Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day 
is splattered with memories, 
festooned with pride, 
saluted with respect 
and soaked with tears.

On this Remembrance Day, I honor the memory of my brother Jack, who served in the Marines.

Jack was my favorite brother, primarily because he gave me time and attention. This was hard to come by in a house full of people, mostly boys. As the youngest child and only girl, I was often left out of activities, or at least it seemed that way.

Jack would tell me stories, fascinating stories he seemed to make up out of thin air. Stories I remember to this day, of children exploring old houses and caves, getting lost and rescued, with much tension, drama, and fun in between.

But all was not sunshine.

As the youngest child I was often privy to conversations I probably shouldn't have heard. There came a day, after Jack had been married several years, when there was a final falling-out between Dad and Jack.

In the coming year, Jack joined the Marines and went to basic training, winning every award or challenge available. He was determined to succeed as one of "the few, the proud".

He was appointed to officer training school and had a one-week leave before he had to report. He went home to his wife in Oklahoma, bought new tires for the car and took it for a test drive. He didn't make it home.

It was a Saturday morning when we got the news. Stunned disbelief. He'd lost control of the car, it left the road and hit a tree, killing him instantly. The funeral was held on his 26th birthday. My father wept beside the casket with his head on Jack's chest; two military men folded the flag and presented it to Jack's widow, and this was the first time I saw her break down.

Afterward, our family gathered in the funeral limousine only to have Dad climb back out to visit with people who had come to pay their respects. Back at the house, I spent time alone with Jack's widow, Karen, as she went through her keepsakes of Jack and shared some of the facts about his short lived military career: how it shaped him and why he chose to serve.

Remembrance Day is splattered with memories, festooned with pride, saluted with respect and soaked with tears. The other days we are left to pick through fields of grief, sort emotional baggage, gather treasured remnants and flowers. All I have gathered of my favorite brother is a fading newspaper photo and a heart full of mixed up memories.

Photo 1: Official Military photo from newspaper article
Photo 2: Personal Collection

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Books for the Journey of Grief

Yesterday was a busy day which did not allow time for blogging. My 3x per week noon workout in the community pool, a dental visit which confirmed the need for a root canal, then Girls' Night Out at church (sold out) with 200 women enjoying dinner and a movie: God's Compass.

It was a sweet, tender story. The main character had just retired, and her husband had recently passed away. She sought to help a stranger who had helped her pregnant daughter in law to the hospital and had a hidden connection to her family. Grief and loss are part of the movie and it stimulated some thinking about how one may turn to  pragmatic tasks or sacrificial service during and after bereavement as a means of honoring the one who died by making a difference in someone else's life.

It's approaching six years since I was first widowed. During that time there were several books that helped me, and I asked a few friends to add to that list by recommending books that helped them as well. If you are a reader, this is a resource list you'll want to explore. It will equip you for comforting the grieving, and if you are grieving, these books will simply comfort you.

It is my prayer that one or more of these recommendations will make a difference in your life, perhaps even serve as a compass to point to your true north in the aftermath of bereavement.

Mourning Into Dancing by Walter Wangerin Jr.
Wangerin is one of today’s most gifted and award-winning writers on issues of faith and spirituality. I worked through this book around the time of my mother's death in 1996. It was transformative for me. In a captivating narrative woven with stories and comfort, this book defines the stages of grief, defines the types of relationships and the losses we experience in those areas, shows how to help the grief-stricken, gives a new vision of Christ’s sacrifice, and shows how a loving God shares our grief.

Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld
A highly original and meaningful approach to the grieving process with sound advice on how to adjust to change and form new life patterns and human bonds.

Roses in December by Marilyn Willett Heavilin
Having lost three sons, Marilyn knows the tremendous sorrows and struggles that come with the death of loved ones. Yet she shares how, even in the winters of our lives, God provides roses―special occasions, special people, and special memories―to give us strength and draw close to Him. My fourth brother Jim and his wife found this book particularly meaningful after the loss of their 21 year old son in a collision.

Through a Season of Grief by Bill Dunn and Kathy Leonard
A place to turn for daily comfort and help packed with tools to move forward. This is a 365-day devotional designed to support and uplift you in the first, most difficult year of bereavement. More than thirty respected Christian professionals share their insights on how to walk through the devastation of grief toward wholeness and hope. You will also hear from people like you who have lost a loved one and have found God's healing presence in the midst of despair. This unique devotional is based on GriefShare®, a national grief recovery support group program that has helped more than 100,000 families.

Lovely Traces of Hope by Kathy Burrus
By a college classmate of mine who lost her teenage daughter to an accident. It was her daughter's unfinished book that penetrated deep into the torn and broken heart of her mother and pointed her, in the midst of her grief, to the lovely traces God reveals about himself in random and unexpected ways.

Journeying Through Grief by Stephen Ministries

This is a set of four short booklets that offer words of comfort and hope designed to be sent to grieving people at specific, crucial times during that first year after a loved one dies. Each book focuses on what the person is likely to be experiencing at that time and provides care, assurance, encouragement, and hope. I was grateful to be a recipient of these each quarter from a dear friend who understood what it meant to be widowed and delivered them personally with a handwritten note of encouragement.

