Death

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Kodiak “Toad” Parsons – 2001-2013

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Less than two weeks after taking her to Kansas City, my mom called to let me know that Toad had taken an abrupt turn for the worst. She was in a lot of pain, and the X-rays showed that she had no discs left in her neck. Severe arthritis was taking over. Her back legs were buckling. And thanks to my friend Mark and his heroic buddy pass provision, I got on a last-minute flight.

Last night, we said goodbye to my sweetest friend. She was the happiest little dog, social and affectionate, funny and cute, and so much braver than me. I’m so grateful to have had 2 years of 3-legged adventures with her, and especially relieved that I could be with her in her final moments – moments that were heartbreaking but somehow peaceful. Although in pain, she was attentive, ears laid back, tail wagging until the very end.

Toad’s life made a difference to mine. She forced me to not be the center of my universe – which, let’s be honest, is hard to do. She was companionship. She was unconditional love. I felt better when she was around – which is why I took her with me everywhere I could: work, parties, counseling (yes, I took her with me to counseling). She made people stop on the street, charming everyone she came across. She loved cheese and rotisserie chicken. She hated having her picture taken and getting her feet wet.

Most of all, she loved people, and I’m pretty sure it’s okay for me to say that she loved me the most, followed by my family and then probably Graham Stoner. I know that so many of you loved her, and for those who never met her, I wish you could have. She was one of a kind.

I’ll miss you more than I can say, Toady – good girl.

May I know whose hand I’m in

Monday, October 1st, 2012

On September 18th, we lost my grandma to pancreatic cancer.  She was diagnosed back in July, and even though we knew that death was coming, it still felt very sudden.

This past Saturday, we laid her to rest in Richland, WA, and then celebrated her life during a 2-hour service at the church she had attended nearly her entire life.  My grandma was widely loved, and the hundreds of people in attendance were confirmation of her gigantic sphere of influence.  She lived her life so well.

This weekend, I was reminded of what it means to be part of a family – the complicated parts and the beautiful parts, the uncertainties, the joys.  To belong to a family means you’re going to laugh and you’re going to cry and you’re going to roll your eyes – and sometimes, you’re going to do all three at once.  Especially when you’re all sharing the 15-passenger church van.

Anyone who knows me (or has visited this site for any length of time) knows that these days, my family looks different than I ever anticipated.  Maybe you feel the same way about your family.  Maybe things have not turned out the way that you planned.  Maybe you assumed one thing with such certainty that your new, unexpected reality causes nothing less than an internal shriek.

Family members were missing.  We are broken and incomplete.  This weekend held moments that were so potent with reminders of the way that things used to be, and will never be again.

People are quick to glibly label those feelings “nostalgia” – but that’s absurd.  These feelings are more important than that.  The lament and longing that come from the loss of a former life that molded you into who you are today are no small matter.

When I was dropped off at the airport yesterday, I told my mom and our friend Sharon, “Going back to Denver feels really lonely.”  And it did – it does.  I left my family members and the town in which I was born, and flew back to Colorado alone.  When I landed, I took the shuttle to the long-term lot where I’d left my Subaru, and headed back toward the city.

As I drove, I remembered that I was missing a show that I had initially planned on attending.  Peter Bradley Adams is one of my favorite songwriters – maybe even my soul mate.  Probably.  Is he married?  Let’s look into this.

PBA writes some of the best songs I’ve ever heard, and I was crushed to be missing his show in Denver.  So I turned on his music, and listened to a song about the loss of place and of belonging – the loss of what was, what might have been, what can never be again.

And yet, his words have a hopeful, trustful bent: “If I wander ‘til I die, may I know whose hand I’m in.”

Of all of the ways I would like to be like her, this is the greatest: all the way to her death, my grandma knew whose hand she was in.  And prone to wander as I am, I hope to continue this legacy.

A sense of home

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

My grandma has lived in the same house for 57 years.  Fifty-seven.

She spent the entirety of her marriage there.  She raised her children there, from infancy to adulthood.  Her kids, her grandkids, and her great-grandkids have eaten in that same kitchen, swam in that same pool, and sat on that same front porch.  She has attended the same church, shopped at the same grocery stores, seen the same neighborly faces, and driven the same streets for a lifetime.

I recently sat down and made a list of how many times I have moved.  In the 12 years since I left my hometown of Montrose, Colorado, I have moved 18 times.  The longest I have lived in any one place is 2 years (a studio apartment in Seattle); almost all of my tenures have been less than a year.  A total of 13 scattered months have been spent with no address at all, squatting with friends or family for short fragments of time, all of my possessions boxed up in basements, garages, or storage units.  I am on my fourth set of friends, with countless other relationships far-flung around the world like a constellation.

Perhaps this is the norm for my generation, but at this point, the concept of home barely rings a bell.  I don’t know where my home is.  But I know that I crave it with every ounce of my being.

