Friday, December 11, 2015

Why I like choirs...some thoughts for Christmas

I grew up in a church where there were hymnals and the choir and congregation sang four part harmony. In my teen years a parishioner worked with four of us teens to develop a quartet. I sang bass and it was this experience that developed my ear for harmony and the enjoyment of singing with others to create something beautiful.

I’ve had the opportunity to sing in a few choirs over the years. Of course there was the work and discipline of practicing…having the pianist pound out our parts for us. But when it came to performance time you reaped a reward in ways that are hard to describe unless you too have participated in a group performance. The performance itself brings pleasure and joy and as C. S. Lewis says, "are not tacked on to the activity … but are the activity itself in consummation."  You are sad when it is over. If only you could return to that state of joy, each of us contributing to the activity.

In Timothy Keller’s book, Prayer, there is a section on how prayer is meant not to be just a private event but a communal event. It goes like this:
      “C. S. Lewis argues that it takes a community of people to get to know an individual person. Reflecting on his own friendships, he observed that some aspects of one of his friend’s personality were brought out only through interaction with a second friend. That meant if he lost the second friend, he lost the part of his first friend that was otherwise invisible. ‘By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.’ 1 If it takes a community to know an ordinary human being, how much more necessary would it be to get to know Jesus alongside others? By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.
     That is why, Lewis thinks, that the angels in Isaiah 6 are crying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ to one another. Each angel is communicating to all the rest the part of the glory it sees. Knowing the Lord is communal and cumulative, we must pray and praise together. That way ‘the more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.’ 23

And that is why I like choirs…even better to participate in a choir. The beauty of it is that it scales up so beautifully…the larger the better. I’ve been in gyms and stadiums where everyone was singing and there is nothing like it…think what heaven will be like.

During this Christmas season, when the world seems dark, put on a good set of earphones so you can hear all the parts, and take time to rejoice and sing this song with me and The Vocal Majority Chorus. May this be our prayer. He is our hope.


1 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, 1960), 61
2 Ibid., 62
3 Timothy Keller, Prayer (New York: Dutton, 2014), 119

All my posts are on my blog at along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly's Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Becoming Like Little Children

This is the one year anniversary of Carol's passing. I am slowly winding my way through the thinking part of coming to terms with her death. What follows is where I am on this one year marker.

People sometimes say to a grieving person, "so and so is in a far better place." They are well meaning and they want it to be comforting. I am not criticizing here but making an observation. Those words are true but they don't bring comfort, at least not right away. The truth is words don't initially bring comfort, your presence brings comfort. Words come much later. I have thought about that "far better place." Often we think of that far better place in terms of the absence of negative things such as no more pain, sorrow and tears. That is promised in scripture as being true. But scripture also gives indications of positive things that go to the core of our being and purpose that make the trials of this life seem as nothing. For me, those positives are encased the words Joy and Glory. They are difficult to talk about. After all, we are still on this side of the door to heaven and have only experienced them highly filtered through our earthly body and experiences. What would it be like to experience them unfiltered?

I have had two fleeting realizations of that far better place. The first one happened a few minutes after Carol passed away. I had this fleeting realization that Carol now knows what it is to be with God and I don't. Packaged into that sudden realization were all these thoughts: she is home, she knows what she was made to be and do, she knows her place, she can do it, she is experiencing the joy of participating, of being a part of, it is shear joy and glory and wonder all mixed together.

The second realization happened in a church service several months after her passing. The few months before Carol passed away, she could not stand for long periods of time and so would be seated while singing. I would stand next to her and could see her in my peripheral vision, singing with hands raised. I've come to realize that she was practicing for the real thing. Now, several months later I had this fleeting realization that once again, we were both worshiping…Carol in heaven and me in this church service. The contrast between my worship and her worship stunned me. She was really worshiping and I was playing at it. I was worried about how I looked. I wasn't joining in and participating. I was self absorbed. I didn't see the glory in it. Carol was participating in real worship, experiencing God sharing His glory with her. She was accepted, welcomed and taken into the dance…it was glorious.

If there is one word that expressed my experience of Carol it would be "joy." Joy was a characteristic of her being. More than happiness, it was an inner well being that made her eyes shine. On the fireplace mantel of our house in San Jose were ceramic letters spelling joy. We had purchased them in a gift shop in Rocky Mountain National Park back in 1970. They were a constant reminder to me of the joy expressed in Carol's life. Walk around our house and you will find the word "Joy" in surprising places. For example, there is a silver heart inscribed with the word "Joy" on the table next to the couch. You pick it up and it makes a harp-like sound.

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." John 15:11

Jesus said these words before His death. I struggle with the idea of joy and death in the same sentence. But when I think about just the joy part…joy that is complete shines out of a person as the result of being involved in something that is magnificent and beautiful. As a participant you can observe the glory and participate at the same time. The participation includes knowing your role and doing it well, making a unique contribution and being valued for it, and being appreciated and welcomed. The joy of participation wants to make you jump up and down. 

Words just don't describe what I am trying to convey. There is a video clip that for me illustrates the joy of participation. It is not quite 5 minutes long. Watch it to the end and notice the faces when possible. The song is about seeing something magnificent. Notice how all are participating…even the audience gives approval as the choir reflects the beauty of what they have seen…enjoy.

There is nothing quite like participating in something that is bigger than you and that makes joy complete. It is what you were made to do. So, my idea of heaven is where we will participate together and whatever we are doing will bring joy. But wait, there is more! There is the promise of glory made possible by the work of Christ. C. S. Lewis describes it this way in his sermon, "The Weight of Glory."

"It is written that we shall 'stand before' Him…The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God … to be a real ingredient  in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son--it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so."

There are some familiar images that help me understand what Lewis is getting at. One is of a father tossing his son in the air and catching him while the child says, "Do it again, daddy, do it again!" Another image is of a parent praising a child whose looking down at his feet, sheepishly glancing at his parent, toes pointed inward, hands behind his back, twisting from side to side and radiating happiness that he has pleased his parent. Then there is a group of school children that just finished a performance and joyfully looking at their teacher with raised hands and shouting, "We did it!" Most of us have witnessed such moments. These moments of desire, pleasure and joy as Lewis says, "are not tacked on to the activity … but are the activity itself in consummation."

Lewis describes it far better than I and you might like to read the full sermon. It is not an easy read, but it is worth it. I have to read it slowly or out loud to follow his logic. It is 9 pages in length…about half way through you will see where the logic is taking you.

So, being with God, or heaven, is where one is accepted, valued as unique and participates in a significant way. You have a contribution that only you can give and doing that brings shear joy. It will be what you were made to do. Whatever we will be doing in heaven we will be doing it together and every person will be uniquely contributing to the glory of God.  The video and Lewis' sermon illustrate it as best I can imagine here on earth…our chief duty is to enjoy God…to do what we were made to do.

"We speak God's wisdom . . . which He predestined before the ages to our glory. . . . 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, God has prepared for those who love him.'"
       I Corinthians 2:7-9

So those fleeting realizations, this thinking about a far better place, and attempting to express the essence of joy and glory are attempts to uncover those longings and desires for our true home where Carol is experiencing it and we cannot conceive it. So why did I go down this path? Well, I think I think, if Carol is experiencing that for which she was made in such unfiltered joy and glory, then all I can say is, OK, I wouldn't want her to come back to this existence just to relieve my being apart from her. She is in a far better place indeed. It doesn't relieve the ache of missing you Carol…but happy anniversary! In my tears there is the faint hope that someday they will be turned to joy and that I too will be welcomed into that great dance by God Himself. Me too, Lord, me too.

I've gone through my notes and journaling and thought out loud with you as I have tried to think through my grief. I need to take a break from this writing. Maybe there will be more later and if so I will send it out. Thank you so much for listening. Your prayers and comments let me know of your love and tears as well. Thank you.

