In Memory of the Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo

On Saturday, April 29, 2017, Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo showed up into my life. I remember the moment clearly and with an immense amount of gratitude.

On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, my older son Christopher was lost in the Mississippi River. It had been in the news and Marlene watched the news–local, national, probably international, too. She paid attention to what was going on in her communities. She cared deeply.

On this Saturday, I had invited anyone who wanted to come to the River to Pray in vigil as we waited for Chris to be found. Marlene arrived, though we had never met, and brought Bishop Ann Svennungsen of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with her. It’s hard to put into words the way in which Marlene showed up, but I will try. She walked into this space and, well, took over. She knew what I and those gathered needed in that moment, and she began to lead us, lead me. Marlene knew what it meant to pastor people. She had sage, an eagle’s feather, and a shell with her. She asked if those gathered knew what sage was and taught me and those of us gathered. She smudged Chris’s dad Tom, our younger son Austin, me, and all gathered. She sent the bishop around the circle to smudge us while she talked or was simply present. I don’t remember, exactly, the sounds, but I remember her and her presence and the smell of the sage and the comfort and healing of being smudged for the first time.

She soon introduced me to Water Walker and Anishinaabe leader Sharon Day who led some of us in a water ceremony in the next couple of days. Marlene checked in with me and became a part of my life.

Chris was found on Thursday, May 4th. Much of that time was a blur, but Marlene and Sharon offered to help me send my beloved Chris’s remains to continue his journey now as part of the Mississippi River on May 18, 2017, from Hidden Falls in St. Paul. Marlene was persistent and I knew when she called I needed to answer. She made a service folder titled “The Journey Continues…” and she helped me in my faith journey to know that this is, indeed true. Our time together in the sending was truly remarkable.

Marlene checked in with me often, especially in the first year after Chris walked on. She would call and ask me to pray for this person or a certain situation. She sent me messages and, I don’t know, was just there with me. She invited me to community gatherings around the fire circle at All Nations Indian Church, including a gathering of indigenous leaders from India. She invited me to a horse healing time which was amazing. She invited me to invite my community for a time of remembrance of Chris on the one-year Sadiversary of his death. Marlene invited me to walk part of the Missouri River with Sharon Day. She called me about current events. She called to offer food for our Tapestry families and asked for help distributing food during COVID. She invited me to lead weddings and preach, and she invited Tapestry to worship together with her community. Marlene helped me plan my bike trip from Minneapolis to the Gulf of Mexico in memory of my beloved Chris. She encouraged me as I biked and as I have been writing about that journey in grief and in love. I mean, she was there with me. She went from us not knowing each other at all to walking me from the depths of mourning death to actually living. She let me cry when I needed to cry and lifted me when I needed lifting and taught me with so much patience and love. She showed up for me over and over, just as I know she did for countless others.

I write this in memory of Marlene, beloved child of God, and I must say that Marlene’s husband Harvey was right there by her side. His quiet nature and soft words to me have been a balm to my soul. I mourn for him and for all of Marlene’s relatives.

I was blessed with Marlene and Harvey’s presence one last time on the Five-year Sadiversary, Part 2, of Chris’s death. Marlene and Harvey were among the first to arrive at our remembrance of Chris. We were having technical difficulties so unfortunately I was only able to capture the very last part of a lovely talk and prayer that Marlene shared with those gathered. You can listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEoPGqhQuqk

I will hold to these words that Marlene spoke in her prayer, to memories of her friendship, and to the loving relationship Marlene and Harvey shared.

“We have the privilege of walking each other home. We can do it with joy…” Rev. Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo, May 4, 2022

Marlene, you were truly one of a kind, a blessing to all who knew you. I give thanks for you life and witness. With joy, and with sorrow, I give thanks for the privilege of walking you home along with your beloved Harvey and all of your relatives.

Your sister in Christ, Melissa

A Favor/Un favor

(Español abajo)

My dear friends, a request as I wind down my sabbatical. Just a few more days and I’ll be back to work and ministry!

I would say I have written about half of my book about my bike ride in memory of my beloved Chris from Minneapolis to the Gulf of Mexico in 2018. 

The request…will you please send me any thoughts, memories, or questions about the bike journey or about grief, or even just encouragement to write? I am finding that writing about this journey on bike and in grief is even more challenging to complete than the bike ride!

Thanks!

More about my sabbatical if you’re interested…

  • Remembered my Chris as I observe these five years without his physical presence here with me
  • Began with a retreat at Big Raven Farm led by my friend and author Lisa M. Bolt Simons. I was able to write a chapter or two while at the retreat
  • Spent time at a friend’s cabin in Wisconsin
  • Worked on my container garden. It’s growing!
  • Josué built a shed and I helped him
  • Visited Chris’s tree a few times
  • Took a road trip (this time in my car) along the Mississippi and stayed a few days at Shalom Spiritual Center in Dubuque, IA, and drove to Nauvoo, IL, to write, remember and rest some
  • Attend the Pride Parade with friends
  • Walked and rested with my kitties
  • Mourned the death of my friend Julie and my friend’s mom and heard some tough news of illness from another friend and family member
  • Hung out some with my cherished younger son Austin
  • Began working with a trainer and biking post-surgery
  • Went to a lot of water classes and lap swimming
  • Was a groupie for a couple of Josué’s outdoor gigs
  • Rested and relaxed.

