Last January I wrote a series of posts on decluttering, because this is the month I try to get that done in real life. I still have hope that I will get to it this month, but I’m getting a frightfully late start, so we’ll see. Who wants to declutter in February, the month of love?

However, we can start with this story:

My dear mother died almost eighteen years ago and my beloved father followed three years later. (Those numbers astound me. It seems as if it could have been yesterday. Of course time has mitigated the pain somewhat and I don’t think about them every hour on the hour anymore, but it still hurts to actually stop and look at their photographs hanging in the hallway. Most days I avert my eyes. And I would give almost anything to spend an afternoon with them to “catch up.”)

When my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving us three grown children orphaned, I had just had major abdominal surgery. In the ensuing six weeks, my brother, my sister, and I engaged in the usual frenzied activity that often follows a death. We cleaned out his belongings; we held an estate sale; we sold the house. In our hurry, a lot of paper-related items came to reside in my home.

This past week, some fourteen and one half years later, I invited my brother and sister to spend a full day with me – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – so we could finally deal with the two overflowing drawers, three large heavy totes, and the two-drawer file cabinet that contained the rest of their effects, multiple scrapbooks with multiple pictures, and almost sixty-six years of marital history.

(I stand corrected about the meals. Actually the three of us ate so much for breakfast that we elected to skip lunch and have an early dinner.)

While we definitely had a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, an emotional and physical adventure was had by all.

We tried to sort out and keep anything clearly historical in case one of the grandchildren or great-grandchildren should want to do a genealogy or write a book someday. Or just know from whence they came.

Then we dismantled some of the scrapbooks, each of us claiming the pictures that pertained to our own families. But how do you tear apart volume after volume that your mother had so artistically and painstakingly put together? You might as well tear out your heart.

On the other hand, what good are the scrapbooks if they are stored in my basement? And why would we ask our children to make these kinds of decisions? They already had received many mementos when Mom and Dad died.

So how do you throw away piles of old pictures? Even if you don’t know the names of the people in them? Even if your children will most certainly not know the names? These were real people. They don’t deserve to be tossed away. But as the oldest person left in our family, if I don’t know who or what the pictures are, it seemed useless to keep them.

How do you toss the many beautiful anniversary and birthday cards, invariably signed “Love,” from Paul to Bertha and Bertha to Paul? We ended up tearing off the beautiful fronts and sending them to St. Jude’s Card Project for use in making new cards.

How do you discard letters from friends who clearly loved your parents a great deal, even if your parents and their friends are gone?

It was a difficult day.

How did we do it?

With pain in our guts and holes in our hearts.

I started the second morning of January with a talk for the Littleton United Methodist Church Optimist Club. It was my 595th speech.

As we left home at 8:30, I said to Les, "There won't be anyone there. It's too cold. The year is too new."

And he said, "Who is there is who is there."

When we entered the room, almost two dozen faces smiled at us and we were immediately pulled into the warmth of this lively group. 

As I began reading "No Lifeguard on Duty," one woman interrupted, "Oh, I know who you are. I have that poem on my desk! And to think I almost didn't come this morning!"   

Later she told me about the many sadnesses she has had in her life. Somewhere she had heard of that particular poem, but could only remember one line. A friend of hers Googled it and found the poem. My new friend printed it out and kept it on her desk. I felt humbled and honored when she told me that it had given her comfort and courage when she needed it. 

So, just in case you need a helping hand this morning, here it is once more:

No Lifeguard on Duty

It is difficult
when one is drowning
to wave to the people
on shore

One wants to be
friendly, of course,

but perhaps it is
more important
to keep

swimming

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines, © 1993, 2003, Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad) 

Happy New Year!

 

 

.

A poem for Christmas Eve:

Christmas Wish

I’d like to find my path again—
shall I follow a star?
can I come from afar?

I’d like to stand in awe again—
should I crouch on a hill?
could I kneel in a stall?

I need to touch my soul again—
might I find a new way
to remember, to pray?

I yearn to wend my way back home—
although I know
one cannot go. . .

Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad
December 23, 1993

This poem is for those of you who are having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit because of the loss of a loved one or illness or some other tough thing in your life.

