Silence.

I realize that I have not written anything since Mom passed away.

I haven’t really felt like writing, to be honest. I’ve taken lots of pictures, which is another way I process life, but I have not written. I began this blog to process Mom’s decent into Dementia. It was a way to think out loud and to connect.

So now there will have to be a shift.

I still feel funny having a “blog”. There is so much noise, so many voices out there…and many with far deeper and more coherent thoughts than mine…but, maybe there is a place for a small rain. (I’ll have to revisit the meaning of the name since next week will mark ten years since I began this!

So what now?

How about starting with silence?

The Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky

It has been nearly as many years since I took a silent retreat as since I began the blog! I headed up this past weekend to The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. I think this is the fourth time I have been, and every time I am astonished by the peace in this place.

My corner spot in the dining room.

There were about thirty of us this weekend, in addition to the monks. The amazing thing is I never felt crowded or rushed. We ate in silence, we made our way through the hallways and the grounds in silence. We smiled and we waved, and we connected in simple ways…but we were all free to simply listen to God and to have space to breathe.

Dining room

I took naps and I read too late. I watched the sunrise and the sunset.

Sunrise on Saturday.
Sunset
The Abbey at Twilight

I took lots of pictures. And I walked a lot. The Abbey has 1500 acres of trails, and on the trails is a spot with statues. There is a little spot where you come across the disciples sleeping and Jesus weeping. Gethsemani.

I love the fact that there is a bench just before the entrance to the statues.

I needed a moment to prepare. Not because I want to worship statues. Not because it is some magic moment.

I needed a moment to pause. In this beautiful place to prepare myself for a moment of realization of Jesus. The reality of Jesus. The reality of the disciples. The reality of our faith.

Sometimes, I think, we need a moment to remember the absolute holiness, and the the absolute reality of our faith. And sometimes, I need a little help because I am distracted and my head is filled with noise.

Disciples asleep.

As I walked toward the sleeping disciples I was so aware that these men knew Jesus so well…and fell asleep. And how I would probably have been right there with them.

And just in the distance…

Jesus weeping and praying.

Jesus weeping. Jesus praying. Jesus preparing. Just, Jesus.

To walk in and be struck by Jesus. I love the fact that his hands are covering his face…we don’t have to picture him in detail. It’s just a presence and a statue to make us stop and take a moment.

Take a moment to pause and to remember and to pay attention.

The statues are an intricate part of the Abbey and of the retreat, but for me they only command a moment. I always make a trek out there, but only once. It is a centering, and the rest of the time is opened to no schedule, to quiet and to peace.

I need the shock of seeing Jesus in the woods weeping, even though I know he is there and I’ll come upon him just as I enter those woods. I need the centering of that…and then I need the peace of the Abbey.


All surrender of life,all denial of pleasure, all darkness, all austerity, all desolation has for its real aim this separation of something so that it may be poignantly and perfectly enjoyed. I feel grateful for the slight sprain which has introduced this mysterious and fascinating division between one of my feet and the other. The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost. In one of my feet I can feel how strong and splendid a foot is; in the other I can realize how very much otherwise it might have been. The moral of the thing is wholly exhilarating. This world and all our powers in it are far more awful and beautiful than even we know until some accident reminds us. If you wish to perceive that limitless felicity, limit yourself if only for a moment. If you wish to realize how fearfully and wonderfully God’s image is made, stand on one leg. If you want to realize the splendid vision of all things-wink the other eye.

G.K. Chesterton – The Advantage of Having One Leg

The exercise of stepping away from life for a weekend, into a place of silence, not only helped me center and to breathe…it helped me to long for the noise and the chaos of my house. The silence was wonderful, but the silence reminded me of the laughter and the chatter in my house.

And made me long to be home, even after just a few hours.

I thought of Mom a lot. I think just having the space allowed for that. I realized how much I miss her, and how long it has been that we held back that missing. I’ll write more about that, but I need to think it through more.

One other thing that really struck this weekend, though, was the need for holy spaces in our lives.

Entrance to the Abbey.

It is wonderful that our churches are more approachable than probably any time. It’s great that our buildings are full of activity and a multitude of uses.

But, there is something to be said for a space that is only intended to be used to worship God.

There is a peace in this place that is different, and a reverence. You do not rush in chattering. The smell of incense lingers in the building.

There is a hush and a waiting when you enter and wait for the monks to come and sing their prayers. Even at 3 in the morning.

