Friday, November 01, 2019

Where the Spirit dwells and the heart remembers

I often sit just holding Gayland’s prayer book, lost in memory, prayer, and grief. I hold it carefully, because the prayer book is falling apart. It’s been falling apart for a long time, because it’s been used a lot.

You can tell what it was used for the most -- it falls open at prayers for the sick, prayers for the dying, prayers for those in distress. Pastoral care was Gayland’s great gift. When he walked into a room love walked in with him. I witnessed it countless times in sick rooms, in rooms with grieving families, in rooms with parents who had just lost a child, in rooms with worried people facing a crisis. Old, young, single, gay, straight, white, black, Hispanic, Asian -- his parishioners spanned it all and he loved every one of them. And if you weren’t a parishioner, he loved you too.

The next most often used place in his Book of Common Prayer is the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. He loved doing weddings.
Here he is at a wedding, holding his prayer book.

My favorite wedding story is when he was marrying a bride who he had also baptized as a baby. At the rehearsal, the bride confessed she was worried she would cry through the whole service. Gayland said, “Just keep your eye on me and we will get through this.” So comes the wedding, and Gayland starts to say, “Dearly beloved,” looked at the bride, and . . . started to cry. The bride started laughing, then the whole church started laughing, and sure enough, we got through the wedding with no more tears.

Love was Gayland’s default button. It was the fire burning at the core of his being. It made him a happy person, and it’s what first attracted me to him -- that core of happy fire. Oh, he was a mess, too, just like the rest of us. He wasn’t perfect, but he was almost never unkind, and he was never, ever, cruel. He had a childlike quality of joy and wonder at the world, and children and animals recognized it in him immediately.

Saturday, November 2, is All Soul’s Day, the day we remember and honor the dead -- the Day of the Dead in Mexico. In The Episcopal Church as well as in the Roman Catholic Church, All Souls' Day is a celebration to remember those who have died, in particular one's relatives. It always falls on November 2 and is preceded by Halloween on October 31 and All Saints’ Day on November 1.

(FYI, the name Halloween (sometimes spelled Hallowe'en) is a contraction of All Hallows' Even(ing), meaning All Saints' Evening, as it is celebrated on the evening before All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows' Day. So, Halloween and the Day of the Dead are NOT the same thing.)

November 2 is also our wedding anniversary.

Once, as I sat holding his prayer book, I saw the tip of a slip of paper, worn to near transparency, peeking out among the pages. I opened the book and looked at it. On it in Gayland’s handwriting is, “Where the Spirit dwells and the heart remembers, there are no farewells.” It appears to be a quote from his friend Albert Pennybacker, former pastor at University Christian Church.

“Where the Spirit dwells and the heart remembers, there are no farewells.”

Well, yes. I still haven’t said farewell to him, and I never will. But nearly two years on, the presence of his absence remains as immense as ever. I miss you so much, my love.

O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother Gayland. We thank you for giving him to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Book of Common Prayer, P. 493

 This was played at our wedding and sung by the All Saints' Choir.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dear Heart . . .

This rainy Saturday seemed a good time to continue work on my project of turning an unused room into a guest room.

This has meant sorting through a desk and three crammed book shelves, so it's been time consuming, mostly because my heart keeps stumbling over relics of Gayland.

Today I was stopped completely by a note he had given to me on Mother's Day, 2000, along with a gift of two joined hearts in Steuben crystal. The hearts sit on a shelf in my living room. The note had been tucked into a drawer.

Dear Heart,
Blessed be you on this Mother's Day - and joy to hold dear the life you give and rejoice to see in fullness.
This bit of glass was to have been a Valentine gift -- but it better symbolizes this day and the joined hearts of you and Daniella!
So I rejoice to be giver and rejoice to see the joined hearts and share the giving love from your hearts.
Much love, Gayland
May 14, 2000

If you were ever the recipient of a note from Gayland, you recognize his stream-of-consciousness writing style.

 He wrote in full throat, never stinting on emotion or bothering much with punctuation. He loved dashes, and the fact that there are only two in this note is a bit unusual. And while I treasure all notes from him, this one is especially precious, for in it he at last reveals that he has started to understand the relationship between me and my child, a relationship that, early on, had startled him, puzzled him, and, yes, made him jealous.

He never had children of his own, and inheriting an adult woman as a step-daughter was a step into a totally unknown world. His relationship with his parents had been loving, especially with his mother, but he was taken aback by how very close Daniella and I are.

He was just plain jealous of the time she and I spent together, and sometimes, he was a bit of a brat about it. He was a world champion pouter, and I called him on it many times when we were visiting Daniella when she lived out of state. He would grumble and deny it and then eventually apologize. I think even he was surprised by his jealousy.

