There is that quote from the Tale of Two Cities (may not be correct wording): It was the best of times and the worst of times. In the last few days there have times that don’t qualify as the best or the worst but flirt with those extremes.
There was a Choir Party last Friday evening. It is in the “best of times” end of the spectrum. What a great group of welcoming and entertaining people. There is a genuine fondness for those people that has been there for a long time but seems even more relaxed and enjoyable (maybe even healing) now that I have been retired for almost four years and have sung with them in the festival seasons a number of times.
Saturday morning was also a treat. The morning was spent with a couple of very good people. One of them is among the sweetest and most affirming young people I have known over the years. She has had very kind things to say about my ministry during her early and mid-teens when I was in my last parish (left in 1996). She and her Fiancé drove from Oklahoma City so that we could do the marriage preparation since she has asked me to do her wedding in OKC in a couple of months.
Sunday morning I preached and led worship in a nearby city, a parish at which I preached a few months ago. Between the two services, I showed the pictures from the September trip to the UK and Germany in their class time for Adults. It is always stressful to take on that role, especially since each parish has its own worship routines. The experience was a good one. The people there are accepting and affirming.
This morning I spent a couple of hours at the brand new Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas. It has impressive architecture combined with a creative approach to capturing the soul of the Flint Hills and describing in great detail through endless interactive media the structure, the flora, the fauna, the geology, the history – all done in a way that keeps the interest of the Center’s visitors of all ages. The most impressive time was spent in the fifteen minute immersion experience. It was done in a theater, with a screen that spans thirty or forty percent of the wall space in the room. Wind blew in the room when it blew on the screen. Snow fell in the room when it snowed on the screen. The visuals, the music, the spoken words, the sounds of the prairie combined to provide a moving experience. The thunderstorm at the end startled all of us in the room. By the way, I am writing this post using the battery power on my laptop, since a monster thunderstorm has just blown through taking out the power. Every once in a while one of those claps of thunder startles me. A couple of large votive style candles are providing the ambient light.
The last few days have provided some relatively minor inconveniences. The Air Conditioner simply stopped working. Since we were in a warm spell (at least for May), the temperature outside was 92F and inside 87F. The humidity was fairly low, so it actually turned out more comfortable than I thought it would be without the AC. I kept windows and doors open and used a portable fan. If we were in one of those times in the year when the heat index exceeds 110F, this would be a different story.
What surprised me is how much the next inconvenience affected my sense of well-being. The water started leaking out of the waterfall at a pace that demanded adding water every few hours (very few hours). I have my house set up so that when I am home, I am sitting in full view of the waterfall and the birds almost whatever I am doing. The laptop at which I spend most of my time sits on a tray table next to the dining room table, facing the 12 feet of floor to ceiling glass between me and the deck and the waterfall and the trees and grass in back of the house. The speaker called Nature’s Window brings sound of the waterfall and the birds and the wind from outside into the house, near where I sit. I didn’t realize how securing that setting has become. In the last couple of years of Mary Ann’s life when the caregiving and receiving had become a twenty-four hour, seven day per week task, that view was rich enough to help nurture my sense of well-being. After she died just two weeks short of two years ago the view was the focal point of my slow return to feeling at home in this place that had changed so dramatically the moment of her departure.
Both were repaired yesterday, after two days without them, the AC at a much lower cost than it might have been. The growth of the plants around the waterfall had helped shift the liner enough to provide the leaks. My current water feature specialist came and adjusted the liner. So far, so good.
There has been an unexpected, very unsettling background to this last week or so. When there was not something quite involving and distracting, a feeling of emptiness, a sort of purposelessness appeared. It has been quite unpleasant. Some of it may be rooted in apprehensions about being prepared for the trip that is coming next month, the trip to Germany and Poland. It seems likely that this second anniversary of the last two weeks of her life, the time of rapid decline ending in her death is a dominant feature of that background of emptiness.
It was Memorial Day weekend and other than the aforementioned times in public settings, the long weekend was spent alone. The time was empty of Mary Ann’s presence, her company and empty of the purpose the caregiving provided. That remains one of the clearest and most obvious contrasts between then and now. The importance, the value, the meaning, the purpose, the fullness of life that came with the intimate Caregiver-Spouse role is beyond words to adequately describe. Nothing else even comes close. I spent time at the cemetery on Memorial Day itself. Some of the most helpful times other than those interacting with people have been the times spent sitting in the van at Cedarcrest, reading devotional material from a journal and a book, then reflecting for a while on what I have read.
This evening I attended the periodic dinner out with those who have attended Hospice Support groups in the last few years. When I mentioned the feelings that seem to have come with this approaching second anniversary of Mary Ann’s death, all those sitting around me chimed in acknowledging that the second anniversary had been especially difficult for them. I continue to be surprised at how little I knew about the dynamics of dealing with such a loss. Since everyone does it differently, I only know about how I am experiencing it. I am still no expert on anyone else’s grieving. What I have learned most is not to presume that I know what anyone else should or should not be feeling, should or should not do when grieving a Loved One who has died. I hope at the least, I have learned how to listen more effectively to others who are grieving.
For now, even with unpleasant feelings in the background, I continue to be convinced that the grief journey I am on is a healthy one. The present included times of joy and the future remains full of possibility.
And the power just came back on!