Friday, December 31, 2010

Souvlaki for the Soul

Written on December 30, 2010; the one-year mark of Dana’s celebration and graveside services.

I’ve thought a lot about how losing Dane has completely rocked my world. And then today my world literally rocked, as in a 3.8 magnitude quake in middle Indiana that rattled the glass in my china cabinet —some 150 miles away.

It was one year ago today that we returned Dane’s jar of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7) to the earth. The significance is not lost on me that the day I’m remembering the return to earth is the day the earth gives a rare shake in this part of the world. Analogies and metaphors abound.

But what has made this day stand out more than a rare quake is this: This evening I was having supper at Brown’s Run Country Club when several of the workers called my attention to outside the window where there was a family of deer. What a moment. And when I returned to my plate, a paint commercial on the TV was talking about rainbows. A double God stamp moment on this day of commemoration.

If you’re a newbie to this blog, the links below will help bring you up to speed on why deer and rainbow would pull me from a warm plate of grilled Grouper. You also might want to search “deer” or “rainbow” in the search feature of this blog.

Deer blog post

These God “stamps” have served to remind me that God is near. He is with me. He is with all of us. Of course, in my most honest moments I’ve thought: that’s great, but I’d rather have Dane with me and near me. But she’s not. And here’s the thing. God doesn’t have to give me these gracious reminders. He’s told me over and over in His Word that He’s with me. But He still gives these reminders. And here’s part of what that means to me: We all would love to have some kind of physical link to eternal life, something tangible that takes all the questioning and guess work out of the deal. That of course, would take all the faith out of the deal. And as Scripture tells us, it’s impossible to please God without faith. So faith will always be a part of the path to eternal life. But these stamps from God are about as close as you can get without seeing heaven itself.

This effectively equips me with a perspective of hope. Because if God is near, then He is real. And if God is real, heaven is real. And if heaven is real, I can endure. And I cannot wait!

We had a beautiful, wonderful gathering of folks for a come-go luncheon on December 23. Lots of friends, family, writing and musician friends, and one of our hospice nurses, Lori. We were all nurtured by our mutual love for Dane, by remembering, and by consuming mass quantities of Maria’s wonderful Greek food (for those Greek foodies scoring at home, the menu was pastichio, spanikopita, souvlaki, potatoes, tzatziki sauce; desserts of karoubethes, galaktoboureko and some other wonderful bonus cake--I have no idea what it was). I can’t think of a better way to navigate a hard day. I’ll let you Google the names as a Greek food exercise. Karoubethes are pictured at the top of this post—a simple Greek dessert that was one of Dane’s faves. (And in full disclosure: I borrowed the title of this blog from where I copied that picture. The phrase captures the essence of our commemoration.)

During the morning hour of Dane’s passing I let my heart and my head go wherever they wanted to go. I read out of Dane’s Bible some of the chapters in Revelation we had read those last days. I flipped through some psalms. Most of that hour felt heavy and painful. But I felt distinctly tied into our eternal hope. The veil felt thin.

When the clock on my cable box clicked to the “official” time I simply stared at the clock for that entire minute. And when the clock ticked to the next minute I heard my mind say, “Okay, on to year two.”

And then I commemorated with friends. And ate Greek.

Opa Dane!

Love and Happy New Year to all,

P.S. I will figure out how to get to you all a pdf of the Revelation 21 sheet we distributed at the lunch. It records the special moments Dana and I shared in making the last book of the Bible a part of Dana’s last days on earth.

P.P.S. Many have shared some things they're doing as part of the Dana challenge...and I have a couple more items to add. More soon!

2 Corinthians 4:7--
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marking a Year

First a Moment…
Then a Minute.
Next an Hour…
Which becomes a Day.
And then a Week…
Which becomes a Month.

And now,

A Year.