Last night, I went to Red Rocks for the first time ever, and heard James Taylor play “Carolina in My Mind.”  Before he began, he told the audience that he wrote the song in 1968 in London.  There he was, recording overseas, with the accolades and attention of some of his heroes (two of the Beatles, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, are actually featured on the track); by all worldly standards, he had reached “success.”  But even with his accomplishments, he explained, he had been so homesick – and that prompted him to write and record this song that so many of us now know and love.

Old or young, famous or not famous, home calls to all of us.

My grandma has lived in the same house for 57 years – but we know that her time here on earth is winding down.  Even for one with a very strong sense of home, she can’t stay.  What an ache.

But I believe that our true Home is more than just a spot on a map.  It’s more than geography and more than circumstance and more than time.  It’s where my grandma is headed, and it’s what James Taylor sings about, and it’s what my own heart longs for.  It’s absolute familiarity and comfort and permanence, a lack of insecurity and an abundance of joy – and it’s closer than we think.

In the meantime, while I’m in this life on earth, I am thankful for little reminders of Home: a cup of coffee in whatever house I wake up in, a flawed but precious lineage, and the songs of James Taylor.

The progression of last night’s in-flight conversation

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

“Can I put the arm rest up?”

“Sure.”

[spilling over into my seat]  “I’m still a big girl.  But I’ve lost over 200 lbs.”

“Wow – that’s incredible!  Congratulations – what an accomplishment.”

“No more seat-belt expander for me.”

[high-five with a 70-year old woman, initiated by yours truly]

“I’m Pat, by the way, and this is my husband Bobby.”

“Hi, Pat and Bobby.  I’m Annie.”

- – - – - – - -

“Are you from Nashville?”

“No, but I work for a company that’s based there.  I’m heading back for work, and a friend’s wedding on New Years’ Eve.”

“The company that you work for – do they rate well in customer service?”

“We do, in fact.  It’s one of the things that we’re known for.”

“Well, I tell you what.  You need to move to Mesa, Arizona, and teach those nincompoops a thing or two about customer service.  I have never met such dolts in my life as I did in Mesa, Arizona.  Or as many Ethiopians as I did in the Denver airport.”

- – - – - – - -

“How did you two meet?”

“We were in high school.  I had a girl friend who wasn’t allowed to car-date unless it was with another couple.  So she begged me to go on a double-date with her and her boyfriend, and Bobby here.  I couldn’t stand him.”

“What?  How could you not stand Bobby?”

“I don’t know, I just couldn’t.”

“Okay, go on.”

“My girl friend liked the guy she was going with, but her family told her that she couldn’t marry him, because he wasn’t a Christian.  So she wrote him a Dear John letter.  But, you know what?  She died of typhoid fever.”

[gasp]  “That’s terrible.”

[somber]  “Yes.”  [gung-ho]  “But after that, Bobby called me up to ask for a date with just me.  And I said yes.  And we’ve been together ever since.”

- – - – - – - -

“How have you made marriage last for 49 years?”

“It’s give-and-take.  Always give-and-take.  I love him so much, I hope I die before he does, because I could never live without him.”

- – - – - – - -

“Bobby has had a kidney transplant, two knee replacements, and open-heart surgery.”  [fumbling for his meds]  “I hope we make it to 50 years before he dies.  Want a sugar-free yogurt-covered pretzel?”

“Sure.”

- – - – - – - -

“Have you met Mr. Right?”

“No, I haven’t.  Not yet.  I hope I do someday.”

“Oh, you will.  A girl like you can’t last much longer without being snatched up.  Blows my mind that it hasn’t happened already, actually.  Men are idiots.”

“Thanks, Bobby.”  Smile.  For real.  Big smile.

- – - – - – - -

“Girl, I’ll tell you what.  I can already tell that you have common sense – which is more than I can say for most people in this world.”

“Well, thanks, Bobby!”

“You do.  You’ve got it.  Common sense.  And pretty eyes.

I need to use the restroom.”

- – - – - – - -

I’ll be honest: at first, I felt tempted to open up my laptop and cut off conversation with them.  But I’m so glad that I didn’t.  Pat and Bobby reminded me that life is precious and fleeting, like a vapor, and that the only thing worth passing on is love.  I don’t know how to reconcile the notion that “life is meaningful” with “yeah, but everyone dies” – but this couple, towards the end of their relatively quiet, non-glamorous years, somehow made me believe that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I think I should switch them.

Everyone dies.

Yeah, but life is meaningful.

Extremely, intensely, marvelously meaningful.

This life, this world

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

In the past week, a lot of life has happened.

I got two different phone calls reporting engagements, and one reporting a suicide.  I had my soul fed by nourishing, true words – and I had my feelings hurt by a single thoughtless sentence.  I felt pretty and then I felt ugly and then I felt altogether invisible.  I clinked wine glasses with some of the most magical people I have ever met, and my heart nearly exploded with the joy of it all.  I laughed until I almost fell out of my chair, and then turned around to speak quiet, quavery-voiced fears to a friend.  I watched a 10-month old take a solid first two steps – and I got word that another friend’s 19-year old son, a boy I used to babysit for, was murdered.

