Death Doesn’t Get the Last Word

I learned today that you’d passed away
this last week, and I felt such an odd
mixture of emotions. Shock. Sadness.
Regret when I remembered the last time
I’d seen you was ten years ago. Had it
really been that long since I’d heard
your voice? And I felt anger, too.
Anger towards death. Anger that made
me want to rise up and live bigger,
fuller, freer, more fiercely. For you.
For me. For all of us on this planet.
Death won’t have the last word in your life.
Or in mine. Death doesn’t win. Ever.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Spent Easter on a little island in the Pacific Northwest. On impulse, attracted by the rainbow welcome sign on the front of the building, we attended the Easter service at a small non-denominational church on the island. Here are some of the words to one of the hymns we sang at the service (if you want to hear it performed by a choir on youtube, click here) – the love in it filled me all up with inspiration:

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
John MacLeod Campbell (J.M.C.) Crum

death doesnt get the last word

Butterfly in the North Cascades. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
– I Corinthians 15:55

“Life and goodness are immortal.”
Mary Baker Eddy

“Let us sing of Easter gladness
That rejoices every day,
Sing of hope and faith uplifted;
Love has rolled the stone away.
Lo, the promise and fulfillment,
Lo, the man whom God hath made,
Seen in glory of an Easter
Crowned with light that cannot fade.”
Frances Thompson Hill

Guemes church 2

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Lincoln City Memories

The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.
– Robert Ingersoll, The Great Agnostic

Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and dreams of Time.
–  H.P. Lovecraft

I think it would be interesting if old people got anti-Alzheimer’s disease where they slowly began to recover other peoples’ memories.
– George Carlin

My husband and I just returned from our most recent trip to Lincoln City, Oregon. We’ve been going there since 1984 – when we discovered the magic of Lincoln City  on our honeymoon.  We were trying to figure out how many times we’ve been there in the last 29 years, and we figured we’ve made a pilgrimage to Lincoln City probably 27 times – every year, with one or two exceptions.

You know how photographers do time lapse photography to show Nature unfolding in quick time? Yeah, I’m thinking if we took the days my family has spent in Lincoln City and sort of condensed them into a time lapse photography kind of deal, we’d see something like this…

There we are in 1984 – young, confident, and hopeful – starting our life together – unaware of the challenges ahead, and unaware of the blessings, either – running on the beach – limbs strong and quick and joints well-oiled. My aunt Junie showed me the art of agate-hunting when I was a youngster, and now I’m teaching my new husband how to pick up the glow of an agate on the beach – how to discern the difference between a bona fide agate and a rough piece of quartz…

1992:  Introducing our firstborn to the ocean for the first time. His baby body rests on my knee, facing out to the sea. His eyes have locked onto the ocean and taken note of it – he’s chewing his lower lip, eyes moving back and forth along the sea’s horizon, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. It’s becoming a part of him.

1994: We have come to Lincoln City as parents of childREN. We are old hands at parenthood now. Today it is our youngest son’s turn to meet the ocean. We take off his booties and lower his toes into the water. It is a sort of ritual baptism of baby feet – a bonding with the Pacific.

1999: The sons are playing with the surf – letting the waves chase them up the beach. The ocean is their comfortable old friend now.

Jump to April, 2008: I am in crisis.   Struggling with severe depression. I am desperate to escape from myself and my constantly-churning thoughts. Oldest son knows I need to get away and asks me if I’d like him to go to Lincoln City with me for Spring Break. How many 16 year-old sons do you know who’d be willing to accompany their moms on a 14-hour (round trip) road trip? I am blest beyond words. On the way to Lincoln City we stop and visit my Aunt Junie, who shares our kinship with the ocean and lives in Depoe Bay, an hour north of Lincoln City.  I confide my struggles to Junie, and the feelings of guilt and unworthiness that seem to be a symptom of my illness. Junie is appalled at my feelings of worthlessness. “All her instincts” tell her that I am a good person, she says.  “There are no unrightable wrongs, no unforgiveable sins, no fatal mistakes, no fatal diseases, only the eternal now.” She is like Yoda.

July, 2008: Still struggling with the  depression. Lincoln City is my respite. I sit on the balcony in the sun and look down on the beach and watch the sons running and cavorting on the sand below.  There have been times lately when I’ve wished myself not born. But, watching my sons, it hits me that if I hadn’t been born, they wouldn’t have been born, either. They give me purpose. And the ocean gives me comfort. We stop in Tilamook on the way home and I am drawn to a garden plaque that quotes The Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll: “The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.” On impulse, I buy it. It will sit in a place of honor on our mantel when we return home.

2009:  The family meets on the Oregon coast to celebrate Aunt Junie’s life, and spread her ashes on the ocean.  We will not get as far as Lincoln City this time, but the ocean that she is now a part of will touch the beaches that have provided such solace to me over the years.  And every time I’m near the ocean, I’ll think of Junie – her humor and wisdom and kindness to me.