This is a place of awe and of reverence. This is a place of quiet, and in a world of so much noise (and even just in my own mind so cluttered), the space was healing. I love that it is open always and I could walk in and pray at any time. I love that the monks are praying at the 3 in the morning and the sound is sweet and pure in a place that holds so much silence.

So…I’m recharged from a weekend in a holy place. I’m curious to see what comes of this blog and what might be sparked for me to write. I’m thankful for a weekend pausing the normal and reminding me of all that is good and holy and needed. And reminding me how good and holy my life is back home as well.

Oh. And one other thing I learned this weekend. The monks prepare all the food…and it was simple but good fare. Except. The monks do not know how to make egg rolls.

They do, however, know how to make butterscotch pudding.

Janie.

Eleven days ago Dad called to tell me Mom was declining.

Twelve years ago Mom began the descent into Dementia.

Nine days ago, Steve and I flew to Albuquerque to see Mom one more time.

Sixteen months ago had been the last time we had seen her without a window between us.

Somehow all of these numbers and moments seem vital right now. She has declined significantly just since we saw her last week. We chose to go immediately to have the chance to see her before she was completely unaware of our presence. We had to sit six feet away with masks on, but we were able to talk to her, and able to play her a couple videos of Sam playing piano…on her old piano. (Sam playing Liszt. )

She absolutely responded to that. She was aware the whole sixty minutes we were with her. But, while Sam’s piano was being played, she was looking around moving her hands. She knew.

There were things I wish I had said. I think there always will be. We thought we would see her the next day and that didn’t work out. That was hard…that we had seen her for the last time and had not known. There were things I wish I had said.

But she knew.

“I owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for all the good things she has taught me, for standards to live by, for criteria learned in childhood which are helping me to live through this summer, which is rushing by, no matter how much separate days may seem to drag.”

So says Madeleine L’Engle in the Summer of the Great Grandmother. She documents the final summer with her mother, and there is grace in that book for me right now. And I do owe Mom an enormous debt of gratitude. I would like to have told her that more clearly, but she knew. I have her set of the jaw when I am angry, as does my Maddie. I think I have a bit of her wit and incredibly quick mind…but not to her level. I don’t think I’ll ever command a room like she could.

Fifty-one years she has taught me, even when she did not know who I was or where she was, or even who she was. And now she is teaching us this final lesson. I’m watching from afar, which has been my role for the last quarter of a century. I’m learning from a distance, and there is an ache to be there…but I am glad we were able to be with her before she did not know.

My memory of Mother, which is the fullest memory of anybody living, is only fragmentary. I would like to believe that the creator I call God still remembers all of my mother, knows and cares for the ousia of her, and is still teaching her, and helping her to grow into the self he created her to be, her integrated, whole, redeemed self.

I love this thought. Mom has forgotten who she is…or at least from our viewpoint, and we know her only in our own limited ways. But God knows her, and he remembers all of her, and he will not forget. She is not lost, and she is not simply deteriorating or slipping away from us…she is being called home and she is being called to be whole. I sure wish I could see her in that moment of becoming again. The things she will have to say!

I think about the passage in Hebrews, about the great cloud of witnesses that are in heaven, and I think of them holding their breath and waiting for that moment…that final moment that God has ordained. That moment when he whispers to her…or shouts? She is almost there, she has almost endured to the end, and she will soon see that cloud of witnesses.

And we will be left here, another cloud of witnesses. Those who knew her. Knew her laugh and knew her wit, knew her keen thinking and knew her talent to make anyone feel welcome in her presence. Knew her thundering anger when we had not lived up to who she expected us to be. Knew her love of her family and her love of God. Those of us who ate at the table with her, a table filled with food she designed to nourish both our bodies and our souls. Those of us who lived in rooms she decorated with care and love. We, the cloud of witnesses left behind, will only know her in our memories and in our stories, and through the mark she has left on all of us.

For now, I sit and wait. I watch my phone for the updates. I cry some, but mostly those are quiet tears that just roll out. I’m not sure when I will completely grieve. I’m not sure the rules on this. This is all new territory, and so I sit and wait and feel the grief waiting with me.

I’m holding off on posting until this is complete. So this post sits open and I come back and reflect. That is a bit of the processing for me…writing and letting these things soak a bit. What a strange sensation to think of a world without my Mother. Even the skies seem to be waiting as heavy clouds roll in. There is no rush, Mother. Take your time. There will be a moment, and you will know it…when God says “Now” and all will be well. We will grieve, each of us in our own way…and then we will rejoice and will know you are whole.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Twenty-Eight hours later and she continues to breathe steadily, even if shallow breaths. FaceTime is on constant now and provides this tenuous connection that eases the distance.Listening to the quiet conversations, listening to the prayers of the chaplain, and the consistent breathing of Mom in the background. Mom is still the center, she is still in control, even of this moment.

