Sunday, December 15, 2013

Laying to Rest Isn't Easy

"I am happy that Dorcas's mom is in Heaven," said a friend who stopped in the other day, to Paul.  "But I'm sad that there won't be more stories about her."

I wasn't in on this conversation because I was taking a nap.  In my dreams I heard this voice that wasn't any of my girls but I didn't wake up enough to come see what was going on.

It turned out to be my old friend Judy, who was supposed to meet someone at Uncle James's down the road, but they weren't there, so she came here to use the phone and also talked with Paul for a few minutes.  It says something about my completely exhausted state that I didn't recognize Judy's voice and slept through the conversation.

Getting old is complicated, and so is dying.  Losing someone and laying them to rest is never convenient, and it is phenomenally exhausting in body, soul, and spirit.

So I have been staying home and sleeping a lot.

"How was your trip to Minnesota?" people ask.  "And the funeral?"

When you lose someone you love, you wish the world would slow down, hush, turn gentle and nice.  You want the weather to be sunny and the roads clear and the volume turned way down on the airport announcements from the chief of police of the Port of Portland telling you to watch for unattended baggage, and all the chatty folks to, at the very least, not ask you any questions that require thought.

You want the world to come give you a hug and a cup of tea.  That's all.  You want someone else to figure out rides.  You don't want the phone to ring unless it's your friend Jean saying she's bringing supper.

The world does not cooperate, so you go through your days in a fog, tense and weepy, with jarring noises on the ear and grating, glaring, sights and decisions shoved at you.

And when the weather is terrible, it feels like you just do not have what it takes to handle this.  You just don't.  But you have to.

On the flight to Minnesota, with Paul and I and Jenny and Steven, I got on Paul's computer and checked road and weather conditions for the 2-hour drive to Mom and Dad's house.

Ice. Snow.  Cold.  Wind. Storms.  Warning!  Stay home!

Overwhelmed, I posted a prayer request on Facebook.

My friend Esther, who happens to be Jewish, sent me this:
"When encountering water, one should say that the Baal Shem says that it is a sign of blessing." -HaYom Yom Tevet 21"
Of course snow and ice are the least pleasant forms of water and are making getting where you need to be scary and difficult, but I would like to believe that this is G-d's way of showing that He is showering you with grace and blessing in the middle of a Minnesota winter and this time of hard change for your family.

By the time we landed and got the car, it was after midnight and all the fast food places on Highway 55 were closed.  We stopped at a Holiday gas station and found not only nutritious food but a gray-haired and soft-spoken African-American employee who asked if we belonged to a particular religion and then proceeded to ask if Mennonite was similar to Beachy Amish.  I almost fainted.  Nobody has ever heard of the Beachy Amish, much less, as it turned out, attended some of their services in Pennsylvania.  He also knew all about Dorcas in the Bible and connected her story with Psalm 41 ( Blessed is he that considereth the poor: . . . The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive;).

We told him why we were in the area, where we were headed, and my fears.  He reminded us of Psalm 91 and the angel of the Lord encamping around those that fear him.

That felt like a blessing as well.  We set forth and, while the roads weren't nice, they weren't awful either, and the real snow didn't start falling until we were about 5 miles from Dad's at about 2 a.m.

It was good to be with family the next day, although Dad, who shifted into low gear about 20 years ago and steadily plowed forward since then, seemed like he'd suddenly lost all energy, ambition, and gumption.

The weather got worse, the wind kicked the snow into drifts on that bleak back road from Dad's lane out to Highway 4, and the temperature dropped to below zero.

A number of vanloads of relatives from around the Midwest cancelled their plans to come.
Headed to the viewing--Steven, Jenny, Dad

We stood at the viewing and hugged friends and relatives and ducked into the anteroom to take phone calls from family members missing flights and trying to find rides from the airport.

One of the last loads to arrive that night was my brother Phil, his son Zack, and our cousin Merlin.  They got stuck in a snowdrift about half a mile from Dad's and couldn't rouse anyone on the phone until finally Marcus answered and went out in his tractor to rescue them.

The road still hadn't been plowed in the morning.

Meanwhile, whoever does these things behind the scenes had tried to dig the grave, first pushing away the snow and then attempting to cut slabs of frozen dirt with concrete saws.  But the saws didn't reach down deep enough, so they set up some sort of canopy and heated it with a propane heater for four or five hours until it thawed enough to dig.

We set out for the funeral a little before nine on Thursday morning, Paul and me, Dad, Emily, and Jenny in our rental car.  The cold wind was beyond bitter.  Emily said, "I didn't know it COULD get this cold."

Down the road at the crest of a slight rise, the snow was drifted over the road for about 100 feet.  Paul was sure he could make it through if he made a run for it.  Twenty feet in, we realized there was a car stuck on the other end of the drift.  Paul immediately slowed down, and then we were stuck.