Eventually he came to understand that my love for him was in no way affected by my love for her. It was odd that a man so gifted in loving others was so worried that, in this one case, there wasn't enough love to go around. He would still have his moments, and Daniella and I would still call him out on it, but he truly did love her and her sons. Seeing her become a mother was amazing to him, and those two baby boys were the absolute light of his life.

So I watch as the joined hearts catch the light and give it back, much as his heart did every day in so many ways.

I miss you, dearest man.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Brightness falls from the air

It's a line from a Thomas Nashe poem, A Litany in Time of Plague -- certainly the one line that immortalized Nashe. It's a line in the middle of a stanza that's in the middle of the poem.

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air; 
Queens have died young and fair; 
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye. 
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

But oh! How that one line speaks truth to those who have lost someone they love.
Brightness falls from the air.
That's exactly what happens when, in the midst of going about my day, I am blindsided by a vivid memory of my love. Anything can trigger it -- a view, a song, a news story, a flower, a sentence in a book, a TV show. Whatever the trigger, a vivid memory of Gayland springs full blown into my mind's eye, and for a split second, he lives in my mind. Then reality intrudes and -- brightness falls from the air.

Any transitory happiness flees, tranquility is gone, laughter fades, courage falters, hope fades, and bleak despair reigns.

Sometimes it lasts only a minute, and I am able to recover without anyone noticing that this black cloak of grief just enveloped me. Other times, it lasts for days, this bleak hopelessness. When this happens, I just fake it. Why suck others into my bleakest times? 

When it hits, the blow of grief has a physical impact. I feel my shoulders drop, my hands fall to my side, my knees weaken. Once in a while -- thank God only when I'm alone -- it has literally knocked me to my knees.

When that happens, I just sink down and sit there and let the dogs comfort me, as in their loving doggy concern they nudge me and lick me and lean close to me. When sometimes in the night I rise from my sleeplessness and walk outside, they all come with me, even the cat, and we walk the garden in the post-midnight hours, pacing back and forth between the garden "rooms" he and I created together until I am exhausted enough to go back to bed. 

And then, as if to make up for the black times, a period of tranquility will arrive, allowing me days of peace when I am allowed to believe I have come to terms with the loss of him. 

It's a lie.

Oh, I am functioning. I am even having fun. I spend time with people I love. I work on projects I care deeply about. 

But the impact of the loss of Gayland is never far from me.

Perhaps one day these moments will elicit only a fond smile. But for now?

For now when they come, they take the light with them, and brightness falls from the air.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Happy birthday, my love

Today is Gayland Pool's 82nd birthday.  Somewhere he is celebrating, I am sure, because he always liked a party.

He loved nothing more than gathering up all the people he loved -- and that was a LOT of people -- and plying them with food and drink and all the hospitality his generous soul could provide.

Gayland loved using the occasion of his birthday as a way to help others. One year we had a concert to raise money for Sudan. Another year we hosted folks organized against the death penalty in our garden. In other years, we  hosted fundraisers for animal shelters, the Women's Center and Women's Haven, and for politicians we supported.

For someone with such a generous soul, he was really bad at accepting gifts. He felt it was a waste of money, money that could have been used to help someone else. Partly, this was because he didn't hesitate to buy things for himself, particularly books and works of art that spoke to him. He knew what he needed to feed his soul, and if he could figure out how to afford it, he bought it.

But partly it was, I think, that at some deep level he didn't believe he was worthy of generosity. While I suspect I know the origin of this, I cannot be sure. This reluctance to accept gifts was something we talked about every Christmas and every birthday -- that he loved giving gifts to folks, and that he should allow folks the same pleasure in giving gifts to him.

"All you have to say is,  'Thank you,'" I would say to him, when he would begin in on how people shouldn't have spent the money, etc. And he would grimace and say, "Thank you."

Gayland's feeling of unworthiness is common, I believe, among people of his generation. Children of the Depression were raised amid scarcity, hard ground indeed for a theology of abundance to take root. He could be very tight with money. And yet, Gayland epitomized abundant love for others. It was mostly with himself that he was ungenerous.

