Topped Tulips

Spring has always meant renewal for me – a time of new growth and baby things and the smell of blossoms. But I found myself feeling this deep sense of loss today as I drove the backroads to take one last look at the tulip fields.

I remembered driving around with my centenarian dad in the car just a few years ago – sharing the sights of Skagit County with him. I remembered chauffering Mom around to her appointments – and I remembered that day when she was trying to remember all the birds she’d seen so she could tell her friends about them: “Trumpeter swans and snow geese and herons.” I remembered the swans that were in that field at the beginning of April, spreading their wings for me. And I remembered the waves of snow geese that were here just weeks ago.

And now the tulips are topped, and the swans and snow geese have started their journey back north, and Moz and Dad are no longer here with me in their human bodies. And for a time today I felt this deep ache when I thought about the loss of all these beautiful forms.

Of course, the essence of all these things – the tulips and the swans and the snow geese, and Mom and Dad – is still with me. And I’m going to consciously wrap myself up in the love and joy and beauty and rejoice. But sometimes… sometimes there’s an ache.

topped tulips stand stark
trumpeter swans are gone now
April brings mourning

All That Is Gone

tulip petals in the lawn
no more trumpeter swans
my parents have moved on
spring is supposed
to be the dawn
of seasons, new growth,
lambs and fawns,
but today I’m remembering
all that is gone
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

“…our disappointments and ceaseless woes, turn us like tired children to the arms of divine Love.”
– Mary Baker Eddy

Topped Tulips in Skagit County, Washington. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

Messages from Jill

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 Him Alive

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

The Pressure to Feel Merry

(Originally published in 2012, but I think it works pretty well in 2021, too.)

It has been a challenging month for a lot of people. Yesterday when I was running around, doing last minute Christmas shopping, I ran into three friends who teared-up when I asked them how they were doing – one had lost a husband not long ago, the second had lost her mom, the third her dad. The husband of a fourth friend is going through medical treatment for cancer. And then there is the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut. It just might be that some of us are not inclined to feel all jolly-cheery right now. And I’m here to tell you, if you are one of those folks – it is alright. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. There’s no need or reason to judge your feelings, or to try to force them to be what they’re not. That’s just silly.

At Christmas there’s a lot of pressure on people to feel “The Christmas Spirit.” No one wants to be the Christmas Scrooge. I think we all want to share in the spirit of joy and generosity and hope. But pressuring ourselves to be happy, trying to force ourselves to be jolly, is maybe not the best way to get there. Then it becomes a battle, rather than a natural unfolding.

Here’s the good news: There’s no law that says we can’t feel the Christmas spirit on December 26th, or December 27th, or March 1st – we‘re not limited to feeling joy, generosity, and hope on this one day a year. So even if, this year, we just can’t seem to get there on December 25th, we still have the opportunity to feel the spirit whenever or wherever it unfolds for us. And here’s another bit of good news that I’ve discovered in my own adventures with sadness and grief: I have found that it is possible to be happy even when you’re sad. Which. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true!

May joy settle upon you gently, moment by moment – may you catch it in the playful grin on a child’s face, in the uplift that comes from Beethoven’s Joy, in the smell of something good baking in the oven, in the hug from a friend – may you relax and enjoy those moments for what they are, and what they give you. And may any pressure you feel to somehow make those moments bigger, or brighter, or louder, ease and lift from you.

Karen Molenaar Terrell, from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book

And there’s a new review for The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book!

Jeff Chase writes:5.0 out of 5 stars
This book is a gem.
Reviewed in the United States on December 18, 2021
Verified Purchase
It’s my second Christmas with this book, and I think I’m enjoying it more this year, perhaps because it’s already feeling like a tradition. Karen’s stories, poems, and musings are full of warmth, humor, and love. There’s much to relate to here. I find myself recalling my own Christmas stories from years past. This book is a gem, made for relaxing. Enjoy!

Sam the Wonder Dog

I expect to see her at the door
tail wagging
on our walks
nostrils quivering
one paw raised mid-stride
nose covered in dirt
from her latest hole
unaware of her own beauty
sleek and shiny as a black panther,
but goofy as a Disney character
exhausting
exuberant
extraordinary
friendlly, fetching frisbees and finding –
like magic! –
every tennis ball that ever landed off a trail.
It was a gift she had.
Her first night with us she ate a chunk
out of our ottoman – which we will now call
“The Samantha Terrell Memorial Ottoman.”
Then she went through an “electronics”phase –
the cellphone (chomp),
the remote control (crunch).