In those first moments of losing Dana, it seemed that I would never be removed from that scene. I felt like time stopped, that this was now my existence forever—in a somewhat frenzied mental state, not being able to see beyond the end of Dana’s bed. And too, there was a sacredness, a holiness—a spiritual residue left from Dana slipping from here to There that I didn’t want to walk away from. I think I had the sense to know that as soon as I stepped away from her bed that the grieving would start and the loss would flood in. Which, of course, it did. So here we are, a day away from marking the 365th day (Dec. 23) from when Dana went Home for her first Christmas (or in the words of her “Unkie” Jon, took up “a better offer” on where to spend Christmas). This blog post is a little different than the others; not so much writing, but requesting. I certainly have thoughts to process and share (and hope to do that over the next few days), but as I’ve approached this one-year mark, I’m finding myself wanting to be about things that honor and remember Dana. I’m seeing this past year as a year of “getting by,” doing whatever it takes to get through a week, or a day, or even an hour. I’m wanting (hoping?) year two to lean toward honoring and remembering, which may encourage the emotion of “cherishing” to come alongside the emotion of “hurting.” Of course, in the grief world, increments of time are ambiguous segments. While some cultures seem to have emotions keyed into timeframes (a time to mourn and then you’re done) ours doesn’t. Or at least not my culture.

So, I have two requests. One is in the form of gathering information, the other is in the form of a challenge. First the information.

Occasionally someone will share with me something Dana told them or advice she gave and they’re relieved that I appreciate hearing it. I guess it’s easy to think it might break my heart (and it might, but that’s okay). Here’s the thing: I WANT that kind of information; I crave it. A few months ago I retrieved over a year’s worth of instant messaging between Dana and me. That is a gift. And I’m thinking there is more out there from Dana. So, here we go:

Stuff Dana said (or did, or laughed at, or reacted to, or taught, or Tweeted, or anything in general):

Maybe you have some of her Facebook posts, or Tweets, or e-mails. Maybe you can remember a conversation, either in detail or in general. Maybe she helped you with a decision (she was the queen of “cut to the chase”). I would LOVE to have this.

How to share “stuff Dana said”:
Feel free to e-mail me at, or post as a comment to this blog or on the CarePage. Feel free to let me know if you want the details to be private (and in that case send it via e-mail), but I would love to compile this information and pass it along in some fashion.

The Dana Challenge:

(I think she would hate that title, but it’s all I got right now)

Perhaps you’d like to do something in honor of Dana this year. Dane’s family of “Mama, buzzins, unkies and Pammies” and I have started a list (keyword: “started”) below. Nominations are not closed, so feel free to add to this list. Meanwhile, you may want to take one of these suggestions and run with it or do a few of them.

1. Take a ski lesson. Or if you’re a skier, ski a mountain in Dana’s honor. Or pay for someone’s ski lesson.
2. Take a knitting lesson. Or if you’re a knitter, knit something that celebrates life.
3. Scrapbook a trip or an event.
4. Take a bike ride through crunchy leaves in the fall.
5. Try a food you’ve never had.
6. Fill out a bracket for the NCAA March Madness tournament using nothing but mascots as your criteria—think logic (a boilermaker would smash a buckeye), philosophy (devils always lose) or food chain (cats beat birds; actually, cats beat anything). For tiebreakers (i.e., two cats facing off), go with your favorite team colors or the mascot that is less cartoony.
7. Organize a junk basket or drawer in your life (“God is a God of order, not chaos”).
8. Memorize Rev. 21:1-4 (or any other bite-sized chunk of Scripture). Ramp it up a notch by joining a Precept Bible study or taking a one-day Precept training seminar.
9. Find a harp teacher and randomly offer to pay for a lesson or two for a student in need. Or hire a harpist for an event you hold or attend and tell others about the amazing woman who inspired you to do so. If you find yourself at a symphony, listen for the harp, which is always a challenge, especially when brass is involved.
10. Help a friend on chemo.
11. “Do a puz with your cuz for no other reason just be cuz.”
12. Memorize “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (or at least your favorite segment) and have it ready to go in your head for next year.
13. Get with a friend and can a batch of old-fashioned lime pickles. And give Barry a jar :-) .
14. Make shrimp salad at your favorite beach and share it with your favorite people and a good book.
15. Read a book about heaven (one of Dane’s faves: Intra Muros, now titled “Within Heaven’s Gates”)
16. Give to an organization (e.g., a church, a ministry, a health-care foundation).
17. Call up your favorite friend or your “Unkie” or most anyone, and listen and care.
18. Get excited about most anything and talk and laugh really loud.
19. Be brave. Don’t let any crisis define you; let the delicious moments define you.
20. Love.

