Tag Archives: loss

Dad Deconstructed

Dad comes to me in pieces.

As I approached what would have been his 97th birthday, it was his smile that came to me, the smile I felt he saved for me, the one I thought of as my smile.

This week, I’ve been thinking about his voice.

During the years when he was at the peak of his career in the Marine Corps, his voice was a primary instrument of his authority. Years of practice leading men in war and ceremonial parades at Marine Barracks afforded him the ability to issue a command like a rifle report. Without moving a muscle, he could expel a directive so that it burst out of him, sharp and clean. It was the voice that brought me to heel when I was out of line, that sliced up my spine and froze me in my tracks.

After Dad was forced into retirement following his heart attack, his command voice was repurposed for domestic use. It became a vehicle for entertainment. When family or friends lingered around Mom’s dinner table, Dad might without warning boom, “Speak!” Having gained the startled attention of the audience — for it was an audience then — Dad would continue, “Speak thou fearful guest, who, with thy hollow breast still in rude armor drest, comest to daunt me!” His voice would slip into a conversational “just between us” tone as he launched into Antony and Cleopatra, “The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold; purple, the sails, and so perfumed that the winds were love-sick with them.” Or he would channel Richard Burton, dropping his voice a register, intoning, slowly, “Alone, alone, all, all alone, alone on a wide wide sea! And never a saint took pity on my soul in agony.”

His Marine Colonel voice still made rare but memorable appearances. When my newborn son arrived home from the hospital with an inch and a half of black hair, standing on end, my five year old daughter approached her brother with a pair of scissors. Dad, reading the paper in our family room, suspected her plan was benign but as a father of five children knew something of the jealousies of older siblings. He ordered, “Stop! Put The Scissors DOWN!” For several seconds, she didn’t even expel a breath. Then she put the scissors down.

Dad’s voice continued to make an impression on my daughter, even though he never again raised it to her in anger, as far as I know. This week, I ran across a get well greeting in the form of a comic strip that my daughter created while in third grade to send Dad when he was hospitalized. The first frame was easy enough to understand: a drawing of a hand holding a balloon. The second frame stumped us for a bit. The hand held the balloon in front of a man labeled “you,” for my Dad. The speech bubble above him read, “tehupt!” In the third frame, the balloon appeared to be vibrating, rocked by Dad’s voice, and in the fourth, it had popped. Above the second frame, my daughter had drawn an arrow pointing to the speech bubble next to which she wrote, “My Dad said this is how you spell it.” She wanted to exonerate herself of any blame for the phonetic spelling of the call-to-attention drill command that Dad would demonstrate upon request.

Something happened to Dad’s voice over time. It dropped in pitch and took on a gravelly character. His voice, his calling card, led some people to falsely assume that he was a curmudgeon, or worse.

In 2003, after blowing out a tire on a new curb on a familiar side street in Tacoma, he decided to give up driving and moved to an assisted living community just two blocks from my brother Dean’s home. When I visited the first weekend after his move, I passed the front desk where I heard the staff member describing Dad at the request of a resident. “He’s very angry,” she said, “he might even be dangerous.” She had gone so far as to file an incident report with the nursing staff.

After a small stroke two years before he died, a speech therapist suggested we have an ENT physician examine his vocal chords with a scope, suspecting organic damage to the vocal chords. The physician found evidence that Dad had been experiencing acid reflux without knowing it. Although we tried a medication to control it, the damage was done.

In Dad’s last years, his voice was sometimes more breath than speech. He had to actively concentrate to gather his breath and push it through his vocal chords to produce sound. Reciting his favorite poetry required conscious effort to break the long passages into phrases supported by more frequent breaths.

Two nights before he died, when my husband came home from work, Dad was determined to greet the head of household, his host, properly.

“How was your day, sir?” he boomed, sharp and clean.

I hear it still.

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Darkened Windows

The windows of the corner room in my house were dark when I pulled in last night, which should have been no surprise. With a few exceptions, they have been dark since January.

I stopped the car in the driveway and thought about what was missing.

The glow of the television through the shutters was usually the thing that caught my attention. Even from the driveway, I could see images from the The Military History Channel strobing from light to dark in the shadowed room. In the foreground, Dad’s face was revealed when brighter images flashed on the screen. I could see him tilted back in his recliner.

He was waiting for me to come home.

As a teenager and young adult, I often returned home late. I’d turn the key in the lock as quietly as I could and take off my shoes so they wouldn’t make a racket on the green slate entry hall floor. At the sliding door that separated the hallway from the kitchen, one of our Springers would be snuffling along the half inch gap below the door. Slowly, I’d slide the pocket door open an inch or two, just enough to pat the soft brown head before closing the door and heading downstairs to my basement bedroom.

A few minutes later, it would start: Dad “buttoning up” the house. The springs of my father’s twin bed would complain and the wood floor creak slightly as he rose for his nightly rounds. Three steps to the end of the bed, another five or six to the doorway. It was quiet for a count of ten as he padded down the carpeted hallway past the bathroom, turning left into the front hall. Then a series of clicks: push-push, push-push. My parents’ 50s era house had buttons instead of switches to operate the lights, and none of us ever managed to remember exactly which switch operated what. So turning off the lights meant pushing the buttons to check whether everything was shut down. Then in reverse: movement down the hall, bathroom stop, bedroom door firmly closed, steps to bed, bed springs sounding their dissonant chord several times before Dad settled down. The house was secure.

This time last year, Dad would have been listening for the sounds of my return. He liked to retire by 10 p.m., but he’d often delay his bedtime if I wasn’t back. The bombs of Iwo Jima had decimated his hearing so much that he didn’t even turn on the television sound, relying instead on the closed captions. But something about the squeal of the garage door springs and the heavy whump of the door where we entered from the garage were within the range of his hearing.

When I peeked in, he’d be watching the door rather than the tv. “There you are, Bets. Did you have a good time?” He’d say he thought he’d retire, and I’d kiss him on the cheek. See you in the morning. “Shut the door, please,” he’d ask, so that the cat wouldn’t visit him during the night.

These days, his corner room is dark. And yet I feel he is still present.

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Fishing for Family

Bruce, Me, DeanSince January, I’ve thought and written a lot about the inevitable shift in my family relationships. In the days immediately following Dad’s death, I told my brothers that I wanted them to include me in their fishing trips.

One of my brothers immediately noted, “But you don’t like to fish.”

I told them it wasn’t really about the fishing. I knew that they had always connected through hunting and fishing. We are three brothers and one sister… three fishermen and one non-fisher person. I figured that if there were going to be future gatherings of family, they were most likely to happen around the activity that brings them together. My request was noted.

This summer, my brother Dean called to invite me to join a trip on the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. With a lump in my throat (that’s what happens when the dog catches the bus), I joined Dean and brother Bruce on September 2, when we put in at Warm Springs, OR, for a 4 night floating-camping-fishing expedition.

Dean’s led this trip dozens of times, most often using his own 13′ raft, and Bruce has often participated. I was jumping aboard a trip with a lot of history, joining men with well-established habits.

What happened wasn’t really what I expected.

I imagined it kind of like a movie: after attending to the necessities of the day (breaking camp each morning, making camp each afternoon) and a long day of fishing and floating through dramatic volcanic canyons beneath blue skies, we’d contentedly kick back in our chairs and fall to talking about Dad, or Mom, or the burial, or our families. It would be a reverie of memories, longing and love.

I was right about the talking, but wrong about the quantity and the topic. The sporadic conversation centered on fish, insects, stars, geology and fish. Did I mention fish?

For example, did you know that Gary LaFontaine extensively studied caddis fly behavior underwater and designed the Sparkle Pupa fly to imitate rising nymphs (read more)? Or that they work so well because the sparkly antron fibers successfully imitate the gasses that build up under a real pupa’s shuck?

That makes me sound unappreciative. On the contrary. It was just one more life experience where you go looking for one thing and find something completely different, something all the more beautiful because it was unexpected.

I learned a lot. I had to confide that I’d never set up a camp, and I needed to be shown a lot. It turns out that Dean has quite specific ideas (inner smile) about how one does things. When you’ve made this trip as often as he has, you have long since figured out the optimal menu, way to organize a camp, method of packing a boat, and even how to do dishes (wash them with environmentally-friendly soap in one container, rinse in a second basin of hot water, and dip a third time in a basin with a few drops of Clorox for good measure). I also learned a lot about fishing, although the one that I hooked was by complete accident when the fish saw me pulling the line up to recast it (I’m told I got him on the rise).

I also was awed by the majesty of the canyons, river and sky of the Deschutes. How had I missed this? Within the first hour, the walls of the canyon rise up along side the river. The first few buttes stood back at a shy distance, their rising brown hillsides topped with rocky red crowns. In front of them, green water streamed serenely by. As we floated past rock gardens — shallow bars with water only inches deep — every rock gleamed in the crystal clear water. The canyon walls crept closer, and erosion revealed their geologic story of volcanic pressure, uplift, ash explosions, hot flows and cooling into a myriad of shapes, colors and textures.