I head back to work Monday. I have missed Tapestry and other friends as I have mostly been hanging out with Josué and Austin or spending time with our neighbor kids or by myself. Austin says Josué and I are becoming the neighborhood grandparents. Walking the cats, gardening and building the shed have all helped us get to know our neighbors better. 

Thanks to Tapestry, especially Josué and Lidia, and Norma, the Director of Evangelical Mission for our Synod for this opportunity. 

Peace to you, Melissa

————-

Queridos/as amigos/as, una petición aquí al final de mi sabático. ¡Solo me quedan unos pocos días más y vuelvo al trabajo y al ministerio!

Yo diría que he escrito tal vez la mitad de mi libro sobre mi viaje en bici desde Minneapolis hasta el Golfo de México en el 2018 en memoria de mi amado hijo Chris. 

Mi petición… ¿me mandarías cualquier pensamiento, memoria,  o pregunta sobre el recorrido en bici o sobre el duelo, o simplemente apoyo para escribir? ¡Parece que se me hace más difícil escribir sobre el recorrido en bici y el duelo que terminar el recorrido!

¡Gracias!

Más sobre mi sabático por si te interesa…

  • Comencé con un retiro en la granja Big Raven dirigido por mi amiga y autora Lisa M. Bolt Simons. Pude escribir uno o dos capítulos.
  • He trabajado en mi jardín en contenedores. ¡Está creciendo!
  • Pasamos una semana en una cabaña de un amigo en Wisconsin.
  • He visitado el arbolito de mi hijo Chris.
  • Hice un recorrido (esta vez en coche) por el Río Misisipi y me quedé unos días en un centro de retiros con unas monjas en Dubuque, Iowa, y manejé hasta Nauvoo, IL. 
  • Fui al desfile del orgullo gay con mis amigos.
  • Paseé y descansé con mis gatitos.
  • Lamenté la muerte de mi amiga Julie y de la mamá de otra amiga y escuché noticias difíciles sobre la salud de una amiga y alguien de mi familia
  • Estuve con mi querido hijo Austin.
  • Empecé a trabajar con una entrenadora y he andado en bici ahora después de mi cirugía.
  • Asistí a muchas clases acuáticas y nadé en la alberca.
  • Acompañé a Josué a algunos conciertos suyos al aire libre.
  • Descansé y me relajé.

Regreso al trabajo el lunes. He extrañado Tapestry y otros/as amigos/as como mas que nada he estado con Josué y Austin, o pasando tiempo con los ninos de al lado o sola. Dice Austin que Josué y yo estamos volviendo ser los abuelitos del vecindario. Pasear con los gatos, atender el jardín y construir el cobertizo nos han ayudado a conocer mejor mejor a los/las vecinos/as. 

Gracias a Tapestry, especialmente a Josué y Lidia, y Norma, la Directora de Misiones Evangélicas de nuestro Sínodo por brindarme esta oportunidad.

Paz, Melissa

In Memory of Julie Page

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:13-14

Our beloved friend and sister in Christ, Julie Page, died Monday, May 23rd, 2022, after many and varied illnesses and hospitalizations. She has been in our prayers at Tapestry for a number of years now. We give thanks for a life well lived in service to God and her community.

I want to share some of my own memories and reflections about Julie and I hope you will remember her with love, laughter and hope, just as I remember her.

I first met Julie in 2014 when I was beginning Tapestry at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield where Julie was a member. To be honest, I don’t recall why she began worshiping with us as Tapestry, as we are a bilingual (Spanish/English) community of faith, but she did, every week for as long as she was able. In fact, Julie helped begin this community and became a part of our fabric. I imagine Julie became a part of this new community because she loved Jesus and she loved the people of God. She also made sure to always sit near my mom, who even with Alzheimer’s helped us start Tapestry, too, saying she spoke Spanish (which she did not), and to help her follow along as well as she could and be a part of worship.

Julie loved children and wanted to make sure they were able to read and write. She worked with and mentored many children during her life. The pictures here show Julie and I at the Richfield Farmer’s Market, probably in the summer of 2015. She loved going out to events such as this with me and I was always impressed and surprised by her joy of speaking with whomever came past our table. On this particular day we had brought musical instruments as music is a big part of our ministry. A little girl came up to the table and she and Julie played the instruments and sang together. I am pretty sure “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was one of these songs. The girl immediately warmed up to Julie and spent some time there with her. In the meantime I was speaking to Sherri who had brought the girl that day and met Tati, a Brazilian exchange student who would end up going to Valley Fair with my beloved Chris and becoming my much loved exchange daughter, all because Julie took the time to really see children.

