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