Thoughts for Thanksgiving

I’m supposed to be working on a final paper for one of my master’s classes today; an overall analysis of what’s worked and hasn’t worked on this blog. I have a cool table of the stories I’ve posted on here overlaid with traffic patterns and metrics of likes and shares.

Instead, my mind is on an email I received from my friend John’s wife today:

This morning at 6:32 a.m., John died in my arms. A few days ago, our hospice nurse (affectionately known as “Rachel the nurse”) told us that he would not last much longer. So his last days were spent with our whole family, lots of loving visitors, gorgeous notes, tearful Facebook messages, and precious time laying on our bed together. Last night, we sang hymns and prayed for John and ALL OF US in our bedroom, surrounded by dimly lit candles, tons of Kleenex, close friends, hope-filled hearts, and the peaceful presence of God.

It happened just today but it seems like so long ago. As for me, I am doing alright. In fact, John said last night that I have been “a trooper.” As I woke Jake up this morning with the news about his dad, he said “I’m sorry, Mom. You know we are gonna be OK, right?” Rachel knew why I was waking her up a bit early, but she smiled and said, “He is not suffering anymore, so I am very happy.”

I hate that this has happened to our family. I want God to bring good out of this, and I have asked Him for that. By some of your notes to me, I think He is doing that. Please know how sad we are, but how hopeful we are that we will meet again, and that God is working this out for all of our good. I’m not exactly sure how or what, but I am trusting in His Word that this horrible chapter in our story has not escaped His notice. He’s not going to leave us hanging. Never has.

John is having his Thanksgiving Feast a day early….and it will last for all eternity. He probably ate a hamburger first! Having not really eaten ANYTHING for about 6 weeks, that man—that gorgeous, funny, admirable and courageous man—is enjoying so much….feasting on the beauty of heaven, the beauty of our Savior, the non-caloric food, and the fellowship of those who have gone before us. Let’s be thankful today for John’s journey home. Thankful that he is no longer suffering. We know we are going to be OK—it is just going to hurt for a really long time. I already miss him so much. And I forgot how he taught me to transfer funds from one account to the other…John????! How do I …..? There will be a LOT of those “missing John moments” in the days ahead. Happy Thanksgiving, faithful friends. Enjoy your family and feast. Remember John and pray for our broken hearts.

Feeling God’s comfort,

Kristin, for John, Rachel and Jake

I’m sitting at my computer with three screens open: Final paper, blog metrics, and Kristin’s note. I read Kristin’s note and had to stop writing to find a box of kleenex to blot all the tears streaming down my face.

I’m not sure why this blog is so filled with references to death, with notes about attending funerals and tributes to friends who’ve passed away. I set out to write about my children and life and so much of the laughter that punctuates our days.

Maybe it’s because the specter of death makes the moments of this life all the more precious. I believe there’s another world, one without sorrow and tears. A world of health and healing and reunions of more perfect souls than we’ve known here.

But the partings from this life just make me want to chuck the paper and go and see a movie with my kids. I want to hike a mountain. Listen to some beautiful music. Swim in the ocean at sunset. Get lost in a novel while I bask in some sunshine. Eat a really great meal with people I love. I sort of want to crawl between cool, clean sheets with a hot guy, but that’s not my life right now. It’s a reaction to death that makes me want to seize life.

The paper just needs to be written. Then I need to buy cat food, join the throngs of folks at the grocery store, and pack clothes for the kids for our trip to my sister’s for Thanksgiving. I’ll pray throughout the day for Kristin and Rachel and Jake. And I’ll remember John who worked with my magazine team for years.

John jotted down all special occasions and took the time to note each one. I’d call his office in Charlottesville, VA to ask about a production issue and John would say, “Isn’t today Megan’s birthday?”

Several years ago, a group of us were having dinner together at a conference in Nashville. I excused myself to renew a parking meter for my rental car, and John and his colleague Greg insisted on leaving their dinners to walk me to my car. A gentleman, always.

I know a little too well what lies ahead for Kristin, feeling her way through the next weeks and months of some aching loneliness. Seven years later, and I’ve never learned how to sleep in the center of my bed. I still have a side.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And I’ll celebrate the day with gratitude for the small normalcy of our days. You have no idea how good it is to buy cat food and make small talk with Larry, the nicest, friendliest cashier at QFC, until normal is gone.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with both the lovely mundane as well as the moments that take your breath away. May you be grateful for both in your life.

John Baltes
March 26, 1976 – November 21, 2012

Lavender Blues

Sometimes I hear Martha Stewart whispering in my ear. Then I hear Robin Williams in the other. Robin’s yelling, “Carpe Diem!”