Julie was a big part of her Richfield community, helping to knock doors and inviting neighbors for a community meeting we organized in response to the mass displacement at Crossroads Apartments https://youtu.be/_YEW4GeSjtY which also displaced some of her friends. Julie also became a part of a group of women who came to drink coffee and talk and weep and laugh in response to losing housing and community and having to find new housing and new community.

I probably should have a bad joke to insert here, but I myself am terrible at jokes and usually groaned at the jokes that Julie always had at the ready. She even shared a standup routine at a Tapestry talent share that she had practiced with Toastmasters. 

Through Julie I also met many of her friends who loved her very much and who were very important to Julie. Because Julie lost her vision due to her lifelong diabetes she had to move from Richfield to assisted living and group homes and it became increasingly difficult to maintain constant communication with her, though she made every effort to worship at both Tapestry and Woodlake. She was also blessed with her care at Providence Place, especially the chaplain there. Mary is her friend that has many tales to share of their twenty years of friendship, which included some frustrations but mostly laughter and joy in their meals at Perkins and outings shopping at thrift stores and Target.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention her love of kitties, especially her dear Kiki who she had to give up to a neighbor when she lost her vision and was forced to move to a place where she con not have animals. This was a big loss for Julie. Cheryl from Woodlake and some others from there gave Julie a white comfort mechanical kitty that brought much comfort to Julie at her final residence at Providence Place in Minneapolis.

Julie was loved by many. I will miss her dearly. She showed me how to be faithful in the face of much adversity and loss. May God bless all who loved Julie. May she be welcomed as a beloved child of God and faithful servant into the arms of Jesus and among the cloud of witnesses.

Amen

You Are Dust/Eres polvo

(Espanol abajo)

17 “Cursed is the ground because of you;

    through painful toil you will eat food from it

    all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow

    you will eat your food

until you return to the ground,

    since from it you were taken;

for dust you are

    and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17-19

“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I grew up hearing these words, mostly on Ash Wednesday, when we would go to church to have ashes imposed upon our foreheads. Like so much else in my life when it comes to the Bible, I absorbed these words and this ritual in my physical being, but I didn’t ever really contemplate the meaning for my own life and death until just these last few years. 

Ash Wednesday isn’t the only time we hear these words in our Lutheran tradition; we also hear them at funerals, and the large number of funerals of beloved family and friends over the last few years has meant that I’ve heard and now spoken these words as a pastor more than I would have liked.

God first speaks these words to Adam after Adam and Eve disobey God. (There are books and books written about the interpretations of the Tree and the Fall, the consequences and the curse. I’m not going to delve into all of that here). I used to understand these words: for dust you are and to dust you will return as a punishment or a curse for disobedience. Even though I grew up hearing about God’s grace through faith and not of my own works, I lived like it was about my own works–behaving well enough that God would love me. Of course, I could not live up to my own imposed expectations. I let myself down again and again. I tried to hide from God, and from myself. I wasn’t afraid of dying. I didn’t think about death, really, but I also wasn’t fully living.

These words are not a curse. They are simply truth. Our truth. God made Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living being. There is great liberation in remembering that God created us, breathed, and continues to breathe into us the breath of life. 

When my beloved son Chris died, now almost five years ago, I had to confront death head-on. There was no hiding from it. I look back at the verses from Genesis, and I am struck by verse 18:

It [the land] will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

Life is like that, isn’t it? It produces thorns and thistles for all of us. We all toil in our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. But there is great comfort in knowing that we are all dust. Each and every one of us. In our living we are God’s to form and to mold. God breathes into each and every one of us the breath of life. And as dust filled with God’s breath, we live, even with all of the thorns of thistles of our lives. And when our days come to an end, we will return to dust. We will return to new life with God. 


17 Al hombre le dijo:

«Por cuanto le hiciste caso a tu mujer,

    y comiste del árbol del que te prohibí comer,

    ¡maldita será la tierra por tu culpa!

Con penosos trabajos comerás de ella

    todos los días de tu vida.

18 La tierra te producirá cardos y espinas,

    y comerás hierbas silvestres.

19 Te ganarás el pan con el sudor de tu frente,

    hasta que vuelvas a la misma tierra

    de la cual fuiste sacado.

Porque polvo eres,

    y al polvo volverás». Genesis 3:17-19

Recuerda que eres polvo y al polvo volverás.

Yo crecí escuchando estas palabras, principalmente el Miércoles de Cenizas, cuando iríamos a la iglesia para tener la imposición de cenizas en la frente. Como tanto en mi vida relacionado con la Biblia, absorbía estas palabras y este rito en mi ser físico, pero nunca contemplaba realmente el significado para mi propia vida y muerte hasta estos últimos años.