To watch him move through a room, smiling, grasping hands, gently touching a child's head, an adult's arm, focusing intently while engaging with each person was to watch a lover of humanity in action. Children knew this instinctively. I can't count the number of times we would be stopped in a store or on the street by the sudden appearance of a small child who had wrapped him or herself around his leg. I soon learned to just stop while Gayland engaged with the child and I scanned the space for an anxious looking parent. Sure enough, here would come an adult, calling the child's name and looking simultaneouly relieved and suspicious. Who were these people with their child? Gayland would greet the parent, and gently unpeel the child, who usually was chatting away with him, and introduce himself and me. Within seconds, the parent relaxed, the child was transferred -- although occasionally one would insist tearfully that  he or she needed to go with Gayland - names were exchanged, and off we'd go on our interrupted errand. More than once, the parents and children turned up in church the next Sunday.

He was a child magnet. I think they recognized something childlike in him, a joy and amazement at being alive that they shared. His grandsons certainly knew they had an unfailing advocate in their Da, who believed they could do no wrong, ever. He was amazed at having grandchildren, and thought they were the most special, handsomest, smartest boys ever -- the Best Boys in the World. And of course, they are.

Just in time for his birthday, I finished some much needed work in the farmhouse, work that had been put off while we dealt with his illness, and then I dealt with losing him.

It has been a bittersweet experiece, because it is the kind of project we loved to do together, playing with space with Tino's help. I know he is pleased with the work, because if he wasn't I suspect he would have found ways to let me know.

So happy birthday, my love. I miss you every day.

And here's the latest project:

<<<<< You know the south porch that was falling down? I did as we talked about, my love, and took that wall out to add room to the kitchen.

               See the new space. >>>

You can see we whitewashed the floor like we talked about doing.

<<<<< I also removed the exposed shelves, and lowered the cabinet to I can reach it -- without my tall person here, I needed to do that. And I put up art where the open shelves were.

I also took the wall out to expose the stairs and open up the space beneath them as we'd talked about. >>>>>

And I took out the appliance center we never used and turned it into a seating area at the bar.     >>>>>>>

<<<<< I added lighting to the open space under the stairs and put a bench there to stow purses and things when we have a party.

<<<<<< Here's the view into the kitchen from the dining room. You can see the door in the corner has been removed when I opened up the porch. It makes the dining room much lighter. You'd like that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Pierced hearts

A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a potted Amaryllis bulb at Trader Joe's. Gayland used to give me one on or right after my birthday, figuring it would be open for Christmas -- and it nearly always was. 

The Greeks called these beautiful flowers Amarullis, which means “splendor” or “sparkling.” Even the unopened bud is very shiny.

The Greek poet Virgil wrote that this stunning red flower once was a shy nymph named Amaryllis. She fell deeply in love with Alteo, a shepherd described as having Hercules' strength and Apollo's beauty, but who paid attention only to his plants and flowers. He did not return her affections. Heck, he didn't even notice her existence.

Hoping that she could win him over by giving him the thing he desired most - a flower that had never existed in the world before - Amaryllis sought advice from the oracle of Delphi.

Following the oracle's instructions, Amaryllis dressed in maiden's white and appeared at Alteo's door for 30 nights in a row. Each night, outside his door, she pierced her heart with a golden arrow, causing blood to fall to the ground. Finally Alteo opened his door. There he beheld a gorgeous scarlet flower, sprung from the blood of Amaryllis's heart.

Well, that got his attention. He got his unique flower, Amaryllis' heart was healed, and she got the object of her desire. One hopes they were happy with the bargain. One also thinks the oracle was a creep.

Today, the amaryllis symbolizes pride, determination and radiant beauty. Other sources say it symbolizes success, strength, and determination.

I say it should symbolize the lengths to which some besotted young women will go to catch the attention of an oblivious male.

For me, it's a sweet echo of gifts of beauty from my absent love. This particular Amaryllis has put out two shoots, creating an absolute spectacle of itself. Gayland would have loved it.

Sable has adopted it as her own personal stage setting, sitting beside at every opportunity because she knows its bright red enhances her sable beauty.

It IS gorgeous. Looking at it makes me smile through my tears. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Rough ways

We humans like to mark time off in significant chunks -- a birthday, a holiday, an anniversary. I guess we think it gives us some control over things -- one of the many things we kid ourselves about in life.

Yesterday, December 11, was the anniversary of his death. A year. Three hundred sixty five days without him.

The presence of his absence still is enormous, filling up most of the space in my life. I maneuver through and over and around it, but still, it can suck all the oxygen out of the room in a nanosecond. It ambushes me multiple times a day as I live and work and have my being in this space we created and occupied together. He left his mark on every square inch of this place I call home, so while I love it, and it is indeed a refuge, it also exacts an emotional toll.

This manifests in seemingly irrational acts, because inanimate objects become sacred holders of memory. Silly things, like two juice glasses in the dishwasher.