Someday, may God Himself, the God of peace and joy welcome us all into the great dance. What joy and glory that will be.


All my posts are on my blog at along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly's Blog

Thursday, October 22, 2015


The winds of March that make my heart a dancer
A telephone that rings but who's to answer?
Oh, how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things remind me of you
How strange, how sweet, to find you still
These things are dear to me
They seem to bring you so near to me

The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations
Silk stockings thrown aside dance invitations
Oh how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things
Remind me of you

Rod Stewart singing "These Foolish Things" on "The Great American Songbook" (2002)
Carol liked to listen to the old standards and often listened to this CD.

Dear Family and Friends,

I have spent some time over the past year going through Carol's desk, folders, papers and records…cleaning and organizing. I have a long ways to go to finish the job…maybe one more year. A lot of it is memorabilia that I want to pass on to my children so I have nine large 3-ring binders into which I am attempting to organize the material.

Sorting through this memorabilia has given me a renewed sense of gratitude for how God has guided and protected us. There are reminders of our children's growing up years…certificates, awards, report cards. There are family genealogy records. There are records of Carol's trips during the illness of her mother, the illness of her Dad and their passing. There are reminders of my layoff, the selling of our home and downsizing, the amazing guidance and miracles of provisions, debt free as God guided step by step. There are notes Carol kept dealing with all the medical issues of her last year…appointments, X-rays, insulin instructions, various drug effects and warnings, consent and discharge papers. All these bits and pieces add up to an amazing life where several things really stand out.

First, Carol seriously studied the Bible. There are eight 3-ring binders full of BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) notes and worksheets…written on both sides. It must be a stack of paper at least 12 inches high. There were hours and hours of serious study over many years. When on road trips she often made arrangements to attend BSF classes in cities through which we were traveling.

Carol prayed for people. I found so many prayer lists for people in the BSF and small groups she attended. Prayer was vital to her life. Most likely, she prayed for you. I know she did for me. I've often mentioned how Carol hunkered down with God during the last year of her life….it is now no surprise. She was grounded in the Bible and prayer.

Carol was a reader. In addition to all the books in her bookcase there are pages of book lists, book series, and notes about the plots. She read The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw along with four other books on WWII so she could talk with her dad about his involvement in D-day. She read many book series such as The Walk by Richard Paul Evans, books by Mitch Albom and many mystery authors.

Carol took care of me. She made sure I had books on grace. One of my characteristics is to be a perfectionist that works hard to earn my way into God's good graces. She told me several times that I did not understand grace and gave me books on grace on different occasions. One birthday she gave me, In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado and wrote in the flyleaf,
        "My hope and prayer for you as you read this book
         is that you will fully realize the limitless grace that God has bestowed on you,
         and that you will never doubt the gift."

What can I say? Carol gave me the gift of grace.

Grieving does something to a person that forces one beyond intellectual understanding. I've heard others mention it and I have found it true for me, that when grieving your core skills and interest in them disappear. I've been a teacher. I developed technical training materials for 35 years. I've taught Bible classes and small groups for most of my life. Intellectually, I know the stories and the gospel message. All of that disappeared for much of this year. I don't have the energy or mental capability to deal with it. Those skills do slowly return but they are very elusive and require way too much mental energy. I don't go there any more. I don't want to return to what was. Yet there are these reminders to which I have a vague recollection. It is like coming out of a fog to something new but I have no idea what that is. The cloud dissipates slowly. Grieving is forcing me to come to terms with grace…to being a "me," not a "we."

On one of my trips to visit my mother this past year we were cleaning out the bunkhouse and came across a bag of Guidepost magazines. Mom wanted to give them to a medical office to put in their waiting room so people could read them. I put the bag in my truck and it ended up in my bedroom next to my bookcase back in California. Months later I was having difficulty going to sleep and needed to change my "going-to-bed" routine. No more TV, no news before bed…instead I decided to read before bed two or three articles from Guideposts and then list three things for which I am grateful in a notebook. I have been at this now for 5 months. I am about to finish the stack, just a couple left.

There have been several articles that were helpful and encouraging but I struggled for awhile with the articles about miraculous healings. Carol's story is not one of physical healing. Where does Carol's story fit in with all these stories I was reading? I came to realize I wasn't thinking straight. Being healed is not the singular proof of God's presence. God's presence is also with those who are not healed, even more so for those who go through suffering. Unfortunately, those stories of God's presence through suffering are not the ones that get published…but I got to see Carol's story up close and personal. God was certainly present.

Thanks Carol, thanks mom…for all the reminders. I am slowly becoming more grateful and aware of God's grace. The reminders are not foolish things but actually wise things. And yes, it still aches when reminded. I wouldn't want it any other way.

In the next post I will describe what is helping me come to terms with it all. Blessings …. George

Go to for links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        George's Blog and
        Kelly's Blog

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lessons from the Cemetery

       My mind still talks to you.
       My heart still looks for you.
       My soul is not yet convinced you are not coming back.

Dear Family and Friends,

Our family was never in the habit of visiting the graves of family that had gone on before. So it has been a new experience for me. The cemetery where Carol is buried is close, just a couple of minutes away and across the street from the grocery store where I shop. I have found myself dropping by a couple of times a week….just to talk, tell her I miss her.

Carol made a friend at the community church we attended the last couple of years. We always sat in the same section at church. Her friend no longer attends the community church but she regularly leaves a potted plant by Carol's grave marker. I make it a point to care and water the plants she leaves.

Sundays are a good day to visit the cemetery. Many people come by to pay their respects to a loved one. Because of the draught in California the cemetery has stopped watering the grass. The lawns have all died except for a few here and there where the loved ones engineer some way to get water on their loved ones grave. I watched an old gentlemen carefully tend his loved one's grave site, raking it by hand to remove the leaves and twigs. And then carefully watering the flowers and grass. A beautiful site of green and color among the sea of brown.

I don't know what triggers it, but once in a while, not often, I have a vivid memory of watching Carol take her last breaths. In response, my mind just says, "No, no, no, no, no nooooo!" My mind tries to push the memory away. So some of my trips to the cemetery are to convince myself that it really happened…she did die.  I stand beside her grave thinking, "OK, it really did happen. There is the grave marker." Strangely, the cemetery has a reality that helps me find my way back into life.

Which brings me to the reality of you, the people in my life. I have written about things that are hard, one of which is going out and being social. That I have to gear up for it. At first, it is hard but it does get better. You may think you don't want to put me through the pain of socializing but there is something that is harder than being social, and that is grieving alone…loneliness is far worse. So never hesitate to invite or drop by for a visit. When we are together there is a sort of tacit understanding between us of recognition that Carol is not here and we miss her, but we are here. We don't need to talk about it. Just being and doing things together is helping me experience the reality of relationships without Carol. You, the living, are helping me find my way back into life.

Another part of finding my way back into life is the slow turning from self focus to other focus. Individualism and self focus is so much a part of our culture.  We live in the illusion that we are in control. I so much wanted to fix Carol's situation. I want God to fix my situation. These are not the paths I would have chosen for us. Instead, I saw Carol walk with God, drawing closer and closer. I suspect she wanted to be closer to God than to be fixed. Carol's focus is found in Psalm 104:33, NRSV.

         "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live,
          I will sing praise to my God while I have being."

May that become true for you and me.

Until next time, grace to you ….. George

Go to for links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        George's Blog and
        Kelly's Blog

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Mail Box

Dear Family and Friends,

Carol was the consummate shopper. She was always on the lookout for a gift that someone would enjoy, buy it and save it for the appropriate time. She scoured catalogs for just the right gift. I don't know how many catalogs she subscribed to, but I felt sorry for the mail person. It was not uncommon to receive 2 or 3 catalogs per day. Not long after moving to Gilroy I replaced our mailbox with a larger one. The mail person thanked me. It is taking months and months to get off the mailing lists. I am down to about a catalog per week. Can you imagine how much paper the mail person has carried to our house? Probably a small forest of trees. I know, I am joking, but it was a lot. There are now a few days where I don't get any mail and I have the opposite feeling of being ignored. There is something comforting about receiving mail, even if it is junk mail. At least someone or some program knows you exist.