El Miércoles de Cenizas no es la única vez que escuchamos estas palabras en nuestra tradición luterana; también las escuchamos en los funerales, y he escuchado, y ahora como pastora he dicho, estas palabras demasiado en la gran cantidad de funerales entre mi amada familia y amigos durante los últimos años, mucho más de lo que hubiera querido.

Dios le dice por primera vez estas palabras a Adan cuando Adan y Eva desobedecen a Dios. (Hay una gran cantidad de libros escrita sobre las interpretaciones del Árbol y la Caída, las consecuencias y la maldición. Eso no lo voy a explorar aquí). Yo antes entendía estas palabras: Eres polvo y al polvo volverás como castigo o maldición para la desobediencia. Aunque yo crecí escuchando sobre la gracia de Dios por medio de la fe mas no mis propias obras, yo vivia como si fuera di mis propias obras. Pues claro, yo no llegaba a mis propias expectativas. Yo quedaba desilusionada conmigo misma una y otra vez. Trataba de esconderme de Dios, y de mi misma. Yo no tenía miedo de la muerte. Yo realmente no pensaba mucho sobre la muerte, pero también no vivía plenamente. 

No son maldición estas palabras. Simplemente son la verdad. Nuestra verdad. Dios creó a Adan del polvo y respiro en sus fosas nasales la respiración de la vida y vivio Adan. Hay una gran liberación en recordar que Dios no creo, respiro y sigue respirando en nosotros/as la respiración de la vida.

Cuando murió mi amado hijo Chris, ahora hace casi cinco años, tuve que enfrentarme a la muerte directamente. No me podía esconder. Vuelvo a los versículos de Génesis y me llaman la atención estas:

La tierra te producirá cardos y espinas,

    y comerás hierbas silvestres.

Así es la vida, ¿verdad? Nos va a producir cardos y espinas a todos/as. Todos trabajamos duro en nuestra vida física, emocional y espiritual. Pero hay un gran consuelo en saber que todos/as somos polvo. Cada quien. En nuestro vivir somos de Dios para que nos forme y nos moldee. Dios respira dentro de cada uno/a de nosotros/as la respiración de la vida. Y como polvo con la respiración de Dios, vivimos, aún con todos los cardos y espinas en nuestra vida. Y cuando se nos acaben nuestros días, volveremos al polvo. Volveremos a la nueva vida con Dios.

Yo Soy/I Am

(English below)

Una vez más mi amigo Andrés y yo estamos dictando un curso en Luther Seminary que antes se llamaba >>El español para el ministerio<< (ahora >>El ministerio con latinos/as/xs<<) y siempre que lo hemos dictado, les hemos pedido a los/las alumnos/as que se presenten a la clase utilizando >>Yo soy<<. Y siempre los/las estudiantes se han presentado de la forma más genial, con poemas, PowerPoint, videos, música. Y siempre ha sido un placer escuchar sus presentaciones.

Desde que falleció Chris, pues, yo no he podido crear nada al respecto. Siempre enseñaba estos dos videos, uno del comienzo de mi recorrido en bici en memoria de Chris (Antes de salir), y otro al final del recorrido (Al llegar al Golfo). Dejaba que los videos hablaran por sí mismo, o mejor dicho, los dejé que hablaran por mí. Este año va a ser la primera vez que intento escribir un >>Yo soy<< por mi parte. Si han leído este blog o si me conocen, ya saben que falleció mi amado hijo Chris en el Río Misisipi en el año 2017. El, sí, era poeta, y he compartido también varios poemas suyos, incluyendo uno donde parece tener alguna idea de cómo va a fallecer.

Yo no soy nada poeta, ni mucho menos en el español, pero se me vinieron al corazón estas líneas y siento que tengo que escribir esta vez un poema nada bueno ni suficiente, pero un primer intento:

Para hablar de quien soy
Tengo primero que hablar de quien era.

Y después estas líneas:

Soy madre de duelo
con mi hijo menor aquí en la tierra
Y mi hijo mayor allá en el cielo.

Y así ha comenzado este trabajo en progreso que me imagino será más prosa que poesía, como suelo escribir, pero así hago el intento.

Yo soy

Para hablar de quien soy
Tengo primero que hablar de quien era.

Yo era

Hija primero que nada
Amada por mamá y papá
Abuelos y abuelas
Bautizada en el nombre el Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo.

Yo era

Perfeccionista
Pues pensaba que era la única manera
De ser hija amada
De mis seres queridos
Y de Dios.

