October 18, 2017

Breakfast

Interior-3

He sits across the table from me as we enjoy our biscuits and gravy. A good ol’ boy, a true Hoosier. He had been a pretty good baseball player when he first met her. But he was rough around the edges and she thought him uncouth. He didn’t know how to eat properly, she said. Still somehow, they fell in love, and she took him in and converted him into a presentable-enough gentleman.

Not that he ever became a white collar guy. He worked for a trucking company his whole life. He tells me he learned a cuss word or three on the job. Now that she is gone, he’s been talking to her and the Lord about that, to see if he could get some help cleaning up his language. A few other things needed forgiving too, though he doesn’t tell me what. He does make a point to say that this time, he wants to say grace before we eat (last time, we got to talking and forgot).

She had been the picture of dignity. Always took care of herself and looked good. She was what they used to call a real “lady.” Talented too. Worked in an executive’s office and kept it running. Played the organ in church and had fine taste in music. Made sure the two of them worked hard and kept a spotless home, a well-groomed lawn and gardens.

But with all her natural strength and grace, she was never snobbish. She too was an Midwest girl, rooted and grounded in the common sense soil of the heartland. She married a ballplayer, a blue-collar guy, linked her life to his and they became inseparable partners. He loved classic cars and they traveled all around the country putting on car shows and hanging out with gearheads. She became an avid sports fan and cheered as loudly and fanatically as he did when they went to games their teams were playing. They traveled around together and camped with the family and went to the casinos and enjoyed a life as regular and down-to-earth as could be.

He and I are having breakfast because now she’s gone. He finds it hard to eat at home without her. After nearly sixty years of sharing every day together, he’s experiencing “alone” for the first time.

“What do you have going today?” I ask him.

He laughs. “Just you,” he says.

biscuitsgravySo we eat our biscuits and gravy, drink our coffee, and talk about whether the Hoosiers are going to have a good basketball season this year. I console him about the Dodgers, his favorite baseball team, losing in the playoffs. Our banter is mostly sports talk, but I also ask after his children, their families, and he shares bits and pieces of the dramas that are taking place in their lives. They live in other states, but call him every day. He tells me about going to the doctor and other errands he’s been running. A story or two from the past sneaks out every now and again.

At various points in our conversation, things get quiet, and when they do he always comes back to her.

“You know, I talk to her. Every day. That’s not crazy, is it?”

“I’m spending a lot of time working out in the yard. The house is too quiet without her there.”

“I used to cook for her when she worked, and I got pretty good. So I cooked for her when she got sick, but you know, the last while there she just couldn’t eat. I couldn’t either. I’ve lost 30 pounds you know.”

He mentions the funeral service at least a half dozen times. I officiated it, and he can’t say “thank you” enough. He talks about how after they went to make arrangements the first time, she changed her mind and said she didn’t like the casket they picked out. But then she got too sick to go back, so the kids eventually picked out one they knew she’d like, and damn the cost. He tells me about people he wished could have been there at the service, but he remembers the flowers they sent, the cards they wrote, the phone calls they made. It’s clear that day made a real impression on him. It’s etched on his mind like some farewell scene in a movie. He’s been out to the grave a few times, but he doesn’t say much about it.

Somehow, we clear our plates and it’s time to go, me to my work, him to . . . what? I don’t know, and he may not either. The server brings our check and we fight over who’s going to pay, but he grabs it.

“You don’t have to do this with me if you’re too busy,” he says.

“No, I enjoy it. I’ll call you next week,” I reply.

“That would be great. You know, breakfast, lunch, a cup of coffee. I’m free now for most anything.”

“You know I’m praying for you, right?”

“Yeah, I need that.”

“And keep talking to her, okay? She’s not far away.”

“Okay. Thanks. Call me next week?”

“Call you next week.”

