LETTING GO–AGAIN

Not me!

By Lisa Huddleston

This morning I took the risk of pushing my 56-year-old body up into a backbend. It took a lift from my yoga instructor and a lot of courage from within to accomplish, but there I was, upside down looking back at the wall. I had been afraid to try, afraid of the brittleness I’ve been experiencing, the stiffness of my self. But the stretch felt good as I let go of my practical doubts and pushed up.

On my drive home, I listened to NPR’s “On Point” host a discussion of the television series, “13 Reasons Why.” I will not get into the debate over whether or not the series is positive or negative in this post, but I do want to record a small epiphany that occurred as I listened to a high school student share why she was drawn to the idea of suicide. And this may be obvious to everyone but me, but she said that she had contemplated killing herself in order to gain control over her situation. It was all about control!

Aha! Control, my old familiar nemesis, rears its ugly head once again. As I said, although it may have been hiding in plain sight, I have missed it before this morning. And, big duh, suicide really is the ultimate step of mastery over one’s situation—at least for that moment.

So much (God?) has been pointing out to me my desperate desire to have self-determination in a world that feels so out of control. We humans search for purpose and meaning and happiness and beauty and wealth and power–whatever will control the fact that we are from dust and to dust we will return. Pippin’s four weeks of dying naturally were a microcosm that let me vicariously (and actually as one who could have chosen to end his life) experience letting go. And yesterday I attended the funeral services of a wonderfully warm and brave family member (Jerry Denton) who chose to forego extreme medical intervention and let nature take its course in his dying—or rather living all the way until he died. I remain so moved by his courage and example of trust. I know it must have been unbelievably hard to let go of the reins of control, feeble though they are.

And this morning this aha. Control is a mirage anyway. Fear is a faker. Letting go and pushing into the moment is the courageous choice and the only honest way to live all the way stretched up and into the space of the day. Why is it so hard to do?

 

A LONGSUFFERING WEEK

By Lisa Huddleston

My husband has gone to a conference, and I’ve had a lot of time to myself this week. That can always be a little risky for one with introspective, depressive tendencies, and that I’ve spent my time being the hospice nurse for my dying cat has added to my melancholy. Honestly, I’ve spent the week thinking a great deal about death and dying. (Doesn’t that sound fun?)

Interestingly and perhaps not coincidentally, I chose this same time to pull out a book a friend had recommended to me (twice) and to begin a serious contemplation of the value of life, the existence of the soul, and The Givenness of Things (essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson.) Heavy stuff but good and well worth pondering during a week of longsuffering.

Questions have floated back and forth in my thoughts as I’ve watched my cat hang on to his ninth life with tenacious claws. What is it that makes us alive? Is it more than the working of our bodily machines? And what is it that leaves when we die? We all have seen it or rather the effects of its departure—the deflating of the tent, the darkening of the lamp. There is a point in time at which alive becomes dead. A changing of the guard so swift that the ghost is gone without so much as a fare thee well. What is this thing and when will it leave Pippin and me to rest in peace?

While that point of time passes in the blink of an eye, a heartbeat, the getting there can take what feels like forever. Longsuffering is just that. L O N G and S U F F E R I N G. I nobly wrote last week that I was going to gift Pippin by allowing him to pass away at home, but more than once I have considered calling our veterinarian to make an appointment to have him put down. Please, don’t misunderstand, if he were in great pain, I would. But he is just slowly and quietly dying. I am the one who is suffering, and it is I who wants to be relieved of this gift. (Of course, Pip can’t really express his wishes to me, but he seems comfortable enough sitting and shedding on the back porch furniture and squinting into eternity.)

I woke up this morning hoping he was gone. I am ready to remove all traces of cat life and death from my house. I can already uncover the leather sofa my husband has protectively plastered with blankets for years in order to prevent the scratches and tears Pippin and his predecessor, Dusty, were so good at making. Mom, too, has tried to little avail to protect her furniture from the stiff white hairs that weave through any fabric and resist removal as strongly as Pippin himself. I need to remind her that she can clean to her heart’s content. And finally THE LITTER BOX can go! I have hated it for 20 years and even though my uninvited outdoor cats plead to take Pip’s place, it will be gone without remorse ASAP.

But really what I want to get rid of the most is this longsuffering and painful waiting and the useless plastic bubble wrap I have wound around my heart.