Pues igual yo era

Alegre
Optimista
Cariñosa
Motivada
Cantante
Atleta
Músico

Yo era

Casada…(dos veces)
Madre…dos veces
Divorciada…una vez
Seminarista
Divorciada…la segunda vez

Pues a pesar de todo yo era

Maestra

Alegre
Optimista
Cariñosa
Motivada
Cantante
Atleta
Músico

Y más adelante con la gracia del Espíritu Santo yo era

Pastora
Organizadora
Activista
Apasionada
Compasiva
Evangelista
Amada hija de Dios
Madre de dos hijos, mi luz y mis amores
Amante de la vida

Yo era amiga que

Salía
Se divertía
Se reía
Sonreía
Soñaba
Bailaba
Cantaba
Gozaba

Y de repente cambió todo y ya no era lo de antes

Yo ya era

Madre con un hijo perdido
En el Río Misisipi
Hablando con la policía
Rogándole a Dios que cuidara a mi hijo
Que me lo encontrara

Mientras yo lo esperaba
Cuidaba a mi hijo
El menor que dependía de mí
Que era mi luz y mi amor

Me abrazó Jesucristo
Y me aseguró que él lo cuidaba
Y a mi también

Entonces yo era

Madre con la paz que solo Dios concede
Una mamá que esperaba a mi hijo
Con un pie sobre la tierra
Y los brazos hacia el cielo.

Diez días yo era esa madre
La madre que esperaba
Que no permitía hablar en el pasado
Del hijo perdido

Hasta que yo era

Madre de duelo
Con mi hijo menor aquí conmigo sobre la tierra
Y mi hijo mayor allá en el cielo
Entre la nube de testigos.

Yo era

Mamá de duelo

Y ahora yo soy

Mamá de duelo
Con el hijo menor aquí sobre la tierra
Y el hijo mayor allá en el cielo

Y yo soy

Amada hija de Dios
Amada mamá, esposa, hermana, sobrina, tia
Pastora
Imperfecta
Mamá a veces más allá que acá
Aprendiendo a vivir con dos pies sobre la tierra

Yo soy mamá de duelo aprendiendo una vez más a

Salir
Divertir
Reír
Sonreír
Soñar
Bailar
Cantar
Gozar
Confiar

Soy mamá de duelo

Alegre…a veces
Apasionada
Determinada
A compartir
La esperanza y la paz que solo concede Dios
En el corazón de

Una mamá de duelo
Con un hijo aquí sobre la tierra
Y un hijo allá con Dios en el cielo.

——————————-

Once again my friend Andres and I are teaching a course at Luther Seminary that was called “Spanish for Ministry” (now it’s called “Ministry with Latinos/as/xs) and every time we have taught it, we have asked students to present “I Am.” And the students have always presented such great presentations with poems, PowerPoint, videos, music. And it has always been a pleasure to listen to their presentations.

Since my beloved Chris died, I have not been able to create anything for this task. I always showed two videos from my bike trip, one from the beginning and one at the end of the ride. I let the videos speak for themselves, or better stated, I let the videos speak for me. This year is the first time that I have attempted to write my own “I Am.” If you’ve read this blog before or if you know me, you will know that my beloved son Chris died in the Mississippi River in 2017. He was a poet, and I have shared a number of his poems here on my blog, including one where he seems to have an idea of how he will die.

I’m not at all a poet, and even less so in Spanish, but these lines came to my heart and and I feel like I need to write a poem this time which will not be at all enough, but a first try:

*(My not-so-great translation to English)

To speak of who I am
I first need to speak about who I was.

And then these lines:

I am a mother in grieving
With my younger son down here on earth
And my older son up there in heaven.

And this is how this work in progress has begun, a work that I imagine will be more prose than poetry as I tend to write, but here is my first try.

I am

To speak about who I am
I must first write about who I was

I was

A daughter to begin with
Love my mother and father
Grandmas and grandpas
Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I was

Perfectionist
Well I thought that was the only way
To be a beloved child
Of my own beloveds
And of God.

At the same time I was

Happy
Optimistic
Affectionate
Motivated
Singer
Athlete
Musical

I was

Married…(two times)
Mother…two times
Divorced…one time
Seminarian
Divorced…a second time

But even so I was

Joyful
Optimistic
Affectionate
Motivated
Singer
Athlete
Musician

And later by the grace of God I was

Pastor
Organizer
Activist
Passionate
Compassionate
Evangelist
Beloved child of God
Mother of two sons, my light and my loves
Lover of life

I was a friend who

Went out
Had fun
Laughed
Smiled
Dreamed
Danced
Enjoyed

And suddenly I was not the same as I was before

I was

A mother with her son lost
In the Mississippi River
Speaking with the police
Begging God to take care of my son
That he find my son

While I waited
I took care of my son
The younger one who depended on me
Who was my light and my love

Jesus embraced me
And he assured me that he was taking care of him
And of me as well

And then I was

A mother with the peace that only God can give
Who waited for my son
With one foot on earth
And my arms toward heaven.

I was that mother for ten days
The mother who waited
Who didn’t allow anyone to speak in the past
About her son who was lost.