There they sit, the two cleanest juice glasses on the planet, because I haven't been able to move them from the place he last put them. Every morning he would pour juice for us, mine in the glass with the red ring, his in the glass with the yellow ring. They were the last glasses remaining from a set of eight that he bought years ago in one of Neiman Marcus' "gifts under $25" sales ( he loved those sales). Every day after breakfast he would rinse them off and put them back in the dishwasher. He did so that last day at home. And there they have remained. Not being used, but getting washed regularly. Silly. Like I said, grief can make you do things like that.

Earlier this year I wondered what it would be like, a year out from his death. I hoped it would be easier, that the pain would lessen, become more bearable. And I guess that has happened to some degree. But there are times the grief still is so raw it's as if he just died. I find myself angry -- angry that he's gone, angry at the many physicians who failed to diagnose a damn urinary tract infection that eventually became septic and killed him, angry at a medical establishment -- a world -- so ready to write off a man becoming increasingly frail because, hey! he's nearly 80.

The rage is huge and a little scary, so I try not to inflict it on anyone else. And I try to direct its fire into work that might make the world a little better. God know there's lots of that work around.

Anger and grief use up a lot of energy, I've discovered. At the end of the day, I am often just done, able to do little more than sit in my chair and hold a book. Sometimes I even read the book. Sometimes I watch TV, although often I discover I have zoned out and missed significant chunks of the show. Thank God for rewind.

Motion is what gets me through the day. I move from one task to another, one project to another, one hour to another. I am grateful for generous colleagues who have been willing to abide with my distraction, to put up with some missed deadlines, to be flexible on the days I can barely move.

I am most undone by the kindness of people -- the flowers close friends sent yesterday, the quiet glances, the prayers, the notes.

Because the grief is still right there. Right under the surface of my composure, lurking. And the season isn't helping much, calling forth memories with every emotionally laden holiday chore.

What does help is that The Episcopal Church is in the season of Advent, a time of reflection, preparation and anticipation. Virginia Theological Seminary offers #AdventWord, "a global, online Advent calendar. Each day from the first Sunday of Advent through Christmas Day, #AdventWord offers meditations and images to inspire and connect individuals and a worldwide community of believers to the themes of Advent. You can stay up-to-date by signing up to receive #AdventWord emails here, visiting, and following the project on Facebook and Instagram."

The AdventWord for today is #Rough, a reference to John the Baptizer saying that "'the rough ways will be made smooth' in preparation for the coming of God."

I am intimately familiar with the rough ways - my very soul has been abraded by the harsh emotional winds of this last year. Grief still resides in my throat, making it impossible to sing, or even say some prayers out loud.

The #AdventWord for December 11 was #Go.

But I have no idea what comes next, for grief isn't a tidy linear process. It follows no rules, listens to no rational explanations, heeds no timeline, schedule, or plan. It is the shadow of the Holy Spirit, blowing where it will, when it will, taking no prisoners.

Oh, my love. I miss you so.

Friday, November 02, 2018

A wedding anniversary. Alone.

Today is our 27th wedding anniversary. And for the first time, I wasn't awakened with a kiss and an "Happy anniversary, my love." There were no flowers with  my coffee, no chocolates by my plate, no small package waiting to be unwrapped, no him hovering in happy excitement. He was such a romantic.

Today also is All Souls Day, the day we pray "for all those whom we love but see no longer."

It was important to Gayland that on the day we wed we also remember his deceased parents, Mattie and Mart, his brother Larry, and his 8-year-old nephew Jeffrey.

While the loss of his parents was hard, the untimely deaths of Larry and Jeffrey in an automobile accident was a life changing moment for  him. When almost overwhelmed with grief and loss, he determined to live a life centered in joy and love of God, and it shaped his life and his ministry from then on.

Now that they are all together again, I remember them all, along with my parents, Judy and Alan Sherrod. And while part of me wants to spend the day in bed under the covers, tonight I will be attending the world premiere of a Requiem for the New World, a piece commissioned by Trinity Episcopal Church here in Fort Worth. It is unusual in that it is in Spanish. The young composer, Nico Gutierrez, sang in the Trinity choir when he attended TCU.

Tonight's Requiem is part of the All Souls Day liturgy. It will be presented again on Sunday as a concert. They are making a recording of it, which is good, because I believe all the tickets for both evenings are gone.

Music was such an important part of our life together, and I find it unfair that I can barely listen to music any more without it laying waste to my emotions.  I have no defenses against lovely music. Whether I make it through this entire evening remains to be seen.

But still, I am trying, my  love. I am trying. I am trying, as the poem below says,
 to do what you would have wanted, to give what's left of you away.

By Merrit Malloy

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away.