Which brings me to thinking about our digital existence in the databases of the world. Carol's digital existence is still going on…however in interesting ways. Updating our joint accounts and closing Carol's checking and credit card accounts was straight forward. It took about two days where you met face to face or did it over the phone. So that mail communication stopped very quickly. But canceling her catalog subscriptions is taking months. I have been working on it for about ten months now. It turns out she has several aliases. How they come about is mysterious. In one she picked up my middle initial. In others she is known by her first name or middle name. Each permutation is a unique person in the business world's databases to which they send a catalog. It doesn't seem to matter that they are all to the same address.

There are companies that sell name databases and catalog companies often buy them. So Carol's digital existence has a life of its own as it gets shared, bought and sold. So, canceling catalog subscriptions can be seen as an exercise in futility but her digital existence is slowing fading in the catalog world. 

Of course there are other companies using name databases. Carol's magazine subscriptions have expired so now she is getting letters to renew with special rates and credit adjustments. Then there are those looking for donations…"your free gift is enclosed." This is the time of year for changing medical insurance. One day last week Carol received seven offers for healthcare insurance programs. There is an irony in seeing an offer of health insurance addressed to a person that has passed away. Then there are the offers for life insurance, even more irony. A few days ago Carol received an American Express card offer. The tag line on the envelop said, "Your life is about to get even more rewarding." I thought, they don't have a clue.

Yes, our digital existence and the mailbox have an interesting relationship that has a long tail, it fades very slowly. I am surrounded by reminders of Carol and I am slowly getting used to them. I didn't realize how much the mailbox would be one of those reminders. I scan the mail looking for bills or something that may need a response…the rest considered junk mail…half of it addressed to Carol…It would be helpful if the business world could update their databases somehow…sigh. 

Once again, thanks for listening. The next post will be titled, Lessons from the Cemetery.

Until then, grace to you ….. George

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Always Behind

Dear Family and Friends,

"The new future can be long or short…"
     - Gigi Gerlach, Oncology nurse  writing in Guideposts.

What we want to know is how many years we have after diagnosis but doctors are cautious about estimating for multiple myeloma. Siddhartha Mukherjee in his book, The Emperor of All Maladies, says, "In 1971, about half of those diagnosed with multiple myeloma died within 24 months, the other half died by the tenth year….in 2008, about half…treated with the new drugs will be alive at five years…the other half to be alive well beyond ten years." But what does this mean for me? Do I have a 50 percent chance of living ten years? I can't be 50 percent alive. I am either alive or I am not. How does one think about and process these numbers? Doctors are more open ended. Some patients live decades, no promises but always possible hope.

A multiple myeloma diagnosis means a shortened life span, a narrowed future. There is no cure, but can be managed the doctors say. Myeloma will be the cause of your death. Some people process the diagnosis and numbers and end up focusing on the worst case scenario, others take a more optimistic approach and hope for the best case scenario. Although Carol never said it to me, I am convinced from watching her that after the initial diagnosis and after each setback that followed, she processed the data and came to the same conclusion, "Hmmm…disappointing, but if God is with me, what does it matter? It will be OK."

Not often, but I do spend some time reflecting on the events that led up to Carol's passing. When I do the recurring theme I come up with is that myself, family, friends and medical personnel were always a little bit behind Carol on her journey. Carol was on the road with God and we were following behind.

The Gospels record a specific time when Jesus' focus turned to preparing his disciples for the watershed event of his death and resurrection.  The Gospel of Mark says it this way.
      "Back on the road, they set out for Jerusalem. Jesus had a head start on them,
       and they were following, puzzled and not just a little afraid. He took the Twelve
       and began to go over what to expect next. …"
                   Mark 10:32, 33   The Message version

In a sense, Carol and God were on the road ahead of us and we followed behind "puzzled…and a little afraid." It is their path and so we follow behind.

In the Chronicles of Narnia book The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace are sent to Narnia to rescue a prince. Aslan the Lion gives Jill four signs that are to guide them on their quest. She is to memorize them and repeat them every night. As the adventure unfolds Jill and Eustace give up repeating the signs and muff seeing them for what they are…yet Aslan watches over them and keeps them on track. There were signs along the way of Carol's journey, but we didn't always see them for what they were.

--The First Sign--

The initial diagnosis was tennis elbow and do physical therapy. Carol followed the physical therapy but it only got worse. So back to the doctor and this time there is an X-ray. It took a while to get feedback on the X-ray results because it was being passed on to other doctors to evaluate. 5 days later Carol has appointments for an MRI and CT scans and appointments with an orthopedic bone surgeon in South San Francisco and a radiation specialist in Santa Clara. It was the radiation specialist that set us down, showed us the scans and told us the overall picture. We now knew the diagnosis but in preparation for the surgery there were two more X-rays taken and each time the elbow was much worse. Some myelomas are slow others are fast. It had only been a few weeks between the X-rays. The sign was, this myeloma is fast and aggressive…but we didn't pick up on the significance at the time.

--The Second Sign--

The blood test numbers from the first chemo regimen were positive but the side effects became unbearable. So, you try a different chemo regimen…more tests. Test numbers are getting worse. There is a tumor in the abdomen, not where myeloma is supposed to be. This sign is recognized. We now know that a bone marrow transplant is not in the future. Instead more radiation and try a different chemo regimen.

There were more signs as the last two months progressed, all pointing to the fact that this was an aggressive cancer. The reality was Carol was experiencing the worst case scenario. Amazingly Carol's attitude was, I don't like this, but God is with me. It was clear from the beginning that Carol's focus was on walking with God on this journey…don't go searching elsewhere, just walk with God. It didn't mean she didn't hope for healing and a good outcome. But after each setback she got back up and walked with God.

While Carol was never in despair as far as we know, what about those of us who were following? Yes there were signs and we didn't always see them for what they were but God was taking us aside and saying watch this, read this, think about this. Looking back now we see ways in which God was preparing us. Here are a few of the items God brought across my path.

In October of 2013, the book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller was published. This book presents the cultural, philosophical and Biblical perspectives and ends with first-person stories of those experiencing pain and suffering. This is a good book, but read it before it happens to you or a loved one. You don't want to read it while in pain or suffering.

In the summer of 2014 I came across a Ted talk by Matthew O'Reilly, an emergency medical technician titled: "Am I dying? The honest answer." It is a little over 5 minutes long and presents a compassionate view we don't often see in the emergency medical world.  Here is a link:

In September of 2014 Soul Keeping by John Ortberg was published. It is a great book on taking care of your soul.

In October when things were going rapidly downhill, the book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande was published. I highly recommend reading this book. It will help you understand our culture, our views of aging and death and give you tools for dealing with the medical world.

So, there you have it, Carol walked with God on her path and we followed behind. Once again, thanks for listening. In the next post I will share something very different titled, The Mail Box.

Until then, grace to you ….. George

Go to for links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        George's Blog and
        Kelly's Blog

Monday, September 28, 2015

Things that are hard

In the previous post I mentioned some things about going out in public that are hard. In this post I share some things that are hard when I am home or driving alone. Some of them make sense when I reflect on them, others surprised me. Here is the list.


Music was a big deal at our house. At our house in San Jose we had a Sony component system with great speakers. The system was also wired into the bedrooms. When our kids were young we sometimes used the stereo as the alarm clock to wake them up. Just ask Chris. He can tell you exactly what we played to get him up on Sunday mornings. In our Gilroy house we changed to wireless speakers so you can broadcast to any selected speakers from your electronic devices.