HOME SWEET HOME

By Lisa Huddleston

Sweet old Pippin, the cat I picked up in the Cracker Barrel parking lot as a kitten over 13 years ago, is dying. At least, I assume that is what’s happening. He has barely eaten more than a bite or two a day for about a week. He is drinking water, using the litter box, and still meowing like the bossy cat he has always been—but not very often and not quite as bossily. I have offered him a smorgasbord of treats from which to choose, and he has eaten some vanilla Greek yogurt, some cat food “gravy,” and a few bites of tuna, but not enough to really keep him going. I am sad.

I think of how Dusty declined when he reached the end. Weight dropped off and then his organs began to shut down. I took him to the vet, and he ended up dying in an animal hospital about a week later. I hated not being able to explain things to him, and I don’t want it to be like that for Pippin. So, for now anyway, I think Pippin will be given the privilege of dying at home—or at least living here in his comfortable surroundings for as long as he possibly can. He looks content right this minute sitting with me on the back porch listening to the birds sing and the wind blow through the chimes.

We stopped by Chuck’s folks’ place the other evening so that he could plant some sweet potatoes in the newly ordained “family garden.” His mom came out first, and they dug into garden talk about seeds and rows and mounds and dirt. I wandered around to look at the back of the old barn where the wood bows out and the indoor and outdoor meet. She asked me if I liked to garden, and I said I do not, but I was glad for those who do. And we smiled at one another.

New plantings were being watered when Mom brought Dad out to see us. He asked Chuck, “Is this your car?”

“Yes, Dad, it is.”

“Are you going for a walk?”

“No, Dad. We came to plant the garden.”

“Is this your car?”

“Yes, Dad.”

 

And the gardeners wandered off down the dampened rows.

 

“Is this your car?”

I smiled and said it was, and he asked what I was doing there.

“Going home in a minute,” I said.

“Then go. Get in the car or he’ll leave you.”

I smiled again, watching the gardeners and waiting for Chuck to finish up.

 

“What are you doing? Is this your car?”

“I’m still waiting to go home.”

“There are lots of ways to go home, you know. You can go in a car, or you can walk. You can even go in a casket. You know that?”

“Yes, you’re right,” I said. “There are lots of ways to go home.”

 

So I climbed into the car and waited for Chuck to take me home. And home is really where we want to be when all is said and done. Home sweet home.

WATCHING AND WAITING

By Lisa Huddleston

Some days feel exceptionally raw as though you are being forced to walk around on sharp, pointy gravel in your bare feet. It hurts, so you have to walk gingerly pretending you are lighter than you are and are in no hurry to get where you are going.

Fall days are (sometimes) like that. The sun is over bright, and the colors hurt your eyes. If you are driving down a wood-lined road there is a good chance you’ll get a migraine before you’re even halfway to your destination. If you are riding in the passenger seat, you can close your eyes and cover them with your hands to block out the light. That can be a good thing.

Today I am definitely in the passenger seat, but I cannot block the flashing light. I am doing my best. I have watered the mums and other beautiful fall flowers. I have turned on the sweet sounding waterfall in the birdbath. I have opened all three doors between the screened-in porch and the inner sanctum of the house. And it is an absolutely wonderful day. Golden-lit, water-splashing, wind-chiming, dog-snoring, perfectly-perfect day. And I am trying to feel it all. To cover my overly sensitive eyes with creation beauty and to prevent the spiritual migraine I sense hovering in the waving periphery.deer-master1050

But last night while driving home in the dark my eyes were peeled. Deer with death wishes stood just outside of my headlights’ glare. They probably didn’t really want to die, but they just didn’t understand how fast and heavy my Outback was. I had to drive very carefully on the roads home. It would kill me to kill one. Death wishes all around.

Just last week, Chuck stood at my bedside in the early morning dark and said, “Lisa, I need to tell you something.” My heart jumped to just one million conclusions before he said, “I hit a deer by Miss Millie’s house. My airbag went off, and I came back home. Should I go back and look for the deer? He actually got up and walked away. He was huge! I hate that I hit him.”

I told him no. I held his head against my chest. I felt his deep sorrow and fear over his close call. But I knew we’d never find that deer and that there was nothing we could do if we did.

For the past week we’ve both seen deer everywhere we go. Dead ones lying on the sides of roads. Live ones standing at the edges of woods anxious to leap into traffic. Worst of all, deer you never see until you hear the thud and feel the bag against your chest.

