Saturday, April 03, 2021

Empty

 I am finally in synch with Holy Week.

I have been at least a week ahead of everyone else, because we are not worshipping in person due to the Covid 19 pandemic. So we recorded the online worship services for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter in advance to give us time to edit them, lay down the music and singers, create worship bulletins and get it all uploaded and scheduled to premier at exactly the right time -- God willing and Facebook andYouTube working correctly.

This meant I left after recording the Easter service to come home to finish editing Good Friday and make sure Maundy Thursday had finally uploaded. This really messes with your head.

But now it's all done, the last service uploaded late last night, the last bulletins ready for folks to download, the finally checks made.

How appropriate that it happens to be Holy Saturday -- that sacred time suspended between the bleak grief of Good Friday and the alleluias of Easter Sunday. Quiet reigns. Even the birds seem subdued.

I feel as if I have been living in a state of suspension for weeks now, caught in the time of the Hosannas [Save us!] of Palm Sunday and unable to reach the Alleluias [Praise the Lord!] of Easter. 


Here in our diocese formerly known as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort  Worth, we are dealing with the loss of six beloved church buildings and our name, all awarded by the Texas Supreme Court to people who left The Episcopal Church in 2008 but claimed Episcopal Church property. We have to be out of these buildings by April 19, which means this is our last Palm Sunday, the last Maundy Thursday, the last Good Friday, the last Easter Vigil, the last Easter in these buildings.

Three of these buildings hold a special place in my heart because two are parishes Gayland served and loved (one of which is where I worship regularly) and a third is the church where he and I were married. 

And yes, I know the Church is not the building, the Church is the people, but that's a lot easier to say when it's not your church building that is being handed over to people who refuse to ordain women or openly LGBTQ people as bishops and priests and who call our leadership "unbiblical."

So it's no wonder I wept through the editing of the Good Friday service, no wonder that the stripping of the altar for Maundy Thursday was like tearing strips off my heart, no wonder that Easter seems unattainable.



There have been many times in the last 25 years when I questioned whether all the heartbreaking backbreaking work of staying in The Episcopal Church in the face of often daunting odds was worth it. But I've always managed to hang on by my fingernails until either I got stronger or others stepped in to help. And I always had Gayland by my side.

But he's not here now. The exhaustion of the years of work seems overwhelming. 

I am so tired. And so sad.

Hosanna indeed.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Beauty from brokenness

 Three years. Three years ago today you left on your last great adventure, leaving me behind, stunned and bereft. 

Thirty-six months, 156 weeks, 1,095 days of getting out of bed, putting one foot in front of the other, trying to reinvent my life without you in it. 

Except, of course, you ARE in it. Your imprint is everywhere I turn, every room I inhabit, every drawer I open, every inch of space through which I move when I am home, and in many of the spaces in which I move when I am not at home -- church, grocery store, even the gas station where that one employee often walks outside when he sees my car to tell me he still thinks of you often.


Your happy spirit keeps showing up, making me smile even when I get teary. It practically exploded out of the boxes of Christmas decorations Gavin and I pulled out. Yes, we hauled them all out, including the boxes and boxes of fabulous Christmas decor left to you by Tom and the others. Right now, they are filling the front porch room and the morning room of the farmhouse, with artificial trees (yes, plural trees) standing outside. 

There they sit, while I slowly go through them. Gavin thinks we should put it all up in a wild Covid 19 quarantine frenzy of decorating, and I think he may be right. Of course, like you, he has no intention of helping put it all up. He just wants to admire the finished job. Like you, my love. 

But what an admiring appreciator you were. You loved the extravagance of it and wasted no time planning parties to share it with friends. 

Well, no parties this year, as we all hunker down while the pandemic rages. If you were still here, I would have to tie you to a chair to keep you safe. You would have gone nuts without seeing and checking on all your peeps for so long. 

But I have started the decorating -- and yes, I know it's still Advent, but I needed some cheer, knowing this day was approaching and that I would need some bulwarks against the still-fresh grief of losing you. 


