So a cool thing happened this morning: I was up in Bellingham, doing my walk, and when I got to Boulevard Park I saw a man using one of those ball launchers to fling a tennis ball to his dog. I was smiling at the dog as I came around on the path. And then – to my surprise and delight – the dog nabbed the tennis ball his human flung to him and brought it to ME! He laid it down at my feet and looked up at me, hopefully. I’m pretty sure the dog was smiling. I picked up the ball and threw it back towards the dog’s human – but the ball only got about half-way there. The dog picked it up and brought it back to me again! I was so tickled that the dog chose to include me in his game. I threw it again and the dog went chasing after it.
Birch, the dog’s human, told me his dog’s name is Bridger – like Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. (One of my mountain-climbing dad’s favorite places.)
My beautiful friend and former teaching colleague, Jill Bailey, passed yesterday. This morning I’ve been going through our FB messages to each other, soaking up her wisdom and kindness, and I found messages she’d sent me just after my mom passed – messages about the process of grieving. But… it felt like these messages were fresh and brand new – like she’d just sent them to me – like she was sending me inspiration and wisdom to help me through mourning HER passing.
Today is also the second anniversary of my dad’s death. Finding Jill’s messages this morning couldn’t have come at a better time.
I want to share Jill’s wisdom with everyone who is mourning her today.
Jill wrote: “…Karen, my dad told me shortly after my mom died that he believed that the most important word from Psalm 23 was THROUGH. This scripture can be recited by many…The Lord make me lie down in green pastures, etc. The word THROUGH is only in the chapter once. People picture lying down in green pastures and God walking alongside them through the valley of death, etc..They see themselves THERE. But my dad said go THROUGH it. It is the only way to truly process and heal (get through it) the death of someone you love dearly. He was correct. We can’t shut it out, forget or not deal. The waves of grief crash and we have to dive through…”
And in another message, Jill wrote: “…this grief we go through tends to be solo and honestly no one can truly feel or understand its intensity (at times)…I am sorry that you are going through all the tough stuff that death leaves for the living. I know, I know people say, ‘everyone goes through it.’ It doesn’t help to hear those words. It just truly amazes me that so many people deal with this grief day to day without acknowledgement. And I guess I want to do that – acknowledge you and what is happening!…This is a very hard time. (As I state the obvious.) Please know you are hugged and understood. Jill”
Two years ago today: The last time I saw Dad alive. He died the next day, before I could get to him.
January 18, 2020
Dad is in bed. His eyes are closed. He’s very still, but I see his chest moving. He’s still with us. I lean over and kiss his forehead and say into his ear, “Hi Daddy. It’s Karen.” (There’s no response at first. Then his eyes open and he looks at me.) Dad: (Weakly.) Karen. Karen: I love you, Daddy.Dad: (I can feel the effort he’s making to mumble the words.) Ah uv you.Karen: (Smiling at Dad – my heart filled with tenderness.) You old mountain goat. (That’s what Mom had always called Dad – and it comes to me – out of the blue – to call him that. Dad smiles at me. And now I find myself singing to him – that old Jeannette McDonald-Nelson Eddy song that he and Mom used to sing to each other…) When I’m calling you-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh… (I see Dad perk up a little. I get this sense that Mom is calling to him.)
We don’t say much after this. I stay for a while, stroking Dad’s forehead, and watching “Maverick” on Dad’s television. Every now and then Dad opens his eyes and checks to see if I’m still there. Eventually he falls back to sleep. I leave to go home and fetch my husband and son for a return visit. When I arrive home and describe Dad’s condition, the husband and son immediately let me know they’re with me and we go back to Dad’s house.
We enter Dad’s room and approach the bed. He’s sleeping. We pull up three chairs and watch him for a while. His foot is moving back and forth. I approach Dad’s bed. Karen: Hi, Daddy. It’s Karen. And Andrew is here. And Scotty. (Dad opens his eyes and looks at me.) Karen: I love you, Daddy. (Dad’s eyes are locked on mine and he nods his head at me once, twice. An affirmation. I nod back at him. He reaches up and holds my arm and squeezes it gently. I hold his hand and squeeze. He squeezes my hand back.) Karen: Here’s Andrew, Daddy. (Andrew sits close to his grampa. This is his time with Grampa. Love is exchanged. This time belongs to them and it’s not mine to share in words.) Karen: And here’s Scotty.(Scott grips Dad’s hand and receives a strong grip in return. They both grin at each other. Male bonding.)