Comments

  1. Vega Magnus says:

    Losing a spouse strikes me as being one of the most difficult experiences of life. I know I would not take it well. It is wonderful that you have taken the time to comfort this man, CM. Far too many people wouldn’t bother.

    Off-topic, but do you think we could have an open thread some time soon, CM? Something FO-R said on Sunday got me thinking and led to me writing a page and a half long Word document regarding a question I’d like to propose to the iMonk community.

    • We’re due for one in early Nov.

      • Vega Magnus says:

        Hmm. Okay. Well, this leads to an Internet etiquette question, specifically regarding the Saturday Ramblings. To what extent is off-topic discussion allowed in the Ramblings? They seem to be a hybrid of focused discussion and off-topic stuff, and while I can wait until the open thread if you’d prefer, I’d kind of like to get this question posted a bit sooner than that. Would it be okay to post it in this week’s Ramblings?

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      I look forward to it!

      • Vega Magnus says:

        Don’t get too excited. It’s not that interesting, although your opinion would probably be intriguing.

    • I assume that’s also what the IM Facebook group is for, too…for us to post things to the community that we’d like to share…right?

  2. And this is how that boy from Seymour adds a verse to his song about Jack & Diane, two American kids growing up in the Promised Land.

    Well done.

  3. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

  4. As a tear or three stream down my face my thoughts go to my brother in law who lives in a big house by himself now. My sister’s and his dream house which she always said for the longest time she thought she didn’t deserve. It was later in life when they got it. A sweet deal for nearly half the money it sort of dropped into their lap. I think now God surrounded her with beauty because she wasn’t staying long at 53. Beautiful writing and thought provoking. I have been contemplating my own mortality here for awhile. Thoughts always going to all the places and times of this life. It truly is quite amazing one can get so much done in so short of time. I have no medical insurance and haven’t nearly all my life and probably won’t take any docs advice. I think I’ll just go home when its time because I’m going anyway. My hope is I can go well and be with Him the rest of the way with the rest in the way.

    As each day goes by I learn to appreciate things I never spent a whole lot of time on before. It is writing like this that keeps me grounded now and I thank you for it very, very much.

    • OldProphet says:

      Thanks for your post, W. I can feel your heart when I read your words There is great comfort when someone puts into words the same struggles that you are facing. It’s encouraging to know that you’re not alone. Keeping it real with Jesus. P.S. I don’t have, or never have had, health insurance Sometimes, we really have to lean on the.Lord for help. I wish I could give you a hug, W

    • God bless you, w, and OP and Rick, too.

  5. Beautiful and powerful, thank you for sharing.

  6. My thoughts go to a son-in-law and son both of whom are blue collar with daughter and daughter-in-law who are more today what we would call women of substance. There has been a constant stream of what I don’t know what to call it other than trashy as a sort of ideal. From Real housewives to Lady Gaga to movie idols as sliding to another. I only use these as TV, radio, and movie examples. The liberation movement has not been characterized by what I see as freedom. But I will grant that there is often a pendulum swing when change occurs. I stand up and praise the women I’ve mentioned for not taking the pendulum ride, but focusing more on God, family, career in that order.
    My sons also are the cooks. I watched their notions of love elevate. To try to stay with a mid-western analogy, love is like a plow opening up hard ground and allowing many other loves to grow. If we can’t talk about some loves higher than others, and disordered loves, than we aren’t into the human heart and could be trampling on some delicate start-ups. Isn’t real change( not just liberation) about elevation of loves. St’ Augustine noticed long ago you become what you love.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    This is scary stuff. Marge has Parkinsons, although not nearly as bad as some others I’ve known. But she suffers because it slows her down, keeps her from some of her past enjoyments, and scares her. She is still able to do her favorite thing– quilting. And most of the time she goes to church. But she needs a cane for walking, and can fall easily.

    The worst thoughts I have in life are of losing her. I can’t imagine living on without her, but I know it is very possible, even likely in the future. The other terrible thought I have is of her losing me, and leaving her alone.