2010:  Hoping, but not with high expectations, I ask my youngest son, who’s just turned 16, if he’d like to make the same road trip that I made with his older brother two years ago. To my surprise and delight, he says he would! We spend two days at the ocean – flying a kite, looking for agates, running (well, okay, he’s doing most of the running now) along the beach.  Before we leave on our trip I ask Xander if he’s remembered his swimsuit, long pants, shorts, sweatshirt, sneakers, toothbrush, and sandals. He assures me he has. When we arrive at Lincoln City, I realize that am the one who’s left her clothes, laptop, and toothbrush back home. It is all very humbling. But there’s a certain freedom in the forgetting, too. I’m scraped down to the bare essentials. Having no laptop is a good thing.  I have become big into photography in the last couple years, and I have, at least, remembered my camera. Camera, son, ocean, and the clothes on my back – what else does a person really need? 🙂

2013: The sons are all grown-up now. They have jobs and things to do.  For the first time since we became parents, we will be making our Lincoln City pilgrimage alone.  We eat at our favorite eatery there – The Lighthouse Brew Pub – take long walks together, hunt for agates, and remember together who we were when we first found Lincoln City.  Young, strong, confident, hopeful. Our lives stretched out ahead of us.  And we think about all that’s happened in the 29 years since. And it’s all been good. All of it. Even the bad stuff has been good, really. Just like those blossoms unfolding in time lapse photography – our life together has unfolded most wonderfully.

(originally posted in 2013)

 

 

Who has time for death?

“Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionately to their occupancy of your thoughts.”
– Mary Baker Eddy

I woke up this morning feeling melancholy. Thinking about death. Steeped in gloom. Full of fear. I’ve lost a lot of people dear to me this year – and some of them have not been much older than me. Some of them have been younger. And all of that led my thoughts down a dark and dreary road as I woke to a new day – pondering the how, why, when, and where of my own demise.

***

I asked my husband what he was planning to do today and he mentioned some work he needed to do in his orchard. That reminded me that I had been hoping to dig up some crocosmia bulbs that aren’t getting enough sunshine in my Secret Garden, and transfer them to the front yard. So I grabbed a shovel and headed back to the garden. Spent some time rooting around for the bulbs and re-planted them in the front of the house. But while I’d been back in the Secret Garden I’d discovered blackberry vines trying to take over back there. And my butterfly bush and climbing rose needed some pruning. And the clematis and grape vines had gotten completely out of control. Accordingly, I fetched some pruning shears and the wheelbarrow and went back, again, to my garden to try to bring some order to the chaos.

I spent a good part of the day working outside in the fresh air, in the dirt and among the living things – digging, pruning, loading stuff up in the wheelbarrow to add to our brush pile. And while I was working I didn’t think about death for even one moment. I was on a mission. I had purpose. I had before me the vision of what the crocosmia were going to look like when they bloomed, and the hummingbirds that would be attracted to them, and the roses that would bloom on the climbing rose bush, and the butterflies that would flit among the butterfly bush branches come spring.

***

As the sun started setting, I headed out to the local supermarket to get fixings for dinner. And look what was waiting for me!

bow barn frozen pond sunset 3 this one

Now I ask you – who has time to think about death when there’s so much of Life that invites our attention?

I’ve decided my job right now is to live. I want to be where the living people are.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
– Philippians 4:8

 

 

I Feel Her With Me

I feel her with me –
whenever I think of her,
she’s here. I feel her
when I’m kind and doing
something nice
for someone else.
I don’t feel her as eyes
watching me. Or as a ghost.
I don’t feel her as a physical
being at all. But I feel
the essence of her.
And I think she’s helping
me understand more
about who we are, really.
Not limited beings trapped
in these bodies, you know?
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Not Distance Nor Time Nor Death

I heard the news today and thought how unfair life is –
and, for a moment, I didn’t want to be part of it, anymore.
And then, in the next moment, I was filled with gratitude
for life – gratitude that I’ve been given the opportunity
to know you here – to experience your beauty and
kindness and love. Nothing can take you from us –
not distance nor time nor death. Your love will live on.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

poem for Rachael

 

Pretending Death

I lay in bed, pretending to be dead,
not playing dead, but imagining dead.
Eyes closed. Breathing stopped. Mind blank.
Body stilled.
Is this what it feels like? I wondered.
And I wasn’t being melancholy
or morose or macabre.
I wasn’t wishing myself dead
I was just curious.
Is death just an eternal nothing?
And if it is, I reasoned, then
our time here is so short – so much to do,
so many to love, and so little time.
And the idea of that – so little time
to love – made no sense
to me.  How could Love ever end?
And I opened my eyes. Took a deep breath.
Got back to living.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell