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 AdventWord.org, 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.

Epitaph
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.
##



Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Eight months and ten days on

The rains came, and the purple sage bloomed. He always loved the sage.


There's so much to talk to him about. The wisteria bloomed! In August!?! A particular former bishop announced his retirement. A hawk landed outside the round window and then drank out of the bird bath, giving tiny heart attacks to every bird in the area. Robert Mueller is getting convictions. And our grandsons are both in high school (!) a fact that would have made him grin ear to ear at those beloved boys.

 

And you know what surprises me? That I can still be caught by surprise when I turn to tell him something. That the grief is still so raw, so painful.

It's been eight months and 10 days since he died. It feels like it was this afternoon.

I guess I believed those who said it won't go away but it will get easier. And yet here it sits, hunched just one thought away behind my veil of composure, ready at any moment to take my breath away, fill my eyes with tears, make my chest fill with pain.

I've gotten really good at disguising these attacks, at turning away or going silent or concentrating really hard on something else until I regain control. But when I'm alone it always wins, leaving me weeping from the force of the longing for him.

So I just keep moving.  I made through General Convention, even though every time I walked out of the House of Deputies and he wasn't there waiting for me, smiling and saying, "Hello my love," my heart hurt. And oh, he should have been there when I was honored by the president of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings, because the work that was being recognized was made possible by his support, his wisdom, his having my back every minute. He would have loved it!

 

I made it through vacation in Hawaii, the vacation he bought and paid for the spring before his death. 

And I am surviving going through his office, although I can only do so much at a time before the emotional toll is simply too much to bear. He and I had talked about other ways to use the building his office is in, because as he got more frail, he worked there less. He always loved playing with ideas for new uses for old spaces.

But remember, we are talking about a space Gayland Pool occupied for many years, so every. single. cubic. inch is filled with stuff he kept -- books, art work, photos, books, letters,  cards from people he helped, people he married, people who loved him (thousands of cards), files, books, prayer cards, prayer books, hymnals, and more unidentifiable things than you can imagine.

And I have to go through it all, because his filing system was, well, very unusual. I found the title to his car in a file marked "pets." See what I mean?

And art work! What wasn't on the walls was stacked against the walls.



I found the brochure about the walking tour of historic sacred
spaces that he helped create.






And more political banners, bumper stickers, tote bags, and other items from the causes he supported than you would believe.


He gave money to every progressive cause that helped women, children, minorities, the vulnerable, the environment, and animals. He loved the ACLU. He was a life member of the NAACP.

And his sermon materials. Oh my. File after file for Year A, B,and C. Fifty years of priesthood wrapped up in notes, sermons, and more notes.

And that's all in the first room . . .

So please pray for me. For stamina, for wisdom, for patience, for discernment of what to keep and what to let go, for, well, for making it through to tomorrow without this beloved maddening, funny, wise, smartass, courageous, caring, creative, disorganized, energetic, and loyal man.

Oh God, my love, how I miss you.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A vacation gift from my valentine

Last year, when Gayland began failing, I kept getting phone calls from Westin Resorts, saying they needed to talk with me about my Westin vacation.  It sounded like a sales call, so I would just say, "I don't have time for this now," and hang up.

This went on for months. Gayland got sicker, and then he died, and my world just shut down to trying to make it from one day to the next. But these calls from Westin kept coming.

Until finally, on Valentine's Day, I said, "What is it you want?" And the woman told me that in the spring of 2017 Gayland had bought and paid for a 5-night, 6-day stay at a Westin Resort on Maui for two adults and two children under 18 and I needed to schedule it before the time ran out.

What?

In a daze I listened to her explain that it came with a rental car and a $75 voucher for use on the resort and I needed to schedule my stay soon. I explained to her what had happened, and she immediately extended the deadline until September. After the shock wore off, I consulted with my daughter and we selected a date.

So on July 16, my daughter, my two grandsons, and I flew to Maui, courtesy of Gayland's Valentine's Day gift.



It was wonderful. It was heartbreaking.

He and I had stayed on Maui twice, most recently five years ago.  Almost every day, he would say, "We have to bring the boys here." And I would agree. He was especially pleased to find a cafe in Lahaina called Da Kitchen, which he decided was Da's Kitchen (the boys call him Da).



When the plane took off I was almost overwhelmed with the sense of loss. His absence was so huge I could hardly breathe. He would have so loved to be there with us. He loved swimming in the ocean and he and the boys would have become waterlogged together. He would have snorkled endlessly with them. He would have loved watching them at the aquarium and urging them to try new foods. He would have loved their reaction to the volcano, to seeing all the new variety of birds and plants and all the colors the ocean can be from one minute to the next.



So I know he was smiling at their antics in the ocean and loving their having this time in a beautiful place. We came home full of new shared adventures and experiences.



They did love it, my darling, just as you knew they would. But it would have been so much better with you along.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

What is heaven worth without dogs?

When you've lived with someone for 26 years, there is a lot of stuff involved -- and a lot of photos stuck here and there.

So yesterday, as I was cleaning, doing laundry,  and trying to get ready for General Convention in Austin, I happened to open a drawer in Gayland's bedside table.

And there was this photo.


This is Gayland with his beloved dog Esau. I am convinced it is a photo of their reunion in heaven.

Esau was a foundling, like all our dogs. Gayland found him lost and wandering on Meadowbrook Drive and brought him home. He left me a cryptic voice message that said, "The little hairy man and I are home, waiting for you." So I arrived home from Channel 13, where I was working at the time, full of curiosity.  And fell in love with Esau.