The Deschutes near Warm Springs OR

Some lent themselves to flights of fancy, the way cloud formations beckon us to see images in their ever-changing shapes. Bruce thought the lone rock below looked like the head of an Argonath. I found myself remembering Dad being wheeled down the hospital hallway for an MRI reciting from Shelley: “My name is Ozymandius, king of kings:/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Ozymandius?

Small islands straddle the center of the river between the off-limits property of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on one side and the many public campgrounds on the opposite shore. As we pass them, Bruce and Dean remembered their fishing luck on past trips; one island was so favorable they referred to it as “our island.” We tied up at one that could be circumnavigated on foot, revealing tree roots that waved in the water like red hair.

Tree roots in the Deschutes River

We did not go unnoticed as we floated down the river. Wild horses on the reservation stopped their slow stroll as they came down to the water to drink, the stallion keeping us under observation to make sure we posed no threat. Great blue herons heard our approach, crouched and flared out their five foot wide wings to beat slowly upstream ahead of us. Mergansers dove, kingfishers cried their piercing call and ospreys whistled and chirped, circling high above the river. We counted 43 osprey during the course of our trip. At one point, a young buck cautiously approached the river’s edge while Dean cast just 30 feet away.

After the sky flamed from orange to fuschia to grey, the nights were even more magical. With only the background noise of the breeze, the Milky Way made such a perfect, broad arc over us that I could imagine a circle of spray paint continuing past the horizon both north and south, cinching the earth beneath us like a belt. Thousands of stars blinked into view revealing constellations, many of which I’d heard of, but never identified. Each night, I watched shooting stars through the netting of my tent and listened to the chorus of crickets and the thumping of bugs trying to penetrate the thin layer of nylon between them and me. I started to bargain with God: “I’ll go to sleep if you show me just one more shooting star.” And each morning, I awakened to an orchestra of birds calling as the sun poured down the brown hillsides behind us, often punctuated by the cry of a frustrated osprey as it flew reconnaissance over the river.

As entranced as I was by the natural beauty of the area, I really noticed things about my brothers.

I watched Dean walk upstream to fish. I love to watch my brother walk, as weird as that sounds. He conveys preparedness in every fiber. It’s visible in the set of his face, the tension in his arms, and the way he plants his legs as he moves purposefully forward. He has such a sense of purpose, a guy who know’s where he’s going and what he’s going to do there. When he sits, which isn’t for long, he’s usually (as my Dad would say) “working the problem.” When we were en route to Maupin to pick up a rented boat from Deschutes River Adventures, his face reflected concern about making it on the river in time to set up our first camp before dark. Even more serious was his expression when approaching White Horse Rapids. His intensity of expression reflected the responsibility he felt as organizer and river guide. Once he met the challenges of the day, he was finally at ease. Dean is such a rock, and I love that about him.

Dean

Bruce’s demeanor is and always has been more relaxed, even graceful. There is a gentleness to him, in his stance and in his voice. His walk is loose and his movements, fluid. He stood up and demonstrated casting back and forth, side to side, until he popped the fly right in front of a big trout. It was almost like watching a dance as his weight shifted from side to side. Of course, I teased him and said, “Can you do that again?” (He obliged.) Bruce loves to share his passion for things, and his passion for fish may be unsurpassed. Although he had plenty of time to fish on his own, he seemed to really want to guide my progress as I attempted to lob or roll cast. As bad as I was, he never seemed frustrated or irritated, using the same, calm voice to direct me.

That voice brought me right back to being five or six years old, when he patiently illustrated a poem about an elf sitting under a mushroom cap umbrella. I still have the drawing.

I watched as he caught the biggest fish of the trip. “Are you getting this?” he asked, knowing that I had my camera in hand. After the fish was released, he showed me how his hand literally shook in excitement. Bruce is such a geek, and I love that about him.

Big trout on the Deschutes

On our last night in camp, after being chased off the river by a dramatic thunderstorm (complete with hail, 40+ knot winds and horizontal rain), I summarized my experience for my brothers, telling them that the trip was different than I had expected. Dean asked, “What did you expect?” I shared my little fantasy about deep talks under the stars.