Until I was

Mother in mourning
With my younger son here with me on earth
And my older son there in heaven
Among the cloud of witnesses.

I was

A grieving mom

And now I am

A grieving mom
With my younger son here on the earth
And my older son there in the heavens

And I am

Beloved child of God
Beloved mom, wife, sister, niece, auntie
Imperfect
Pastora and
Mom sometimes more there than here
Learning how to live with two feet planted on earth

I am a grieving mom trying to learn again to

Go out
Have fun
Laugh
Smile
Dream
Dance
Sing
Enjoy
Trust

I am a grieving mom

Joyful…sometimes
Passionate
Determined
To share
The hope and peace that only comes from God

In the heart of a grieving mom
With one son here on earth
And one son there with God in the heavens.

“Un-Sandwich”

(Español abajo)

I don’t know if they still use this term, but for some time the proverbial “they” would talk about the “Sandwich Generation,” the generation that had to care for their parents and their children at the same time.

I never really fell into that category. When my kids were little, my mom actually helped care for them. By the time my mom needed the most help, my kids were grown and my sister was living with my mom and caring for her. I have wonderful moms in my life, including my step-mom who has supported and loved me over the years.

But now I feel like I’m an “Un-Sandwich.” 

On this Mother’s Day, I find myself grateful for my Austin, he’s doing well and mostly on his own, and for the time I had with my beloved Chris. I am thankful for the wonderful mom I had, and I know death has brought her to wholeness in Christ Jesus where she is not suffering anymore with Alzheimer’s. 

But I am a little out of sorts and the only term I can come up with today is, again, “Un-Sandwich.”

To those who celebrate this Mother’s Day, may your day be blessed and may you be grateful for every moment. To those for whom this day is a day of sorrow or mixed or “Un-Sandwich-ed,” may God bring you some tranquility and peace.  ~Melissa

——————-

No se si todavía usan este término, pero por algún tiempo, el “ellos” proverbial hablarían sobre la “Generación Sándwich,” la generación que tenía que cuidar a sus papás y también a sus hijos a la vez. 

De verdad yo realmente no forme parte de esa categoría. Mi mamá ayudaba a cuidar a mis hijos cuando eran pequeños. Y ya cuando mi mamá necesitaba ayuda, mis hijos ya eran grandes y mi hermana vivía con mi mamá y la cuidaba. Tengo mamás maravillosas en mi vida, incluyendo a mi madrastra quien me ha apoyado y querido durante muchos años.

Pero ahora siento que soy “Des-Sandwich.”

Este Día de la Madre, me encuentro agradecida por mi hijo Austin–él está bien y básicamente cuidándose solo–y por el tiempo que tuve con mi amado hijo Chris. Estoy agradecida por la mamá maravillosa que tuve, y ya sé que su muerte la ha llevado a la sanación en Cristo Jesus donde ya no sufre Alzheimer.

Pero, si, estoy soplando en el viento un poco, y el único término que se me viene a la mente hoy es, de nuevo, “Des-Sandwich.”

A los y las que celebran este Día de la Madre, que tengan un día bendecido y que sean agradecidos/as por cada momento. A los y las que están tristes o para quienes es un día difícil o “Des-Sandwich,” que Dios les traiga la tranquilidad y la paz. ~Melissa

If I Give Up…Si me dejo por vencido

(Espanol abajo)

I’m working on writing my book and looking through my old blogs and Facebook posts, but more importantly, through Chris’s poetry. It’s so poignant and prescient.

I have read this poem before. Not sure if I published it, but as I think of Chris’s tree and having just visited it, I wanted to share.

If I give up, well,
That must mean I died
Body left on the sidewalk

Soul looks back to see 
His old face growing pale
Still keeping its smile
That is just so pleasing.

I don't even want to be buried.
Set me on fire underneath a tree
so that it breathes me in
through its leaves and there I can 
live in the tree of life.

Chris is, indeed, in the roots and leaves of his tree, his ashes burned by water, giving life and living in eternal life.

However you are feeling today, don’t give up. There is life in you, and if it’s hard to find it within you, seek it out in nature. The Spirit breathes in you the tree of life.

Peace

———————————

Estoy trabajando en escribir mi libro y estoy mirando mis entradas del blog y de Facebook, pero más importante, estoy mirando la poesía de mi hijo. Es tan conmovedora y presciente.

Si me dejo por vencido, pues,
quiere decir que me morí
cuerpo dejado sobre la acera

El alma mira para atrás a ver
su cara palideciendo
manteniendo su sonrisa
que es tan agradable.

Que no me entierran.
Quemenme debajo de un árbol
para que me respire
por sus hojas y ahi puedo
vivir en el arbolito de la vida.

Chris, si, está en las raíces y hojas de su arbolito, sus cenizas quemadas por agua, dando vida y viviendo en la vida eterna.


