Shoes at the Door

Todd and I have had continual banters about leaving my shoes at the top of the stairs at home so I don’t track dirt across the carpeting. He’s put a nice big swatch of extra carpeting there to remind me. I use it to wipe my feet like a bull getting ready for a stampede but he says dirt travels. He can support his position, he says, by the trail I’ve created from the steps to my closet. I don’t see it. It’s amazing we stay married. I have come to believe he’s part saint.

I think he’ll be pleased to hear that while I’ve been staying at Dad’s I’ve gotten into the habit of kicking my shoes off at the door. Things change.

Things change when you step inside a door closer to life because you’re nearer death. Time becomes timeless. Space loses boundaries—morning becomes night, and night, morning. Dad and I were up in the night and he was talking about going to the Island today. It’s 10:48 a.m. now so I know we won’t be getting an early start.

“How do we do this?” my sister and I ask each other. “How do we do this?” What do we say?—call me when you think you’re dying again, Dad. I gotta go now.” We miss our husbands—but I can see mine every day. She’s 2200 miles away from home and work—I’m within walking distance to both. The world goes on around us, where days are measured in minutes not breaths, where shoes are carelessly worn across carpeting, where death is seen as the end and life as finite

Don’t talk about death in front of Dad—not death where it’s the end. Don’t bring up the end because to him, this is a new journey, a new beginning—a new life. Don’t mention grief. “We are celebrating here,” he tells the nurse.

“It’s so beautiful here in your condo, Bill,” she responds as her eyes search the photos that stand in layers on the shelf beside her—it’s as if she’s searching for an explanation. She won’t find it in the flat, two dimensional reflections of our images. It’s a Living Presence she senses which brings a timeless beauty, that dwells within and fills the room where my shoes are sitting at the door. “I can feel the family’s love,” she says. “You all seem to be doing just fine.”

I think we are. This is a time to be treasured not measured.

When heaven begins to open, you find yourself standing on holy ground and you just know inside—you know the time has come to leave your shoes at the door.

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I’m Gonna Miss Dad

Dad’s paper wasn’t delivered in the morning so I went to get him one after work. I picked up a couple extra bananas too and took a walk to the hot bar to see if I might find something for Todd and me for dinner. They had hamburgers and brats and sauerkraut, mac and cheese—all the things that remind me of Dad. I remembered all the times I’d come there to pick up a quick dinner for him—after an afternoon at the doctor’s or one of those long hospital stays.
My arms held the paper, some blueberries and bananas so when I felt the tear roll down my right cheek, I reached to wipe it but dropped a banana. I bent down to pick it up and felt the spasm in my back from sneezing on Sunday seize up. It’s hard to carry large loads of emotion around with you all the time. I’m working on that but I’m going to really miss my dad.
When I got back to the condo, I handed him his paper. His head was tucked down as he does so he can swallow but I knew he was getting ready to say something. I waited.
“I felt really bad sending you for my paper.”
“You didn’t send me, Dad. I wanted to go. I needed a few things.”
“Well, I love reading the paper but I realized after you left that I’d rather talk to you.”
I sat back into the couch then. “Well, here I am! You can have both!”
We did talk for a while but I felt the usual pull of needing to be in two places at once. I have a wonderful staff that seems to understand and have tried to extend the same support to them. My Dad raised us to put God first, family second and work third. (That’s not easy.) And I have a wonderful husband who seems to understand. None the less, my back aches and like Dad, I’m eating less and sleeping more. Letting go isn’t for the weak.
Dad is very organized and had his Power of Attorney papers completed with his attorney years ago while Mom was still alive. I will have to take the lead on what it says and the most challenging part of it is the last line. Dad has written in a scripture: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). Mom had said the same thing to me in her own words: “I don’t want you crying over me. It’s just my time.” I had promised her I wouldn’t. But I did.
So, when I was in the kitchen of Dad’s condo last night, putting his dishes in the dishwasher, tears rolled down my cheeks. My hands were full so I couldn’t brush them away. I felt the strong urge to go back and sit down with Dad and tell him I’m going to really miss him when he’s gone. But I didn’t. I knew I would cry and didn’t want to upset him.
I want to be faithful to the Words I read in his Power of Attorney. They are important to him and I know, powerful. I told him when I started writing his stories that I would be sure to let people know that he was happy about going home to Jesus. He corrected me that day. His eyes beamed. “Happy?” He said. Joyous! Why, I’ll be Joyous!”
In my experience, God has always provided what I needed just at the right time. I’m certain He will provide Joy in my heart for a life well-lived when the time comes. Because that’s what I want to share from Dad to you.

A Soldier in the Distance

What I had once been driven to do through dance, using my physical and spiritual strength, I began to find through being still, with pen and paper. Movement of my soul.

I felt differently about writing after my brother died. Bring him back. Quick, someone get it down before we lose anyone else. A vehicle to make what’s temporal, timeless.

It’s maybe ironic that what moved me to write, also unmoved me and I packed it away for several years. Afraid.

I had mentioned his death in a story that brought it all back to someone. Seeing the pain on that face was inexplicable. I froze like the icy snow in the story she later told me to encourage me on……

It was a snowstorm that pressed icy winds against the drafty old house, sending moans throughout its walls and floorboards. Cold air worked its way in through the window frames. Whirls of snow blew in the air and across the field to the west. By mid afternoon, what had seemed cozy earlier became confining for three little kids.

When the snow stopped and the sun peered through the thick grey quilt of a sky, reflecting a glistening bed of snow waiting to be jumped on, Mom quieted our rambunctious voices long enough to say, “Enough!! Get your snowsuits on.” Twenty minutes later we were out the door. Capped, zipped and booted.

We marched up the hill to the stone road behind the gate at the top of the driveway, laughing, thrilled to be in the fresh air and stomping through the deep drifts of snow. Mom was happy to have our energy released in a space large enough to contain it. Ed trudged on ahead while John and I fell backwards together into the soft white blanket and waved our arms and legs. “Eddie, look! Angels!” We called out but he was already busy making a fort. Preferring his project to ours, we made our way over to him and all worked together.

It wasn’t long though before the sun tucked itself back behind the weighty clouds and the wind started up again. Mom pulled our scarves up over our chins and was concerned by the ominous, sudden change in the wind’s direction. She gathered Johnny up in one arm and took hold of my mittened hand in the other. “Eddie!” She called through the wind. “Let’s go back.”

His dark eyelashes blinked away snow, “Okay,” he shouted. “I’ll lead the way!”

He led us back up the road. Our trip was quicker going than it was returning, as it often is. John tucked his head in Mom’s collar and I kept mine down out of the sleety wind as she guided my steps. “What if we don’t make it back,” someone asked as the wind was doing its best to push us the opposite direction we were headed.

“Come on, guys!” Ed shouted, looking on the road in the distance like a toy soldier.

As we neared the house, we could see the glass in the upper panel of the storm door rattling as the yellow light from the kitchen glowed against the darkening sky and filled the window like a lamp, beckoning us inside.

Ed was wrestling with the doorknob, his hands working hard inside icy mittens. With a swift kick of his sturdy little leg, the old door flew open and with frozen fingers and toes, we were all once again safe inside the womb of warmth we called home.

sledding!I think of Ed like that now, a soldier on the road in the distance….almost hearing his voice, “Guys look! Angels!”….guiding us towards the door so we can enter in, away from danger. All grief. The glow of the light against the darkness shines like a lamp, beckoning us onward.