Much of the music that we listened to together at home and on road trips brings back memories of specific places or events associated with particular songs. Some days I want those memories because I don't want to forget her. Other days the music is just too much as it causes a longing to go back and relive those experiences again. Of course, I can't go back to the past. But it makes me want to hug Carol and the kids again. So, I usually turn off the music on those days.

I mentioned in the previous post about the difficulty of the worship time at church. Sometimes listening to worship songs at home brings me closer to God and in turn, brings me closer to Carol. Where God is, is where Carol is. I know, sounds crazy. Which brings me to the time that is often the most difficult…morning devotions. That time when I am supposed to be having a conversation with God…talking and listening. That time gets all muddled because of my emotions. I know I am talking with the One who is God. I am not. Yet at the same time I have not yet worked through the fact that He walked with Carol and chose not to heal her in the way that we wanted, so she would be with us. I have yet to come to terms with that emotionally. Intellectually I understand it, but not yet in my heart.

--Cleaning my glasses--

I am a creature of habit. I have the same morning routine when I get up and there is a going to bed routine and one for taking care of the cats and so on. During Carol's last year there were many small tasks that got incorporated into my habits…like cleaning her glasses. In my morning routine after cleaning my glasses I would normally clean hers. After her passing my mind just starts down the path of now go get her glasses…then it hits hard…she and her glasses are not here. The reminders of the finality of her death comes to me at these habitual times when I would normally see her or be doing something for her. Those habits and recognitions do fade as time goes on…but they are often jarring and surprising.

--Sitting in our living room--

I do make it a practice to sit in our living room. Initially after her death it was difficult. I would look around and admire all the pictures, knick knacks or foo-foo as we called it, and the whole ambience of the room and my mind would go into arguing with itself. See, Carol is real. You can see the decorations and things she has done. No, she is gone. She is not here. Yes she is, see the room. And back and forth it would go. This too fades, but never goes completely away.

--Driving highway 101 and 85--

We drove highways 101 and 85 two or three times a week to the San Jose Kaiser hospital for tests and chemo treatments for more than a year. It was so familiar. It is no surprise that driving those highways now and seeing the rolling hills or the hospital in the distance brings back memories of those trips and the good and bad days.

Some months after Carol's passing I returned to the Gilroy Kaiser facility for a physical. Driving down Arroyo Circle, parking, walking into the facility and the smell of the waiting room brought back memories of the weekly blood tests Carol had done every Monday for a year. The associations do fade, but take time.


Married people build their lives around each other. So when a partner is no longer present it is hard to do things that you used to do for the other. Why am I cleaning the patio? She isn't here to enjoy it. Sometimes even getting up and starting the day is hard. Why? She is not here. I want to clean for us, not just me. Your motivation suffers when half of you is gone. Yet you have to keep busy and maintaining the old routines is a way of keeping busy. After the patio is cleaned and I sit down to enjoy how it looks on a warm summers evening…boy do I wish she was here.

I have started cleaning out her desk and closet containing folders of clippings, handwritten notes, receipts for decorating. There are folders for design ideas, bedrooms, family rooms, George's room, painting, doors, kitchens, garage and laundry, lighting, and yard ideas. There are handwritten notes such as, "use antique spoons for curtain tie backs." She was the consummate decorator. Throwing it away is like throwing her away.

And then there is cleaning out her billfold. Closing all her department store and credit cards took a full day on the computer and phone. Interestingly not one required any reason or proof for closing the account. But there is something that seems not respectful in cutting up her credit cards and emptying her billfold. Do I have the right to do this? These are her things.

--My first road trip--

We know Carol loved road trips. They were indeed fun. Road trips were an important way of keeping in touch with you. Six months after Carol passed away I took my first road trip by myself. I drove to Cheyenne to visit my mother and family. Of course, it is different now that I am by myself. As you would suspect it is more lonely. I eat alone in restaurants, book motel rooms for just myself and have no one to talk to about the scenery.

Back in the 1980's I went on many business trips alone. On business trips you mainly see airports, hotels and the classroom where I was teaching. I didn't get lonely because they usually didn't last more than a week, there was a host that took me to the local sites and I knew I would soon return to the comforts of Carol and home. Once in a great while there would be real lonely times, like when at a place that was beautiful and the only proper way to share it is to say, "Isn't that beautiful" because even a photo doesn't do it justice. One such time my flight home was canceled when in Milan, Italy. The airline put me up in a hotel on the lake front in Como, Italy. It is a popular tourist attraction that is picture perfect….just google it and you will see. I stood on the edge of the lake wishing Carol was there to share it with me. Those times were rare. Back in the '80s I knew I would be going back home, Carol would be there and I could at least tell her about it even though we couldn't share the moment. 

Now when on a road trip those times of wanting to share are different, they have more angst in them, first because she is not there to share it and second, I know that when I return home she will not be there to listen to me try to tell her how beautiful it was. Hmmmm…. God made this world to share with one another. It is how it works.

Well, thanks for listening. In the next post I will share something very different titled, Always Behind.

Until then, grace to you ….. George

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Out and about

Being out in public is "business as usual" if the public doesn't know you have recently lost a loved one. These interactions are as they have always been except if you have to let them know. Closing Carol's bank accounts is an example where you have to let them know. We see so many commercials trying to convince us that their bank is for us, the customer. When I walk into a bank or other business I don't really sense that they want to help me…it is their job, they want to make money. I get it. But It is interesting how the bank personnel respond to you when the conversation reaches the reason I am closing or changing an account is because my wife has passed away. There is a look that comes over their face and their body language changes. You see it in their eyes. I really sense their compassion but I am glad when the task is completed.

But if whoever I am out and about with know of my recent loss, then it is uncomfortable for both parties. Neither of us know exactly what to say when we greet each other so we blurt out, "How are you doing?" Unfortunately, I don't have an easy answer for several reasons. It is complicated. First, I am "on guard" in my interactions with people. I am alert to situations in which I might become emotional, tear up. It can happen quickly and blindside me. So I size up the situation, watch your body language, take into account if we are in a public or private setting and cautiously answer, "I'm OK." I try to avoid situations where I will lose it…so I am very cautious about going beyond the pleasant greeting stage. I am checking myself to see if I am emotionally handling the current situation.

Second, every day is different. Some days I am emotionally fragile and missing Carol terribly. Some days I am busy and focused on yard or household tasks. Some days are just long and I don't want to do anything. Some days I pace. Some days I sleep. Some days I work on the family photo archive. Some days I work on archiving Carol's documents, emails, and photos.

Third, some environments are difficult because they generate memories. One of the most difficult places has been church. You would think it would be a place of comfort. There are times when I do experience God's presence but also times when I experience her loss very deeply. Carol and I hadn't attended our local church long enough to make many friends before her illness began. So I don't really know any one. Now when I attend it is lonely, but that is a good thing in a weird way. It is just the customary greetings of people passing one another. If people don't know, it doesn't pull on my heart strings.

The worship time during church is especially hard. Carol had many favorite worship songs and I have memories of her beside me with hands raised in worship of God. Now, after her passing, when I am singing those songs my mind plays tricks on me. I think I see her beside me in my peripheral vision and when I turn to look she is not there. Then the memories and feelings wash over me. I get all teary eyed. I sometimes get a fleeting thought…I wonder if she is worshipping in heaven right now. It must be so much better than what I am engaged in right now. She gets to see God and do real worship where everyone's contribution uniquely completes the act and I'm here where I am concerned what other people think of me. I know, its weird but that goes through my mind.

A few times my attendance at church gets side tracked. I get to the church's parking lot, sit there for a few minutes thinking I don't want to go through controlling my emotions. I end up at the cemetery by her grave marker. It is just a few blocks away from the church and I sit there in my truck and wipe the tears.