Tal como te sientas hoy, no te dejes por vencido. Hay vida en ti, y si es difícil encontrarla dentro de ti, buscala entre la naturaleza. El Espíritu sopla en ti el arbolito de la vida.


Paz

Four-year Sadiversary, Part 2: Colonoscopy

Four years. Four years since our beloved Chris was found. Austin and I agree it seems like yesterday and forever-ago. We both remember the day Chris was finally found, the grief and the…comfort?…probably not the word, but some kind of calm. I dread these days and then they sneak up on me, too.

I started the day with a colonoscopy. I was supposed to have it about five years ago, when I was 50. But then when I was 50 Chris died. And then the bike trip and then COVID, and, well, I’m 54 and I finally had the colonoscopy. The found a rather large polyp, as far as polyps go, I guess. They removed it and will biopsy it and then I have to go back for another colonoscopy in three years. I guess that pretty much makes up for me being four years late.

I fell asleep watching NCIS on Netflix. Josué heard the song “Hallelujah” start and he knew I’d wake up. I did, and then the tears came when I heard this song that Chris’s friends recorded him playing. I am blessed to have his voice still, though it mostly hurts too much to listen to it. Even when I hear him singing in my own brain, it makes me pause. At the end of this recording he says he wants to play one more song and his friends will know which one it is. I wish I knew what it was and that I had a recording of it.

Josué, Austin and I went to Chris’s tree. Austin’s been going there more often with me now and I’m glad. We talk and touch the tree and take a few pictures and remark on how the tree is growing and how spring is bringing buds. I always touch the tree. Chris’s ashes are in there.

My heart still weeps after these four years, even though my eyes weep less.

Four years without my baby here on this earth with me. So we go on, day by day, with love and grief all mixed up in our hearts and in our tears. Living life and remember our beloved Chris.

The Night is Winding Down
By Chris Stanley

Writing by a dim light,
in my room
the night is winding down.
Sleep’s call is heard
very clearly as I add
lines of words to my journal.

Summer is standing in line,
spring greets me with
melting water flowing on sidewalks,
these rivers are
beautifully destined for
my mighty Mississippi,
mighty mystery.

In two days I will have successfully completed
eighteen short years walking on this planet.
My footsteps have not been dull and padded
like a wolf stalking prey,
however my actions have influenced this world so far,
maybe I’ll never know.

Carrying on through the veil of tears,
wading, pushing, pushed,
I am soaking wet, that’s a life.

I, too, write this blog entry by a dim light as four-year Sadiversary, Part 2, is winding down. I know that Chris would have no idea how his actions have still had such a positive influence on this world while he was alive and even after his death.

And so I carry on through the veil of tears, missing my beloved Chris, and still trying to live life every single day.

Peace.

Four-year Sadiversary, Pt 1: (No) Next Time

I’m writing this blog post tonight, April 25th, the four-year Sadiversary of Chris’s death, at just about the time when he would have been lost in the Mississippi River, though I didn’t know quite yet that anything had happened. As I have on this date every year since he was lost, I visited St. Anthony Falls, the place where Chris lost his life, except for 2019, I think it was, when the gate wasn’t open yet.

I’ve tried to write this blog a few times now and I’ve never quite been able to write what I want. So today, whether I write what I want or not, I will post this in honor of my beloved Chris.

If you read my blog from time to time or follow the Fueled by Love Facebook page, you may be aware that I’m writing a book about my bike journey along the length of the Mississippi River. And since it’s been more than two years since that journey, I guess you can see it’s slow going. Sort of like this post.

Most of the book will be about my time on the bike and the lessons I learned and the fun I had and the contentment I felt when on that saddle in places I had never been, often alone with just me, my bike and Jesus. (Potential title of a chapter)

But in order to set the book into place, I needed to write about when Chris was found–that’s the prologue–and when he was lost. I’ve written these two chapters already because they are the hardest and I had to be able to do that, to write about my deepest sorrow and fear, in order to write the remainder of the book. 

One of the chapters is called “(No) Next Time,” just like this blog post, though the chapter will be quite different from this post. I couldn’t get it out and Josué told me just to write what I needed to write and then let others edit for me, so that’s what I did. I’m terrified of the editing, to be honest, because what I wrote is embedded into my being, but in order to tell the story, it will have to be. And it’s okay.

I want to share this one piece of that chapter, though, today, on four year Sadiversary, Part 1. 

On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, my friend Doris was visiting from Barcelona and staying at my friends’ condo on the Mississippi River. We were going to lunch with my step-mom Faye, and at the last minute I texted Chris to see if he wanted to join us, because we were just minutes away from his place.

He told me he had just eaten and had to study so he wouldn’t be able to join us. He was just about two weeks away from graduating.

So I texted him back, “Next time.”

And of course there was no next time. No more texts. No more calls. No more visits or lunches or hugs.

So I never, ever say “Next time” anymore. 

