Archive for March, 2010

25
Mar
10

birds would walk

I heard an ornithologist say in a documentary program, that birds would walk if they could. That’s how he explained the ostrich and the penguins and the 40 some species of other flightless birds. He said that most of them have evolved in the absence of predators. Hmm, I wonder about this. Why would a bird give up that incredible gift of flying? Why not keep flying on the back burner as a fun thing to do every now and again, just for the heck of it? Evolution, he said.

Well, I envy the birds who fly and fly and fly. I am a bird—clearly evolved past flying—yet something I feel/imagine. My bones, though small, are way too heavy to fly, and yet I think that I should be able to do so. I fly in spirit. Right now, my wings are wet and heavy with grief, so I only make circles low to the ground.

I have entered a time of life when losses seem to be piling up all around me. But still I fly…maybe not so high, maybe not so joyfully, maybe not so vigorously…probably more mournfully than not. But God has provided some angels to walk with me. Each one strokes and dries a different feather. I need all these angels and am grateful for them, even if I don’t seem to sound that way. One of these angels gave me a book that I often read at night. Last night I found this poem. Listen:

THE HYMNS OF THE EARTH

I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns
of the earth, and the laughter of the sky,

and the sweet gossip of the creatures on my limbs,
the forests.

I wanted to be a hermit and not see another face
look upon mine and tell me I was not
all the beauty in this
world.

For so many faces do that–
cage us.

The wings we have are so fragile
they can break from just
one word, or

a glance void
of love.

I wanted to live in that cloister of
light’s silence

because, is it not true, the heart
is so fragile and shy.

St. Catherine of Siena (translated by Daniel Ladinsky from his book, Love Poems from God.

22
Mar
10

2 weeks later

It is not getting easier. Grieving is hard work. It is vulnerability. It is wearing one’s skeleton on the outside. It is stretching so thin that God light can get through—in and out, back and forth. It is like my ancestors making phyllo dough, the talented women rolling it thin enough to look like paper. It is hills and valleys, plains and mountains, oceans and deserts. And mostly it just is….

I begin the last week of preparations for my adopted daughter, Bettina’s memorial, on legs both sturdy and shaky. I am ready and not at all ready. I hear the opening song…Listen, God is Calling…and imagine carrying in her ashes…walking up to the altar and placing them there, just so. Then I sit down with the remainder of my family. There will be beautiful, wondrous music, dancing, poetry, scripture…and there will be the remembrance I’ve written. I will read this as a lullaby inviting all to listen: This is who she was to me. I will do this wholly and partly awake and asleep, for the pain of it is unbearable even as I think about it.

God will grant me grace. God’s Jesus Spirit will cover us all and she will be hovering, just like she promised. It will be wonderful and terrible all at the same time. I will be closer to my sister now than ever before, because now I have lost a daughter just as she did fifteen years before. Now we have so much more in common than cancer and mother/sister relationship. I am unable to catch the words as they tumble through my solar plexus.

Just a word to all who want to connect with me…who want to see that I’m okay or not okay, or whatever: Please don’t ask me how I am. Please don’t say, “How are you?” I cannot answer that question. There is no proper bottom from which I can reply. Just tell me that you are glad to see me, or that you love me or pray for me, or whatever is true for you. All I want is to know that there are people out there who see me and care.

13
Mar
10

one week later

Saturday, March 13, 2010  —  I wake up to a dream I don’t remember, but feel sad and helpless.

One week ago adopted daughter, Bettina Ortiz, died at 2:15 p.m. with her nurse and adopted family around her (see Holiness, March 9). She had slipped into a coma during the night. I had been in a psycho/emotional coma equally as long and longer. We did this together. It was a natural ending to the team work of Tina and Mamacita. Yesterday her ashes arrived in the bronze container I chose, and she approved, on the preceding Wednesday. This engraved, bronze box is now sitting on the floor where her bed used to be…next to my sculpture called Innocents, for the victims of 9/11. The box will stay right where it is until I can think about what to do next. She said I could do anything I wanted with the ashes, but that she wanted Frankie’s ashes added to hers. (Frank was our nearly 20 year old cat who slept with her toward the end, but died two weeks before she did.) We will do that…later. Today we tend to unraveling and settling the affairs of her estate.