Four hours later. Mom has endured to the end. With the grace and dignity, with the class that she lived her life she left us. I cannot imagine her passing being any more peaceful.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him…

Mental Health Days, Weakness, Leaves…and Remembering

Someone posted on my son’s college FB parents’ page a picture from another college. An announcement of a mental health day called by the president of that college. Something along the lines of “y’all (yes it was in the South) are under a lot of stress, catch up on work and decompress.”

They posted this with the suggestion of how nice it would be at our college. This was met with many comments of appreciation, and a few that said we need to teach our children to adult. They have the weekends to decompress and they need to learn to navigate these difficult times.


There is surely truth in that response. College is the time to learn to adult. We cannot just pamper them and coddle them.

But, that’s not the whole picture, is it?

We have a new dog in our lives (my last post was about burying our former dog.) He is rambunctious, nearing 80 pounds and still all puppy. And he forces me to take him outside multiple times a day. At least two or three times we go up in the woods and throw sticks.

Well, I throw sticks and he sometimes brings them back.

He gets me outside every day, though. Even in the mud and the rain we have had the last several days.


So I started sweeping the woods.

I have a little rake that is actually my daughters, and we started cutting more trails back there. I rake the trails while Bear sniffs and runs around. And sometimes attacks the rake.

Right now, every day the trails are covered in leaves when I come outside. So I have to start all over and sweep the woods.

It’s fairly pointless, really. The leaves come back even between the visits during the day. But…raking those leaves gets me outside and slows me down and gives me space to breathe and pray and think.

And I love how the trails look after I sweep them. Well, rake them.

This has become a rhythm of the day for me.

Throw sticks.

Rake leaves.

Breathe.

And sometimes leave a few of the best leaves in the middle of the trail.

Because, part of the process is also paying attention to the leaves and the colors and how everything changes.

So what does that have to do with mental health?

Well. I think sometimes we need the excuse to create some space for health and some space to recognize that things are not easy right now. I have to walk the dog. There were a few weeks when I just walked him…but then I began to make it a rhythm to my day and something that spoke life for me. Breathing. Colors. Sunshine.

I don’t think it is coddling or weakness to tell our college kids to take a day and decompress and breathe.

Or our adult kids, or our teens, or our children. Or ourselves.


I think we need the space to remind ourselves of hope and of joy and life.


I have dropped off social media for the most part lately because I have friends who are passionate about different candidates. I have friends with a wide range of beliefs. And sometimes, while I love having those differences, the passion can become noise and the conversations can become exhausting.

I can’t imagine how that feels for the college kids. Especially those voting for the first time and choosing between Trump and Biden…and well, Kanye. And trying to see their future and be excited.

We do have a hope though. And we do have grace. We need to think deeply about our politics, and we need to be challenged by those who think differently. And we need to find a way to do that with compassion and not anger, with patience.

But hope.

I read this from Frederick Buechner and I so needed to hear it. Maybe you do as well…

Then at last we see what hope is and where it comes from, hope as the driving power and outermost edge of faith. Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future. There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom, as whatever it is in our hearts–whether we believe in God or not–that keeps us human enough at least to get by despite everything in our lives that tends to wither the heart and make us less than human. To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift.

Sometimes we need the testimony of the saints…and sometimes we need to remember we are the saints with the testimonies. Buechner continues:

And what does that mean about the future? What do we have to hope for, you and I? Humanly speaking, we have only the human best to hope for: that we will live out our days in something like peace and the ones we love with us; that if our best dreams are never to come true, neither at least will our worst fears; that something we find to do with our lives will make some little difference for good somewhere; and that when our lives end we will be remembered a little while for the little good we did. That is our human hope. But in the room called Remember we find something beyond it.

I love that paragraph. There are good things purely humanly speaking. There are stories of hope, and there are stories of kindness and goodness. But…they are limited. Continuing with Buechner…

“Remember the wonderful works that he has done,”” goes David’s song–remember what he has done in the lives of each of us; and beyond that remember what he has done in the life of the world; remember above all what he has done in Christ-remember those moments in our own lives when with only the dullest understanding but with the sharpest longing we have glimpsed that Christ’s kind of life is the only life that matters and that all other kinds of life are riddled with death; remember those moments in our lives when Christ came to us in countless disguises through people who one way or another strengthened us, comforted us, healed us, judged us, by the power of Christ alive within them. All that is the past. All that is what there is to remember. And because that is the past, because we remember, we have this high and holy hope: that what he has done, he will continue to do, that what he has begun in us and our world, he will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition.

“Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy,”” says David (1 Chron.16:32-33). And shall is the verb of hope. Then death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying. Then shall my eyes behold him and not as a stranger. Then his Kingdom shall come at last and his will shall be done in us and through us and for us. Then the trees of the wood shall sing for joy as already they sing a little even now sometimes when the wind is in them and as underneath their singing our own hearts too already sing a little sometimes at this holy hope we have.

The trees of the woods shall sing for joy…and drop their leaves to make us pause and listen.

Finally, from Buechner:

“The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping. Praise him.”

God is here. We have hope…and He has shown us that throughout our lives. We need to pause and remember sometimes.

We need, sometimes, someone to remind us to take a day and decompress and pause and catch our breath.

This is going to be a stressful week coming up. No matter what happens, it is going to be stressful. But, no matter what happens, we have hope. And we have kindness. And we have patience. And we have grace.

Find your version of sweeping the woods. Catch your breath. Speak hope to someone. And if someone offers a mental health day to your college kid, and you think it is just weakness to do that, well, maybe keep that to yourself.

I Dug A Grave For My Dog Today…

The skies are grey, there is a bit of wind, and the leaves in the trees are rustling. The weather suits my mood.

 

I dug a grave for my dog today. 

 

Well, my husband began it this morning before anyone else was awake. I went out thinking I would break the ground, and found instead a shared chore. It is right beside the grave of the previous home owners’s dog Squeak, with all kinds of shades of green above and surrounding.

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He is not gone yet, my dog. The grave isn’t finished yet. But he will be gone tomorrow night, and the grave will have to be finished.

 

He is not my best friend, this dog. He is not my soul mate.

 

He is just a dog. 

 

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Just a dog. Named Chip. 

 

He came 10 years ago from my Dad. Just after our first German Shepherd had been put to sleep. He came with all the wildness of a country dog. He peed on the oldest boys’ hockey bag almost weekly. It took awhile for him to figure out what we wanted from him on a leash.

 

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He ate a bag of bread from the top of the refrigerator, and 24 mini chocolate chip muffins from the kitchen table with the kids were snoozing on the couch.

 

He got into the trash more times than I can remember.

 

He’s just a dog.

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I dug a grave for my dog today.

 

It was a strange experience. My back is hurting. There was strain in the effort. And there was something releasing in the process. I cried as I dug the grave today. The rain, the grey skies, the leaves rustling…they all helped. You cannot dig a grave quickly. Well, maybe you can, but I cannot. And there is, in that slowness, the space for mourning.

 

He’s just a dog, though. 

 

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But he has the softest ears you’ve ever felt. Like velvet. And the scruff of his neck is thick and soft. He’s let me cry a few tears in that scruff, and more than a few this week.

 

He is always happy to see us. Always happy to go on a walk. Always greets the husband with barks of exuberance that begin as soon as he hears the car coming down the street.

 

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I dug his grave today.

 

It’s almost ready. He’ll be gone tomorrow night. His tumor came in November, but the cancer spread quickly in just the last few weeks. You can hear it in his breathing. We’re giving him pizza and hamburgers and chocolate chip muffins and bread.

 

He’s still happy to see us.

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But, he’s just a dog. A dog named Chip 

 

Everyone should have such a dog. Consistent. Present. Faithful.

 

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I dug a grave for my dog today. 

 

He’s just a dog. 

 

I have one more night of him putting his muzzle in my hand to walk down the hall to bed. And waiting when I have to go back to the kitchen three times to fill waters for kids and find my book. Looking out the bedroom door and waiting to lie down until I’m really, for real, ready to go to bed. Then staying by the bed until I get up.

 

Everyone should have such a dog…and a love that teaches your heart to break. We all need the lessons in how to mourn, because there will be deeper and bigger mournings. He’s just a dog, and he’s teaching me in this.

 

 

And I will just leave you with this, from, of course, G.K. Chesterton:

 

But a man does belong to his dog, in another but an equally real sense with that in which the dog belongs to him. The two bonds of obedience and responsibility vary very much with the dogs and the men; but they are both bonds. In other words, a man does not merely love a dog; as he might (in a mystical moment) love any sparrow that perched on his windowsill or any rabbit that ran across his path. A man likes a dog; and that is a serious matter.

– A Miscellany of Men (1912)