    It isn’t that either one of us cannot go on without the other. When the time comes, we will figure it out, with God’s help. But it hurts, even in advance.

    But this is what it means when we promise before Church and family the following: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, ”

    As young men and women we barely understand the meaning of these promises we make to each other. Sooner or later they become very clear, utterly sacred.

    • This.

    • “As young men and women we barely understand the meaning of these promises we make to each other.”

      I am young, but I quickly learned the depth and meaning of my wedding promises. Three months into my marriage my wife was diagnosed with anxiety. She was severely anxious 24/7. She couldn’t eat, sleep, or converse. She was rapidly losing weight. We couldn’t go out, enjoy company, family, or each other. I was losing her to a nothingness. She would sit next to me, but in body only. Her mind and her spirit were gone. Her mind was being held hostage and she was recognizable only in her physical appearance. It was the strangest and scariest thing. The anxiety was replacing my wife.

      Fortunately, and by God’s grace through counseling, prayer, medication, and spiritual direction, she is recovering and I have my wife back. I have a new view of what it means to love someone in the entirety of their humanity. To love and appreciate, their mind and their spirit. The mind is such a beautiful thing.

      My prayers go out for your wife and yourself, David.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Aryl, thank you for sharing this. And for your prayers. I’m saddened that someone so young must endure this kind of suffering. I’ll join with you in prayer for your wife’s healing, and for you also in this time of trouble. May God be with you.

        Chaplain Mike is doing the real work of the pastor. In doing so, he, and all of us become priests to each other as we share our burdens.

    • My wife is stage 4, although we have reason to be cautiously optimistic. This has happened much too soon in life, but it is our journey and we will enjoy each new day as best as we can. It’s hard, but God is still God, and we still trust Him. At this point, we are not soaring on the wings of eagles, but we are walking and not grow weary.

  8. pamela wood says:

    Thanks Chaplain Mike, loved it.

  9. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    Thank you for not scolding him about talking to a departed person. I think that this is the guilty secret of many a Protestant/non-religious person. It is a healthy instinct, although it can be perilous if not rightly guided past a certain point.

    My father-in-law, who would not pray to a saint under the threat of fire or brand, converses frequently with his departed wife, and has seen her twice since her departure.

    • Every week I confess “I believe . . . In the communion of saints.” Is this not part of what that might entail?

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        It is the most of it, I would say. It is the breaking of that communion which causes the most grief in death, wouldn’t you, as a hospice chaplain, say? That isn’t a rhetorical question. I have little experience with death.

        • It is the loss of physical presence and embodied personality that is hardest, which is why the “spiritual” answers so many give are unhelpful and why things like talking to your loved one and keeping physical mementos and engaging in active remembering practices are vital. It is also why having the presence of trusted friends sharing a meal is healing, no matter what is said. One point the story makes is that just being there helps.

    • “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.” Mark 12:27

      • Hmmm… The verse by itself could sound judgmental, as if one should not pray for the dead or converse with them. Read the entire section, Mark 12:18-27, where Jesus is saying that God is the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and essentially that they are still alive in the resurrection.

        • Something that Dave Denis said in yesterday’s post, Oct 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm:

          As I am leaning into my first calling, serving as pastor of a small New England city Baptist congregation, I have a growing sense of the thin veil between the seen and unseen. What I am sensing looks less like a Transformer’s movie, and more like turbulent water flowing beneath a thin crust of ice. I can hear it, when I place my hand on the ice I can feel the vibration. It tells me there is much going on beneath the surface that I can’t see and that is far beyond my control.

          Exactly. I sensed that veil several years ago after a friend died of drowning. Psychological? Maybe.

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      I am not much one for praying to the saints, but I do deeply understand the impulse to converse with our ancestors. Not a day goes by when I am not tempted to reach out to my deceased grandfather, and to my wife’s grandfather, to ask for their wisdom and fortitude concerning life’s daily battles, and to draw on the courage that comes from thinking that your fathers are watching you.