Then there is what I call the rebound effect. After a few months feelings and emotions return and I have to emotionally gear up for events that I know will be difficult…things like visiting friends, celebrating birthdays, holidays and any social setting. These are events that Carol and I typically did together. It was always "George and Carol." I wasn't known separately from Carol. We were an item. Usually I gear myself up and make it through the event. It is the day after such events that turns out to be difficult. There is initially relief at having made it through the event. The relief is short lived as you become aware of feelings of incompleteness, something is not quite right. It is an uneasiness. As the day after progresses you realize that you are feeling sad because she missed it, she wasn't there. I wanted to experience it with her. I can't talk with her about it.

We have all been warned about not making important decisions while on the rebound of a traumatic event. I now have much more compassion for I now see how it is possible. When on the rebound my reason goes out the door. My mind goes places it shouldn't. I'm emotionally vulnerable and looking for closeness and comfort. Fortunately, I'm usually alone the few days after an event so that I have time to recover and then I am ready to go out and about again.

Going out and about is interesting. In the next post I will share some other things that I found hard to do that surprised me.

Until then, grace to you ….. George

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Back Home

Dear family and friends,

I don't remember much of the first couple of days after Carol passed away. I suppose you could say I was stunned. It helps to understand my initial reactions by contrasting my life after to our life before she passed away. The month of September was packed with treatment and lab appointments. Looking at my appointment calendar there were one and sometimes two appointments every Monday through Friday for the entire month. The first three weeks of October were similar leading up to ten days of hospitalization for pain management and her passing. Our life before her passing was a flurry of travel to and from appointments, keeping medication schedules and keeping up communication with friends and family. We were also asking questions; What stage is the disease? What is the prognosis to getting back to daily activities? Is independent living a realistic possibility? When is this really not a fixable problem? When should we just do comfort care? Let's get hospice set up.

So there we were…focused on all this physical and mental activity and all of a sudden, it stops. It is quiet, just the muffled sobs of friends and family. People talk in low voices or whisper. The need to rush goes away and you find yourself drifting into something new. It is like you are an astronaut where there was an explosion and now you are floating off into space. Surreal scenes drift before your eyes. No one is in a hurry. You can't be rescued. The doctor gives you his condolences. You need to sign papers…whenever you are ready. Call the mortuary. No hurry. What do you do now? I guess we should go home… no hurry. Just keep drifting. You find yourself driving home in the early morning hours after midnight. There is the house. Everything looks familiar. Yes, the lights are still working. Everything is familiar yet strangely different. How can this familiar place be so surreal? The scenes are going by as you continue drifting. Something fundamental has changed. It slowly envelops you…Carol's presence is no longer there and is not going to be there. You keep drifting. You are alone and it is quiet. You are not going to be rescued from these events. I am not really alone. There is company and family. They are in shock as well…but the first reaction for everyone is to feel alone without her presence.

The initial reaction wears off and the best way to describe the months of November and December after Carol's passing is that our children and I were numb. No feelings or emotions. It is probably a survival characteristic that your feelings  and emotions are suppressed and you just do what needs to be done. You are in zombie mode and numbly go through the motions. You contact social security, the bank, make arrangements for the memorial and graveside services. Brace yourself and go through the services, Of course November and December are holiday months and were Carol's favorite time of the year. You continue with the plans Carol had made. Friends invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving and you breathe a sigh of relief.Then it is on to celebrate my birthday, maintain Carol's Christmas plans, put up decorations and celebrate the New Year.

You go through the motions and sometimes it seems pointless, but your primary goal for these months is to keep busy. You don't want to think about her passing. So your mind is continually looking for something to do…keep your mind busy. But you are very selective about what you choose to do. You are numb yet constantly on guard because emotions can come out of no where and smack you. So you carefully choose your activities, especially social settings. You end up spending most of your activities with family because they are safe. Doing things with your family ends up being good therapy for all. Together you go through her clothes and jewelry and household items discussing which things might be keepsakes, who might want them and going about the business of sorting things out and getting things to the right people. It creates progress, accomplishment and a sense of getting things done without emotions getting in the way.

I've thought about the role of family and friends during those first couple of months. There were several friends that regularly called about once a week just to check in. Are you doing OK? The calls were helpful because they let me know I wasn't forgotten. Yet because they were not physically there and I wasn't looking in their eyes, the calls did not cause the emotional dam to break. It was a real support to me.

On the other hand, I know that in order to be healed, my tears need to be seen by family members or friends that are looking into my soul. Tears that are seen do the important work of getting the pain out of one's system. Yet I find myself most often trying to stuff it, keep it under control. Perhaps it is normal to fight what will bring healing. "How are you doing?" you ask. I answer, "I'm OK," when I really need to cry.

Depending on the social situation, when you meet a friend or family member who has recently lost a loved one, hug them and let the tears heal you both. In other social settings it is best not to stand face to face but to stand beside them looking in the same direction. You don't have to say anything, just pull them up close to you. Standing "beside" someone shares presence and helps carry the load.

All this thinking about family and friends turns my mind to you. Your support of traveling to and speaking at Carol's services, your prayers for me and our family, hugs and tears, cards, emails, phone calls, providing tables, chairs and food, as Carol would say, just blessed my socks off. God stood with me through that time and you were his agents of grace. Thank you. You are a special gift from God.

Enough for now, I'm tearing up. In the next post I will share what it is like to go out and about.

Grace to you ….. George

The Last Road Trip

Dear siblings and kids,


It is one of my favorite memories. During the first five years of our marriage as a newly married young couple and before we had any children, we would read to each other before falling asleep. What did we read you ask? Well, it was two of the great story tellers of our time. We read through The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Little did I know the power and ability to communicate through story, to give place and meaning.

               The Last Road Trip

Carol loved road trips. It was all planned. My contract was ending and we were to leave the following week for another road trip. We would go southeast to Arizona to visit Chris and family, then on the the midwest to visit friends and then to Wyoming and family. Our road trips ranged from short ones of 2,000 miles to longer ones of 4 to 5,000 miles. This time we were concerned about being out of our medical plan area because the pain in Carol's arm was becoming increasingly troublesome.

We were set to leave on Saturday, but on Thursday, we got the diagnosis of cancer in her arm. That Friday as I was commuting to work to turn in my computer and contract materials, I was listening to an audio version of the last book in The Chronicles of Narnia. In the same way that the characters in the story were transitioning to a new story, I distinctly had the impression from God that I would not be returning to the work world, but that Carol and I would be going down a very different path, a different adventure.

It turned out to be another road trip, just not the one we had planned. It was a trip of 6,512 miles and took a year and 2 months. Yes, that is how many miles we traveled together to doctor appointments, medical tests, blood work, hospital visits for MRIs, PET scans and biopsies, chemo and radiation treatments.

It wasn't a road trip where you watched the scenery and took interesting side trips. It was more like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day where the same day keeps repeating until he re-examines his life and priorities. We traveled highways 85, 101 and 280 over and over. It became automatic. We didn't look at the scenery. It narrowed and became an interior trip together. We listened to a lot of music. Our conversations turned to, "This song has come to mean a lot to me. How about you?" It was subtle, but we found ourselves re-examining our lives in terms of a reality that wasn't outside the truck but inside with us.

These regular trips became the new normal…it was what we did together. We listened to the same songs together over and over. If you know the tune, sing along.

    The Lord is my light and my salvation.
    The Lord is the strength of my life….
    So I will not be afraid…

    Many times like a child I come to you with a broken heart
    And every time you are there to ease the pain when the journeys hard.
    You comfort me, in every trial, You comfort me.
    You walk with me and every mile, You comfort me.
    Even in the darkness I can hear your promise, I am with you.  
    And even in the fire, You will lift me higher. Lift me up to you.
    You comfort me, in every trial ….