Esau was indeed a little hairy man. He was -- it turned out -- a loose coated wire-haired dachshund. Who  knew that was a thing?

But what a precious thing. He and Gayland bonded at once. Gayland had never had a dog that was just his. They had had family dogs, but Esau was totally HIS. They adored each other. Oh, Esau loved me too, but it was clear I was a distant second to Gayland.

In 2012, while we were on a trip to Sicily, someone left a gate open, and Esau and another dog got out and were killed by a car. Another of our dogs was badly injured. We came home to this news, and we were devastated, Gayland especially so. The loss of Esau was huge.

A few months later, we got two more wire-haired puppies who had gone soft coated, and we loved Ms. Wiggles and Toby, but they weren't Esau. I don't think Gayland ever really got over that loss.

So I look at this photo, and I smile. I know Esau was waiting for Gayland and greeted him with squeals of joy and wiggles of delight. Rusty was there too, and Molly and all our other beloved dogs who went on ahead.

Of course they were.  For what is heaven worth without dogs?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Triggers

When the longing hits, it's a full body experience.

It can be triggered by driving past a restaurant we liked, walking into church, seeing friends he loved, seeing an art exhibit he would have found interesting, coming home from a party. . .

The longing is so intense it takes my breath away. Just today I almost had to pull over to the side of road to catch my breath because it was so intense. All from passing a church where he served.

This weekend I met my new grand nephew for the first time, and as I drove home, all I could think about was how Gayland would have loved him. Gayland loved this baby's mama from the first time he met her as a little girl, and he was overjoyed with the news of her pregnancy. He would have loved seeing this baby boy's beautiful hands, and would have marveled at his composure at being surrounded by all the Sherrods -- something even Gayland found overwhelming at times.

Waiting on a vote at General Convention in Philadelphia, 1997

This week, as I get ready to go to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church next week -- this is the governing body of our church that meets every three years -- I miss him so much it hurts. For years we went to Convention seeking to change things in this diocese so women could be ordained priests here, and LGBTQ Episcopalians would be loved and welcomed in all orders of ministry. He paid a big price for this advocacy work, forced into early retirement by a bishop who couldn't do anything to me, a lay woman, but could go after my priest husband. The financial hit from that was a big one, one that remains with me, but Gayland never regretted our work.

Our partnership strengthened both of us, but certainly me. I found the courage to take on the church governance because I knew he had my back, that no matter what happened, he was there with and for me, even if he was back at home taking care of everything there. But he always managed to come for at least part of Convention to be with me. He was my strength and a lantern to my feet. Going to convention alone feels so wrong.

And now as I look down, I see all the dogs have gathered by my feet, and the cat is curled up next to my keyboard.  This always happens when I write things like this. So here we sit, one very lonely human amid five animals, all of us missing him.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A broken heart gets in the way

The other day I was watering the garden and right in the middle of the walk, as carefully placed as if by plan, was a small stone in the shape of a heart.



A broken heart.

It stopped me in my tracks. I picked it up, turned off the water, and walked over to the pergola and sat down to contemplate it.

It is a tiny thing. about the size of a nickle. But its impact was huge. Because I had been telling myself I was doing really well.

I was lying. My heart is broken. I am in the most familiar of places and yet I recognize none of it. Without him, all is foreign, all is strange, meaningless.

I am lost.

Stand still.
The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.

"Lost" by David Wagoner
From Collected Poems 1956-1976

"Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known."
That is how I reply to people who ask, "How are you?" I say, "I am here." But Here is indeed a powerful stranger, unknown territory full of mysteries.

Last month his will was probated, a legal procedure so dry and formulaic that it made me want to scream, "Stop! What he wanted mattered more than these muttered rote words and scripted replies in a courtroom. He is not just one more 'case' come before you. He was wonderful, beloved, delightful. Can you not see that the whole world is diminished without him!?"

But of course one does not act that way in a courtroom when one is just a bit player in a minor legal drama that just happens to deal with the death of a beloved husband. 

So now I am officially his sole heir and executor. He had already made provision for others to be cared for, so his will was very simple and straightforward. Now I am tasked with inventorying our "estate," a word much too grand to encompass our eccentric and very personal creation of a home.  How am I supposed to put a dollar value on our life together? For that is what it feels like I've been asked to do. 

I have sat down again and again with all good intentions to start this task and end up walking away again and again, helpless before the impossibility of it. Yes, I have found deeds and records and all manner of documents, but I can't seem to go much beyond that. 

So I wander outside and watch Raven and Wren in the garden, although my Raven is actually Crow. Yes, Crow has taken up residence here this spring, and unlike the busy noisy wrens, he is a creature on a schedule. He comes to the pergola fountain at the same time every day to drink, scattering any loitering squirrels and daring my dogs to challenge him. They just act like they haven't noticed him. He perches on the bubbling top of the fountain and boldly drinks without even looking around. He doesn't care if I am sitting three feet away watching him. When he is done, he looks directly at me, and we eye one another in silence for a time. Then I tell him he is beautiful and he bobs his head at me, and takes off over the pergola, crying his raucous challenge to the skies.

Odd how I have come to count on those encounters. I sit and watch the birds, and the lizards and other creatures who share this space with me and wonder if they notice how different it is without him. And I wonder if grief is making me a little bit mad. A good friend who has endured a huge loss herself told me to call her whenever I needed to ask if I was crazy or not. Now I know what she means.

Grief does create a mad space in one's life, a space that makes no sense, a Here that is a powerful stanger, one that may or may not give you permission to know it.