I Will Carry You by Angie Smith
The powerful story of a mother who carried a child deemed "incompatible with life," and the eternal insights gained from a baby who lived less than three hours.

What books have you found comforting or helpful in the midst of your grieving?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Snoring, Smiling, and Snoopy (the dog)

It's not just snoring. It can cause high blood pressure, insomnia, behavioral issues, heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Sleep apnea can kill you. So when I lose the very thing that helps, I'm in trouble.

My family of origin has a genetic predisposition toward sleep apnea, where you basically stop breathing multiple times per night. Five of us have been diagnosed, others show symptoms they have, so far, successfully ignored. According to Mayo Clinic, an estimated 12 million American adults have obstructive sleep apnea, and many of them are undiagnosed.

In my moderate case, a "mandibular advancement splint" gives a degree of relief. While it sounds ominous, this is basically a dental appliance, a "night guard" similar to those used to stop teeth grinding or manage TMJ pain. Mine sets the lower jaw forward, opens up the airway, minimizes obstruction, and keeps me breathing. This is a very good thing.

Unfortunately, the splint is expensive and not covered by our provincial health care. Costs range in the thousands of dollars. The employer's insurance plan fortunately covers most of that cost for the initial splint, but not for loss.

One evening, a decade ago, my splint is not in its proper place. Now, it is not uncommon for me to set things in odd places (cue laugh track from Henry), so I patiently search. The most likely locations turn up nothing, the level of frustration rises; I scour every room in the house, nothing! I finally dig through the garbage, where it had once been found rolled up in a tissue, but not this time. I give up.

How could I lose it? $480 to replace! Oddly, the song going thru my head at that point said, "God will provide."

After the fitting for a new one, the dentist's office calls: "Insurance covered 90 percent. All you owe is $48!"

I share my happy ending, and my friend Heather (the Fairy Dog Mother, who dog-sits for vacationing friends) tells me she once found her night guard in the mouth of one of the dogs she was sitting. Fortunately, she was able to still use it -- after a thorough cleaning.

That triggers a memory between my mom and our family dog, Snoopy, who Mom barely tolerated for the sake of the boys. Mom wore a partial plate which was somewhat ill-fitting, so she'd occasionally remove it while eating. One day, Snoopy gets hold of Mom's partial plate, thinks it's a chew toy, and proceeds to break off a piece. Mom is so flustered, she grabs the two parts, examines them and then cries, "I don't think she's ruined it!" and pops the larger part in her mouth.

And then her eyes grow wide as she spits it out and splutters in horror: "I didn't wash it!"

After much scrubbing and rinsing, she fits it back in place. Emerging from the washroom, she exclaims, "Well, praise the Lord and thank the dog, it's more comfortable than before!" She used it for the rest of her life.

Fast forward to today. My splint is aggravating the roots of a molar, so I've not been wearing it since August. As you can imagine, my sleep has been affected. The next step is a root canal, and other dental procedures before we proceed to a refitting. This time, as a retiree, there is no employer's medical benefit. So I again am singing that song, "God will provide." I don't know how, but I'll trust God to figure it out.

One final note. If you snore a lot, and/or think you may have sleep apnea, consult your doctor. A sleep study will follow. This article may help in choosing your best route of management.

Cover Photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash
Dog Photo: "Snoopy" from the family archives, 1970.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Celebrity Endorsements

It continues to baffle me how so many people look to celebrities as "authorities" and swallow whatever they endorse. Many of these are actors who have spent their life perfecting the skill of pretending to be someone other than they really are. Or perfecting music. Or makeup. Their entire career has been spent learning the art of affectation and emotional manipulation to achieve a desired result. Now they ply their trade as spokespersons for their own world view. And for this, we reward them with the badge of "Expert on Everything"?

I am not suggesting every celebrity is stupid. Some are not well educated in anything other than their craft, others are quite brilliant but not broadly educated. Therefore, it does not follow that if they are good at one thing, they must be given credit in another. To become expert in ones own field or genre does not leave time to become a credible authority in every other subject.

Time worn motivations drive the human heart to seek out influence in order to satisfy its own desires. The pursuit of money, sex, and power has been a common theme since the beginning of the world. There are those who are succeeding, by human measure, at obtaining these goals and the rest follow like lemmings, hoping to gain similar status through mimicry.

"It works for them, and I like what they say, so maybe if I do the same, it will work for me!"


Sigh. All is vanity.

How's that working for you?

Learn rather to be an expert at thinking for yourself. Are you mindful of how music affects you? Can you distinguish between the actor and the character they depict? Who in life has most influenced you? Why do you respect them? Do you measure success by something other than net worth? Are your own motivations helping you attain peace and satisfaction? To whom or what do you look for authoritative guidance for your life, health, career and emotional maturity? Do you do your own research? Consider all sides of an issue? Investigate political candidates' views beyond what is reported by mainstream media? Ask questions? Actually check the numbers?

Do you have the backbone to choose for yourself? To say, "I will not be told what to think by someone who looks pretty and/or speaks well, but will choose the best path, after sober thought, for me and my future."


Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Day of Rest

I have blogged six days, and on the seventh, today, I rested. If you'd like to read something, I posted a poem on my poetry blog.

Click Here to Read It.

See you tomorrow!

Photo: Personal collection, taken at Leighton Art Centre, post processing with Prisma "Dallas" filter

Monday, November 05, 2018

A Dutch Lullaby by a Missouri Boy

I think I would have liked Eugene Field. We were both from Missouri (but born more than 100 years apart). His distinguished father was part of the counsel who represented Dred Scott in the famous lawsuit which indirectly helped spark the American Civil War.

Eugene, however, was known more as a prankster and partier before he settled down as a newspaper columnist and writer of beloved children's poems, including Little Boy Blue (not to be confused with the nursery rhyme) and Wynken, Blynken and Nod (originally titled "Dutch Lullaby"). A short biography of Eugene Field is here.

Many versions of the Dutch Lullaby were set to music by artists of the sixties and seventies. The following Silly Symphonies cartoon was released by Walt Disney Productions in 1938, It stylized the fishermen of the poem as three pyjama-clad children playing among the stars.

And here is a shorter, sweet version of the poem set to music by Donovan, recorded as the 14th track off the 1971 album "HMS Donovan."

Another musical setting was written by Lucy Simon, performed here with her sister Carly Simon in 1968.

Many of Field's works were accompanied by paintings from Maxfield Parrish, such as the 1902 illustration used at the top of this post. (Source: Wiki Commons)

I hope you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane, even if it is a new memory just discovered.

Do you have a favorite lullaby or nursery rhyme you'd like to share? Leave a comment below!

Sunday, November 04, 2018

To Serve and Correct

I had to laugh at this costume, because it feels like me. Then I realize it's not just me, since the photo has been shared nearly 17,000 times. Grammar mistakes, misspelled words, misused words and incorrect punctuation bother many. Or perhaps it's the "correcting" that is the true bother. I've been in both camps. But mostly on the correcting side. 

It doesn't sit well. No one likes being told they're wrong. Even if they are. Especially if they are. 

"But I'm just trying to help," my right brain says. "If you had spinach in your teeth, wouldn't you want to know?"

Yes. Yes, I would. But I don't want it announced from the podium. Or a public forum. 

If we're entirely honest, it's not usually about "helping." Especially when it's done from behind a digital screen. It's about proving one's superior knowledge. Helping the poor, uneducated doofus. A thinly-veiled superiority attitude that thinks of the other as "less than."

Watch how public dialogue rapidly deteriorates into vitriolic diatribe because one corrects another. Soon the entire online thread is full of "You're wrong!" comments which degrade to name calling, profanity and derision. Witness when a commenter completely misses the valuable point of a profound paragraph because they fixate on a typo or misplaced apostrophe. Some completely dismiss valid information because the vehicle in which it was presented is flawed. So they revert to dismissive shame. 

What is that about? Do we shame others simply because we ourselves have been shamed? Do we fall prey to the lie that criticizing others is a means to elevate ourselves? We take personal offense at the slightest lack of imperfection.

Some of you might think there's a misspelled word in that previous paragraph, when it's simply a cultural difference between Canadian and U.S. english (as if the english language wasn't already confusing enough). There may be other typos of which I am unaware. I am human, thus imperfect, and that really annoys me sometimes. 

My former career was in Communications. I discovered no matter how many eyes proofread reports, articles and publications, there would invariably be an error discovered after it went to print. Sometimes such an obvious one, the entire batch had to be reprinted. Most notably, an annual report in which none of the four proofreaders/editors caught the wrong year on the front cover.

On my first re-read of this draft, I found an improper use of the word "their" -- one of my most teeth-grinding frustrations. Simply a misspelling. Sometimes I can blame auto-correct or a predictive text insertion. Predictive text is famous for adding apostrophe's where they aren't needed. (See what I did there?)

How often do you correct others? Do you do it publicly on social media? 

"Doesn't everybody?"

No. No they don't. I nearly lost a friend that way. And for all the correcting that has been done, very little is learned on either side.

I try to restrain myself now. I value my relationships more than that, as this can go far beyond grammar. One person gets triggered by any woman giving instructions because a fourth grade teacher was so condescending in the way she corrected her students. There's a marriage (or two or a thousand) in trouble because when one speaks, the other "hears" their parent's voice. That happens in business relationships, too. Oh, let's be frank, it happens any time two people are together. The family of origin issues are a whole 'nother therapy session.

So some of us are opting not to give unsolicited "help." More often than not, it's received like a two-year-old who angrily pulls away, shouting "I don't need your help!" 

If you are privileged to be in close enough relationship where you can speak into another's life, this is a beautiful treasure. Even then, relationships fare best when suggestions or instruction are given gently, in private. 

So go ahead: tell me my fly is open or lunch is still in my teeth or I used the wrong spelling of "too" or this article is just to much. (I just twitched writing that.)

But perhaps, it is better, to switch your thought from "She made a mistake" to "What is she trying to communicate?" and "Where do we agree in this matter?" 

Your relationships will thank you. I thank you.