I've written earlier about looking over at Carol and seeing her completely enveloped in God's presence as she hummed and sang with the songs. Yep, wouldn't have missed the trip for anything.  I came to realize that Carol had deep roots in God that was the result of years of walking with Him.

Yet as I listened to her sing, I often felt like Sam in The Lord of the Rings books. Sam was Frodo's constant companion and encourager as they went on their journey. That too was my role, to go on the journey with her. The ending to The Lord of the Rings closely describes the ending of the road trip for me. Think of Carol as Frodo, me as Sam and Keri, Chris and Kelly as Merry and Pippin. Here is a shortened version:

"It was evening, and the stars were glimmering in the eastern sky as they passed the ruined oak and turned and went on down the hill between the hazel-thickets. Sam was silent, deep in his memories. Presently he became aware that Frodo was singing softly to himself…

      Still round the corner there may wait
         A new road or a secret gate;
      And though I oft have passed them by
         A day will come at last when I
      Shall take the hidden paths that run
         West of the moon, East of the Sun.

Frodo and Sam halted and sat silent in the soft shadows, until they saw a shimmer as the travelers came towards them…   Elrond greeted them… Then Bilbo woke up and opened his eyes, 'Hello Frodo!' he said … 'I think I am quite ready to go on another journey. Are you coming?'

'Yes, I am coming,' said Frodo. 'The Ring-bearers should go together.'

'Where are you going, Master?' cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

'To the Havens, Sam,' said Frodo.

'And I can't come.'

'No Sam. Not yet anyway,..'

'But,' said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, 'I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years,…'

'So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt…'   ' Come now, ride with me!'  And when they had passed from the Shire, going about the south skirts of the White Downs … and looked on the distant Sea … to the Grey Havens in the long firth of Lune.

Then Cirdan led them to the Havens, and there was a white ship lying, and upon the quay stood a figure robed all in white awaiting them…

But Sam was now sorrowful at heart, and it seemed to him that if the parting would be bitter, more grievous still would be the long road home alone… as they stood there … up rode Merry and Pippin…

Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth…

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West… Beside him stood Merry and Pippin, and they were silent.

At last the three companions turned away, and never again looking back they rode slowly homewards; and they spoke no word to one another until they came back to the Shire, but each had great comfort in his friends on the long grey road.

At last they rode over the downs and took the East rode … Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill… He drew a deep breath, 'Well, I'm back,' he said."

We traveled 6,512 miles together on our last road trip… at the end, our roads diverged. Carol went on to the Havens.  We can't go there yet. We are back where the trip started. But we have hints at what was at the end of Carol's road trip. It is described in the last pages of The Chronicles of Narnia. It goes like this:

"Then Aslan turned to them and said:
'You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.'

Lucy said, 'We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan.  And you have sent us back into our own world so often.'

'No fear of that,' said Aslan. 'Have you not guessed?'

There hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

'There was a real railway accident,' said Aslan softly. 'Your father and mother and all of you are--as you used to call it in the Shadowlands--dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.'

And as he spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

Carol and I have had many road trips together. They were beautiful trips. Our longest trip was as husband and wife and was 49 years, 3 months, and 29 days. Our last road trip ended too soon. It isn't the same without her.

Tearfully …. George

Losses and Gains

Dear siblings and kids,

I wrote most of this before Carol passed away at the end of October.  I decided to leave it as is because it describes where I was during the month of October.

This past year has been filled with a strange mixture losses and gains. The first losses and gains are physical. As people grow older or experience disease they begin experiencing the loss of independence. First was the loss of being able to drive because of the arm surgery and neuropathy in her feet. She became dependent on me to take her shopping, visiting friends, going to bible study. As things progress you lose your ability to do daily activities. Things like cooking, making the bed, and doing the laundry. Then comes the loss that affects your sense of dignity. You need help going to the bathroom, taking a shower, dressing yourself and combing your hair. Carol went through these losses over the past year. Carol didn't want to be dependent on me. At the same time I gained a sense of being needed and purpose. It was clear, my job description was to help her wherever it was needed. Hmmm…. one loses and one gains.

Another set of losses and gains is in the area of emotions and feelings. One of the gains is the experiencing of emotions and feelings over an extended period of time that one normally experiences for short periods. When Carol is in pain I try to make her comfortable. Would you like an ice pack? A heating pad? Do you need your pillows adjusted? It is not yet time for your pain medication. Is your pain level a 5 or a 7? Knowing that you can't make the pain go away brings emotions and feelings I normally try to block out of my life. I feel detached and unable to help her through it. I am this observer watching someone experiencing suffering. I am outside and can't do anything to help her on the inside… like observing through a barrier. They are uncomfortable feelings. Strangely, I gained the ability to read her face and could tell you exactly her pain level.

Another set of losses and gains are relational. People lose loved ones in different ways. Sometimes it is sudden as in an auto accident or heart attack. Sometimes it is slow and takes months and years as in Alzheimer's or a stroke. Either way one goes through sadness and grieving that a person you once knew is no longer the same. I am losing Carol, slowly over the months…it is not a good feeling. It is a slow ache. And yes, I occasionally shed tears. Carol spends most of her day in the recliner in her study with the TV on. She is very fatigued and sleeps a lot. It is like we live separate lives. We sleep in different rooms. I miss the physical touch we used to share. I spend most of my time doing maintenance…keeping things clean and put away…maintaining home and yard. I want the conversation times we used to have. I remember Carol describing her mother after her stroke as no longer being the mother she knew. The physical and mental limitations of the stroke turned her into someone who was not her mother, yet she was her mother. I am beginning to experience something similar with Carol. She is my wife, but not the wife I knew. The cumulative effects of the chemo, surgery, radiation treatments and pain is changing her.

I am losing my wife and at the same time I am gaining a new experience of watching her hunker down in her faith and trust. As the bad news increased she went more and more inward toward her trust in God. I could see her drawing closer and closer to God. I gained the experience of watching her become more sure of God's reality and less concerned about the things we think are important for living. I don't want to return to the world of illusion where we think we are in control.

Keri, Chris and Kelly are sensing the changes in Carol as well. Whenever they drop by or call they seem to expect that things are not getting better and are not surprised that things are getting worse. I watch them go through the same loss… the loss of the mother they knew.

I can't make much sense of the loses and gains. There seems to be no purpose and there are no answers from God…except to trust in His character.  Right now the losses seem to outweigh the gains. So I am left to trust that God is doing something far more beautiful than I can imagine. I think Carol will have some extra special glory about her in heaven due to this journey of loses and gains and only she and God will know the reason. 

Once again, thanks for listening. I've recently written two more emails that are very different. I will send them out in the near future.

… George

Managing It

Hey siblings and kids,

We were told from the beginning of Carol's diagnosis that there was no cure but that we can "manage it." Now a year down the road we have a better understanding of what it means to "manage it."

"Managing it" means living in cycles.

First there is the daily cycle of managing the schedule of medication. We keep track of 9 drugs and two kinds of insulin with a spread sheet. Horizontally are the days of the week and vertically the hours of the day listing the times and dosage for each medication, which varies throughout the week. There is a second spread sheet on which to track blood sugar readings, insulin doses and what has been eaten. It becomes routine, but we still need to check the sheet for ease of mind. Carol has the alarm on her phone set for the various times of day and night. Whenever it goes off … "Oh, it's time for …"

Then there is the weekly cycle. Our appointments for lab work and chemo are always on the same day every week. And so the resulting side effects also happen on a weekly cycle. At the end of each week you realize it is going to start over. Another week just like the past week.