Sam loved her neighbors –
the dogs and their humans –
and her walks
around the neighborhood
included frisky, friendly greetings –
dog greetings and human greetings.
And now the neighbors
send us flowers and notes:
“She was a good girl.”
Our neighbors were good friends
to Samantha and their notes
make me smile – seeing the love.
I miss our Samantha
the Wonder Dog.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Every Bird Has a Silver Lining

I don’t need any advice or platitudes here –
I know this will pass and every bird
has a silver lining and early clouds
catch the worm and time closes doors
and an open window heals all wounds
and it’s going to be alright
and better days lie ahead and yada yada.
But, speaking as just a human bean, DANG.
You know? The last four years feel like
one long series of good byes. Mom.
And then Rachael Randy Benjamin Bob
Anita Mike Dean Peggy and Laurie.
And Dad.

I didn’t have time to grieve Mom
because I needed to step up for Dad.
And then I didn’t have time to grieve
Dad because the pandemic hit
and our home became the sheltering
place for sons and their partners
and it was so good to have everyone
here – laughter and family time –
a place of refuge.

And today the last son moved out.
This chapter is finished – this home
has served its purpose and I feel
the book opening to a new chapter –
and maybe a new setting.
And I watched “10 Things I Hate
About You” and found myself
sobbing when Heath Ledger’s face
appeared on the screen. And I know
I’m ridiculous.

But… maybe the time
for grieving has finally come
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

April: Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn, MT

No One Can Steal Your Joy

“No one can steal your joy from you.”
John 16:22

Went on a nice long walk in Bellingham this morning – needed the fresh air and space for my thoughts.

I reached out to Dad in my thoughts (I don’t mean that I, like, “summoned” him – Dad’s not a ghost or anything – he and Mom are always with me in the same way Love, God, is always with me). And the thought that came back to me was full of joy. I know Dad’s happy. I think I was trying to talk to Dad about all the uncertainty and grief of these times – but it came to me that the things I seem to be experiencing are no part of Dad’s experience – no part of “where” he is (and I don’t mean “where” as in a location – but as a state of mind). I felt that I was being encouraged, then, to claim my own joy, too. The words from John came to me: “Your joy no man taketh from you.”

I’m not sure I’m explaining any of this at all well, but… the gist of it is that what I’ve been learning, lately, is that whenever I feel like I have a hole in my heart – it’s instantly filled with Love. Love is constantly giving me whatever it is I need. My sense of being connected to the infinite Love of the cosmos isn’t dependent upon my parents or husband or children or friends – it’s always with me.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

“Heaven is not a locality, but a divine state of Mind…”
-Mary Baker Eddy

Taking Down the Tree

Taking down the Christmas tree
seemed especially hard for me
this year.
Every ornament brought back
memories – sweet and dear –
as I wrapped them up (both
the ornaments and the memories)
and packed them in the Christmas sack.

Ornaments Mom left me after she passed.
Ornaments from former students in my class.
Ornaments our sons made of pop-sickle sticks
and glitter, macaroni and beads.

I felt the loss.

And I know. I know. I know.
I know all the things you want to say:
I know that Good is never really gone-
It’s here to stay
It lives on –
in our memories. I know Love never ends –
and I should be grateful for all the family,
all the friends,
all the love I’ve known in my life.

But as I take down the tree
I’m missing you especially.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Christmas Lights




I Miss Him

It is Father’s Day – and it is also my dad’s 102nd birthday – a double whammy. When Dad was 99 and lying in a hospital bed with a UTI, angry that he wasn’t being allowed to leave, he announced to my husband and me that he was “going to live to be 102!”

He almost made it, too. He died January 19th of this year – just five months short of his goal.

A lot has happened in those five months. If my dad were suddenly to reappear here today and look around at what’s happened to our world in the last five months I’m not sure what he’d make of it all. I know he’d be celebrating some of it – I know he’d support the Black Lives Matter movement and be glad to see the progress that is being made towards equality for all people. He’d probably be baffled to see everyone walking around in face masks – but I think he’d like the smiley face on mine. 🙂 He might be frustrated by the way elderly folks are being isolated from the community and he probably wouldn’t like not being able to have a lot of visitors. But – as he always managed to do – he’d make the best of the circumstances – he’d rejoice in the good, patiently wait for the bad stuff to pass, and remain hopeful about the future. He was born at the end of WWI and the beginning of the Spanish Flu pandemic; survived the Great Depression and service in WWII; and survived 10 days in a small tent in a blizzard at 25,000′ on K2 – he wouldn’t be daunted by 2020. Pffft.

My dad, Dee Molenaar, had a full and wonderful 101 years and seven months. He saw his share of tragedies, but he also saw his share of triumphs.

I miss him. As I look at the photo of him, standing next to my mother on their wedding day, I feel him with me. I feel them both with me. Giving me courage. Telling me it’s all going to be alright. We’ll make it through this.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.