“Oh no, we don’t talk about relationships,” Dean said, “This is a guy’s trip. We do stuff.”

One brother was missing, and that made me sad. His absence made me wonder aloud on the first night, “How are we going to stay connected as a family?”

The next night, Bruce replied, “I’ve thought about what you said. We’ve learned some things. We’re better off together than we are separately.”

We as a family are moving forward, perhaps in fits and starts, but making progress.

Hole in the Wall campground

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Moved by Someone Else’s Father

Henry S. Campbell, 2011

My Dad, Henry, in 2011

I went to a funeral for a friend’s father yesterday. Now that more of my contemporaries’ parents are hitting their 80s, I seem to be attending more services for a mother or father who I never met.

This one really struck me and I’m trying to figure out why. It didn’t have the biggest attendance, held in a tiny old fashioned white frame Methodist church in the country. Nor did this father produce an unusually big family, just three daughters, eight grandchildren and a few great grandchildren.

Yet I’ve never heard so many people speak at a memorial service.

The pastor reminded people that the family’s wish was to remember and to celebrate, not to get over the loss. In the years since losing Mom and the months since losing Dad, I am still startled by the many times I hear people talk about “closure” or moving on.

The oldest sister chose as her theme how her father lived up to the Boy Scout law: trustworthy, helpful, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. She expounded on each. That, and her Dad liked desserts, especially ice cream, a lot. As she shared anecdotes, she giggled the way my friend does: head tilted back a bit, eyes sparkling, mouth slightly open and the brightest set of white teeth you’ve ever seen on full display. Joy bubbled up and out to all of us. The second sister talked about her father’s kindness and wisdom. When she was torn by a work situation and isolated from her family, she asked for his advice. He told her simply that things would work out, as they usually did, for the best. He offered his support, unconditionally, and trusted her to figure it out. And he loved ice cream.

My friend, the youngest daughter, shared little stories. Her father, brilliant as he was, never failed to see the humor in situations, even at awkward moments, like church. Her sense of humor and her father’s hummed between them like an electrical current, the kind of connection that doesn’t take much to set one of them off in a fit of giggles. Though she shared information about her Dad, what came through most was feeling. You could feel the way she felt about her Dad, and see the joy that he left with her. And he loved ice cream.

Many of the grandchildren shared. Their grandfather, they said, had a way of connecting personally with each of them. For the granddaughter with athletic talent, he was the athlete, having been a three-sport letterman back in the day when you could be good at more than one sport. The grandson with musical talent knew him as the pianist who gave him a coronet that had been handed down from the prior generation. If a grandchild liked to match wits, their grandfather was always ready to take an opposing point of view, teaching them the love of debate for the sheer enjoyment of divining a more comprehensive understanding. They played cribbage. He was handy around the house. He loved nature and the outdoors. He was a devoted and loyal husband. He adored his grandchildren. And he loved ice cream and dessert.

As the pastor promised, the family and friends — former university colleagues, neighbors, childhood classmates — stitched a more complete portrait of the man they all loved. It was a remarkably consistent portrait.

For me, listening, it was a little like watching a movie. Though chronologically disconnected, as the story unfolded, it captured me.

It also reminded me how each member of my family has similar stories of my father inside them. Although my father was greatly diminished by the time he passed away at 96, memories are tucked away, waiting to be dislodged by something one sees or does.

Maybe something as simple, in my father’s case, as eating a bowl of ice cream or chocolate cake. My Dad loved dessert, too.

Remembering isn’t like picking a scab. I get a fuzzily happy feeling when little memories of Mom and Dad flash through my mind. They do not sting; rather they leave me tingling with the knowledge that the people I loved have not truly left me. They are part of my life as long as I remember them.

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Grief and Forgiveness

I went to a really difficult funeral yesterday, a memorial for a couple who died in a terrible accident, long before their time. There are deaths that seem in keeping with nature’s way, and those that are not. It is not nature’s way for a child to die before a parent or parents to die so young that their children are not settled well into their adult lives.

I cannot presume that my grief – losing Mom in 1999, and Dad this year – is anything like what that family’s grief is and will be. But it has taught me some things.

I have learned that grief has a lot to do with forgiveness. I wrote last month about coming to terms with some of my complicated feelings about my mother, and how facing her terminal illness gave me the opportunity to understand, forgive and embrace those differences.