The last cycle is a longer one of about 3 months. It is tied to the actual chemo drugs being tried. Knowing which drugs to use is not an exact science, rather it is educated guessing. Each trial of chemo drugs has to last around 10 to 12 weeks and then an evaluation to check their effectiveness. So  we wait for test results and then adjust to a new round of drugs.  Carol's first 3-month cycle worked well but the side effects couldn't be managed. The second 3-month cycle didn't work and resulted in the discovery of the tumor in the abdomen. The third 3-month cycle is slowly working but didn't work on the tumor. So the third 3-month cycle ended with two weeks of radiation to reduce the tumor and manage the pain. So in a few weeks we will do the tests and evaluations and start the fourth 3-month cycle.

In addition to the cycles, "managing it" means that you are constantly monitoring side effects and tweaking your dosages to minimize the effects. It is a delicate balancing act. You do get better at it…but it is a drag.

"Managing it" also means that you are constantly on the alert for specific symptoms for which you are to immediately call the treatment center. Because of your suppressed immune system, you need to be especially alert to symptoms indicating an infection, such as chills and or a fever. You guessed it, the alternating chills and fever were getting progressively more pronounced after the radiation treatments causing us to call the treatment center Thursday evening. This triggers a whole different set of tests checking for infections in the blood, intestines, lungs and so on. We spent all day Friday getting the tests completed. Now you wait for the results. Carol's blood counts are really low but her body seems to be "managing it." If things get worse the next step is hospitalization and a blood transfusion. Hopefully, that won't be needed to "manage it."

"Managing it" means spending a lot of time in medical facilities where you discover that we are all in the same boat and many are worse off than you. It is a sobering experience each time you walk into the oncology center.

"Managing it" means you slowly come to realize that this is going to be your life for the foreseeable future. It forces you to stop making future plans and live more one day at a time.  Probably a good thing, at least more realistic knowing we don't control the future. Your perspective changes and you live more in the moments of the daily pleasures of existence and the small kindnesses of family and friends.

"Managing it" means you discover that you don't have the resources within you to save yourself or your loved one. Strangely you find that God is good, that He is your rock, your refuge and your strength. God is helping you "manage it." I've heard that all my life. It is different once you experience it.

So how are we doing?  We are managing it.

Love and hugs to you all …. George

So how are you doing?

Dear siblings and kids,

You may have noticed that in the previous emails I have not yet answered the question, "So, how are YOU doing?" That is a difficult question to answer and I will now try to give an answer.

In one sense it is an easy answer. I am doing OK. Most of the time life simply goes on and life here in our privileged country is pretty good. Of course there are changes. One such change is a reorientation to the things that drive my everyday activities. When I was working and involved in church related activities, those activities drove how I spent my time. When those activities go away you sort of loose your identity for awhile and you have to come to terms with who you are minus those activities. I have mostly processed that but still have some work to do. Now my time is organized around Carol's schedule and I am slowly learning to take some time for myself as well although I find it difficult to think in terms of "what would I like to do?" OK, OK, I will work on it.

Another change, and this may seem strange, is loneliness. I now have fewer interactions with people on a daily basis. The result is that I find myself in the evenings wanting to be with people and most often the ones I would choose to be with are family. It is not so much that I want "to do" something, I just want "to be with."  Being with family and friends has become much more meaningful and I am learning to accept their presence as a grace.

There are times when I am not OK. Fortunately they are few and far between. These are times when a curtain seems to be drawn back and one can see reality more clearly. Perhaps a moment when one becomes more sane. These are not times of dread but rather times when perception or intuition seems heightened. An example would be when I am watching and wanting to do something to help Carol deal with pain. One reaction is to want to help, to fix it. Suddenly you realize you are not in control and you don't have the ability to fix it. Another reaction is to suddenly realize, "Whoa, this is not something I know how to handle and there is no way out of this box…this is not going to end well."

Of course the Christian hope is that in the end things will end well and this brings me to the issue of faith in God's goodness. There is a real mix of emotions that I have not experienced before. There are times that I feel that God is not going to answer in the way I want. There are times I don't know how to pray about it. There are times, if I admit it, that I am angry that anyone, let alone Carol has to go through suffering. There are times when I feel at peace knowing that God has not abandoned us. There are times that I feel this is an adventure and I feel the anticipation in finding out how God is going to work it all out. Weird, huh…all over the map.

So to sum it up. How are YOU doing? Well, most of the time I am OK. Some of the time I spend processing what is happening to Carol and myself on this path. There are a few times when I am not so sure I like this. There are times when I wish I could just fix things. There are times when I sense God's peace. But most of the time I live life like you do…doing what you think you are supposed to do.

That is about it … love you all … George

These past nine months

Hey siblings and kids,

In the previous email I shared some reflections about career and family as a result of Carol's diagnosis and the resulting changes in my life. I hinted that I have been learning so much from Carol during these months. I'm not so sure that I am learning, I am more of an observer. In this installment I thought I would share a little of what I have observed these months from Carol and friends since her diagnosis.

Observation #1 -- Surround yourself with praying friends and family
Immediately after the initial diagnosis, Carol created an email list of friends and family she new would pray for her. She has spent many hours at the computer sending out updates and then reading the encouraging responses. As a side note, it took many hours typing after the elbow replacement because her left hand no longer worked. In the months after the surgery, it was amazing the number of things we discovered you can't do when your left arm no longer works. But, back to the list. Creating such a list would not have been my first response. I would try to tough it out alone. Thank you very much. But I have seen how it has helped her process the difficult times. Hearing the results of blood tests, or an x-ray or biopsy often takes a couple of days to process. She is quiet while processing but I know she has worked through it and is going on with life when I hear her laughing on the phone with friends and family.

Observation #2 -- Take the initiative
Music has always been an important part of Carol's life. She is always humming. If you want her to hum something different just switch to a different radio station. Church choirs seem to be coming non existent these days and Carol really misses singing in a choir. Upon reading an article in the local paper about the SouthBay Singers community choir, it was somewhat surprising to me how insistent she was about going and seeing what it was all about. At the first practice she was sure she wanted to join. Hmmmm….if I am going to support her, I might as well join as well. The final performance was a month and half ago. Just this past week I heard her humming some of the songs from the performance. It is important to do those things that define who you are.

Observation #3 -- Be open to grace through others
We live in a culture of rugged individualism causing us to shy away from help. So many friends and family have been there for us during this time through their presence and gifts. We have received so much food. We regularly have to go through our freezer and use the overflow that was frozen. Then there are thoughtful gifts. There are socks forever known around here as "Susie's socks." There have been CDs of music and special handmade blankets. Every night Carol sleeps with a blanket made by Keri that depicts the 23rd Psalm. The list goes on and if I tried to list them all I am sure I would leave some out. There are those who drop by and pray for us, meet us at the chemo center and just be there with us. There are couples who regularly play cards with us. In addition to the prayers of those on Carol's email list, we hear stories of people praying for us that don't even know what is going on, they just know they should be praying for us. What beautiful expressions of grace we have experienced. God uses all kinds of expressions. If you think you should do something for someone, it may be a prompt from God.

