Tuesday, August 15, 2017



When I first posted this picture in June of 2015, the caption read “I am confident that my parents look down on this man every day, grateful for the husband and father he is...”  I remember liking the way the light was shining behind Marv as though my parents were there in the doorway, offering their approval from beyond the grave of this man who was able to temper their stubborn, opinionated daughter and give her 24 years of understanding, confidence, compliments, and unconditional love.

Now, when I look at this photo, all I see is an almost-blinding foreshadowing.

On the evening of August 14, 2015, just two months after this picture was taken, I sat on my living room sofa in a state of nerve-numbed shock. Earlier that day, I had been called to Mountainview Hospital thinking my husband had simply passed out (and, maybe, just maybe, it had resulted in a heart arrhythmia that would require surgery). Instead, I was directed to a trauma room in the ER where Marv's lifeless body was still experiencing the violence of CPR--a frantic team of doctors and nurses surrounding him in a last ditch effort to bring him back.

Their efforts proved futile.

Our family’s world was turned on end that day. His siblings left the hospital without a brother, his parents without a son, my children without a father, and I walked out of the ER without the one person who, next to my parents, knew me best and loved me the most.

I didn't feel entirely helpless as I could still walk and talk (sort of...), but after losing both my parents and my husband before my 45th birthday, I definitely felt defeated and alone.

Yes, I still had my children.
Yes, I had extended family.
Yes, I had close friends.

But the three people who had played an integral role in shaping me into who I was up to that point, were gone. Two of them within a matter of months. All of them yanked from my life without warning.  

Feeling lost, alone, and just a smidge picked on by God himself, I sat in my front room surrounded by my closest friends and three cousins who dropped everything in their busy lives to be with me and my children while my siblings were enroute. I’m not sure what time it was or if someone else mentioned it first, but I do remember the moment it hit me.

It was on this very day back in 1976 when my mother received the dreaded phone call that her dad had passed away after battling stomach cancer, leaving my grandmother a widow at 61. Five years old at the time, I have few memories of my Grandpa Reeder, but I do recall the drive to Idaho the day following his death--mostly because Dad got pulled over for speeding in Oregon, and when Mom tried explaining to the officer the reason for our hasty trip, his monotone “I’m sorry, Ma’am” sparked a tear-laden fury in my mother that still rings in my ears. “You’re sorry," she said, leaning over my father and barking out the driver's side window, "but you’re still going to write us a ticket! That’s just great! You’re sorry?…”

Needless to say, Dad was cited and the added expense only fueled Mom’s frustration of living so far away from family, especially at a time like this.

To date, I only remember one other scene from my grandfather’s passing: the moment my mom and grandmother were finally able to embrace.

It was a muffled, teary exchange--one of the few displays of tender emotion I ever saw the two share. That was the day I learned what the word “widow” meant. But it wouldn’t be until August of 2000 when Mom and I shared this same teary embrace, herself a widow at the age of 60, that I began to understand the word’s true meaning.

Or so I thought.

Still numb on the sofa, it then occurred to me that we lost my dad’s mom on this same day just three years prior in 2012.  My Grandma Cluff was the only family member I’ve said goodbye to with any measure of satisfaction. Anna and I knelt at her beside just hours before her passing and read a letter filled with goodbyes of gratitude for the 98 years of love and laughter she provided in her lifetime. Her parting words to me and two of my children were “Keep the faith and love the Lord”—a far cry from my Grandma Reeder’s parting words to us when we visited her the summer of 2008 and she bid us adieu with a sarcastic, “Well, I’ll see you all in Hell someday!” shocking my children into a full fit of laughter and providing just the right amount of comic relief she always had.

Aside from highlighting the differences between my grandmothers’ personalities, these encounters showcase the differences between two women who'd navigated the world of divorce and widowhood for 60-plus and nearly-33 years respectively.  And, based on my last exchanges with each of them, I could only conclude that widowhood had the potential to make one much more cynical and bitter than divorce…

So there I sat in my living room, a 44-year-old widow, contemplating the multiple losses that August 14th now represented in my life: a grandfather, a grandmother, and my husband of twenty-three years—all on a day that had been considered a day of mourning in my home since 1976.

I suppose that is when this very picture came to mind, filling me with a measure of unwelcomed peace.

I now believe this photo captures what took place just minutes before I was called to the ER two years ago: Marv being summoned then greeted on the other side by his grandparents and other family members, including my parents and grandparents who were not only heartbroken to see him so soon, but were eager to send a message to me in my desperate state of brokenness.

A message of empathy.
A message of understanding.
A message of love.
A message of concern.
A message of mourning.
A message that it was, indeed, “Marv’s time.”
A message that if he had to go, August 14th meant he was in good company.
A message that I was not alone in my pain.
A message that losing my husband in August was now a rite of passage--one I could navigate with the help of my mother and grandmother's example.

It was a message that convinced me, along with this photo, that there really are no coincidences in life…or in death.

Only messages from those we love.

Messages that, if we allow them, will carry us into all of our tomorrows.

Even when tomorrow never comes.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What Do I Make?

What do I Make?
a poem inspired by Taylor Mali's What Teachers Make

I helped make my children.
But I aside from that, I haven’t been able to make
them do or be anything since
--at least with any measure of success.

Have you ever tried making a four-year-old clean his room?  

By the time I had raised all three of my children,
I had tried every “loving and il-logical” way imaginable:
over-positive reinforcement,
and my all-time worst mothering method--i-Robot,
in which I stood behind my second son,
his wrists in my hands,
and forcefully bent him over,
refusing to let him up
until he had a toy in his grasp,
so we could walk it to the closet
and put it away in its "proper" place.  

We both cried that day.
And I remember realizing
(much sooner than most parents, I believe)
that I cannot make my children do or be anything.  
I can teach.
I can expect,
I can lead,
I can hope,
I can allow,
I can encourage,
I can champion,
I can ignore,
I can praise,
I can love.

So I did.

Then, I sat back and watched as they became  
a dancer,
a musician,
a runner,
a singer,
a missionary,
an orator,
a listener,
a loving sibling,
a writer,
a funny girl,

and perhaps most importantly,
my children became exactly who they were meant to be
--not out of force or manipulation or because
“You’ll be a nerd if you don’t make the basketball team like Mom did.”  

And, because I was a coach more so than a creator,
I do not mistakenly take the credit for who my children have become.

I now sit in a seat of satisfaction
and honor the beautiful, imperfect human beings they are
--people who any other beautiful, imperfect human being
will benefit from knowing and loving.