It’s a little challenging to live like that, especially in this past year. I have lived since then believing that if something is important enough to me I will make time for it. If someone reaches out and invites me somewhere or calls me or asks to meet or whatever it is, I do my damnedest to do it. I don’t reach out as much now as I used to, but if I do, you can know that you are important to me, and if you reach out to me and I agree to meet you, it’s because you are important to me. 

So the converse of that is that I take pretty personally those who don’t take the time to meet with me or call me or reach out, even in a pandemic, because I feel like I’m not important enough. I know that a “next time” is expected. And I know that is not necessarily a “fair” way to look at it, but it is what it is. 

Josué and I will be attending our fifth and sixth funerals of people close to us in the last few months. None has died from anything related to COVID. So I continue to live my life in the best way I can because I don’t know that there will be a “next time.”

We like to think we control life and death, but we don’t. If there is any lesson I have learned with Chris’s death, it is that. The other thing I have learned is that it’s hard to lose that fantasy, but once you do, it frees you to live differently. 

I hope people will be a little more patient with each other and less judgmental about people who meet with their friends and loved ones, and those who don’t. There is some kind of a balance, and it’s not an easy one and it’s not the same one for everyone. There is nothing in this last year that has kept me from seeing those I love from my end, though it has kept others from seeing me. Intellectually I understand that, but my heart is having trouble with it. I know for others it is different. And that’s okay.

My beloved Chris, I miss you so very much. I know the calendar tells me it’s been four years, but my heart still tells me it was yesterday and forever-ago.

I pray that I may live every day the best way I know how and that I may value each moment, each relationship, each friend and each one that I love. And I pray that you may, too, if you are reading this. May we all hold the tension between believing there will be a next time and knowing there may not be.

From Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Peace

Birthdays in heaven are complicated here on earth, aren’t they?

I suppose the title I have given this post is way too long and complicated. But today is Chris’s fourth birthday here and without him it is way too long and complicated, too.

Today Chris would have been 26 years old. It’s an odd thing. Austin and I both had to count to remember how old he turned on March 20th because we used to keep track of those things by knowing there were two years difference between the brothers. Now Austin’s 24. And Chris isn’t 26. And four years later that is still complicated. It still seems like yesterday and forever-ago.

It’s almost midnight on the day of Chris’s birthday and I’m finally writing. We went to the tree. Austin actually suggested it today. I think that’s the first time it’s been his suggestion. How do you celebrate with a tree? You touch it. Caress it, really. Comment on how much the tree has grown. Take some pictures and…leave. Go back home. Go back to trying to live without one who made life so worth living. 

From Chris’s Insta

Today is Maundy Thursday in the Western Christian calendar. It, too, is a complicated day for me. I am one who marks most dates by holidays, Christian or otherwise, much like some people give directions with landmarks. So Maundy Thursday marks important events for me, and today it happens to mark what would have been Chris’s 26th birthday, this day we are reminded to love one another, to humble ourselves in service as we love our neighbor, and of the enormous love of Jesus, who gave of himself even to the one who betrayed him for just a little bit of money. 

Maybe 10 years ago (I’ve lost track of time), I was with my dad one Maundy Thursday. My dad was undergoing chemo treatment for pancreas cancer. I was sitting there with him and we were talking and probably joking around. And all of a sudden he wasn’t talking or joking around. He had had an allergic reaction to his chemo. The nurses and some Benadryl saved his life that day and we were blessed to have him another year. I still remember that it was Maundy Thursday because I went to church that night to sing with the choir. I sang and cried. Sang and cried. 

And this Maundy Thursday falls on Chris’s birthday. I haven’t cried today. I kept busy and cleaned and went to Chris’s tree with Josué and Austin and then went to church where moms and sons, husbands and wives, leaders and church family washed each others’ feet, heard the promises of Jesus in the giving of himself for us, and prayed and cried together. Still I have not cried.

I have been praying all day today, too, for a beloved friend of mine who has walked with cancer for some time, but who now, I am told, is surrounded by family and has been removed from life support. This friend has blessed me for many years with encouragement and support, enthusiasm and understanding. I pray for God’s Spirit to surround my friend and the family.

———

As I finish writing this post, I begin to cry. I have held it all day because if I start, I never know if I will stop.

But these are the promises we share. Christ gave of himself for us. Christ died and conquered death. I don’t want to get too far ahead, because it’s important to spend some time in the complications and the sorrow. It’s important to walk in the grief sometimes, feel the things we need to feel.

If you need to cry tonight, please do. We won’t cry forever because this is the promise:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,

for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Today I sit in these days of Jesus’ betrayal and death and I wait. I wait for the promises of new life, of my tears being wiped away, and of the love that is in Christ Jesus. 

Chris, my love, you are forever in my heart. Your baby brother is doing pretty well. You would be proud of him. He would probably still confuse you somewhat, but I know you would have been the best of friends. You are missed because we loved you so, so very much. May God console the brokenhearted.