So in my black dress and my boots borrowed from my 7-year-old nephew Nolan, I got out into that deep snow and obscene wind and pushed.  So did Emily and Jenny and the people from the other stuck car.  Paul needed to drive because the rental car did weird things, kicking out of gear when the wheels spun.

We got out, not without excruciating misery to pantyhosed legs.

Then we didn't know which roads to take, what was plowed and what wasn't.

We finally made it.

My normal self would have thought, "This will make a great story."  My mourning self thought, "I can't handle this.  I just cannot handle this."

But I did anyhow, because we are not given a choice.

The service was warm and nice, and my nieces gave the most amazing tributes ever to their grandma.  Janet told how Mom would write her letters, even in the last year or two, telling how busy she was, raking leaves and washing windows, and "how badly Grandpa needed a haircut."

We laughed.  So very typical and true.

Did I mention Mom was 93?

Because of the cold, the committal was held at the church and then only a few close family scuttled to the restrooms and donned many layers of clothes and went to the cemetery and efficiently laid Mom to rest.
At the burial
She would have been happy about that.  She would not have been pleased that her passing caused so much bother.

She would also have pushed that car out of the snowdrift with far less fuss than I made.

There were plenty more complications that I did not feel able to handle but did anyhow, because I am my mother's daughter and I learned from her that you do what you have to do.

Looking down Dad's lane. The little rainbow/light is a sundog, caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere.
But now I am home and all I want to do is sleep and sew.  I cook hot dogs for supper which is far below my normal cooking standards, and then I sew a dress and mend a skirt and cut out a bathrobe and finger my pretty cotton fabrics and plan projects.

Mom and I were in some ways very different and it wasn't until recent years that I felt I really received her blessing in certain areas of my life.  But she too turned to sewing to get through the toughest phases of her life.  And maybe that is a strange place to find comfort but it works for me.


  1. Peace be with you, Dorcas. Your mother sounds so lovely.

  2. My life is enriched for knowing your mom and dad.

  3. You sound so very much like how my mom was when my grandma died. Take it easy on yourself; it's all right to make hot dogs and lose yourself in a project. Healing can be found in many ways.

  4. I'm so sorry for the loss of your mother. Your description of how it feels to lose someone you love rings so true with me. You described exactly how I felt (but couldn't put into words) when my sister died 10 months ago. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. Be easy on yourself, Dorcas, it takes time to heal from the loss of a loved one. I know for myself when my mother passed away I was advised by many to not rush my grieving. Take your time and do not be hard on yourself. Grief will come at the least expected times and even when you think you are done grieving memories will still pop up and bring the tears. Be easy on yourself and take your time. Grieving is hard work.

  6. The day my aunt died, I bought a sewing machine. It's been 15 years and I still have no idea why I did that. Sometime later I learned how to quilt and quilting became a comfort during difficult times. Blessings on you and your family this Christmas. I hope you have time to sew or drink a cup of tea or whatever you need, whenever you need it. And stock up on extra hot dogs for all those days that cooking is just too much. No one will mind.
    Donna McFarland

  7. Bless you and your family, Dorcas.

  8. I can identify with your sewing through the hard times. The comfort that sewing gives is a blessing from God that brings healing to body, soul, and spirit and activity to a mind and hands that need something worthwhile to do! May God bless and comfort you.

  9. Oh how my heart ached for you while reading the account of that day! We just aren't prepared for the magnitude of the feelings of loss are we? I lost my husband, and seven months later my eldest daughter. The pain can still rush in after four years. You describe it very precisely. I love you!

  10. May God continue to heal your heart and bring you peace.

  11. You are blessed to have had such a relationship with your mom. I did not, and my prayer is my children feel about me as you do for your mom. I gave them what I did not have with my mom. May God comfort you with knowing your mom is with Him for an eternity and you will see her again at the wedding supper. You were, and are, so very blessed.

  12. We grieve with you and for you. I was struck by this portion of your post:
    My normal self would have thought, "This will make a great story." My mourning self thought, "I can't handle this. I just cannot handle this."

    But I did anyhow, because we are not given a choice.
    Mostly because it reminded me of a portion of Emily's book where she said something to the effect that when people quoted her the verse about God not giving us more than we can handle, she was frustrated and commented that we handle it 'because we are not given a choice'

    We pass on the things we have learned from our parents to our children...

    I really liked that guy who linked your name to Psalms 91. I'd never made that connection before, and it's -I don't know- it feels warm and fuzzy

  13. oops Psalms 41 he said not 91. both are a great comfort but Psalms 41 is the one that connects the caring for the poor and weak to your/our name

  14. Been feeling for you, Dorcas. And now finally reading this I feel sad all over again. Praying comfort, peace, and sustaining grace.