I wrote this in 2002 when someone very dear to me was struggling with brain cancer:

Christmas does not touch our hearts this year
The externals are here—

Trees alight with shining orbs
Wreaths bedecked with sassy bows
Gifts piled high on every shelf
Music mocks our bleakest woes

Nothing warms the cold, dark fear—
Christmas does not reach our hearts this year

December 21, 2002

 

(Excerpted from This Path We Share, (c)2010 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

On November 27, Les and I arrived at Denver International Airport after a Thanksgiving visit to our son in Michigan. We deplaned at Gate B 95 – miles from where we needed to be. Les walked on the people-carrier and I walked briskly beside it. It was my walk for the day. Les began walking slower and slower. I suggested that he quit walking and just ride. I shouldered one of his bags to add to the two I already commandeered. Finally he said, “I can’t walk anymore. I have to sit down.”

Les looked so haggard and pale that I checked for his pulse. Where is it? I must have a bad spot. An airport cart waited nearby, but the driver said that he was unable to leave that area to take us to the train. “However, your husband can sit on the cart and rest. And there is a wheelchair station right over there,” he pointed.

We waited a while until a young attendant came to settle Les into a wheelchair. She took us down an elevator, then got us onto the train at Station B.

As we sped toward Station A, I suddenly noticed that Les was staring into space. Eyes wide open—nobody home. I called to him, “Les. Les, honey, wake up. Please wake up.” I shook him, and called again. No response. I could get no heartbeat anywhere. One of his arms dropped. The other dropped. I begged him not to leave me and screamed, “My husband is dying. My husband is dying.” I couldn’t grasp that our sixty-four plus years of marriage was ending on a stupid train at DIA.

Someone—another employee?—swooped in and whisked our attendant and Les' wheelchair off the train. I jammed one of my suitcases into the door to keep it from closing with me still in the train, departing for God knows where.

Where are we? I didn’t know. Our young attendant flailed her arms in the air and moaned, “Oh, God, I don’t know what to do.” She didn’t know where we were, either.

I kept calling for help into this huge empty space where I could see only three other people. I grabbed one passerby and begged him to please help me lift Les off the wheel chair so I could do CPR. But I couldn’t even budge Les’ right leg. I doubt if five men could have lifted him.

Then Les moved ever so slightly and the man said, “See, he’s OK. He doesn’t need CPR,” and hurried on his way.

Les was alive. But had he had a stroke or heart attack? Could he stay alive? At some point someone called the paramedics. When the eight burly men arrived, the lead guy said, “Your husband is very ill. An ambulance is coming.” They started IVs and oxygen, working feverishly.

And there we were somewhere in the bowels of a huge airport. Somehow the ambulance men found us and transported us (and our baggage) to a hospital.

When we arrived, Les was more lucid and began to stabilize. I stayed in his room overnight. I couldn’t have thought of leaving him. By the next afternoon, he had returned to his normal health. Diagnosis: dehydration and atrial fibrillation. 

The following Sunday, our pastor spoke of Advent as a time of waiting and preparation. He offered the thought that things we have done in the past can help us in the present and will assist us in the future. He told how, when his wife’s mother died recently, they read Scripture and sang hymns as she lay on her deathbed. The fact they had sung these hymns hundreds of times in the past made it possible for them to sing them at this sad time. The many previous readings of Scripture had girded their souls for such a time. We prepare, sometimes unknowingly.

Did past events help me during this crisis? Will this episode provide any help in the future? Was it a dress rehearsal, a preparation, what?

All I know is that I want never again to feel as I did for those harrowing, however-many minutes.

But I also know that I probably will.

Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad
©12/12/12

My last post was October 31, "A Final Poem for October."

Okay. Appropriate enough from someone who is a breast cancer survivor, who wrote the book in which that poem first appeared, who wants to comfort others. With any luck, perhaps the poem did comfort someone. 

But this is December 20. What happened to November? What happened to the first three weeks of December?

Well, in November a couple of trips happened. First to Arizona to visit one son and his family, then a Thanksgiving trip to Traverse City, Michigan, with another son and his family. In Arizona I got too warm and relaxed to try to blog and in Michigan I got too full.

Sorry. More tomorrow.