      I no longer know any men who are like them, and often wonder if this culture is capable of producing them. Maybe I travel in the wrong circles.

      You will never hear me disparage those who talk to their deceased loved ones.

  10. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    I can’t really describe how this makes me feel. I’ve only been married 6 years, but I am so ingrained with my wife that I cannot imagine life without her. I can’t even remember what it was like before. On the other hand, I don’t feel like we’ve created the memories (other than our two kids!) that I would want to have were I to lose my spouse. I wonder if I will ever get to the point where I can think that we have lived a good full life together and be comfortable with separation.

  11. This sounds pathetic, but if you are are moved by this story, you should see the Disney movie “Up”. It is moving (besides the cheesy plot). The body of Christ would do well to go to a local retirement home or assisted living facility and “adopt” and older brother or sister to simply visit. Just one to pour into and listen to. What a world of difference it would make to them.

  12. This post is also a good reminder to keep cultivating friendships outside of your spousal unit.

  13. My husband tried to commit suicide recently just before his 40th birthday. This article and some of the comments have spoken to me in a way I can’t really describe, but I long for us to have decades together.

  14. Randy Thompson says:

    I have lunch every month with someone who lost his wife three years ago. He too, like several others I’ve known, talks to her regularly, usually at the cemetery where she now rests. He keeps himself busy, and spends a lot of time helping at hospice. Yet, all his activities still do not fill the empty places of his heart, nor the fill the deep silence at home, especially in the evening. Yet, through all of it, the Gospel hope shines like the North Star on a moonless, cold winter’s night.

  15. My 1st thought – Very beautiful post. A glimpse into the future awaiting most of us.

    My 2nd though – As I read the comments and see people respond to this like the latest kitten picture on Facebook (myself included) I cynically wonder how this gentleman would be received here if he was a commenter. From the way CM describes him he strikes me as probably not well educated, older white male, fairly conservative, takes the Bible at face value, probably doesn’t like gays, maybe even voted for GW Bush once. The sort of person that is to blame for all that is wrong in the world. And I think about our tendency to divide the world into us and them, allies and enemies, smart and stupid, wise and foolish, saints and sinners. I’m as guilty as anyone. But Jesus sees all of us in the way that CM has helped us see this guy, with compassion no matter who we are.

  16. Christiane says:

    very moving post and comments . . . a blessing to read

  17. CM, again my utmost respect for what you do. Have you considered writing a book, a manual of sorts for doing this kind of work? I would think it would be most helpful, not only to those working in hospice, or considering it, but anyone working with difficult people in difficult situations involving pain and loss. I would certainly read it and benefit from it. As far as I know, this is not normally taught in seminary and I believe it should be mandatory.

    I would think this should not only show what to do, but show what not to do. the latter being maybe of most importance. There would be matters of privacy and confidentiality that I am sure you could work out, as in the stories you relate here. If there is already such a book you felt you could recommend, I am not aware of it. Thanks again for all you do.

    • Dana Ames says:

      I second this, Mike. You write beautifully and clearly. I think such a book would be of great help.

      Dana

  18. It’s impossible to say which prospect fills me with more dread: the thought of dying first and leaving my wife alone, or the thought of my wife dying first and leaving me alone. On the occasions when I’m unable to suppress the thought of either, I spin back and forth between them like prey caught in a spider’s web.

  19. commendable,  but it’s not just your “office”. We Believers are called to “bear each other’s burdens”. Because we are all so isolated in Western society,  your friend could be any of us. Your friend could be me. My kids have moved to another state and it’s just me and my wife in an empty house. If anything happens to one of us, the other will be totally alone. Leaving the IC didn’t help, but they didn’t seem to care when we were there. So that is our challenge: to be there for one another in an increasingly isolated and utilitarian world. Our faith will prove worthless if it doesn’t help us break the isolation and reach out to one another.