My unremembered dream stays with me as sadness. A recording of Jacqueline Du Pre  playing Haydn and Boccherini pours out from the living room. This is music I listened to and lived with while I was sick with cancer in 2006, just across the street from adopted daughter…also sick with cancer.

All this week Richard Rohr’s email meditations dealt with Suffering. Today the meditation is adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25:

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. In terms of the ego, most religions teach in some way that all must “die before they die.” Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as “whenever you are not in control.”

If religion cannot find a meaning for human suffering, humanity is in major trouble. All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. Great religion shows you what to do with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust.

If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somewhere in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down. The natural movement of the ego is to protect itself so as not to be hurt again.  The soul just wants meaning, and then it can live.

And he leaves us with this Mantra: “God, help me find you, even in suffering.”

09
Mar
10

holiness

My last posting on this blog was Thursday, March 4, 2-1/2 days before my adopted daughter, Bettina Maria Ortiz passed from this world to the next. I had been careful not to say too much about her illness and approaching death. We kept another blog going called Longing for Light where she kept in touch with all of her friends and relatives. This blog, Called by Name was where I spoke about my thoughts and feelings and those were very intimate and personal.

My partner and I met Bettina about 13 years ago through mutual friends. We introduced her to my biological daughter (Darling Daughter) and they became friends as well. We grew into a family very quickly. In those 13 years we had many adventures together—a chosen family of adults. Big Dawg and I lived within a block or two of the “daughters” and enjoyed a small sense of community—something BD and I sorely missed since leaving a Christian communal church many years earlier. Life rolled along in hills, valleys and meadows until the summer of 2006, when I was diagnosed with stage 4, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, followed 2 months later by Bettina’s diagnosis of stage 3+ ovarian cancer.

We were cancer buddies, understanding each other at a place only other cancer people can know. Sometime in 2007, when the life threatening cancer we’d both endured shook our hearts and souls, we began to silently adopt each other: adopted mom and adopted daughter. Then we all began attending church together. Walking with other Christian hearts and minds, we encountered many thin places where the division between the holy and the ordinary seem very thin. All of us grew close in this adopted family, but the bond between Bettina and me seemed at times set apart…and so it was: adopted daughter/adopted mom.

When Bettina’s cancer recurred a 4th time in January/February 2009, we asked her to come live with us so that BD and I could take care of her. We did a major revision of households, complete with turning our dining room into her bedroom and having our meals on a picnic table in the kitchen. She joined our household one early weekend in March, 2009. We hoped she would be the exception to the  ovarian mortality statistics. We became convinced she would be and dreamed of selling our house in 2 years, buying an RV with a satellite dish and a Peace sign, putting on tie-dye shirts, and roaming the country as poster girls for inclusivity, Jesus-style. We called ourselves the wild ones…in terms of Mennonite church culture, we were.

Then in December 2009, concurrent with my news of complete remission, came hers of yet another poor CA125 lab result. Her last remission was only a few months. The cancer was back and by January there was nothing left to be done. Her body did not respond to Tamoxifen and was not able to accommodate another chemo cycle. At her oncologist’s suggestion, we made a visit to a palliative care doctor on January 25th and left her office with a contract for in-home hospice care. We were already in a mild state of shock when, by the afternoon, hospice appeared at our door ready to serve. For the next 2 days, there were visits by nurse, doctor, social worker and chaplain, as well as deliveries of drugs and medical equipment. Our lives took a 180 degree turn.

Through the next weeks Bettina began a leave of absence from her job and set about putting her affairs in order on numerous levels. By the third week oxygen was required. Enter Darth Vader the O2 machine, noisily and rhythmically supplying life sustaining oxygen to her increasingly compromised lungs. After a bit of time the uninterrupted hissing and hewing became comforting to me. The morphine, Lorazepam and Remeron kept her in a relatively pain-free state allowing her the pleasure of visiting with people as well as giving and receiving love and support through her blog. In the night time hours she was fond of listening to music, especially the songs from the Sing the Journey CD, on her little Mac Laptop. Toward the end of her time she’d found Comme unsouffle fragile on YouTube and would fall asleep to it. I would often creep down the stairs to see her with her head phones and eyes closed in the blue light of her half opened computer.