Chuck said he thought about shrapnel from the bag. Was his one of those? Had the metal pierced him, and he was too shocked to feel it? Thank God it was just a thought. But the deer was real. At least a six-pointer. Beautiful and wounded. He probably died alone in the woods.

And so we keep our eyes peeled, knowing all along that another one is coming and knowing just as well that there’s nothing we can do about it. Raw, tender, we keep tip-toeing down the gravel road of life.

SHEDDING SKIN

Gilley Hill Cemetery

Gilley Hill Cemetery

By Lisa Huddleston

Yesterday I watched a grandfather point out a snake skin lying in the grass of the cemetery where the family stood waiting to bury one of our own. His granddaughter seemed intrigued but hesitant to lift it from the ground.  And I pondered. How like that skin our bodies are once we have outgrown them in death. And how hesitant we are to touch the shell that is left behind.

As they were leaving I asked the young girl if she was going to leave her treasure behind. “The women talked her out of it,” the grandfather said.

Shedding skin.

Shedding skin.

But then the girl looked at him and his eyes lit up as she ran over to retrieve her prize. She handed the fragile skin to him, and the old man smiled, gently folded it, and carefully carried it to the car where he hid it in the trunk so “the women” wouldn’t see.

It made me smile, too.

FUNERALS AND OTHER REMINDERS THAT I AM NOT IN CHARGE

By Lisa Huddleston

Yesterday we all attended the burial and memorial service for my husband’s sweet Uncle George.  The day began with bitter cold and snow (!) in March no less.  Sunday is Easter for goodness sake.  Snow is unacceptable, and I was not happy.  Not about George’s being dead and selfishly reminding me that everyone else is also dying.  Not about being stung by the biting wind and ice.  Not about having to put my tender soul through so much emotion.  But funerals wait for no man—unless you are family and are coming in from a long distance—so there I was (we were).  Bitter but present.

Thank God for my husband.  He is the glue in my life—in my crazy head that fractures over the least thing.  Gorilla glue!  And thank God for my precious daughter and her husband.  And for my life-long family/friend Sandra who always makes me laugh.  And for our parents who are still alive and the aunts and the uncles and the millions (no kidding) of cousins and their babies.  So much life at that graveside and at the rowdy lunch for the family that preceded the service.

But I am a true pessimist.  I always do my best to look for the dark side.  Why waste a great cloud by loading it down with a silver lining?  Gray days are fabulous just as they are.  So I tried to be appropriately gloomy and dark.  I wore a black dress, black tights, black shoes (funky, zippered booties with excruciating heels to make me suffer) and a very long, very sober black overcoat.  Appropriately appalled.  Very funereal.

But that stinking silver lining was just too bright.  Ah, what a wonderful family celebration.  George and his already heaven-dwelling wife, Joyce, just did everything too right not to celebrate!  Their four sons and two sons-in-law led the memorial with perfect originality—proving what great parents they had had.  Parents who loved them into being uniquely who God had knit them to be.  Whew!  Not a dry eye in the room.  It really should have been attended by everyone—family, friends and strangers alike.

I sat listening with silver-lined tears staining my face and my natural pessimism staining my heart.  Did they know how lucky they were?  Very few have families like theirs.  And I know I’m not living nearly as well as they did.  And, oh my gosh, what will my kids say about me?  And what will my sisters and I do or say at our father’s memorial?  And why don’t I invest in peoples’ lives more like George and Joyce did?  And why can’t I even be a little more understanding about the disabilities my own parents and in-laws are facing as they age?  Instead I am royally pissed off at the system around here.  Why do people have to fall apart so disgracefully?  It is shameful to do such rotten things to such strong people.  And how soon will my children be just as angry over my failings?  (Are they already?)  And, God, do you really mean for it to be so stinking awful?

Forget this mess.  I am out of this.  Nope.  Not going to play the game if I can’t even understand the rules.  I like word games.  Not thoughtless games of chance.  Just cremate me and throw me to the wind.  And not in the vegetable garden as my daughter used to fear—no mother-flavored asparagus (I promise).  Some place wild and free, please.  Hang hippie wind art from the trees.  Let the tossing and blowing remind you of my always restless soul and the brevity of breath.  Whew!  I’m a mess when I can’t be in control–which is basically all the time.

Thank God for my husband!  Thank God for God, too.  Whew! And again I say it—whew!