Forgiveness has also been urgent and recurring theme in the immediate wake of loss. I was deeply disappointed by someone that I was counting on to be there for Dad and me during his final weeks. As warmed as I was by all of the people who reached out to me in the days and weeks after Dad’s death, I was sad not to have heard from one particularly important old friend who sent several messages saying he would call, but didn’t. I was and am still irritated every time I hear someone voicing their belief that a grieving person “has to let go.”

In our discomfort with death, we are too quick to seize upon Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model of the five stages of grief. It lulls us into thinking there is a purpose and an order to the messy business of grief.

Sometimes death just sucks. Sometime people just suck because they can’t be what we need them to be when we are caregiving or coping with loss.

Although it seems like I share so much on this blog, there’s plenty I haven’t shared. When I have been the most upset, I haven’t touched my keyboard because I am afraid of scorching the earth with words.

That break from July 16, 2011 to January 6, 2012? Not an accident. I was so deeply angry about something that happened that I couldn’t write anything publicly.

All of this is probably making me sound like one angry woman.

But I’m not. My husband figured out a long time ago that when I act angry, what I really am is hurt. And when I am the most angry, I have learned to wait. Slowly, over time, I begin to understand, empathize and finally forgive whoever set me off.

I can’t find my experience in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model, perhaps because it was developed from the perspective of a terminally ill person rather than a person who loved and supported someone on their journey from this world.

I accepted the inevitability of my mother’s death due to terminal cancer, and my father’s from congestive heart failure. But even with that knowledge and acceptance, my caregiver and survivor experience included some moments of fierce and poisonous emotions.

I have even been angry with God. It still seems cruel to me that nature’s way is for people to degrade when they reach very old age. Why can’t dying of old age be a pinnacle of a life well lived, with a glorious exit?

I don’t stay angry. Neither did my mother, as quick as she was to raise her voice. Like her, I move on to forgiveness.

I understand that we all tremble in the face of death and loss. People I hoped would be there at my moment of need weren’t because they just couldn’t face it. Some I hoped to hear from in my immediate grief were too reminded their own losses and didn’t know what to say. People who insist that there is a schedule to moving on may be afraid of emotions that are not in control; they misguidedly think they are helping when they urge a grieving person forward.

In the weeks before and after Dad died, I felt as if I kept bumping the same vulnerable places, making fresh purple bruises on top of the old fading ones.

Four months later, I am healing. There is no schedule to grief, nor should there be. It took my Dad 96 years to come and go from this life, and he is worth considering still.

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Marine Corps Wife: My Mom’s Career

That's mom seated at bottom left, and Dad standing at upper right in 1959

That’s mom seated at bottom left, and Dad standing at upper right in 1959

Skimming through Mom and Dad’s photo albums from the late 50s, Dad is pictured at the pinnacle of his success in the Marines. While it was Dad’s obituary that carried the details of his promotions and assignments, in many ways his career was her career.

It wasn’t that she loyally followed Dad as Sarah followed Abraham. She was a woman with a mission. She kept the home front running and deployed her considerable social and organizational skills to the job of supporting Dad in the regimented social environment that surrounded officers’ wives.

Dad said he wasn’t keen on the idea of marrying in the tumultuous weeks that followed Pearl Harbor. Not that he didn’t love Mom. He did, passionately. But he was acutely aware of the potentially abbreviated life span of a Second Lieutenant in wartime, and he didn’t want to see her widowed.

When he shipped out in 1943, soon to join with the 4th Marine Division in the battle for Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands, he left Mom at home with my brother, Scott, who had been born that November. When the war ended and he returned, he joked that he had to fight for his pants. Actually what he said was that had to fight for his pants every day of their marriage. When the war ended, he returned from the horrors of Saipain, Tinian and Iwo Jima to a home where Mom was comfortably and firmly in charge.

As Dad’s assignments took them from Quantico, to Washington DC, up to Kingston Ontario, back to Washington DC, and then across a country and an ocean to Honolulu, Mom packed and unpacked, settled kids in schools.

Each time they arrived at a new post, she paid a social visit to the Commanding Officer’s wife, calling card in hand, as expected. She joined the Officers’ Wives Club, and knowing Mom, she did an exemplary job of supporting their activities. She loved the social whirl that went with an officer’s life in those days, like the formal party in honor of the promotion of Leonard Chapman to Brigadier General.

In 1951, my Mom found herself running a busy household with a nine year old, a four year old and a one year old – oh, and Nana, her mother. Mom and Dad’s worst fears came to pass when little Midge was diagnosed with leukemia, for which there was no known cure.