We all feel when it’s time to leave and let Dad get back to the business of sleeping. I get up and kiss Dad’s forehead and tell him I love him. Scott says his good byes. Andrew is the last to leave – he gets a strong good bye handshake from his grandfather before he leaves him to sleep. – Karen Molenaar Terrell, The Second Hundred Years: Further Adventures with Dad
And now it’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? on Roku one of my favorite movies and we’re just at the part where the Soggy Bottom Boys are singing the blues in the studio, singing with their hearts and our cats are awake now and wanting to be fed maybe I’ll feed them and then go back to bed -Karen Molenaar Terrell
I awake at three in the morning the magic hour and go downstairs to find some way to use this gift of extra time Ten Things I Hate About You is free on Roku that’s cool so that becomes my background movie while I scroll through Eff Bee and write a poem – this poem and now Heath Ledger is singing “I love you, baby!” as he dances his way across the bleachers – up and down – and I try to imagine who he’d be now if he was still with us here and you’d think there’d be something somewhere in here that rhymes time rhymes with rhyme, but it’s too far back in the poem to count sometimes free verse is what it’s all about -Karen Molenaar Terrell
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Years ago, when I was a teenager maybe, I remember seeing a Star Trek episode that showed a man who was half-black and half-white in a struggle with another man who was half-black and half-white – they were enemies because of their color – and I remember looking at them, thinking, “But… they’re BOTH half-black and half-white… what’s the issue here?” And at the end of the episode we finally see that the reason they’re enemies is because one of them is white on the right side of his body, and the other is white on the left side of his body, and… yeah… I remember thinking how absolutely ridiculous it all was for them to hate each other just because they were colored differently on different sides. But it is, of course, no more ridiculous than hating someone just because they’re all ONE color, and that color is different than ours.
The summer after I graduated from high school – which was about ten years after the Watts Riots – I traveled with my dad to California. Dad had grown up in Los Angeles, and he wanted to revisit his old neighborhood and see his childhood home once again. As we drove the streets to his old home, I noticed that we were the only white faces in a several-mile radius.
Dad pulled up in front of a little house, and his face lit up – “This was my home!” he said, getting out of the car. I followed him to the front door, where an African-American woman wearing a house-dress and a really surprised look on her face, appeared. Dad explained that he’d grown up in this house and asked if he could come in and take a look around and go out into the backyard where he’d played as a child. The woman smiled graciously and opened her door for us and allowed us into her home. I followed Dad through the house and out into the backyard where there was still the avocado tree he remembered from his childhood. He looked around, said it seemed smaller than he’d remembered it, and started talking about the happy years he’d spent in this yard as a child. Then he went back through the house, shook the woman’s hand, and thanked her for letting him re-visit his old home. Still looking kind of surprised to find these friendly White people traipsing through her house, she smiled back at dad, and told him he was welcome and it was no problem at all.
A block or so later Dad pulled into a gas station to fill the tank up, and a Black attendant came out to help us (this was in the days before people filled up their own cars with gas). He had that same surprised look on his face as the woman in Dad’s old house. He smiled, and filled up our tank for us, and, as we were ready to leave, said in a friendly way, a big smile on his face, “Come back again!”
Every time I think of this trip through that neighborhood in Los Angeles I start grinning. I’m pretty sure we were the only White people in years who’d come nonchalantly driving through that section of Los Angeles. I remember the surprised hospitality of the gas station attendant and the woman living in Dad’s old house, and it fills me up with a kind of joy. I remember my dad – totally oblivious to the fact that he was in a part of Los Angeles that most White people might find threatening – happily traveling down “Memory Lane,” shaking hands with the woman in his old house, greeting the gas station attendant with an open, natural smile – and it makes me really proud to be his daughter.