A single painful story can be more than all of the happiness I could ever dream.  This world is not a safe place, and I am at a loss for how to move through it.

Our only comfort

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Last week, my sister-in-law lost her dad.  My nephews lost a grandpa.  And all of the Parsons lost a man who has been family for the past 9 years.

Today, Kent McElroy will be laid to rest in a cemetery in Missouri.  A few weeks ago, he chose his plot, and bought kites to be delivered after his death, asking that Jeremy and Ashley take Micah and Tyler to fly them next to his grave.  He knew that he was leaving.  If he could have willed himself to stay, he would have – but cancer does not honor our will, our wishes, our fight.

It is cruel.  It is callous.  And in its aftermath, it tempts me to be the same.

But Kent was the opposite.  He was generous, and positive, and selfless.  In the face of terminal, inoperable cancer, his heart was continually for God, and for others.  He touched so many in his 56 years – and never so many as in his last one.

I was in Kansas City last week to say goodbye.  It’s so hard to see death up close – painful, and terribly sad.  But it’s also an enormous privilege to be invited into that precious time.  I will never forget it.

Hearts are broken today.  They will be for a long, long time – and maybe forever, because I don’t know that we ever “get over” the loss of a loved one.  I think of my sweet sister-in-law Ashley, and how the mountains of her heart have slid into the sea – how nothing will ever be the same again, how nothing COULD ever be the same again.

But, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, my only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  I believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8).  And even when I can’t see it or feel it, I have faith – and faith, no matter how small, is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

kent

December 30

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Today is the penultimate day of the year, the second-to-last, one that is forever burned into my brain like a brand.

One year later, and I’m no closer to understanding “why.”  I don’t think I ever will.

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: God is good.  But life’s a bitch.

All I can pray is that the words of Psalm 34:18 are true: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  I hope that is true.  If God is close to those who cry, then he must be very, very near today.

Jeff, Carin, and Ryan – and the Towne and Bushnell clans – all my love.

Right now

Monday, May 18th, 2009

On Friday night, I attended a memorial service of a dear friend in Seattle.  While there in the church pew, celebrating the life of and grieving the loss of this amazing woman, another friend took my hand and placed it on her pregnant belly to feel the baby kick.

One friend is giddy about a new love interest in her world.  Another is dreading the inevitable breakup she will soon have to initiate.

And after a gorgeous spring day – the kind that confirms that Seattle is the most beautiful city on the planet, and nudges my spirit saying, “Remember what it’s like to smile?” and in which I got sunburned cheeks from being outside at Green Lake and along the waterfront of Shilshole – I spent the evening with, and felt the incomprehensible sadness of, my sweet friend who is living in the ruins of having lost a child.

Death and life, the end and the beginning, profound joy and severe pain; contrasting events juxtaposed in the most poignant way.  It made me feel so small.

And I was re-reminded: the only way to find life is to live in the present.  To be emotionally gutsy enough to feel whatever we need to feel, come what may.  To attempt to live in gratitude, no matter the disappointments or frustrations or non-ideal circumstances.  To find the gift in the “right now” – because life, ready or not, is going to hold a vast spectrum of events, emotions, stages, chapters, seasons.

We have to be present.  We have to.  Because in this life, longing is inescapable – but to be available right now is to be open to hope right now.

Karen

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I took myself on a walk this morning. Some days, it is so easy to feel the love of God – in the dappled sunshine, the cool, crisp air, the chirping of the birds. My bouffant ponytail bounced on top of my head, and I soaked in the hope.

It’s hard to believe what is happening thousands of miles away, in Seattle. After almost two years of fighting pancreatic cancer, a dear friend’s mother died yesterday. She was far too young. And my friend is far too young to have lost her parent, her best friend, her confidant – a woman who fought valiantly and with such dignity.

Death used to be just a distant rumor. I’m sad to think that those days are over for me. I am learning how to stand beside friends as they lose family members.

Watching and waiting

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

On Saturday, it was my immense honor and privilege to take part in little Ben’s memorial service in Seattle. The entire service was perfect – every aspect, every detail, was so Ben – from the “Finding Nemo” medley played by the small ensemble, to the many references to the movie “Cars,” to his Aunt Kristen’s fabulous purple heels (Ben’s favorite color). The sight of his gorgeous face on the front of the program literally stole my breath – this was a stunning, remarkable child.

How did it come to this?

Sitting in the front row during the service, I could feel the wave of grief from the thousands of people behind me – the sorrow was palpable, thick. And as I stood onstage alongside my beautiful friends Catherine, Sue, and Robyn to sing, I saw the brokenness in the faces of the community, of the family, of Jeff and Carin. So many had hoped, so many had prayed, so many had pleaded with God to be merciful.

What do we do with our unanswered prayers?

It would be impossible for any child to be loved more than Ben, I am sure of it. And in his absence, there is a void, an ache, a sense that nothing will ever be right again.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 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.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. -Revelation 21:1-5

Come, Lord Jesus, come.