During these last 5 weeks of her life she earnestly sought God and was increasingly filled with the light of God. Her last public appearance was at our church on February 28, where she shared her thoughts and insights in a meditation/sermon. The whole service was beautifully constructed around her…songs, scripture, sharing and communion. She, the pastor and worship leader served bread and wine to the entire congregation, giving each person a special word just meant for them.

By 5:00 that evening she began a serious decline that gathered momentum to the moment of her last faint breath on Saturday, March 6 at 2:15 p.m. It was a very painful, but holy day. BD noticed a flock of Sand Cranes circling high up in the sky shortly before the hospice nurse arrived. A few minutes after her arrival our pastor came too. This is our pastor’s account which she posted on our church listserve:

I arrived at Bettina’s bedside early this afternoon. Her nurse had just gotten there and turned out to be an invaluable part of the spiritual circle around her for her last hour. After taking her vitals and confirming that Bettina was in a coma, the nurse helped make the decision that she was ready to be taken off oxygen. She removed the tubes and then clicked off the noisy oxygen tank, resulting in the first blessed quiet that house had seen in weeks.

The family, along with Bettina’s oldest friend, the hospice nurse, and I gathered around Bettina’s bed. The nurse asked if she had some favorite music, and we all answered in unison, “Sing the Journey!” We put on her favorite “Sing the Journey” CD’s. Her labored breathing eased some, slowed, and at long last she simply didn’t take another breath. She had peacefully slipped away while the choir sang, “Listen, God is Calling.”

Close friends from church and work colleagues came to the house during the next four hours. At 6:00 pm, her body was carefully and respectfully taken away for cremation.

This has been a holy day.

It was my privilege to be Bettina’s friend, teammate and Mamacita…to love and care for her to the very end. I have learned and am learning a great deal about holding on and letting go, the theme of our denomination’s Lenten season. I am also learning a great deal more about suffering than I ever thought possible.

This will may be one of my last postings on this sight for a while. I will be tending to Bettina’s email and blog, Longing for Light. You are invited to visit there for more information on Bettina’s story.

Sandhill Cranes Migrating Southward

Photo by Todd Friesen

04
Mar
10

wondering

I wonder if losing a hand is anything like losing a daughter…even an adopted one? I wonder if losing a friend is like losing an adopted daughter? I wonder about a lot of things these days, like why I am called to lose this hand while having to hold on to its arm? I wonder why this is happening during Lent when my denomination’s theme is Holding On and Letting Go? I wonder how Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did this at Calvary? I don’t wonder how the disciples did it because I know they could not, at Calvary. It took Jesus meeting them on the road to help them get back on track. After that of course, they did quite well…except for one…

But I am not a traitor and am not falling asleep. I keep watch each hour and even when stumbling I am still putting one foot in front of the other…holding on and letting go. I have seen much radiant light in this watch with my adopted daughter, friend and teammate, but I have not yet received the knowing…that enlightenment that God always sends when I am ready and the time is right. So I wonder why this person dying too young from cancer…and so like a suffering child in some respects…has been chosen to leave before her time. Or is this her time and I am just too self-bound to see it?  Has God chosen her to be his paschal lamb this year of our Lord, 2010?

I wonder because I cannot yet grieve as deeply as I’d like. I am a care giver. That is my job right now: giving care—loving care. Wondering fills the void of  loss. I am wondering because I cannot rejoice. I am no saint. I am wondering like a soul wandering in its velvet deep chamber—discomfited and discontent. I did not choose this assignment. It chose me. Once again I am in God’s transformation class, hoping to graduate as soon as possible. Last year at Lent, it was a class in transformation through rejection. This year it is a class in transformation through loss and that’s my weakest subject! Never was good at loss. Don’t expect to ever excel at it. Just hope to make it through without losing at loss. I am speaking in riddles. My heart is a labyrinth of wonderment.




Blog posts

March 2010
S M T W T F S
« Feb   Apr »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 205 other followers

Categories

Archives