Martha’s whispering insider-trading secrets to me. Or she’s reminding me that it’s time to clean and trim all holiday candlewicks to 1/4 inch lengths and individually wrap them (in silk bags?) for storage to ensure smokeless flames and longevity during future candlelight vigils.

(I suppose I should go see someone about these voices in my head, but I’m kind of enjoying the company.)

It’s easy to be derisive about Martha, but I need to come clean and admit that last year I signed up for a Pottery Barn decorating class. They emailed me about their free seminar on bedroom decorating tips, so I politely responded and brought along my friend Debbie.

There we were—more than 30 women—gathered around a fluffy bed in the pre-opening hours of the store. The key to those lovely display beds? The bedding is doubled over to enhance the heaping highness of the comforters in a short-sheeted bed. You can’t actually crawl into them.

Pottery Barn employees spent 20 minutes demonstrating proper bed-making techniques and debating with our assembled group whether military folds versus hospital-bed folds made for more perfect corners.

I whispered to Debbie that I hoped no one ever came over to my home and flipped up my comforter to check out my bed-making skills. I must have been a poor geometry student, because 90-degree angles mean little to me. Instead, a bed inspector would likely find a wadded-up pair of socks I kicked off in the middle of the night; possibly some dust bunnies reproducing beneath my bed.

Here we are, four decades past the women’s movement of the ‘60s, and the Sisterhood was gathered to discuss—not women suffering under Taliban rule; not the plight of young girls in Thailand or Russia—but the various lavender-scented oils that could be added into each laundry load of bed sheets?!

So that’s my confession. I spent my morning listening to discussions on thread count and Egyptian cotton and short-sheeted beds. I wondered what I was doing there the whole time. I happen to love beautifully packaged presents and lavish bows, and lovely, graceful homes. And hey, someone can scent my sheets with lavender any day! But fast forward to the ebbing days of my life, and I suspect I might look back and wonder why I spent even 20 minutes of my time contemplating hospital-bed corners.

Tonight, though, sleep eludes me, and I am thinking about hospital beds. Specifically, my thoughts are with my 97-year-old Grandpa who is occupying one. Grandpa who was admitted to the hospital a few days ago with severe pneumonia and other complications. Although he’s resting calmly this evening, one of his lungs is entirely collapsed; the other is functioning at 20 percent capacity.

His heart is tired from years of life and the present effort to move blood and oxygen through his body now. We’re expecting him to pass from us sometime tonight or on the ‘morrow.

On his 96th birthday last year, I wrote a bit about Grandpa with his strict adherence to the rules of English grammar, and the application of his red editing pen on my vacation postcards.

This weekend, so many other random memories of my Grandpa surfaced:

At least twice when I was young, Grandpa pulled his money out of one bank and opened a savings account in another to get me a stuffed toy: Crocker Bank’s Cocker Spaniel or Security Pacific’s circus animals. I remember delightedly showing my animals off to my dad (who promptly phoned Grandpa to lecture him about the losses he was incurring by moving his money around). Grandpa, famously frugal with his funds, seemed unperturbed by any losses. He just enjoyed watching me play with those stuffed toys.

A few days before my wedding, Grandpa came over to my parent’s house to ask how he and Grandma could help me. I thought a moment and then realized that in the frenzy of preparations, I hadn’t purchased cedar shavings for my hamster’s cage. I’d leave on my honeymoon, and Sebastian would be sitting in soiled sawdust! Grandpa climbed into his car and went in search of cage filler for my rodent.

Grandpa never won an Olympic medal or any trophies. He didn’t publish a best-selling novel. He didn’t distinguish himself by finding a cure for a dreaded disease. He didn’t paint a masterpiece or launch a multi-national, trillion-dollar company.

Instead, he took the time to double-knot my shoelaces and button my sweaters. My sister and I, sometimes our cousins, too, had sleepovers at our grandparents’ home. Grandpa fixed us hot cocoa at bedtime and added blankets to our beds in case we were cold in the night. Grandpa called chocolates “chocs,” and made root beer floats with 7-Up. We indulged in these treats with abandon when we were with Grandpa.

Maybe it’s the nature of being a grandparent and retired, but if Grandpa was parsimonious with his money, he was generous with his time. He’d shuttle us to the library when our parents were too busy. He’d swim with us when we couldn’t be in the pool alone and no other adult wanted to sit outside with us.

In the end, I can hardly conjure up with last night’s Grammy winners in each category. I definitely can’t name award winners from last year. But I vividly recall Grandpa helping me make hammocks for my stuffed animals on his backyard clothes lines.

The long rows of white sheets flapped in the breeze. Wooden clothespins held up our pillowcase hammocks. None of the laundry smelled of lavender. But when I remember Grandpa lifting me up to put my teddy bears to sleep in the pillowcases, the memories smell like love.