The Christmas tree is a real one, a gift from Mike Judge. It is lovely, and so far, Sable Cat has simply admired it. Let's hope her restraint maintains.



The lights on the garland for the round window still work, which was a pleasant surprise. And you are glad to know, I am sure, that the window has been repaired and is now in great shape, considering it's what, nearly 100 years old?




The fireplace, as usual, hosts Santa and his reindeer and my mom's straw Christmas trees. Of course, I never sit in front of it without thanking you again for its design. You were a genius at things like that-- creating beauty out of broken fragments and leftover pieces that others discarded as useless.

In fact, that's what the genius of your ministry was -- taking broken and discarded people and reflecting back to them their real beauty. 

God, I miss you, my love.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Happy birthday, my love

Today is Gayland's birthday. He would be 83 years old.

He would have awakened me with a cup of coffee and said, "Come on, my love, let's walk in the garden to greet my birthday."



He enjoyed his birthday, and in true Gayland fahion, often used it as an occasion to help others. He would invite people to a party and ask that they not bring gifts, but donations to Planned Parenthood, or to a group working against the death penalty, or to the Humane Society.

He's been gone more than 800 days, so you'd think some of the rough edges of grief would have worn down.

Well, no.

But life does go on.

Some months ago, when it became clear that my ancient dachshund gentleman Mr. Carson had had a stroke and had to be gently helped into a peaceful death, one of my coworkers sent me a spectacularly beautiful orchid with multiple spikes of blooms. It was a sweet gesture of sympathy from another dachshund lover.

I enjoyed the blooms for weeks, but resigned myself to the fact that the orchid was doomed, for I have no gift with orchids. But I faithfully followed the directions of more knowledgeable friends, and it stayed alive.

And then two nubs appeared that began to grow into obvious potential blooms.

I was astonished, but dubious that these nubs would ever open into full flower. But when I looked at it this morning, one had, just in time for Gayland's birthday. I had to laugh.


So, if you choose, please make note of Gayland's birthday by making a donation to the 4Saints Episcopal Food Pantry. This amazing little operation works with the Tarrant Area Food Bank to provide food to the increasing number of families with food insecurity. And the numbers grow each week as more and more people lose their jobs due to the pandemic.
You can donate the old fashioned way by mailing a check to :
4Saints Food Pantry,
4301 Meadowbrook Dr.
Fort Worth, Texas 76103


or use the Venmo app @Four-SaintsFood.

Gayland would love that he might have a part in feeding hungry people.

Now to get through this day.

Happy birthday, my love. I miss you so.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Twenty-four months, 730 days

He’s been gone for twenty-four months. His absence has filled 730 days. The smell of his shampoo has faded from his pillow case. Most of his clothes have been donated. 

At Giverny, in 1991

And, yet, I still half expect to see him when I walk into our bedroom, or walk past his office, or hear a man’s deep laughter, or glance out the window into the garden.

I still find myself thinking, “I need to tell this to Gayland,” when I hear news of an old friend, or see something funny, or learn something new.

It still seems somehow wrong to be watching the continuing episodes of The Crown without him – and certainly it’s less fun without my resident historian telling me all the things they got right – or wrong.

I am able to listen to music now, something I haven’t been able to do until recently without completely losing it. And while in church I still can’t sing hymns, I can sometimes sing the service music. Who knows why I can manage one and not the other?

The problem is, our partnership touched every area of my life. His love and support was a constant presence, no matter what I was doing.

On still too many days I am overcome with the feeling that nothing is worth doing without him to share it or applaud it or just enjoy it. There are still so many days when getting out of bed is a damn miracle, much less being focused enough to work. At times the energy it takes to walk through the grief into the day is enormous. Who knew an absence could weigh so much?

So when people ask how I am and I say, “I’m here,” I’m not being cute. I am telling the truth. Sometimes it’s a huge achievement to just show up.

I miss you so, my love.

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.