Disclaimer: Sorry, but I can’t accept responsibility for any injuries (physical or emotional) that might result in trying any of these activities or exercises. I would, of course, love to hear a review of anything anyone tries.

I love you all tremendously. Your thoughts, prayers, comments, prayers, notes, prayers and prayers are the biggest reasons why I’m able to say that Year One was a year of “getting by” and not a year of “caving in.”

More soon,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Momentum

The photo above was taken and produced by my good friend Owen Brock. Entitled “Harvest,” it’s the final in a series of photos he took of a vineyard at the Abbey of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky. This is a photo series Dana and I both loved (and have long loved Owen’s work (and Owen!): you may want to check out his work at The clusters of grapes seem to capture what the Pilgrims’ thanksgivings were all about (and the Israelites’, the forerunner to the Pilgrims’ thanksgivings).

I’ve been thinking about that first Pilgrim Thanksgiving. There had to have been more than one Pilgrim who was thinking by that time, “This is NOT what I signed up for.” They knew it would be hard, but I’m thinking it still caught a few of them by surprise. And so I wonder how many willed themselves to be thankful? I understand that over half of the Pilgrims did not survive the first winter. So there’s a strong likelihood that there was a 40-something Pilgrim guy who had lost the love of his life…thankfulness through gritted teeth.

I’m finding myself in the same boat (pun sort of intended, as in Mayflower).

This post began as an exercise in resolve, WILLING myself to be thankful…it’s been that time of year, and it just seems that thankfulness is a good discipline. It’s a fulfilling state of mind and heart and I thought I might use that as some therapeutic momentum. So, I started, pretty much through self-coercion. In my current state of self-pity it took a moment for something to come to mind. But something did. And as I expressed thanks in my mind, another item popped into my mind. Then another. And before too long, there was actually a line of items waiting to be acknowledged and thanked. As my list grew, something rather wonderful happened…I began to experience actual (not coerced) thanksgiving and real gratitude. My prayer, and if you’d like something specific to pray for you can add this to the list, is that these seeds of thankfulness would take deep, deep root.

So, without putting much thought to this, and therefore at the risk of missing something big, below is what comes quickly to mind of things I’m thankful for.

Eternal perspective and God stamps:
I’ve found that the best proven therapy so far is simply thinking of Dane in her full splendor. It pulls me out of the deep cries. The thought of her experiencing all the things we’ve studied in Scripture or imagined in our hearts is actually pretty exhilarating. And God has graciously poked through the thin veil between here and There with rainbows and deer and so much more (the God stamps that have defined this journey). These are merciful reminders that there is so much more than what we see here.

In a strange way, tears give the same satisfaction as a good sneeze.

The ability to hike, bike, golf and ski:
These activities give me the opportunity to experience the best this world has to offer---mountains, fall colors, good friends---and give me a chance to let my mind take a break from its whirlwind of thinking. Of course, golf also brings the worst this world has to offer, as in frustration, so that activity might be a wash.

“Me too” friends:
I have been blessed with more than my fair share of friends, new and familiar, who have experienced loss—fellow journey-ers. I’ve learned there’s not a more encouraging phrase than simply, “me too!” after you’ve expressed a particular sorrow or pain.

Dane’s family:
I love Dane’s family. And we are all walking together in the loss of our precious daughter, niece, sister, buzzin/cousin and wife.

Outside of Dane’s family, the person who has experienced the loss of Dane on near-equal footing with me is Dane’s friend Pam. When we talk on the phone, we simply cry. Good cries and sad cries. I am thankful for that shared sorrow. In a strange way, it helps.

