You walked through a screen door. Next to it sat an aged Coca-Cola reach in cooler complete with bottled Co-Colas (little) and Orange Crushes and Budwines and anything really good, in bottles.There was a giant scale in the cake display area that would weigh you exactly to the pound and all kinds of boxes stored on shelves just below the wooden ceiling. The floor had been modernized and was now squared and scarred and stained. And it dipped in a few places so you had to know your way to not stumble. Most people knew their way just fine. It was not innovative. They had a little grocery aisle and a refrigerator section where you could pick up things like white bread and bologna…This bakery did not make bread. The bread company down the street made bread.  They made birthday cakes… this was long before Winn Dixie dreamed of such… and cream rolls and real big Brownies with icing.

You paid right next to the Coca-Cola cooler and the rack of Tom’s products, I have to tell about the time I thought my Aunt was going to marry the Tom’s boy…she did not and I was so grieved by that decision, until she married into the Coca- Cola people. But that’s another story. The register was this government tan color with a black face and little stubby cylindrical buttons in demarcations of 10, 25, 50 cents and such. It was not technologically up to date, but neither were the eighty year olds that took your order and your money, cash of course.

A&A was small town at its best, a taste as good as Crisco and powdered sugar can get and a mish-mash of clutter and confusion. And everything old…because there is nothing wrong with old if it works just fine.

Not long after the owners finally gave in to the ravages of old, old age…a bar moved in to A&A. Another stupid, nondescript bar, that I knew wouldn’t last any longer than most…came in and took it all…the intrepid’s floor and the painted wooden ceiling and the real wood and glass counters and even the Coco-Cola cooler. And the screen door, behind which someone had always called, “Hey, let me help you push that stroller on in here” or “Morning, Miss Sara!” or “Come on in ladies, do you want your regular?” was long gone, too.

Progress indeed.

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In the 1940’s and 1950’s people traded with a business/businessman. The agreement of supply was exclusive, barring a major snafu. My Dada was overseas all of WWII and Korea. He was abroad more than home from 1940 to 1960. During that time, when my Nana needed to fuel up her Chevrolet, she didn’t drive much…you could walk most everywhere but church and even there in good weather… she rang Red. Red owned and ran the gas station/mechanic shop in Normaltown, the part of Athens where Nana lived. After a call or on their regular day, Red would drive his truck over to Nana’s house and park it in Dada’s tree canopied space. Then he would drive the Chevy back to his station and fill her up, check all the belts and  fluids, check the tires and clean the windows…and then he would drive it back. He charged her regular price for gas, there was no self-serve, and for any parts: filters or oil he might have to replace. He put the charges on her account. She would settle with him once a month when the Dada’s check arrived from the service.

Even in the 1970’s after self-service has infiltrated even his corner, Red did the same for Nana, “Sarge” having passed on and all. Red took care of Nana and consequently, me, until he died some time in the early 1980’s. Then I pumped her gas.

Red didn’t sell 50 kinds of gum and Slurpies. I remember Dentyne and Wrigley’s and Tom’s peanuts in jar and maybe a box of Moon Pie’s. When Dada, who remember worked for a candy distributor, and I went inside to settle his bill, he always bought me something. And then he made sure to shake the hand of the man who kept his girls going.

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