As a mother, I can’t imagine how she coped, but it was in character for her to forge ahead, hoping against hope. My uncle, a hematologist-oncologist, came down from Boston to administer experimental treatments and oversee Midge’s care. To no avail. She died October 22, 1953, a few months short of her fourth birthday.

Dad’s orders to ship out for a solo tour of duty with the 3rd Marine Division in Gifu, Japan, were held during the last months of Midge’s illness. Mom had learned, as Midge lay dying, that she was pregnant for the fourth time.

On February 21, 1954, Dad wrote Mom from Okinawa while in transit:

Postcard from Japan 1954

Although it was lost in Dad’s move to California, I remember reading a lengthy letter he wrote from his tour in Japan, sharing the pain of their devastating loss, saying how he longed to be there to hold her.

When my brother Dean was born in April 1954, Dad said, “It was if the sun came out.” That may be true, but now Mom was alone, managing a household with an 11 year old, a six year old, her mother, and a newborn. She was on her own when she had Dean christened:

Eileen Campbell with baby Dean, flanked by Bruce and Scott

In a professional portrait she had taken the next year, her expression is serene but somber.

Eileen Campbell raising three boys, 1955

This summer, we will inter both Mom and Dad with Midge at Arlington National Cemetery. While visiting Washington DC this past week to make arrangements, I wondered if it was fair to put so much emphasis on Dad’s career. After all, the burial with honors is provided because of his service, not hers.

Then I realized that it wasn’t just Dad’s efforts that deserve the recognition. Like most military spouses, she earned it, too. Knowing Dad, he would be the first to say that Mom made it possible for him to do what he did.

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Seeing Mom Among the Flowers

A member of the Washington National Cathedral Altar Guild

Friday was my “Mother’s Day.” Mom, gone since 1999, felt so present to me all day. I came east to see my friend Sharon and the premiere of the documentary she produced about the author Elizabeth Spencer, “Landscapes of the Heart,” but also for a mission: I hoped to secure a date for my father’s and mother’s interments at Arlington National Cemetery.

Though it was Dad who I focused on during the past seven years, and Dad who died in January, the trip was about both of them.

After meeting with a representative at Arlington, I asked Sharon if she would mind visiting Washington National Cathedral. My mother always talked about it, and continued to buy the Cathedral’s annual Christmas cards long after we left Washington, D.C.

Washington National CathedralUpon entering the Gothic-inspired masterpiece, we walked up the center aisle and diverted to the right around a stage that was being prepared for a concert.

Like many European cathedrals, the nave and transept are embellished with small side chapels.

In the first of these chapels, below a round contemporary sculpture of Jesus’ face, stood a woman in a pink shirt and apron, stoop shouldered, slowly trimming the stems of lacy blossoms that she was using to complete the final touches on two symmetrical arrangements of pink lilies. Her salt-and-pepper hair was short, mostly gray, a little curly. Perhaps the last vestiges of a perm that was nearly grown out.

For just a moment, she was my mother.

The woman in pink was an Altar Guild member, one of the stalwart legions of the Episcopal Church Women who do so much behind the scenes in fulfillment of their faith and commitment to the church, in camaraderie with one another.

My mind involuntarily summoned the smell of damp linens, starch and heat, a visceral memory of one of my mother’s monthly turns ironing the altar linens. Just as readily, I remember the scent of fresh-cut stems when she trimmed a gladiola, a rose, a peony, or greens harvested from our back yard for an altar arrangement.

In the sculpture above the altar, Jesus’ eyes are closed, but his head inclines toward her. I don’t know if the image is meant to represent him in death on the cross, or is meant to express sympathy for those who pray here. Blade-like rays extend beyond his halo through which a jagged hole is blown.

Washington National Cathedral's Christ Child statueLater I learned the chapel memorialized those who served and died in wars. Near it, a bronze statue of the Christ Child welcomes visitors to the adjacent the Children’s Chapel. The statue is the size of a six year old, its palms polished to a sheen from all of the touches to its outstretched chubby palms.

It felt meant, just as the whole week has felt perfect. Here is “Mom,” creating a striking decoration for the War Memorial, within the hour that we have confirmed a date and time for her burial along with Dad, joining Midge in her resting place. And there, next door, is the Children’s Chapel, with the child Jesus extending his arms in welcome.

My brother Scott sent this reply to a note I sent to my brothers confirming the interment date. “Has anyone thought about what day it is today? Nice that we got this confirmation on the 14th anniversary of Mom’s passing.”

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