The love and the “flipped switch”:
And Pam is the one who offered the encouraging words to Dana that “flipped the switch” of Dana falling in love with me…finally!! (More on that wonderful story at some point.) And I’m finding that the thought of the “flipped switch” is my first handle in being grateful for my and Dana’s love. Up till now, to reflect on and remember our relationship has been nearly as painful as it was on day one of losing her. And this, I think, is where the rubber meets the road from the standpoint of grief. When I can begin to be thankful for the things Dana and I shared, to be grateful for the beauty, then I can draw strength from our relationship and begin to heal. We’ve long said we had one of the top five loves of all time. And yet that love almost didn’t happen. But it did, thanks to the “flipped switch.” And to mix in an old cliché, I would rather have had that love and lost it than not have had it at all. And that realization, that tired cliché, is something I can build on and I feel I’ve laid some foundation.

My family:
I’ve long thought that I’ve been blessed with a model family, and I’m right. My parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, my nieces and nephew, and my 99-year old grandma are all an incredible help. Of course, I’ve been thinking I’ll be able to wrap up all this grief in about 30 years, when I’m pushing 80. Grandma’s longevity tells me otherwise. And then there is the bevy of cousins, aunts, uncles—many of whom have paved this road of loss for me—lifting and encouraging me. Cousin Carl and I were able to meet for special suppers nearly every week for a stretch when he was transitioning from Columbus to Cincinnati. What a gift.

Even though I’ve realized I am now a living Garfield comic strip (a guy with a cat), this house would be a different deal without Pud. And I must say, I think he knows that. Within a minute or two of my sitting down he is on top of me. He’s always been a cat who wanted to be where Dane and I were (and yes, we’re the only people in the world he is that way toward) but he’s certainly ramped up the affection.

Your comments and encouragement:
I have received over 1,000 comments through CarePages and the blog over these months. I am overwhelmed. Several months ago our CarePages page received a sticker/reward saying “Community over 500” meaning over 500 unique visitors have stopped in. Unfortunately the CarePages set up doesn’t allow me to respond to commenters personally (although that might be good) but every word is read, embraced and taken to heart (and probably cried over).

The church bells:
I’m listening to them right now. For those with whom I’ve shared Dana’s story “Kill the Deer” or those who attended the celebration service, you know what I mean (and here’s the post). Their pealing immediately brings to mind Dana’s bravery, resolve and trust in God. Every time I hear those bells I say to myself, “I can do this.”

My Tuesday Group:
For several years now, including many years prior to recurrence, Dana and I have met with a special collection of friends every Tuesday night for laughing, eating, enjoying Scripture, challenging each other, encouraging each other, hugging each other. Honestly, I questioned whether I could continue in this group without Dane; and thankfully, I haven’t missed a beat. This group is my portal into perspective, my reality check. And they display an incredible graciousness as I turn nearly every point into an analogy/metaphor/parallel about loss…more specifically, my loss.

My “Verizon Network”:
At Dane’s celebration service I declared all in attendance, and all not in attendance, to be my Verizon network of support (you’ve seen those commercials). You all have certainly lived up to the name. I am blessed beyond measure for such a supportive, empathetic cadre of friends and family.

The era we live in:
This might sound weird, but it’s a good time to grieve. It’s one thing to have a Verizon network (see above), it’s another thing to be connected to that network. My computer is a lifeline. And to be sitting at a table with friends/family and be able to Google on a smart phone a book title (or anything else) I can’t recall? Priceless.

I’ve coined a phrase for a certain level of grief: “afghan moments.” Dane had worked off-and-ne for many months on what’s known as the “Great American Afghan,” an afghan of 1-foot squares, each square a different pattern or scene. She was knitting it specifically for me; her knitter friends finished it for her while we were in home hospice mode and presented it to us (I blogged about this here if you’d like to take a peak). So the “afghan moments” are those times when Dana’s absence is so prevalent, almost numbing. I pull the afghan off the rack, head to the big comfy chair, lay under the afghan and feel comforted. I have several other of her items around the house…to look at each stitch and to know she put those stitches in place is a unique pacifier.

I leave you with Owen’s vineyard series. The photos are entitled simply:
Open up the Earth
Promise of More

Thank you!