Observation #4 -- Express your faith in God's care
You have probably heard about family camping trips where something disastrous happened and years later when the family is reminiscing it is those disastrous times that you remember with fondness because of what you experienced together. The disaster was a bonding experience. There have been a couple of those times for me  over the past months. They are usually when we are going to an appointment that is not on our normal schedule. We are usually in the truck, driving to San Jose for a consultation, or to Santa Clara for radiation, or to South San Francisco for surgery, or to San Francisco for a biopsy and during the trip we are listening to the CD of the Haven quartet sent to us by Susie. I find myself looking over at her humming and singing to the music and I become aware that this is a time when God's presence is very close, she is wrapped in his care and expressing joy through the music. It is priceless to be there and behold. These times are not often but occur usually when there is some anxiety, difficulty or unknown test results. These moments are like the camping trip disasters. I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Observation #5 -- Grace in the mundane.
Most of the time our lives are not much different than before the diagnosis. You do the usual everyday things, wash dishes and clothes, mow the yard and trim the hedges, go grocery shopping and clean the floors. What is different is that the everyday things are now scheduled around a regimen of appointments and medication schedules. If it is Monday we will be having blood tests done. If it is Tuesday we will be going to San Jose for chemo. If it is 9 am you need to be taking these three medications and two insulin shots. If it is 11 pm you take these four medications and an insulin shot. Your life is driven by a schedule listed on a spreadsheet. I've watched her accept this new normal with grace, never complaining. Although it does get old and confining. Much of Carol's life revolves around balance…keeping the drugs tuned to the ever changing side effects. Recently, the insulin schedule of four finger pricks and five shots a day is beginning to wear on her. Is this going to go on the rest of my life? Carol has adapted to living one day at a time and the mundane of the every day life overshadows any long term planning and thinking. Many days it is just a drag.

I didn't mean to end on a low note, but there you have it, life goes on.There are high times and low times but mostly it just goes on. I no longer have work to drive my long term plans but now have a daily schedule that forms each day with the result that I am having to look for beauty and enjoyment in the everyday things. Some days I can and some days I can't. Just know that my trying to express these observations in words is a part of my processing these events. Sometimes it helps.

Hope you are enjoying your days. 

What I did on my vacation and where am I?

Dear siblings and kids,

Inquiring minds probably want to know how was our vacation in Cheyenne.

First of all, the air travel wasn't all that bad. It is amazing how quickly you get through security lines when you are with someone in a wheelchair. That is the way to go.

The vacation was what we had planned for it to be, a time to get out of our house and veg out with family. It was important for us to visit and be with mom and for mom to see and be with Carol. Mom needed to see that Carol gets around pretty well and is doing ok. I am amazed how well mom gets around even though she doesn't see well. Monday I took her to the hospital so she could visit a friend while Carol and I ran an errand. I walked her into the lobby. She said she knew where to go and sure enough off she went. When I returned she was sitting on a bench waiting for me like it was the most normal thing to do. We enjoyed visits with Dick and Linda, Dawn and the girls and Anne Shellhart. Other than that we just stayed at Patsy's. Thank you Patsy for a place to stay and a car. What more could you ask for?

This was our first visit where we did not stay at the home place on Jefferson Road. On Thursday, Carol and I and mom went out to the house and looked for fabric to take back to Keri. While Carol and mom were looking for fabric I did some mowing in the yard. On Friday, I went back by myself and finished the mowing. Part of the reason for going back to the house was just to spend some time there. I took frequent breaks and found myself in different rooms and reflecting on memories such as being in the living room, laying on the floor after a Saturday night bath and listening to Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio. I couldn't shake the feeling that some kind of corner was being taken and that it was time to close the chapter on the home and its memories. So it was a good vacation and sort of a sad, melancholy time as well. Things they are a changing.

We all know what is happening with Carol from her updates. We don't know what she is thinking about at 2 am in the morning when she can't sleep. That is for her to tell us some day. In the meantime I am frequently asked, "So how are YOU doing?" What follows is a rambling version of some of my thoughts about the last eight months and the years that preceded it.

Eight months ago I was working from home three days a week and going in to the office two days a week. During my work commutes (40 miles each way) I was listening to an audio version of "The Last Battle," the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia where the world of Narnia comes to a close and the characters begin the new adventure. I was finishing up my work contract with Synopsys and I sensed that my life was going to take a turn with my work/career story ending and a new adventure was beginning. I had the distinct impression that I would not be returning to work. My work story and the new adventure overlapped by a day. Carol's diagnosis came the day before my contract ended. It is hard to believe it was eight months ago. So much has happened as my life changed from work related schedules and structure to a life structured by medical tests, appointments, keeping the home running and a medication schedule.

As my career ended I reflected a lot about it for several months. For a kid that had no idea of what he wanted to be and just took life as it came, I have had a remarkable career. My high school physics teacher inspired my love for physics. I didn't want to go into industry after college so taking an additional year I got my teaching credential and ended up in California teaching physics, chemistry and math. It was a great twelve years and I learned so much about how people learn and being able to sense when learning was working. But teaching was emotionally draining for me and when the opportunity to work at Lockheed came along, with much mental turmoil I left what I felt was my calling. Working for Lockheed was an eye opener to another world. Actually I worked for the NSA as a programmer at a ground station and reported to an Air Force colonel. Each morning I could sit in on the colonel's debrief before it was sent to NSA headquarters, but I couldn't tell my wife what I really did or knew what was going to be in the news that day. It sort of made you schizophrenic. It split my private and public life from my work life. Working in a vault with armed guards on the roof was not for me. Publicly I was a programmer for Lockheed while actually at work I wrote mission planning programs for satellites to gather radar signals for the NSA. So I transferred into Lockheed's training organization and trained engineers how to program and embed microcomputers into hardware systems. After seven years I took a job as a manager and instructor at Pyramid Technology teaching Unix system administration and C programming. The physics background, teaching experience, programming experience in Unix and C was what a startup company was looking for to develop courses for them in the new world of computer based electronic design. So I spent twelve years at what became Cadence Design Systems. It was wildly successful and I got to travel the world giving training and helping develop some of the first computer based training systems learning what did and did not work in the online world. I then spent a couple of years working at Documentum creating classroom and self-study courses in the world of controlled documents (think something like the Nuclear Regulatory Agency documents at a nuclear plant) and then moved back to the electronics world developing courses and online self-study courses for CoWare to train engineers in the art of simulating systems like cell phones and automobile electronics in order to debug them before they turn them into hardware. Twelve years later CoWare was purchased by Synopsys and I ended up contracting course development for them. It has been an amazing career…certainly not one that I consciously planned. Each job gave me skills needed for the next job. My only explanation is Proverbs 3: 5 & 6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths." I can't say I was always trusting, but it is certainly an example of God's providence. It is also interesting how much my identity was wrapped up in my work.

Parallel to the career path was my private and family life. In my undergraduate senior year at college I was reacquainted with Carol Perkins, a family friend. Our mother's knew each other during the 1950's and had kept in touch. As our relationship developed (and things became hot and heavy,heh,heh) I came to think, "You know, I think she would make a great mother. You need to either breakup with her or marry her before you do something you will regret." What a treasure she has been. Working to get us through my second senior year and complete my teaching credential, working at the school district office to help us get established as a young couple. When I decided to go to Colorado and get a Master's degree she moved and worked to make it possible. When I thought I had enough of the LA smog and traffic she moved to Salinas and then in two years I was thinking about moving to the bay area and changing careers. So we moved to San Jose. All the while our family was growing. I didn't have a clue about raising kids. I'm sure Keri could tell you some good stories about discipline and rules that we tried out. By the time Kelly came along, just leave her alone, she will turn out ok. As a family we had some great experiences…hosting a Cambodian refugee family, great road trips, camping at Big Basin and listening to the CSI, jeep and archeology adventures. Through all the times of raising a family, Carol was there. Through my erratic career path, Carol was there. She was always at my side.  I can't help thinking as our adventure takes another bend in the road that it is my time to be by her side, time to give back a small measure of what she has given to me.

So, I've taken this long circuitous path to say that even though this current path is not one I would have chosen for Carol, we are doing OK and I've been given the privilege of completing this adventure with her. It is amazing what I am learning from her.  Here we are, retired, out of debt, all of our physical needs supplied, a great family and friends who care for us, a church in which to worship and be inspired…we are beginning to sense this adventure will come to a close, but it will be the preface to the next story. It is hard to describe the realization that you both sense that it is OK and it will turn out alright in the end.  I think I think that is where I am at the moment. We shall see.

It is therapeutic for me to try to express my thoughts. Thanks for listening.

Love and hugs … George