Hope and the O.D.D

I am beginning to think of this blog as my Occasional Death Diary since it seems all I do is wait for someone dear to me to pass away and then blog about it. At the end of May, my last living grandparent went to be with Jesus. To say her going left a hole in my center is an understatement. She took my childhood with her.

And yet. Life plods on, intrepid, slow, determined. I have three teenagers and a best friend for a husband. I have my parents and my sisters, and, well, stuff keeps me here. I’m still running in my neighborhood, still reading big books, and writing. It may seem dramatic to say, but I’m a little surprised and offended by my survival instinct. We keep going, most of us, with bloodied hearts. It turns out, that’s normal. Jesus had a bloodied heart, too, once. Someday he will make all things new. Until then, he is with us, and we press on.

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Doc

My grandfather died this week. It seems all I write about these days is death and more death.

I’ve lost both grandparents, husband and wife, in the last seven months, and I’ve heard it often happens this way–the wife dies, the husband follows soon after. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and didn’t realize my grandmother had died back in the summer, but he deteriorated at warp speed afterward. Like he did know, somehow.

He was a jazz musician, a complicated genius, a laid-back optimist with the ability to tune things out. He was 92 when he died, but we all felt shocked when the nurses called and said he was gone for real.

He’s not here. We are. I’m still running, but with weights on my heart. That’s all I know right now.

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Grace

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I miss this blog. I can’t commit to it and I can’t abandon it, which everyone says is the worst thing if you’re a writer. Commit or let go. Don’t waste your time or, on second thought, waste it over here, in this way, on this platform. Post pictures.

I throw things away. It gives me pleasure to fill bags with things to toss, things to donate, things to pass on to friends. I like empty spaces where my eyes can rest and blur. I have a very few items I keep without secret plans of ridding the house of them one day: my grandmother’s diamond studs, my cello, the photo albums I’ve put together over the years, the journal I kept in college (written in German and full of foolish things).

I tried to toss the blog, but I couldn’t. There are things that persist past their evident usefulness, things that collect dust and grow obsolete, you know? But I find as I get older I’m less inclined to scoop every, single thing into a bag at the first sign it isn’t earning its keep. I tell myself I need a few curled up, uncategorized placeholders in my life, that it’s OK if I don’t come back to sit with them except once in a long while, and then only because I want to.

On Running

dsc_0613-2I started training for a 10K a month ago because my sisters asked me to run one with them. But now I’m running because I’m hooked. Turns out I love the oxygen blasts, the racing blood, the endorphin breaker waves after. I like how my legs are firming up and how I sleep better at night. I like the extra time outdoors, too, since I suffer from SAD this time of year.

But also, I hurt.

I don’t mean in an I’ve-sustained-an-injury kind of way. More of a someone-whipped-me-with-a-baseball-bat-while-I-was-in-a-coma-but-now-I’m-awake-again-and-have-to-live thing.

If someone were to look at the search history on my laptop, they might find:

Normal to hurt all over after running?

Groin pain common new runners?

Running bad for knees?

Old running

39-year-old women running for the first time. Bad?

But I already know I’ll keep running no matter what because I’ve decided it’s worth it. The good, ultimately, far outweighs the bad, even though I feel achy almost every dang day.

I’m reminded that running is a lot like life–especially the life of faith. It’s hard and painful, sometimes for long periods of time, but there are good things in store for those who persevere. So often we need people to keep pace beside us to remind us that better times are ahead, especially when our lungs burn with exhaustion.

In the end, I want to be like Paul, who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I want to run and not give up.

The Most Typical Time of the Year

It’s almost Christmas.  Yesterday I sat down with the kids and told them how this week will unfold if everything goes the way I suspect it will– that there will be fun but also boredom; sweet moments but also snippy responses from siblings and parents with cabin fever; excitement but also hints of the blues, maybe.  I reminded them that Christmas morning will come with presents under the tree, but also visits to two separate nursing homes, where my grandparents wait out the ends of their lives without knowing what day it is.

I wanted my kids to be prepared for the everydayness of this week–the truth that, even with the sparkle of the season, there’s going to be plodding and flashes of frustration.  Even in the happiness, there might be secret (or not-so-secret) undercurrents of grief and insecurity, as there are for so many of us.  I wanted them to understand, when they’re slightly let down after ripping the last package open, that having mixed feelings about all of it is OK.

Because I feel that way, too.  And so do most people I talk to about this season of high expectations.  It’s only when we accept that joy will steal up on us while we’re not expecting it, that it will be interspersed with normal–even banal–things like loading the dishwasher, standing in the doorway of a hospital room, or serving cookies to someone who can’t quite chew them the way she used to, that we are set free to celebrate the baby who was born in a drafty barn on an ordinary night.

*For another take on helping kids set reasonable expectations of the season, see this.*

Life by Numbers

The first week in December came and went.  My sister and her husband and kids stayed with us for a few days, and it was Christmasy to have littles in the house again.

And then, in the middle of Amazon deliveries, Christmas movie marathons, and reminding preschoolers to flush, our middle son turned thirteen.

I won’t spend time dragging out tattered cliches about time flying and all that.  But he’s the second of our three kids to cross this invisible threshold in the last fourteen months, and I have to mention it.

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Yesterday, we visited my eighty-year-old grandmother.  She is still beautiful to me.  Her hands shake now, but her nails are painted red and she wears diamonds.  We sat out on her sunporch, overlooking quiet fields, and reminisced about my childhood and hers.  She chuckled to herself, talked about my kids and me as if we are the same age.

My husband and I haven’t turned forty yet, but we notice the signs of a new normal in the bags under our eyes, in our increasing fatigue at any hour past 9:30 PM.  We don’t feel twelve-and-a-half very often anymore.

Then we look at our kids, at how they’re leaving childhood behind at breakneck speed, and we feel older, still–but also younger.  Older because, how did we become the parents of two teenagers and one who’ll be there in seventeen months (minutes)?  Younger because we’ve crammed a lot of living into thirty-eight years, and, Lord willing, there’s more to come.

So I’m trying to stay present in these actual moments instead of looking back too much, or worse, too far ahead.  Because before long, these hours will be replaced by something new.  And then something else after that.

And I will miss my grandmother, and the house that used to have kids living in it.