I am, likewise, proud to be my mother’s daughter. When I was a little girl – maybe eight or so – Mom took my little brothers and me shopping at the local mall. As we were looking at clothes a young African-American family walked by, also shopping. A large middle-aged White man standing near us turned to Mom and said something like, “Those people should stay in their own part of town.” My mom looked up at him, puzzled – she didn’t know what he was talking about at first. He pointed to the African-American family and repeated what he’d said. When my mom finally understood what he was talking about her face turned red with indignation. She looked up at him from her height of 5’2″ and, her voice shaking with emotion, said, “That family has as much right to be here as you or me! We are all God’s children!” The White man realized then that he’d picked the wrong person to share his racism with, and sort of stepped back and disappeared from the store.
I’m really grateful to have been raised by parents for whom the color of people’s skin was a non-issue, and kindness towards everyone was considered natural and normal.
Thou to whose power our hope we give, Free us from human strife. Fed by Thy love divine we live, For Love alone is Life; And life most sweet, as heart to heart speaks kindly when we meet and part. – Mary Baker Eddy
“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Two years ago the son landed in Vienna and called to ask me to pray – he’d picked up some weird virus along the way. Two years minus a month ago he wrote to say he’d just faced wild pigs in the Black Forest, on a most epic day. Two years minus two months ago borders were closing behind him as he traveled from where they spoke German to where they spoke Dutch, and I wished I could touch him again and worried a mama’s worries. And now he sits on the floor of our family home, quietly assembling a side table for the family room.
It’s amazing how much joy I get from watching my son assemble a side table for the family room. -Karen Molenaar Terrell
I can’t know exactly what went through your mind that day – you’ve been reluctant to step into the limelight and say – you’ve been humble, wanting to fade quietly into the background. But the impulse that led you to step to the front on January sixth – the impulse that made you run towards hell – when our government was on the verge of being felled by its own people – continues to give me hope for our nation. Maybe for you the choice was no choice – you could no more have run away from the terror of that day than the sun can stop shining. You simply did what heroes do without question or thought. You are a miracle. You represent the best in us. -Karen Molenaar Terrell
Feel God as infinite Love, infinite Truth – all-power, all-presence, filling all space; protecting, guiding, guarding. There’s nowhere and no one living outside of Love’s embrace. No one is ever separated from Love’s power and presence and protection. No one is ever outside of Love’s realm.
Know yourself as God’s child. You are God’s reflection, expression, manifestation, image and likeness. All you can be is what Love made you to be. All you can know is Love’s presence and power. You are strong and brave and whole and beautiful and healthy and confident. You are what God made you to be.
Love is all-in-all.
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” – Isaiah 41: 10
“For with God nothing shall be impossible.” -Luke 1:37
Woke up at three in the morning. I stayed in bed for a while, just contemplating life. Then I padded downstairs to say good-bye to the Christmas tree. The cats stared at the tree with me for a few minutes in quiet fellowship, and said good-bye to it, too.
Then, while my family slept, I quietly dismantled Christmas – the cats batting Christmas balls around on the floor while I wrapped and tucked the decorations back in their boxes. I said good-bye to the nativity scene on the piano, the angel on top of the tree, the popsickle stick decorations the sons made in school, the decorations students gave me, the old Hallmark decorations, the decorations I bought years ago at the Rite Aid in their post-Christmas sale, the dragonfly tree decorations from the gift shop that closed down a decade ago, the decorations from Mom and Dad’s old tree. And then I looked at the tree, standing bare and exposed in front of me, and I thanked her for bringing her sap-scent into our home and told her how grateful I was for her. I gently tugged her outside to the front porch, swept up her needles from the floor, and went to bed.
Everyone was up and downstairs when I woke up again. I came downstairs and acted surprised. “Who took down the Christmas tree?!” I asked. “Did you take it down?!” I asked Scott.
But they all knew. It was Santa Claus who took down Christmas and brought it back to the North Pole for another year. Duh.